Wednesday 31 January 2007

Tales of the Good Old Days - Part 2

Another excerpt from Bumming With the Furies: Out on the Trail of Experience by Peter Leschak (pictured), as posted on the WCG Alumni board.

Bill stood up to ask a question in Theological Research, the third-year Bible class. He was genuinely puzzled, and politely (I thought) disputed the conclusion we were supposed to have reached as the result of completing a homework assignment concerning the canonization of the Bible. The instructor, a minister named (Benjamin) Chapman, immediately bristled. I could actually see him stiffen, tensing up as if for a physical battle. If he had been a dog, his hackles would’ve risen. An argument ensued, with Chapman not addressing Bill’s question, but rather accusing him of arrogance and insubordination. Bill stated repeatedly that he wasn’t challenging Chapman’s authority (though the question by its very nature of course had) nor showing disrespect, but the irate professor ridiculed him, demanding to know if he even believed in the Bible. A few students told me later that they had grown increasingly bewildered, amazed at what they considered to be a serious overreaction by Chapman. They said that if Bill had walked out, they’d have followed. (There’d been many complaints about the class among students.)

But finally Bill decided to just shut up and sit down. He was shocked, genuinely perplexed by what vehemence and contempt of Chapman’s reaction to what Bill considered a legitimate question. This public attack by a superior, an ordained minister of God, was so distressing that Bill felt the whole thing must’ve been his fault. That evening he went to Chapman’s home and apologized. This humbling, magnanimous effort received a cold, “Well, you should apologize” response. There was no sense of warmth or conciliation, and absolutely no admission of at least partial wrong. Bill left angry and humiliated, violated once again. He believed that at “God’s college” there should be some recourse, so he made an official appointment with Chapman through his secretary, and asked if I could tag along. We discussed the “mission” at length and decided our purpose would be to respectfully inform Chapman that the majority of his students were dissatisfied with the way his course was run, and to propose some changes we felt would be beneficial. We believed the attitude of the class, especially after Bill’s excoriation, was ugly and that Chapman should be aware of it.

Unfortunately we were not granted an audience for three long weeks.

On a Friday evening in December, we finally entered Chapman’s office, nervous and intimidated…. We spent two hours discussing these matters, and all was serene and friendly, at least on the surface. We shook hands as we left, and Bill and I were satisfied that all had gone well. We congratulated each other, convinced we had accomplished some good. Silly boys.

Next morning at Sabbath services, Chapman delivered the sermon. The standard length of a sermon in the WCG was one to two hours (though I sat through some as long as three, and heard about a few legendary five-hour marathons). Chapman all but personally attacked Bill and me for nearly an hour and half. I was stunned. Bill had opted for the afternoon services and thus missed another public thrashing. In a vicious assault upon those who question and doubt, Chapman referred to several points we had discussed only several hours before in the apparently benign atmosphere of his office. I expected to hear our names spewed out at any moment, held up as pariahs or perhaps insidious dupes of Satan. He set up straw men and violently knocked them down, quoting excessively from an outside theological work, which was obviously sloppy and in error as far as his audience was concerned. He used the book as an intelligent scapegoat, a means to ridicule contemporary scholarship in general (and hence thinking in general). He lambasted and belittled those who critically examined what he billed as the Truth. He laid it right out, asserting clearly, without equivocation: “IT’S NOT YOUR PLACE TO QUESTION WHAT YOUR TEACHERS TELL YOU!” So there it was - the true face of AC and the WCG. The hierarchy was not after truth, but power. They had all truth; there was no need to seek more and there was especially no need to take any gruff from mere students - lowly sheep of the flock.

Tuesday 30 January 2007

Tales of the Good Old Days - Part 1

Across on the WCG Alumni Forum one of the regulars has been posting excerpts from a book by former AC student Peter Leschak, author of Bumming With the Furies: Out on the Trail of Experience. Several interesting anecdotes are told, including this one about the "rebellion" of 74.

On February 25 was the “Monday Massacre.” Garner Ted Armstrong had flown in from headquarters in Pasadena to end confusion and marshal the forces of righteousness. On the twenty-third he had delivered a blistering sermon at Sabbath services, inflaming the faithful with fresh distrust and, in some cases, hatred for the dissidents. It was an inspired performance by a talented orator. At the end, several hundred people spontaneously leaped to their feet, cheering and waving. I had a vision of Nuremberg, 1935, and was actually frightened. I counted six of us who didn’t cheer.

On the twenty-fifth, Garner Ted convened a minister’s conference at AC, and, after a forty-minute opening prayer, which saw him break into sobs, he harangued and intimidated the forty or so assembled church leaders for seven hours. Several entered the meeting with misgivings about the organization, but by the times it was over, only four still stood their ground, resisting the demand for total loyalty. They were fired from the ministry and disfellowshipped.

The next day it was the student body’s turn to be purified. Kelly and an associate delivered wild-eyed diatribes calling on us to “purge out those who are not willing to change!” Everyone knew who he meant; but of course it was the dissidents who had actually changed. We were told there was a “morass of rebellion” and that the situation was “insane.” The Devil was attempting to divide and conquer God’s church, and the rebels were on his side, partaking of evil. To cap it off, we were reminded, “there are things we shouldn’t even think; let alone say.”

