Saturday 27 December 2008

Tithe Abuse

Recently Robert Taylor, a British COG blogger with Messianic Jewish leanings, wrote:

Critics often tarnish the Armstrong movement into one sweeping broad brush, one idealistic set of doctrines, but that is far from reality, usually, this is to reinforce stereotypical beliefs of tithing and church government.

If I understand Robert correctly, he's saying critics (that'd obviously include a lot of people who visit and comment on AW) have a kind of myopia: we can't get past the bugbears of tithing and church government in order to fairly assess the other positive aspects of our former heritage.

Robert goes on: There are churches within the Armstrongite movement that do not teach tithing to its members. The Church of God in Williamstown and Bible Research are examples.

Putting aside the fallacy of "church government" for the moment, I think its fair to say that tithing is still one of the hot keys for many of us: a much-loathed expression of manipulation and abuse. We saw hard earned dollars extorted with grand claims and outright lies, and what did it bring forth? An auditorium, inflated paychecks for church leaders, a college that was sold off, and third-tithe funded ministerial home improvements. The Work collapsed; the magazine, radio and TV outreach disappeared, and membership was decimated. The lasting fruit of all that giving and sacrifice?

Not much.

The cost - not just in money (30% of gross income in some years) - but in missed opportunities, health, stress, and retirement prospects, was often horrendous.

Robert cites two micro-sects that no longer teach tithing. The Williamstown church, apparently just one small congregation in the Australian state of Victoria, and Bible Research - which is so obscure most of us hadn't heard of it before. These two tiny groups (if Bible Research is a group and not just one guy with a Word Processor) are very much the exception. On the tithing side of the divide are all the major splinters (UCG, LCG, PCG, COG-AIC), and Holy Mother Church presided over by Flip-flop Joe. ("You don't need to tithe. Hey, where's the money gone? You need to tithe!")

Tithing is in the DNA of the COGs. David Pack yells from the pulpit: "If people don't tithe, they're gone!" Of course, plenty of other churches encourage a version of the practice (almost all more benign than Herbert Armstrong's interpretation.) The real problems are inflexibility, inflated claims, irresponsible proof texting, and negligent stewardship by those holding the purse strings. Being generous with a percentage of your income is in itself no bad thing, but:

  • There is no mandate for tithing - as described in the Bible - today. Ernest Martin's popular booklet made this crystal clear. Neither Christians nor Jews can tithe in the biblical sense in the absence of a priesthood or temple. Earlier examples of tithing (e.g. Abraham to Melchizedek) were clearly intended as "one-off" arrangements. Biblical tithing was based on agricultural produce (food!), not salaries (which, like the Bank of America, didn't exist in agrarian cultures.) The Catholic roots of church tithing only go back as far as Charlemagne (777 CE.) What we call tithing today in the Church of God, Adventist, Mormon, Baptist, and various non-conformist Protestant bodies, is something else - a modern tradition largely unheard of before the 1870s.
  • The management of any program of giving remains with the giver. To hand over large, regular sums to any church or charity without demanding accountability is good for neither donor nor recipient. For the donor it's a cop-out, for the recipient it's a license to do whatever they want.
  • If a family or individual decides to set aside a certain portion of their income for good causes, there's nothing in the Bible to say it all has to go to one organization. The initiative - and the responsibility - is in your hands. This is the whole point of the "priesthood of all believers" (which WCG now refers to as the "ministry" of all believers - which is to entirely miss the point.)
Which is to say that the Churches of God - with an occasional rare and insignificant exception at the far fringes - also miss the point.

Note: Ernie Martin's tithing booklet is available online. Also available is a long (2 hour!) presentation by Russell Earl Kelly on Google video. If you have the interest (and the patience) he makes a very solid case against tithing from a conservative Evangelical perspective.

Friday 26 December 2008

Survey - David Barrett replies to comments

David Barrett offers these responses to comments on his survey.

Thanks for all your comments (Libro66 - I love the three hypostases!) I realised very early on that I couldn't cover all the different groups of people (I identified seven distinct groups). PhD theses have to be very tightly focussed, and if I also looked at, for example, those who had accepted the changes and stayed in WCG, and those who had not accepted the changes but tried to stay in WCG, and those who had accepted the changes but decided to join a mainstream Evangelical Church with no connection to the "Worldwide Family", and those who said "A plague on all your houses" and dropped out of Christianity completely -- although these are all equally worthy of study, including them in my study would make it too broad and unwieldy; I'd be looking in too many directions in not enough depth.

I do mention all of them, and will certainly make use of any comments you're kind enough to send me if you're in one of those four groups, but my main focus is on those who held on to the old-Worldwide beliefs, in one version or another, and what they did and where they went and why. I'm looking mainly at conflicts of authority within a sociological theoretical framework -- largely the conflicts between the authority of the Church leadership and the teachings of the Church's founder, and the continuing conflicts and schisms within the offshoot Churches.
Thank you again to all who have completed the questionnaire -- or whichever parts of it are relevant to you. And yes, please do make use of the spaces to add your comments, both for specific questions and at the end.

The Survey link is The password is the name of the city where HWA began his radio ministry on KORE, followed by the year.

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Nephilim Flush but Snoopy Rocks!

No Madonnas, angels, blokes wearing towels on their heads, or tinsel... but it's gotta be my favorite Xmas carol.

Of course, if you're holed up somewhere trying to ignore the heathen festivities, you could spend the day drinking deeply from the profound well of godly wisdom... I refer to the latest issue of Prophecy Flush... no, hang on, maybe that's Flash. Whatever. There are eighty eight pages of classic Dankenbring to wallow in while the wicked world does unspeakable things with wrapping paper and turkey. Will Obama be King of the World? How about those Seventy Weeks in Daniel? Who could resist an article will the most original title: The Book of Revelation Uncloaked At Last! While you're uncloaking you also get a chance to check Flash Willie's briefs... (ah, perhaps I should rephrase that, I mean his prophecy briefs.) Weinlanders may be riveted by an article on the Trib, lunatics have their own interests catered for with another on the New Moons, and how could you pass up on those incredible letters to the editor.

But wait, there's more! William wants to send you his free book on the amazing Nephilim. It's called "Angels, Women, Sex, Giants, UFOs, Alien Abductions and the Occult: What On Earth Is Going On?"

That title about nails everything except rock 'n roll!

Let me think: Snoopy or Flash Willie? Tough choice, but I think I'll just go with the beagle.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Spanky wants your Xmas cash

The Lordly Presiding Evangelist speaketh:

...I would like to ask all of you [LCG ministers] to announce to the brethren that... the income for the Work has fallen off precipitously in the last few days! We don’t know if this is a continuing trend, but it is possible since the genuine financial crisis is affecting so many people. We do ask, however, that—according to each one’s ability—all of our brethren try to respond to this need. In a period like this, God’s Work must go on! We must keep on growing and having an impact on the world to prepare for the end of this age, as the warning message we have been preaching has been surely coming to pass as never before.

