Too many young ministers who were neither physicians nor businessmen offered
diagnoses and cures for both health and business problems. Few if any were
insincere, but many brethren paid a stiff price. The justification of the
day for bad ministerial advice was that God honored your attitude, and even
if you followed bad advice from God's servant He would take care of you.
Through the 1960s the church grew in income and members. A massive building
program was initiated at church headquarters.
Mrs. Armstrong dies
Early in 1967 Loma Armstrong fell ill and died in the spring of the year.
Mrs. Armstrong was deeply loved and respected by most of the church. She
played a key, and at the same time retiring, role in her husband's ministry.
Everyone took her death hard.
Not long after Mrs. Armstrong's death, Mr. Armstrong began traveling more
than he ever had before. In 1968 he purchased a Falcon Fan Jet and a few
years later a Grumman Gulfstream II, suitable for flights overseas.
After Mrs. Armstrong died, Stanley R. Rader, the church's nonmember general
council and adviser to Mr. Armstrong, grew more influential. At first a
part-time adviser, increasingly he spent time with Mr. Armstrong and finally
became a full-time employee. Years later he was baptized, and a short time
later Mr. Armstrong ordained him an evangelist.
The 1972 syndrome
As early as 1953 Mr. Armstrong said the church could be taken to a place
of physical safety in 1972. Later he wrote the booklet 1975 in Prophecy.
As I pointed out in the first installment, the doctrines that linked church
membership to protection from the end-time holocaust served to motivate
brethren to accept strong church government.
As 1972 drew closer, however, some began to question the time line set forth
by Mr. Armstrong and Herman L. Hoeh, the chief architect of the church's
teachings on government and prophetic understanding.
The first high-profile minister to do so was Roderick C. Meredith, then
head of the WCG ministers and now presiding evangelist and founder of the
Global Church of God. In the late 1960s Mr. Meredith wrote in a letter to
the ministry that he felt there was "more time left than we had expected."
To his credit, Mr. Meredith tackled the issue head on and began to influence
members to rethink the issue.
But fleeing to Petra was a priority in the minds of thousands of brethren in the WCG. Later,
church leaders would say: "But we never set dates." Most members
who lived through those days would say otherwise.
How does the 1972 syndrome impact church government?
As the brethren awakened to the fact that the church had been wrong in its
prophetic scenario, they became less willing to submit themselves to heavy-handed
Kinder and gentler church
The '70s have been characterized by some as a time of a great liberalization
in the WCG. Garner Ted Armstrong began to stress personal evangelism and
to try to encourage the church to be more open.
Herbert Armstrong ostensibly agreed with his son's direction, at least for
a time. But in the end the two became locked in a power struggle, each discounting
the other's role in the great commission.
Four years later the elder Mr. Armstrong finally rejected his son for good,
saying his son didn't support him. He and Garner Ted remained unreconciled
at the time of his death.
In exiling Garner Ted, Mr. Armstrong branded his son as a liberal who had
tried to water down truth.
Setting things back on track
If ever Mr. Armstrong had been reluctant to claim the office of apostle,
such was not the case in the late 1970s and early '80s. After having taught
against the primacy-of-Peter doctrine, he aggressively embraced the teaching
and hammered home his apostolic authority.
He was greatly aided in the effort by evangelist Gerald Waterhouse.
If Dr. Hoeh was the chief architect of the teaching on church government
in the 1950s and 1960s, it was Mr. Waterhouse more than any other who carried
the banner through the 1970s, '80s and into the '90s.
Mr. Waterhouse relentlessly preached church government. It's simple, he
told congregations literally around the world: Keep your eyes on the apostle
[Mr. Armstrong]. Follow him. Don't worry about what he does. Even if he's
wrong, he's right. If there's a problem, Christ will fix it. It's so simple
a child can understand it.
Mr. Waterhouse, an energetic, highly effective public speaker, developed
a script that he delivered repeatedly, with little change, to congregation
after congregation. With Mr. Armstrong's blessing, he made multiple around-the-world
tours, visiting all or virtually all of the congregations.
His vivid imagination and colorful speculations about end-time events captivated
thousands of WCG members. He intrigued the vast majority of members and
inspired fierce loyalty among a core audience.
He kept alive the early teachings about Petra as the place of safety from
the end-time wrath of God. With great power and conviction he painted scenario
after scenario in glorious detail.
What would determine whether you were taken to Petra was your willingness
to submit yourself to church government. One of Mr. Waterhouse's scenarios
was that brethren would be taken to Jordan aboard DC-10 jumbo jets that
had eight-inch cracks in the fuselage. The damaged aircraft would be kept
together by angels.
Asking brethren to fly on aircraft judged unsafe, as ascertained through
human means, would show faith in God and His government as exercised through
The dilemma of picking a successor
Who would replace Mr. Armstrong as head of the church was mostly a theoretical
question for many years. Many if not most church members expected Mr. Armstrong
to live until the return of Christ. But, as time marched on, it became a
bigger and bigger issue in the 1980s.
A handful of church members, but few ministers, speculated that Mr. Rader
would succeed Mr. Armstrong. Mr. Rader did little to spike the speculation.
