Monday 30 October 2006

Nehemiah meets Archie Bunker

Just in case there's anybody out there in the known COGiverse who hasn't caught up yet, UCG's top dogs have paid a visit to the headquarters of the Living Church of God in Charlotte. LCG's Doc Winnail reports:

This week, Mr. Clyde Kilough, President of the United Church of God, and Mr. Jim Franks, Operations Manager for Ministerial Services of the United Church of God, paid an informal visit to our Headquarters here in Charlotte. They toured the office facility and met our Headquarters staff. It was a cordial visit and provided us with an opportunity to communicate about mutual concerns facing the Church of God.

Needless to say, the tongues have been on fire with near pentecostal fervor. Amongst the more excitable brethren the word "merger" has been whispered. Fat chance. A perceptive poster on XCG wondered aloud whether "Nehemiah" Kilough and sidekick Jim were there to check out just how impaired the Presiding Evangelist has become (more a circling of vultures than a gathering of eagles?) Sounds plausible, but I doubt it. Here's the view from the UCG side of the fence:

"On October 23rd Mssrs. Kilough and Franks followed up on a long standing invite to visit and talk with the leadership of LCG. They had a tour of the offices and met the staff. They then sat with Dr. Meredith, Dr. Winnail, Mr.Ames and Mr. Apartian for "an open discussion on a variety of issues facing the Church of God." All involved felt the visit was profitable and were pleased with the opportunity to communicate. Mr. Kilough offered a similar invitation to LCG to visit us at Milford OH."

What we can say is that Bob Thiel is fairly tripping over himself in an attempt to dampen down speculation - at the bidding of the Dark Lord himself:

"RC Meredith and I discussed this meeting a few hours after it occurred. He mentioned that he specifically stated at the beginning of the meeting that LCG has no interest in any type of merger with UCG. He stated UCG and LCG have different works, differing governments, and differing focuses. He told me that they concurred with all of those comments. And he told me I could post about it if I thought it would be helpful."

Now Bob, you'll have to do better than that. I lived through too many years in WCG, where "reading between the lines" was an essential survival skill, to take that at face value. The boys were up to something. A disturbing new revelation in the offing that could impact on both churches perhaps? Could there be any more skeletons in the closet ready to leap out as All Hallows Eve draweth nigh? Who knows. Whatever it was, it seems the lads want to keep it "All in the Family." You can be sure, though, that they weren't just swapping recipes for matzos.

Just as fascinating as Nehemiah's pilgrimage to Pope Roderick's Vatican was this quote from the Spanker himself, delivered at the start of the LCG feast and related by a suitably over-awed member:

“They are left-wing, liberal, communist, pinkos” – Mr. Meredith describing the United States’ media and their portrayal of the news during his Opening Night message.

Shades of Archie Bunker, except for one crucial difference. Archie at least had "Meathead" to keep him on a leash.

Addendum: I noticed that Dennis' Two Witnesses post also appears on XCG. Sorry Gary, didn't mean to pull a copycat - the version here was sent in by Den himself, and you can't have too much of a good thing online anyway, right? While I'm being contrite, Gary's XCG has become THE essential source of information on the various COGlets: check it out if you haven't already.

Sunday 29 October 2006

The Two Witlesses

The following entry comes from the keyboard of Dennis Diehl.

In my 26-year experience as a Pastor, I had managed to meet 23 of the Two Witnesses of Revelation. I am tempted to say 11 pairs and one who thought he was both, but that’s not how it really was. Every one of these was a lone male, sometimes a pastor, sometimes a member, often times a lone religious renegade that no church would claim. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of the Two Witnesses, these are the two final humans, but some say they will be the literally resurrected Moses and Elijah, Moses and Aaron, or Amos and Andy depending, who will tell all of us on the earth why the end has come. As the Bible says, “This Gospel of the Kingdom of God will be preached to all the world, and then shall the INCOME, oops sorry, end come.” The competition among those Pastors and Apostles that are hoping to win the title and at times behave more like competing to be Larry, Moe and Curly, but that would be Three Witnesses, will probably be more astounding than any Two Witnesses of Revelation. The description is found here in Revelation 11.

