Ambassador Watch The Missing Dimension e-zine / 33

NEW INTERVIEW: Doug Ward / NEW Guest Opinion by M.A.M. / NEW Whistler column




Sunday December 22 2002. Next issue due January 19


Holiday Reading: With our final issue of AW for 2002 there's a sack full of features to keep you going during the holidays (we'll be back on January 19):

There's an interview with Doug Ward who, together with his wife Sherry, produces the online publication Grace & Knowledge: A Journal of Judeo-Christian History, Theology and Culture. 

MAM asks how Christmas really compares with the Feast of Tabernacles and pulls no punches.

The Whistler, showing scant disregard for the inevitable reaction in the mailbag, offers advice to perplexed atheists (all correspondence on this one directly to the Whistler please!)

And speaking of the mailbag: AW gets pulled up over a "hillbilly" reference, we ask who's been messing with our polls? and we delve into DNA testing. Click on the envelope.

Any significant stories between now and AW 34 on January 19 will be posted on the MD Yahoo group

Correction: Okay, we goofed! The webmaster at Duckys is not John Prohs, as we stated in an early edition of AW 32. Our apologies to John. MD has learned directly from the source that from its beginning in 1995 the talented Duckys Village web administrator has actually been... (wheee, thunk!, AAARRGGHH!!! ... silence... Now you'll never know who she is ... oops!)

Selling Off Ambassador: The WCG has launched a website dedicated to promoting the sale of its property.

Herb at Christ's right hand? Our last poll for 2002 provided some surprising results, to say the least. We asked: When the roll is called up yonder, where will Herb be? Do we really believe that the overwhelming majority (93%) of AW readers consider that this thoroughly dubious character is going to be God's right hand man? Not likely. 

Quotable: "In a church, change is like oxygen, essential for life and growth. Handle it wrong, though, and you'll start a fire you can't put out." Rick Warren. The Purpose Driven Church

Also quotable from JLF, an apt new slogan for the church to replace the hackneyed Living and Sharing the Gospel. Created by a former pastor it reads: preaching grace in an ungracious manner.

LifeNets: Ever wonder what the relationship is between UCG minister Victor Kubik's LifeNets charity and the UCG itself? These comments from the Council of Elders minutes:

What is the United Church of God’s official affiliation with LifeNets, the Indianapolis-based humanitarian organization directed by Victor Kubik? The Council asked this question at its August 2002 meetings. Mr. Holladay asked the Council for time for the Administration to discuss this further with LifeNets officials...

Apparently they don't either.

WCG publishes 1915 book online: A surprise appearance on the WCG website is a book by David Baron called The History of the Ten "Lost" Tribes. Baron, an Englishman, wrote early last century in an attempt to debunk the work of people like J. H. Allen.

Pastor Pelley's Pasadena Powwow: The following account is based on a posting appearing on JLF and at least one other forum. Please note, the text has been edited for this item, largely due to length, but the only MD editorial comments are those that are clearly identified as such. The original full version is available on the MD Yahoo group. 

A  meeting was held for Dennis Pelley's Pasadena congregation on December 7 about its immediate future, and specifically what day the congregation feels it should hold services, and where it should go. The congregation has to move out of Friendship Baptist Church by May and this date is rapidly approaching.

There was a series of slides to set the agenda and flow of the meeting. Each of these slides delineated a different section of the meeting discussion.

The first slide was "What are good reasons for continuing to worship on Saturday?" The following answers were given by members of the congregation:

* Force of habit

* It's one of the Ten Commandments (Pelley quickly responded that the Ten Commandments are no longer binding, or something like that)

* Alternative time to Sunday services, since everyone else has Sunday services

* Having at least one Saturday service along with Sunday services shows that WCG [does not regard any days as especially sacred.]

* Saturday worship is one of WCG's denominational distinctives. Pelley responded by clearly stating that Saturday worship is not a denominational distinctive of the WCG.

Mr. Pelley stated a figure he said he got from Dan Rogers: "45% [of WCG congregations] have switched to Sunday, and there will be more."

The next slide was, "What are good reasons for having a worship service on Sunday?" The following answers were given:

* Evangelism - most people are used to a Sunday worship day

* People with kids in sports - many children's sports activities are on Saturday

* People that work on Saturdays

* It's hard to get up on Saturday morning when you're tired from the previous week's work

* One young man said that most colleges have Monday - Saturday college courses, and people may not be able to take classes they want to, or that they need for graduation. [He attends/attended Azusa Pacific University, which is the only kind of college I can imagine offering courses on Saturday.]

