I occasionally get an email about “where should I attend?” To be honest, that’s perhaps the one question I’m most hesitant to answer. I don’t know your spiritual condition, and I cannot vouch for the spiritual condition of every organization and its congregations out there. You are far more likely to get the answer of where not to attend.
Having said that, perhaps a brief survey of some of the more well-known (I’m not seeking to list all 300 or 400 out there) is in order. Again, that’s “brief”, as in I haven’t sat down with one of their members and grilled them on anything. Most of this is either inferred (GTA’s groups) or readily available on the web.
Philadelphia Church of God
Let’s get the big nasties out of the way first.
My advice: Just say "No”.
Church of God – Preparing for the Kingdom of God
Ronald Weinland’s group. I cannot think of a single valid reason to listen to a verifiable false prophet.
United Church of God, an International Association
Well, some people who are emailing me because they are concerned about what is going on there. While those concerns are nothing to sneeze at, there are those in attendance who really do want to glorify God and hold fast to core beliefs.
Most of the ways that UCG differs from other groups is that it is less strict. In all honesty, UCG is less concerned about the physical. WCG had an on-again-off-again view of makeup (I won’t apologize for that bad pun, either). While modesty is still taught, there aren’t the dress codes that once existed.
UCG is obviously different in how it governs itself. Most COG groups have a “one-man” rule. Some even make it a doctrine. I leave it to you to decide if this is really important enough to prevent you from attending or not. However, what’s more disconcerting is that it seems that some within UCG don’t want to follow the pattern originally set down for governance.
A couple of their study papers make a muddle out of some points, though. For instance, “The Last Great Day” always referred to the 8th day after the Feast of Tabernacles. However, the study paper claims that the phrase might have referred to the 7th day instead. Whatever. Since the 8th day isn’t given a name in Scripture, it doesn’t seem all that important to me.
One area of concern, though, is that “born again” is more open to interpretation. In spite of the view that the doctrine is clarified by the study paper on it, it actually looks more like mud. HWA’s teaching on it was much much clearer.
Faithful Church of God in Laodicea
- HWA did an important work. However, Jesus Christ is the Elijah to come, making room for God the Father.
- Observes new moons? Not clear.
- Does not follow the Jewish calendar.
Church of God in Wales
Doesn’t have a list of beliefs, but rather a long list of articles and sermons by HWA.
Church of God (Seventh Day)
As the precursor to the RCG/WCG, there are naturally a number of differences:
- No belief in British-Israelism.
- Don’t keep holy days.
- Unspecified beliefs about how God the Father and Jesus the Son are “one”.
- Belief in 2 resurrections.
Intercontinental Church of God
Most of the doctrinal material was written by GTA. Although not to the extent that some have out and out venerated HWA, ICG still holds on to what GTA teaches from what I can tell. Many of these differences are inferred, as I could find no direct statement on some of them:
- No Place of Safety. Rather, you are protected “in place” during the Tribulation.
- Use of cosmetics is allowed.
- Disfellowshipping may occur locally, but that person normally has the right to attend at another congregation.
- Shunning (non-contact outside of services, in other words) is not a recognized tool.
Church of God International
CGI was also founded by GTA, so the Statement of Beliefs sound very familiar. I assume they are pretty much the same, although I’m a lot less certain about the disfellowshipping policy. Unlike many other groups, CGI has no booklets that can be downloaded. However, Prevail and some of their periodicals can be read online.
While I’m not sure which is larger, I believe CGI is larger than ICG. I have been impressed by the favorable press CGI receives in The Journal in reference to their work in Jamaica. I also know of one couple who visited a local CGI congregation, and they were treated quite well.
Church of the Great God
Started by John Ritenbaugh in 1992, this is a group I don’t know much about. However, they do have a worldwide presence with congregations in South Africa, Philippines, Australia and other places. Two items on their website stand out: They do “not proselytize the membership of other groups”, and they don’t “ride Herbert Armstrong’s coattails”.
The emphasis of the organization is to feed the flock. There appears to be a de-emphasizing of preaching the Gospel as a result (which I should note is different than not preaching the Gospel). The attraction, however, is their witness is to be their love for one another.
Church of God’s Faithful
Apparently, a spin-off of PCG, and just as strange. They apparently believe themselves to be the only true church and all others are the “synagogue of Satan” (their words). Apparently, they believe Gerald Flurry had changed and introduced error, and so they were raised up to warn him. They also state they have “tremendous NEW TRUTH”, which is another scary concept.
Church of God Faithful Flock
Basically, another HWA shrine. Definitely old school. No makeup. Older booklets on healing.
Living Church of God
No sense in repeating what’s already written. While certainly skewed in many places, COGWriter Dr Robert Thiel has already written an article titled “Some of the Differences between the Living Church of God and the United Church of God”. It is questionable why some of them would be listed as “doctrinal” differences at all. While a small few of their stated beliefs are based more upon tradition than the Bible, the honest fact is that you could do far worse in the COG universe.
The Restored Church of God
Well, if LCG isn’t strict enough for you and you’re looking for an end-time apostle, then perhaps David C Pack’s RCG is right for you. Of course, you might have to sell your home and possessions and give them to “the work”. Then, there are those 3 hour sermons.
