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