REVELATION 11:3 And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. 5 And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. 6 These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire. (NKJV)

While I personally feel that the chance of any two human beings being taken seriously in this role is about nil, it is none-the-less a very big part of the prophetic hopes of many literalists, especially those in what have become the remaining splinters of the now defunct Worldwide Church of God. It still exists, but it just doesn’t know it has become irrelevant and uninfluential in the world of theology and religion. Tis more like a glorified Sunday School than a Church, but I spare you. The Two Witnesses would never come from the Worldwide Church of God because yelling, “woe unto you, we don’t know the answer to that either, be warmed and filled…” etc, is just not a credible message these days and certainly not scary enough. The kind Jesus of the Gospels gets lost somewhere between John and Revelation as well. Angry books make angry churches.

However, even if there were ever such a modern day thing as the Two Witnesses, here is why it would not work. No two human males in the entire Church of God menagerie of splits, splinters, slivers and dust mites could ever get along long enough to come up with the same coherent message. Frankly, they would smite each other before they ever smote you and I.

The Book of Revelation, which probably is not near as up to date for today as most think, nor written with the events of today in mind as many are taught requires the Two Witnesses to get along and agree with each other for a time of 1260 days or about three and half years. No way! I have yet to meet any two of the Church of God ministers, especially the Lone Rangers of “My Church is the one true church,” mentality to be able to agree on anything or get along for much more than a few hours, if that. This is way short of the time these two men will have to live, eat and agree together on the next day’s rants against the people. Let me illustrate what I mean.

Ronald Weinland was a minister in the WCG, then a minister in the United Church of God (UCG), but a number of years ago declared himself a prophet—(even though I prefer the idea that Churches be NON-PROPHET) he did that many years after the Philadelphia Church of God’s Gerald Flurry did the same. Both of these minister types were Worldwide Church of God pastors before the crash. Both went on to start their own one man shows. In an email inquiry of Mr. Weinland, by Dr. Robert Thiel of the Living Church of God, as to whether or not he claims to be one of the Two Witnesses, Mr. Weinland replies:

Yes I do make the claim. I am one of the witnesses. The subject is already covered in sermons on our website and will be covered far more thoroughly in a new book that will be out before next Feast of Tabernacles.

So we have that settled. We have the first of the Two Witnesses, even though he was never on my original list of 23. So now we have 24. Hey nice! That’s the same number of Elders around the throne of the Son, or the hours in the day around the SUN, whatever you like!

Next enter David C. Pack, founder and sole authority in the Restored Church of God, also a sliver offshoot of Christianity. While Mr. Pack has never said that that he is one of the Two Witnesses, he has said in sermons that they will come out of the Restored Church of God, come UNDER his supervision as Witnesses are not higher than Apostles, of which he is one, and that HE will train them for their 3.5 year assault on the world. Pretty cool stuff to spend your life planning I think!

At any rate, Dr. Thiel goes on to note:

There is a rumor going around, which I never posted, that Ronald Weinland claims that David Pack is the other of the two witnesses. This is not true. When I asked him, I received the following response: ’No I haven’t said such a thing about Dave. We are not going in the same direction.

I did post the above response so that those interested in the truth would realize that the rumor was false. I do have a concern that now that this rumor is out and now that Ronald Weinland claims to be one of the two witnesses, that it would not surprise me if one who has taken titles to himself (Gerald Flurry comes to mind) may decide they need to claim to be one of the two witnesses.

So now we have problems. There are my 23 of the Two Witnesses, Gerald Flurry of the Philidelphia Church of God…maybe in time, Ron Weinland for sure and the two, yet to be announced in the Restored Church of God under Dave Pack. Let’s see, 23+1+1+2=27 Two Witnesses. And these are just the ones I know of. Perhaps there is significance in 3×3x3 Witnesses, but I don’t know what it might be so forget that.

Ok, but here is the problem even bigger than too many of them.