* A member was interested in the statistics for WCG congregations that have gone to Sunday services, and the growth of those congregations. None were available at the meeting, however.

* A member that works in Church Admin said that some Saturday churches were dwindling from people wanting to go to Sunday, and finally leaving the Saturday church for a Sunday-keeping church.

Mr. Pelley summed up this segment, and made these three statements:

* "Our societal culture is geared around Sunday worship..."

* "There are Saturday/Saturday evening congregations available [for those that would prefer worshipping on Saturday, if the Pasadena congregation does not offer a Saturday service]". This point was made with reference to non-WCG members that are looking for a church to attend, and for which Saturday is most convenient. It was not specifically made with reference to current WCG members that want to continue worshipping on Saturday.

* "...see what the majority of the people do..." The gist was basically that we should follow what the majority [of people considered to be Christians] does, given the premise that it doesn't matter when we worship.

Mr. Pelley also stated that since he had become pastor of the Pasadena congregation of WCG, there has not been a single new member enter the congregation from outside the WCG.

The next series of slides described the current options for the Pasadena congregation. The two options under consideration are Knox Presbyterian Church on corners of Hill Ave and Green St. and Central Filipino Adventist (CFA) Church in Eagle Rock. A comparison between the two was presented.

The next slide had two questions: "What are your thoughts? What's most important?" This was an open forum for any member to state their opinions, with the caveat that they only got the floor (and the microphone) ONCE, "so get your thoughts in order." [MD comment: We wonder if Den felt bound by his own rule?] Some of the things that were said:

* Unity is the most important thing. Keeping the kids involved/engaged in church is really important too. This can only be done by moving to Sunday services, so that kids' activities don't conflict with services.

* The Sonlight club [a kids' activity group run by the Pasadena congregation] would conflict with Sunday afternoon services; the speaker felt that Sunday morning services were best.

* An older individual said he felt that "any day is a good day to worship God," but that he had noticed a trend to say any day except Saturday is a good day to worship God. He wanted options for everyone's worship preferences.

* A mother with children said Saturday worship services are very hard on their family because their children play baseball on Saturday. Is for Sunday services.

* A member believes the Pasadena congregation needs to "fish where they're likely to bite." He believes a Sunday worship service is necessary and prefers Knox more because of location and because it can offer Sat & Sun times. 

* Another prominent member said she had some serious baggage items with worshipping on Saturday; she definitely wanted to move to Sunday. She made several points about supporting the pastor whatever the decision is. Primary point was supporting with tithes; she works in Church Admin and sometimes has to transfer WCG members' tithes to other congregations, sometimes thousands of miles away, when their local congregations no longer meet on Saturday and they don't want their money to support that congregation. This has been a difficult and soul-searching time for her. She believes she is not meeting her responsibilities to God in bringing new converts to Christ. She said several times, "it's *my* job [to bring people to Christ]" and she felt she was falling seriously short in this task. She asked if we really respect the teacher that Christ sends. Are we not listening to him [and, presumably, believing what he teaches]? If we're not listening to him then we're already not with him. [This is similar to another point Mr. Pelley has raised in the past that if you reject the teaching then you reject the authority of the teacher.] Her final point was this: "...if it [a Saturday worship time] sets us apart, how will we reach the community?"

* A member said that if the church only has a Sunday worship time, she won't go to services anymore. Pelley said he would have Saturday services in his home for those that wanted to worship on Saturday, if the Pasadena congregation didn't have a congregational worship time on Saturday [MD comment: real generous offer Den, make 'em come round to your place, on your turf, where you have the power and can keep the lid firmly on. Oh, and by the way, that's Den using up his one speaking opportunity]

* Another woman with children mentioned all the things she had to give up when she was a child, because of the Sabbath. She didn't want her children to have to give them up as well. She strongly preferred Sunday services.

Can this man count?

* A member said that maybe this particular situation is a test, to see if we stay with our holy days. She said she had gone to Sunday churches, and that her experiences seemed to indicate to her that there was something important about keeping the Sabbath and the holy days. She felt that they were a good and valuable part of worship, and she didn't want to see people give up that foundation. Mr. Pelley responded [MD comment: uh, what happened to only speaking once? Then again, rules are for the sheep, not, it seems, for important ministerial folk like Den] by saying that the foundation is Christ.

