Friday, May 31, 2024

What To Expect When You're Escaping Armstrongism

Continuing on the theme of helping people to exit, I wanted to write a "what to expect" kind of post, built from my own lessons learned, for people who are exiting an Armstrongist Church of God splinter group.

Bear in mind, there are no one size fits all answers in this sort of topic. The variables are endless. If you think of something you would like to discuss, feel free to reach out. Leave a comment or send me an email.

It's Not Going To Be Simple

Let's rip this band aid off right now, shall we - it's not going to be simple. 

You might be at the start of your exit, flush with joy like a kid out of school and ready for the next adventure. That will level off. Or, maybe you leave somewhat unwillingly. Perhaps you know you need to go, but you don't really want to, and you are filled with uncertainty. I can relate. I didn't really want to leave, either. Or, perhaps you might need to leave in a hurry because you've been abused in some way. My deepest sympathies, and I hope you find support and peace.

It doesn't matter why you're leaving, you are in uncharted waters and the sea is choppy. You are about to learn some things about yourself you didn't even know.

In some ways, this is going to hurt. In many ways, this is going to be confusing. Don't be afraid! It's nothing you can't handle.

As I wrote in the past, you are at a crossroads and you have four options. You can turn around and go backwards into the familiar (I've seen people do that). You can let it beat you, and end up in a bad way. You can give up and be an atheist. That's an easy road, and there are lots of people ready to help you walk it. We don't call Armstrongism "the atheist-making machine" for nothing! Or, you can insist on Jesus Christ and go into grace.
Choose Jesus and go into grace!

You are about to go from one faith tradition into, hopefully, another faith tradition. Consider this a life altering event somewhat akin to divorce. The familiar becomes the strange and the strange familiar. This will be difficult in ways you didn't anticipate. It's difficult every time it happens for anyone. For example, going from Methodist to Catholic can be quite a culture shock. Harder yet is converting to a tradition such as Orthodoxy. I visited a Greek Orthodox church a few times and I was completely lost. Armstrongism is so different than the mainstream, it is almost guaranteed you're about to experience culture shock. What really hit me when I first went to a mainstream church was, I didn't know any of their songs.

You can expect such things as, but not limited to:

  • Change in schedule.
  • Completely different "feel" to church.
  • Different order to services.
  • Different songs.
  • Different imagery.
  • Different doctrines.
  • Different view of God.
  • Different view of grace.
  • Different holidays.
  • Different terms and phrases.
  • Different history.
  • Different expectations for lay people.
  • Different views on Old Covenant, end times, etc etc.
  • Curious questions from your new connections.
  • Possible lack of support from family.
  • Loss of prior church friends.
    And, ultimately...
  • Different you!

You have been in a church that has everything laid out and decided already. People gathered there and stayed there because they all agreed (mostly) on the system. You are about to go into a new church with a completely different system. There is no way for me to tell you everything. All I can say is, it will be different.

Most people lose church friends when they leave. The loss of former church friends will give you a painful sense of abandonment. That will pass as you make new connections. Maybe you will be blessed to keep some of your old connections. You might find some people in your COG genuinely cared about you. Who knows! But people do tend to drift away once that common interest is gone. Such is life!

Your prior experience will affect your comfort level with the changes you are about to go through. If you used to go to another church and now you're going back, good. You're past experience will be a benefit. However, if you have spent your entire life in Armstrongism, or most of your life, then your familiarity with other churches will be quite low, and past experience will be of little use. Do you have family already in another faith tradition who can support you? Reach out to them. Experience will be your teacher from here on.

Contact the new church. Really talk to them and let them know your concerns, and they will do their best to make the transition as easy as possible for you. When a person enters an Armstrongist church, they need to be vetted by the Minister. People don't just show up to a COG. They need permission. That isn't the way it works in the mainstream. Strangers just show up all the time. Healthy churches don't need to interview you. So, when I say reach out to them, I don't mean to ask permission to attend, but to give them a chance to help you.

The best advice I can give you here is to stay positive, and trust that you will acclimate in less time than you think. Is it easy for a baby to be born? No. But they do it all the time. And I'm glad they do. In a few months you'll feel like you've been there for years.