5 And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. 6 These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire. (NKJV)

Of course people are going to want to harm these guys. At least if they are the ones mentioned. And with that much firepower, well they say way too much now in Church that can’t be backed up with reality, so someone is going to get burned. Letting them smite us all “as often as they desire,” is just going way overboard on God’s part. I think some of the smitting could degenerate into a bad case of “oh yeah…blam,” “oh yeah…bash,” “Oh yeah…crunch.” A Way too human a way of getting everyone’s attention. Personally I think, with the bad record churches and men have for being false prophets and witnesses and just plain looney, I would prefer that God just call a weekend seminar, serve nice food, and personally explain to all of us just what seems to be the problem. I respond better to that kind of thing rather than having people I don’t trust in the least think they can smite me at will for not believing them personally. I still feel that when we speak to God, it can be called prayer, but when God speaks to us, we might need medication and not a following… But the real problem and the real reason we don’t have to worry about the Two Witnesses coming out of the Church of God movements that have sprung from the demise of the Worldwide Church of God is best summed up in the observation by Mr. Weinland himself.

”’No I haven’t said such a thing about Dave. We are not going in the same direction.’”

This is our salvation! The fact is that no two men in any of these groups can get along for even a minute is the key that unlocks the truth of Revelation on this topic! Mr. Weinland can’t abide Mr. Pack. Mr. Pack won’t credential Mr. Weinland or Mr. Flurry. Mr. Flurry can’t stand Mr. Pack and doesn’t know Mr. Weinland and my personal list of 23 all agree that no way are these new guys invited into the final contestants for the job! Can two walk together unless they be agreed? The answer is no, so in no way will any of these guys be the Two Witnesses for 3.5 seconds, much less years.

Now Mr. Pack insists that he will select the Two Witnesses and train them out of his own Church. I doubt that because Mr. Pack so loves titles, “The Watcher”, “End Time Apostle”’ “Mr.” etc, that I am sure he’ll want to be, hmmm…both of the Two Witnesses himself. There is more control over what is said, less overhead and less dispute over who is the chief smiter, firebreather, plague giver, blood maker and drought causer. Somewhere and somehow, Mr. Pack will find a way to give a four to eight hour sermon on how the Greek word for ”two” is really the word for “twoo” as in “true” and Witnesses is really supposed to be singular. It is the Twoo Witness, which of course, will be Mr. Pack.

The good thing will be that if the others oppose this, he can incinerate them with the word of his mouth and plague ‘em. Well maybe not in that order. Well anyway, won’t happen in reality.

So relax everyone! Since no two male ministers of the same group or Church of God, and certainly no two in opposing groups can get along long enough to remotely fulfill the 3.5 years the Two Witnesses of Revelation will have to work together, we are all safe! Any two from this bunch will plague, drought, smite and incinerate EACH OTHER long before the sun goes down on the first day of their prophecy!

You can check out more of Den's remarkable writing by clicking on the link in the right hand column.

Saturday 28 October 2006

A Great Kiwi Heretic

Such is the moribund state of intelligent Christianity in New Zealand that the biggest theological punch-up since 1966 is shaping up without anybody much noticing.

In 1966 a rather dry Presbyterian scholar, Lloyd Geering, was hauled before his church on charges of heresy. The country was fixated for months on end, and as a child I remember headlines and photographs in the Weekly News, the nearest thing the country then had to a news magazine. Wicked Professor Geering had been reading Paul Tillich, and had the poor judgement to pass on his thoughts in the local Christian press. A horde of Westminster Confession-wielding Evangelicals rose up to defend their insecurities from logic, and all hell broke loose. Ultimately the professor was acquitted of the charge.

In 2006 two new books have hit the country's bookshelves, one is Geering's autobiography, Wrestling With God, the other a volume of anti-Geering polemic entitled A Religious Atheist? from a clutch of university academics determined to distance themselves from his brand of radicalism. Since 1966 the mainline churches have grown brackish with conservatism as their constituencies age and the stomp 'n holler folk defect to the Biblicist fringes. More and more Kiwis are fully secularised, owing allegiance to no recognisable version of Christianity, and staying away from Sunday services in droves. Which explains why, this time round, the battle of the books has barely caused a ripple.

I've never, thank God, had much to do with Presbyterianism, lacking a dour Calvinist background and having a natural aversion to porridge. I have read several of Geering's books though, and found myself in reluctant agreement with much that he says. I attended one of his seminars at Victoria University a number of years ago, but the great man was not at his best form on the day (I had the honour of jogging his memory when he was attempting to recall the name “Feast of Tabernacles”!) To his credit he is one of those brutally honest people who avoids wrapping unpleasant truths in comforting metaphors. I, alas, am still squeamish enough to prefer my own sacred cows to be slaughtered humanely and well out of sight.