So I ask all of you to urge the brethren to give as generously as they are able, and ask everyone to pray fervently with me and all of us here at Headquarters that God will truly bless and deliver the Work at this time. I will be praying that God will help you, bless you and inspire you as you continue in His service and guide the brethren to do likewise. Thank you, dear brethren, from the heart.

Can't be long before Rod calls another fast. Dig deep dear brethren!

Holy Father!

Now here's a nifty idea. Yes, it's the best way for good Catholics to search the Web. Not sure about bad Catholics or the "cafeteria" variety, but I can see Jared making excellent use of this new site.

CatholicGoogle is a custom search engine powered by Google, just for Catholics. We strive to provide an easy to use resource to anyone wanting to learn more about Catholicism and provide a safer way for good Catholics to surf the web.

This site is powered by Google using "safe search" technology, it produces results from all over the internet with more weighting to given to Catholic websites and eliminates the vast majority of unsavoury content, such as pornography. The site is not associated or affiliated with, we work closely with Google to help ensure that the adverts are not objectionable in nature, however, some of the results and adverts that are displayed may not be in line with Catholic doctrine and we do not endorse of any of the results or adverts displayed on Catholic Google.

Now, what we need is COG Google. Hmm... maybe that's too broad... UCG and LCG would fight over top listings, and could we in good conscience include Weinland or Dankenbring? Somehow I suspect AW would appear way down those listings. Anyway, the idea has merit, right? The Information Superhighway personalized for your denominational preference. But what next? Atheist Google, Taliban Google? Branch Davidian Google?

Monday 22 December 2008

Death of Sabbath scholar

Dr Samuele Bacchiocchi, a Seventh-day Adventist scholar well known in Church of God circles, has died after a long battle with cancer. Bacchiocchi, a prolific writer, was author of From Sabbath to Sunday, and two books on the Holy Days which are often found on church members' book shelves. His website is Of Italian descent, he was the first non-Catholic to be accepted for study at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

Abrahamic Faith: Intro to Series

Over recent days I've had a fascinating exchange of emails with Dr James Tabor, author of The Jesus Dynasty, and leading figure in the new Jesus Project (not to be confused with the earlier Jesus Seminar) and a respected scholar who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Dr Tabor's graciousness and patience in dealing with an obnoxious and opinionated undergraduate theology student has been remarkable. It is surely a measure of the man that he relates to both ends of the theological spectrum with a generosity of spirit uncharacteristic of many of his peers.

Initially I intended to upload a review of his book Restoring Abrahamic Faith, either here or on AW's sister blog, Otagosh. That's now on hold, partly because of its length, and partly because it's still very much a work in progress. In its place will be a series of loosely related postings. The first - touching on the so-called "Lost Tribes" - is due to appear on AW tomorrow.

Comments on these postings are welcome, but will appear in one place (rather than under each individual item) and will be subject to a stricter standard of moderation than other threads.

For those interested in securing a copy of Restoring Abrahamic Faith, information is available at

Update: These postings are now also on hold. Perhaps in the new year...

Saturday 20 December 2008

Survey update

British researcher David V Barrett reports a lot of interest in his online questionnaire into the Worldwide Church of God offshoot churches. He advises: "If you haven't filled out the questionnaire there are only a couple of weeks left to do so -- up to the end of the year and perhaps three or four days into the new year. Don't worry if not all the questions are applicable to you; just answer those that are. Even if you only answer half the questions this will still be helpful. And a huge thank you to all those of you who have already completed the questionnaire."

The questionnaire is at (the password is six letters immediately followed by four numbers: the town where HWA first began his radio ministry, and the year this occurred). More information about David Barrett's study can be found here, and some further background in the sidebar.

Comments on Abrahamic Faith Postings

Comments are invited on a series of postings to be loosely based around James Tabor's privately published book, Restoring Abrahamic Faith. These comments will be will be more strictly moderated than other threads, and should be on topic, and issues-focused. The objective on this thread is a thoughtful, non-polemic discussion minus cheap shots. Comments will be published here, rather than under the individual entries. The introductory piece in the series will be online tomorrow.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Excuse me Ronnie - the Pope's a better prophet than thou

The Great Tribulation has (to borrow someone else's one-liner) re-begun. The End is Nigh. Re-pant (and you know if that applies to you), or at the very least repent, and believe in God's messenger! No, not Jesus, what's he got to do with it? No, I mean Ronnie Weinland.

Ronnie, ably assisted by newly ordained wife Laura (when did women's ordination become standard practice in the splinters?), is the Eternal's number one bloke: Numero Uno of the Two Witnesses. 2008 is the year of doom... and the calendar is running out of available dates.

Ronnie is, of course, a true Christian. We know this because he "keeps" the Sabbath, pays tithes (to himself?) and won't eat bacon and egg pie. On the other hand, we know that Papa Ratzinger is a false Christian because he's Catholic, prays the Lord's Prayer, wears funny clothes and has set up a Christmas Tree in St Peter's Square.

But here's the thing: Papa R seems to know something Ronnie doesn't. Yes folks, we've got a real prophecy smackdown here! My money is on the old guy with the German accent.

Thanks to fellow Kiwi blogger, the mysterious Que, for pointing this out.

Sunday 14 December 2008

Through Much Tribulation

The 14th of December has fully come, at least here in New Zealand, where the midnight hour has already struck, and fear not (or perhaps fear greatly), it will be arriving elsewhere in due course.

This is the beginning of the Second Weinland Tribulation.

Ron, a former WCG and UCG minister who founded his own breakaway sect, got it awfully wrong first time around: the Trib was confidently announced for April 17 this year. Oops! But give the guy a break, anyone can make a mistake, right? Today it finally all comes crashing down around us, though Ron says this is in a prophetic sense rather than a literal one, and the faithful followers shouldn't be too perturbed if nothing dramatic actually occurs today. In fact he says nothing may happen for up to a year. In that case, what's the point of the three and a half year period?

This distinction between a prophetic sense and a literal one is a ham-fisted attempt at a stroke of genius. Exactly what he means is a bit cloudy as Ron is a pretty literal-minded kind of fellow, but it should at least buy Ron a few days of grace - or a few months from his denser admirers - before the disturbing and difficult questions start popping up. Questions like: what on earth was Ron really doing with that Swiss bank account he now admits to having?

We know how Ron said he'd handle disconfirmation the first time round: he said he'd admit to being a false prophet and get out of the Bible-bashing business. Of course God was merciful, and faithful Ron was given new insight (the 50th Truth!) - complete with a spiffy new countdown to wow the credulous sheep with - so thankfully the poor man didn't have to back down and keep his word, or, perish the thought - apologize.