Next day the student body was assembled, and Kelly announced that twenty students had been fired from their campus jobs because they had contact with disfellowshipped persons. The kicker was that he wouldn’t release the names of those who were “terminated.” You had to guess if you were among the causalities, and, therefore, further incriminate yourself by asking for official confirmation.

The next day Kelly kicked my friend Pam out of AC. She had been on the termination list and had gone to Kelly’s office to discuss her firing. She wondered why her job had been affected by a visit to a former member. Kelly replied that the salaries were paid via the donations of church members, so it was a betrayal of the brethren to use their money to pay dissidents. It would have been an appropriate moment to mention how the brethren’s money had been used top buy planes, limos, jewelry, and other extravagances for the WCG hierarchy, but Pam merely said, “I don’t think going to see a former minister should have anything to do with my job.”
“Your job isn’t to think, “ Kelly replied irritably. “You aren’t paid to think.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Pam countered, “Christians aren’t supposed to think.”

Kelly began to shout. He yelled, “That’s enough!” He didn’t want to hear any more. He told Pam she was expelled from AC, and, right on the spot, he instructed his secretary to file the necessary papers. As Pam left his office, he slammed the door behind her.

The “heretical underground” had grown cynical as the conflict in the WCG unfolded and we howled with mischievous delight when we discovered that Kelly had a bidet installed in the bathroom of his house. Some began to refer to him as “Clean ass Kelly,” and mused that since so many true believers were “brownnosers,” Kelly’s posterior must be scrupulously maintained in a pristine condition.

Saturday 27 January 2007

Journal coverage

The November-December issue of The Journal is rolling off the presses and into the mailbags. It includes a detailed report on UCG's hassles – self inflicted – in El Salvador. Quotable quote: “[Reg] Killingley says what he sees as the mishandling of the situation is not entirely Mr. [Leon] Walker’s fault because he is, “in so many ways, archetypically Anglo-Saxon and antithetically Latin.”

Another quotable comment, this time from Brian Knowles in the letters section: ““Evangelist” is not a rank but a role. It is a function, not a position in a pecking order.” We'll be sending Bob Thiel around to sort Brian out on that one!

Can't get to sleep worrying about the “70 Weeks Prophecy”? Anyone with a penchant for that kind of thing can indulge themselves in an essay by Gary Arvidson and Clyde Brown which serves as an extended ad for a couple of booklets they'll send you for a $5 donation. No thanks.

Willie Dankenbring gets front page treatment from Mac Overton, all positive. Jesus is the archangel Michael, the US is Ephraim (not Manasseh) in prophecy. No mention by Mac of all those embarrassing date-setting episodes (that have since been flushed) in the Flash.

For the visual learners among us, check out the photo that shows Jamaican CGI celebrity-leader Ian Boyne in an arm-upraised, finger-stabbing pose (almost Herbertesque) as he thrashes the pulpit during the FOT.

Perhaps surprisingly, there's no mention of the Bryce affair. I guess we'll have to wait for the Jan-Feb issue.

To get a peek at the issue, click across to Compulsory reading for those who want to keep a non-stabbing finger on the pulse of life in the COGs.

Friday 26 January 2007

All the way back

Charles Bryce is forging ahead with his niche COGlet, the Enduring Church of God. A recent letter to the holding-fast, old-timers is available on the AW Extra Google board. The new website,, is not yet online, but expected to launch very soon.

"I want to re-emphasize what our focus must be. We are relentless in our determination to get back to the faith once delivered - all the way back. This must include getting back on the track laid down by Mr. and Mrs. Herbert W. Armstrong as they were guided to do by Jesus Christ - all the way back.

"All of us need to restudy the whole body of work done by Mr. Armstrong - over many decades... We cannot let our focus be blurred by those who are twisting and spinning Mr. Armstrong's teachings and even the scriptures themselves."

Same old song.

Across on Greg Doudna's site there's a new contribution from "Neotherm" on the treatment of 1-Ws (conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War) at AC Big Sandy. Greg notes that it is "an eye-opening, in some ways unsettling, article showing a sort of invisible parallel universe to the privileged student experience."

UCG's Darris McNeely has taken potshots at a new book which explodes an awful lot of nonsense surrounding the Book of Revelation and its use by prophecy nuts. Avoiding the substantive issues that Jonathan Kirsch raises in A History of the End of the World, McNeely, understandably in defensive mode, quickly dives off into reassuring platitudes. Don't be fooled, in reality this book is a powerful - and readable - counterstrike against the apocalyptic teachings of groups like UCG, and is sure to make any honest reader rethink the significance of Revelation. I thought I already had a reasonably good grip on the issues, but learned a lot anyway. The Kirsch book is mercifully jargon-free and written for the general reader - but is also informed by excellent scholarship. Like McNeely I've recently read "End of the World" ... but unlike him can highly recommend it!