The academics might be expected to produce a festschrift for an eminent scholar in his eighty-ninth year, but this is hardly that. Geering is accused of terrible crimes such as monoculturalism and, in a back-handed compliment few others have been deemed worthy to receive, had a new heresy named in his honour, “Geeringism.” As Christianity recedes from the public consciousness it seems a scapegoat must be found, though I could think of better qualified individuals to heap blame upon. But verily, a prophet is without honour among colleagues. Nor was it a surprise when, after being honored by Queen Elizabeth in 2001, assorted Evangelical and fundamentalist ministers wailed and gibbered in protest.

The punters, thankfully, have the final word, and the autobiography is deservedly outselling the debunkers. A positive review graces the pages of today's Wellington Dominion-Post, a tribute to the readability and human-interest side of the story. I'm not in agreement with Lloyd Geering on a number of counts, but any fair minded person would respect his courage in facing down the latter-day scribes and pharisees.

The competing volume, published by Otago University, will be inaccessible to most readers, and lacks the common decency of balance. It's not that the various contributors don't have valid things to say, I suspect they do, but this is a poor way to make a point.

In 1966 the Geering affair made headlines. In 2006 its a very modest bun-fight in the corner, well out of sight. I know who I'm cheering for!

May heresy (of the enlightened variety at least) ever flourish!

Postscript: also in today's Dom-Post is a quote from an 82 year old visiting American rabbi who says: "You should take your old ideas about God and trash them. We're no longer talking about an old man in the sky who watches over us." My advice to him: stay away from those Evangelical Presbyterians!

Tuesday 24 October 2006


This entry first appeared as a "Southern Exposure" column on the old AW website. It's been slightly updated.

This is hardly the first time someone has attempted to disentangle the alphabet soup that forms much of the cult-speak used by COG members. It is far from comprehensive, and some of the references are dated. Does anyone remember Al Portune? But as a senior evangelist his initials were as much a perquisite of office as his lofty ecclesiastical status. Others were newly minted as the WCG cannibalized itself in the ham-fisted "reform" process.


AC - Ambassador College
ABC - Ambassador Bible Center, training school operated by UCG.
ACCM - Ambassador College of Christian Ministry, the WCG's current arm for training lay ministers.
ACD - Association for Christian Development, founded by Ken Westby, and all that's left of the 1974 breakaway Associated Churches of God.
AICF - Ambassador International Cultural Foundation, defunct WCG front organization.
AJP - Albert J. Portune, former business manager and leading evangelist in WCG
AR - Ambassador Report. Dissident newsletter produced by John Trechak from the mid-70s through till the mid-90s.
ASK - Association for Scriptural Knowledge, founded by ELM.
AU - Ambassador University, the short-lived accredited version of AC
AW - Ambassador Watch, the website that predated this blog.


BA - The Bible Advocate, magazine produced by CG7
BCG - Biblical Church of God. Defunct splinter group which separated from WCG in the late 70s. Founder Fred Coulter went on to launch CBCG.
BI - British Israelism


CBCG - Christian Biblical Church of God. Sect led by Fred Coulter after his initial splinter, BCG, fell apart.
CEG - GCG splinter group Church of the Eternal God
CEM - Christian Educational Ministries, run by RLD.
CG7 - Church of God (Seventh Day) based in Denver. Also called COG7
CGE (or COGE) - Church of God, The Eternal founded by Raymond Cole (brother of CWC)
CGG - Church of the Great God. Sect led by John Ritenbaugh.
CGI - Church of God, International. Founded by GTA
CGOM - Church of God Outreach Ministries. Made up mainly of former CGI members.
COE - Council of Elders. The 12 big cheeses than govern the United Church of God.
COG - Church of God or Churches of God. A collective term for the various Sabbatarian splinters.
COG7 - see CG7
COG21 - Raymond McNair's miniscule but grandly named Church of God 21st Century
COG-AIC - Church of God - An International Community. Splinter sect of UCG led by it's ousted first president, David Hulme.
COG-EIM - Church of God - Established in Modesto. Originally pastored by Don Billingsley until he walked the plank to form COG-FF.
COG-FF - Church of God - Faithful Flock. Don Billingsley's current sect.
COGW (or COGWM) - Church of God Worldwide Ministries (formerly Churches of God Worldwide), a splinter from ICG.
COGwriter - Bob Thiel's LCG-friendly site
CWC - C. Wayne Cole, once a top minister in WCG


