The Church of God, International (CGI) was initially founded by Garner Ted Armstrong (GTA) after he was disfellowshipped from the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) in 1978. Afterwards GTA resigned from CGI in December of 1997 and shortly thereafter founded the Intercontinental Church of God (ICG). After his death, his son Mark Armstrong became the leader of ICG. This article will primarily discuss teachings of ICG that differ from those that WCG taught as of January 1986.
Before getting into teachings, some additional background information may be helpful. It has been reported concerning Garner Ted Armstrong and the old WCG under his father (Herbert W. Armstrong) that:
Garner Ted was suspended from the church more than once during the 1970s for his sexual improprieties and later disfellowshiped for attempting to overthrow his father (Flurry S. Philadelphia Trumpet. October 2007, p.30).
It is my understanding that GTA and his supporters felt that there were a lot of problems at WCG in the 1970s and that GTA was on the correct side of the argument. Those who remained faithful to WCG apparently felt that GTA had been properly disfellowshiped for problems, including alleged sexual improprieties and rebellion. Approximately 2 decades later, GTA was involved in a publicly reported sexually-related scandal, and many left CGI to found the Church of God Outreach Ministries (COGOM) (Ron Dart, a high level CGI official, also left to found the Christian Educational Ministries, CEM). There were many who felt that GTA may have been falsely accused, and they remained in CGI. However, after reviewing a variety of evidence (including possibly a videotape), CGI's remaining leadership apparently felt it had no choice but to disassociate itself from GTA's leadership. GTA then left and founded the Garner Ted Armstrong Evangelistic Association and the Intercontinental Church of God.
ICG teaches many of the same doctrines as the other COGs. ICG does have beliefs that differ from those who were once part of WCG do. This article will attempt to document some of them. Since GTA wrote some positions while in CGI, some quotes from articles he wrote under CGI are included.
For example, here is some of what ICG states about GTA's earlier writings,
"Since the leadership of the Worldwide Church of God repudiated the entire STP, required that all ministers turn in their copies, and presumably. destroyed them, taking the document out of circulation, it was understood the Worldwide Church of God had relinquished all claims to the material. By unanimous decision of the Board of Trustees of the Church of God, International, and by unanimous approval of the Ministerial Council, the Systematic Theology Project was adopted as the official "statement of belief and practice" by the Church of God, International. The Ministerial Council unanimously agreed the STP was the "starting point" for all future doctrinal discussions and papers. It remains in a loose-leaf form. It remains an 'incomplete document. It is an ongoing project. However, in its present form, it represents the most comprehensive statement of doctrines and practices of the Church of God, International, to be found outside Holy Writ. Although Garner Ted Armstrong separated from the Church of God, International in the winter of 1997/98, the STP remained a work-in-progress and so followed him to the Intercontinental Church of God. Now, with the initial establishment of the more formalized systematic theology, certain fundamental difficulties arise as by-products of the process. First is simply the "look" of apparent perfection and permanence. Only the Bible itself claim total inspiration, and any systematic theology must be at least somewhat arbitrary and artificial" (1. PRIMARY DOCTRINES ORGANIZATION AND PURPOSE http://www.intercontinentalcog.org/Directory/stp1.htm 2/26/03).
Although the COGs which remain faithful to the teachings of WCG prior to the apostasy teach against celebrating birthdays, ICG does not,
"The Church of God, likewise, has no specific statement of doctrine concerning the common custom of the celebration or the observance of birthdays...In all of our memories, it is safe to say that some birthday observances have retained special meaning: perhaps it was a particular plateau of life at which a certain achievement or accomplishment may have been on the horizon, such as entering into teenage or reaching the age of legal responsibility. Of course, these national or personal holidays should never overshadow the observance of God's holy days" (25. THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINAL STATEMENT http://www.intercontinentalcog.org/Directory/stp24.htm 2/26/03).