Tuesday 23 January 2007

Calling Dr Freud

Violence against women is a serious issue, and it's good to see Presiding Evangelist Meredith addressing it, however hamfistedly, in a TW editorial. But what does one make of this little tirade?

"Even back in the 1940s, my mother and her friends - no doubt like millions of mothers all across the United States - had pushed me and dozens of my classmates to attend "dancing school" - where we were taught to dance face to face and chest to chest with young girls barely entering puberty. We were just little children who wanted to play baseball and "kick the can." God does not forbid dancing, of course, but He does command us to "flee sexual immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18). Why did our mothers push us into the kind of semi-romantic, semi-sexual behavior involved in that kind of dancing when we were only twelve years old?"


"We were so embarrassed at holding these girls in our arms that we simply took off running - not knowing what else to do with ourselves. It would be several years before we were truly ready for such "romantic" involvements even in an innocent way. Why were our mothers pressuring us into this kind of precocious behavior?"

Rod's childhood was traumatised by dancing lessons at age twelve? Rod - now a septuagenarian - still has unresolved issues with his mother?

As they say, "who'd have thunk it?"

Stuff to check out

I miss Brian Knowles' column in The Journal. I was reminded of that when the latest issue arrived on January 22nd, dated October 31. I know Dixon has a reason for the lag, but it's a bit irritating when the mailing label area reads "Time-sensitive material"!

Which in turn reminds me that I need to mail in a cheque for the renewal. A year without The Journal would be difficult for someone who writes about the COGs. The Journal has advantages this blog doesn't. Dixon is close to the beating heart of COGism in East Texas, manages to stay onside with almost everybody, and has the ability to treat topics in-depth. Some of the stories they've run have been outstanding (which is just as well considering some of the brain-dead advertising features.)

It's too bad Brian Knowles' latest article won't get the added exposure The Journal could provide. There it sits over at Ken Westby's site, and is well worth a click through. Brian's conservatism runs counter to my views on a whole range of issues, but he is still one of the most perceptive voices in the COG community. What he has to say about the priorities of the old WCG ministry and the anti-Semitic spirit in the church in those days is well worth repeating (but I won't, read the whole thing in context.)

It's also good to see XCG back in 2007. There's an interesting BI-related thread here, a discussion initiated by Doug Ward (now there's a guy who'd make a great Journal columnist), and Gary Scott is back from holiday with a new post on the Packatollah's need for numbers.

In the "whatever happened to" department, there's a chance to catch up with the fortunes of ex-minister George Geis over at Felix Taylor's blog.

Happy clicking.

Friday 19 January 2007

Comfort Zones: Meant to be Broken

I've taken the title above from an article in the current GN addressed to young adults. The writer, Debbie Whitlark, reflects on a month-long solo backpacking trip through Europe, and her musings are worth repeating.

"In both physical and spiritual matters, people often meet every challenge - and thus every opportunity - with a well practiced list of excuses for why they will avoid the issue or why they will only expect a mediocre performance from themselves. But fears are conquered only through action, and they are only intensified by avoidance."

"We should remember that every challenge in life is a priceless opportunity to grow. We should not ask God to take away the problem while reciting a long list of explanations as to why we won't be able to overcome the challenge at hand. Instead we can confidently trust that God will see us through the trial, not always lift it from us."

"But growth cannot occur within familiar, comfortable territory. We must choose to keep discovering and expanding what we are capable of, rather than always staying within a comfort zone that would insulate us not only from nominal failure, but also from real success."

Debbie is talking in the context of physical challenges and embracing opportunities. I'd like to suggest that there's also a real application here to the way we think, the questions we ask, and the security blanket we cling to in the area of belief. The Churches of God constitute a "comfort zone" for many of us, and no wonder considering the trauma of the past several years. Moreso as we've seen institutions we trusted go belly-up, and leaders we admired betray their ideals, the tendency has been to cluster together for protection and reassurance in even smaller communities. We talk among ourselves and reinforce each other by steering away from the trauma that has pulled families apart and destroyed symbols that we valued. Some of us are literally living out our faith in fear.

"For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice..." (2 Tim. 1:9 NRSV)

Years ago I was invited to hear Desmond Ford speak while has was visiting Auckland. Ford, an Australian theologian who had risen to prominence in Seventh-day Adventism, had recently parted ways with his church. I was one of the very few non SDAs in the hall that day, and to be honest I remember very little of what was said except for one piece of counsel from the good doctor which made a vivid impression.

"You don't have to read my books," Ford explained, "but you do have to read! People who read grow, those who don't won't. Don't settle down and get too comfortable. Don't be afraid to ask questions. And never be afraid to keep reading and thinking."
Of course, I'm paraphrasing, but it's how I remember it, and I walked back to my car that day with a feeling of liberation. So many of us are downright fearful about finding out about things that might upset our applecart of beliefs. We avoid certain books because they might not say what we want them to, we avoid taking a class because our pet theories might be threatened, we attack the beliefs of others because we can't stand the thought that they might actually have some legitimacy and value.