* A member pointed out that splitting churches [congregations] involves splitting resources, and there will have to be ushers, music, etc. for two services instead of just one. This will be a tremendous challenge to overcome.

* A member has no problem moving to Sunday. He wants everyone to be served, no matter how things end up, and he didn't want to lose any members over this. He coined the phrase, "[there may be] two times but one church". Mr. Pelley again made a statement [MD comment: let's see, that's THREE bites of the cherry, but who's counting?] to the effect that "we're not your teachers [if you still believe you're bound by the Sabbath]."

* Another mother said she wants the church to be her kids' church, but they have friends that go to church on Sunday, and activities on Saturday. She said "A Saturday church is not a Sabbath church" and felt that the congregation was losing the children. 

* Another member had visited a number of non-WCG churches and was really impressed at their visions and plans for growth. She said "Without vision the people perish." and wants to define a vision for church growth. Part of that vision is getting a building of the congregation's own.

* Another younger member said that Saturday worship is part of his painful past. He said that there's not many people his age in services now, and that is because they are all either gone or are Sunday worshippers. He thinks Sunday worship is essential to growing the number of youth in the congregation, and essential to keeping the ones that are currently there.

* Another member thinks people need to analyze themselves as to why they want Saturday, or why they want Sunday. He said people need to be non-judgmental of each other. Mr. Pelley chimed in [MD comment: how unusual!] and asked the question, "Are you going to focus on bringing people to Jesus, whenever you worship? [This is now considered the mission of the church, so if you're not focused on that, you're missing the point.]"

* Another member said that people should be careful of thinking that all people that want to worship on Saturday are necessarily bound by the law. They might just want to do it out of tradition. He will go to either Saturday or Sunday services.

* Another member hates to see a split in the congregation, and fears the congregation will be damaged. He wanted figures and advice/lessons from WCG congregations that moved to Sunday. "Don't reinvent the wheel." He didn't want to see the "traditionalists, for the lack of a better word" left out in the cold. Will go to Saturday or Sunday.

The final segment was the plan for going forward.

1) Everybody should discuss their feelings, and understand each other's viewpoints. [As long as they aren't feelings that the Sabbath should be kept holy - Mr. Pelley considers that matter closed already.]

2) About 20 people will be selected to go view both Knox Presbyterian Church and the Central Filipino Adventist Church buildings. Photos will be taken, etc.

3) January 11, 2003 - another church meeting where the 20 share their impressions.

4) January 11-18, 2003 - Mr. Pelley has declared it a week of prayer and fasting.

5) The congregation will be surveyed [MD comment: how about making it a vote Den?] on January 18 and 25, 2003.

6) Continue praying etc. until June relocation is completed.

Could it be that the decision to move to Sunday has already been made, and this meeting was designed to simply smooth the way? And could it be that Den's singular lack of success in attracting new blood has less to do with Saturday services and more to do with the pastoral paradigms he operates under? The following comments were posted on JLF:

It is ridiculous to blame the day of meeting for the inability of WCG to grow. Good or bad, the fact remains that the church used to grow! I suspect the real reason for lack of growth is the way the current leaders and ministers including Pelley himself are running the church as a battle against the "long standing members". The old timers are the very ones who provided most of the money to pay the salaries and plush benefits of those who have been against them.

If WCG could indeed supply stats on growth in [its] Sunday churches then that would mean something. Somehow I don't think they want to go there... Dennis Pelley is looking at the failure in the congregation he has charge over and characteristically blaming the members.

