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Former CG7 president discusses
Church of God history and Herbert Armstrong

 
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Former Church of God (Seventh Day) president
discusses Church of God history and Herbert Armstrong
(Part 2)

by Dixon Cartwright
 

They've got questions

The following are excerpts of Mr. Coulter's Q&A session, which occurred mostly after the main part of the Sabbath service in Big Sandy on Nov. 22, 2008. The questions came from several members of the audience.

Q: After the breakup of the Worldwide Church of God in the 1990s, did the CG7 based in Denver notice any increase in attendance.

A: That was kind of an interesting experience. We had a lot of visitors from Worldwide, and there were several who stayed and they integrated into the church, took membership and are still active. But I would say the majority of those who came looking did not stay with the church. I think part of it was the fact that we're not authoritarian as the Worldwide was. It's a different culture, and we value individuals, and we value opinions.

We may not always agree, but as long as a person isn't disagreeable we tolerate differences of opinion.

[For example] we don't officially keep the festivals, but there are members in our church who do keep the festivals, and some might even advocate British-Israelism.

Ministerial pay

Q: In the CG7 were credentialed ministers paid? Or did they have their own jobs apart from the church?

A: No, being a member of the 70 [credentialed elders] did not guarantee employment. Some of the men were employed as evangelists and were being paid, but it did not guarantee employment.

As it appeared to me, he [Mr. Armstrong] was probably receiving funds enough to support himself from his own efforts. But the fact that he sent those reports and they were published in the paper would show allegiance to the church.

Church eras

Q: What about the seven churches of Revelation 2-3 and Mr. Armstrong's teaching that they represented seven church eras?

A: Let me say that the Church of God (Seventh Day) never taught the seven eras. There were some men who taught the seven eras. Dugger and Dodd's book sort of appeals to the seven church eras, and I know Herbert Armstrong appealed to the seven church eras quite strongly.

Let me make an observation here. When Herbert Armstrong left the Church of God (Seventh Day), his doctrinal position, his representation of the teachings of the Church of God (Seventh Day), were frozen in time to that point.

[For example] there was a point in time when some ministers in the Church of God (Seventh Day) taught that we were begotten but not born again, and that was primary, a big thing, with Herbert Armstrong at one point ...

But that was a temporary thing [in the CG7]. It was like going through a phase. The church finally said, no, our conversion is a completed work. When Jesus said you must be born again, He facilitates the spiritual rebirth of the convert, and it's a completed work. We continued then to strive for sanctification, a lifelong process.

Anyway, we abandoned that position years and years ago, but Herbert Armstrong froze that position at the time of his departure from the church, because essentially in the early and mid-'30s that was being taught in some quarters in the Church of God (Seventh Day).

The feast days

Q: Why didn't the CG7 believe it was necessary to keep the holy days?

A: Just in a nutshell -- I don't want to get into a Bible study -- we teach and believe that they were all shadows of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the reality of which they were the shadows, and his salvific work on the cross of Calvary made further observance unnecessary.

British-Israelism

Q: Was there any place for British-Israelism in the CG7?

A: In my lifetime I've known a couple of ministers who believed it but didn't teach it. It was a personal conviction of theirs.

It would have been impossible for our church to have adopted the British-Israel doctrine without renouncing our position on the reestablishment of the state of Israel. I don't believe that you can teach the reestablishment of the state of Israel and then British-Israelism as a parallel. I don't believe that the two doctrines blended together very well, as I understand them.

Q: So Mr. Armstrong got British-Israel from other sources?

A: Yes, he did not get it from the Church of God (Seventh Day).

Liturgical calendar

Q: You mentioned the position on the holy days. What is on your liturgical calendar, as Christmas and Easter are on many churches' calendars?

A: We don't observe what we consider to be the religious observances that have a pagan origin such as Christmas and Easter and Halloween. We teach for their avoidance. But we've never taught against the observance of birthdays because we don't see that they are of a religious nature.