As Debbie says, comfort zones are meant to be broken. But you don't need to go backpacking in the Swiss Alps to make the breakthrough. It's the unique glory of our humanity to ask tough questions and face down the fear, to learn and to grow. If our faith means something more than Linus' security blanket, why shouldn't we wade out into deeper waters, push the boundaries and embrace some of those questions that fear shuns?

Thursday 18 January 2007

Ups and downs

Thanks to the Australian correspondent who snapped this picture while driving near Bunbury, WA last week. He wonders whether this might be the start of an LCG franchise. Anyone living nearby might like to drop in and check whether they're selling ham sandwiches.

The new livingcog Yahoo group seems to be off with a hiss and a roar, signing up 28 members since it was announced just yesterday. In case it wasn't apparent in the previous posting, this is a privately operated board, not one bearing the Meredith imprimatur. The $64 question: will Bob mention it on COGwriter?

Today's Alexa stats reveal some interesting changes of fortune for several COG websites. The Pack RCG site - still ranked at the top of our unofficial list - seems to have finally peaked (fingers crossed.) It's the first reversal for RCG in months, now down to 65,000. While it may yet climb further, it now seems doubtful Dave will ever crash through the 60,000 barrier.

On the other hand, another Dave will be feeling relieved. Hulme's faltering flagship, Vision, has moved up to 624,000, now number 17 on the AW list - possibly due to an ad campaign on Google. This turkey can be expected to fly higher.

The two main news sources, AW and COGwriter, continue to climb. While Bob continues in 11th place, his actual Alexa ranking has continued to improve and stands at 281,000. AW moves from 9th position to 7, and is now ranked in the top quarter million sites on the Web at 221,000 - just a hairs-breath ahead of the Flurry Trumpet. Here's the list.

01 RCG (Pack) 65,850
02 UCG 104,081
03 Real Truth (Pack) 107,202
04 Born to Win (Dart) 145,130
05 The Good News (UCG) 174,575
06 WCG (Tkach) 176,081
07 AW Blog 221,063
08 The Trumpet (Flurry) 221,084
09 Bible Study (Ruth) 245,590
10 Reluctant Messenger (Boston) 279,011
11 COGwriter (Thiel) 281,118
12 Tomorrow's World (Meredith) 312,213
13 Beyond Today (UCG) 363,957
14 CBCG (Coulter) 503,635
15 Logon (Cox) 506,229
16 Key of David (Flurry) 516,308
17 Vision (Hulme) 624,029
18 Intercontinental (Armstrong) 639,781
19 LCG (Meredith) 721,548
20 GTAEA (Armstrong) 775,625
21 The Journal 808,725
22 CGG (Ritenbaugh) 960,627
23 ASK (Sielaff) 980,256

No other COG-related sites (which we're aware of) made it into the top million on the Internet.

Wednesday 17 January 2007

A Voice for LCG members

A new, independent LCG discussion group has been launched on Yahoo.

The new forum is moderated by an LCG member, partly as a result of animated discussion recently on AW.

The new LivingCOG group is available at The moderator states that it is:

"The ONLY forum created by a member of Living Church of God (LCG) due to recent administrative contention as a space where everyone is encouraged (sui generis) to freely express their opinions and concerns (both good and bad) about doctrine and other developments within LCG and related organizations with brethren and elders alike. Posts will usually be of a serious nature so it is asked that you be kind to others and respect all opinions. Everyone is welcome here. A prior background with LCG, UCG, WCG, PCG, etc. may be helpful."

It sounds like a great opportunity for LCG members to express a view and have it listened to. Anonymous postings will be permitted using pen names.

Sunday 14 January 2007

Plagiarism, Flurry and Fraulein Kraus

Bob Thiel has recently quoted extensively from Stephen Flurry's book on the matter of Herbert Armstrong's plagiarism. It seems the Stephen just doesn't accept it, and Bob is quick to agree.

"While it is true that Mr. Armstrong read Judah’s Scepter and Joseph’s Birthright, along with other books about the “Anglo-Israel” theory, he did not copy those works. Joe Jr. made that dishonest claim without any supportive evidence whatsoever, simply because he dislikes Mr. Armstrong and doesn’t agree with the book that more than 6 million people requested." (Flurry Jr.)

"PCG's Stephen Flurry, anti-COG critics notwithstanding, is correct that the books are not the same... The PLAIN TRUTH is that HWA came to a variety of different conclusions than J. Allen did, the books are not the same, and I do not believe that HWA plagiarized it." (Bob)

No supportive evidence whatsoever? Hogwash.

Here, for the edification of Stephen, are a few choice examples out of hundreds of possibilities. I've double checked the quotes - the details are at the bottom if anyone wants them. In fact, you might want to see if you can identify who wrote which.

1a. Remember that the term "Jew" is merely a nickname for "Judah." Hence, it applies to only to the one nation, or House of Judah only - never to the House of Israel.

1b. The name Jew is derived from, or rather is a corruption of, the name Judah.... Hence it is that the names Jew and Jews are applied only to the people who composed the kingdom of Judah.

