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WCG leaders interviewed on Hank Hanegraaff's
Bible Answer Man radio program, discuss massive changes

By Dixon Cartwright

The pastor general of the Worldwide Church of God described to an international radio-talk-show audience Jan. 4, 5 and 12 1996 the transformation of the WCG from a legalistic sect whose members were plagued by cognitive dissonance into a fledgling Protestant denomination coming out of a cave and seeking acceptance by the world of mainstream churches.

Joseph Tkach Jr., WCG pastor general, and Greg Albrecht, editor in chief of the WCG's Plain Truth magazine, appeared on The Bible Answer Man radio talk show with host Hank Hanegraaff on segments originating in a studio in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

The Bible Answer Man is sponsored by Mr. Hanegraaff's Christian Research Institute, which was founded by the late Walter Martin, who wrote Kingdom of the Cults, a book dedicated to exposing what he termed non-Christian sects, including the Worldwide Church of God.

The WCG's Worldwide News ran a photograph Oct. 3 of Mr. Tkach embracing Mr. Hanegraaff at the funeral of Mr. Tkach's father, Joseph Tkach Sr., who died Sept. 23.

Mr. Hanegraaff characterized the events of recent months and years in the WCG as dramatic and historic, declaring that nothing in Christianity has transpired "of the magnitude of what is happening within the Worldwide Church of God," which he referred to as a "major cult" in the process of "embracing Scripture" and "submitting themselves completely to the Word of God."

Mr. Hanegraaff noted that WCG leaders had contacted him "probably two or three years ago" and "we have spent quite a bit of time together over the last few years." Mr. Albrecht commented that he was "a long-time listener of the program, so it's great to be on the show with you."

On fire to help

Mr. Tkach said he and other WCG leaders-he named specifically Mr. Albrecht, church-administration director Mike Feazell, treasurer Bernie Schnippert and computer-information-systems manager David Smith--"all have a fire in our belly to help others realize the pain of legalism and to escape it."

Mr. Tkach said he hopes the experiences of the Worldwide Church of God will promote a "ripple effect throughout the entire Saturday-Sabbath-keeping community" so Sabbatarians can "realize the Sabbath in its proper perspective."

Although Mr. Tkach and Mr. Albrecht couched their phrases in diplomatic terms when it came to describing the WCG of old and its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, Mr. Hanegraaff was more to the point in saying that Mr. Armstrong espoused "false doctrine."

Mr. Albrecht noted that he could not "stand in judgment" of Mr. Armstrong "in terms of the basis of his salvation," but Mr. Hanegraaff noted that the WCG has "judged his [Mr. Armstrong's] writings, and that is why you've changed them."

Mr. Tkach responded, "You said that very well."

The talk-show host asked Mr. Tkach to confirm that he personally, as well as the Worldwide Church of God, repudiates many of the former WCG teachings espoused by Mr. Armstrong: "You are comfortable in saying that Herbert W. Armstrong did deny essentials of the historic Christian faith; the Trinity would be a good example?"

"Absolutely," replied Mr. Tkach. "I have no reservations in saying that some of the things that Mr. Armstrong taught were in major error."

Of course, the statement that the WCG has repudiated its own core doctrines-and by extension the doctrines of the other Sabbatarian groups with origins in the Worldwide Church of the God-is no surprise to readers of this newspaper. But it is instructive to hear some of the testimonials of their newfound faith from the lips of two of the principal apologists of the new teachings.

The old sin list

Mr. Hanegraaff, in a preamble to the first broadcast, read a list of changes in WCG tenets from an article written by Mr. Tkach scheduled to appear in the CRI's magazine, Christian Research Journal. They included, in Mr. Tkach's words: an "obsession . . . with the legalistic interpretation of the Old Testament"; a belief in "British Israelism"; an "insistence on the fellowship's exclusive relationship with God"; condemnations of medical science; the eschewing of cosmetics; the seventh-day Sabbath as "holy time"; the observance of the annual festivals; paying a mandatory "triple tithe"; and the avoidance of unclean foods.

