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Grace Communion International

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Grace Communion International (GCI), formerly the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), is an evangelical Christian denomination based in Glendora, California, United States.

Founded in 1934 by Herbert W. Armstrong as a religious broadcasting radio ministry named Radio Church of God, the Worldwide Church of God had a significant, and often controversial, influence on 20th century religious broadcasting and publishing in the United States and Europe, especially in the field of interpreting biblical end-time prophecies. Within a few years after Armstrong's death in 1986, the succeeding church administration modified the denomination's doctrines and teachings to be compatible with mainstream evangelical Christianity, while several members and minister left and formed other churches that conformed to most, if not all, of Armstrong's teachings. In 2009, the church adopted its current name.[1]

The GCI is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals and, as of April 2009, has 42,000 members in 900 congregations in about 90 countries.[2]




The Radio Church of God began with Herbert W. Armstrong, who in 1931 was ordained by the Oregon Conference of the Church of God (Seventh-Day), an Adventist group, and began serving a congregation in Eugene, Oregon. On January 7, 1934, Armstrong began hosting a broadcasting on a local 100-watt radio station KORE in Eugene. It was essentially a condensed church service on the air, with hymn singing featured along with Armstrong's message, and was the launching point for what would become the Radio Church of God. In 1933, the Church of God (Seventh-Day) split. Armstrong, who sided with the faction centred in Salem, West Virginia, fell out with the local congregation over various doctrinal issues, especially his espousal of British Israelism.

Though his views were rejected by the local congregation, he gained a growing following of his own, chiefly through his World Tomorrow broadcasts and the Plain Truth magazine. Armstrong moved to Pasadena, California. To facilitate the work of the growing church, he incorporated it on March 3, 1946, as the Radio Church of God. In 1947, Ambassador College was founded in Pasadena by the church, and the campus served as the church's headquarters.

The broadcast of The World Tomorrow went into Europe on Radio Luxembourg on January 7, 1953. In 1956, he published the booklet 1975 in Prophecy!, which predicted an upcoming nuclear war and subsequent enslavement of mankind, leading to the return of Jesus Christ. Armstrong explained that the book was written to contrast the spiritual condition of the world to the modern inventions that Scientists were promising for the year 1975. Armstrong himself did not put a date to Christ's return, though some in the ministry began to teach that Christ would return in 1975.

The church grew quickly in the late 1960s and, on January 5, 1968, was renamed to Worldwide Church of God.[3][4]

1956, Armstrong met Stanley Rader at Ambassador college. Rader stated that he was employed to sort the church's accounts, which he claimed had become disorganized. Armstrong reportedly was so impressed with Rader's work that, under his encouragement and patronage, Rader furthered his education by going to law school. Rader then graduated as valedictorian of his 1963 law school class at the University of Southern California Law School. Rader continued this relationship as special legal and financial advisor to Ambassador College and the Worldwide Church of God, working for them in a full-time capacity by 1969.

Armstrong's son, Garner Ted Armstrong, who had been given the responsibility to host the radio and later the television version of The World Tomorrow, opposed some of his father's teachings and was disfellowshipped by his father, who resumed the broadcasting duties of The World Tomorrow program. The son did not reconcile with his father before his father's death.


In 1970, the first of many groups to splinter from the Worldwide Church of God were founded. Carl O'Beirn of Cleveland, Ohio led what may be the first group, the Church of God (O'Beirn), away from the Worldwide Church of God. Others followed that year, including John Kerley's Top of the Line ministry; the Restoration Church of God; the Church of God (Boise City) in Boise City, Oklahoma; Marvin Faulhaber's Sabbatarian group also known as Church of God (Sabbatarian); and the Fountain of Life Fellowship of James and Virginia Porter.

Ambassador International Cultural Foundation

During the sixties "Armstrong had sought to put into stronger action what he termed God’s 'way of give'".[5] To Armstrong and his students, this was generally said to include "the way of character, generosity, cultural enrichment, true education: of beautifying the environment and caring for fellow man." He began undertaking humanitarian projects, selecting underprivileged pockets around the world, which eventually led to the creation of the church-run Ambassador International Cultural Foundation (AICF) in 1975. The Foundation’s efforts reached into several countries, providing staffing and funds to fight illiteracy, create schools for the disabled, set up mobile schools, and provide funding and staffing for several archaeological digs at biblically significant sites. The auditorium he built for the church hosted, at highly subsidized ticket prices, hundreds of performances by noted artists such as Luciano Pavarotti, Vladimir Horowitz, Bing Crosby, Marcel Marceau, and Bob Hope. [6]

Quest was a periodical that was published monthly by AICF from July 1977 to September 1981. It began life under the working name of Human Potential and was a project directed by Stanley Rader. It was conceived as the secular publication of AICF funded by the church. The publishers hired a professional staff unrelated to the church to create a high quality glossy publication devoted to the humanities, travel and the arts. The original concept name and design of Human Potential began in the aftermath of the failed prophecies of Armstrong as outlined in 1975 in Prophecy!, written by Armstrong and illustrated by Basil Wolverton.