2a. But the great bulk of Israelites are not the Jews, just as the great bulk of Americans are not Californians, and yet all Californians are Americans.
2b. Jews are Israelites, just as Californians are Americans. But most Israelites are not Jews, just as most Americans are not Californians.

3a. That Dan's leap landed him in Ireland is evident, for in that island we find to this day Dans-Lough, Dan-Sower, Dan-Monism, Dun-dalke, Dun-drum, Don-egal Bay and Don-egal City, with Dun-glow and Lon-don-derry just north of them.

3b. And in Ireland we find they left these "waymarks": "Dans-Laugh," "Dan-Sower," "Dun-dalke," "Dun-drum," "Don-egal Bay," "Don-egal City," "Dun-glow," "Lon-don-derry,"...

I remember reading a passage from Allen to a fellow church member way back in the 70s. The reaction? "That sounds just like Mr Armstrong!" Anyone being honest with the two books would, in my opinion, come to the same conclusion.

But True Believers care little for the facts I guess. No, Mr Armstrong did NOT plagiarise; no Mr Armstrong was NOT an alcoholic, no Mr Armstrong did NOT have sex with his own daughter: reminiscent of German housekeeper Gretchen Kraus in the 80s TV series Benson calling out "I can't HEAR you!"

When your beloved idol is showing the cracks it's often easier to apply another layer of whitewash and pretend otherwise.

Answers: (1) Armstrong 1967 p.80, (2) Allen 1902 p.66, (3) Allen 1902 p.71, (4) Armstrong 1967 p.82, (5) Allen 1902 p.266-267, (6) Armstrong 1967 p.117-118.

Saturday 13 January 2007

Peddling the Gospel

It's a peculiar thing, but the Churches of God are, despite their reduced circumstances, one of the more visible presences on the World Wide Web.

The proof of that assertion is in those irritating Google ads that tie in website content with whatever wares a retailer has to peddle. It doesn't have to be a specifically COG association either; chances are that if the keyword is Bible, prophecy, Sabbath or something similar, Google will deliver a smorgasbord of the usual suspects.

Example: the current AW poll results are surrounded by Google ads. I'm not knocking it, because it means the service is free (or alternatively, the COG advertisers shell out for it, which is a satisfying thought.) But even when the text of the poll has nothing particularly COGish about it, Papa Pack turns up to the party, usually just across from UCG. And, horror of horrors, Hulme seems to have finally “caught on” in a bid to attract traffic to his Vision website, and even Ron Weinland is promoting his brand of soon-coming doom.

So what? Well, I don't notice the Mormons using this strategy, or the Jehovah's Witnesses, or the SDAs. Maybe they're just not as desperate. On the other hand, maybe Pack and friends have hit on a really successful way of marketing the One True Gospel!

Yeah, right.

Meanwhile Don Billingsley has a new magazine for his faithful flock (who, as you can see, feature on the cover.) Something to put on the coffee table alongside The Good News, Vision, Tomorrow's World, The Real Truth, The Philadelphia Trumpet, The... oh, you get the idea. The new entrant is called The Philadelphia Remnant. Nifty title huh! Now to pick up a few subscribers maybe someone could suggest he spend some of the generous tithe money on those cool little Google ads...

Friday 12 January 2007

A Snake in the Grass

Every so often a troublesome fellow comes along who turns the barrel of certitudes upside down, dumps them all over the carpet and then stands there smirking while everyone else is rendered speechless.

Such a troublesome spirit is Henry Ansgar Kelly, author of Satan: A Biography.

Kelly enters the fray from UCLA. Not a theologian, but a professor of English with a passion for Medieval history. As we all know, non-theologians are dangerous creatures with a nasty habit of thinking outside of the square.

Now let's pause for a quick true or false quiz:

1. Satan is also known as Lucifer (T / F)
2. Satan first appears in Genesis as the serpent who tricks Eve (T / F)
3. Satan fell – he was cast out of heaven for leading a rebellion against God long ago (T / F)
4. Revelation speaks of a coming Anti-Christ (T / F)

If you said true to any of the above, Kelly has news for you. In a closely argued book which isn't without a sense of humor, the author sets out to put the record straight, and the gasps from the cheap seats are quite audible.

Now, just to be clear, we're not talking about some Biblicist text-banger who has discovered a “new truth.” This is a serious historical account of how we came to believe what we do about Satan. And according to Kelly, most of the things we think we know about the devil are creations of the Church Fathers, especially Justin Martyr, Origen and Tertullian. And that includes a lot of detail that Herbert Armstrong taught. Kelly doesn't mention Armstrong, but anyone who has read the literature will see that, for example, much of that “new truth” in his booklet “Did God Create a Devil?” was lifted directly from impeccably Catholic sources. Kelly argues that these views were then read back into the Bible, or “retro-fitted.” Put another way, it doesn't really say what most of us assume it does... and he proceeds to make a strong case.

Kelly goes through every occasion where Satan or the devil (which he translates as a proper noun, Devil) appears in the Bible, and even takes the reader through a crash course on the influential books of Enoch, Jubilees and the Wisdom of Solomon. The Prince of Darkness emerges as an authorized agent of God, a kind of divine Tester, not a particularly nice one, but “just doing his job” as they say.