And our Dateline Pasadena source has some pertinent observations to make too:

There is growing resistance to Pelley moving his church to Sunday by those holding on to Herbs imaginative teachings.  They feel that Pelley couldn't care less about what they want.  Pelley has his eyes set on Sunday so that he can evangelize more effectively.  The question all are asking is, "Why would anyone join a church that is rupturing at the seams and that cannot come up with a definitive doctrinal stance so that ministers and members know what is being taught.  Reconciliation seems to be their new catch phrase any more.  They are sending Ministers and their wives all over the world for racial reconciliation workshops.  How can you help racial reconciliation and healing when your own church needs to be healed first?  People are also appalled at the amount of money that Pelley wants to spend in order for his group to move to Sunday. WCG churches in metropolitan areas have always received more money for church hall rental than field churches, but even with that extra money, many are wondering how Pelley is going to continue 5,000.00 payments when he will loose 30-50 members when he abandons the Sabbath.  If these  are all tithes payers, then he will be losing over 150,000.00 a year in revenue.  If only half of his members are presently tithing he is bringing in close to half a million dollars in tithes.  150 people x 3,000.00 (10% of an average 30,000.00 salary).  But even at that rate at 60,000.00 a year for hall rental, he can still afford it and does not have to worry about whether he loses a lot of people over the Sunday move. The Pasadena WCG has always been the highest grossing church for tithes.  Add on to that the 15,000-30,000 they may bring in for Rose Parade and you can see he is not hurting

Bernie braces himself against the Auditorium's facade and pushes

Bulldozers - Bring 'em on! Cult bosses are ready to spit the dummy and bring the House of God, ah, Temple of Dagon, uh, Ambassador Auditorium, crashing down on their own heads, Samson style. This report from the Pasadena Star News.

Church unveils demolition plan for Ambassador
By Gary Scott, Staff Writer

PASADENA -- The Ambassador Auditorium will be demolished unless the community finds the will and a way to preserve it, Worldwide Church of God officials announced Monday.

"Our mission for the auditorium is over,' said Bernard Schnippert, the church's director of finance and planning. "The church has subsidized the Ambassador's operations and maintenance for years, and can no longer do so. If it is to be a vital part of the Pasadena community, it will need the community's support.'

A near- final design for the 46- acre Ambassador project will be unveiled tonight at the last of three public meetings held by the church. The plan does not include the auditorium, Schnippert said, although an alternative has been prepared in case preservation is possible. He said the auditorium will survive only if some public or private entity raises the funds to both purchase it and pay for its ongoing operations. Whatever is done, it will not involve a subsidy from the church, he said.

"It is a matter of the community as a body saying it wants the auditorium to be preserved and working with the church to once again make it a public venue,' Schnippert said. "We just can't mislead people and have them wake up someday with a bulldozer at the door and have them say they weren't forewarned.'

From the LA Times: Hall needs a rescuer - Ambassador Auditorium's owner plans to raze it if a buyer doesn't step in. Diane Haithman, Times Staff Writer. (Excerpts)

Pasadena's famed concert hall, the Ambassador Auditorium, will be demolished unless the community can find a way to preserve it, according to the property's owner, the Worldwide Church of God.

Bernard Schnippert, the church's director of finance and planning, said the church's preferred plan for residential development of its 48-acre site -- formerly the Ambassador College campus -- does not include preserving the auditorium, which is known for its superior acoustics...

In an interview Wednesday, Schnippert said an alternative development plan has been prepared in case preservation becomes possible but added that for that to happen, the costs of owning and operating the hall would have to be assumed by the public or private sector, not the church.

The auditorium's value has been estimated at $22 million by the city of Pasadena, and Schnippert said it would cost about $8 million to create a new parking structure if the hall were to be reopened. Annual maintenance costs for the building have been estimated at about $300,000 and programming costs at $3 million for the first three years.

"Our mission on the building is over; we aren't going to keep it," Schnippert said. "If it is not bought by the city or bought by a benefactor, the church will tear it down." He added that a decision must be made in the first three months of 2003: "Hard decisions will be made at that point. There comes a point when you can't leave all of your options open." ...

Donald Cosgrove, project management consultant for the city, said it remains open to assuming ownership of Ambassador Auditorium provided that it does not become responsible for its expenses. "When we were in the period dealing with Legacy, we wanted assurances that the city would not end up with any kind of financial responsibility for the operation or maintenance of the auditorium, and I think [the city's] position remains exactly that," Cosgrove said. "I think if Shea Partners and the church propose a similar arrangement to us, the city would certainly work with them to try to make it happen."

Following the breakdown of the arrangement with Legacy Partners, members of a residents group called the Board for Ambassador Hall have continued to lobby for preservation of the facility. "Here's this gem that has been likened to Carnegie Hall, and it could be torn down because the church wants to maximize its investment on the property," board member Carol Henry said. "Given what they bought it for and what they're going to get for it now, they can afford to be more generous."

