Church of God, an International Community

Opinions by COGwriter

For years, I had been asked to write an article about the group, Church of God, an International Community (COGaic--note, within that church that seem to use COGaIC or COGaIc as an abbreviation). COGaIC became a break-away group from the United Church of God (UCG) in 1998. Since I had previously written articles on about two dozen other Churches of God (COGs), some have asked why I have not written much on the group that is one of the largest of those COGs that had their origins in the old Worldwide Church of God.

The reason was quite simple, COGaic simply does not make a lot of doctrinal statements, says little in its official statement of beliefs, has almost no widely distributed financial statements, nor other such detailed materials for me to base much of an article on. This is not to say that COGaic produces no literature, but it tends to be a bit more news and living oriented than doctrinal, spiritual, or financial.

However, years ago when they were still the 4th largest COG (they were past in size by COGWA, another UCG split), I decided to write my impressions of its teachings, as well as to quote a lot about who they said they were and why they were not part of UCG. Also, about a year and one half after I first wrote this article, they did put out a listing that indicates some of their beliefs after I found some more of them.

Furthermore, in late 2013/early 2014 COGaIC had their own split, basically for reasons I mentioned were weaknesses originally in this article.

Background

Some background may be helpful.

COGaic is led by David Hulme. In terms of attendees it seems to be the fifth or sixth largest group to form from those once in the old WCG (UCG is first in size, COGWA is second, LCG is third, PCG is fourth; RCG might be fifth).

David Hulme was an evangelist in the old WCG. He, along with Richard Ames (now of the Living Church of God, LCG) and David Albert (who supported the changed WCG), were chosen to be the presenters on the World Tomorrow telecasts for WCG in the event of Herbert W. Armstrong's (HWA's) death--which occurred January 16, 1986.

It is my understanding that HWA had several presenters for the World Tomorrow chosen, so that no one individual would be considered to have been his (Ronald Kelly was also used as a presenter later, and may have also been one chosen originally) personal successor.

One or more within COGaic have indicated to me that they believe HWA actually chose David Hulme to be his successor, but that somehow J. Tkach, Sr. had that changed to himself. Although I cannot be certain as to what HWA thought, the fact that his final letter specified J. Tkach Sr. and that HWA's long-time aid Aaron Dean confirmed to me that J. Tkach Sr. was the final one selected, discounted any claim to me that the position was really supposed to go to David Hulme.

After heretical doctrinal changes kept occurring in WCG, David Hulme and a group composed of many ministers in the WCG separated from WCG and formed the United Church of God (UCG). After being somewhat leaderless (lacking one main leader, but having committees) for a little while, UCG's leaders chose David Hulme to be its first president.

Under David Hulme's presidency, many doctrinal changes began to creep into UCG. Many of those are documented in my article, which was published in the January 1998 edition of The Journal, titled In Their Own Words: Doctrinal Differences Between the United Church of God and the Global Church of God. However, it is not clear which of these were changes that David Hulme did or did not support, nor is it completely clear to me even today (though several are mentioned later in this paper).

After a variety of governance and managerial bickering, the UCG Board decided to not continue David Hulme's presidency, somewhere around February 1998. And at that time, he and one board supporter (Peter Nathan) decided to leave the United Church of God and form COGaic.

Without going into all the details, I felt that from what I knew the UCG Board was justified for removing David Hulme, but I also felt that the two doctrinal issues David Hulme then raised (better governance and being more proactive in proclaiming the gospel) suggested that COGaic would have less doctrinal errors than UCG (who continued to have doctrinal changes as are documented in the article Differences between the Living Church of God and United Church of God).

Overtime, I became less sure about the gospel and prophetic doctrinal aspects. Especially since UCG seemed to be doing more to publicly proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom after David Hulme was gone than David Hulme's current church does. My basic impression is that COGaIC believes that it reaches people a different way with a more intellectually modern message (mainly with its Vision magazine website) and hence that it feels that it adequately is proclaiming the gospel to the best of its ability.  And it terms of prophecy, COGaIC's unwillingness to teach "church eras" and explain current events in the light of end time Bible prophecy has been disappointing to me.

The problem is that what they have done has not been successful. Here are some comments from a former COGaIC minister named Stephen Elliot:

December 28, 2013

In the Feast film, the media team told us that we must find words that the world will like so they will listen to us. Jesus said that the world would hate us and not listen to our word, just as it hated Him and did not hear His word—but that was the commission He gave His disciples (John 15:18-20). Seeking to be accepted by the world is seeking to become friends with the world, and scripture says that makes us God’s enemy (James 4:4).

In August I mentioned to you that the fruit of this organization is bad. Our membership has declined, not grown. After 15 years and an estimated expense for Vision of $3+ million dollars for salaries, advertising, publishing, design, shipping, PR, video, travel and whatever, there has been no fruit from Vision or the Vision website. The only new members, other than children of members, have come because of a personal relationship with a member—not because of Vision.

 

My own observation has been that Vision is not geared to get people to do anything other than consider that it is written at a different intellectual/philosophical level than other COG literature.

COGaIC Says Who They Think They Are

At its website, COGaic had a Who Are We page that stated on 1/16/06 the following:

The Church of God, based in Pasadena, California, traces its antecedents to Sabbatarian roots in 17th-century Europe, and before that to the first-century Christian church at Jerusalem. Accordingly the Church endeavors to uphold the original practice and teachings of Jesus Christ and His followers. The Church of God has members all around the world and offices in Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, the Philippines, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Church focuses on seeking the maximum opportunities to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God in all the world as a witness (Matthew 24:14), and on taking care of those God calls into becoming part of His family, which is a Spirit-led community (Matthew 28:18-20).