An article of related interest may be Did Early Christians Celebrate Birthdays?
Unlike most COGs, ICG teaches,
"Another area of civic concern is that of holding public office and serving on juries. The church in no way prohibits its members from such activities, and indeed the community would be well served by having true Christians fulfilling these functions. There are cautions here; Christians may find making certain judgments and rendering specific decisions difficult, because the laws of God can conflict with the laws of men, and their primary responsibility must be, to the former" (27. THE CHRISTIAN RELATIONSHIP WITH FELLOW MAN 6/20/99 http://www.intercontinentalcog.org/Directory/stp26.htm 2/26/03).
Unlike most COGs, ICG teaches,
"The New Testament no more prohibits voting than it does paying taxes. The church does not attempt to legislate in the matter of voter registration or voting in local, regional or national elections" (27. THE CHRISTIAN RELATIONSHIP WITH FELLOW MAN 6/20/99 http://www.intercontinentalcog.org/Directory/stp26.htm 2/26/03).
An article of related interest may be Should a Christian Vote?
Holding Public Office
Unlike most COGs, ICG teaches,
"Another area of civic concern is that of holding public office...Also, one who may serve (or wish to serve) in an elected governmental capacity must not involve himself with unchristian practices commonly associated with politics."(27. THE CHRISTIAN RELATIONSHIP WITH FELLOW MAN 6/20/99 http://www.intercontinentalcog.org/Directory/stp26.htm 2/26/03)
ICG, like CGI, and some other groups, does not teach the really teach the doctrine of third tithe.
"Every third year (that is, the third and sixth years out of a seven year cycle) a tithe of plant produce was set aside for the poor. It is not clear from the Hebrew whether this was designed to be another use for the second tithe or whether it was a totally new tithe in addition to the second. One tradition of interpretation in later Judaism indeed envisioned two separate tithes from Deuteronomy 14, making three in all when the tithe to the Levites is counted. However, most later sources, in discussing the question, see only two uses of the same tithe. That is, it was saved to meet festival expenses in the first, second, fourth and fifth years of a sabbatical cycle, whereas in the third and sixth years it was given to the poor. (In the seventh year the land rested and no tithes were paid. Presumably, the produce of four years was sufficient to meet the festival expenses for the full seven years.) In any event there are three distinct uses for tithes in the Bible: supporting the Work of God, attending the festivals of God, and caring for the poor. ...In the light of varying laws regarding welfare, Social Security, national health programs, etc., which can be considered a part of our assistance to the poor since they are supported by our tax dollars, there is considerable latitude in the interpretation and implementation of this special "poor tithe." Consequently a person can decide on his own what percentage of his income he shall give to help the poor according as he is able and as God has blessed him. Of course, it is meaningless for those receiving assistance from the Church or government to try to aid others until they are financially sound themselves...In summary, it is the policy of the Church to continue the tradition of the biblical "poor tithe" to take care of its needy, with whatever modifications are necessary to adapt it to our present economy. The Church has the God-given responsibility to make such decisions based on biblical directives and principles, and the individual member has a similar responsibility to determine what his proper contribution should be" (23. TITHING AND GIVING 6/20/99 http://www.intercontinentalcog.org/Directory/stp23.htm 2/26/03)
In an interview with this writer, CGI stated,
"Garner Ted Armstrong rejected third tithe by the mid 1980s. But there is a principle to support the poor, which we feel we meet through the Social Security system, etc. We also provide for some assistance from the Church as we deem appropriate". (Stinson, Vance. CGI HQ, Telephone interview, 3/27/01).
Are the anti-3rd tithe positions correct? Here is a link to the article titled Is Third Tithe Still Valid Today? which addresses biblical and historical aspects of third tithe.
WCG, prior to the apostasy, taught that the prophecies of the Churches in Revelation 2 and 3 regard successive eras of the Church throughout its history. ICG does not teach that.
