CGI clergyman conducts class on cults in Kingston
By George Ramocan
KINGSTON, Jamaica--A class about cults and cultism consisting largely of Evangelical students at Jamaica Theological Seminary heard recently that Worldwide Church of God founder Herbert W. Armstrong was more Evangelical on two central Protestant doctrines than many liberal Evangelicals.
On June 9 Ian Boyne, pastor of the Kingston and Ocho Rios congregations of the Church of God International (CGI), told the students that, on the central Protestant doctrines of the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture and the deity of Jesus Christ, Mr. Armstrong, although criticized by many Evangelicals and other Protestants as a "cultist," was more Evangelical than many in the Evangelical movement.
Mr. Boyne was a guest lecturer at a seminary class that morning that is scrutinizing the Church of God International, based near Tyler, Texas. Students had researched the CGI and made group presentations that day, followed by Mr. Boyne's lecture and question-and-answer session.
Child of the '70s
"I have long believed that the central doctrines of the Church of God movement are eminently defensible from a scholarly and biblical point of view and that we should expose them to the best and the brightest in the Protestant world," said Mr. Boyne, who has been a religious writer in the Jamaican press for 20 years and the recipient of a journalism award for distinguished religion writing from the Press Association of Jamaica.
"I am a child of the 1970s, which I consider the greatest period of the intellectual and theological growth of the Armstrong movement," he continued. "The saddest thing to me is that the creative intellectual ferment which was facilitated by the Garner Ted Armstrong administration [of the WCG] of that period was hijacked and aborted by the ultraconservatives, who, and I say this respectfully and lovingly, did not possess the theological sophistication to properly develop the movement."
Mr. Boyne believes one of his tasks is to establish the credibility in theological circles of "reformed Armstrongism," which avoids what he calls "the ditch" of Norm Edwards of Charlotte, Mich., Ray Wooten of Birmingham, Ala., and Jim Rector of Texarkana, Texas (all three of whom conduct ministries within the Church of God movement), who, Mr. Boyne says, downplay Mr. Armstrong's "distinctive mission in this century."
Mr. Boyne is also critical of people he refers to as "right-wingers"--he lists Gerald Flurry of Edmond, Okla., Dave Pack of Wadsworth, Ohio, and Ron Weinland of Perrysburg, Ohio, among them--"who canonize Armstrong."
The 1970s revolution within the WCG, which produced such "thinkers," says Mr. Boyne, as Robert Kuhn, George Geis, Gunar Freibergs, Lawson Briggs, Ron Dart, Brian Knowles, Lester Grabbe and David Antion, if allowed to continue would have produced a movement able to withstand the theological onslaught of the "Tkach faction."
The "Tkach faction" was Mr. Boyne's reference to Joseph Tkach Sr. and Joseph Tkach Jr., Mr. Armstrong's successors, respectively, as pastor general in the WCG.
"The finest hour in this movement theologically was when we produced the Systematic Theology Project," Mr. Boyne said. The STP was "the most balanced compilation of Armstrongism, in my view. In my little way I want to continue the work of the STP and those '70s theologians who cut away the excesses and baggage from HWA's teachings but who retained the position--at least publicly--that his core doctrines represented biblical truth."
The Systematic Theology Project was a 1978 compilation, promoted by Garner Ted Armstrong but criticized by his father, that attempted to document the beliefs and teachings of the Worldwide Church of God.
Mr. Boyne likes to talk to orthodox Christians, he says, particularly the bright and the schooled among them, "because they are best able to critique my reformed Armstrongism."
Although he enjoys listening to what they say, they are "utterly incapable," he claims, of shooting holes in the major doctrines of "reformed Armstrongism."
So it was on the morning of June 9, when he used what he calls "first-rate material" developed by Eric Snow (a United Church of God member from Ferndale, Mich.) to show how the anticult movement grossly misrepresented Mr. Armstrong.
"Eric has assembled large numbers of quotes from HWA and others to show that some leading anticult writers had made false accusations against us," Mr. Boyne said.
Regard for Scripture
He quoted to the Evangelical students from the writings of a woman whom he regards as the leading authority on the WCG, Evangelical Ruth Tucker.
In a July 15, 1996, article in Christianity Today magazine, Mrs. Tucker noted that Mr. Armstrong's sola Scriptura approach was the reason his teachings have been so radically abandoned by so many of his followers.
"For all his heresies and errors," she wrote, "he always insisted that the Bible alone was the foundation for his teachings. He never claimed additional revealed Scriptures such as the Mormons have."