The Church publishes the quarterly, Vision--Journal for a New World, which examines the complex social, moral and philosophical issues facing the world today from a biblical and historical perspective. It aims to present the Bible as a credible source of solutions to the problems the world faces. In doing so, it challenges many teachings of traditional Christianity, maintaining that its churches have forgotten the roots of Christianity and ignored much of Jesus Christ's belief, practice and teaching.

David Hulme's Comments on History

In the December 2005 edition of COGaic's Church of God News, David Hulme wrote the following:

It is said that if you don't know where you came from, you will not know where you're going.

The Lines Drawn in '95 Easier to See Than Those of '98

At two of the summer camps this year, some campers asked why the Church of God, an International Community, began, and how. Though they were much younger at the time, many teens can explain why the break came with the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) in 1995, but they find it more difficult to explain the subsequent break with the United Church of God, an International Association (UCG) in 1998. There are, no doubt, several reasons for this difficulty.

One is that the lines drawn in 1995 were very plain to see. A whole way of life of obedience to the law in the spirit was being attacked and misrepresented. Our everyday life was being overturned; identity as a follower of Jesus and the early New Testament Church was being compromised, if not destroyed.

No longer was it necessary to keep the weekly or annual Sabbaths, or eat only clean foods. These identity markers were being taken away. Forms of worship were shifting toward an entirely different way of life. Attempts were being made to create a different identity.

Why the Parting in 1998?

But when we had to disassociate with UCG three years later, the reasons for this separation may not have been so clear for some of our children and perhaps even for some adults.

It was in some respects a more subtle decision. It required already tired veterans to uproot themselves once more - this time over what appeared to some to be attitudes rather than doctrine.

Some have thought that the separation was really about personalities, but because their congregation moved, they did too, without really addressing the issues. Others may have come along later from other groups and do not really know the facts.

Another reason is perhaps that, though there were articles written and sermons given, we have been encouraged to get over the past and move on. This is certainly necessary, but not at the price of not grasping the lessons...

What Was the Issue in 1998? What Caused the Second Separation in Three Years?

Although problems began to be manifested through disconcerting events, troubling attitudes and questionable motivations, it is vital to emphasize that the issue ultimately came down to one of doctrine - one of how the Church should be governed from a biblical perspective. Any other explanation given is simply untrue.

To understand, we have to go back to the end of our relationship with the WCG and the beginning of the UCG.

As a number of ministers and members refused to accept the doctrinal changes being initiated in 1995, they began to look for a new home. I had resigned from employment with Ambassador Foundation and from my role on the Advisory Council of Elders of WCG during the Days of Unleavened Bread.

I was then asked to attend a meeting of others who had resigned from their roles in the WCG ministry. Only at the last moment did my late wife and I agree to attend the meeting in Indianapolis.

As most of you know, I returned to Pasadena after about a week or so as Chairman of the newly formed UCG board, having been asked to manage the day-to-day affairs of a new Church organization. This led to my disfellowshipping from WCG, and, after about five weeks, expulsion from our home.

The basis for my selection as a Council member of UCG was a ballot by the elders assembled in Indianapolis. Then following a consensus of the other council members in a separate meeting, I reluctantly accepted the role of Chairman. For various reasons, no one else was willing take the role at that time.

Godly Consensus or Democratic Process?

It was my view that no other method of selection of leadership was clear at the time, and I regarded the outcome as God's doing. We had all asked for God's will and this is what had happened.

Did I think that we were in a democratic process? No. I thought we were seeking a godly consensus as in early New Testament times (see Acts 15, where the Holy Spirit guided the decisions made). Mr Armstrong had died nine years earlier, and there was no clear idea of what to do in terms of leadership in the face of the collapse of true doctrine.

My understanding of what I was to do, which I spelled out in a document that is still on the COG member website, was that I would effectively be the executive in charge of the day-to-day operation of the Church. In fact, the Council of Elders agreed to that in about August 1995, when they confirmed me as both Chairman and President.

During the next few months, it became clear that some were reacting against the recent past in their thinking and decision-making. Prior to December 1995, a move was made to separate the roles of Chairman and President so that no single person could occupy both positions. Soon the cry arose for freedom of speech, and the elders' forum began.

More and more, a democratic model was being adopted, with layers of protections against potential doctrinal and manpower abuses. However, at the time, there seemed no other option for the formulation of the new Church organization. Together with some of the other ministers, I went along with the process; in retrospect, we should not have.

In December, a Constitution and Bylaws was ratified by 94% of the elders then meeting in Cincinnati. The council chose me as President in the first ballot, and another man became Chairman.

Sliding Into Democratic, Political Processes

Over the next two years, it became increasingly clear that the system was not working and that no single person would be allowed to be in charge of day-to-day operations in any effective way - it simply was not going to be allowed. It also became clear to me that we were becoming a worldly, democratic system with all of the politics that one might expect. My hopes for godly consensus as the model were disappearing, but I had yet to see what the problem really was.

At this point, around late summer 1997, I again read some of Mr Armstrong's materials and was shocked at the clarity with which he addressed the matter of Church government, what he had...

I came to see that there were some conclusions that could not be avoided, and I wrote about this after our departure in 1998. You can find it in a paper in the members' section on the Church of God website. I said this:

I will be very plain. I believe it necessary to repent of ignoring the plain, biblical teaching on the matter of government. I believe this is a doctrinal issue rather than merely an administrative matter. It has vital spiritual ramifications affecting the overall fruitfulness of the Church. As HWA wrote, there are several components to the identity of God's Church, and one of them is "organization . . . on the biblical pattern." At the beginning of UCGIA we focused on the doctrine and practice that he mentioned, but overlooked the importance of ensuring that the organization was also carefully following the biblical pattern. We turned away from what God had shown him and looked for biblical evidence of what is in effect a limited Presbyterian form of governance (A Personal Perspective on Governance).

