Worldwide Church of God

A religious movement originally known for its unique doctrines and observance of Old Testament practices, undergoing significant theological shifts post-1995.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Armstrongism
Founder: Herbert W. Armstrong
Founded: 1934
Ended: 1995 (underwent significant changes and reformation)
Location: United States (originally Oregon, later moved to California)
Other Names: Grace Communion International (after reformation in 1995)

The Worldwide Church of God (WCG), initially established as the Radio Church of God in 1933 by Herbert W. Armstrong, is an Adventist church that has undergone significant theological and organizational changes since its inception. Armstrong, an American newspaper advertising designer, was a pivotal figure in the church’s history, influencing its doctrines and practices until his death in 1986. The church, known for its non-Trinitarian theology, Saturday worship services, and the belief in the imminent return of Jesus Christ, has roots in Armstrong’s study of the Bible, which led him to adopt and preach distinctive beliefs such as the observance of Jewish holy days, festivals, dietary restrictions, and British Israelism—the notion that Anglo-Saxon peoples are the descendants of the biblical Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

In 1947, Armstrong relocated the church’s headquarters to Pasadena, California, renaming it the Worldwide Church of God. The church’s teachings under Armstrong included a rejection of traditional Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter, viewing them as pagan, and a strict adherence to tithing, with members expected to contribute significant portions of their income to the church. The WCG also advocated for members to avoid voting, military service, and remarrying after divorce, reflecting Armstrong’s unique interpretation of Christian doctrine.

The 1970s brought internal conflicts and public scrutiny to the WCG, including accusations of financial mismanagement and doctrinal disputes, particularly concerning divorce and remarriage. The period also saw the departure of Garner Ted Armstrong, Herbert’s son, who was implicated in scandals and subsequently founded his own church. These challenges culminated in a temporary state takeover of the church’s operations.

After Herbert W. Armstrong’s death, Joseph Tkach succeeded him, initiating a period of profound doctrinal shifts. Under Tkach’s leadership, the WCG began to abandon many of Armstrong’s controversial teachings, moving towards mainstream evangelical Protestant beliefs, including the acceptance of the Trinity and renunciation of Old Testament ordinances. This transformation led to the WCG’s admittance into the National Association of Evangelicals in 1997, marking its transition from a fringe group to a recognized part of the evangelical community.

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