Henry acknowledged that with both the church and the city refusing to become financially responsible, an angel from the private sector probably represents Ambassador Auditorium's only hope. "We'd love to find that angel," she said.

Read the full article

The announcement came as a shock to Alice Coulombe, chairwoman of the Ambassador Auditorium Committee. The group has been working with the church to try to find the money needed to keep the auditorium from the wrecking ball. "I am absolutely amazed, I am heart-sick,' Coulombe said.

She said she talked with Schnippert several days ago and was told there would be two development plans, one with and one without an auditorium, but was not aware the church was threatening demolition. "I think probably they are hoping to light a fire, hoping there is somebody or group out there that says this cannot come down,' said Coulombe. "But I don't know that.' ...

Built in 1974, the auditorium originally served as a place of worship for the church. It then was opened to the public as a performing arts venue. "It received nationwide acclaim for both the quality of the performances and the quality of the auditorium,' said Schnippert.

It is not listed as an historic place, said Susan Mossman, Pasadena Heritage's executive director, but has been listed as a "very significant modern building.' "I would be most distressed if in fact it is threatened with demolition,' said Mossman. "On the other hand, the challenges of operating that venue are well-known. It is very expensive.'

She said the announcement from the church was "not a total shock,' but added: "I didn't think anyone had given up on it.'

MD's Dateline Pasadena correspondent comments:

Bernie is in the hot seat right now with the residents of Pasadena and church members with his plans to demolish the Auditorium.  They recently surveyed the campus mapping out the old roads that used to cut through the property.  Bernie wants them all reopened to the public.  This will eliminate the Grove Street stream that Herb dedicated before he died.  It will cut part of the lower gardens off and other areas. With this plan in effect, the demolition of the Auditorium and all church built buildings, the only legacy left of Herbs empire will be the Mayfair stream.

Former WCG evangelist Ron Dart has reportedly commented:

I watched that building go up. I may have to go out and watch it come down. I expect it will be destroyed. I know some don't think God was ever involved with the WCG, but the systematic destruction of the glory of the campus is so contrary to what should have happened that I can't help seeing God's hand in it... The WCG became, in the end, a hard and heartless church...

Dateline Pasadena also notes:

Money still continues to go downhill, rather fast, I might add!  The church is still holding its own with the revenues from the sale of the Lake Tahoe properties a few years ago and the Vail property.  Since these land deals went for multiple millions of dollars, they have some leverage to play money manipulation with. Greg's empire continues to go down hill also.  WCG members are not renewing their subscriptions to the PT as they had hoped.

Open House: Excerpts from a recent PSN article on the campus sale.

PASADENA -- The most detailed plan yet for the 46-acre Ambassador campus was unveiled Tuesday to a crowd that included City Council members, affordable housing activists and leading preservationists.

"This plan reflects the community's views, maintains the neighborhood character and continues the garden and landscaping tradition the Ambassador campus is known for,' said Bernard Schnippert, director of finance and planning for the Worldwide Church of God, which owns the property. "Our plan represents many months of work by the church.'

About 150 people attended Tuesday's meeting, the last in a series of meetings designed to elicit comments about the proposed development before it submits a final plan to the city early next year...

The church proposes building between 1,465 and 1,525 residential units on the campus, the total depending on whether the Ambassador Auditorium is demolished and houses built on the site.

The church announced this week that it will raze the auditorium if the community does not bring forward a financing plan to save it. Once a nationally renowned concert hall, the auditorium has been mothballed since the mid-1990s and needs to be renovated...

"I think the planning along the south edge, on Del Mar, has definitely improved,' said Susan Mossman, Pasadena Heritage president.

The highest density development would be on the northeastern side, along Saint John Avenue, Yoder said. The mansions and all of the historic homes would be preserved under the plan, as would several gardens and the Great Lawn that runs down the middle of west campus. The 13-acre east campus would have large, mostly residential buildings. A total of 790 residential units would be built, with some retail uses mixed in along Green Street.

The West Pasadena Residents' Association, in preparation for the meeting, mailed 1,000 surveys to residents living near the campus and neighborhood associations throughout the city. Out of the 350 responses collected so far, 94 percent want the housing density on the west campus to be no greater than that found in surrounding neighborhoods...