But what happens if - heaven forbid! - Ron gets it wrong this time too? I haven't been following the great man's words too closely, but it seems he's not loudly repeating the "get out of Dodge" line from before.

And hey, Ron could be right. All that Xmas shopping and office partying poses a good deal of tribulation after all, not to mention the inevitable arrival of the Visa and MasterCard accounts in January. From such catastrophes Ron and his Santa-free flock will no doubt be divinely protected. Whether the little band of true believers, who have been hanging on Ron's every gracious word for months now, will continue to take the Witless One seriously when no German soldiers appear to goose-step down the main street in Puyallup, Washington... well, only time will tell.

Saturday 13 December 2008

The Gospel from Godsden and a Doudna debunk

AW correspondent Paco unearths a new COG website:

Today I came across a home-made looking booklet titled "The PLAIN TRUTH about Christmas." Clearly produced on a copy machine, the booklet's contents are straight out of Armstrongism, circa 1960. The only clue as to who produced it is found on the last page, which simply lists the web address

Be sure to put on your sunglasses (or perhaps a welder's mask) before going to the site. "Garish" does not begin to describe the use of colors, print, fonts and layout. The site's owner identifies himself as "James Anthony Roach" (Jim Roach?) of "Godsden, Alabama." The entire site is a rehash of the most speculative elements and hardcore doctrines of Armstrongism. He has a countdown clock to August 31, 2010. Sample at your own risk.

A quick look indicates that UCG needn't worry too much about having their GN magazine site toppled from first place in the COG web rankings.

The election of Barack Obama brought a range of nutty conspiracy-type theories out for an airing. Greg Doudna, author of Showdown at Big Sandy and an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls, takes time out to pop a few of those balloons with an article called "A Full and Complete Transcription of a Phone Call between Ron McRae and Sarah Onyango Obama of Kenya on Oct. 16, 2008, which has been wrongly alleged to contain a statement by Barack Obama Jr.'s grandmother that Barack Obama Jr. was born in Kenya." Not content with that, Greg, tongue in cheek I suspect, has even given it an alternate title: The Tale of The Secret Kenyan Birth: A Strange Story of a Transatlantic Telephone Call, a Fateful Confusion Over the Meaning of the Word "Present", and a Brief Excursion into the Wonderful World of Conspiracy Theory in American Politics.

This guy has a sense of humor! You can preview a few pages for free, but it'll only cost less than the equivalent of a chai latte or mocha ($3) to download the complete article. Be sure to email the highlights to Dankenbring, Coulter, Billingsley and other "fair and balanced" COG pontificators.

Friday 12 December 2008

James Tabor - A Personal Manifesto

Dr James Tabor, a high profile scholar at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has released an expanded version of his book Restoring Abrahamic Faith. He describes this third edition as a personal manifesto. Tabor's earlier bestseller, The Jesus Dynasty, proved controversial in 2006.

Restoring has a narrower marketing focus. The 170 page quality paperback has been published under Dr Tabor's imprint Genesis 2000. A fairly substantial review is planned for January.

Some readers will be surprised that Tabor, who once taught at Ambassador College, expresses continuing regard for historical reconstructions that mesh with British-Israelism:

... history shows that the bulk of these tribes migrated northwest into Europe, and did finally fulfill the promises that were made to the two sons of Joseph - Ephraim and Manasseh, about unprecedented national greatness (Genesis 48:4-20.)

This is, however, only a small part of the book's argument, which includes a call to refocus biblical faith on "core" passages in the Hebrew Bible, and embrace a thoroughly human understanding of Jesus. This seems to be, essentially, a Noahide perspective, a movement Dr Tabor has identified with. More detail will be available in the review, but for those who don't want to wait, information about Restoring Abrahamic Faith, including how to order a copy, is available at the Genesis 2000 website.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Hark the HQ Honchos Sing

WCG's denominational magazine, Christian Odyssey, is out in what might be described as a Christmas issue, complete with sappy cover, shepherds and baby in a manger.

There are wise men too... five not three - Tkach, Kroll, Halford, Feazell and Morgan; all providing seasonal articles, and one wise woman (Barbara Dahlgren). Halford and Feazell in particular have provided a fictional retelling of the Christmas story which would surely leave old-time literalists shaking their heads... it absolutely ain't Basil Wolverton's Bible Story.

Given WCG's well-known former position on Yuletide, it seems a bit strange that Joe Tkach's references to non-observance are indirect and non-specific. You might be forgiven for thinking he was engaging in an arms-length discussion of a subject remote from his own experience.

Given the results so far of the latest poll on this blog (in the sidebar), around half of the readers here still regard Christmas as pagan and to be avoided. If that's the response among a more "liberated" cross-section than most, it would be interesting to know just how many of those who still attend WCG feel comfortable with the Great Christmas Capitulation...

Friday 5 December 2008

Gerry's tantrum II

A full page ad in The Oklahoman features the prophet's protestations...

Click to enlarge. Unfortunately not easy to read even then, but you'll get the gist of it. (Update: the full text is now on PCG's website here.)

Gerry is not happy!

Gerry is, of course, Gerry Flurry, a.k.a. "that prophet" and Pastor General of the PCG (Philadelphia Church of God.)

The Branch Davidian references on Fox really seem to have set the old boy off.

"It was disgraceful. Yellow journalism at its worst." He speaks of his "1993 sin" which "I publicly repented of before the church and before God..."

"We will not allow Fox 25's damaging innuendos, smears, and lies to be the last word."

Fox News has attacked not only PCG, but "Almighty God!" "Fox 25 has more in common with the Branch Davidians." Gerry also spend a lot of column inches attacking David Ben-Ariel, formerly David Hoover.

Gerry, Gerry, Gerry... dude, chill; you're just digging yourself in deeper.

(Thanks to David Ben-Ariel who drew AW's attention to the ad.)

Addendum: The Flurry cannonade sounds again: round two of full page ads. Methinks the PG protesteth too much...

Wednesday 3 December 2008

The Old Gray Hymnal

My memories of WCG are intertwined with the purple hymnal. It was the official hymn book when I first attended on the Feast of Trumpets in 1975 (at a forgotten rural hall a few kilometres out of Hamilton), and was still a solid fixture at the last service I attended (at the Epsom Girls Grammar venue in Auckland), years later. Even now those Dwight Armstrong hymns pop back into memory at unexpected moments - especially, for some reason, on long road trips.

But before purple there was gray, and by the miracle of PDF files we can now all peruse the hymnal that reigned in the Empire prior to 1974. (This is perhaps the 1958 edition, updated after the name change from Radio Church of God in 1966, though that's just a guess on my part as the PDF files carry no copyright information. Can anyone clarify?)