Really, the only observance other than the seventh-day Sabbath we observe universally throughout the church is the communion service on the beginning of the 14th day of Nissan according to the Hebrew calendar, which we think approximates the date of Jesus' arrest and, of course, the following day the crucifixion, death and so on.

Otherwise we don't have a church calendar.

G.G. Rupert

Q: Could you comment on G.G. Rupert and whether he had an affiliation with the Church of God.

A: [G.G. Rupert] supported the festivals, I believe. But you're talking about a period [the late 1800s and early 1900s] when the church's paper was not what it became. At that time it was a forum. It had selected articles and published original material such as Rupert's, not necessarily because it endorsed them but for their interest's point of view.

I can't determine if Rupert was an official member of the church or not, but he was published in one or more of our papers, maybe even before it became The Bible Advocate, in 1900 or 1901 or something like that. It was called Hope of Israel and The Sabbath Advocate. It had a whole series of names.

There were those who published for the festivals or the observance of the recognition of British-Israel, but those were not the positions of the church.

Q: I have a copy of a paper by G.G. Rupert called The Yellow Peril that showed how Orientals were going to come in and attack Israel. My understanding of the book was that Rupert advocated that the U.S. and British Commonwealth were descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel.

A: Very possible.

Q: When did G.G. Rupert write?

A: It would have been prior to 1914, when Andrew Dugger became editor of The Bible Advocate and president of the general conference in 1914.

Andrew N. Dugger was sort of a reformer, an innovative guy. He began to exercise some of his positions to perform some of the reforms, and one of the reforms was to limit The Bible Advocate to teaching the doctrinal positions of the church.

It had been a forum from its inception up to that point.

For example, one of the paper's predecessors during the days of Jacob Brinkerhoff's editorship might carry a study of a particular subject and take a position on it, then somebody would read that and send in an article that would challenge that position and it would be published in a subsequent issue.

But, in regards to the nature of Christ, sometimes the discussion got too hot so he would call a moratorium on it. It might last for six months or a year, then another series of articles would begin to appear.

The downfall of a church

Q: What elements contributed to the downfall of the Worldwide Church of God?

A: I just don't know what all has happened [in the WCG].

The Sardis era

Q: What interaction did the CG7 have with Herbert and Garner Ted Armstrong officially? Did you ever meet with them throughout the years?

A: No. It was our understanding that Herbert Armstrong did not welcome an invitation to meet together.

For example, John Kiesz had actually held some evangelistic services with Herbert Armstrong, apparently in Oregon and one time after Herbert Armstrong moved to Pasadena. John Kiesz went by to say hello to his old friend, and Mr. Armstrong refused to see him.

So we never felt we had much of an opportunity.

Garner Ted was a little different. After he was put out of the Worldwide, we had him as a guest speaker on three different occasions, two in the local Denver congregation. And we had a general conference at Glorieta, N.M., in July of 1979, and he was invited to speak on a Sabbath afternoon. He was there and spoke and was well received.

He was somewhat apologetic for his dad's attitude and [his dad's] referring to the Church of God as the Sardis church and so on.

I want to tell you the references to the Sardis church were a joke. I mean we never took that seriously.

The Tkaches

Q: What contact through the years did you have with Joseph Tkach Sr. and Joseph Tkach Jr.?

A: Well, I don't know. I was out of the office. I left the conference office by choice in 1987, and my successor was Calvin Burrell, who's now editor of The Bible Advocate.

I know that [Mr. Burrell] had some contact with Joseph Tkach Sr. It must have been limited to correspondence or telephone conversations or something.

But, so far as Joseph Tkach Jr. is concerned, he and several of his closest colleagues attended general-conference sessions. They attended our ministerial council, our council meetings, when the ministerial body met on different occasions and so on.

There was never really any effort made for any kind of a unity movement. It was more of an effort to receive and give information and so on. I had an opportunity to visit with him personally on an occasion or two, and it was while they were still making a decision on what to do with the New Covenant.

They had apparently not come to the conclusion that they ultimately had come to. It was evident to me they were leaning in the direction to forsake the observance of the Sabbath and various things.