And who really is Lucifer if he isn't Satan? Well, maybe not who we think he is, and Kelly indulges in a fascinating bit of exegesis to demonstrate another possibility entirely.

This wide ranging book is a major broadside at traditional beliefs, and the surprise is just how traditional COG beliefs on this subject really are. It's sure to stir up a hornet's nest, or perhaps it would be more apt to say a devil of a fuss.

Wednesday 10 January 2007

Meanwhile back in Holy Mother Church

A couple of items in the Nov/Dec issue of Together (the downsized WN) caught the sharp eyes of AW readers.

Ron Kelly, despite retirement, is the Big Enchilada (Group Tour Coordinator) for this year's Festival Cruises and Tours - the un-FOT aFlOaT. Pray for calm seas brethren, though for a truly Biblical experience wouldn't a reenactment of Acts 27:41 be fun!

And AW's most famous correspondent from pre-blog days, DP, notes that WCG has lost its "last founding member," Mrs Bobby Fisher. "Mr. Armstrong baptized Bobby while she was in her early teens, and she often spent time with the Armstrongs in their Eugene home. She said it was her responsibility to help spreading sawdust on the floor at the front of each meeting room or tent so people responding to the altar call would have a place to kneel. She said that in the early years, Mr. Armstrong would never preach without giving people a chance to come forward and make a commitment."

Yup, ol' Brother Herb dragged 'em up the sawdust trail in the early days. Somebody tell Gerry.

Piddling on the fence posts

There are two types of COGgers, inclusives and exclusives, open and closed. Which people identify with says a lot about whether they're caught up in a sectarian spirit or not.

Take Ken Westby. Ken was one of those who took the high road in the mid-70s and walked away from what was then a very successful religious operation and a comfortable ministerial lifestyle. Is Ken "open" or "closed"? Here's a quick quote:

"The Azusa Street Revival launched an amazing modern movement and I'm sure there are many sincere Christians included in it, but to suggest it is a modern display of the events and gifts of the Pentecost following Christ's resurrection is folly and has no basis in Scripture."

Ken seems to be stating two things. (1) He believes that there are genuine Christian people within the Pentecostal fold, and (2) Pentecostalism nonetheless isn't the same thing as the early church experienced. Fair enough, he's being gracious in his disagreement and leaving open the possibility that the Good Spirit works among these people too.

Now compare what another COG commentator has to say about Ken's comments.

"There are no sincere real Christians involved with the Azusa Street Revival--there are many sincere people who do not truly know Christ. And actually, that is a problem with ACD--ACD's [sic] denies the pre-existence of Christ and the accuracy of the New Testament (please see the article Binitarian View: One God, Two Beings Before the Beginning), hence I do not believe that ACD really is a COG."

Here's a typical exclusionist in full cry. Those boundary markers are really important, and they have nothing to do with the beatitudes or loving service to others. Nope, those boundaries are dogma. When you think "faith" means "doctrine" it's really important to patrol the perimeter, bark at those beyond and chase out any who are out of step. That is what makes a sect work. He does both things here: yaps at the Azusa-style Charismatics - they're definitely beyond the pale - then nips at Ken's heels to demonstrate that he has no right to be counted as a member of the inner circle, a brother or an equal.

How anyone can stay quite this staunch and rigid I'm not sure. The society in Jesus' day was, as far as we can tell, a very exclusionary one with lots of religious boundary markers. The Jesus portrayed in the Gospels doesn't seem to have given a hoot about them.

Most of us were drawn into the WCG (or a splinter) at a time when we saw the world in black and white terms. Good and evil, God and Satan, blessing and cursing, Sabbath or Sunday. Most of us are still not so good at recognising shades of grey. But life is a subtle thing, and the "heretical" Samaritan is the one who stops to help the stranger, the "heretical" Quakers are at the heart of the anti-slavery movement, and the "wicked liberals" have done more to establish a just society than all the Bible-waving evangelists added together. Which kind of makes you wonder whether the COGs, which have contributed so little to the betterment of our world, do anything but look utterly foolish when they utter their jeremiads on society's alleged ills. Faith is a lot more than assenting to some doctrine or other, and doctrinal correctness is a lot less than faith.

He drew a circle that shut me out -
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
But love and I had the will to win
We drew a circle and drew him in.

Which seems a nobler thing to do than putting one's energies into patrolling the boundaries and piddling on the fence posts.

Tuesday 9 January 2007

Study Bibles

As part of my drive to become the oldest person in history to acquire a recognised qualification in theology (maybe I exaggerate slightly) it's been necessary to acquire a decent Study Bible, one that supports the text with the kind of notes and information that provides context and throws light on some of the more obscure references. While I already had a variety of translations, nothing quite met those criteria.

I looked first at the Zondervan NIV Study Bible which is supposed to be the most popular. The notes on the dust-cover say it all, evangelical and conservative. If that's your poison, you could do a lot worse, but I got the feeling the contributors were looking through rose colored spectacles. Where does the scholarship end and the apologetics begin? I gave it a miss, along with the TNIV (gender-neutral text but same notes.)