You may be as surprised as I was at what the brethren were singing way back then. Of course there are lots of Dwight Armstrong's earlier tunes, though many carry different titles. But how about these weeds in the garden of the Eternal:

- Standing On The Promises
- Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus
- I Would Be True
- Open My Eyes, That I May See
- No Night There
- Safely Thro' Another Week*
- Just When I Need Him Most
- Jesus Calls Us, O'er The Tumult
- With Happy Voices Singing
- Blessed Assurance
- It Is Well With My Soul*
- I Need Thee Every Hour
- I Love To Tell The Story
- Sweet Hour Of Prayer
- What A Friend We Have In Jesus
- In The Garden
- Count Your Blessings*
- Tell Me The Old, Old Story
- Day Is Dying In The West
- Blest Be The Tie That Binds

All of these were "purged in purple," and it seems that the WCG took a further turn to the sectarian (at least musically) in the process. (You have to wonder how Onward Christian Soldiers managed to survive the cull of 74.) Would current PCG, RCG or LCG members feel comfortable with these pre-purple "Protestant" songs? I found just browsing through the pages brought on, as you'll see if you click the links above, a definite Pat Boone moment- very scary! - surely the Old Rugged Cross would be only a few pages away... (it wasn't.)

In 1993 the "reformed" WCG published their new hymnal, which reintroduced a few of these titles (the ones with an asterisk), but the rest continue to disappear out of living memory.

You can download your own copy of the gray hymnal here.

Addendum: I keep looking at the way the color/colour grey/gray is spelled in the above item, and brethren it just ain't right! Everyone in New Zealand familiar with Footrot Flats knows it's the Grey Ghost, not the Gray Ghost. The problem is compounded by the fact that, in deference to the number of AW readers coming from General Washington's rebel colonies, I usually adopt US spelling. But, without wanting to labour/labor the point, here's the best discussion on this weighty issue I've come across.

Whew! Glad to have that off my chest.

PCG throws tantrum

All the toys were thrown out of the cot at a recent PCG press conference. As reported on other blogs, the Flurry High Command was not amused by local coverage of the church on Fox (AW Nov. 30).

Frankly, I thought they got off lightly.

The thing about throwing a hissy fit is that you draw even more attention to the issues you are trying to evade. We now learn the following bit of information.

... about a year ago, [the sheriff's office] conducted a “flyover” of the PCG campus, a preventative measure to see if everything was “on the up and up” and to be sure there would be no Waco-like incident here.

The other notable thing is the existence of a "marketing director" for the church. What, pray tell, are Gerry and Stephen marketing? Public Relations, or Community Relations... well, that'd be understandable, but "marketing director"? Could someone tell these splinters that churches are not supposed to be commercial corporations...

Check out the Everything COG commentary here, and read the Edmond Sun article here. Or just take yourself off into a quiet room away from nearby distractions: you'll probably be able to hear the blubbing and keening all the way from Oklahoma.

Monday 1 December 2008

COGs online

It's been a long time since AW posted the Alexa rankings for various COG websites, but here are the latest in order from most popular on down to #18.

01. The Good News [UCG], 106k
02. Vision [Hulme], 109k
03. [independent], 122k
04. The Trumpet [Flurry], 131k
05. UCG, 134k
06. WCG, 161k
07. [CGG], 171k
08. Tomorrow's World [LCG], 174k
09. RCG, 199k
10. COGwriter [LCG unofficial], 202k
11. ASK, 322k
12. CGG [Ritenbaugh], 452k
13. Born To Win [Dart], 501k
14. LCG, 618k
15. Beyond Today, [UCG], 643k
16. PCG [Flurry], 656k
17. PTM [Albrecht], 661k
18. COG-PKG [Weinland], 701k

In case anyone wonders about what exactly these sites are, links to all can be found in the sidebar. AW - to anticipate a question - currently ranks just outside this group at 727k. While other ranking systems exist, and Alexa is far from perfect, it does reflect worldwide traffic rather than just US traffic.

Nostalgia returns

Alright, you Poms, Ockers and Yanks can tune out this one (pun definitely intended). Gather around fellow Godzoners, last night the Goodnight Kiwi returned to TVNZ channels after a long absence - we last saw the little bloke in 1994. In those days 24-hour programming was the height of foreign decadence (you Brits, Aussies and Americans aren't still reading this are you?) The new version will screen at 7.30 to encourage the ankle-biters to head off to bed. I'm guessing they'll modify the original (below) as, let's face it, what twenty-first century Kiwi kid would even recognise a milk bottle?

Alternate never-screened version for wicked, degenerate readers...

Version 2

Sunday 30 November 2008

Flurry on Fox

Fox television has screened a couple of brief items on PCG. Featured are Stephen Flurry and former members David Ben-Ariel and Dennis Fisher (among others.) The tone is pure Fox, which won't please the Flurry sect, but it certainly doesn't go into any depth either. Definitely worth watching - but be prepared to wait for the clips to load.

And surprise! Tithing in PCG is voluntary... well, whataya know! Gerry's little problem with the police does get a mention. Dumbest moment: a Fox reporter asking Stephen Flurry whether they're Branch Davidians.

Part 1 / Part 2

Saturday 29 November 2008

Fred "Bildberger" Coulter

Willie Dankenbring has a kindred spirit in Fred Coulter. Putting aside any pretense to objectivity or impartiality, in his November epistle Freddy opines:

For the first time in modern history, the people of the USA have elected a man who has the least experience of any former president. He is also a man about whom we know virtually nothing. His radical leftist beliefs were carefully hidden by the media—an Obama propagandist media. His radical leftist/Marxist associates—black racist ministers and criminal friends here and abroad—were completely ignored or dismissed as harmless. Moreover, why have all of Obama’s school records at Columbia University and Harvard Law School been sealed? What are they hiding?

Then Fred dives in the deep end:

[T]here are men in high places who are the actual "power brokers"—the ultra-elite of the establishment who are the behind-the-scenes rulers of the governments of this world. They are often referred to as a "shadow government"—as only a few know who they actually are. Most of them have no allegiance to the true God in heaven. Rather—knowingly or unknowingly—they are serving the god of this world, Satan the devil, who is using them to deceive the entire world. Their overall goal is a New World Order—a World Government with a new World Religion. They are the leaders in government, business, banking and religion around the world. They are known to belong to organizations such as the Illuminati, the Committee of 300; they are high ranking Masons and Knights of Columbus. They are members of the Council of Foreign Relations and similar organizations in various nations. They belong to the Tri-lateral Commission and the Bildbergers [sic]. These are the "power brokers" who actually select presidents and prime ministers of the leading nations of the world. This is why the world is headed toward a global government, a global central bank, a global currency and a global religion. Such is their goal—masterminded by Satan the devil as part of his final, great rebellion against God through the beast and the false prophet (Rev. 13).