Several people at the meeting asked how the church plans to address Pasadena's inclusionary housing ordinance. It requires large developers to either maintain 15 percent of the units as affordable or fund affordable housing elsewhere in the city.

Philip Koebel, Affordable Housing Action! co-founder and mayoral candidate, said he wanted to see a large portion of the housing kept within the project, although he expects opposition from the project's neighbors. "We're about distributing the poor people throughout the city,' said Koebel. He offered the church political support if it complies.

Out of Oz: It has been reported that the Australian UCG has withdrawn the November-December Good News from circulation. According to sources, the Aussie UCG sent a letter to subscribers apologizing for "technical difficulties with the editorial process in Australia." Huh? And we've been told the issue, shipped out from the States, is unlikely to ever see the light of day in the Lucky Country.

Why? We understand there were two concerns. One related to comments on circumcision made in the context of the lead article by Noel Hornor.  Hornor identified circumcision as one of the seven "Crucial Biblical Keys" to "Vibrant Health" (maybe he never got around to reading Galatians.) Another concerned comments by Melvin Rhodes (UCG's very own version of 70s PT writer Gene Hogberg) who wrote, among other things:

A high birth rate among Muslims, coupled with limited economic development, will ensure a continual source of suicide-bomber recruits for decades to come

The UCG's Council of Elders passed a resolution on the matter at their recent meeting.

Whereas, the Council of Elders desires to edit the review policy for The Good News to address certain sensitivities and cultural concerns in areas outside the United States, and

Whereas, questions have arisen as to how to handle editorial concerns from areas outside the United States,

Now therefore, it is hereby resolved that, national offices, or their designees, outside the United States that distribute the English language version of The Good News will be included in the editorial review process for all articles and that each office, or its designee, will have the opportunity to voice concerns either of a doctrinal or cultural nature prior to publication of the magazine consistent with the established review process of the United Church of God, an International Association, and

It is further resolved that, any difficulties that cannot be resolved by the normal review process will be brought to the president of the United Church of God, an International Association, and the operation manager for media for resolution, which decision will be final, and

It is further resolved that, since the national offices, or their designees, will be included in the review process, it is the expectation of the United Church of God, an International Association, that all magazines of each issue will be distributed upon receipt by said national offices, or their designees.

Conservative UCG members are reportedly spitting tacks and throwing toys. Across the ditch (the Tasman Sea) the Kiwi UCG has mailed the offending issue out without any apparent problems.

GTA -  the Christmas expert: A December 14 WorldNetDaily story on Christmas quotes fallen COG superstar Garner Ted Armstrong extensively, describing him as "a Christian evangelist and political commentator." The relevant section reads:

The pagan connections to Christmas are not news to the likes of Garner Ted Armstrong, a Christian evangelist and political commentator based in Tyler, Texas. Armstrong has been proclaiming such information for the past 46 years on a peak of 135 television and 360 radio stations, stating "it is impossible to 'put Christ back in Christmas,' since He was never in Christmas in the first place!"

"None of the apostles of Christ ever heard of the term; not one of them ever celebrated Christ's birthday," writes Armstrong in his booklet "Christmas ... The Untold Story." "The words Christmas, holly wreath, mistletoe, Rudolph, Santa Claus and Christmas tree do not appear anywhere in the Bible."

Armstrong is among Christians who believe God's plan of salvation for mankind is more accurately depicted through holidays which are frequently mentioned in Scripture, such as Passover and the Day of Atonement. If anything, he thinks Dec. 25 would most likely be Jesus' conception day, thus placing his birth in the autumn, possibly during the Feast of Tabernacles, symbolizing God's "tabernacling" – that is to say, dwelling – with mankind.

What about that Jeremiah 10 Christmas tree that Ted refers to? According to Richard Bucher, an LCMS pastor: 

... it is abundantly clear that the "decorated tree" to which Jeremiah 10 refers is an idol, very likely the Asherah. Therefore, it is very superficial Bible interpretation and pure silliness to understand this passage as directly referring to the use of a fir tree for Christmas! 

Read his article online.

Like-minded preachers say the Bible warns extensively about adopting pagan customs, pointing to the 10th chapter of Jeremiah to specifically cite the practice of tree decoration, which some historians date back to ancient Egypt and Babylon:

"Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not." (Jer 10:2-4)

Armstrong says the pagan celebrations, including winter's Saturnalia, or feast of Saturn in ancient Rome, crept into ostensible Christianity over many years, and some writers began urging a celebration at the same time as the secular events "for the simple reason that so many pagans were already accustomed to 'joyous,' sometimes 'riotous' orgies of feasting at the time of the winter solstice."