Bethel Church of God
Well, it appears it is only in Oregon, which is a bit of a bummer if you live nowhere near there. A lot of their material is in MP3 format, which means no quick skimming.
Having said that, it appears that this group may have actually come out of WCG in 1974 after the change of Pentecost from Monday to Sunday. In fact, this change is blamed for the ensuing doctrinal changes that followed. A bit of a stretch, if you ask me.
Soon after Pentecost was the divorce and remarriage change. BCG rejects this as well.
I presume they may cling to other of the older doctrines as well. They have an article on “What Has Liberalism Done To The Church of God?” which states:
Far more than realized, the Church of God was adversely affected by liberal thought beginning in the early 1970′s. This became apparent in the college when authorities there began to seek accreditation….
In all honesty, it took me some time to digest what happened in the 1990s. I wasn’t around then, and perhaps that was a good thing. In the end, though, only a handful of organizations ended up on the short list.
UCG has a lot of good lit but as you point out with the with born again paper "One area of concern, though, is that “born again” is more open to interpretation." that paper starts off with a clear statement and seems to spend much of the rest of the paper making it less clear.
Unfortunately there are a few other papers like that. It appears to be an exercise in trying to please different points of view or a paper written by committee. Do we believe in eras or not, marrying outside the church, as you pointed out the Last Great Day. I know what the Bible tells me on these but ucg seems to waffle.
The old UCG lit was fantastic in that it got straight to the point whereas the present ucg lit attempts to be more scholarly with a lot of discussion of greek and stuff. There's a place for that but I think it loses a lot of people.
As I've contemplated the likely post UCG breakup world I'm looking to see who is holding fast to the truth and who is doing or in a position to do a work.
As you show in your survey many of those groups are niche cogs not in a position to do any kind of work or have some bizzare doctrinal twists.
I see only LCG as the only other viable alternative right now although something could come out of UCG. Dave Pack's group fails to make the list for a number of reasons including a lack of openness about membership and finances.
Why didn't you mention the Christian Biblical Church of God? Mr.Coulter has some wonderful sermons,books,websites,etc.
If you are going to mention "faithful flock" you should also mention COG-eim which they split off from. Small (around 130 members), but stable leadership, and doctrinal stance is old WCG sans the make-up or Elijah issues.
I wanted to comment on Living, as many see it as a viable option. I attended there and I went through the Global/Living split (I went with Living). Please be aware that Living may be one of the larger places, but they have issues as well. Most people in UCG are concerned (if they know about anything at all) about the Sabbath issue with the Latin American brethren.
Living allowed a minister's son-in-law to work four weeks on the Sabbath and when some in the congregation got upset, they were put out. They claimed it was for emergency life and death stuff, but it was really one year after Katrina and others could have done the work.
You see, Living backs up its ministers regardless of how they treat their flock. There are many other examples and I can give more information including a sermon by Richard Ames that claims the Apostles who wrote the bible didn't know what our time would be like. I guess God who inspired them didn't know either?
My point, don't look at the size of a church, look at their doctrine. Look at their attitude toward each other and from the ministry to the membership. No church out there is perfect, but love and concern goes a long way to making a congregation a place you look forward to spending a Sabbath with rather than trying to find reasons to stay home. And if a place looks too small because they have no congregation in your area, if you start a congregation, have faith that God will bless it.
Remember God doesn't talk about camps, dances, sports (although I miss these myself). These are not reasons to go or not to go to a church. Many people look at size so they can "get" more from a church. WCG started out very small and look how it grew, so size is no induction of ability to do a work either. It can grow.
As far as I can tell, the Christian Biblical Church of God only has one congregation in the US, and it is in California. However, I didn't know it had congregations in New Zealand, Ontario, South Africa, Australia and the UK.
I cannot say much more about them other than what I've read by Fred Coulter from time to time.
I think I used to have a link to COG-eim a long time ago in my links section at the bottom, but they moved websites or something, so I assumed they were no more. It looks like they now have a site at http://www.cog-eim.org. For locations, they state: "We have congregations meeting in Modesto and Fresno, California and Locust Grove and Tulsa, Oklahoma."
No doubt you will be bombarded with comments, "why didn't you mention such-and-such church?", and since there are probably more than a hundred, it is understandable why you cannot include everyone.
But I cannot help but mention that a leader who contributed a lot to building the present UCG organization in 1995, David Hulme, now leads a group called, "Church of God, an International Community", and that the last large split in UCG was when he and his supporters left in 1998.
I would be interested in your views on that group.
I realize all cog's have some issues or other which is one reason I've stayed with UCG over the years. None are perfect but to some extent, size indeed does matter, if you believe an important aspect of the church is to be preaching the gospel(I do).
We can argue about what if any kind of impact LCG or UCG is having but at least they are both trying, even RCG for that matter.
The others are either so compromised doctrinally or are so small that they are not viable alternatives.
An organization that has just a few groups of people who preach to each other is of no interest to me.