Oh dear lord, not the Trilateral Commission! Has the guy completely lost it, and did he ever have it to begin with?


[T]he USA is currently facing gigantic economic troubles and a new Democratic federal government that will take us further down the road to socialism and fascist, totalitarian rule.

I'm not sure what reality Coulter lives in, certainly not one where democracy and political diversity are celebrated, and even tired, angry old men swallow their disappointment with grace, generosity of spirit and a commitment to the common good. Was John McCain's widely admired concession speech totally lost on Freddy? Did the guy even bother to get off his fat half-acre and vote? At least LCG's Michael Germano, to give credit where it's due, is willing to put his money where his mouth is.

If these are the voices of COGdom, then the movement is doomed. Where are the voices of a new generation, articulate up-and-comers who know better than to splash around in this mindless conspiratorial muck? Those who know better - and there are a few of them - keep a low profile while the embarrassing blow-hards hold the floor.

Freddy and Willie: the prognosticators who time passed by - circa 1972...

Friday 28 November 2008

Illusion or Delusion

Dennis Diehl has a guest posting over at Corky's blog, including comments on the Weinland fiasco that continues to unwind before our eyes in slow motion. Well worth checking out.

Which reminds me, only fifteen days to go before Ron's Great Trib ("take 2"). My prediction is that a giant rotten omelette (probably metaphorical, but we can only pray for a literal fulfillment) will descend from the heavens and hit the End Time Witness squarely on the kisser.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Dr Thiel, please explain

Bob Thiel has the following things to say on his blog:

[T]here was an article in The Journal by Reginald Killingley promoting voting–which we in the Living Church of God do not do... the article neglected to state is that the only reference in the Bible to voting was when Saul (before he became Paul) voted to get Christians killed (Acts 26:9-10). Paul also specifically wrote that this present world is evil (Galatians 1:4) and recall that Jesus taught:
“My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight…” (John 18:36).
Furthermore, regarding the recent USA presidential election, both candidates endorsed evil... Christians should not endorse evil. Instead of voting in the election, I urged Christians to pray and fast...
Here's the thing; how do we balance Bob's statements with the actions of Living University's Dr Michael Germano? These comments were posted by an AW reader.
Notice this August 2008 campaign contribution by LCG elder and Living University President Dr. Michael Germano:

Contribution to John McCain by LCG elder Michael Germano

FEC Report Showing Germano Contribution

Under HWA, this would never have been allowed. Now, a minister and senior LCG leader can openly support and donate to a political candidate.

Yep, Doc Germano apparently pulled out his checkbook for McCain, and even identified himself as a LCG administrator!

One assumes that Doc also turned out to vote as well, being the lesser deed after handing over the shekels.

My question for Bob is, how come it's okay for Germano to indulge in partisan politics, but Reg gets clobbered for asking a few pertinent questions?

And who's in the wrong here over LCG dogma, Bob the naturopath or Mike the administrator? Let's remember that Mike is charged with educating the next generation of Philadelphian COG leaders (assuming there are LCG members who believe that there will be a "next generation.")

Should someone be hauled over the coals for this, fired or even disfellowshipped?

To be clear, I think Doc Germano has every right to throw greenbacks wherever he wants, including lost causes like the McCain campaign. Moreover, he has the right, and I'd argue the duty, to vote.

But Bob, drawing a cloak of unworldly righteousness about himself, says "we in the Living Church of God" do not do that.

So, I'm confused. Does Doc Germano represent a new wave of conservative enlightenment in LCG, or has he just been a very naughty boy?

Monday 24 November 2008

Latest Journal

The August 31 Journal is coming off the presses. Among the features:

* The Big Sandy UCG congregation has turned over its facilities from local ownership to denominational control after a hastily convened meeting.

* A feature article on Harry Sneider, former AC faculty member, trainer and onetime mentor to chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer.

* Wise words from Reg Killingley who suggests that, if you root for a political candidate, you've "already voted for him in your heart" (him? a non-inclusive slip that surely needs de-gendering in light of the campaigns run by Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin), and provides much needed balance on the recent election.

* Another blast from Dennis Diehl, whose writing style is unmistakably different from any other Journal contributor.

* Assorted FOT reports.

* A seemingly scholarly article by Ron Moseley, a graduate from Oxford Graduate School and a Fellow and Scholar of the Oxford Society of Scholars. Sounds impressive, but considering the blatantly apologetic quality of the writing I googled the guy and found that Oxford Graduate School isn't associated with Oxford University but is located in Dayton, Tennessee. Moseley now runs his own school which is, according to its website "accredited and in good standing with a religious accreditation commsion [sic]".

* Ken Westby warns about "the prophecy pit," and pushes Journal readers up the learning curve with references to Montanus the Phrygian prophet. I guess you could say, in terms of Journal essays, Ken has gone "the full Monty."

* AW gets a mention in the Notes & Quotes section for a couple of recent polls.

You'll also be relieved to know that Willie Dankenbring has issued a prophecy update complete with prophetic algorithms! Prepare to be stunned!

Cool, huh! But wait, there's more...

You'll find that it the Connections section. As they say on the MasterCard ads: priceless!

Check out the front and back pages online and free for all to access here.

Sunday 23 November 2008

COG'n on Facebook

Facebook is the social networking site that leads the pack, and wouldn't you know it, WCG/ex-WCG members are taking full advantage, not only as individual members, but creating groups of like-minded folks. Here - perhaps for the first time online - is a directory of COGger Facebook groups.

WWCG Survivors. 926 members.

Ambassador University Alumni. 910 members.

I Grew up in the WCG and I loved it. 909 members.

United Church of God. 1294 members.

WWCG Drop-outs. 206 members.

Worldwide Church of God Atheist/Agnostic survivors. Just launched by Russell of the I Survived Armstrongism blog.

Worldwide Church of God Australia. 97 members.

WCG SA (South Africa). 123 members.

Worldwide Church of God I Can't Wait For Sundown! And Other WWCG Musings. 14 members.

Church of God (Seventh Day). 172 members.

Living Church of God. 118 members.

SEP. 755 members.

SEP Australia. 72 members.

Got a group to add? Post the details in the comments or drop a private email. The list will be updated from time to time.

Facebook users tend to be in the younger demographic... but old fogies have definitely been known to hang out there too (I swear I saw Gary Harvey's long forgotten visage peering out from the WCG Australia page.)

Who'll Be King of the Hill?

From the LCG Weekly Update. The putative author is Meredith himself.