"It would be a sin for me [to celebrate Christmas], but it doesn't mean it's the unpardonable sin," Armstrong told WorldNetDaily, stressing he doesn't feel at all threatened by the holiday.

"I have no more difficulty walking through Beijing at the Chinese New Year and seeing the dragons and fireworks. It doesn't affect me. ... [the Apostle] Paul says the idol is nothing."

While Armstrong teaches against the observance of Christmas, he adds that most people who celebrate it are doing so with good intentions, simply unaware of the facts regarding its origins, and they should neither be judged nor condemned by fellow believers in Jesus. He encourages people to type words like "origins of Christmas" into Internet search engines to find out for themselves the background on the customs.

Dugger & Dodd debunked: A feature article on the WCG website, written by that well known contemporary church scholar Anonymous,  raises some legitimate concerns about the COG classic A History of the True Church.

The Church of God (Seventh Day) and the name Andrew Dugger is part of our corporate history... It is a fervent exercise in charting a claim to legitimacy. But the key background assumption is at least dubious. This is the theory that one can establish the identity of the true church and confirm the Sabbath by tracing an unbroken line of Sabbathkeepers from the first century onward...

The goal of validating the Sabbath led Dugger and Dodd to thus adopt a very selective view of church history and source material. Some of their sources often reflect the strident anti-Catholicism of the 1800s. In painting the picture of rampant apostasy after the death of the apostle John, for example, they play down the fact that apostasy was a constant in the first-century church...

Part of Dugger and Dodd's methodology was creating a simplified threefold test of church purity. This centered around the concepts of church name (Church of God), the Sabbath and an aversion to most mainstream doctrinal positions, especially any and all forms of trinitarian teaching. They also reflect an approach sometimes known as "biblicism" — the idea that unless something is clearly and specifically stated in Scripture then it is doctrinally suspect. But rare is the church that can live by this rule...

Dugger and Dodd seem to be driven primarily by justification and group survival.

Good points. But why tackle Dugger and Dodd, without even mentioning the more relevant A True History of the True Church (a misnamed publication if ever there was one) by Herman Hoeh? Surely even Herman must be embarrassed by the continuing citation of this much venerated booklet by fringe elements of the COG.

Anyone interested in "the true history" of WCG might like to check out Bruce Renehan's excellent online book Daughter of Babylon, available on Ed Mentell's Painful Truth site, and Richard Nickels' History of the Seventh Day Church of God. Here are some biographical details for Andrew Dugger drawn from material by Richard Nickels and others.

Effie and Andrew Dugger

Andrew N. Dugger (1886 - 1975), was one of the most prominent Church of God leaders in the 20th century. Dugger's father, Andrew F. Dugger, Sr., had been a minister in the Sunday-keeping Advent Christian Church. When commissioned by that body to do a study refuting the Sabbath, the elder Dugger instead became convinced that the Sabbath should be observed (he later published a book called The Bible Sabbath Defended. ) For more than thirty-five years, until his death in 1910, A. F. Dugger was a leader in the Church of God, Seventh Day. His son Andrew, a schoolteacher and farmer, was in his early 20's when his father died.

Andrew then felt a call into the ministry, and he interpreted a bright light in the sky as a sign from God to follow in his father's footsteps. Dugger sold the farm equipment and stopped teaching so he could take classes in theology and public speaking at the University of Chicago. He studied Greek, German, and Hebrew. In 1925 he married Effie Carpenter (1895 - 1980). 

After graduating Dugger was invited by the Executive Committee of the church to move to Stanberry, Missouri, to become editor of The Bible Advocate, a position his father had held. Beginning in 1914, he was to run the magazine for eighteen years, also serving as President of the General Conference. He also traveled widely, holding evangelistic meetings and public debates.  One such debate with W. Curtis Porter, a Church of Christ minister, was later published in book form. In 1919, Dugger wrote The Bible Home Instructor.