(Regarding the "triple tithe," a person paying first tithe, sending in third tithe two years out of seven and setting aside second tithe for Feast expenses donates an average of 12.9 percent of his income. The phrase "triple tithe" was later used in the interview, and none of the speakers corrected the impression that WCG members were required to donate 30 percent of their income to the WCG.)

Mr. Hanegraaff continued, quoting Mr. Tkach:

"Gone are our condemnations of . . . traditional Christian celebrations such as Easter and Christmas. Gone is the long-held view of God as a family of multiple spirit beings into which humans can be born, replaced by a biblically accurate view of one God who exists eternally in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

Decade of doctrinal changes

The host, pointing to a decade of doctrinal change, quoted Mr. Tkach that "all of these changes" were effected "in the space of 10 years."

Mr. Tkach's recurring themes during the three broadcasts were "cognitive dissonance" and an analogy of a cave. Cognitive dissonance, he noted, is the ability to believe in two or more contradictory notions simultaneously. The cave symbolized the domain of the old WCG.

"It's as if we've been in a cave thinking we're the one and only true church," he said, "and we in our cave are throwing rocks at everybody outside of the cave . . . So we've come out of the cave into the light.

The pastor general gave as an example of cognitive dissonance in opinions espoused by Mr. Armstrong a quote in a 1972 issue of the defunct WCG magazine Tomorrow's World. In it Mr. Armstrong averred that he was not a prophet "and [I] have never claimed to be."

Mr. Tkach said that, "at the same time, in his writings to the church membership in booklets and articles and his sermons, we were taught that he [Mr. Armstrong] served in the role of Elijah, that he inherited Ezekiel's commission."

"Now," Mr. Tkach continued, "how can one say that he's not a prophet and doesn't have special revelation but then turn right around and say, 'I'm in the role of the prophet, and I have been given this special, very definite, commission in God's service'? You see, it's got to be one or the other. It can't be both."

Another example was that the WCG taught that God was "immutable" but also taught "that God is forever growing and changing. Well, it can't be both. It's got to be one or the other. Either He's immutable and never changes and there's no variableness of turning, or He's growing and changing. It can't be both."

Unthinkable 10 years ago

Mr. Hanegraaff said that appearing on the program was of historic significance, and such an event would have been "unthinkable 10 years ago."

"Oh, my, yeah, yeah," Mr. Tkach agreed. "In one sense this is a historic moment for us, because we didn't appreciate being in Walter Martin's book, and we did have a flurry of letters that went back and forth between Walter Martin and our letter-answering department-oh, my, back in the '60s and '70s-and I think we were both misunderstanding each other.

"Of course, we were reading the Bible through a prism of legalism that didn't help our understanding. But, yeah, I don't think anyone in our wildest dreams could have imagined we'd be here doing this today."

Now, noted Mr. Hanegraaff, "we do share a kindred spirit. We share not only a commonality in the Lord Jesus Christ, but a common future as we rule and reign with Him forever and ever. Our goal is to serve Him with all of our heart, soul and mind."

Mr. Tkach spoke of the hermeneutics, the accepted methods of scriptural interpretation, of the old WCG. He said they were based on these words from Isaiah 28:10: "For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people."

Mr. Tkach, who explained the Isaiah 28 verses in ministerial-refresher courses at Ambassador University and other locations in 1993 and 1994, said the old WCG's method of interpreting Scripture was based on an understanding of these words from Isaiah, which were taken to mean that a student of the Bible should use the Bible to interpret itself.

"But," he said, "when a person does some research and they look at what the context is saying, and the Hebrew is kav lakav kav lakav, it's actually the drunken reply of a drunk to God."

Mr. Tkach, apparently implying that if that hermeneutic isn't in Isaiah 28 it's not biblical, said the old WCG was using a "drunken reply to God as a hermeneutic and didn't even know we were doing that."

The three talk-show participants discussed other changes in WCG doctrines, such as explanations of the born-again concept, church eras and "spiritual gifts." Mr. Tkach said the former WCG, and its present breakaway groups such as the United Church of God, Global Church of God and Church of God International, are "not operating on all cylinders" when it comes to interpretation of Scripture and the teaching of sound doctrine.

