Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Current State of Armstrongism

A good friend of mine was asking about why the Armstrongist COGs splinter groups these days are stagnating and declining in attendance. I thought that was an excellent thing to ponder over.
General consensus among those in the discussion fairly well revolved around these major areas:

1) Availability of information on the Internet.
2) Lack of novelty.
3) Lack of charisma in leadership.
4) Sheer number of COG groups to choose from.

Some minor supporting points include:
- In-fighting between splinters.
- Aging membership.
- Failure to reach out in today's methods.

I want to expand briefly on the major points listed above.

Availability of information on the Internet

The fact of the matter is that the world has changed since 1843 when William Miller started the Adventist movement.
Back then, a KJV Bible and some spotty history was the recipe to a grand following. The United States was rife with optimism and naivete, and Protestant religious revival was in the wind. People were very low-information, yet zealous. It didn't take much to please them. Access to real information was a privilege of the elites in academia, and even then the information was inferior compared to today.
For some reason which I personally do not understand, the mid-1800's gave us some of the most regrettable events in religious history. From this time period came Alexander Hislop, the German History of Religions School, the Mormons, the Adventists (which in turn gave us the Jehovah's Witnesses, Sacred Names, the COG7, Armstrongism, the Branch Davidians, the popularizing of Sabbatarianism, and etc) - to name but a few.

When Herbert Armstrong began his research, he spent time in libraries reading books. He had this spare time because he was a failure at his career of advertising. His access to information wasn't even sufficient to bring up a cogent argument against Sabbatarianism, so he joined the COG7. Once inside the COG7, he came in contact with unorthodox ideas from the likes of Ellen G White, Charles T. Russell, G. G. Rupert, A. N. Dugger and C. O. Dodd, and of course J. H. Allen (not to mention various other sundry authors such as Adolf Hitler).
To his credit, Armstrong was an avid reader. That is good! Unfortunately, he did not seem to understand that one should always distinguish between good and poor souces of information. That is bad! He did not seem to make any distinction between the quality of one source or the other. He either was not able to get the information necessary to refute these poor sources, or he was unwilling to do so (or both).

The information problem compounded when he set out to start a college to train up a ministry. When Herbert Armstrong mixed with pseudo-intellectuals such as Herman Hoeh, the avalanche tore loose. Herman Hoeh would use his association with Ambassador College to gain access to books only available at Ivy League college libraries. With these rare works in hand, Hoeh invented and Armstrong approved a series of bogus historical narratives no average person could possibly look in to let alone cogently refute. The average Armstrongist simply had no hope of getting both sides of the story. They simply had no way of knowing that the histories they accepted as true were completely fabricated.

Not only that but when the lack of resources available to the laity meets up with the Worldwide Church of God's strict control over what information the laity was allowed to access the recipe was laity blissfully ignorant of what their leadership was up to. Not only did we have no access to necessary information, we were forbidden to access it even if we would have had it.
This isn't limited to academic material only. Church members had no idea how money was spent and wasted by the millions, how ministers were abusing their congregations, how Garner Ted Armstrong was womanizing at an astounding rate of speed, how Herbert Armstrong was eating pork with dignitaries the world over and barely even preaching to them, or anything about the true details regarding Herbert Armstrong's divorce or the receivership of the late 1970's. It's not as if these things weren't known. They were known! Just not by the rank and file membership. We had no access. One outlet, the Ambassador Reports, tried to shed a light on the truth but they were not taken seriously by most.
The situation regarding material generated by the church wasn't much better. Older church publications were destroyed and ordered to be destroyed, so few church members had access to past material that showed prophetic failures, doctrinal turnarounds, contradictions, plagiarisms, and a host of other foibles that might have saved them untold misery had they but known.

These days, that level of ignorance simply is no longer the case. At least it doesn't have to be. The Internet is a blessing and a curse, but thank God for it if you ask me! I'll take my chances. All of those things we couldn't get to before, they're all there now. The information is all there for anyone who is willing to look.

