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.