Faint praise

Mr. Tkach referred to Mr. Armstrong as "a genuine man" and a "sincere man," and, "I believe he was used by God to bring many people to Christ." But, since the WCG was laden with leaders in love with legalism (the belief that God's law, including the Sabbath command, is binding even under the New Covenant), "you end up converting people to your church just as much as you end up converting people to Christ."

In this situation, Mr. Tkach said a church ends up with two classifications of members: "a group of people who are truly converted but suffering under legalism" and "a group of people who are converted to your church but not yet brought to Christ."

At one point, the program host-in the middle of a conversation about "men and women coming to the living Lord of the universe" and God revealing Himself "in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit"-asked Mr. Albrecht to pray, in an obvious departure from the old WCG's conventions concerning public prayer.

Mr. Albrecht prayed that WCG members and others will see the new teachings not as a watering down of doctrine, but a following of Scripture.

Mr. Hanegraaff then alluded to the monetary cost the WCG has suffered as a result of the doctrinal changes, so Mr. Tkach mentioned numbers. He said church membership peaked in 1986 at "about 145,000 to 150,000" worldwide, compared with present attendance he put at 75,000. He estimated that 30,000 to 35,000 people have left and joined "splinter groups," with some 40,000 "sitting on the sidelines doing nothing."

In the United States, the 1986 membership total of 89,000 is down to 49,000, Mr. Tkach said.
He said he calculates that 75 "splinter groups" have carved out their niches since Mr. Armstrong founded the WCG as the Radio Church of God in 1934. Though Mr. Tkach noted that the WCG of the last 10 years, under his and his father's administration, spawned several spin-offs, he said the fact that there were spin-offs during Mr. Armstrong's lifetime "should have told us something."

Good gospel hard to do

One of the "sacrifices" of the new Worldwide Church of God, as discussed on the talk show, was the casualty of The World Tomorrow television programs. He applauded the WCG World Tomorrow broadcast on television, described by Mr. Hanegraaff as "one of the best-produeadership for saving the money previously spent in that area, "millions and millions of dollars," and refunneling that money "into equipping pastors [and] building up the body."

Mr. Albrecht mentioned that a major reason for dropping the telecast was that the new WCG realized "we didn't really know enough about the gospel to do a medium that is as demanding as television [and] to do it well, to do good gospel."

Various television personnel including scriptwriters and presenters "weren't equipped" to preach the new teachings, "so we had to regroup, and it took us a lot of training, a lot of work," he said.
"We found ourselves retooling, like in a factory, finding out things about the Bible, coming to know Christ, not just know about Him."

The new WCG more easily adapted to the print medium, "but television was beyond us at the time . . . because of what we came to, or rather what Christ led us to see about ourselves, individually and . . . corporately."

Mr. Tkach thanked Mr. Hanegraaff for being one of the first in "the Christian community" to "embrace us as brothers." Others boarding the welcome wagon early, he said, were Bill Bradford of the Four Square Gospel Church; Ruth Tucker, a theology professor from Illinois and former critic of the Worldwide Church of God and other groups she defines as cults; and David Neff of Christianity Today magazine.

Common beliefs and goals

Messrs. Hanegraaff, Tkach and Albrecht repeatedly stressed their commonality of beliefs and goals. "We are here as brothers in the Lord today," said Mr. Hanegraaff in introducing his guests. "I can tell our audience that I deeply love and admire both you gentlemen."

He recounted a recent visit with WCG leaders at their Pasadena headquarters, saying, "While I was there one of the leaders says to me, 'Hank, a few years ago, if you had showed up here we would have stoned you, and now we embrace you,' which was kind of a nice feeling."
Both Mr. Tkach and Mr. Albrecht expressed their admiration for Mr. Hanegraaff, with Mr. Albrecht thanking him for being "my brother in Christ."

Mr. Tkach described the photograph of himself and Mr. Hanegraaff embracing at Mr. Tkach father's funeral as "a special picture to me, . . . symbolic, a benchmark."