More and more people have come forward. Multiple blogs and websites exist to help Armstrongists and former Armstrongists. Doctrines are refuted. Plagiarism is exposed. Reader testimonials are shared. Contradictions and prophetic failures are pointed out. Abuses are brought into the open. Specific details of the court records are readily available. History can be set straight because books that were only available to the elite are (or were for a time) available to anyone on the Internet. Support groups are but a button-click away.

Today, there is little excuse for being unaware of these matters. Yes, there are websites dedicated to promoting and prolonging the errors of the system, and people have a natural tendency to believe whatever they read so long as it agrees with what they want to be true - it's not perfect - but at least we now have the tools to access the truth whether we accept it or not.

Armstrongist COGs these days are stagnating and declining in attendance because people are simply better informed.

Lack of novelty

One thing that Herbert Armstrong did not do during those early years when he was separating himself from the COG7 was that he did not just duplicate the COG7. He did not simply set out to gain followers by heaping titles and honors upon himself. Yes, he eventually did heap titles and honors upon himself, but that's not what made his following prosper.
What he did was he differentiated his product from his competitors. (And do not be fooled, people in those days knew full well what they had was a product.)

Armstrong was an advertising man. He knew the value of product differentiation. He knew what it meant to stand out in a crowd, and he knew what death awaited for any product that was just more of the same. He saw the appeal of British Israelism and the annual holy days. When he failed to really sell these and certain other notions to his branch of the COG7, he set out to sell them to the public. He had a niche and he had the know-how to capitalize on it.
Herbert Armstrong used his advertising experience to take his message to the radio waves. From the 1930's to the 1970's, most of the people who heard of the Radio Church of God, which eventually changed its name to the Worldwide Church of God, did so from radio programs.

What was that niche?
In short, J. H. Allen's British Israelism compounded with a few additional legal requirements created an attractive elitism. Toss on Alexander Hislop's concocted historical narratives to create a secretive conspiracy, and voila! It wasn't just about Protestant versus Catholic, nor was it just about the Sabbath versus Sunday. Now it was about being one of an elite group of people who were chosen by God to be given secret knowledge of a conspiracy stretching back 4,000 years, kept secret until this final hour before the return of Christ. Members of this elect group were called and chosen to fulfill prophecy by spreading the warning that doom and death awaited anyone not vetted into this "one true end-time church". This church superseded all previous churches; none of them would do. This was the final offer and it was only available while supplies last.

What a potent combination! Doomsday and Conspiracy. Fear and Pride.
Eat your heart out, Little Orphan Annie with your secret decoder ring. We have the keys to understand prophecy!

The problem with today's group of post-Armstrong leaders is that they have not learned the lesson of effective advertising.
They were told for so long that they had the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth that now they are in a predicament. No one boards a plane intending to be locked into a holding-pattern. How do you differentiate your product when you are more or less forbidden to change it and make it distinctive, and there are nearly a thousand other people selling the same thing?

Some groups are fence-sitting with this novelty stuff and trying to have their cake and eat it too. They want to be a new church, but still the old church, at the same time.
Herbert Armstrong died over 30 years ago, and the Worldwide Church of God had gone mainstream as Grace Communion International. Some people in the current splinter groups look at that and conclude Herbert Armstrong isn't important to their faith. But I call B.S. on that!

The splinters get everything they have from that man. Their leadership, their anointing, their doctrine, their sacred history, their traditions, their music, the format of their church services, their views on history, their views on prophecy, their writing styles, even their name. It all comes from Herbert W Armstrong. He was their end-time Apostle! You tell Rod Merideth that he was baptized and anointed by an irrelevant and false prophet and you see how he responds to that. Look at Gerald Flurry's website and see how references to Herbert Armstrong by far and away outnumber references to Jesus. Every last modern splinter COG is a continuation of Armstrong and his WCG whether they want to admit it or not. This is a fact and wishful thinking won't make it otherwise.
Besides, consider the hypocrisy of this denial. These same ones who say that Herbert Armstrong is not important to their faith rush to rub everyone else's noses in things that happened hundreds of years ago. Mention "Catholic" to an Armstrongist and one of the first things they think of is "Inquisitions". Well, the Inquisitions ended centuries ago. How can anyone hold modern Catholics accountable for the Inquisitions that ended long ago while simultaneously giving themselves a pass on Armstrong's failures which are to this day being continued!? "Do as I say not as I do" is textbook hypocrisy.
You can't have your cake and eat it too. It's not enough for a splinter group to verbally proclaim itself a new thing under the sun when in fact they are really just a re-heated leftover of the original.

