A church, born again

014 reborn a churchFor the past fifteen years, the Holy Spirit has blessed the Worldwide Church of God with unprecedented growth in doctrinal understanding and sensitivity to the world around us, especially to other Christians. But the scale and speed of the changes since the death of our founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, has amazed both supporters and opponents. It pays to pause to look at what we lost and what we gained.

Our beliefs and practices, under the direction of our Pastor General Joseph W. Tkach (my father), who succeeded Mr. Armstrong in office, were subjected to a continuous process of review. Before my father died, he chose me as his successor.

I'm grateful for the team-oriented leadership style my father introduced. I am also grateful for the unity among those who stood by him and who continue to support me while we submit to the authority of the Scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Gone are our obsessions with a legalistic interpretation of the Old Testament, our belief that Britain and the US are descendants of the people of Israel ("British Israelism"), and our insistence that our faith community has an exclusive relationship with God. Gone are our condemnations of medical science, the use of cosmetics and traditional Christian holidays such as Easter and Christmas. Discarded was our long-lasting view that God is a "family" of innumerable "spirits" into which humans can be born, replaced by a biblically accurate view of a God who has existed for ages in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

We now embrace and champion the central theme of the New Testament: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus' redemptive work for humanity is now the focus of our main publication, The Plain Truth, rather than prophetic end-time speculation. We proclaim the full contentment of the vicarious sacrifice of our Lord to save us from the death penalty for sin. We teach salvation through grace, based solely on faith, without resorting to works of any kind. We understand that our Christian works form our inspired, grateful response to God's work for us - "We love because He first loved us" ( 1, Joh. 4: 19) - and through these works we do not "qualify" for anything, nor do we force God to stand up for us. As William Barclay put it: "We are saved to good works, not good works."

My father articulated to the Church the Scriptural doctrine that Christians are under the New Covenant, not the Old. This teaching has led us to abandon previous requirements - that Christians keep the Sabbath as a "holy time" on the seventh day, that Christians are committed to the annual, the people in 3. and 5. Moses' mandated annual celebrations are that Christians are required to give a threefold tithe, and that Christians should not eat food that was considered "unclean" under the Old Covenant.

All these changes in a period of only ten years? Many now inform us that profound course corrections of this magnitude are without any historical parallel, at least since the days of the New Testament Church.

The leadership and faithful members of the Worldwide Church of God are deeply grateful for God's grace through which we were led into the light. But our progress was not without costs. Income has fallen dramatically, we've lost millions of dollars and been forced to lay off hundreds of long-time employees. The number of members decreased. Several factions left us to return to some previous doctrinaire or cultural position. As a result, families split up and friendships were given up, sometimes with angry, hurt feelings and allegations. We are deeply saddened and pray that God will give healing and reconciliation.

Members were not required to have a personal creed on our new beliefs, nor were members expected to automatically accept our new beliefs. We have emphasized the need for personal faith in Jesus Christ, and we have instructed our pastors to be patient with members, to understand their difficulties, to grasp and accept doctrinal and administrative changes.

Despite the material losses we have gained a lot. As Paul wrote, whatever has been a benefit to us in what we have previously represented, we now consider it to be for the sake of Christ's sake. We find encouragement and comfort by "recognizing Christ and the power of his resurrection and the communion of his sufferings, and thus become conformed to his death and come to the dead for the resurrection (Phil. 3,7-11).

We are grateful for those fellow Christians - Hank Hanegraaff, Ruth Tucker, David Neff, William G. Brafford, and friends at Pazusa Pacific University, Fuller Theological Seminary, Regent College, and others - who have extended the hand of the community as we sincerely strive to follow Jesus Christ in faith. We salute the blessing that we are part of not just a small, exclusive phyisical organization, but the Body of Christ, the fellowship that is the Church of God, and that we can do all we can to help the gospel of Jesus Christ to share with the whole world.

My father Joseph W. Tkach has himself submitted to the truth of Scripture. In the face of opposition, he insisted that Jesus Christ is the Lord. He was a humble and faithful servant of Jesus Christ, allowing God to lead him and the Worldwide Church of God to the riches of his grace. By relying on God in faith and fervent prayer, we fully intend to maintain the course on which Jesus Christ has placed us.

by Joseph Tkack