An Increasing Awareness of a Flawed System and Approach

The governance of UCG grew, in part, out of the absence of any one leader at the time we began. The desire for collaboration was certainly a factor. Some, however, wanted more fundamental change. They became increasingly upset in the months following the Indianapolis conference, claiming that the Council and the administration had departed from the understandings that were reached there. The influence of the discontent was felt to the extent that what then developed was a very different form of governance than in WCG. The state of mind that developed seemed to be that there never could be a single leader ever again. Indeed, some prominent ministers said that they would never be under one man again. If God did again choose one man, how would these men cope? Would they be able to recognize such a person if one did emerge? Would they have recognized Herbert W Armstrong in 1933?

It is now apparent that at the time of Indianapolis, there was a good deal of naïve optimism about how the system would function. More importantly, in an atmosphere charged with optimism and recent trauma, many failed to recognize that we were adopting a Presbyterian model of governance. It is a model that Mr Armstrong described as one of the world's forms of church government.

When asked, I mentioned to the Council in November 1997 that I had reservations about aspects of the system of governance. What happened on a number of issues after that time convinced me that I had to repent of my neglect of what God had already set before us, and which we had ignored to our own hurt in setting up the UCG form of government...

Fruits of the Ministry

Upon what is respect for God's ministry based? Certainly one reason centres around the gospel. The preaching of the gospel puts a minister in a position where respect is the proper response.

Fruits of COGaic's Gospel Efforts

Although I personally was told by a COGaic supporter that COGaic was going to be more effective than UCG in areas of media to proclaim the gospel, this has not been true as far as I can tell.

About the only television efforts from COGaic have been making a few documentaries which were broadcast on the Discovery channel, and perhaps a couple of others, a couple of times.

COGaic has no radio presence I am aware of.

But what about the internet?

COGaIC has taken a different approach to the internet than various COG groups.

First of all, it restricts access to its cogaic website (church-of-god.org) so people it does not pre-approve cannot have access to its content.

This has resulted in lowered access and less effectiveness.

COGaIC does allow the public to view its Vision.org website.  It does have viewership. But not as much as one would expect for a group of its size. Although while the Vision website once had an Alexa ranking of about 100,000 (several years ago), which is quite good, Vision’s Alexa ranking dropped a lot and as of 7/2/14 was all the way down to 841,505 (the lower the Alexa number the greater the impact–Google and Facebook hold the first and second positions; COGwriter.com's ranking as of 7/22/14 was 102,749). The ranking drop suggests that Vision is having much less of an impact on the web than it once did and that many times more people visit the COGwriter website than COGaic’s. And the web seems to be the primary media of public proclamation that COGaIC is currently utilizing. The site has in many ways became vision-less. All should be “zealous” as Jesus said in Revelation 3:19 and not be satisfied with something less than a Philadelphia type of work.

Hopefully, those who wish to place their top priority on proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom to the world as a witness (Matthew 24:14) will pray and meditate upon this and consider what they should do.

I would not characterize COGaic's media work as "hot" nor particularly successful.

Vision Magazine

COGaic puts out a publication called Vision. It was produced in about four languages. I am unaware of its total circulation, but believe it is far below that of UCG's Good News, LCG's Tomorrow's World, or the Philadelphia Church of God's (PCG's) Philadelphia Trumpet.

Vision's focus seems to be history and current events--and tends to have little COG unique doctrine. It is mainly oriented as COGaic's gospel proclaiming publication, and in that way is similar to the other magazines I mentioned above. COGaic claims that Vision "examines the complex social, moral and philosophical issues facing the world today from a biblical and historical perspective."

Vision apparently is intended to reach a slightly different, possibly higher educated, crowd than WCG's old Plain Truth magazine was directed towards.

A COGaic member, who asked that he not be identified if I used his email comments, wrote the following to me:

The Vision magazine published by COGaic as you know, ultimately is written mainly for those not familiar with "The Way".  So it tries to present things to the reader on their level of understanding of "Christianity or Orthodox Christianity" which is certainly not true "Christianity" or as we prefer to refer to it "The Way"...

There are a number of comments written by authors of articles in the Vision Magazine that people in the various COG take exception with because they don't understand that it is written for the general public and geared for their level of religious education and understanding, not ours. This is done so it is initially more palatable to the public as a whole, (which also makes the product more marketable) but at the same time tweaks their minds a bit by revealing something to them they may never have heard or understood before, or refutes in a logical way a long held belief they may have, and if their minds are being opened to it they are encouraged to go to the Vision web site to learn more.  
 
This is a different approach than many other COG magazines take where articles are often written at our level and understanding of biblical truths and is designed to kind of smack them on the back of the head to get their attention. This approach has worked to some extent for many years and certainly has it's place. The COGaic is just trying a different approach ...

And those comments are fairly typical of COGaic supporters. They do not claim they are the main COG, etc., only that they have an approach to public proclamation that they feel is more effective in the 21st century than those used by HWA in the 20th century.

On February 16, 2006, a former COGaic member told me that she feels that COGaic uses the term "the Way" to separate COGaic from others they refer to as Christians, as in her (apparently correct) position, COGaic literature refers to "pseudo-Christians (her term) as Christians.

Public Financial Information

Unlike some groups who publicly publish their audited financial statements, COGaic does not seem to do this.

They did, however, publish something about Vision a few years ago. And here is what, according to The Journal, they published:

Vision.org, Foundation for a New World
Financial Information


Period................................... Total Revenue.......... Total Expenses........ Financial Data
Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 2002............... $3,656.................... $6,123............... IRS Form 990-EZ
Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 2001............. $99,660.................. $99,660............... IRS Form 990-EZ


Highlight from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2001 IRS Filing
The only stated service accomplishment was "prepared and aired a one hour video on the origins of and misconceptions about Christianity."