Emerging from a fog of legalism

Mr. Albrecht characterized the WCG as "coming out of a fog of legalism, and we do have a zeal to proclaim Christ and help people who are trapped, ensnared and in bondage to legalism because we've been there."

He also said that the church is coming out of "false doctrine," adding that "we feel a particular mission . . . to Sabbatarians."

Mr. Tkach described the WCG's mission as resolving "to bring people to Christ . . . We don't exist only to bring people to our church, so if our publications, if our ministry, brings someone to Christ and they enter into another fellowship in another denomination that is a live body of the Christ, we rejoice."

In a later call to his show aired Jan. 10, Mr. Hanegraaff stated that WCG leaders fully accepted most traditional Protestant teachings. When asked specifically about Easter and Christmas, he said that Mr. Tkach and Mr. Albrecht accepted the traditional Christian observances to the point that they had probably hung wreaths on their doors last month.

It wasn't until the second day of the three broadcasts that phone-in callers got through. Actually, the callers were recorded the same day as the first broadcast but off the air for replay on the second and third days' programs.

The first caller was Tony from Sacramento, Calif., who politely but obviously disagreed with the mainstream direction of the new Worldwide Church of God.

Why not just join mainstream?

Tony announced that he had two questions for Mr. Tkach and Mr. Albrecht. "Herbert W. Armstrong spent 50 years sincerely seeking the truth which both of you at one time embraced," he began. When you and your father began to feel that mainstream Christianity had the truth, why didn't you just simply step down and join them, mainstream Christianity, rather than systematically go about dismantling what Mr. Armstrong took 50 years to build?"

Mr. Tkach responded by saying Tony was making the mistake of assuming that Mr. Armstrong had done something in his ministry "that was superior to the rest of the Christian community, and I disagree with that." People in "our fellowship," the new pastor general said, "daily pray that God will bring us into new truth and bring us into a greater understanding of His truth. I believe God's answered those prayers by making these changes."

He said that another way to answer Tony's question was by asking: "Well, why don't [sic] the Worldwide Church of God just roll up and go back to the Church of God (Seventh Day)? Why doesn't the Church of God (Seventh Day) just roll up and go back to the Advent Hour? Why doesn't the Advent Hour just roll up and go back to the Seventh-day Adventists? Why don't the Seventh-day Adventists just all roll up and go back to the Seventh-Day Baptists? And why don't they go back to the Baptists? Where does it stop?"

Tony tried again: "Well, let me put it another way in the second question. If your successor, you know, 15 to 20 years down the road, if you go off to heaven and your successor takes over and maybe through sincere prayer and study begins to embrace what Herbert W. Armstrong taught again, would you expect your supporters to oppose him in his efforts to dismantle what you had spent the last 20 years doing?"

In lieu of a direct answer to Tony's question, Mr. Tkach stated: "I don't think that'll happen. I think once God's Spirit moves through the organization the way it has that we won't go back to such distortion of history, such errors in reading things out of context. I don't think God's Spirit works that way."

Tony persisted: "Well, I don't think 10 years ago anybody thought that this could happen. Herbert W. Armstrong picked your father thinking that he would continue to teach what he had taught him and then what he embraced at that time, so--"

Mr. Tkach interrupted with, "Ten years ago I didn't think this would happen." "That's right," said Tony. "So it is possible that it could happen, and I'm asking you hypothetically again what would you do?"

At this point Mr. Hanegraaff interrupted with, "The thing that Joe and Greg both and the leadership of the Worldwide Church of God is [sic] committed to is not themselves, not what they think, but how what they say and think matches with what the Bible already says. Would you agree with that?"

Mr. Albrecht, who apparently recognized Tony as an acquaintance, said he would agree and welcomed the caller, saying, "Hello, Tony, and best regards to your wife, Pam."

Mr. Albrecht didn't say why WCG leaders should not have openly revealed their theological leanings from the beginning and forthrightly joined mainstream Christianity, but he did allow that Tony had a right to his beliefs. "We believe that we are submitting and yielding to the authority of Jesus Christ and holy Scripture," he said, "and that is where the basis of our argumentation . . . will begin and . . . end."