And I said to Joseph Tkach: If you keep going in the direction you are, you're not going to be keeping the Sabbath. He said no, no, we will retain the Sabbath.

Well, a few months after that it became apparent they weren't going to teach the observance of the Sabbath anymore.

He was much more available [than was Mr. Armstrong] and made an effort to come, and I think some of our ministers unofficially visited with him in Pasadena. It was more of an inquiry, an informational-type relationship, never an effort to create some kind of organizational unity.

Bringing in the Trinity?

Q: The CG7 is accused of bringing in the Trinity and heading toward doing away with the Sabbath. Could you set the record straight?

A: I would answer this way: We're committed to Sabbath observance, and there is no effort or action pending before the ministerial body or the church as a whole to give up Sabbath observance.

As far as the Holy Spirit: We are not Trinitarian. There is no effort to become Trinitarian.

But we have developed our study of Christology, of the nature of Christ, and we have refined our position, and I think we've come to the correct position: that Jesus Christ is God the Son, who shares the nature, the attributes and the names of God with the Father, which makes Him fully God.

In coming to that conclusion we have learned to appreciate the role of the Holy Spirit to a much greater degree than we did when the church was Arian.

When I grew up in the church, it was Arian. It taught the preexistence of Christ, but Christ was not God. I remember the first time I read the phrase "God the Son" and it made me mad. This was 50 years ago, and I didn't immediately get involved in a study.

Arianism tends to degrade the position of Christ, and it also tends to reflect on the work of the nature of the Holy Spirit, so I think some of us have come to the position of recognizing that the Holy Spirit is more than just a blind force. I think we're willing to assign personality.

Not that the Holy Spirit shares the position of Jesus Christ in the Godhead as an equal partner with the Father and Son as God, but we recognize that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, with both the Father and Son.

But we are not Trinitarian, and we're not on the road to becoming Trinitarian, as far as I can determine.

Challenges to doctrine

Q: Can you give an overview of how the CG7 handles challenges to existing doctrine?

A: Our ministerial body determines our doctrines, and it's a laborious process. It takes time.

But, generally speaking, and there are a few exceptions, we bring the membership along with the decisions of the ministry because we don't switch positions instantly. We do it collectively in a ministerial council.

Of course, we have ministers who are theologians more than others, and we draw on the best of our talent to develop studies and presentations.

The ministerial body met in October [2008] at Gull Lake, Mich., between Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, because we're 150 years old this year, and that was the birthplace, especially more or less around Kalamazoo, where Gilbert Cranmer first began his evangelistic work.

Our principal study [in 2008] was on the New Covenant, not from the standpoint of investigating whether we should keep the Sabbath or not but just to understand the nature of the New Covenant to a greater degree.

We're committed to the position that the Decalogue is a part of the New Covenant.

Little ones mean a lot

Q: What about young people? Are you able to retain them as members, and do you have any kind of college for them to go to, or do you have people growing up and just leaving?

A: Unfortunately, it's both. We have a lot of young people who grow up in the church who are committed to the doctrines and the worship and retain their active role in the church, and we have some that we can't hold. It's a mixed bag.

We do not necessarily have a college that we can direct that is operated by the Church of God, but we do have a ministerial-training program that is beginning to produce candidates to the ministry in numbers. It's growing because we need quite a few additional ministers. We do not have enough to take care of our congregations.

Brothers and sisters

Q: Does your CG7 conference recognize us as full-fledged brothers and sisters in Christ?

A: Yes. Our position is we're a part of God's church but we're not the total sum and substance.

CG7 schools

Q: Weren't you about to say something more about your colleges?

A: We operated a college, Midwest Bible College, in Stanberry for several years. It just wasn't feasible to continue to operate that school.

We tried to operate a similar effort there in Denver, Colo., for a brief period, and it proved to be unfeasible.

Presently our ministerial-training effort is online, and we have regional classrooms out in the field.

Carnal warfare

Q: What about carnal warfare? Didn't the CG7 actually put a guy out of the church because he joined up and became a captain in the Civil War? Does the CG7 have an official position on military service?