Total Compensation for Officers/Directors/Trustees
Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2002 Period:
David Hulme, President, $0;
Steven D. Andrews, Secretary/Treasurer, $0
Mike McKinney, Director, $0
Ted Budge, Director, $0

It would seem that COGaic decided to not fund Vision.org separately during 2002 and that its income and expenses are all related to its COGaic arm.

Who is in COGaic?

COGaic is mainly made up of people once part of WCG and who seem to believe that God is using David Hulme to lead something.

COGaic has many members in African countries, as well as the many of the wealthiest people in the USA I know who had a WCG background, plus people in-between (including a fair amount in the UK and Australia).

It is probably because of the relatively high amount of African members that COGaic's media efforts simply have not been as successful as those of other (including smaller) COGs, as they would most likely be net financial drain.

How Large is COGaIC?

In late 2008, David Hulme reported the following:

What I’d like to give you today is a progress report that will explain what we’ve been doing in the Church and the Work over the last year or so...

In some parts of the world you will find that there are a lot of people coming into the Church. You find quite a multiplying going on in Africa at the moment. you don’t find it very much in the UK, but it’s not true of everywhere in the UK. You don’t find it everywhere in the US...

What has been happening in the Church? In the US and Canada we have 1150 people in regular attendance and we have 53 churches. If you do your maths you realize that a lot of these churches are rather small...

At the Feast last year we had about 1300 people in attendance. Let’s go to other parts of the world. In Australia we have 68 people and six churches. In the Philippines we have 156 people and seven churches. In addition we have 11 members in six countries, remote areas all around Southeast Asia who are looked after by Australia. Last year we had 77 people at the Feast in Bright, in Australia, and 132 in Iloilo, in the Philippines.

In Africa we have an interesting situation. We have English and French speaking brethren there numbering 700! So they are a sizable portion of our total numbers. They are scattered through 38 congregations. A recent report I saw has congregations in places that even I was not aware we had people! So there are some small groups forming in countries where hitherto we have not had anybody.

In the UK we have about 300 people in 14 congregations. The Feast there is one of our larger ones, about 320 there last year. In Germany we have two congregations and 20 people. We have people of the German language background in Switzerland as well. We have France and Switzerland represented in the French language: 21 people in two congregations. In Scandinavia we have about 10 people, mostly in Denmark and Norway and Sweden, I believe. (Hulme D. Feast of Tabernacles 2008 Progress Report. Church of God, an International Community)

COGaIC lost many of its people in the UK and Australia shortly after that.

With the splits in late 2013/early 2014, it may be only a fraction of the size it was back in 2008.

They Keep the Holy Days

David Hulme wrote:

Ever since the 1st century, the Day of Pentecost has had special significance for those who are in the Church of God. That's because we are all part of the continuity of people who first received the Holy Spirit on this day, hundreds of years ago. Those first followers of Christ were ordinary people like us. And when they were empowered by God's Holy Spirit, it made all the difference to their lives and to the work of preaching the gospel.

Bill Butler wrote:

The Feast of Tabernacles (including the Last Great Day) is a time when God's faithful people come together to share eight days with others of like faith who are being called out of this world. And because it is the one time of the year when we are together, the Feast gives us a wonderful opportunity to work on building a godly community and to experience it in action.

COGaic also keeps the Sabbath and other biblical holy days. They have around 2000 that attend (plus or minus a few hundred) and it is on this basis that I consider them to be the fourth largest of the groups that had origins in WCG (UCG is 1, COGWA is 2, LCG is 3, PCG is 4).

Tithing

COGaic endorses first tithe. For example its former financial leader, Steven Andrews wrote:

For those of us in God's church who are approaching retirement age, the question as to whether, or what portion of, our retirement benefits is titheable needs an answer. The fundamental principle that we tithe on our annual increase applies to retirement benefits just as it does to our earnings while employed...The amount of the tithe is computed on the net cash received.

COGaic endorses second tithe (festival tithe) as well, which Bill Butler verified when he wrote:

We usually have the money to go to nicer restaurants than we can normally afford. Those with more second tithe should remember those who may not have as much and treat them to nice meals.

I was once contacted by someone who attended COGaic and he had never heard of third tithe while part of it. Yet, another from COGaic said that they do practice it. But I have not seen anything written from COGaic on this one way or the other. However, since third tithe was something changed in UCG while David Hulme was there, he may have simply gone along with how they handle it--but I really do not know.

Church Eras

Like UCG, COGaic does not really seem to teach the historical concept of Church eras.

David Hulme seemed to confirm this when he wrote:

The New Testament era was no different than the time we live in now (Hulme D. Compromise or Holiness. Church of God News, June 1999, p.1).

However, one COGaic writer did seem to suggest that COGaic did when he wrote:

In speaking to the Sardis era of the Church, God refers to a few "who have not defiled their garments," and He proclaims that those who overcome will be "clothed in white garments" (Revelation 3:4-5) (Meakin John. Many Are Called but Few Are Chosen. Church of God News, August 2000, p.14).

Yet, in another article which starts off with:

We have all read about the seven Churches mentioned in the book of Revelation. We know that these Churches, historically, were each in different towns on a mail route in Asia Minor (Meakin John. What is the Source of our Strength? Church of God News, December 1998, p. 8).

That same writer never mentions eras or chronological historical fulfillments.

This is similar to an article by another COGaic writer who states:

We can see what that instruction is by looking at the messages to the seven Churches mentioned in Revelation. God commends all of these churches, apart from Laodicea, for certain things, yet He also cautions them all to hold fast and to hang on to what they have (Brocklehurst, David. Be A Construction Expert. Church of God News, November 1998).

That writer also never mentions eras or chronological historical fulfillments.

