It is highly commendable that the former Worldwide Church of God, under the leadership of Joseph W. Tkach, made doctrinal changes. This was a bold move, probably unheard of, in the history of the corporate Christian Organizations. This treatise can be used for critiquing, but not solely intended for the former Worldwide Church of God.
Understandably, many people regarded WCG as having been a cult. But, even though viewed as manifesting cultish behavior, it is improper to attach that term to an organization that professes to believe in Jesus. A cult contains, as one of its features, the idolized human figure, in addition to being unorthodox in its activities.
The followers of a cult assume being peculiar and unassociated with others of this world. They easily become exploited by the venerated leader. This follows the pattern of idolatry, generally attractive to those of this world. While factual that Armstrong articulated some Biblical truths, the seepage of common falsehoods also pervaded across his teachings.
The intention is to expose the real sting of what devastates the, otherwise, well-intentioned Christian organizations. A problem remains, only as long as its origin is unidentified. When identified, it ceases to harass those involved. The victims of deception should not blame the leader, but themselves, due to misunderstood words.
There are two philosophical principles that determine rightness on one hand and wrongness on the other. All fallible humans unknowingly fall prey to wrongful effects. Pain is caused by following the wrong directions. The right direction leads towards happiness. Such rightful directions inspire altruism, while wrongful directions demand self-centeredness.
When God reveals His truth through some individual, it is common for that individual to then succumb to self-centeredness. The person either views himself as an authority or assumes being viewed as superior, leading to him being idolized. The common error being the failure to distinguish the significance of idolatry. All cult leaders carry some attraction to coalesce followers, yet trapped at the point of idolatry.
When projecting some truths, not found elsewhere, the projector of that truth becomes idolized by followers. Such behavior was not peculiar to WCG. One could as well identify any organization, as big as Roman Catholic, also fittingly displaying such cultish symptoms.
Just as any other Christian denominational organization can be a cult. The term “cult,” is always unfairly attached to the fringe, rather than mainstream organizations—though also displaying cultish symptoms. Although incorrectly viewed as cultish, Jesus represented the truth.
At the end of establishing His Church, Jesus instructed His disciples to keep the secret, to avoid cultish connotations (Matthew 16:20). Jesus never departed from His Jewish membership. In other words, Christianity can as well be regarded as a transformed Jewish religion. This is possible when not attaching personalities to what is truthful. Humans attach physical humans to divine things, due to their propensity for idolatry.
The characteristics, befitting cultish behavior, could also be attached to Jesus, as He revealed secrets, only to His disciples (Mark 4:11). Therefore, being accepted by orthodox Christianity should not, necessarily, translate into a license for acceptance by God.
After all, Godly things cannot be attached to physical humans, even though used in projecting Godly things. The apostle Paul contended with those stuck on desiring to follow individual preachers, rather than Christ. This reveals the origin of the cultish phenomenon. Although Paul spoke passionately against it, the phenomenon continues to haunt Christianity.
“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:11-13) (NIV).
There were good effects attributed to HWA. One of which served to direct people like me into Christianity, rather than participate in senseless Zimbabwe’s armed struggle, also attractive to me at the time. Armstrong’s error had been in suggesting that he was the sole representative of God’s truths. This is what caused his followers to idolize him.
This is as common as ordinary people desire following physical humans, rather than the unphysically identified Christ. Anyone could declare himself as a leader when attributed with novel originations. Ordinary humans consider such initiators comparably superior, hence propagating denominationalism.
The designated founder then assigns to himself, the term ‘authority,’ condemning those not toeing the line, on every other aspect. Clearly, Jesus never shared His authority with anyone of this world, emphasizing that He would be always available until the end!
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”(Matthew 28:18-20) (NIV).
Pursuing retributions against those in disagreement can be as evil as putting oneself in Devil’s position. In advancing the governance idea—assumed as approved of God—HWA was following the common error, committed by most Christian organizations. But Christ clearly crushed the leadership idea, among His disciples (Matthew 20:21-24).
True, indeed, governance is necessary for a harmonious co-existence. But Christian governance is not structured according to human evaluations. This is why baptism is confined in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. (This does not necessarily delineate three personalities, as falsely captured in the minds of the degraded humans).