It's Not Satan

Armstrongism is often called "legalistic" not because of the belief on Old Covenant law so much, but because 1) it sees the rules as more important than the person, and 2) it teaches law-keeping merits us something with God.
If you have been in the system long enough and remember the good old days of the Worldwide Church of God prior to 1990, or if you are in one of the more rigid groups like the Philadelphia Church of God, then you can practically map out your experience according to Lifton's 8 criteria for thought control.

As the story goes, once you leave the safety of the church, Satan will steal the truth from you. Well, guess what... Hogwash!

You absolutely, positively are not here at this blog reading this post right now because Satan is stealing the truth from you. You are not finding out the church's view on prophecy and doctrine are questionable at best because Satan is stealing the truth from you. You are not noticing the church's material is factually inaccurate because Satan is stealing the truth from you. You are not running out the door of an abusive situation because Satan is stealing the truth from you. That entire line is manipulative and designed to prevent you from doing what you're doing right now - thinking. Especially thinking about not sending them any more of your money. And you absolutely, positively are not headed towards the second resurrection just because you have given yourself permission to ask hard questions and seek the truth. God's truth!

That's not to say there aren't bad churches out there. There are! They didn't write the book "Churches That Abuse" for nothing! Caveat emptur! But my point is, realizing you've been lied to and walking away from that to seek after God is not a Satanic lie. The lie is what they told you to keep you in the lie.

My advice for you is to surrender your faith to Jesus Christ, and think rationally. Remember why you're leaving.


In my bulleted list above, I said "Different terms and phrases". Here's one. Let's talk a second about Liturgy. The word liturgy refers to your church service. Any church service. There are basically two kinds: high and low.

In a high liturgy, church services are very structured and ornate and symbolic. You will find high liturgies in all the oldest churches. Catholics and all branches of Orthodoxy are high liturgy. The oldest Protestant traditions are, too. Lutherans and Anglicans/Episcopalians are, for example.

In a low liturgy, church services are not very structured or ornate or symbolic. You will find low liturgies in most Evangelical denominations. Even in Armstrongism, what you have been used to is a low liturgy.

Some places have both at different times. I know several Methodist and Lutheran churches that have a high liturgy option and a low liturgy option. Attend at the appropriate hour. More and more lately, churches have an extra-casual service later on Sundays. There's a Catholic church in my area where the last Mass on Sunday is hardly different than a casual Protestant worship service.

Both groups can get rather picky. The high liturgy people don't like anything being messed with. They argue with each other about minutiae. They argue with each other over where your hands should be during prayer. The low liturgy people don't have a lot of spirituality in their liturgy, so music tends to be their spirituality. They tend to have more music, they are more into it, and they don't like it messed with. They argue with each other over hymns vs inspirational songs.

You have been used to an intense Bible study at church. That isn't how most other places do it. Church is for worship. You go to Wednesday prayer group, or "small group", or a designated Bible study for the intense Bible study. If you have a more intellectual relationship with God (like I do) it can be tricky at first. Join a small group. If you find one you don't quite like, don't feel bad about changing to a different one.

Which liturgy do you prefer? Not sure? My advice is to try them both out. I think you'll fall in love with the high liturgy. It's beautiful and really treats God like a god! Or, maybe you will feel better in the familiarity of the low liturgy. It can be quite emotionally inspiring.

My advice is to remember you're free now. You can go where you want.


Yes, it's the dreaded T word. You don't believe it, I'll wager. Most everyone else does. The mainstream view of God and their relationship with God is quite different from what the COGs teach. What are you going to do about that?

Bear in mind what you were told in Armstrongism about the Trinity is both incomplete and incorrect. They aren't going to teach you about a doctrine they reject. So, even if you think you've studied this, toss that all out the window and just accept that you're going to have to start over. In the meantime, you're Switzerland about it. Neutral.

Are you required to accept it? No. Not unless you're going to be Catholic or Orthodox. Actually, even then you aren't expected to accept things right away. You will be afforded time to learn as you are able.

My advice is take your time to handle the lower hanging fruit first. The nature of God is important, but huge! It can wait until later. Being free in this way is another thing you're going to have to get used to.

Oh! And don't get all clever and go in the direction of Modalism, please. It's a natural direction for you to want to go in. It's a dead end. Trust me on this one. Keep that in your pocket until you're ready.