In dithered for a while over the The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Although it uses the NRSV and has gone through three editions so far, it's showing its age a bit, and the notes are a little thin on the ground. It still has a great reputation, but I'm prepared to wait for a 4th edition that (hopefully) brings it up to speed with what the others offer.

In the end, in a classic case of overkill, I ended up going for three very different options.

The Jewish Study Bible. (Oxford, 2004)
That might seem an unusual choice, but it's definitely a fresh perspective, and why settle for something that will do no more than just tell you what you expected it to? The translation is JPS's Tanakh which is outstanding, and the supporting essays, maps and notes are excellent (just don't expect a New Testament.)

The Catholic Study Bible (2nd edition) (Oxford, 2006)
The translation used is the New American Bible, which is very readable, and it boasts some great contributors, including John J. Collins, Luke Timothy Johnson and Pheme Perkins. The Reading Guides provide a brilliant introduction to the individual books of the Bible.

The HarperCollins Study Bible. (HarperCollins, 2006)
This is the major competition to the New Oxford Annotated. Included are all the books in the Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox canons. Like the Oxford it also uses the NRSV (which happily is the required translation at the University of Otago), but from what I've seen it offers better value. The contributors come from a wide range of backgrounds, and the Society of Biblical Literature has lent its name to the project. It'll probably get the most use of the three, and is already my "default" choice.

That barely scratches the surface when it comes to what's available, but a lot of the Study Bibles on the shelves of Christian bookshops are, to put it gently, so heavenly-minded that they're of no earthly use. A good Study Bible serves to drive a few pitons into the rock face to help the reader make basic connections without having to drag out commentaries and handbooks every time, and doesn't hide the difficult texts behind a veil of comforting platitudes. And yes, you can pick up a KJV edition if you really want to (the one I thumbed through was endorsed by Jerry Falwell, so I put it back pretty quick!)

(This is the first post in an occasional series on "building a library.")

Monday 8 January 2007


There's a new kid on the COG block, all set to do business and receive your tithes. C'mon down Chuck Bryce and strut that COGwalk!

The new entity has been named the Enduring Church of God. No website yet, but we're assured there's one in the works. And you'll be as delirious as I am to learn that one of their first publishing projects will be a hymnal just like the old purple one!

Actually, Enduring is a great name. If there's one thing the brethren have to master in any COG it's enduring. Enduring slop for sermons, begging letters, bad music and some of the worst "counsel" imaginable from underqualified ministers. Yep, enduring sums it up.

But as to whether the ECG (not to be confused with other ECGs like the hilariously named Eternal Church of God) will endure very long as an institution, that's something else again.

Saturday 6 January 2007

BI Challenged

A former member of the Ambassador Big Sandy staff - and a person not entirely unknown for his comments here - has provided an interesting short article on some of the problems with British-Israel beliefs. A brief clip:

"The burden of proof is on the adherents of British-Israelism to demonstrate that there is ethnic separation between the people of the British Commonwealth and the people of the United States. The entire belief in British Israelism rests with its full weight on this simple and singular pillar."

The essay, appearing under the pen name Neotherm, appears over at Greg Doudna's site -- and it seems that there's more to follow! Stay tuned.

Then there's this...

"The legend of the ten lost tribes of ancient Israelites has caught the imagination of writers and poets during the centuries, finding them was the quest of many. It came partly true when..."

You also might want to check that article (which relates to the artwork above) and discover a credible lost tribe story that for some inexplicable reason the BI brigade don't usually bother to mention...

Bring back Tomorrow's World!

Let's all help out the LCG as it faces a new crisis, this time a marketing crisis. Whether the lads have had advance warning I don't know, but I for one am willing to contribute my services in search of a solution.

LCG needs a new name for its magazine and TV show. Quick!

Those of us in Her Majesty's Dominions - if we're sufficiently long in the tooth - will remember the BBC science series Tomorrow's World. No hillbilly apocalyptic apologetics there, it was cutting edge stuff.

TW went the way of all TV shows after nearly 40 years. FORTY YEARS. That gives the Beeb a substantial claim to the name! It first saw the light in 1965, long before WCG launched the short-lived Good News of Tomorrow's World in - was it 1979?

Of course, there was no problem as long as Auntie wasn't using the name. Alas, the Grand Old Dame has had a change of heart. Check out this story. The name is being dusted off as part of a rebranding exercise, even though there are no plans to resurrect the show (though we live in hopes!)

"BBC News has decided to bring back the "brand" for a whole range of technology coverage which you will see on TV and online over the coming 12 months."

Can you see the possibility for confusion? The BBC getting letters asking about the 2300 days of Daniel and Rod getting enquiries about solar-powered washing machines. Ghastly!

So let's all put our noggins together and come up with a new name for the boys in Charlotte to use. Suggestions please.

Thursday 4 January 2007

Where's Wally?

In case you missed it, the LCG has blooded a new face and voice on its Tomorrow's World telecast, a younger frontman to complement the aging duo of Meredith and Ames, both now of pensionable vintage.