It was because AICF, through its activities such as this publication, seemed to represent the exact opposite of the views and values of its ultimate sponsor that the Worldwide Church was increasingly involved in splits and divisions among its ranks. These defections created dramatic losses in income for the church which in turn undermined the sponsored activities of AICF. Due to falling funds the church began to cut back on its funding of AICF, and because the publication, which was also supported by paid commercial advertising and a subscription price, never became a profitable enterprise, its assets were eventually sold off to other interests.

Scandal and conflict

As 1972 approached it became clear that the events predicted by Herbert Armstrong would not come to pass. While the European Union was an idea in the making, the nations of Europe were far from united, as the union itself was still another 20 years in the future. The Worldwide Church of God, however, experienced several scandals which could arguably be said to have brought Armstrong's second 19-year period to a close.

Garner Ted Armstrong began to lose favor with his father. Garner Ted's conflict with his father was over putting specific dates on end time prophecies. A policy that his father was against and Garner Ted wanted to perpetuate to gain additional members. Garner Ted also spoke of greatly expanding the church's media ministry on the model of the Church of Christ, Scientist with its widely read Christian Science Monitor.

In a report in the May 15, 1972, edition of Time magazine, Herbert Armstrong was reported to have said that Garner Ted was "in the bonds of Satan."[7] The elder Armstrong did not elaborate, but it was speculated that Herbert had to come to grips publicly with Garner Ted's alleged continuing problems with gambling and adultery with Ambassador College coeds. Garner Ted Armstrong was soon relieved of his star role within the church.

While Garner Ted Armstrong was being removed, Stanley Rader had been orchestrating the church's involvement in a number of corporations which Rader established. Critics saw Rader's moves as an attempt to seize control of the church. Rader characterized his involvement as that of an adviser and claimed that his advice was opening doors for Armstrong that a strict theological role would not have allowed for. Herbert Armstrong approved of the establishment of the AICF, which Rader set up ostensibly to give the elder Armstrong a role as the "Ambassador for World Peace without portfolio".

As the church was experiencing internal crises, its external, public face was also crumbling. Church followers had anticipated the removal of church faithful to Petra, Jordan, to await the prophesied apocalypse.

Despite the scandals of 1972, the church continued to grow in the 1970s with Herbert Armstrong still at the helm. In 1975, Armstrong baptized Stanley Rader, who until then had been a practicing Jew in spite of his association with the church. Some[who?] felt that, under Rader's influence, Armstrong began to de-emphasize the Christological aspects of church doctrine, instead preaching a message of peace, brotherly love, and "giving and not getting".[citation needed]

Others[who?] say that this approach was to announce the coming Kingdom of God and mankind's duty to that end.

After being left a widower by the death of his wife, Loma, eleven years earlier, Armstrong married Ramona Martin, a woman nearly fifty years younger, in 1977 and moved to Tucson, Arizona. While Armstrong administered church business through Stanley Rader from his Arizona retreat, the church continued to be headquartered in Pasadena.

With Garner Ted Armstrong resuming his role within the church, the rivalry between the younger Armstrong and Stanley Rader intensified. The adultery problems that reportedly drove Garner Ted from the church before had reportedly continued unabated. In 1978, Garner Ted Armstrong was disfellowshipped a final time. Garner Ted moved to Tyler, Texas, and there founded a splinter group, the Church of God International.

Receivership crisis

Garner Ted Armstrong blamed Stanley Rader for his two-time ouster from his father's church. Garner Ted and other former and discontented members of the Worldwide Church of God prompted the State of California to investigate charges of malfeasance by Rader and others involved with the AICF. By 1979, California Attorney General George Deukmejian had brought civil charges against the church, and the church was placed into an investigative financial receivership for one year.