Strike three

Tony commented that the current WCG leadership's biblical interpretation is "subjective," at which point Mr. Hanegraaff interrupted, asserting: "It isn't subjective; it's based on the objective Word of God, and there are main and plain things in the word of God, and that is precisely what these men have committed themselves to at great personal sacrifice as well as great corporate sacrifice."
The host then abruptly hung up on Tony and took another caller. "I want to go to Ken in Santa Paula, Calif., listening on KKLA," Mr. Hanegraaff announced. "Ken, welcome."

Would Mr. Armstrong have changed?

Ken put questions about Mr. Armstrong's book Mystery of the Ages to the show's guests. He wanted to know, if Mr. Armstrong had lived, would he have corrected parts of the book he himself or others considered to be in error.

Mr. Tkach said Mr. Armstrong wanted to correct "several historical errors" and clear up the "misunderstanding, the illusion that he created, that angels were a trial run at salvation that failed and then man was an afterthought and given the chance at salvation . . . These are the two main things that I am aware of."

Mr. Albrecht added that "soon after he [Mr. Armstrong] died we looked at the material which he had printed, including The Mystery of the Ages, [and] determined there was a great deal of unbiblical teaching in that book."

He stated that he felt Mr. Armstrong wouldn't have changed it during his lifetime, "but we had to on the basis of Scripture."

Ken, who said he had corresponded for a time with letter writers Hernan Herrara and David Hunsberger in Pasadena, asked about a specific letter Mr. Hunsberger sent him dated a little more than a year ago, on Aug. 31, 1994. Mr. Hunsberger, Ken said, wrote as if the Worldwide Church of God were not repudiating Mr. Armstrong as a Christian. Therefore, he wanted to know, at what point would Mr. Tkach consider someone to be a false teacher.

Mr. Tkach responded that he did not want to judge Mr. Armstrong.

This was when Mr. Hanegraaff interrupted and asked if Mr. Tkach had, however, "judged his [Mr. Armstrong's] writings." Mr. Tkach agreed that he had.

Call from WCG member

The phone line opened up to Jack, calling from Vancouver, B.C., listening on KLYM. "Jack, welcome."

Jack turned out to be a member of the Worldwide Church of God happy with the new doctrines, asking whether the WCG would be plugging the resources of the Christian Research Institute, the sponsor of The Bible Answer Man broadcast.

Mr. Tkach said he had plans for The Plain Truth to "do some heavy promotion for Hank Hanegraaff and some of his books and CRI publications. So, to answer that, yes."

Jack also asked about Arminianism and "eternal security." Arminianism is the teaching of a cleric of the 16th century named Arminius who opposed the "absolute predestination" of strict Calvinism but, unlike Calvin, maintained the possibility of salvation for all.

Mr. Tkach and Mr. Albrecht both said the WCG must first tackle matters of a more pressing nature and will deal with Arminianism, premillennialism and amillennialism at a later time. "Our mission at this point in time is to get everyone properly grounded in the core beliefs," Mr. Tkach said.
But Mr. Hanegraaff apparently felt his interest piqued and followed up to Mr. Tkach: "What about eternal security?"

"I feel I'm eternally secure," Mr. Tkach said, chuckling.

Mr. Albrecht then commented that, on matters of a more arcane nature, the church is not ready to commit because "we don't have enough of the background and enough of the core beliefs and enough of a foundation in Christ to address them yet."

Former legalist calls in

Mr. Hanegraaff decided to transfer to another caller, a woman from California listening on KCIV. "Lisa, welcome."

Lisa revealed herself as a former Pentecostal who was at one time stranded in legalism. She said she could understand what Mr. Tkach and Mr. Albrecht had gone through in extricating themselves from an organization that was "kind of like bondage," as she put it.

She continued: "Well, I got out of that church and everything and I'm learning of the Lord and everything, but sometimes I go through my mood swings and stuff of wondering, you know, is my salvation secure. I mean, I accepted the Lord, and I've accepted Him for all time, and I stand on it, but the thing is sometimes those, I guess, depression comes back and forth or the guilt, or whatever, and, you know, I just wondered-"

Mr. Hanegraaff interjected, "I understand your question." Apparently taking it that Lisa was in a quandary about whether she could be confident she had been saved, Mr. Hanegraaff assured her that, yes, she could.

