Tuesday, May 7, 2013

David Barrett's Book About the Breakup of Worldwide Church of God

The Fragmentation of a Sect: Schism in the Worldwide Church of God, by David V. Barrett, is a book about the breakup of Worldwide Church of God. David Barrett is a sociologist of religion with no connection to the Church of God who has studied and written a number of books about religious movements. In this book, he analyzes the human processes of decision making in the breakup of Worldwide to understand and learn lessons about how a Church group can change after the death of its leader.

I have not read the book, and I have only skimmed some of the reviews and descriptions. Yet I can say that there is not a snowball's chance in hell that a sociologist, not a member of the Church of God, will correctly understand the causes and processes of the breakup of Worldwide Church of God. I have nothing personal against the author. I am sure he is a sincere man and he may be a very competent researcher and analyst. If he chose other church groups for his study, his interpretation of events and conclusions might be right on the mark. But Worldwide Church of God is a bad choice of model to understand how human beings normally act in a situation when the leader of their group dies and a new leader makes changes to the group.

Worldwide might seem like a good model for such a study. The events that happened there were extreme. Few if any religious groups have undergone change in doctrine of the magnitude that occurred in Worldwide in about one decade after the death of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. It was an interesting situation, and it is easy to study because there is so much material readily available. But there is something unique about it that makes it a bad choice for study by anyone who is not a member of the Church of God. The causes of the events that took place cannot be well understood by anyone outside the Church of God.

The reason is simple. Such studies, made by scholars and experts outside the Church, by their nature, leave God out of the picture. I do not mean they leave the concept of and belief in God out of their study. They know about people's beliefs. But they do not know God. They do not know God's plan for mankind. They do not know that the Bible is inspired by God, and even if they know that, they do not understand and believe the Bible.

And God Himself was deeply involved in the Worldwide Church of God and the events in the growth of that Church and in its breakup, and God has been involved in the groups that have come out of Worldwide. And if you do not understand how God, through His Holy Spirit, influenced and guided converted ministers and members in their decisions, you are not going to understand what happened in Worldwide. It would be like trying to understand how an automobile moves without knowing anything about an internal combustion engine or even that such an engine exists.

The breakup of Worldwide was not an ordinary human event, but something different, maybe not unique in Church of God history over 2,000 years, but certainly different from the usual main course of human organizations.

There was a spirit war going on in Worldwide in the decade after Mr. Armstrong's death, and if you don't understand that, you can't understand the causes of the breakup of Worldwide and the scattered condition of the Church of God today. Spiritual influences were at work in the decisions human beings made. Some in Worldwide did what they did because they were being led by the Holy Spirit of God and some did what they did because they were inspired by a different spirit. Without conversion and a deep understanding of the Bible, outside scholars cannot help missing the true causes and motivating factors in what took place.

God's Holy Spirit led converted members to make certain choices, and Satan and his demons led others to make different choices. This world's sociologists and scholars do not understand that. It isn't taught in their sociology courses they studied in colleges and universities.

"But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14).

David Barrett may be a very competent scholar, researcher, sociologist, and writer, but he doesn't have a hope of understanding the breakup of Worldwide because he is trying to analyze it from a human, materialist point of view, how human beings react to organizational change and division in religious bodies, but he doesn't understand the spiritual dimension of what was happening.

The messages to the seven churches in Revelation (chapters 2 and 3) show a progression of eras in the true Church of God from the time Revelation was written about 1,900 years ago until now. The Philadelphian era of God's Church started with Mr. Armstrong, and as promised in the message to Philadelphia, God gave Mr. Armstrong and the Radio Church of God, later renamed Worldwide Church of God, an open door, and that is the reason why Mr. Armstrong and the Church grew so powerfully while Mr. Armstrong was alive. It was God's blessing and intervention that did it. God performed miracles to cause the growth. God also opened Mr. Armstrong's mind to understand new doctrinal knowledge from the Bible. It was Christ, as head of the Church, who gave Mr. Armstrong and the Church the open door as He promised in Revelation 3:8. It was Christ who did the work through Mr. Armstrong, not Mr. Armstrong doing the work by his own human ability. How can an outsider understand that?

Yet, as Mr. Armstrong probably observed when he said that many of us just didn't "get it", many of the members of the Church were drifting into the Laodicean condition, which was the condition of the next and last era of the Church of God. Not only that, but there were probably many unconverted tares among us, as Christ talked about in His parable (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). So once the majority of even the converted members was Laodicean, Christ did what He said He would do in Revelation 3:16 - He vomited us out of His mouth. Christ led Mr. Armstrong to name a successor that Christ knew would not keep the true doctrines Mr. Armstrong taught from the Bible, but would get rid of those doctrines and steer the Church towards mainstream Christianity, which was not the true Christianity of the original, first century Church of God. And that is what happened. As a result, the converted membership of the Church of God was tested. And we were scattered because we were not zealous for God as we should have been. That scattered condition remains because we are in the Laodicean era and the majority of us are in the Laodicean condition. The physically scattered condition we see in the Churches of God is a reflection and result of our spiritual condition as described in Revelation 3:15-20: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing' - and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked - I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me".

