the painful truth about the worldwide church of god

I Should Have Known

by John B.


When I look back on forty years of association with the Worldwide Church of God, I marvel that I didn't see the truth sooner. As with any crime being committed, clues were all over the place. Anyone with an open mind, who had not been hypnotized by Herbert Armstrong's "proofs", could have easily put any two of them together to determine that the Worldwide Church of God not only was not the only true church of God, but that it was one of the slickest scams of the century, all the more so because it continued operations for two-thirds of a century and is still going today, thanks to "freedom of religion".

What follows are just a handful of clues that should have alerted any clear-thinking individual that all was not as advertised. I would be interested in hearing other clues from anyone who reads this. (These are in no particular order.)


Herbert Armstrong was fond of saying that the Bible "interprets itself", that the keys to the book are in the book. He also said that one could not understand the Bible unless one had been "converted" and received the Holy Spirit. Yet during the 1980s I became aware that certain people, deacons and elders, were receiving training materials that dealt, among other things, with something called "difficult scriptures".

If the Bible is so easy for to understand for the "converted" mind, why would any scripture be difficult? Clearly, some scriptures were difficult, of course. "God is the same yesterday, today, and forever", yet the personality of the Old Testament God is far more vicious than that in the New Testament. How does one explain that? Even mainstream Christianity has problems explaining some things.

One example of a "difficult scripture" from the Worldwide Church of God perspective is Galatians 4:10. "You observe days and months and seasons and years". Protestants cite this one (correctly) to support the belief that the Sabbath is no longer in force, but the Worldwide Church of God had to do a pretzel act to turn in into the opposite. Another difficult text is the story of Lazarus and the rich man, which appears to suggest that hellfire is a real place and people can survive there. The Worldwide Church of God claimed it was talking about the third resurrection--yet why would Lazarus tell the rich man that his brother should read Moses and the prophets? Wouldn't it already be too late for that?

Definitely a difficult scripture.


A number of scriptures suggest that anyone who would be a minister should be willing to humble himself, that ministers should not lord their status over others, that a minister should serve others, sacrifice himself for others. That a minister should be, in a word, a servant.

Nothing could be less true in the Worldwide Church of God (even today, I am told). I don't need to tell anyone reading this that ministers were treated as minor royalties, right up to the edge of being carried about in sedan chairs borne by third-tithe recipients (if there was any such thing). An interesting gaffe, perhaps a Freudian slip: when the ordination of a minister was announced to the congregation, it was always said that he had been "elevated", a curious term for someone who has humbled himself and become a servant.

It is also interesting that the ministry had what amounted to a "nonfraternization" policy, similar to that found in the military. A minister might have a member over to his house, but never as an equal. At the festivals, ministers stayed in ministerial housing, away from the membership. Ministers had their own luncheons, dinners, and social events. Ministers hobnobbed with each other, never with the laity.

I equate this policy with military rank. The equivalent ranks were as follows:







Preaching Elder


Local Elder

1st Lieutenant

Local Church Elder

2nd Lieutenant


Sergeants & other noncoms

Everybody else



For several years in the late 1960s we were warned almost weekly that January 1972 would be the start of the Great Tribulation. As that date drew ever closer the warnings increased, to the point that many people, myself included, were very close to terrified.

Yet January 1972 came and went. No tribulation occurred, and no explanation ensued. Business went on as usual. For years.

And then Herbert Armstrong, probably around 1980-81, finally gave us an explanation. Christ had delayed His coming. The church had been right all along about the date, but Christ had been forced to push back the schedule (a schedule presumably put in place long before the Creation). Why? Because the church wasn't ready!

It was our fault!

Not Herbert's fault.

Not the church's fault.

Our fault.

That should have tipped anyone off.


When the YES Bible lessons first came out (in the 1980s, I think), they covered eight or nine levels, roughly corresponding to school grades (K through 8). Only the last one or two lessons dealt with Jesus Christ. All the rest were Old Testament stories.

Then, a few years later, the lessons were revamped. The last one or two levels were dropped, and with them any direct mention of Jesus Christ. The Worldwide Church of God did not, from that time on, teach its children anything about Christ, yet it still claimed to be a "Christian" church.

Odd, isn't it?


For many years Stanley Rader was Herbert Armstrong's personal attorney. Every year at the festivals he used to stand up in front of the congregations and speak on financial and legal matters. Yet he was not a church member.

Then, somewhere around 1979 (my memory is not precise), he was baptized.

And ordained.

To evangelist.


This was the equivalent of a long-time civilian employee of the Army suddenly being inducted, then skipping over basic training and going directly to the rank of Colonel, with all the attendant authority that rank carries.

That one did bother me, but after all, I was not as smart or as wise as God's own personal apostle.

Similarly, in the late 1980's, Joseph Tkach, God's new personal apostle, brought back the fruit of his loins from Arizona, where the furry little bastard had been living in disgrace, and ordained him as an evangelist as well.

Same song, second verse.

All of us should have learned something from that.


Around 1981, in a taped sermon played in the local churches, Herbert Armstrong went into a screaming fit as he talked about church members who were apparently reluctant to accept some of the Headquarters directives because they hadn't yet proved them from the Bible. "Once you have proved that this is God's church, you SUBMIT TO THE AUTHORITY THAT GOD HAS GIVEN THROUGH ME!!!!!" (approximate quote). He went on to say that it should not take a person much more than six months to a year to "prove" that this was God's true church, and after that we were to rely on the ministry (translation: HWA) to tell us what God wanted from us.

Well, gee whiz! The Bible does say prove "all" things, doesn't it? Why should we stop obeying that directive on Herbert's say-so?

I should have known better.