DLA - David L. Antion, another top minister who separated in the late 70s, and brother in law to GTA.
DP - "Dateline Pasadena", a Pasadena-based source used by AW.
DUB - Days of Unleavened Bread


ECG - Eternal Church of God, Art Braidic's group with the unintentionally humorous name
ELM - Ernest L. Martin, influential dissident theologian who founded FBR, then ASK.
ESN - Exit and Support Network. Fundamentalist ex-member support site. Founded by Lin Stuhlman. Currently operated by Dee Hubbert.


FBR - Foundation for Biblical Research, created by the late Ernie Martin (see ELM).
FN - Faith Networks, independent ministry associated with Guy Swenson.
FOT - Feast of Tabernacles


GTA - Garner Ted Armstrong, deposed son of HWA
GTAEA - Garner Ted Armstrong Evangelistic Association, now run by Ted's son Mark and regurgitating old TV shows
GCG - Global Church of God, the original Meredith splinter (see LCG)
GIF - Grace International Fellowship, proposed name for the WCG, quickly ditched in favor of GIC (Grace International Communion) which was wisely also ditched.
GN - The Good News, a member publication for WCG members (out of print), but also a cloned outreach magazine published by the UCG (in print)
GRF - Gerry R. Flurry, PG of the PCG.


HLH - Herman L. Hoeh, WCG's foremost cult "scholar", author of the Compendium of World History, and one of few original leaders who supported the New Covenant changes.
HWA - Herbert W. Armstrong


ICG - Intercontinental Church of God. GTA's second splinter after he was turfed out of CGI


JLF - Forum run by Mark Tabladillo catering for those who now lean to evangelical beliefs.
JWT - Joseph W. Tkach. Comes in two flavors, Senior & Junior. Both ascended to the office of PG in the WCG.


LCG - Living Church of God, created out of the ashes of the GCG by that old phoenix RCM.


MOA - Mystery of the Ages. Final book by HWA, regarded as near-scripture by the Flurry cult (PCG)..
MD - The Missing Dimension. Inspired by HWA titles such as The Missing Dimension in Sex and The Missing Dimension in Education. Used by the AW website through till December 2004, and also the name of a now closed Yahoo board moderated by Douglas Becker.


NTE - New Testament Evangelism. Cooperative COG group led by Guy Swenson, a former UCG minister.


PCG - Philadelphia Church of God, led by "that prophet" (Gerry Flurry)
PG - Pastor General. Title given to HWA and passed on to his successors. Also used by GRF.
PT - The Plain Truth, but also the Painful Truth
PTM - Plain Truth Ministries, publishers of the present PT


RCG - Restored Church of God, a small cultish splinter reigned over by David Pack. Also Radio Church of God, the original name for the WCG.
RCM - a.k.a. "Spanky" and "Lord Merry Death". Roderick C. Meredith.
RFM - Raymond F. McNair. An evangelist-rank minister who followed RCM into the wilderness, separated from him, returned, then absconded again.
RLD - Ronald L. Dart, longtime associate of GTA and currently running CEM.


SEP - Summer Educational Program. WCG Youth Indoctrination camps.
STP - Systematic Theology Project. An attempt to put WCG's teachings into some coherent format. Torpedoed soon after it was launched by HWA, who decided it was too liberal because it left out his proof texts.


TCW - Twentieth Century Watch, GTA's version of the PT, originally a glossy magazine published by CGI, now a cheap tabloid produced by ICG
TPM - Triumph Prophetic Ministries, Willie Dankenbring's work
TW - Tomorrow's World. Title of a WCG co-worker magazine that was later appropriated by RCM and his LCG sect.


UCG - United Church of God. More properly known as UCGia.
UCGia - United Church of God, an International Association. The original version was UCGaia, until some wiseacre questioned the apparent appearance of the word "Gaia" in the sect's name!