A: Our position is pacifism. The church from its inception has been pacifist, and the incident you speak about was at the outbreak of the Civil War [in 1861].

There was this young man in a position to be drafted. When the conscription in the Civil War was not absolutely essential, you could buy your way out for a couple of hundred dollars, and this young man made no effort to do that.

The church was pacifist, so they disfellowshipped him on the basis of his going into the Union army.

Mr. Dugger goes to Washington

Q: Did President Woodrow Wilson meet with Andrew Dugger?

A: I can't cite any evidence that he met with Woodrow Wilson, but I know he went to Washington to try to get the church classified as a pacifist church. Whether he met with the president or not, that might be a stretch. I don't know.

Q: Was he successful in getting the church classified as pacifist?

A: Yeah, I think he was. Of course you know in World War I pacifism was not looked on with very much grace.

The Korean War took me, and I took the position of a pacifist. I refused induction. I refused to take the oath or the step forward, so they let me go home.

But several months later they called me up. Dad posted bond for me. I was never incarcerated, and in the meantime the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision that all draftees were entitled to look at their draft-board files.

That started the whole procedure over again for me, and then I got too old for the draft.

Christians and the military

Q: Am I to understand that you are saying that a Christian should not serve in the military?

A: No. Our position is not to actively engage on the firing line.

Q: Then why was Cornelius given full membership in the Church of God? [Acts 10].

A: Well, I can tell you why. Obviously he was a godly man, and the Lord makes that known, even though he was in the Roman military.

Q: But I can tell you exactly why. It's because he was accepted by God for his standards.

CG7 membership stats

Q: How large is the CG7 membership in the United States and worldwide?

A: I think our membership in the U.S. and Canada is close to 12,000 to 15,000. Worldwide it's 400,000 to 500,000.

We have a much larger membership outside the United States. For example, there's probably a membership of 40,000 in Nigeria.

What about World War II?

Q: In World War II what would have happened to us if we had refused to go to war?

A: I personally was a pacifist in connection with the Korean War. I pass no judgment on those who were in World War I or World War II or the Korean War, and in fact I have some young friends who died in Korea.

It's a matter of personal conviction as far as I'm concerned, and we do not disfellowship somebody who goes into service.

Cultures and voting

Q: Why do you think you have more members outside the United States, and what is your position on voting?

A: Churchwide, we encourage our members to participate in political affairs.

Concerning the membership outside the United States, I think part of it is the culture. I have observed that we live in compartments here.

We may not know our neighbors because we live so compartmentalized. We get in our car, drive to work, we're not rubbing elbows with other people, and so on.

But in third-world countries, where the church thrives, the members are interacting with other neighbors and people in the neighborhoods and so on.

Every conference is autonomous. We look on them as sister churches. Our objective is to help them organize an autonomous conference.

Some are subsidized. In some third-world countries it's virtually impossible for them to generate enough income to become self-supporting, to carry on a meaningful work in a 21st-century world with maybe an 18th- or 19th-century economy.

Stick 'em up

Q: What do you think about churches that have changed to praise worship, where they hold up their hands?

A: I personally favor a more traditional service. We sing a mix of choruses and hymns and so on. Somebody might raise their hands out of a personal moment of conviction or something.

Local boards

Q: Are CG7 congregations in this country autonomous? Are they governed by local boards?

A: Our church has local boards of trustees. Some churches like to call them the board of elders, but basically they're elected. They're not really what I would say constitutes a board of elders.

We encourage local congregations to incorporate, to hold their property locally, and so on. But when they become a part of the general conference they are asked to and are expected to share some of the tithe.

Offerings are kind of freewill, but a percentage of the tithe is encouraged to go to the general conference. Presently it's 15 percent of the tithe receipt that goes to the conference.

The local congregations are obligated to support the doctrinal beliefs. We just recently revised our doctrinal beliefs. We went from 27 to 12 beliefs, the core doctrines of the church.

Growth and persecution

Q: Is there a correlation between church growth and persecution of the church?

A: You know, I'm not sure that I can answer that. I have visited lots of third-world countries where it was difficult for the church to operate, even in rather hostile if not impossible circumstances.