One of the issues we discussed that the Council and I felt we needed to review with everyone was the procedure that has been in place in case the Presiding Evangelist becomes incapacitated through some infirmity or death or becomes disqualified to serve in the office. We addressed this issue because of questions that we have received. If the Presiding Evangelist appoints a successor, he will inform the Council of his decision and no further action will be required. In the absence of an appointed successor, the Council of Elders will convene, and after prayer and fasting, will seek God’s guidance to discern who He wants to be the successor to the Presiding Evangelist—based on the fruits of God’s Spirit that are obvious in the life of the person designated to be the next Presiding Evangelist.

So Rod - in the style of North Korean presidents - can anoint his own successor, be it an "evangelist," or even one of his sons. But if he's brainless enough not to bother, the spiritual titans on the CoE will skip breakfast one morning, open a special meeting with appropriate platitudes, then the alpha males will call in their debts before clobbering each other till all but one are left standing... Did I understand that right?

Of course, I'm not being critical, oh heavens no! After all, the system Meredith outlines has a proven track record of success: the elevation of Joseph Tkach and then Joe Jr. to the leadership of the WCG for example.

Oh, hang on, wait... bad example.

Friday 21 November 2008

Class Photo

Ah, the good old days. The year is 1966, and this fine bunch of young Imperial students have gathered to pose for their class photograph. Click to enlarge.

Can you spot a future Pastor General in the bunch? (I bet Mr. Stephens would never have predicted that!) And how about a church vice president? Look even harder and you might find UCG pastor Robin Webber.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Another Weinland Blog

It's called "Jack Said," and features this insightful portrait of Ronald. A nice contrast to the beanie portrait. Could this be the sartorial standard for VIPs (Very Important Prophets) in the Great Tribulation?

Actually, an image like this just cries out for a caption.

Jack notes that Ronnie "is going to be on ABC TV in Australia on Sunday the 23rd." Any AW reader in Oz who'd like to file a report on the program for AW, along with their impressions, is warmly invited to do so. The publicity blurb states:

"Are we facing the end of the world? American Pentecostal Pastor [sic] Ron Weinland believes he has been sent by God to announce the end of the world in 3 years time! In a provocative episode of Compass we meet this self-proclaimed prophet. He believes the end times are imminent, and he’s not alone. Climate change, acts of terrorism and natural disasters have fuelled the current epidemic of apocalyptic thinking. In this Compass program leading Australian commentators; sociologist Richard Eckersley, Biblical scholar Dr John Dickson, literary academic Greg Clarke and psychologist Susan Tanner, tackle the ultimate question."

Update: From Mike's Flavor Aid blog... "there is a promotion video available online to those outside of Australia. Be patient through the brief advertisement and the two talking heads." This is on the Sydney Morning Herald site, and is probably the only chance for those of us in non-cane toad infested countries to get a taste of the show. A couple of nice shots of Ronnie who, methinks, is going to be the butt of many jokes around Oz on Monday morning.

Angry Beavers

Reading the comments section on this blog is sometimes a bit like entering a war zone: beware the spitballs!

Genteel debate is more the style I had in mind way back when AW relaunched in this format, but I guess I didn't factor in the strength of the monochrome mindset that dominates among many disenchanted former devotees of Armstrongism. Yes, I'm talking about myself here too. Time, it seems, doesn't heal much. Express a contrary opinion and prepare to get both barrels. It's an online version of road rage. On the other hand, if some of the folk who erupt in graceless indignation here actually met their ideological opposites "in the flesh" I expect they'd be polite and politic in expressing their views, and even generous in their response. Don't we do just that with relatives and friends who have moved in a different direction? Go figure.

Do you believe in God? Uh, hang on a moment... define God. And what do you mean by believe... intellectual assent? So many of our "beliefs" are fashioned by our individual temperaments that I'm not too sure there's value in arguing the point over the finer points of theism vs. atheism, for example, let alone insulting those who don't see it with the precision and clarity we enjoy. As I've said here before, I'm not an atheist, but if you want to portray God as a Sky Father, well, I certainly don't believe that. Out race the literalists who protest that God is indeed a Big Man-shaped Bloke in the Sky (exhibit 1), while from the other side come equally strident voices protesting that the definitions are being changed on them in some kind of crafty sleight of hand to salvage the God Delusion.

We're living in a world where Christianity is being sucked out of Western society (except, it seems, in parts of the US.) The bulk of true believers are taking cover in reactionary or "feel good" churches, which is a ticket to nowhere ultimately. A minority are trying to future-proof their faith in a post-Enlightenment, post-modern world by re-envisioning God, the church and Jesus. One is a ghetto, the other is so elitist it makes precious little sense to anyone outside a certain liberal, educated demographic. Then there are those - including a lot of ex-WCG members - who have absolutely no interest in either option. Faced with the Gordian Knot, they simply whip out their vorpal blade and go snicker snack: problem solved!
One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
And hey, I feel their pain. And yes, I sometimes feel like doing the same thing.

Given that we are complex creatures who see the world variously, and that integrity necessarily takes on many shapes, it seems strange that folk who have been forced into such radical change and growth as we have through the shattering of the Armstrong idol, should end up screaming at each other and tossing insults like water bombs in a school playground.

What's the point, other than demonstrating that we're feeling a bit threatened? There are subtler options... maybe a pinch of humility, a cupful of well dried humor, and a splash of self deprecation?

Monday 17 November 2008

Matthew Henry's Leeches

Bob Thiel has responded to criticism of his assertion that John (the disciple) canonized the New Testament. In a long posting that seems to lack any awareness of contemporary scholarship Bob quotes Matthew Henry's commentary in support.

Bob seems to think that this is a credible authority. Well, it may have been in the early 1700s (Matthew Henry died in 1714. His commentary first appeared in 1706.) Nearly all of Bob's citations come from books that predate the twentieth century, let alone the twenty-first. To pontificate on the canon without bothering to get up to speed with modern studies is a lot like trying to treat high blood pressure with leeches.

The canon question is one of the "trunk of the tree" issues for understanding not only what the Bible is, but just as importantly what it isn't. Bob launches into rampant fantasy when he tries to proof-text his position by citing a verse in Isaiah:
The Old Testament Book of Isaiah prophesied that the LORD’s disciples would bind up and seal the Bible. Notice the following:
Bind up the testimony, Seal the law among my disciples (Isaiah 8:16).

To suggest that this has anything to do with the New Testament comes close to willful stupidity. On this dubious basis Bob proceeds to build his house of cards.

Bob finishes with a quote from Bauer's Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. Well, not actually Bauer himself, but a comment from James Moffatt (the guy who translated the Bible in the 1930s) which appears in an appendix to that book. I'd recommend Bob actually read the full book (which I suspect he hasn't - want to borrow my copy Bob?) rather than cherry-picking quotes. Bauer's book is one of the truly ground-breaking studies in early church history, and while Moffatt may have had reservations about his thesis, he would surely have laughed out loud at the rigidly fundamentalist twist Bob gives to his words.