WCG - Worldwide Church of God, the original Armstrong gulag.
WN - Worldwide News, propaganda tabloid published by WCG. Now re-titled WCG Today.
WNP - World News & Prophecy. UCG publication that tries to tie in Bible prophecy with current events.
WWCG (sometimes WWCOG) - Common but incorrect acronyms for WCG


XCG - Website and blog run by Gary Scott
XCOG - ex Church of God.
YOU - Youth Opportunities United. WCG Youth program.

Friday 20 October 2006

An Unconventional Bible College

"I invite you to walk with me some of the steps of the way, like going to a strange land and back again."
Greg Doudna

I was delighted to discover John Morgan's book Flying Free earlier this year. It is the story of life in the Worldwide Church of God over several decades, told from the perspective of a fellow Kiwi. I recommended it without reservation, and I still do.

Just this week I was made aware of another book which also relates the WCG experience from a personal perspective. Greg Doudna was a student at Big Sandy during the turbulent Seventies, and this is his story. Like Flying Free, Showdown at Big Sandy seems to be mercifully free of the hobbyhorse apologetics that spoil many books of this sort. This is, in addition, more than just an AC alumnus on a nostalgia trip. The author, who later returned to his Quaker roots, is in fact something of an authority on the subject of the Dead Sea Scrolls, with articles in The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures and The Bible and Interpretation, and an 800 page text published by Sheffield Academic Press entitled "4Q Pesher Nahum: A Critical Edition." Be assured, however, that Showdown seems anything but a dense academic dissertation, and will be compulsory (and perhaps compulsive) reading both for those who attended Ambassador College in its heyday, and those of us who are simply fascinated by the history and evolution of Armstrongism.

Showdown at Big Sandy was first published in 1989, but has been out of print for some time. Greg has now updated and reissued the book. From what I've seen so far, I'm very glad he has. He has previously written of the book:

"It is a light-hearted, but also serious, memoir of the fundamentalist experience from one who was there (me). I sought through humor and the foil of myself as the innocent, believing, naive, but growing young mind at this Bible college, to show the way forward and out of such thinking. Everything in the book is true yet I wrote it as a story with plot and theme. The theme revolves around about a dozen or so creative papers I wrote mostly when I was a sophomore student..."

By clicking across to you can preview some of the content for yourself. Or even better, try, which is a dedicated website. The book (540 pages) can be downloaded for under $15, or ordered in print form for around $30. A full review will appear here a little further down the line.

Tuesday 17 October 2006

Untrue History & the Truth-challenged Church

Click over to the UCG website and you'll find the following claim:

“We trace our origins to the Church that Jesus founded in the early first century.”

Oh really? How so?

There are two pathways “True Church” groups like UCG validate their ties to the early Christian church: one might be called the “remnant theory,” the other the “restoration theory.” Both are very different from the standard concept of "reformation."

The Remnant Theory is the usual one used by Church of God groups, and was inherited from Seventh-day Adventism. Basically the idea is that the True Church started out as pure as the new-driven snow, until the naughty proto-Catholics came by and led 99% plus away into horrible apostasy. There was a lost century, and when the curtain lifts we find the Trinity, bishops, monks, purgatory and fish on Friday.

There ensued "the lost century" in the history of the true Church of God. There was a well-organized conspiracy to blot out all record of Church history during that period. A hundred years later, history reveals a "Christianity" utterly unlike the Church Christ founded. (Herb Armstrong, The Incredible Human Potential, 5.)

However, so the theory goes, there was always a remnant who “held fast” against the Gates of Hell, tidily arranged into seven "eras" to go with the seven churches of Revelation. A particularly hilarious example of this sort of thinking came from Dugger & Dodd, who held that Ireland's Saint Patrick was actually a Sabbath-keeper. More usually the remnant were variously identified as Waldensians, Anabaptists and a variety of other persecuted minorities, ending up as Seventh Day Baptists who morphed into the Sabbatarian Adventists of the Church of God. So taught Ellen G. White, Dugger and Dodd, and Herman Hoeh.