Two distinctive views that Dugger championed were a Mormon-style form of church organization with leaders chosen by lot, and that the church should be based in Jerusalem. After a first attempt to establish a work in Palestine (1931-1932), Dugger returned to live in Sweet Home, Oregon. In 1935, Dugger and C.O. Dodd published A History of the True Church, attempting to trace Sabbatarian Christianity through a continuous line to the so-called "apostolic" church.

Dugger's separation from the parent body of the church was gradual in that, as with Herbert W. Armstrong's departure, co-operation and supportive associations continued for some time. The withdrawal of fellowship that was to characterize competing schismatic factions of the Worldwide Church of God was still a long way over the horizon.

Dugger served as a pastor at Marion, Oregon until 1953, when he moved his family to Jerusalem, where he remained for the rest of his life. From there he published the Mt. Zion Reporter. He died in 1975 at the age of 89. According to one account he was grooming his son to take on the leadership, but there was a falling out with parallels to the one between Herbert Armstrong and Garner Ted Armstrong [proving once again that there is nothing new under the sun.] Consequently Dugger's son-in-law, Gordon Fauth, took over the leadership of the group [apparently the idea of "casting lots" gave way to the needs of a family business], which is now believed to be inactive, although there appears to be a website.

Some churches once affiliated with the Jerusalem branch of the Church of God have since aligned with Denver, others are independent. A group calling itself the Mt. Zion Church of God, Seventh Day in Brooklyn, New York has a web presence. A statement on that site reads:

There are still a great significant number of churches that are and have been historically affiliated with the World Headquarters in Jerusalem.  Many of these churches are now independent and would like to see the work revive someday.

The most impressive Dugger website is however the work of the Brazilian Conference. Unfortunately, you'll need to be able to read Portuguese to appreciate it fully!

Being relatively well educated, and having a long-standing association with the COG, Dugger must have been greatly perplexed by the eager but undisciplined Herbert Armstrong, the brash high school drop-out who, having been a member for only a brief time, proceeded to instruct Dugger in the art of "sucking eggs."

Aging Ministry: The current issue of Norman Edward's Servant's News features an article called An Aging Ministry. One quote:

Norman Edwards has asked a number of young people what they think: they find nice people in the CoGs, but lots of division over obscure doctrine and not much teaching or doing good to the outside world as Jesus and His Apostles did. The young people often find that there is little for them to do. Some wonder if the CoGs, as we know them, will survive.

These are perceptive observations that put the facile concerns of many older members to shame.

Laugh Along With PG Joe: Say what you like about Joe Tkach, the guy obviously has a droll sense of humor. This excerpt from his latest weekly report.

Q: What makes you think the church will be successful [in selling the Pasadena HQ] where the previous efforts failed?

A: We had to face this question ourselves as we saw the previous buyer falter. Although the church has successfully developed congregations throughout the world, operated three colleges, elementary and secondary schools, managed one of the top religious media operations in the world, a renowned performing arts program and other complicated ventures, church leaders are aware that the entitlement process for a large campus in an urban setting like Pasadena is complicated and requires specific expertise.

Anne, writing on JLF, notes: looking at Joseph Tkach's administration, we have witnessed the church shrink to zero colleges, zero secondary schools, zero performing arts program, disappearing congregations, dwindling ministries and a withered media outreach (PTM). Yep, Joey claiming some kind of credit for Herb's long past empire building days is a real hoot. To quote Anne again: Oh, the spin!

Controller Ron'$ Lament: From the January WN.

After several months of relatively stable donations that had averaged more than $1.7 million a month, November contributions dropped to $1.46 million. That is a decrease of some $240,000 compared to the monthly average.

Donations for November 2001 were more than $1.7 million and for 2000 just over $2.5 million. So you can see that November 2002 was a considerable decrease from just two years ago, and a 17 percent drop from last year. We hope this is not a trend and that December, traditionally our best financial month of the year, will make up some of the difference.

Total revenues for the year stand at $22.3 million... regular mail income for 2002 was projected to be $81,301 per banking day. If we meet our target, mail income for the year will be $20 million. However, through November, our daily average beginning Jan. 1 has been $79,339. That is $1,962 less than projected every banking day or almost a half million dollars for the year.

... we have a few other sources of revenues... These other sources of income will amount to about $4.8 million this year. Thus our total projected income for 2002 is $24.8 million. However, our total operating expenses will be somewhere around $32 million. This will result in withdrawing about $7 million from reserves.


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