@firstname.lastname@example.org: What can I say? Their website says very little — too little. However, http://7thday.web.officelive.com/david_hulme.aspx explains why much better than I can.
John – I know a few members in Hulme's group – and the stuff you found on the link does not jive with what I see with them.
@Anonymous: Well, I'm at a disadvantage then. I can only report what I know, and their website has only an entrance page and a login.
Frankly, that alone is enough to make me want to stay away. If it isn't open and transparent, then is it a cult? Maybe not, but it doesn't look like what I see in the NT as the model for the Church.
John, FWIW–"Church of the Great God"–to those who do not yet know–
They teach keeping Pentecost a week late when Passover falls on Sabbath–they were at one point against preaching the Gospel period–the cliam was that HWA did it and no one else should–another point is that they teach that true Christians are already born again now–I got that one straight from the "horses mouth" (no offense intended) and a few years ago when I recieved the "Forerunner" there were articles that very strongly indicated that the USA was the beast—just thought your readers might be interested. I talked to an individual at the FoT a few years ago that had just left there and some of these same details were verified–as some of their teaching. Appearently JR does a lot of "shouting" at the members about some things.
Regarding COGaic (David Hulme), as I recall before they went completely private, I read an online announcement from Mr. Hulme in one of their sites that no COGaic minister is to marry a member of that Church to a member of any other COG, but that if the COGaic member wanted to go contrary to scripture he could be married by a non-COGaic minister, or words to that effect. In a COGaic sermon I listened to, I remember hearing the speaker (I don't remember his name) say words to the effect, if you think God is working anywhere else, you are causing division. However it was worded, it came across to me that the speaker was saying that if you just sit quietly in a COGaic congregation but are thinking that God may be working through more than just David Hulme, you are causing division!
I think the pattern seems to be that Mr. Hulme teaches his members to primarily identify with the group he leads, COGaic, as THE Church, not just part of it, rather than identify with the whole Church of God.
Regarding your comment Dec 1 about Christian Biblical COG only having one congregation in the U.S… that is incorrect. There are many, and are generally referred to as "fellowship groups". Only a couple have chosen to advertise on the CBCG site. We started out as independent fellowships, and many still are.There are also several FOT sites here in the U.S. We have grown slow but sure all these years.
Another newer group is Pacific Church of God. They are in a similar situation we were in 15 years ago, having come out of another controlling ministry. Their sermons are basic, but I feel that is because they are in that healing phase. Their focus is on putting Christ first rather than an organization or a man. They've been burned and learned their lesson too. They have several speakers. All decent messages. They have independent satelite church 'fellowship' groups and feast sites, as well as supporting members from overseas. I find their sermons refreshing as well. http://www.pacificcog.org You can order DVD's as well as CD's of their sermon archives. You can also get on the mailing list for the current DVD's. They include the entire service: sermonette, announcements, prayer list, songs, sermon. Very good for stay-at-home members, or anyone.
You can also get on CBCG mailing list and will receive Mp-3 loaded with the current sermons – sermons only.
Looks to me like God is waking up the people. He wants us to focus on Jesus Christ, not a corporate organization and not a man or group of men who believe they have to have control through any type of hierarchy. Even UCG is a hierarchy. Crunch time is coming and we need to have our focus on Jesus Christ, not on church organizational problems that exist simply to keep us as far away from God as possible.
The most important thing I learned from Fred is that WE, each and every one of us, the "called-out" ones, is THE WORK of God. All the COG's are trying to do A work FOR God – calling it "God's work". No, God's work is us – through the personal relationship we each have with the Father and Jesus our Savior and how submissive we are to the leading of His Spirit in and through our lives. That is THE WORK OF GOD in it's simplicity. We are not saved by a corporate organization calling itself a church. We are saved by Jesus Christ. We can support the Gospel efforts of a corporate organization, but it does not own us – God does. He bought us with the blood of His Son for our sins.
God wants us to be strong, yet our greatest strength is relying on Him as opposed to relying on our own carnality. He wants us to be able to think and make choices for ourselves based on His scriptures (book of instruction for life). He wants us to have righteous discernment (wisdom) so we can see the difference between what IS right, and what may look right but may be wrong, cleverly disguised. He wants us to judge righteous judgment, not after our own carnal minds, but rather after the heart and mind of Jesus Christ created in us. He wants us to care about those who are less fortunate than others. We are to remember that what we think, say, or do to another, we do to our Savior because He dwells in us. We also need to remember that the battle belongs to Him.
This is all very interesting. But if you don't belong to a church — who are you keeping the Feasts with and the Holy Days? Wasn't meant to be kept alone.
This seems to be a time when Prophesy is really stepping up. The churches are scattered for sure!
I've heard several negative comments about Living as well.
UCG isn't perfect but will the ones that are leaving be any stabler? Only a matter of time when someone will get dissatisfied again and break off into another group!
The ministers that left blame the current president for all the problems and it started LONG before he even was asked to step in under the heat.
@Anonymous: And, you can read the fasting paper and proclaim that the present administration doesn't blamer the former for all its difficulties?
I haven't seen too many advocating keeping the Feasts and Sabbaths alone, either — especially in this thread.