The humble remnant of the Church of God listened to [Peter Waldo]. Soon many new disciples were coming to repentance. "His disciples became almost as many co-workers for him" (p.26). The world called them Waldenses. God's Church was again spreading the gospel! (Hoeh, A True History of the True Church, 22)

Unfortunately the facts keep getting in the way. For example the Waldensian Church still exists, but they don't much resemble the UCG. The “remnant trail” is fantasy parading as history, as is immediately clear to anyone who bothers to do a little digging. If UCG thinks otherwise, let's see the evidence, the learned articles in scholarly journals, the testimony of legitimate historians (sorry Bob, a degree in naturopathy doesn't really count.)

Theory two, the “restoration,” begins the same way. Everything is fine and dandy, but then Satan comes along and the True Church is extinguished. Popes and rosary beads flourish, incense wafts, but genuine Christianity is obliterated until... along comes a certain someone who is authorized to reboot the True Church after long centuries have passed. That's the path taken by the Mormons. God came along, revealed to Little Joe (Smith, not Tkach) that all the sects of Christendom were in error, then ordained Joe with the long forgotten priesthood offices and sent him forth to restore all things with the aid of magical spectacles.

Apparently that makes sense in Utah, but has never had the same clout in Church of God circles, although a certain Pasadena Apostle used to say that the "true gospel" hadn't been preached in over 1900 years (perhaps he hadn't read Herman's booklet properly.) It's possible Herb gravitated more toward restoration and away from the remnant theory as his megalomania grew.

So back to the the UCG's bold assertion. Where's the evidence?

The lads at Ambassador Bible Center spend a lot of time exploring obscure issues. Intellectual giants of the stature of Melvin Rhodes could doubtless help out by pointing us all in the direction of historically credible data to back up their claim.

Then again, maybe not. And if not, the honest thing would be to remove the statement on their website and confess that there is no direct connection.

Time to put up or shut up.

Wednesday 11 October 2006

Blather from Pack

Everyone's favourite COG leader, Dave Pack, has gained a lot of free publicity in recent days. Notoriety, in fact.

Gary Scott was the first to point out that the Great One has unleashed a new ruling on his hapless flock. NO BLOGS.

Yes, members of the Restored sect are forbidden from creating either a blog or a personal website; and that applies to their teenagers as well!

Kevin D. Denee is the author of an article in the Pack-rag Ambassador Youth which lays out the Packatollah's edict.

Thus speaketh the Oracle: "The Internet—and more specifically blogs—has enabled everyone to have a voice on any matter. Now everyone’s thoughts are “published” for all to see. Whether or not it is effective, as soon as something is posted the person has a larger voice. It often makes the blogger feel good or makes him feel as if his opinion counts—when it is mostly mindless blather!"

"As if his opinion counts." Ah, there you have it, only One opinion counts, and that's you-know-who... (Women apparently don't count, any opinion they might have being beneath the notice of the all male packriarchy.)

Kev (who is apparently the son in law of the Master) continues: "Let me emphasize that no one—including adults—should have a blog or personal website (unless it is for legitimate business purposes). When this policy, now being instituted, was discussed with Mr. Pack and other Headquarters ministers, there was not a shadow of doubt in anyone’s mind that blogs are something youth should not be doing in any way."

No one.

Ach ja. Seig heil!

But while King David has been preoccupied with FOTting his flock, word of the RCG ban has spread through the blogosphere well beyond the usual COG/exCOG community. The Wadsworth Wonder is unexpectedly infamous. Gary has updated the situation in his latest post.


Friday 6 October 2006

Junia not Junior

I suspect most readers of AW are blokes, judging from the gender balance of the comments. The old time WCG was a blokes' club with not just an all male ministry, but (and this was highly unusual) a preponderance of men over women in the general membership. This caused problems for the single men, exhorted to be maintain a high moral standard but unable to marry outside of their faith (and for most of the church's history outside of their “race” as well.)

Which is why most of the eligible bachelors scrubbed up with particular care for the Feast of Tabernacles. A chance to impress was too important to miss!

But what about the women? In some ways women have been the forgotten 50% of the Church of God. No women as preachers of course, no women as administrators, no women consulted when it came to the latest flip-flop over divorce and remarriage or make-up. For years even the by-lines in church publications were exclusively male, women apparently made inferior writers as well.