David Hulme seemed to clear up COGaic's position when he wrote:

In this article I would like to focus on Christ's messages to each of the seven churches. All of them end with a warning and a promise to "the churches" (plural). Since there are seven churches and the number seven signifies a totality, we understand that these letters were written for all believers in all times, not just for those at that particular time or those in a particular church era...

The seven letters come to a climax with a terrible warning for the compromising Christian who is neither hot nor cold...

These letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor contain urgent pastoral information from Jesus Christ to believers in all ages. Seven times He tells us: Don't compromise. Overcome. Receive eternal life. And we need His help to do this just as much as people in the first century did.

Through these letters, Christ shows us that any form of compromise is wrong and unacceptable (Hulme D. Lessons from Asia Minor. Church of God News, 2004).

In David Hulme's article that discusses all seven of the Churches of Revelation 2 & 3, he (like UCG) does not suggest any chronological historical fulfillments, hence this seems to confirm my belief on this matter.

This is where COGaic may be a lot like UCG. And that is while some leaders believe in the idea of Church eras, the leading ones will not allow that to be officially taught as doctrine.

Are They Part of the Philadelphia Era?

While the old WCG and some others have taught that they were and are the main remnant of the Philadelphia era of the Church of God, COGaic does not teach that in anything I have seen. The term Philadelphia era does not seem to be in any of its written literature (at least none that I am aware of ).

While I long had hope that COGaIC would support the work of the Philadelphia era of the Church of God, I consider that the organization itself is part of the Laodicean Church Era.

What is Doctrine?

In an article by its co-founder Peter Nathan (who has since left) titled What is Doctrine?, apparently published in the July 2003 edition of COGaic's Church of God News he wrote:

We often talk about "doctrine" in the Church. But what does "doctrine" mean? And how does our perception of doctrine differ from the world's view -- if at all?...

What Should Doctrine Mean to Us?

Before we address our perceptions of doctrine, let's consider some statements:

l The purpose of doctrine is to change the conduct of the individual, not just to provide a statement of belief.

2 Doctrine and the Bible exist to reveal the mind of God for us to emulate.

The Church of God's view of doctrine is that it is not just about what we think and believe but that it is also about what we do. In this respect, doctrine can demand something of us...

Doctrine Versus Teaching

There is no word in the New Testament that conveys the concept of doctrine in the way it is understood by the "Christian" world. The Greek words related to "doctrine", as listed in Strong's Concordance 1317-1322 [didaskalos, didaskalia, didache, etc], all have to do with the aspect of teaching and of conveying information or instruction.

Mr Armstrong understood that doctrine isn't simply a belief. He realized that doctrine also has to be lived. Perhaps that is one reason he avoided the development of a statement of beliefs. He realized that the end result of being a Christian is that you have to live a way of life. But a way of life can so easily be devalued if it's just committed to paper.

Yet today, when someone with a "Church of God" background comes into contact with us, almost the very first question he or she asks is, "Can I have a copy of your statement of beliefs?"

Why? Because they want to see whether we are an "orthodox" Church of God or not! There is now the demand for orthodoxy in terms of the Church of God! There are people who consider a church "orthodox" because it holds to the "18 truths" that Mr Armstrong established in the Church.

The question they really ought to ask is, "What changes have those 18 truths made in my life?" Often people want to put down on paper what they believe, and they forget that what is really important is how those beliefs impact their behaviour. It's not just a question of whether you believe or accept those beliefs.

One of the great traps we can find ourselves falling into is that a statement of beliefs becomes a creed in its own right, and becomes the standard of righteousness by which we judge everybody else.

It is amazing that Peter Nathan refers to the 18 truths that HWA said God used him to restore to the Philadelphia portion of the Church of God, but will not say if COGaic actually believes them. I personally do not believe that they believe all of them, but even if they do, it is of little consequence if they do not publicly teach them.

Doctrinal Statement

Peter Nathan, in his What is Doctrine? article, apparently published in the July 2003 edition of COGaic's Church of God News also wrote:

The Church of God did have to put a statement of beliefs together for legal purposes. It takes up less than one sheet of paper and simply states:

The Church's central belief and doctrine is based on the righteousness of, and obedience to the law of God. That law is love. It is not human love. Human love cannot arise above the level of self-centredness. It must be the love of God, shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). This basic teaching includes, therefore, the development of the fruit of the Holy Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self control (Galatians 5:22-23). The teachings of the Church are derived from living by every word of God as revealed in the Holy Bible (Matthew 4:4).

The Bible is our statement of belief! We are to learn the lessons it teaches and apply them in our lives.

It perhaps should be noted that I was specifically told on February 16, 2006, that COGaic actually did file a four-page statement of beliefs with the US Internal Revenue Service, form 1023, that details many of its beliefs--most of which were read to me (over the telephone) on that date--but I do not have a copy yet (the caller had to get hers from the IRS through a public information request, as COGaic did not provide it to her or any members that she knew). I should add here, however, that I do not believe that any of the beliefs I heard differed from those held by other COGs. The statement, in my opinion, left enough out of the 1023 to make it clear if they have distinct teachings from other COGs.

Now the following is one of the few listing I have ever seen COGaic produce regarding its beliefs--it was written by David Hulme in the December 2005 edition of Church of God News:

Now if we know where we are and why we are here; if we know what our spiritual identity is and what brought about the necessary existence of the Church of God, an International Community; and if we understand that a clear biblical structure and government is part of the Church's doctrinal understanding, then certain questions are easy for us to resolve.

Understanding identity, government and structure - as a spiritual consequence of knowing God and being called into His family - should lead us to ask and easily answer many such questions.

My personal opinion is that David Hulme strongly believes that the Bible is true, but does not strongly believe enough historically COG doctrines that he may not ever wish to change.