You're free now! Free to roam and move about the cabin. Praise the Lord!

You have been in a very structured and controlling environment. Don't try to make excuses that you were in a kinder, gentler COG. Even if you were (I was) you will eventually come to see it was more structured and controlling than you realized, and quite a bit more than most mainstream churches. (If it's as good as you think, why are you sneaking around here?) Accepting this now will make it easier.

Be aware of this! Any time a human being is given freedom after being in a structured and controlling environment, we are confronted with the temptation to turn liberty into vice. Take any teenager for example. Once they get old enough to have their freedom out on their own, masters of all they survey, that's when the troubles really start. The world is a very delectable oyster indeed.

Ever hear of how Amish teenagers do Rumspringa? That's you. Remember this - just because there is no a set of Old Covenant laws for you to struggle and fail to keep doesn't mean there are no standards for righteousness. You're "free in Christ" not "free in vice".

My advice is to ask yourself if what you're thinking about doing is something the Holy Spirit is leading you to do.

Try not to over do it, eh? *wink*

Authority Issues

Your COG leaders have let you down. This is going to affect the way you relate to authority. Either you are going to deeply distrust - and in some cases reject - any authority, or you are going to want to cling to what you perceive as a more worthy authority figure.

Reject. Cling. Either direction has its risks. 

If you reject all authority, you can become "unchurched" which means you are faithful but choose to be on your own. That isn't a position of strength with a lion roaming around seeking whom he may devour. If you search for a better authority to surrender all to, which will you choose? Choose wisely, or your next crisis might lead you to reject Jesus. You gave everything to them and they let you down. Why would God let you do that? Must mean there is no God. (Think I'm joking?? I've seen this happen. More than once.)
There are two ditches you can crash into. Try to stay on the road between the two.

Church authority is real, though. If you read the New Testament at all, you can see for yourself there are ordinations, and those ordained offices are tasked with maintaining orthodoxy and protecting the flock. If you're going to be alive, you are going to be in contact with form of authority. What will you do about that? 

My advice is to be patient and think rationally, not emotionally, about this. Take yourself out of your own equation. How would you give advice to someone else in this situation? Recognize being fresh out of Armstrongism is not the best time to make hard commitments. You don't even know yourself at this point (read my "Escaping Armstrongism - part II" post).

Money Issues

You've been (quite improperly) forced to surrender your money in tithes and offerings. This is completely unbiblical, but you didn't know that at the time. Much of what you were told to do was specifically designed to keep you paying while the top brass bought mansions and jets and meetings with world leaders and the Czar's golden flatware and Steuben crystal and $2,500 bottles of Remy Martin Lousi XIII cognac in the special baccarat decanter. No, I'm not joking! Herbert Armstrong did all of that, and more. And that is why you see so many end-time Elijahs and Elishas today competing to replace him. That lifestyle is what they want so badly, and they need your money to get it. Unfortunately, that love of money exists outside the COGs, too. (Looking at you, Creflo Dollar.) Be cautious, dear reader.

One of the beauties of the New Covenant is that giving is optional. It comes from the heart, not the law. If you are compelled then it isn't a gift, is it? No.

You are likely to develop a healthy distaste for anyone or anything that asks you for money. Don't let those greedy wolves steal your inner charity form you. Charity is at the root of Christianity.

My advice is to understand that if you are going to go to a church (I recommend you do), or listen to an online ministry, then you should contribute something. At least help pay for the resources you've consumed. You did use resources after all and it's only fair. All that costs something. But be wise! You are under no obligation to pay for those extras. And please pray about it. You're going to want the help of the Holy Spirit to keep your heart in the right place.

Doctrinal Disputes

Where there are people, there are disagreements. Christianity has been around for longer after Christ than Judaism was around before Christ. We're as far from Jesus as Abraham was. We've had time to think about things and to disagree about things.

There are tons of doctrinal disputes available for you to participate in (whether you want to or not). Traditionalist Catholics vs Modernist Catholics, Arminianism vs Calvinism, real presence in the Eucharist vs symbolic presence only, oneness of God vs threeness of God, Creeds or no Creeds, Filioque, KJV-only, speaking in tongues, Rapture, Female ordination ... it's an endless smorgasbord of dispute options! Just name the topic, there's sure to be some dispute about it.