The group of dissidents also gained the attention of Mike Wallace who investigated the church in a report for 60 Minutes. Using documentary evidence obtained, Wallace brought to light lavish secret expenditures, conflict of interest insider deals, posh homes and lifestyles in the higher ranks, and the heavy involvement of Stanley Rader in financial manipulation.[citation needed]

Wallace invited Rader to appear on 60 Minutes on April 15, 1979. Wallace showed Rader a secret tape recording in which Herbert Armstrong had alleged Rader was attempting to take over the church after Armstrong's death, reasoning that the donated tithe money might be quite a "magnet" to some evangelists. Rader abruptly ended the interview.[8]

Rader, with the approval of Herbert Armstrong, was spending millions to fend off any financial audit or examination of the church's income and expenditures by litigating the issue all the way to the United States Supreme Court, several times, unsuccessfully. Having lost in the courts, Rader lobbied the California legislature to force the California Attorney General to drop the charges against the church and him. Under Rader's lobbying, the California State Legislature passed legislation known as the Petris bill, signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, which changed the applicable law of California so that the Attorney General had no authority over churches in such circumstances.[citation needed]

Rader and Armstrong, then, were relieved of any further concern about civil liability or any outside exposure of their own internal financial dealings as the directors of a California religious corporation. In trying to defend his fight against the investigation, Rader wrote the 1980 self-exculpatory polemic "Against the Gates of Hell: The Threat to Religious Freedom in America" arguing that his legal fight with the Attorney General was more about religious freedoms rather than about abuse of public trust or fraudulent misappropriation of tithe funds.

The church received a minor vindication of its position when, in denying a request for fees by the dissidents' attorney, Hillel Chodos, the Second Court of Appeals over turned the decision on procedural grounds and added as dicta, "We are of the opinion that the underlying action [i.e., the State-imposed receivership] and its attendant provisional remedy of receivership were from the inception constitutionally infirm and predestined to failure."[9]

Stanley Rader left his positions within the church in 1981. While Rader was able to legally, then politically, prevent the investigation of church finances, he could not prevent the collapse of AICF. A lawsuit had been filed against Steven Spielberg and George Lucas alleging that the pair stole the plot for Raiders of the Lost Ark from AICF. When the lawsuit went nowhere, AICF collapsed. Meanwhile, the church was eager to sever its ties from AICF, as the Foundation had been producing works which were not in keeping with church doctrine. Rader left the church leadership amicably, and reportedly received a six figure financial package upon leaving his post.[citation needed]

Armstrong's death of Armstrong and doctrinal changes

On January 16, 1986, Herbert Armstrong died in Pasadena, California. Shortly before his death, Armstrong named Joseph W. Tkach Sr. to succeed him as leader of the church.

As early as 1988, Joseph W. Tkach Sr. began to make doctrinal changes. Doctrinal revisions were made quietly and slowly at first, but then openly and radically in January 1995. They were presented as "new understandings" of Christmas and Easter,[10] Babylon and the harlot,[11] Anglo-Israelism,[12] Saturday Sabbath,[13] and other doctrines.

In general, Tkach Sr. directed the church theology towards mainstream evangelical Christian belief. This caused much disillusionment among the membership and another rise of splinter groups. During the tenure of Joseph Tkach Sr., the church's membership declined by about 50 percent. His son, Joseph Tkach Jr., succeeded him after his death in 1995.

Eventually all of Herbert Armstrong's writings were withdrawn from print by the Worldwide Church of God. In the 2004 video production Called To Be Free, Greg Albrecht, former dean of WCG's Ambassador College, declared Herbert Armstrong to be both a false prophet (though Armstrong himself did not claim to be a prophet) and a heretic.[14]

On April 16, 2009, the Worldwide Church of God announced the official change of name to Grace Communion International. [15]

Beliefs and practices

Current teachings

After Armstrong's death, the church's new leadership began a process of theological revision. As a result, it is now considered within the evangelical mainstream as shown by its acceptance into the National Association of Evangelicals. Its doctrinal summary highlights mainstream Protestant beliefs such as the Trinity, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that faith in him is the only way to receive salvation and the Bible is the inspired and infallible word of God.[16]

Historical teachings under Armstrong

Until Armstrong's death, the Worldwide Church of God adhered to its founder's teachings. The most notable feature was Armstrong's version of British Israelism, which was based on reading the account of Jacob blessing his sons (Genesis 49) as end-time prophecy. Armstrong saw in it a description of national characteristics of contemporary descendants of Jacob, and deduced that the the United States, the British Commonwealth and several countries situated in northwestern Europe were actually the Lost Tribes of Israel. Armstrong held that these countries played a central role in the end times that were about to begin.

Armstrong rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, regarding it as a pagan concept absorbed into mainstream Christianity.[17] Armstrong explained that God was not a closed Trinity but actually building a family through the Holy Spirit, which he considered God's powerful unifying essence and which guides and brings to remembrance those things which Christ taught, but is not a distinct personality like the Father and the Son. Armstrong also taught that members of the church would actually become members of the God family themselves after the resurrection. Armstrong rejected as unbiblical the traditional Christian views of heaven, hell, eternal punishment and salvation.[18]

The church strictly observed Saturday Sabbath, annual festivals described in Leviticus the twenty-third chapter and strongly advocated the clean meats of Leviticus 11. Members were encouraged to tithe, follow a dress code during services and discouraged from marrying outside the church. Armstrong summarized his teachings in his book Mystery of the Ages, published shortly before his death.

