Schism in the Global Church of God: Birth of A New "Armstrongite" Church, The Living Church of God


By Massimo Introvigne

The Worldwide Church of God (WCG) founded by Herbert W. Armstrong (1892-1986) in 1933 (as the Radio Church of God) was a controversial Sabbatarian group widely criticized as unorthodox during Armstrong's lifetime. Armstrong's successor, Joseph W. Tkach (1927-1995), and the current leader Joseph Tkach, Jr. (Joseph W.'s son) led the WCG into an era of dramatic changes. Many Evangelical Christians declared that the Tkach era reforms had in fact eliminated all objectionable and "cultic" features of Armrong's WCG, and WCG became a member of the National Association of Evangelicals in 1996. As happened in other groups, not everybody was happy with the reforms. A number of "Armstrongite" churches loyal to the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong were formed, most of them in the early 1990s. The two largest "Armstrongite" churches are the United Church of God, an International Association (estimated at some 20,000 members), and the Global Church of God (GCG). GCG was established in 1993 and its membership was estimated in mid-1998 at around 7,000. However, its popular telecast "The World Ahead" reached many more.

On November 25, 1998 GCG's Board of Directors fired GCG's founder and presiding evangelist, Dr.Roderick C. Meredith. The main issue seems to be who should have ultimate authority between the presiding evangelist and the Board, a familiar case of conflict between charismatic and institutional authority. Doctrinal issues have also surfaced, and Meredith apparently was not told (and, if told, would not have approved) of Board-sponsored talks with the rival United Church of God aimed at some kind of better ecumenical relation, if not at a merger.

The Journal : News of the Churches of God, a key source on the increasingly intricated word of the "Armstrongite" churches, featured a long article on the controversy in its November 1998 issue (The Journal is an independent publication but most of its staff has ties with the United Church of God). The story was obviously told in different terms by Meredith (in a letter dated November 25, 1998) and by the Board. Meredith first decided not to respond to the Board's serious allegation against his management of GCG mentioned in The Journal 's article, but finally issued a letter dated December 28, 1998. GCG's anti-Meredith statements are not available for reproduction (GCG mentions legal advise).

In the meantime, Meredith and his supporters (including members of GCG's Board loyal to him) incorporated still another "Armstrongite" church, The Living Church of God (LCG), headquartered in San Diego, as announced in an open letter dated December 11, 1998. LCG has announced a Web site, but its construction is still in progress (as of January 5, 1998). In the meantime we recommend the private Web site of Bob Thiel, an excellent source of information (loyal to Meredith) where we found some of the documents we mirror (CESNUR also receives Meredith's announcements and has a large collection of his audiotapes).

One of the issues between Meredith and the Board of GCG was the continuation of "The World Ahead" telecast on the expensive WGN. Meredith has now announced that the time slot previously occupied by "The World Ahead" (6 am EST) will be used bt LCG for its new telecast "Tomorrow's World" (name subject to possible change) starting January 31, 1999. Meredith's supporters claim that from 70% to 80% of GCG membership worldwide (including in Europe) is joining LCG.

In February 2005 Meredith announced that the end of the world was much nearer than previously announced. "We are not talking about decades in the future", Meredith wrote. "We are talking about Bible prophecies that will intensify in the next five to 15 years of your life". The prophecy so upset Terry Ratzmann (1960-2005), a Living Church of God member from New Berlin, Wisconsin, that on March 12, 2005 he went to the Saturday church service held at the Sheraton Hotel of Brooksfield, Wisconsin, and opened fire killing 8 and wounding 4 before shooting himself. Ratzmann was suffering from nervous depression, and the church obviously cannot be held responsible for the tragedy.

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