It doesn't matter where you go, there will be some form of dispute going on behind the scenes. Might as well get used to the idea. Don't let it tarnish your view of your faith or your church. There were disputes in Armstrongism, too. Maybe a short string of tired cliches will help! Christianity is a hospital for the sick not a museum for saints. It it what it is. Such is life. We are fallen humans. The world's an imperfect place.

My advice is to rise above it all. Make your default position a neutral middle ground position. The truth is almost always between the two extremes. Nobody loves a moderate, but it's the wise choice. Listen carefully to both sides before making any decisions. Not everything needs to be a hill to die on.

Jewelry and Icons

Guess what you're free to do? Go to Christian book stores and shop for whatever you want, even crosses and images of Jesus! Yes, even statuettes.
You are going to feel conflicted. Part of you will still be motivated by the iconoclasm of Armstrongism, and you might think images are a bridge too far. That's perfectly fine. Move at your own pace. Don't go overboard.

Having a cross on your clothes or jewelry, or an image of Jesus in your home, is not a magic talisman. It has no power. It can neither help you nor harm you. Listen to your inner voice on that. After I was out a year, I got a cross necklace and one of those "This shirt is illegal in 53 countries" shirts. I did it to make a statement. The statement I was making was to myself. I wasn't going to be controlled by fear anymore. I did it because I could, and that's all. I wore the shirt twice and have no idea what became of it. I still have the necklace. I don't wear it all that often. Its intended purpose is fulfilled.

My advice is to limit yourself to one or two things. Maybe get a cross necklace; an affordable one.

Don't Have A Home Anywhere

This potential (but not guaranteed) outcome is a painful and frustrating one, to be sure. I am referring to the sense that you have no home anywhere.

One downside to having your unique background and experience in a COG is that you see things in a very different way than anyone else who did not go through it. Too differently, in fact. Pair that with other factors that cause you to keep everyone at a distance and you have the recipe for becoming an "unchurched". More extreme cases absolutely refuse to have anything to do with organized religion ever again.

If you try, you will always be able to find something you just don't like. You don't want a Priest or Minister in authority over you. The sermon touched a nerve. You wish there was more substance and less sappy fluff. You don't like feeling pressured to give money. Pastor doesn't get the Old Covenant like you do. There is no Rapture. Etc etc etc.....
So long as they aren't lording it over you, is it really that big of a deal? What, you think you had it so good before? You just left a doomsday cult for crying out loud.

I have seen this so very many times. ALL the authors here at As Bereans Did all have experienced it, including yours truly. I really struggle sometimes.

There is only one way that I know of to defeat this - humility. Know that you don't know so much as you think you do, and so don't expect others to either. Lower your expectations. Let yourself be wrong and let others, too. You will never experience perfection in this life. Churches aren't perfect, and neither are you. Maybe 10% wrong is 90% right, and that's an A in my book. These people have to put up with you, too, so return the favor.
Find a place with people you like and opportunities to serve, who tolerate each others' differences, and just be content.

Understand these are mostly fear responses talking. You hyper-fixate on the problems because you are afraid of something, maybe of being fooled again. Know thy self.

Side Show Attraction

Be ready to be a bit of a celebrity at first. Your new connections will ask you about your history and conversion ...a thousand times. You might like the attention at first. You might be annoyed half to death later on. It'll stop after a little while all on its own. You might even come to find you miss it.

Some people might get jealous of the attention you're getting. Some people might thoughtlessly say things that hurt your feelings. It's unfortunate, but it happens. They don't understand. Frankly, you don't have their experiences, either, so you don't understand them any more than they understand you. It's somewhat of a two-way street. Patience is necessary.

My advice is try to understand their natural curiosity isn't meant to be malicious or a bother to you. Don't let it get to you. The truth is, they are happy for you and they find your testimony inspiring. Control the conversation. Don't overshare. The best thing you can do is find some way to use your testimony to inspire and uplift.

Cliques and Politics

How I wish I didn't have to add this one. Nothing disappoints me more than this. After attending that welcoming new church for a while, you may find it has cliques and self-imposed hierarchies. Maybe half the church is related, but not to you. Maybe the people of means sit in front every week while those without sit in the rear. Maybe people who are very traditional don't like to sit near people who are less traditional.