Mr. Albrecht said he could "deeply understand" what Lisa was talking about and that she should resist the temptation to ease back into legalism because "a system of dos and don'ts" gives a person "a kind of confidence that you're in God's favor." If you look for dos and don'ts, "this is a dead giveaway that you have been in legalism."

After a commercial break, Mr. Hanegraaff said it was important for his listeners, when conversing with members of the "kingdom of the cults," to realize that cult members, such as people in the old WCG or its present "splinter groups," don't talk the same language as people committed to "biblical orthodoxy." His examples included members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Jehovah's Witnesses.

If Jehovah's Witnesses are talking about Jesus Christ, Mr. Hanegraaff said, "they're talking bout the archangel Michael."

If a Mormon talks about Christ, he's "talking about the spirit brother of Lucifer."

If New Agers speak of Christ, "they're talking about an avatar, or messenger."

He didn't say what a Sabbatarian Church of God member meant when he refers to Jesus Christ, but he did say that, if a Christian says he knows the truth, "that means something different to someone who has been steeped in the doctrinal system of the Worldwide Church of God."

Call about Garner Ted Armstrong

The next caller was Dennis, tuning in from New Hampshire over WBCI. Dennis wanted to ask about somebody on the air years ago he remembered named Ted. "That's correct," responded Mr. Hanegraaff. "Ted Garner Armstrong."

Someone apparently corrected Mr. Hanegraaff off mike, because then the host said: "Garner Ted. All right. What happened to Garner Ted?"

Mr. Tkach noted that Mr. Armstrong had left the Worldwide Church of God in 1978 and founded the Church of God International in Tyler, Texas. "They [the CGI] have had their ups and downs," he said. "They have a fellowship of about 5,000 people."

Mr. Tkach, in an apparent reference to adverse publicity currently extant concerning the CGI and Mr. Armstrong, said the CGI has "come upon some very difficult times . . . They are right now really devastated by events that have happened in their fellowship."

The mission fields

After Dennis's call, Mr. Hanegraaff deferred to Mr. Tkach, who said the Worldwide Church of God's goal "is to bring people to Christ." The WCG considers its "mission fields," he said, to be its own congregations.

In a reference to the WCG's current rate of conversions, Mr. Tkach said the WCG in 1995 baptized 200 people each month.

Mr. Hanegraaff said the sincerity of WCG leaders is illustrated by their willingness to "leave 56 acres of downtown Pasadena, Calif., to sell it and say, look, our destiny . . . is in the Lord's hands. All we want to do is to follow Him."

Just before the broadcast's end, Mr. Tkach talked of his enjoyment at being with people at the moment they understand the new teachings. "It is such a joy to see the light go on for people, to see the match get lit, the agogic moment where people suddenly see it all. It falls into place for them, and the fire gets lit for them to go out and help others."

Last broadcast aired

The Bible Answer Man aired the last of the three segments featuring Mr. Tkach and Mr. Albrecht Jan. 12, beginning with a statement from Mr. Hanegraaff that the new Worldwide Church of God now believes in the deity of Christ.

"Certainly the essentials [of the Christian faith] can be codified many different ways," he said, "but an essential of essentials is the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the nature of God. Once you denied the Trinity; today you embrace it."

Mr. Tkach, referring to Mr. Hanegraaff's statement about Christ's deity, said: "Absolutely correct. We used to have a semi-Arian view on the nature of God," although "in some ways the position was more ditheistic than Arian, but we believed there were two separate Gods, Father and Son, and that the Holy Spirit was only a power, something like a flow of electrons, like electricity. So we denied that the Holy Spirit is God."

Advocates of Arianism teach that Jesus, the Son of God, did not exist from the beginning but was created as an agent for creating the universe. Mr. Hanegraaff repeatedly referred to people who followed the former teachings of the Worldwide Church of God as Arians or believing in Arianism. Mr. Tkach stated that the old WCG's view was "semi-Arian" and "ditheistic," the latter assumedly meaning a belief in two Gods.