In 1980 Mr. Rader, in his book, Against the Gates of Hell, beginning
on page 20, wrote:
"Despite widespread speculation, fueled by Garner Ted, that I was Herbert
Armstrong's 'heir apparent,' the pastor general could no more name me as
his successor than the spiritual ruler of the Roman Catholic Church could
designate the next pope before he dies. A conclave of the College of Cardinals
selects the person who will sit upon the throne of Saint Peter. In the Worldwide
Church of God, it is God alone who chooses in His own way and in His own
Within a few years Mr. Rader was gone from the WCG hierarchy, if not the
payroll. By the early mid-'80s it became increasingly obvious that Mr. Armstrong
was not going to live until Christ's return.
Speculation about who would next lead the church again picked up steam.
After going back and forth on the issue for years as to whether he could
name his successor, he finally named Mr. Tkach late in 1995.
A few weeks later Mr. Armstrong died, on Jan. 16, 1986.
In the Dec. 16, 1996, issue of In Transition, an article titled "Mr. Armstrong's Aide Remembers Him, Mr. Tkach," recounts Aaron Dean's characterization
of the process whereby Mr. Tkach was selected. Mr. Dean's account is worth
reading, at the very least for its historical value.
Mr. Tkach wanted all of Mr. Armstrong's powers
Mr. Armstrong intended Mr. Tkach, after his death, to answer to the WCG
council of elders regarding doctrinal matters, according to Mr. Dean in
a Jan. 29 interview.
Both Mr. Dean and Larry Salyer, who worked with Mr. Tkach at the time and
is now editorial director for the Global Church of God, say that Mr. Tkach
within months of Mr. Armstrong's death grew obsessive about the limitations
Mr. Armstrong intended for him to labor under.
Mr. Salyer said Mr. Tkach demanded that WCG lawyer Ralph Helge make changes
necessary to give him all of Mr. Armstrong's titles and powers.
Former WCG insiders say that the council of elders enabled Mr. Tkach to
accomplish his desire. After all, they were used to top-down government
and following orders.
Seeds of destruction
The fruits of Mr. Armstrong's choice of a successor are now a matter of
I'd like to share with you a concept about government that I first learned
from Dr. Hoeh in the mid-'70s. At the time I was editing The Worldwide
News and from time to time, in those days, talked with Dr. Hoeh.
At that time in my life, for whatever reason, I had been reflecting on the
forms of human government. I was down on democracy and rather infatuated
with the concept of benevolent dictatorships. I mentioned my then-current
feelings to Dr. Hoeh.
He listened and then quietly explained: "Every form of human government
has sown within it the seeds of its own destruction."
As I recall, to illustrate his point he specifically addressed first aristocracies
and then went on to reinforce my concerns about democracies. But then he
returned abruptly to the topic I'd raised.
"With benevolent dictatorships," Dr. Hoeh said, "the problem
is: Who will succeed the dictator?"
What is the ideal?
What is the ideal form of church government? The debate has raged for millennia.
For those who still defend the WCG format on the strength of Mr. Armstrong's
later writings, I offer you a final story in closing. The story will mean
different things to different people, but I think it's an interesting piece
of history. I tell it without commentary.
In the Jan. 22, 1996, issue of this newspaper, in an essay titled "Let's
Stop the Rancor Over Ministerial Rank," the author, Larry Walker, a
part-time UCG elder who lives in Bend, Ore., wrote:
confessed to a younger minister in 1975 that, in retrospect, he felt that
the concept of church government he wrote about in 1939 would have worked,
but he had been afraid he would lose control."
That's quite an admission. Perhaps he would have lost control; we'll
Mr. Walker did not name the minister, but I subsequently contacted him and
he told me the man he quoted was Marc Courtenay, formerly Marc Segall.
Mr. Courtenay, who now lives in Santa Barbara, Calif., graduated from Ambassador
College in 1973. He was ordained in October 1975 and served as a full-time
WCG elder for 20 years.
I contacted him and asked him if Mr. Walker's characterization of the conversation
with Mr. Armstrong was accurate. He said it was.
He said he was seated next to Mr. Armstrong during a meal when the conversation
took place. Mr. Courtenay said he had at the time recently read Mr. Armstrong's 1939 article on government.
"I asked Mr. Armstrong about the article," Mr. Courtenay recounted.
"At first he gave me the standard explanation that he hadn't fully
understood government at the time." Mr. Courtenay said he then gently
pressed Mr. Armstrong on the issue and asked him again about the article.
He said Mr. Armstrong became reflective and then gave him a more thoughtful,
He said the New Testament reflected a collegial approach to church government and that what he wrote in 1939 was the ideal. Mr. Courtenay said Mr. Armstrong
added that if he had had more faith he would have continued that practice,
but he "was afraid of losing control."
I asked Mr. Courtenay if anyone else heard the conversation. He said his
wife, Lisa, had. I talked with her at length on the phone Jan. 28. She said
the conversation was as her husband remembered.
"It was on the day Marc was ordained," she recalled. "In
fact, Mr. Armstrong ordained Marc. After the ordination we were at a restaurant
eating with Mr. Armstrong and some other ministers."
She said she remembers the conversation clearly. She said there were times
when Mr. Armstrong would speak candidly, and that was one of them.