Again, Harry Gamble's book is one Bob should sit down with. Also highly recommended is Lee McDonald's The Formation of Christian Biblical Canon. McDonald isn't a wicked liberal or agnostic, but a Baptist pastor and a professor at Fuller. In the meantime, it might be wise to retire Matthew Henry's three hundred year-old commentary and update to Eerdmans. Realistically though, I can't see Bob doing any of the above.

Did John finalize the New Testament canon?

Not a chance.

Sunday 16 November 2008

Feast Flick

A few days back the UCG Feast video was posted here, today it's LCG's turn. Below you can view the first ten minutes. After a blah blah introduction by Richard Ames there's a notable change of pace - the sort of thing you'd expect from the Mormon church as they relate the myth of Kobol with a straight face. There's a cheesy voice-over as planet Earth hoves into view, the church eras get ticked off until, ta-dah, Herb dies and the LCG triumphantly succeeds it... or should that be secedes from it?

Despite the bells and whistles this is reminiscent of Scientology on a budget.

The whole series - for those with far too much time on their hands and iron-clad constitutions - is online over at the Shadows of WCG blog.

Thursday 13 November 2008

Thiel Misapplies Revelation verses

The canon question is one that has fascinated me for a very long time. How did our Bible come to be? LCG's unofficial expert on such things, Bob Thiel, PhD., recorded this jaw-dropping statement on his blog today:

... it was the Apostle John who God used to fix the New Testament canon

I was momentarily caught off guard by this assertion. Gazooks, how could I have missed something as important as that! Bob provides a link to a monograph on this subject by his own good-self. Eager to learn at the feet of one of LCG's finest scholars I immediately clicked across to find this:
The Bible also shows that disciple John finalized the Bible through his writing of the Book of Revelation,
For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book (Revelation 22:18-19).
Uh, Bob, there's a problem here - well, several actually, but let's focus on the most obvious. It concerns the term "this book." Simply put, there was no "book" of the New Testament at this stage, and it's doubtful the technology even existed at the time to create a codex big enough to hold all the material between two covers that later constituted the New Testament.

"This book" clearly means Revelation, nothing more, i.e. "the book of this prophecy." I invite Bob to check any credible one-volume commentary - Eerdmans, Oxford, HarperCollins, New Jerome etc. (no, Adam Clarke doesn't count!) Closing the canon? That isn't what it means. "John" is concerned about others who might alter his words, not people who might write further Christian literature.

The verses Bob cites have an eerie parallel in the non-canonical (and much earlier) book of 1 Enoch:
And now I know this mystery, that sinners will alter and copy the words of truth, and pervert many and lie and invent great fabrications, and write books in their own names.
Would that they would write all my words in truth, and neither remove nor alter these words, but write in truth all that I testify to them (1 Enoch 104:10-11).
Perceptive fellow, Enoch. You could almost imagine the author of Revelation thinking about how he could avoid the charge of "great fabrications," and then launching a preemptive strike by out-Enoching Enoch... but I suppose that's too cynical by far...

Bob might like to read Harry Gamble's excellent little volume called The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning before indulging in future flights of fancy on this whole subject of the canon. It's hard to imagine a better introduction to the issues, and he could save himself a lot of potential embarrassment.

In any event, Bob's proof text disappears in a puff of smoke.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Moron of the Week

And this prestigious award goes to Alton "Don" Billingsley for these brain-dead comments on his sect's website.

The choice of Senator Obama to become the new president by the American people (the tribe of Manasseh of Israel) was contrary to what the LORD had commanded of those who were to be established as kings (or leaders) over the House of Israel:
You shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses; one from among your brethren, you shall set as a king over you; you may NOT SET A FOREIGNER over you, who is NOT your brother (of the Israelites race)” (Deuteronomy 17:15).
The choice of Senator Obama by the American people (the tribe of Manasseh) is the rejection of a command from the LORD given long ago to Israel, as the chosen nation of God that had no time limits.
What a complete plonker.
In case Don wasn't aware...
Obama is a United States citizen, every bit as much as he is. Would Don really want to create a second-class category of citizens - those who couldn't prove their "Israelite" pedigree? (I guess the answer to that is "yes.") Could Don prove his lineage?
Obama has as many Caucasian genes (via his mother) as African. Does Don realize that?
The presidency of the US is not the same thing as monarchy. Has Don studied any history - American or otherwise? Did he ever take civics classes?
That's without arguing over the claim that America is Manasseh, which is patently absurd.
Statements like Billingsley's are reminiscent of Nazi race doctrine. In the 1930s views like these were lethal. Today, thank God, they're just plain pathetic.

Monday 10 November 2008

Weinland's End Time Dance

The Two Witnesses continue to fox-trot through the prophetic daisies, seemingly oblivious to the failure of previous prognostications.

The Two Witnesses are, of course, Ron and Laura Weinland.

The Gruesome Twosome had their dates all worked out twelve months ago. The 1335 days began on February 2nd, when the 144,000 were sealed. On March 18 the Seventh Seal was opened, and the 1290 days kicked in. Then on April 17 we reached the 1260 days, the First Trumpet sounded and the Great Tribulation began - the three and a half year countdown till the return of Jesus Christ.

Now Ron is whistling a different tune, and it ain't Dixie.

Ron has moved the dates up. The 1335 days began on September 30, the Seventh Seal will be opened on November 14 (not long to wait for that one), and the Trib is scheduled for December 14. For more detail see Weinland Watch.

How does Ron explain the volte-face?

Since things did not happen in the original time frame that was given because God had not given this 50th Truth, those who were responding solely out of fear and desire for self-preservation are no longer seeking God’s help. Those who are skeptics, critics and mockers have only grown bolder in their deceived and misguided confidence…

Deceived and misguided confidence? That's rich coming from the guy who said he'd stand by his inane ravings, and walk away from his ministry if proved wrong. Version II? Is there anyone actually stupid enough to swallow this stuff?

There once was a prophet named Ron,
Who sought to inspire a great throng.

"Just give me your tithes,

It'll save all your lives,
Or you'll die when the Trib comes along."
What will Ron and Laura do when November 14 arrives, and a month later the Tribulation turns into another no-show? Third time lucky?

Meantime why not compose your own limerick in tribute to Ron's tenacity (no objectionable vocabulary please.)

Sunday 9 November 2008

75 years Through Rose Tinted Lenses

2008 marked the 75th anniversary of the distinctive Feast of Tabernacles tradition which began with a handful of observers in Belknap Springs, Oregon. The United Church of God marked the milestone this year with a 1 hour, 6 minute video, which you can view below. If a full hour sounds a bit daunting, try the first 40 minutes, which is a nostalgic backward glance with some great photographs of years gone by and reminisces by old timers. There is little there to reflect the painful side of that history - the focus is on positive memories - but even so many people may find it fascinating in parts. I had no idea that radio station KORE, for example, is still there, churning out religious broadcasts decades after Herbert W. Armstrong began his radio ministry there.

