New COG congregations add 19th truth to list of 18
By John Warren
BIG SANDY, Texas--Two recently formed Church of God congregations have added a 19th "truth" to the "18 truths" attributed to Worldwide Church of God founder Herbert W. Armstrong as part of their statement of beliefs.
The last time The Journal spoke to Alton B. "Don" Billingsley, founder, along with Steve LeBlanc, of the Church of God Established in Modesto (COG-EIM), he was preparing for the Feast of Tabernacles (see "California Congregations Change Church Affiliation," Sept. 30, 2000).
The Journal talked with him again in January to find out what's new.
This time Mr. Billingsley, 75, referred to the 19th truth and commented on the church's Feast of Tabernacles observance last fall in Monterey, Calif., at a Hyatt Regency hotel.
"It was a most beautiful site and place in which to have church services," he said. "There were almost 100 in attendance."
The COG-EIM has already contracted with the Hyatt for the 2001 Feast.
When asked about the congregations he serves, Mr. Billingsley said two congregations meet, one in Modesto and one in Fresno, Calif.
It is still a little early to talk about additional congregations, he said. But "there are a few people here and there who are connected with us."
Mr. LeBlanc and Mr. Billingsley are both employed full time by the COG-EIM.
Regarding church organization and beliefs, Mr. Billingsley said the church is organized and has published a statement of beliefs, and it is posted on the church's Web site.
"The statement was taken from the original one Mr. Armstrong had with the Radio [later Worldwide] Church of God and the 18 doctrines listed in The Worldwide News of Aug. 25, 1986," he said. "We blended them together.
"We also added the 19th doctrine, which was omitted by The Worldwide News, that is found on page 12 of Mr. Armstrong's Plain Truth About Healing booklet from 1979."
The COG-EIM's church governance is the same as the system "God led Mr. Armstrong to see should be in His church," the Modesto pastor said. "We have patterned everything according to the teachings that God used Mr. Armstrong to restore to His church."
Regarding bylaws, a board and a council of elders, Mr. Billingsley said the council consists of himself, Mr. LeBlanc, Wayne Carlson and David O'Malley.
He expects bylaws and a board of trustees to come together before long.
"We inquired about plans to preach the gospel or other forms of outreach," Mr. Billingsley stated, "because we are just getting off the ground and because being as small as we are prohibits us from doing all that we would like to do in preaching the gospel and proclaiming the Ezekiel-warning message."
He's thinking about an additional Web site just for that purpose and hopes also to mount a radio effort. But the church will have to wait on those projects until after at least "a couple" of booklets can be written and published.
"It is our hope that perhaps we can get something going after the Feast of Tabernacles. Right now we are focusing on the scriptures found in Daniel 12:7, Ezekiel 34 and Jeremiah 23, which speak of the scattering of God's people wherever on planet earth."
The Journal asked Mr. Billingsley if he would consider associating in some way with another Church of God organization.
"There are no plans of merging with anyone else," he replied. "but we do have hopes of linking arms with other similar groups who are clinging to all the true teachings. There is some interest being generated in that connection."
Has Mr. Billingsley studied into the calendar issue? In other words, will the COG-EIM rely on the Jewish calendar to determine the dating of feast days?
"I have not studied the calendar issue," he said. "There was no need to do so after having read what Mr. Armstrong wrote about it. His writing on the subject was clear and understandable. What we have done all through the years under his guidance is what we continue to practice and will practice in the future."
The 19th truth
The Journal asked Mr. Billingsley what is the 19th truth he believes was omitted from the famous 18th truths of Herbert W. Armstrong compiled under the guidance of Mr. Armstrong's successor, Joseph Tkach Sr.
The list of 18 points first appeared in codified form in the Aug. 25, 1986, issue of The Worldwide News. (For more about the original list, see "Origin of Mr. Armstrong's 18 Truths May Surprise You," The Journal, May 31, 1999.)
Mr. Billingsley, as mentioned earlier in this article, cited one of Mr. Armstrong's booklets, The Plain Truth About Healing, as the source of the 19th point.