In the summer 2006 edition of Vision magazine, David Hulme wrote:

The truth about it is the capstone on human difference and uniqueness. Paul teaches that the human spirit can interface with the Spirit of God to fulfill the ultimate purpose of God’s creation. He says, “For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16, New Living Translation).

Just how different are we? Just how different should we become?

Similar to what was taught in UCG while David Hulme was president (UCG did provide an answer after David Hulme's departure), this question never really does get answered (at least not in that article as that is how the article ends).

Based upon my knowledge and experience, I would not characterize COGaic's attitude towards scripture as cold. I do not characterize not spelling out basic teachings as hot.

Trinitarian David Hulme?

Some version of the following has been circulated on the internet from time to time. A COG leader (who is not part of CCOG) forwarded this to me:

1991 Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Presentation

Click here to listen to a 35 minute presentation by David Hulme, as an official representative, explaining the doctrines of the Worldwide Church of God to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. In his own words, he was "invited to explain what our position is on a number of things and also to perhaps update you on a number of changes." (at 0:15) and wanted to "take you through some of the present thinking then, of the Worldwide Church of God..." (at 0:53) and "take you through some of the more important changes that have occurred in the past four to five years" (at 4:38).  How HWA said his book Mystery of the Ages was full of errors and we had to remove it.  The audio has a rather high background noise level. 

Let me clearly state that David Hulme later stated that he was NOT trinitarian.

I would add, that I heard from other sources, that it was acknowledged that Mystery of the Ages had errors. Those who do not realize this are accepting error. One chapter was used which was an older view HWA had related to angels, etc. and the new view he had (which was right) was accidentally not used. There were some other issues as well. I do not know if HWA, however, though his book was 'full of errors," only that there were some.

A Listing of Early Beliefs

About a year and one half after I first wrote this article, COGaic did put out a listing that gives some idea of what it believes. Its David Hulme put together the following list which is part of his article titled A Partial List of Differences Between the Early New Testament Church and Today’s Christianity, dated May 3, 2007:

Consider some of the things the early church did not practice:

1. It did not observe Christmas, Lent, or Easter
2. It did not meet on the first day of the week, Sunday
3. It did not profess the Trinity
4. It did not participate in Holy Communion
5. It did not baptize infants
6. It did not advocate celibacy
7. It did not venerate saints
8. It did not think it was going to heaven
9. It did not have elaborate rituals
10. It did not build cathedrals
11. It did not take up political causes
12. It did not fight government
13. It did not withdraw from the world
14. It did not know itself as “Christian”

Consider some of the beliefs the early church did practice:

1. It observed annual holydays specified in the Hebrew Scriptures
2. It met on the seventh day of the week, Saturday
3. It believed that the Holy Spirit is the power of God, not a person
4. It commemorated Jesus’ death annually with bread and wine
5. It baptized adults by complete immersion in water
6. Its ministry married
7.Its saints were ordinary living people whom God had placed in His church
8. It believed the dead were dead and awaiting resurrection
9. It had simple ceremonies
10. It met in homes, halls and open places
11. It was politically neutral
12. It obeyed government authorities
13. It practiced social responsibility
14. It followed “the Way” defined by the law of God

While I am glad that COGaic now gives some idea of what it believes and does not believe, David Hulme is somewhat in error on the first 14 point item. According to the Bible in Acts 11:26 and 1 Peter 4:16, outsiders knew them as Christian, and early church writings confirm that this was a name that the early church also knew itself as.

The following was written about 100 A.D.:

So the worthless rose up against the honoured, those of no reputation against such as were renowned, the foolish against the wise, the young against those advanced in years. For this reason righteousness and peace are now far departed from you, inasmuch as every one abandons the fear of God, and is become blind in His faith, neither walks in the ordinances of His appointment, nor acts a part becoming a Christian, but walks after his own wicked lusts, resuming the practice of an unrighteous and ungodly envy, by which death itself entered into the world...

Let your children be partakers of true Christian training; let them learn of how great avail humility is with God—how much the spirit of pure affection can prevail with Him—how excellent and great His fear is, and how it saves all those who walk in it with a pure mind...

It is disgraceful, beloved, yea, highly disgraceful, and unworthy of your Christian profession, that such a thing should be heard of as that the most steadfast and ancient church of the Corinthians should, on account of one or two persons, engage in sedition against its presbyters. (Letter to the Corinthians, Chapters 3,21,47).

The following is from The Martyrdom of Polycarp, circa 156 A.D.:

But upon this the whole multitude, marvelling at the nobility of mind displayed by the devout and godly race of Christians, cried out...

Polycarp declared, "Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?"

And when the proconsul yet again pressed him, and said, "Swear by the fortune of Cæsar," he {Polycarp} answered, "Since you are vainly urgent that, as you say, I should swear by the fortune of Cæsar, and pretendest not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian. And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and you shall hear them."

While he spoke these and many other like things, he was filled with confidence and joy, and his countenance was full of grace, so that not merely did it not fall as if troubled by the things said to him, but, on the contrary, the proconsul was astonished, and sent his herald to proclaim in the midst of the stadium thrice, "Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian." This proclamation having been made by the herald, the whole multitude both of the heathen and Jews, who dwelt at Smyrna, cried out with uncontrollable fury, and in a loud voice, "This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, and the overthrower of our gods, he who has been teaching many not to sacrifice, or to worship the gods." (The Martyrdom of Polycarp 3,9-10,12)

I thought that even though COGaic does not clearly teach church eras, that it still accepted that Polycarp was a true leader of the early Church. Since Polycarp declared himself a Christian, I simply do not believe that David Hulme was truly studied early church history enough or he would not have made his odd claim.

Also, for another example, notice what Theophilus of Antioch declared around 180 A.D.:

I, for my part, avow that I am a Christian, and bear this name beloved of God...