The video is professionally produced, and quite a trip into the history - admittedly the idealized, airbrushed history - of the movement Herbert Armstrong launched.

Saturday 8 November 2008

Dan, the serpent's trail

One of the fun things about BI (that's British Israelism for the uninitiated) is the name game - the attempt to find significance in names of people and places that "prove" the theory. The classic example lies in all those places in Europe which can be tortuously linked to the tribe of Dan because - wait for it - they have the letters d and n cohabiting in suspicious proximity.

A peculiar variation championed (or was that chumpioned) by the late Gerald Waterhouse had particular significance attached to family names. Armstrong - he of the strong arm. God, Waterhouse famously observed, did not call someone named Peabody to be His apostle.

Rabid Armstrongists continue this hallowed tradition. Robert on his blog states that the name Obama means "Son of Prophecy" in Hebrew. No doubt this gem will be shared widely as many conservative brethren try to make sense of the election of the first black president - and far beyond the pocket universe of COGdom wherever literally-inclined Bible believers gather. But consider these comments from an AW reader:

Name: obama
Origin: African Etymology
Meaning (no case): bending, leaning ...
The name Obama is said to be a Luo name (male) from Western Kenya. [WikiName]

Hebrew has nothing to do with anything unless one is Hebrew. And then it has nothing to do with anything for the Hebrew person...
Waterhouse was sent to water the House of God, i.e. the church. More like pee on it... or perhaps hose it down and put out the fires of critical thinking. Tkach was a weaver. Weaving schemes and themes that signified nothing. Armstrong had a strong arm as in strong arming the brethren...

Rod is the Rod of Iron we all just know will force the love of God, truth and Church into people, or else.
Weinland means "he who whines" because they both need to be in the witness protection program.

Flurry rhymes with slurry as in slurred speech. Graham means bland cracker designed to lessen sexual urges. Hinn means "he who hinders." Bush means "he who hears the voice of God through vegetation." Amen

Amen indeed!

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Can Anyone Make Sense Of This?

I read theological tomes regularly, some because I have to if I want to chip away at a degree, some (and I suppose this marks me as a truly sad and cloistered soul) because I actually find them fascinating.

But can anyone make sense of this?

Monday 3 November 2008

Bruce Hales and Joe Tkach

Bruce and Joe: two blokes with a lot in common.

Bruce is the "Elect Vessel" of the Exclusive Brethren. Joe is Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God.

Neither man was elected to his respective office.

Both men inherited the position from their deceased dad.

Both men have brought in reforms during their administration.

Both men have their job for life, or at least as long as they want it.

Both men reportedly surround themselves with suck-ups.

Of course there are huge differences as well. Differences of style, heritage and dogma. Current WCG members undoubtedly have the better deal of the two in terms of freedom of thought and action. But when it comes to the joys of hierarchical leadership, both leaders are singing out of the same hymn book: Papa knows best.

The Exclusive Brethren are the spiritual descendants of the mad Irish evangelist John Nelson Darby, the man who invented the "rapture" doctrine. They're kith and kin with the Open Brethren (also called Christian Brethren), a larger, more moderate and congregationalist movement. The British scholar F.F. Bruce was a member of the Open Brethren. There's little doubt which of these Plymouth Brethren factions is the healthier and more balanced.

So why does Joe continue to champion a toxic, sectarian form of church governance - the exclusive rather than the open option?

Self interest? Stupidity? Sheer bloody-mindedness?

Of course Joe is more than capable of justifying his sinecure, but is he convincing anyone? Why live in a medieval fiefdom when you can attend a church where you and your family can play a meaningful role? Why would you sell your kids into second-class citizenship in a church that will permit them no say in the direction that church will take over the course of their lifetimes?

We understand why the followers of Meredith, Flurry and Pack throw away their independence, but Tkach claims to be something different, something better and more enlightened. He talks the talk, but talk is cheap. And what about the spineless functionaries who are complicit in what Joe misleadingly calls "episcopal" government? How does Mike Feazell justify the continued disenfranchisement of the brethren (with a small "B").

WCG and the Exclusive Brethren, Tkach and Hales. Perhaps not so very different.

For a perspective on the Exclusive Brethren that in many ways parallels that of ex-WCG members, take a look at

Sunday 2 November 2008

LCG's one-track spiel

Whatever else genuine Christianity is, it is a multifaceted thing; just one aspect of which is eschatology.

Eschatology is the study of the Last Things. You'd be forgiven for thinking it was the only thing that mattered, judging from the November-December issue of Tomorrow's World. Even then, the focus has narrowed down to one particular part of the eschatological equation: apocalyptic.

In his "personal message" Rod Meredith crows "We are certainly in the latter days!" There is mention of sea gates and the usual bumf about "the American and British-descended peoples". He offers "our enlightening booklet" on the US and Britain in prophecy.

The keynote article is also by Rod: "Who Are You, Really?" If it sounds as though the old war horse is about dive off into something faintly existential, think again: Spanky is on about your genes. "One absolutely vital bit of ethnic information is to understand who today are the "sons of Joseph"..." Skip ahead and there's the plug for that same prophecy booklet.

The cover article, "A Return to Rome," is written by Douglas Winnail, and yes, there's the same end-time bait: "This is the prophetic significance of what is happening today..." and then he warbles on about a great deal he has only the foggiest idea about. The booklet on offer? "Who or What is the Antichrist?"

Winnail has also authored a two-page spread on Finding the "Lost" Tribes of Israel under the "Prophecy Comes Alive" banner.

Even a seasonal article on Thanksgiving by Richard Ames gnaws on the same bone: Ephraim and Manasseh, birthright promises "fulfilled in the U.S. and British-descended nations." The recommended booklet is once again on Britain and America in prophecy.

Rod McNair sings from the very same songbook in "Who Will Rule the Waves?" Those darn sea gates reappear with Genesis 24:60 in bold type. Beware, it was God who "gave modern-day Israel" (by which he doesn't mean modern-day Israel) "the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal, the Strait of Hormuz, the Straits of Gibraltar and the Malacca Straits." Really? Shoudn't somebody at least tell the Panamanians and Egyptians? The booklet offer? Armageddon and Beyond.

To round off the issue there's a cheerful one-page feature called "Sudden Destruction!" "Unless the U.S., Britain, and the other descendants of ancient Israel repent, Bible prophecy tells us that they will be faced with "sudden" destruction..."

The evidence seems clear; the Meredith gospel is a lop-sided travesty, a sad self-indulgent caricature, one drenched in the outdated ideology of British-Israelism, buttressed with irrelevant, decontentualized proof texts. Is it even barely Christian? Even UCG's Good News manages to do better than this.