Mr. Boyne then quoted from WCG pastor Joe Tkach Jr., who in his book Transformed by Truth acknowledged Mr. Armstrong's passion for the Scripture, the centerpiece of Protestantism.
"Without the deep commitment to the Scriptures which God instilled in us through Armstrong," wrote Mr. Tkach, "we would never have embarked on the journey we have taken. From his earliest to his last day Mr. Armstrong maintained a reverential respect for Scripture."
The students sat in "rapt attention," according to Mr. Boyne. So he explained to them two of the Armstrong movement's most controversial doctrines: that man will become God and that the Armstrong movement is "the only true church," which Mr. Boyne says he still passionately believes.
"One of the most painful things to me is to see the number of people in our movement who have become embarrassed by the fact that we are God's uniquely called and commissioned people," he said. "We don't want to be considered narrow-minded, so we compromise our sense of a special calling. Even a great man of God like Ron Dart [of Christian Educational Ministries, Tyler, Texas] seems to have fallen in this trap."
Mr. Boyne referred to several scriptures he says prove what he refers to as the eventual "deification of man." He also referred to the works of an Evangelical writer who talks about "man's receiving the glory of Christ." Mr. Boyne told the students that human beings receiving the glory of Christ must mean that man will be deified.
"How can you resist the conclusion that Armstrong came to in light of this from one of your own scholars?" Mr. Boyne asked the class.
Millions of Buddhists
Concerning religious exclusivism and the one-true-church concept, Mr. Boyne asked the students if they felt millions of Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims would be saved.
"No!" the class shouted.
"So why am I considered a bigot for excluding many persons when you have effectively condemned 70 percent of the world which is non-Christian?" he asked them. "Why aren't you bigoted and narrow-minded too?"
He asked the students similar questions about Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. Again the students shouted, "No!"
"Now, whose religion is more compassionate: mine or yours?" he asked. "My human leader, Herbert Armstrong, says eventually everyone will get the chance to accept Jesus. The Muslims, Bahais, Buddhists and New Agers will not be left out. You cut off most of humanity, even many professing Christians, and don't consider yourself narrow-minded necessarily. Yet you consider Herbert Armstrong narrow-minded because he believed that only those who accepted his theology was right. You believe that only those who accept Evangelical theology are born-again, blood-washed Christians. Who's kidding whom?"
Mr. Boyne then criticized the doctrines of the immortal soul and ever-burning hell.
"I often wonder," he commented, "how you as Evangelicals can maintain a rigorous intellect and a compassionate heart and believe these abominable doctrines."
The students asked him about the sovereignty of God.
"Ah, I am more Evangelical than you in that I insist in line with Romans 10 that every single soul will get the chance to personally confess Christ, while you have more than one way of salvation," he responded.
"You have God winking at people and allowing them into His Kingdom. I have one way: Confess Jesus as Lord and be saved. I say Jesus is the only way; He is the door; every lip has to confess Him."
Mr. Boyne freely admitted to the students that Mr. Armstrong taught errors, some of which he corrected, some of which the CGI and others corrected.
"Some of Armstrong's ideas were obscurantist," he said. "He was not a trained theologian. He expressed some things badly."
The regular lecturer in the class then commented that in 1985 he had heard Mr. Boyne give a lecture at the same seminary in which he admitted that Mr. Armstrong had dismissed even groups that agreed with him theologically.
"Then how can you come here and speak so glowingly of the man who rejected the very organization you were a part of?" he asked.
Mr. Boyne responded:
"I have already told you that the man himself said that Scripture was the final authority, and he himself used to say, 'Don't believe me, believe the Bible.'
"I took him literally, so I can quite easily disagree with him when he disagrees with Scripture."
The class found the answer satisfactory, Mr. Boyne reported.
A student, after the class, admitted to Mr. Boyne that "we Evangelicals can't defend our doctrines."
The CGI conducts a Bible study on Monday nights at which theologians and other religious leaders present their ideas for discussion.
"We have had some of the best theology professors come in and present for 45 minutes and then have interaction with them," said Mr. Boyne.
"We are confident of our theology. We believe that we are the called-out ones and that Catholic and Protestant theology is bankrupt.
"Rather than fighting among ourselves as Church of God members, we should be sharpening our skills biblically and showing this world why our movement is solidly scriptural and the successor movement to the apostles.
"CGI in Jamaica is doing its part."
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God