And about your laughing at me and calling me "Christian," you know not what you are saying. First, because that which is anointed is sweet and serviceable, and far from contemptible. For what ship can be serviceable and seaworthy, unless it be first caulked [anointed]? Or what castle or house is beautiful and serviceable when it has not been anointed? And what man, when he enters into this life or into the gymnasium, is not anointed with oil? And what work has either ornament or beauty unless it be anointed and burnished? Then the air and all that is under heaven is in a certain sort anointed by light and spirit; and are you unwilling to be anointed with the oil of God? Wherefore we are called Christians on this account (Theophilus. To Autolycus, Book I, Chapters 1, 12).

Why David Hulme made that inaccurate declaration 14 is an oddity--but those in COGaic seem to still tend to consider him to be a scholar.

Prophecy

Now specifically COGaIC's leader is repeatedly referred to at the Vision website as “Middle East scholar David Hulme.” Yet, as 11/17/12, the latest post shown on David Hulme’s Causes of Conflict: Thoughts on Religion, Identity and the Middle East blog was dated November 13, 2010--and it was only a headline.  Apparently the “Arab Spring,” Middle East protests, conflicts between Israel and Gaza, and governmental changes since then have never been worthy of his thoughts and comments at a blog he supposedly has for such purposes (I should perhaps add that David Hulme sometimes will tweet via Twitter an article on the Middle East from secular sources).

It is in the area of prophecy, specifically, that COGaic doctrines seem to differ highly from what the old WCG used to teach. It does not seem to get the anywhere near the focus that the old WCG gave it--though it mentions it at times.

I have been told that COGaic does not believe in a literal place of safety, literal great tribulation, or other such things, though one of its ministers refused to confirm or deny this when I asked.

However, my research shows that they do teach about the Great Tribulation, though they have only mentioned it a few times in all the issues of Vision (it is mentioned more often in its Church of God News).

Regarding the "place of safety" the expression is used as a joke about a place in Wales in the December 2000 edition of COGaic's Church of God News. However, that is the only place I was able to find it in COGaic literature.

Considering all that has been happening in the Middle East, and the fact that David Hulme holds a doctorate in International Relations with an emphasis on the Middle East, the lack of comment these sixteen months seems unusual. 

One might ask, "Where's the vision?"

Possible Reaction to this Article

This article on COGaic was first announced in early 2006.

Within a few weeks of the original posting of this article, COGaic posted the following at its website:

In order to access the site you will need to logon with your username and password. If you do not have a username and password, please email us to request access. In your email, please give us your name, where you reside. We do not need your complete address but it would be helpful to know your city, state or province, postal code and country. If you are not a current member or supporter please let us know how you found us and your interest in accessing our site.
Thank you.

I suspect that they did this as this article contained several statements that perhaps COGaic felt should not have outside commentary on and/or because they see no need for certain ones outside their fellowship to have access to some of their information.

While COGaic was normally somewhat vague, it has now become somewhat secretive. For example, its COG News used to be available for anyone who wished to see it online. Now the following message is what one receives:

Authorization Required

This server could not verify that you are authorized to access the document requested. Either you supplied the wrong credentials (e.g., bad password), or your browser doesn't understand how to supply the credentials required.

Again, it appears to me at least that COGaic wishes to make it difficult to know what it teaches and/or how it has changed doctrine.

Events of Late 2013/Early 2014

COGaIC's problems in late 2013 led to the disfellowshipment of Steven Andrews and the departure of many of its ministers.

Issue #157 (print date December 31, 2013) of The Journal included some 2014 news items.  Here is one related to 2013 and 2014:

David Hulme disfellowships S. Andrews; P. Nathan quits

By David Havir

David Hulme, president of the Church of God an International Community (CGIC), headquartered in Pasadena, Calif., disfellowshipped Steven Andrews. Mr. Andrews served the CGIC as corporate secretary- treasurer, chief financial officer and general counsel.

In a “letter of concern” dated Nov. 13, 2013, Mr. Andrews addressed a variety of subjects with Mr. Hulme…In a letter to CGIC members dated Dec. 7, 2013, Mr. Hulme announced the resignation of Mr. Nathan. “It is with much regret that I write to let you know that Mr. Peter Nathan has resigned from the employment of the Church,” Mr. Hulme wrote. “ We had a conversation on Monday, December 2 . . . “It appears that Mr. Nathan has developed differing views on government in the Church. I pointed out to him that his views are incompatible with the Church’s teaching and it became clear that he could not continue in his role as church pastor…

Mr. Andrews addressed other concerns in his letter. He mentioned an incident in which Mr. Hulme supported an elder who refused to bless a child at a CGIC service, because the family did not regularly attend the CGIC.

Gospel emphasis

Mr. Andrews wrote that he had misgivings about Mr. Hulme’s policies concerning preaching the gospel. He questioned Mr. Hulme’s emphasis on a “literary” approach in the CGIC’s magazine Vision, an approach that Mr. Armstrong had criticized years earlier.

“Surely you remember Mr. Armstrong’s public repentance with respect to [two defunct WCG magazines] Human Potential and Quest,” Mr. Andrews wrote. “He labeled [them] as a misdirection and a misuse of God’s tithes because they exalted human achievement and humanist efforts. They did nothing to advance the gospel and Mr. Armstrong ceased to publish them.” View of human nature Mr. Andrews expressed his disagreement with his perception of Mr. Hulme’s view of human nature, sin, evil and repentance. He criticized Mr. Hulme for seeming to entertain the idea that human nature isn’t evil and that man can come up with morally correct ideas apart from the Bible.

I have claimed for 15 years or so that COGaIC had problems with governance, gospel proclamation, and its Vision.  It is good that Steven Andrews finally agreed on some of those points.