Everything is centered on the Father, through whose accessibility is Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The Chief administrator, through His word, is Jesus. When using Jesus as the only standard, it is impossible to miss this point. Also, it cannot be possible for true Christians to be divided, when led by the Holy Spirit. This is the only structure describing God’s governance.
Church governance does not require anyone waking up, someday, proclaiming being the leader, to whom tithes should be directed. That behavior is the most dishonorable scandal of all time, confirming abundant corruption in Christianity. Christ said the greatest is the SERVANT of all! How possible can this be drilled into the ears of those concerned!?
The idea of service cannot appeal to those obsessed with self-centeredness. Before doing anything beneficial to others, the common man asks: “What’s there for me?” Making it impossible for a self-centered individual to ever entertain the idea of altruism. If impossible at Jesus’s time it is still impossible today.
“And behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments….The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me’ But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions”(Matthew 19:16-21) (KJV).
Perhaps, necessary to reemphasize: “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.” Jesus said this, in His capacity as representing our humanity. It is funny, yet also sobering, when observing ordinary humans getting flattered, where Jesus refused to be flattered. This Scripture shows how entrapped in sinfulness humans can be.
The reality of the above episode highlights the idea of altruism. The young man had been faithful in keeping the letter of the Law. Contrary to what some people might suggest, Jesus did not condemn him. After having declared the impossibility of a rich man to enter Heaven, He later stated: “With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible”(Verse 26).
This may be what drives others to display a propitiatory appreciation of the Lord’s grace? Yet unwilling to exercise grace towards others? The young man’s behavior can be contemptuously regarded as unacceptable, by the same pretenders, appearing as appreciating the Lord’s grace. This is why others could not readily accept Paul in their fellowship, after his repentance.
The Worldwide Church of God (Now Grace Communion International) can be commended for boldly moving away from legalism. Although, still at a starting point, having adopted orthodox Christianity, instead of refocusing on Christ’s teachings. It feels good and comfortable, to be accepted by others in Christian fellowship.
But Christianity is not about acceptance by others. Neither does God’s truth come through intensive studies. Possibly, “so that no-one can boast of having been an achiever?”(Eph. 2:8–9). The foundation of God’s Church is highlighted in the Book of Matthew. Peter had accurately answered an overly misunderstood question, to ordinary humans, including those of our time:
“…. ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ”(Matthew 16:16-20) (NIV).
Apparently, there is no other way anyone could ever be accepted into God’s Kingdom, except through Peter’s understanding. That understanding does not come by human effort, as stated, (verse 17). Only fools would boast about things revealed by God in Heaven.
It is impossible for those appreciating the significance of this Scripture to condemn HWA, for having misled his followers, for over fifty years. Only those who idolized HWA, continue to unashamedly condemn him. HWA was not different from any of us. Just as Paul and the other apostles were not different.
The only authority for our salvation is Jesus. Although physically unavailable, Jesus is present: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live”(John 14:18-19) (NIV).
Interestingly, while Armstrong’s critics have had a field day, condemning his cultish conduct, his Plain Truth magazine spanned the entire globe. Impacting millions, including communist China. Those critics have nothing to show; if their considered whimsical educational credentials carry anything meaningful?
True believers appreciate Jesus’s presence, just as He was present in the first century. No-one can accept that reality, except those, also unknown by the world. Being called a cult, is what should be celebrated, instead of celebrating acceptance by orthodox Christianity. While unnecessary to deliberately toughen things, Jesus never suggested that Christianity would be a comfortable undertaking—hence John’s assertion conjecturing possible adversities:
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother”(1 John 4:18-21) (NIV).
It becomes unnecessary to verbally proclaim ‘grace,’ when truly having been transformed. One’s behavior shows it—not just by verbal pronouncements. Christ could not be seen by ordinary people of his time, and cannot be seen by ordinary people, today. But Paul reveals Him:
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”(Galatians 3:26-28) (NIV).
This Scripture clarifies misconceptions in assuming that Christianity consists of superior Christians, alongside inferior ones. Having gone through a notable transformation, from Armstrong’s erroneous teachings, more purging is still necessary. True Christians appreciate Jesus’s words more than words from human leaders. Jesus is Lord!
Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from the current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing relief to those having witnessed the strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social decay. In a simple conversational tone, most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long-awaited providential oasis of hope.
The Print copy is now available at Amazon.com for $13.99