"It is assumed each one of the seven churches which existed contemporaneously in Asia Minor in the first and second centuries portrays a special "era," or "phase," from the first century to the end of this modern age. Without identifying each, and its supposed "age" in history, it becomes instantly obvious, on the face of this theory, that the Ephesian "era" was that of the apostles, and that the "Laodicean era" is the last. But wait! Those who believe the "Laodicean church" is comprised of those "lukewarm" members of God's true church also believe that the "Laodicean church" is more like an "attitude" in the hearts and minds of perhaps 50 percent of those WITHIN another church era. That "era," they say, is "Philadelphia." This church era is called "the church of brotherly love." That this connotation is completely unscriptural is lost on many. While it is true that the Greek word philadelphia means "brotherly love," there is nothing which leads us to apply the meaning of the Greek names of all of the churches to each "era" (so-called) which they identify. Smyrna, Thyatira, Pergamos and Laodicea are merely names" (Armstrong GT. Where is Your "Place of Safety"? ICG Booklet).
I will attempt to address the last statement. Laodicea means "people decide" or "justice of the people" and appears to be characteristic of that era. Pergamos means "fortified" or "height" or "elevation" and since it dwelled where Satan's throne was (Revelation 3:13), the Pergamos era needed to be fortified. Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna, and also the first human leader of that era--Smyrna means "strengthened" or "myrrh" and Smyrna was strengthened by Jesus' comments (Revelation 3:9-10). Ephesus means "desired" and the apostolic age certainly in many ways was/is desired. Sardis may mean "prince of joy", but more likely the origin of the term is unknown--hence it has a name that is alive, but the meaning is dead (Revelation 3:2). Thyatira means "a perfume" or "sacrifice of labor"--the Thyatira era labored and sacrificed by translating scriptures and being persecuted regularly. (Sources: Strong's Exhaustive Concordance or Hitchcock's Bible Names Dictionary).
ICG also teaches,
"What about the concept of "church eras"? Did God foreordain that His church would pass through specific, different "eras," or "phases," down through history each "era," or "phase," of His church having distinctive characteristics, strengths and/or weaknesses which would clearly identify that particular era?...But are we to understand that each of these seven contemporaneous churches represented a completely separate, different "era" or "phase" through which God's true church would pass from the time of the apostles until the final remnant spoken of in Revelation 12? There are some grave difficulties with this view" (Armstrong GT. Where is Your "Place of Safety"? ICG Booklet).
An article of related interest may be The Churches of Revelation 2 & 3 which discusses "Church eras".
Place of Safety
WCG used to teach about going to a place of safety (the Philadelphia remnant still does. The article titled Laodicean Warning for God's People discusses this subject). ICG teaches against that concept.
GTA has taught,
"During many, many years it was supposed that those who are taken to a "place of safety" are those who are WORTHY (Luke 21:36), while those who are left behind are obviously UNWORTHY, and must suffer the pangs of torment, torture and martyrdom in order to cleanse and purify there minds and hearts through physical torture...Is THIS SCENARIO TRUE? First, take a look at what this doctrine presupposes. It assumes that at least THREE of the so-called "eras" are extant now!...Fot years, many ministers have taught FALSELY that the Almighty God will use physical punishment; the GREAT TRIBULATION, martyrdomand torture before death as the final means of expiating guilt; the final manner in which God will cleanse unrighteousness, and bring about brokenhearted REPENTANCE in recalcitrant, unyielding or "Laodicean" (lukewarm) people!...IF God has determined you are one He must supernaturally PROTECT from the terrible times ahead--and He knows your strengths and weaknesses--THEN HE WILL PROTECT YOU! It does NOT MATTER HOW OR WHERE! (Armstrong, Garner Ted. Where is Your "Place of Safety". CGI Booklet, 1985, pp.3,5,11--ICG now publishes a similar booklet).
An article of related interest may be There is a Place of Safety for the Philadelphians. Why it May Be Petra .