The new man of the moment is Wally Smith, a Missouri pastor now elevated to the tele-Troika. Mind you, he's still a junior member of the team, officially billed on his first outing (America on the Brink) as "guest presenter." Presumably that leaves room for Rod to dump the "rookie" (as he calls himself on his blog) if he doesn't scrub up to the Presiding Evangelist's satisfaction. Was it a good sign that WGN pulled his first program due to "strong comments"?

So, is Wally the shining new hope? You can view his appearance before the cameras on the LCG website and judge for yourself. My own view: nice suit, interesting hand movements, too bad about the script.

Creation and Revelation

Polls always intrigue me. They provide a quick feel for how a group of people - in this case the readers of AW (and by extension at least part of the COG and ex-COG community) - think about issues. The last two focussed on the first and last books of the Bible. With a minimum number of 100 participants, a large sample by most blog standards, it's likely the results are fairly representative.

It surprised me - though it probably shouldn't have - that gap-theory creationism came out ahead of the other options. It surprised me again when so many people elected to drop the eschatology that defines our Adventist past and agree that the prophecies of Revelation are largely metaphor. Those two results don't seem to sit easily together, but there you have it.

One thought keeps running through my head in light of the second poll. The major splinter groups continue to emphasise "prophecy" and the End Times, and yet many within seem to be thoroughly "burned over" on this kind of thing. Maybe it's time for groups like UCG to quit beating the drum and work toward a more balanced position - where they might find a sizable number of the brethren patiently waiting for them to catch up.

Beginnings poll

End Times poll

Update: Sabbath poll results

Wednesday 3 January 2007

BI Makeover

First there was the transformation from old fashioned 6-day, flood-geology Creationism to new, repackaged, consumer-friendly "Intelligent Design". Now another retread is underway that may strike a special chord with the COG community. Antiquated, much-battered J. H. Allen-style British Israelism seems to be heading for the recycle bin as well, to emerge as something called the Two House Theory.

THT is a lot like BI, but this time it's gaining ground in the environment of Messianic Judaism, as non-Jewish converts attempt to deal with Patriarch-envy. As always, Wikipedia is on top of the issue.

As the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes: nuthin' new under the Sun!

Monday 1 January 2007

The Web Witnesses

To mark the new year the nice people at Alexa have released their latest website rankings, and the results again indicate just how effective – or ineffective – the media ministries of various COG groups and individuals are.

This time around, in order to create a basis for comparison, the rankings of several non-COG and mainline Christian groups are included in italics. How does the UCG website, for example, stack up against the Seventh-day Adventists?

First, an overview. RCG is still making gains, but neither the Vatican nor the Mormons should be too worried. Ron Dart continues to do very well, his independent Born To Win website outclasses all of the “orgs” except RCG and UCG. At present 23 COG websites (that AW monitors) are in the top million, 14 in the top half million, and 8 in the leading quarter million. AW continues to crawl up the slippery ladder and now stands at number 9. Rankings were sampled 1 January.

The details: Top Ten

-- Mormon Church ( 2,690
-- The Vatican ( 9,908
-- Jehovahs Witnesses ( 26,884
-- US Catholic Bishops ( 34,140
-- Church of England ( 43,972

-- Unitarians ( 56,847
01 Pack RCG ( 64,342
-- Seventh-day Adventists ( 68,461
-- Lutherans [ELCA] ( 69,449
-- Salvation Army ( 77,221
-- Assemblies of God ( 89,909
-- US Episcopal/Anglicans ( 94,107

-- Presbyterians [PCUSA] ( 105,812
02 UCG ( 106,376
-- Methodists [UMC] ( 113,140
03 Born To Win [Dart] ( 152,990
-- Billy Graham ( 153,106
04 Real Truth [Pack] ( 159,977
-- United Church of Christ ( 162,450
05 WCG [Tkach] ( 185,087
-- Southern Baptists ( 191,567
06 Good News [UCG] ( 203,832
-- WELS Lutheran ( 218,930
07 The Trumpet [PCG] ( 224,630
08 Bible Study [Ruth] ( 239,217
-- Orthodox Church in America ( 239,665
-- LCMS Lutheran ( 248,802
09 Ambassador Watch [this blog] 260,151
10 Reluctant ( 270,690

11 - 23

11 Bob Thiel ( 325,613
12 Tomorrow's World [LCG] ( 332,447
13 Beyond Today [UCG] ( 339,705
14 Fred Coulter ( 438,424
-- United Church of Canada ( 462,482
-- Disciples of Christ ( 476,842
-- Community of Christ [RLDS] ( 482,885
-- Uniting Church of Australia ( 487,386

15 Key of David [PCG] ( 536,297
-- US Reformed Church ( 547,149
16 Logon [Cox] ( 577,180
17 ICG [Armstrong] ( 694,210
18 GTA [Armstrong] ( 814,594
19 Vision [Hulme] ( 827,593
20 Ritenbaugh ( 855,25
21 LCG ( 885,403
22 The Journal ( 905,516
-- Christian Science ( 920,346
23 ASK [Sielaff] ( 987,954