The ones who forego the taboo of changing the "truth once revealed" are the ones who prosper. They aren't afraid of product differentiation. They have embraced novelty!
Ron Weinland changed so many things that his group barely resembles the Armstrongism of the past. He's got a created Jesus, women Elders, 32 "new truths", a long prison sentence for tax evasion. (Oops! That wasn't supposed to be in there.)
Bob Thiel has started his own group and now is, in some desperately cerebral way, attempting to create a brand new sacred history that merges his group with certain tenets of Greek Orthodoxy. If the Roman Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon and the Protestant denominations are her harlot daughters, then away with them! We'll just rewrite history again. Jettison the roots of Adventism altogether and anachronistically claim descendency from the East! One simply requires a feat of historic ledgerdemain and a degree of intrepidity. Ignorance takes care of the rest. (Problem is, few people understand what the heck he's on about.)

Armstrongist COGs these days are stagnating and declining in attendance because they lack novelty. Most will ride this same tired old message out until the last die-hard member simply passes away from old age and someone has to come along to turn off the lights.

Lack of charisma in leadership

Most of the current COG leadership try to solve the problem of brand differentiation by heaping upon themselves titles and honors. "I am this or that prophetic messenger!" "I am going to train this or that prophetic messenger!" "I have the most pure and unadulterated continuation of the original."
Unfortunately this approach is almost entirely dependent on the charisma of the glorious leader. If you don't have a glorious leader with charisma, as Garner Ted Armstrong had in abundance, then you simply cannot win with this approach.

Herbert Armstrong's personal charisma was high, far higher than any of his remaining followers, but Garner Ted's was higher. It was Garner Ted that was personally responsible for the greatest increases in membership from the 1950's through the 1970's. There was nothing in the entire organization or any of its competitors who could match him. He was handsome, intelligent, well spoken, had a baritone voice soft as butter, was educated in the areas that mattered, and you couldn't ask for better rhetoric. The women loved him. And through it all, he still seemed down-to-earth and approachable. He was a leader for the people. I tell you the truth if he hadn't been caught up in the church he would have been somebody.

Compare that to the current leader of the Intercontinental Church of God.
"Who?" you ask. Exactly!

Certain ones in the current crop of splinter group leaders have a portion of charisma, but they simply don't have enough. Their charisma is a flash in the pan. It may keep established believers, but gaining new believers is much more difficult. Cult of Personality can only take you so far. As with the Intercontinental Church of God, when the leader is struck, the sheep will scatter.
The universal method to overcome lack of charisma is to spend money. You have to have members to get money, then you have to spend money to get members. It's a catch-22. Not only that but you have to keep spending more and more money, which means you have to keep asking for more and more. There's only so long you can squeeze blood from that turnip. It never, ever lasts. It never truly can replace charisma.

Armstrongist COGs these days are stagnating and declining in attendance because their leadership lacks the charisma of old.

Sheer number of COGs to choose from

If you refuse to differentiate your product, and you lack charisma, how on earth do you expect to survive? Every "Tom, Dick, and Harry" ambitious leader believes they can split off of a larger group to start their own following. Then what? Who's going to pay for your little adventure? Who's going to buy you air time, or publish your "free booklet", or organize your Feast of Tabernacles site discounts and activities? You have all these "true" doctrines, but you have a living room with ten people in it ...half of whom are your relatives. Do you honestly think you're going to outlast the ages with ten people in a living room?? There are a thousand other groups out there who started just like you did and tomorrow there will be 1,001.

When the laws of supply and demand have their inescapable way on the sheer volume of COG splinters the result is the value of each is necessarily lessened.
For example, when the WCG was the world's only one true church, you bet your sweet bippie we marched in step. But now that there is a new splinter on every corner, why should I really bite my tongue with Minister A when Minister B is more than willing to take me in? Why should I worry if Minister A disfellowships me when Minister B is plenty happy to accept my tithe money? Why exactly should I not read all of the articles on As Bereans Did and tell my close friends what I've learned?