Today the new-look Tkach-WCG has, thankfully, made most of that history. They're even looking at the issue of women in ministry, though that reform is slow in coming, and you've got to suspect that, despite the advocacy of Sheila Graham and others, there is a lot of resistance. A cousin of mine, a fine and sincere man who has stood by the WCG through thick and thin, has written a paper opposing the idea.

So, let me introduce you to Junia, woman and apostle. Her story is a fascinating one. She's been hiding away in Romans 16 for nigh on two millennia, but precious few blokes seem to have noticed. Those that have, more often than not, have felt the need to perform gender reassignment: poor Junia has been shorn of her femininity and morphed into a man.

Check out Romans 16:7. “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” (NRSV)

Compare the same verse in the NIV where Junia goes under the knife to emerge as Junias, a male.

No, this isn't a trendy new feminist re-reading of the trusty old KJV, the KJV has Junia correctly identified, as did the early church fathers (mainly composed of misogynists who'd make Rod Meredith look positively enlightened by comparison.) Even Fred Coulter's translation (gasp!) gets it right - though I doubt he thought through the implications.

Junia, a woman who was “prominent among the apostles”? What gives?

Rena Pederson comes to the rescue with “The Lost Apostle: Searching for the Truth About Junia.” Pederson is a Washington journalist, not a theologian, and a “moderate Methodist”, not a COG member. Her book, however, illustrates the doggedness of a journalist who knows how to go after the facts, find the people “in the know” (she has interviewed a “who's who” of Christian scholars) and then present the findings in a highly readable, accessible way. I particularly enjoyed her account of meeting with a gaggle of Vatican scholars at the Pontifico Instituto Biblico:

"Surrounded by male scholars at the table, I had the feeling that this was what it must be like to have lunch at the Elks Lodge. I had envisioned a defensive or hostile reaction from the church scholars, but the institute professors exuded a gentlemanly curiosity about my topic. As it turned out, studying the women of the church was not high on their list of scholarly pursuits. It was like asking them what they thought about hormone replacement therapy."

You won't trip over theological verbiage, but you will get a fantastic insight into how women have fared in the Christian church down through the centuries, and who knows, just maybe you'll end up agreeing with Joe Jr. that the issue really does need addressing.

Agreeing with Joe about anything is a scary thought, but he's got to be right about something occasionally. And, just quietly, I think the various COGs would be much improved if some of the wooden-minded blokes stepped aside to make way for a few multi-tasking females. Any one of the service-minded secretaries who make coffee and clean up after Dave Pack would be a definite improvement, don't you think?

Tuesday 3 October 2006

The Haj

Every year tens of thousands of Muslims gather in the holy city of Mecca. The haj is a pilgrimage all good followers of Islam are encouraged to make at least once in their lifetimes.

The haj is prefigured in, of all places, the book of Exodus, chapter 23:17. Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.

John Collins (Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, page 133) comments.

These were occasions when the males were to “appear before the Lord” by going to a sanctuary. The Hebrew word for such a pilgrim feast is hag, which is related to the Arabic name for the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the haj.

In a sense, then, the Church of God observance of the Feast of Tabernacles is a haj. Thousands of people travelling to far away places in obedience to what they believe is a divine command.

The similarities don't end there. Islam has a prophet, Muhammed, and so does Armstrongism. At a minimum we're talking about Herbert Armstrong (Apostle, Elijah), but others have claimed a similarly exalted status (Gerry Flurry for example.) The COGs talk about dwelling in tabernacles or booths (though they prefer nice solid motel rooms) while the Muslim pilgrims literally do dwell in tents, whether rich or poor. And as anyone who has read the embittered ravings of Mark Armstrong will know, there is a certain mullah-like disposition to many of the preachers of Armstrongism. As worshippers in some (but by no means all) mosques are exposed to disturbingly overt political messages, just so are many (but not all) Church of God members lambasted with not-so subtle conservative political rhetoric parading as “Bible truth”.

For others the Feast is a great occasion, and they return home feeling genuinely recharged and renewed in their sense of identity as Christians. More power to them. I've listened to a number of feast sermons that were positive and upbuilding. It's simply not true to characterise the Feast as something inevitably negative or legalistic. I've never attended a Friday prayer service at a mosque, but I suspect something similar is true there too.

For those departing for the eight days, happy haj!