King of the South
ICG sometimes seems to think that the future King of the South may be Iran.
Mark Armstrong taught:
Even the UN’s IAEA worries in public that Iran is concealing the military ambitions of their nuclear program. There are further reports that Iranian bases involved in training and supplying insurgents in Iraq may soon come under U.S. attack. What should we make of all the talk of war? Is Iran the “King of the South” of Bible prophecy? Would military conflict with Iran by either the United States or Israel signal the beginning of “tribulation”? As many advances as we’ve seen in the overall scenario, it seems that there are major portions of the equation that are simply not yet in place (Weekly update. 6/06/08).
However, I should probably add here that the Iranians are Persian, and not Arabic. They primarily speak Farsi, which is not an Arabic language. While the Iranians tend to be strict Moslems/Muslims, they are NOT Arabs ethnically, but could provide some support to the King of the South--but Iran will not be the King of the South.
An article of related interest may be Is There A Future King of the South?
Since the death of GTA, Mark Armstrong has put together clips of his father with clips and commentary on current news events. It is on a few commercial stations, but mainly on public access stations as of 11/02/2013.
ICG has an internet presence.
Here is something it reported about it:
Visitors to the EA web site
Regarding the EA web site [ www.garnertedarmstrong.org ], we have been continuously up and running since 13 March 1998 [5,672 days] and have had a total of 5,231,881 visitors. This makes for an average of 916 visitors a day for the life of the site. (ICG Weekly Update email, 11/01/2013).
To put that in perspective, the www.cogwriter.com website of the Continuing Church of God averages over 5,000 visits per day. Furthermore, it appears, that based up its current Alexa ranking, garnertedarmstrong.org, is doing worse than its average.
Alexa is an independent internet source that looks at the overall popularity of websites based upon factors such as number of visits, repeat visits, amount of time spent at a website, amount of links clicked at the site, etc. Though some prefer not to believe its results, notice the following review of Alexa ratings:
Alexa Rank Checker is one of the most accurate and freely available tools to find out how well your site ranks up against millions of other sites on the Web. http://www.seomastering.com/alexa-rank-checker.php viewed 10/31/13
The lower the number of an Alexa rating the greater the impact. For example, google.com has an Alexa ranking of 1, meaning it is the most popular website in the world, and facebook.com has an Alexa ranking of 2, meaning that it is the second most popular website in the world according to Alexa (number 3 is YouTube.com). Lower ranking numbers are better than higher ones.
As of 11/02/13, the Alexa ranking of garnertedarmstrong.org is 1,655,055, which is not very good--this suggests a current (past thre months) daily reach about 1/4-1/2 of the average that ICG reported. This compares with an Alexa ranking of 652,030 for Continuing Church of God's ccog.org website and 157,471 for its cogwriter.com website.
ICG is not very popular on the internet.
There are probably a lot of relatively minor doctrinal points where ICG differs from the old WCG. However since I do not listen to ICG sermons, it is difficult to document many of those differences. I do, regularly, read ICG's weekly update, and usually its focus is to go over world news events.
Although it has been reported that "The doctrinal differences among the Churches of God are miniscule. You can't get a knifes edge between us on doctrines" (Dart, Ron. CEM Founder Talks About Bickering, Bridges, the Future. The Journal. July 31, 1999. p.6), this author does not believe that one can examine the teachings of groups, such as ICG, and come to that conclusion (nor apparently would Herbert Armstrong, for proof please check out some quotes from HWA on holding fast to doctrine). Here is a related article of possible interest: What is a True Philadelphian?
While I agree with Mark Armstrong's priority of trying to proclaim the gospel publicly, I believe that the improper understanding that ICG has on many matters prophetic (Church eras, place of safety, King of the South, etc.) will ultimately have devastating consequences for those who support ICG instead of the Phildelphia remnant.
Laodicean Warning for God's People 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.
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