Here is something else related to COGaIC from The Journal:

Nine ministers leaving CGIC hold organizational conference

Several people who until recently were members of the Church of God an International Community (CGIC), headed by David Hulme and headquartered in Pasadena, Calif., convened a ministerial conference on Dec. 30, 2013. Information about the meeting was posted at a Web site recently set up by the conferees. The site (thefatherscall.org) posted a summary statement:

“Nine ministers and their wives gathered together in conference December 30, 2013, through January 3, 2014.

“The retreat focused on: the need for a proper understanding of the governance established by our Creator and our Father through the family relationship, and the need for reconciliation between the ministry and the members or flock that our Father has called.

Some of that conference was covered at the COGwriter website earlier (see COGaIC shake-up leading to another group?).  Based upon what I have read, the breakaway group  is not trying to promote biblical governance, and I would advise them (and others) to carefully and prayfully study the article The Bible, Peter, Paul, John, Polycarp, Herbert W. Armstrong, Roderick C. Meredith, and Bob Thiel on Church Government.

The new groups “Father’s call” website listed the following with the Bible Study and Sabbath Service announcement:

• Matt King
• Bill Hutchison
• Julian Braddock
• Jim Populo

A previous letter listed the following, who may also be in support:

Bill Hutchison
Bob Rodzaj
Brian Orchard
Cliff Veal
Marshall Stiver
Peter Nathan
Stephen Elliott
Steve Andrews
Ted Budge

These leaders represent a major loss to COGaIC. From the beginning, COGaIC also seemed to downplay and not properly understand aspects of end-time prophecy and governance.

According to the “Silenced” website, the new group that split from COGaIC is considering the name Church of God – A Family CommunityIf that is true looks like another group is forming that may be similar to COGWA or UCG. The issues are basically supposed to be governance and gospel proclamation.

I have met Brian Orchard and knew him when he was in UCG.  It has long been my hope and prayer that he and others in COGaIC would decide to go towards more Philadelphian-era objectives than he and others have seemingly done (based upon my assessment of their organizational choices, as God knows the heart).

At this moment, I do not believe that the possible new group will have the correct priorities unless they decide to support the Continuing Church of God (CCOG). This would not seem immediately likely, but it is always possible that one or more leaders will realize that CCOG is leading the final phase of the work and that a group such as the possible Church of God – A Family Community will not be doing so.

It remains my hope and prayer that any that are or were in COGaIC will carefully and prayerfully consider what has been happening. It is my prayer that any who may be Philadelphian will decide to uphold Philadelphia-era standards on doctrine, prophecy, governance, love, and public proclamation.

If those who were once part of COGaIC form a new group or remain part of COGaIC, there is no way that they will have the proper form of church governance nor proper priority when it comes to gospel proclamation.  How many years will people put up with Laodicean groups that cannot possibly hold the Philadelphia mantle?

Sadly, for most once part of the old WCG, apparently for decades.  Remember Jesus’ words:

14 “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write,

‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:  15 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.  16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.  17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ — and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked —   18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.  19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.  20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.  21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.

22 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”‘”  (Revelation 3:14-22)

Now is the time for those once part of COGaIC to truly make the bold and proper move to .  It is likely that few will, but those associated with that should ask themselves if they truly want to support the COG that is leading the final phase of the work or be satisfied with a lot less.  It is decision time, again for those part or once part of COGaIC.  Can they not see that if they keep going the way that they have that it will fail as well?

Conclusion

It is fairly hard to prove a negative, thus it is hard to nail down certain doctrine within COGaic. COGaic teachings seem to be vague beyond certain basics (professed belief in the Bible, Jesus, Sabbath, etc.). If they have many booklets that do this better than their magazines, I am unaware of this. My basic belief is that those in it accept most doctrines that the old WCG had, however, they do not seem to mind their lack of emphasis on pubic proclamation of the gospel or COGaic's lack of doctrinal clarity. To me, that is a lukewarm approach.

It had been my understanding, however, that for several years that COGaic was working on a major internet project (it was once, but no longer, available at http://www.church-of-god.org.uk/found/contents.htm) , and if this is ever done, this may make it easier to understand what COGaic teaches (when it was online, it essentially confirmed that COGaic believes in God the Father, Jesus as the Son of God, that the Gospel needs to be proclaimed, and the Holy Days have real meaning).

My belief, however, is that COGaic's efforts to proclaim the gospel to the world as a witness could best be described as not hot. Its claim to believe scripture for doctrine is not cold.

It is my opinion that none who believe that they should support the COG that meets the two criteria that HWA interpreted that Jesus set for the Philadelphia era of the COG would stay in COGaic once they really understood the truth, but since many are still confused, there may be some (or even many) like that in COGaic. Those interested in the group truly striving to be the most faithful should consider the Continuing Church of God.

It appears that, at least in emphasis, COGaic differs from those once in WCG all used to consider to be "the faith that was once for all delivered for the saints" (Jude 3). COGaic just another group, with its own unique reason(s) to be separate.

COGaIC, in my view, has failed to live up to what it claimed it wanted to be and now is a shell of what it started out as. It s not the group that will lead the final phase of the work. Because of its misunderstanding of the Philadelphia work and prophetic matters, I do not believe those who agree with COGaIC will possibly know when the Great Tribulation will start until it is too late, unless they change (see, for example, the prophetic list in the article The Laodicean Church Era).

Although some have said that the doctrinal differences among the Churches of God are insignificant, this author believes that the lack of gospel proclaiming fruits should be a major concern to any who once believed they were part of the Philadelphia portion of the Church of God.

If you have read this far you are probably a current or former member of one of the Churches of God and may be interested in reading this warning article which was also published in The Journal, Laodicean Warning for God's People.

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Thiel B., Ph.D. Church of God, an International Community. www.cogwriter.com (c) 2006/ 2007 /2008 / 2009 / 2011 / 2012/2013/2014 0722