It's human nature. Jesus talked about it. They have this in every COG. They will have it in your new church to one degree or another. I truly wish it wasn't so. But that is our lot in this life. We are still on the journey to overcoming.

My best advice here is not to fight too hard against it. That isn't the way to go about things. Only makes it worse. If it's truly toxic, move on. There are some great places out there.


You have been through quite an experience. It was a long road out. You care about it. Doctrines matter to you.
Unfortunately, that might not be the case with the people you're about to meet.

In Armstrongism and out, there are people who coast. They take things for granted and go along to get along. They aren't interested in doctrine so much. They just do what they've always done. They might not even understand exactly why they do what they do. Maybe they were born into this. Maybe church is a tradition for their family. I am lumping this under the term "apathy".

Why do you always have to deal with people who don't care about their own doctrines? Gah!

Truth is, a deep understanding of doctrines is not required for Christianity. Most Christians who have ever lived didn't really understand their own religion very well. What is required is simply a saving faith. If it really becomes a problem, you might have to consider leaving. Before you go, consider your own part in this. Did you just leave Armstrongism because you mastered Christianity? Are you certain there are zero issue in your heart?

My advice is to employ generous amounts of good ol' Christian charity.

Dark Night Of The Soul

Last  but not least, let's talk about that prolonged feeling of having a dead faith and wanting to give up. It's coming! Better you know about it now than have it catch you unawares.

The time comes on us all when we don't feel that presence of God in our lives like we used to. Our prayers go unanswered. Life takes a downturn. We try and nothing comes of it. We get sad. We get frustrated. We get angry. We want to walk away from it all. This condition is called "the dark night of the soul" for reasons obvious to anyone who's experienced it.

Remember how Elijah was so sad he went to live in a cave. Remember the Parable of the Virgins in Matthew 25. ALL of them were asleep. Jesus' advice to us all was to keep a spare stash of the Holy Spirit handy. You might wonder where you can buy a jar of Holy Spirit. Not at Costco. It's a parable. It's not meant to be taken literally. There are times when the best you can do is continue to pray.

The dark night of the soul passes eventually. If you seek, you will find.

I am going to say something here that some people will take as blaming the victim, even though that's not what my intention is. The hidden, inner truth about why some people experience the dark night of the soul is because they have something in their life they need to repent of. Something is affecting their relationship with God in a negative way. Ongoing willful sin? Uncharitable heart? Stubborn, inflexible pride? Unproductive laziness? God knows. If that's your case, find it and change it. If that's someone else's case, pray for them and encourage them - never judge them. Dark night of the soul isn't always because of something like this. I am only saying it can be because of something like this.

My advice is to never stop praying. Insist on it, no matter what! Even if all you can get out is, "God, I praise you and thank you for who and what You are."
Try to think back on those times in your life when God was with you powerfully. Maybe you witnessed a legitimate miracle. Maybe you felt His presence. Maybe you had an event that moved you to a deep thankfulness. Remember those times. Hold on to them!

I think that's quite enough for today. No amount of my writing will ever prepare you fully. I think this gets the point across that it's not going to be simple. Good news is, it will be worth it.

God bless you in your journey and guide you as you step into the New Covenant. Enjoy the ride!


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



Miller Jones/Lonnie C Hendrix said...


Child Survivor said...

One thing I would add is in regards to other churches, we need to remember that much of the reason we exited the movement was because we studied the scriptures and saw the contradictions between the Word and the WCG/COG. All churches promote what I like to call "commonly held misunderstandings"... such as tithing or Sunday being the "Christian sabbath". I've found by trial and error that it's usually best to say nothing such cases. We've studied about the sabbath and tithing, and what we found out, not everyone may be anxious to hear it or ready to. I still find myself having to do that especially today with so many Christians today believing that a certain presidential candidate is going to save us.

I do remember the culture shock of a "Sunday church" when we began attending back in 1980. I kept thinking "wow they sure say a lot of prayers here"...and then later on thinking, wow, they keep talking about Jesus. What's with that?

It's been over 4 decades since we left that wretched movement. The wounds have healed (about as good they're going to anyway) but the scars remain. But no matter how rocky the road was back to a normal life or being in a conventional church, our Lord Jesus Christ has never failed me nor forsaken me. Peace out.