But let me tell you the people in third-world countries are just as interested in getting hold of money, influence and power as the people are here. You've got the same devil working all over the world.

Q: The same human nature.

A: Yeah, that's the whole point. Human nature dictates the same thing.

[Several weeks after the Q&A in Big Sandy The Journal followed up by telephone with two more topics for Mr. Coulter to comment on.]

British-Israel and Israel

Q: Why do you say in your sermons and in the question-and-answer session that the CG7 doctrine concerning the reestablishment of the state of Israel is incompatible with British-Israelism?

A: Well, the church had from the very beginning believed and taught the regathering of Israel, but it did so on the basis that Israel was scattered but was not lost; that is, so far as its identity is concerned.

So in that sense it would have been incompatible to try to indicate the lost tribes. The church never believed that Israel had lost its identity but just simply had been scattered. So Israelites always knew who they were, and I think there's evidence that they knew.

After all, where did Ephraim and Manasseh lose their identity? At what time in history that did happen?

We just never bought into the concept that any part of Israel lost its identity. So for us, when Israel became a state in 1948, it was representative of the whole house of Israel, not just Judah and Benjamin.

Second resurrection?

Q: What is the CG7's teaching regarding people who did not have the opportunity for salvation in this life? In other words, what happens to those who because of their geographical location or their death as a young child never heard the name of Jesus and therefore had no chance to repent and be baptized?

A: The church historically has never taught the idea that people were resurrected and given another chance.

Q: Not another chance but their first chance.

A: Yes, well, our answer is that God, who knows the heart of every man, need not resurrect them and give them the opportunity to make a decision.

It is not necessary for God to resurrect people to see how they're going to choose. He knows the hearts of men, and He's a righteous, just God who will judge righteously and so we don't teach that.

Q: So what happens to people who died in infancy or never heard the words "Jesus Christ" in their lifetimes?

A: We teach that the righteous will be resurrected at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and those who are saints at His coming would also be translated with them and given immortality.

And essentially the remainder, those who are not resurrected in the first resurrection, are not resurrected until the end of the 1,000 years. Only the resurrected saints and the living who have been translated with them to immortality occupy the earth during the 1,000 years.

Q: So what happens to people who are resurrected after the 1,000 years?

A: Well, God will raise them and pass judgment on them, and they would be judged, in a sense, and annihilated.

Q: But those people didn't have a chance even to know that they had sinned and therefore needed to repent of their sins.

A: I'm suggesting that God knows if a person has lived his whole life in a careless manner and hasn't responded to the gospel.

Q: But the question is about those who haven't responded to the gospel because they were not aware of the gospel.

A: See, I have a feeling, and I think the church at large has the conviction, that God has never -- there has never been an age when God did not have a witness in the world, and you know we'll just have to leave it up to God's righteousness to make a just decision of who has heard and who hasn't.

In Israel's day God told Israel to totally destroy the wicked nations around them. Now, that sounds pretty drastic and so on.

So in His wisdom and justice and righteousness He can make that kind of decision, and it is a righteous, just way of judging, and I don't think that God needs to resurrect people to see which way they're going to go, what their decision's going to be based on our idea of whether or not they've had a chance.

I don't see anyplace in the Scriptures that would justify a resurrection to give people an opportunity to decide. The church just doesn't find a text that justifies the concept that men and women or whoever have to be resurrected for God to make a decision.

I think to think otherwise tends to impinge on the sovereignty of God. You know, there are people who teach universal salvation and so on, but they don't have a leg to stand on from the Scripture.

There have been ministers over the years who've toyed with and found that [teaching of an additional resurrection] appealing. But it never found its way into the theology of the church.

We'll just have to leave this up to God's righteousness to make a just decision.

Contact information

Write the General Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day) at P.O. Box 33677, Denver, Colo. 80233, U.S.A. To subscribe to The Bible Advocate call (303) 452-7973.

 
Read Part 1 of this Article
Robert Coulter discusses Church of God history and Herbert Armstrong
 


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