The 19th truth is the "restored true gospel of Jesus Christ," including "Christ's doctrine of healing the sick," said Mr. Billingsley.
"I believe that fully. We preach it as one of the original doctrines placed in the church by Christ through the early apostles and restored by Mr. Armstrong. My wife and I proved that God heals shortly before we began listening to Mr. Armstrong on the radio in early 1952."
The WCG taught healing, he said, until the "infamous," as he referred to it, Systematic Theology Project (STP) the WCG published in 1978. The WCG did publish the STP, but Mr. Billingsley noted that Mr. Armstrong shortly thereafter disavowed it, declaring that the church researchers and writers working on it had acted against his wishes and had arrived at erroneous conclusions.
The STP, Mr. Billingsley said, "did away with any real belief and faith in healing," prompting Mr. Armstrong to rewrite an older booklet to clarify the church's teaching on divine healing.
History of the Billingsleys
Mr. Billingsley and his wife, the former Madeline Lapeyri, were baptized in 1952 in Oklahoma City. They attended the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread that year on the property that later became Ambassador College, Big Sandy.
He was first employed by the church at its headquarters, in Pasadena, Calif., in 1953 as a chauffeur.
Though he never attended AC for credit, he audited several classes. In 1955 Vern Matson, college business manager, named him head of the newly formed transportation department in Pasadena.
Mr. Billingsley, who was born in Doyle, Okla., in 1926, served in the U.S. Army Infantry. In January 1945 he was transferred to Germany and entered combat there in Gen. George Patton's Third Army.
He was ordained as a deacon in 1957 and elder in 1958 in the then Radio Church of God.
"That same year I was chosen by Mr. Richard D. Armstrong [Mr. Armstrong's oldest son] to join him on a baptizing tour in Central California. Shortly into the tour there was a car accident from which Mr. Armstrong died. A few weeks later I was asked to join Mr. Gerald Waterhouse [another elder] to finish the tour."
After the tour another church official, Roderick Meredith, appointed Mr. Billingsley coordinator of the church's "visiting program" (a department that visited church members in their homes) in Pasadena. He served in that capacity until 1960.
In the '60s the Billingsleys served congregations in Fresno and Bakersfield, Calif.; Denver and Pueblo, Colo.; Pittsburgh and Uniontown, Pa.; and Big Sandy, Tyler, Longview, Lufkin and Texarkana, Texas.
In 1974 they moved to Lawton, Okla. Later in the same decade they served in Fresno and Visalia, Calif.; Baton Rouge and Lafayette, La.; Midland, Texas; Hobbs, N.M.; and Stockton, Calif.
The LeBlancs, Carlsons and O'Malleys
Mr. LeBlanc, who lives in Modesto, is a graduate of AC and an ordained elder. He serves as associate pastor in the area.
Mr. Carlson and his wife, Jill, live in Crows Landing, Calif., near Modesto.
Mr. O'Malley is an attorney. He and his wife, Sandy, live in Kerman, Calif.
Mr. and Mrs. Billingsley live in Valley Springs, Calif., with their oldest granddaughter, Chandra, 13.
Thanks for opportunities
"My wife and I feel richly blessed to have spent a lot of time during the '50s learning directly from Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong and Mrs. Loma Armstrong, along with top leading evangelists," Mr. Billingsley said.
"My wife and I cannot thank God enough for our having had the opportunity to be directly exposed to and learn as we did from the man God called and used as His apostle in the closing years of this age."
Visitors are welcome at COG-EIM Sabbath services, but Mr. Billingsley recommends that newcomers to the Fresno congregation check with him first because the schedule can vary.
The brethren in Fresno usually meet at 2 p.m. at the Retired Teachers Center, 3930 Saginaw St.
Services in Modesto are at the Masonic Temple, 800 Rose St., at 11 a.m.
Contact the Church of God Established in Modesto at P.O. Box 3332, Modesto, Calif. 95353, U.S.A.
Telephone the Billingsleys at (209) 772-0737.
Visit the COG-EIM on the Web at firstname.lastname@example.org.