Twoness (two members of the God family) has now been replaced by threeness (the Trinity). The WCG and its offshoots, for the most part, all claim to be monotheistic, though at times the believers in the God family have been called polytheistic or, by Joe Tkach Jr., ditheistic.

Taking the Bible overliterally

Mr. Albrecht agreed that he believed the old WCG had "an Arian view of God" that came about as a result of "an overliteralistic view of Scripture." Mr. Albrecht said that was evidenced by the belief that God has arms and hands because the Bible refers to God as having arms and hands. Believing that God really has arms and hands is a misunderstanding of "anthropomorphic terminology of the Bible," said Mr. Albrecht.

"We took a literal view, and instead of understanding the Bible is using human terminology as an accommodation to the human mind, . . . we took it as a literal definition of God, and of course it isn't."

The first caller on the third day's broadcast was Susan, from Pittsburgh, Pa., who identified herself as a wife of a WCG member. Susan described her life with a member of the WCG as "trauma." She wondered why, if church members had believed God were leading the Worldwide Church of God and Joseph Tkach Sr., do they feel God has quit guiding the church.

Susan empathized with people coming out of the cult and advised them to be tolerant of the new WCG, because "no matter what denomination we're in, . . . there's error in every denomination that I have ever sat under-"

At that point Mr. Hanegraaff interrupted Susan and moved on to another caller. He greeted Gil, listening on KFAX in San Jose, Calif.

Gil turned out to be a WCG member happy with the changes who, because of his new beliefs, decided also to attend a Sunday-observing church two or three times a month.

The Sabbath as a stumbling block

Gil was worried about the WCG continuing to meet on Saturday and the feast days. When reaching out to a gentile, non-Jewish community, he said, "having these customs to adapt to seems to be a stumbling block."

Mr. Tkach justified meeting on the Sabbath by saying that doing so is fine because one day is as good as another. "Christ lives in us 24 hours a day, seven days a week. One day is not any more special than another day. Our prayers aren't better on Saturday or on Sunday than they are on any other day of the week."

However, long-time WCG members "get a special feeling" from meeting on the Sabbath; "it makes them feel close to God." That's not bad, he said, unless the person believes the Sabbath is the only day a Christian should meet on. "When we legislate which day you can and can't meet on, that's when we jump into the ditch of legalism."

The worst sin

Mr. Albrecht also wanted to talk about the season to be jolly. "In our fellowship, Christmas has been an absolute no-no," he said, "perhaps the worst thing anyone could do."

There are people in the Worldwide Church of God who just last month observed their first Christmas "in a tentative way," according to Mr. Albrecht. Some of them observed it in secret "for fear of condemnation."

"If you keep Christmas or don't keep Christmas, or if you keep Christmas and don't give gifts and don't have a tree, is that right? Can you tell someone that they are not saved if they don't have a tree or don't have ornaments on a tree or they don't give gifts?"

Declaring that Jesus was the reason for the recent season, the Plain Truth editor said, "We have to be careful about the arbitrariness of some of these things, whether they be a Feast of Tabernacles, a Christmas or a seventh-day Sabbath."

Shirley, a listener from Atlanta, Ga., called to say she was not entirely comfortable with the church's observance of those Old Covenant days and feasts. Mr. Tkach said many WCG members are comfortable with them and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, realizing that the days are not required and they're fulfilled in Christ "makes the celebration more meaningful."

Stop worshiping the Sabbath

Mr. Albrecht said Saturday worship is permissible as long as people do not worship the day, seeming to imply that members in the old WCG did just that.

A caller from somewhere in California, listening on KFAX, was next. "Welcome, Robert."
Robert attended the WCG for 10 years, but at the time of the changes and the "split," as he called it, he decided not to attend church anywhere anymore.

Mr. Albrecht apologized to any former or present WCG members who have become so cynical about religion that they have quit attending anywhere. "It brings us pain and a deep sense of grief that we could have been part of that," he said.

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