Every year at the Feast of Tabernacles there would be a sermonette, or maybe an announcement, about how much we should spend on toys for our little ones. "We are not supposed to use the Feast as a substitute for Christmas!" they told us. They went on to say that it was okay for us to spend a few dollars on "some little toy", nothing "too elaborate", so our small children could enjoy the feast.

Well, my wife and I usually spent two or three hundred each year on the kids, and that was clearly a lot more than the ministry was telling us was appropriate. But for crying out loud--we went there with about $3000 every year. Less than a third of that was spent on housing. Three hundred went for tithe of the tithe (unbiblical as hell!), and my wife spent some on clothing before we left. Still, we had enough to buy some decent toys, and I am happy to report that we always did.

I know a lot of people had much less to spend than we did, and a lot of people had vastly more than we did. What, I wondered, about those who had ten thousand or more? There weren't many of them, certainly, but they did exist. Were they also supposed to buy only "some little toy" for their kids? And why did it matter anyway? It was our money. The Bible said it was for us to spend at the feast, didn't it? Why did those bastards care how much we spent on toys?

It's all very clear now, of course. As the end of the feast approached, every year we were admonished to turn in our "excess" second tithe. They weren't satisfied with robbing us throughout the year, they wanted our feast money, too!


I never turned in a red cent.

And I'm proud of it.


Gerald Waterhouse.

That should have tipped everyone off.


As a child growing up in the church I was taught that, by virtue of being in the Worldwide Church of God (it was the RCG in those days), I was divinely protected from almost everything.

And yet. . .

People died.

People died in car wrecks.

People died of cancer.

People were murdered.

People committed suicide.

People even died at the Feast of Tabernacles.

One church kid who I graduated high school with decided he didn't want to be a conscientious objector, so when he was drafted in 1968 he went to the army. A year later he was dead in Vietnam at age nineteen.

Over the years I was never really able to reconcile these tragedies with the assurance that we were all under divine protection. The kid who went to Vietnam, I figured, had canceled his own insurance policy by disobeying the church. But that didn't apply to others who died or were horribly injured, who were still faithful to their beliefs.

Around 1987, when I was married and had kids of my own, there was a boy in the Fresno congregation named Larry. He was about sixteen, strong and healthy and the best basketball player we had. He was a real athlete.

One Saturday night he spent the night at the home of Kevin, another church kid; after the parents went to bed, Larry and Kevin slipped out and took off down a country road on a three-wheeler. Larry carried a pellet pistol (compressed air weapon), and I guess they were planning to hunt rabbits. No one ever really explained what happened next, except that the three-wheeler somehow rolled, the gun went off, and Larry took a pellet in the neck.

He was paralyzed from the waist down.

Needless to say, the entire congregation was in shock. The following week, we had a sermon from Phil Rice (son of Richard Rice, one of the Rice boys), and he explained it all to us. God had allowed Larry to be paralyzed for life at age 16 as an example to the rest of us. God chose Larry as the instrument of this lesson because his faith was strong enough to handle it.


As I sat there listening to that, I remember thinking that I was glad my faith wasn't very strong. I hoped it never got any stronger. I didn't want God doing me any favors of the type He had done for Larry.


I knew a lot more people who died after being anointed for deadly illnesses than survived.


I was amazed at the number of people who, after being disfellowshipped and turned over to Satan for destruction of the flesh, turned out never to have been converted in the first place.

Including a few ministers.

How did that happen?


Some time in the late 1980s, long after Herbert Armstrong had told us that it was our fault Jesus never came back, I began to notice that, far from coming together as the "Bride of Christ" (I always want to say Bride of Frankenstein--sorry!) was expected to do, the church was falling apart more and more each year. Maybe it wasn't so--maybe I was just starting to see things clearly for the first time--but I just did not see any improvement in most of the people around me. Some of them, far from repenting and growing in the "fruits of the spirit" (there's a phrase to remember!), were just getting worse all the time.

Lester McColm, the local pastor, was the worst of the lot!

Perhaps someone may have thought that I was not getting any better, either, I don't know. But it was clear to me that, if Jesus was waiting on us, he wasn't going to be coming back any time soon.


The Day of Atonement. Becoming "at one" with God. Atonement = At One Ment.

In order for this to be true, it would have to work in every language on earth. Spanish, German, Dutch, Swahili. How does in work in Hebrew? Yom Kip Ment?

God, how dumb I was!


Some things about the church were just illogical. In the 1960s we were told that 1972 would be the beginning of the Tribulation (if anyone says they never said that, tell him BULLSPIT! I was there! Herman Hoeh was our pastor and he was the architect of this doctrine), because it was the end of the second 19-year time cycle. Herbert Armstrong had begun his ministry on Jan. 7, 1934 (to the United States) via radio. Exactly nineteen years later, Jan. 7, 1953, he expanded his ministry to the world (Radio Luxembourg), fulfilling Christ's commission to "go ye therefore into all the world, preaching the gospel unto every critter". That job would be complete on Jan. 7, 1972.

Well. . .

It didn't happen.

The next nineteen year time cycle would end in 1991. But did they talk about 1991?

No. They talked about 1982.

Why? Because all the planets would be in alignment then.


Oh, well. I guess they were smarter than I was after all. Because it didn't happen in 1991, either.

I could go on and on, and maybe I will at some later time. There were many clues, large and small, that should have told a normal-thinking person that something was wrong. Unfortunately, I was not a normal-thinking person, because I had been brain-washed, just as thousands of others were.

All of us who left eventually broke free, of course, or we wouldn't be where we are today. That we accomplished it is all that really matters. It just amazes me that so many clues went unheeded.




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