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One Member's Personal Journey

Also see The Apostolic Chair editorial

I was 14 when I first discovered the Worldwide Church of God. An ad appeared in the New Zealand edition of the Readers' Digest for a brochure called "Our Awesome Universe". Along with it came a free subscription to a magazine called The Plain Truth.

It took me a while to realize that a church was behind it all (this was 1970 when everything was done under the name Ambassador College). The literature started to pile up, and I also began listening to Garner Ted Armstrong's World Tomorrow program. It was very different from the Lutheran church I'd been raised in, and I quickly became contemptuous of that tradition - with all the arrogance that goes with teenage certainty. The articles in The Plain Truth, on the other hand, seemed highly relevant. Booklets arrived on issues like the environment ("Our Polluted Planet" and "Famine: Can We Survive?") and a host of concerns that other churches seemed to totally ignore. I was easily hooked, and quickly became a "co-worker."

I began attending Sabbath services after leaving high school, and was baptized at my first "Feast of Tabernacles" by John Comino, at that time pastor of the Hamilton church. There had been some disturbing stories - the fiascos of 1972 and 1974 had attracted a lot of media attention - and I can recollect gawping in disbelief at the blaring front page tabloid headline: "Garner Ted Gets Boot: Sex Silences Radio Star!". But in the end I shoved any doubts to one side. Once admitted to the fold I quickly picked up the culture, including the obligatory briefcase and wide margin King James Bible. And while my parents were far from impressed, I took real pride in tithing my very first pay check to "the Work". 

The nice thing about naiveté is that it has a relatively short shelf life. The lurch into cultism that occurred in 1978, as Herbert Armstrong reasserted his "Apostleship" in the church, was a real wakeup call. Eleven years after receiving the first Plain Truth I confronted Jack Croucher, "pastor" of the Auckland congregation (the inverted commas are my way of indicating that he didn't come across as a particularly pastoral kind of guy! Like many other Armstrong ministers he later left the WCG.)  I knew I was liable to be disfellowshipped as a result, and so it was.

I was briefly involved with Ted Armstrong's original splinter group, The Church of God, International.  Incredible as it may seem now, in the late 70s Ted was seen as a voice of progress and liberalism!  In New Zealand this group mercifully disintegrated following publication of David Robinson's shattering book Herbert Armstrong's Tangled Web. Around the same time I also came across the theological journal Verdict, featuring the work of Robert Brinsmead, a straight-talking former Seventh-day Adventist scholar. It was to change the way I understood Christianity. Years later these same articles would impact on the WCG itself, helping bring it to its theological knees. 

Life moved on. I relocated to another part of the country with a new job, acquired a mortgage and other interests and commitments. In 1995, fourteen years after leaving the WCG, I attended a couple of services again. It was good to see some familiar faces and to finally get some sense of closure. Things seemed to have improved. The bad old days under Herbert Armstrong appeared to be over.

That changed when I discovered that Gerald Flurry, and later Rod Meredith, had begun rewriting history. Herbert Armstrong was once again being raised up as a shining light. These men, and others, were all too willing to snatch his filthy mantle and claim his authority. I also became aware that the much publicized changes in the WCG hadn't been allowed to alter the cultic structure of the organization. As a small protest I added some material to a personal web page I was building. Soon that material became the focus of the page, and as time went by the single page mushroomed into a fairly ambitious site. It was re-launched in May 2001 as The Missing Dimension.

This site has no doctrinal or denominational axe to grind. It doesn't speak for or endorse any of the different derivative ministries. If anything, it has a "consumer awareness" focus. As in any other field of endeavor: let the "buyer" beware.  Those considering supporting any of these groups should have access to the history of the movement. The groups themselves are understandably reluctant to be upfront about the controversies and issues that have fashioned them.

Until the church is opened up to genuine representative leadership and real accountability, it cannot be regarded as a healthy Christian community

Under the polished PR veneer the Worldwide Church of God continues to be run like a cult. Doctrinal changes have not been allowed to impact on the underlying power structure. Those in leadership are accountable only to the Pastor General, a position for which no election has ever been held. No General Conference or other representative body exists. This is a church run by individuals who have no mandate to do so. Though the current Pastor General may be more benign than Armstrong, there is still no effective system of checks and balances in place. It is literally a one-man-band. Joseph Tkach Jr. is hardly unaware of these concerns. Jack Kessler and William Ferguson are just two of the people who have brought these issues to him in person. David Covington, a pastor in the church, eloquently pleaded the case for accountability. Rather than taking corrective action based on his recommendations, the church's leadership vilified him. Tkach seems not to want to listen. Has he become corrupted by the power of his position? I don't know. But until the church is opened up to genuine representative leadership and real accountability, it cannot be regarded as a healthy Christian community. The freedom and liberation that its self perpetuating leadership prate endlessly about is, in the end, still just an illusion. 

Gavin Rumney

July 2001. Edited January 2002