Oh, sure, we all dreamed of the day when the splits would be healed and the whole church would come together again like in the good old days. It would appear that was all just wishful thinking.

Groups that exist on charisma and split into ever smaller groups only exist by stealing away members from other groups. This is by definition. The very act of splitting means that the group only exists because it stole members away from another group. These members in turn eventually leave for other groups. This is just how it goes.
Global Church of God breaks off of Worldwide Church of God. Then Global breaks up and becomes Living Church of God and splinters such as Harold Smith's Church of God Fellowship and Al Buchanan's Belleville Church of God. Eventually, Al Buchanan retires and his church dissolves entirely while Elder Rick Railston splits off from Harold Smith's group to start Pacific Church of God. And on and on it goes.

Armstrongists tend to hop from group to group to group over the years. This looks great for the membership numbers of the group they are currently in, but overall the total number of Armstrongists as a whole diminishes. The trouble comes in trying to get an accurate head count. Artificially inflating numbers is a long-established practice that began in the Worldwide Church of God. If people think the product is more popular than it really is, then it sells more easily. This is beginner-level P. T. Barnum humbuggery, folks. Not only that but when someone enters a group they are counted, however when someone leaves a group they aren't necessarily marked off.

The end of cannibalism is you run out of other people to eat. They are defeating themselves and their dissenters don't even have to lift a finger.

Armstrongist COGs these days are stagnating and declining in attendance because of the sheer number of COGs to choose from.

Still, even with all of these challenges, some splinter groups continue to bring in new members. Good thing we have the Internet for just such an occasion!

If you are a new member in a Church of God, or if you are thinking of joining a Church of God, or if you know someone like this, or even if you are a long-time member in a Church of God, won't you please take a moment to check out our FAQ and Categories pages and hear us out? We believe we have something to say that you might just want to hear. We believe that we have a good case to make. And we would be honored if you take what you read here and challenge your close friends or even your minister with it; see what he has to say.

Dear reader, I do not intend to be insulting in any of this - not to you nor to anyone else. I speak about these things because they are relevant, not because I can't wait to poke someone in the eye or kick them when they're down. Maybe you have never thought about these things. Maybe you have thought about these things a lot and you have something to add to this list (comments are open).
Regardless, I hope and pray that our Lord grants you courage to face these problems head on, and that you do not fear. Do not fear to take a close look at how Armstrongism came to be, and what the state of it is today.
These systems feed on fear and uncertainty. Don't give it to them! Trust wholly in Christ whose ability to save far outweighs your ability to sin. Yes, dear reader, His grace is sufficient ...even for you.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Rest In Christ

God was not tired when He rested on the seventh day of Creation. He did not rest from exhaustion; He did not rest from sin. He was simply done working.
So He stopped.

Day 1: Day and night.
Work done. Next task.
Day 2: Sky.
Work done. Next task.
Day 3: Dry land and plant life.
It was good. Work Done. Next task.
Day 4: Ordering the cosmos.
It was good. Work done. Next task.
Day 5: Sea life.
It was good. Work done. Next task.
Day 6: Beasts and man.
The work was all done. It was all very good.
Day 7: He stopped. There was nothing more to do.
No next task: there is no next task. It is finished.

At some unspecified point…. Adam sins.
It was bad. Work begins again.
Next task: bring mankind to salvation; heal the breach between man and God.

To do list: Prepare a lineage for the Savior. Preserve the people until the coming of the Savior. Prepare laws and prophets that identify the Savior. Be born. Fulfill laws and prophets. Die. Be resurrected.

(JON. 19: 30) So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, It is finished! And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.

The work of salvation was finished. The veil was torn and the breach between man and God was healed. This is the very definition of “Savior”. It was all very good.
So He stopped. Not because He was tired, but because He was finished.
He sat down.

You can rest with Him from laboring to achieve salvation. He will give it to you, as a free gift. Just accept and believe that He is your Savior and stop trying to earn it yourself. Rest with Him.
Rest in Him.

(HEB. 4: 3a) For we who have believed do enter that rest

(HEB. 4: 9-10) 9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11