A sifting and separating has taken place and continues to take place. We in the Church of God are being tested and judged by the great God who created the universe. He is working out His plan to reproduce Himself in mankind, and that requires that He build His holy, righteous character in us, His firstfruits. God has created the circumstances to force us to make choices, to separate those who believe and serve God from those who do not, yet while giving us time to repent and become zealous so that more of us can be saved.

How can an outsider, who is not trained in God's word but in this world's university system, understand that?

Even we in the Church of God, we who are supposed to understand the Bible and have God's Holy Spirit, we who have lived through it, only partly understand exactly what happened and why. "For we know in part and we prophesy in part" (1 Corinthians 13:9).

If you want a secular view of what happened to God's Church in the 1980s and 1990s, ascribing every effect to a material cause, with spirit forces such as God and Satan left out of the picture, this book might be an interesting read. But it won't help you understand the real reasons it happened, nor how it happened. And it may be a poor model for even the world to study if it wants to understand how normal, human religious groups typically change and divide when a leader dies.

For a related post on this subject, see
"Did Christ Choose Joseph Tkach?", published March 12, 2013, link:

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

A Brief History of the Scattering of the Church, Chapter 5


Anonymous said...

Good article. I agree with your review of the guy's book. My comment has more to do with something you said in the attached links. That no changes occurred in the first year or two.

In fact, the changes began almost immediately.

The PT published an article called "You Are NOT Qualifying For The Kingdom" within a month or two after HWA died. It introduced the concept of the "once saved, always saved" doctrine.

Articles and columns in the WWN promoted relying on church government for your beliefs, instead of studying the Bible for yourselves. This not only rejected HWA's teaching, but introduced the idea of papal authority within the WCG.

Thing is, the new administration couched these changes in language that sounded acceptable to members; whom, not paying attention, were being massaged for more changes down the road.

I could run on with other examples.

The Tkach administration pulled the rug out from under our feet. They did so subtle at first that nobody noticed. Once members did pay attention, that's when they pulled the rug hard and fast.

author@ptgbook.org said...

Thanks for the information.

The changes were small at first, and as you say, subtle. I missed noticing the article you mentioned about qualifying, so it seems the changes did start right away, but small.

The first change I noticed when I was in Worldwide was the change on makeup which came out I think about one year after Mr. Armstrong died.

Anonymous said...

From my personal experience, I have learned more about doctrines by confronting the ideas that contradict CoG teachings. That's from the year or so I was active daily on the Christians Forums, discussing and debating topics. A person may think they have the teaching down pat and then WHAM, someone hits you with something you don't have an answer for.

Not that there is no answer, there is but you have to go and find it. Thereby increasing the knowledge of the truth (2 Pe 2:18). There is a difference between parroting someone else's ideas and coming to that knowledge on your own.

From my reading of David Barrett's book, one bigger reason why a large number of people should consider NOT reading it, is because it's written in scholarly language. Reading becomes like carrying a hundred pound sack of potatoes uphill. Also he uses a fair amount of quotes from "Ambassador Reports" which has a lot of "evidence" that is near impossible to corroborate.

I think people should not fear or be dismissive of the truth if and when it is presented; there are a few atheists who are anti-abortion and don't believe in homosexuality (Ro 2:15).

From what I understand a person can't come to a conclusion about what someone says/writes before they have said it.


Anonymous said...

I need to correct a false statement that I made. I said that the "You Are NOT Qualifying For The Kingdom" article was published within a month or two after HWA died. That is not true. It was published in the Mar 87 issue of the GN. I feel a little embarrassed, but I don't want to put out any false information. My apology.

Anyway, I thought Norbert made a good comment. The need for Bible study. Despite HWA's "don't believe me; believe your Bible," I'm afraid that so many church members simply accepted the teaching without checking up on it. That's why so many WCGers left the church after the apostasy hit. They were never truly grounded.

Anonymous said...

I need to correct a mistake. "You Are NOT Qualifying For The Kingdom" was published in the Mar 97 issue of the GN, not the first couple of months after HWA died. I'm embarrassed, but I don't want to put out any false information. My apology.

Anyway, I don't know about Barrett's book, but I thought Norbert made a good comment about the need for Bible study. Despite HWA's "don't believe me; believe your Bible," I'm afraid that so many church members signed on without doing the necessary research. That's why so many left after he died. They were simply following a man.

author@ptgbook.org said...

I agree 100% about the need to prove things from the Bible and base our beliefs on the Bible and that many in Worldwide did not do that but rather accepted Mr. Armstrong's word without really proving it.