Under Armstrong's leadership, the Worldwide Church of God was criticised by many to be theologically a cult with unorthodox and, to most Christians, heretical teachings.[19] Critics also claimed that the WCG did not proclaim salvation by grace through faith alone, but rather required works as part of salvation. The late Walter Martin, in his classic The Kingdom of the Cults, devoted 34 pages to the group, claiming that Armstrong borrowed freely from Seventh-day Adventist, Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormon doctrines. [20]



Grace Communion International has a hierarchical polity. The ecclesiastical policies are determined by the Advisory Council of Elders. Members of the Advisory Council are appointed by the President. The President, who also holds the title of Pastor General, is chief executive and ecclesiastical officer of the denomination. A Doctrinal Advisory Team may report to the Advisory Council on the church's official doctrinal statements, epistemology, or apologetics. The President may pocket veto doctrinal positions he determines to be heretical. However, the President is also a member of the Doctrinal Advisory Team, and so he is aware of and involved in the activities of that committee.[21] Historically, Presidents, as chairmen of the board of directors, have appointed their own successor. This and the President's power to appoint and remove members of the Advisory Council have remained areas of concern even among those who applaud the church's doctrinal changes.

The Church maintains national offices and satellite offices in multiple countries. Pastor General Joseph Tkach, Jr. periodically travels worldwide in personal appearance campaigns to congregations in diverse intercontinental areas, such as Great Britain, Africa, and the Philippines. However, membership and tithe income originates primarily from the eastern United States.

Regional and local

In the United States, denominational contact with local assemblies or local church home small group meetings, i.e., cell churches, is facilitated by district superintendents, each of which is responsible for a large number of churches in a geographical region (such as Florida or the Northeast) or in a specialized language group (such as Spanish-speaking congregations).

Local churches are led by a senior pastor, pastoral leadership team (with one person designated as a congregational pastoral leader), each of which is supervised by a district pastoral leader. Some senior pastors are responsible for a single local church, but many are responsible for working in two or more churches. Salary compensation for the paid local church pastor, if available, is determined by the local church.

Most local church groups retain the long-standing traditional policy of meeting in leased or rented facilities for meetings or services. The trend since 2000, however, has been to adopt a local church setting blending into the local milieu with headquarters retaining administrative oversight functions. As of 2005, the church established a new computer system of financial checks and balances for church budgets at the local level. Also, GCI now mandates a local Advisory Council, which includes a number of volunteer ministry leaders (some of whom are also called deacons), and often additional elders or assistant pastors.


The early Worldwide Church of God used a three-tithe system, under which members were expected to give a tithe or ten percent "of their increase," usually interpreted as a family's income.

  • The first tithe, 10 percent of a member's total income, was sent to church headquarters to finance "the work", which was all operations of the church, as well as broadcasting and publishing the church's message.
  • The second tithe was saved by the individual member to fund the member's (and his family's) observance of the annual holy days, especially the 8-day-long Feast of Tabernacles. Unlike the first tithe, these funds were not sent into the church but retained by the member.
  • A third tithe was required in the third and sixth years of a personal seven-year tithing cycle, and it was also sent to headquarters. The third tithe was used to support the indigent, widows, and orphans - distribution was decided privately at the discretion of the ministry.

In contrast to many other churches' religious services, the practice of the WCG was not to pass around offering plates during weekly church services but only during holy day church services (seven days each year). These funds were considered "freewill offerings" and regarded as entirely separate from regular tithes. The church also gathered funds in the form of donations from "co-workers," those who read the church's free literature or watched the weekly TV show but did not actually attend services.

Under Joseph W. Tkach Sr., although still strongly recommended, the mandatory nature of the church's three-tithe system was abolished, and it was suggested that tithes could be calculated on net, rather than gross, income. Afterwards, church income declined precipitously (membership also dropped at the same time). Today the GCI headquarters has downsized for financial survival. Facing possible bankruptcy, the church liquidated its high maintenance real estate properties, such as Ambassador College, and other auctionable inventory to pay for current headquarters expenditures.

To further economize, the church sold its properties in Pasadena and purchased an office building in Glendora, California. Formerly, the church's membership, meeting in rented halls on Saturdays such as public school buildings, dance halls, hotels and other venues, sent all tithe donations directly to the headquarters. Under the new financial reporting regime, local churches are permitted to use some funds for local purposes, such as constructing local church buildings for use by the congregations. As of 2007, 85 percent or more of all congregational donations stay in the local area, with 15 percent going to the church's headquarters in Glendora for ministerial training and support, legal services, and denominational administration.

Related denominations

From the 1970s through to the 1990s several groups that adhered to Armstrong's teachings separated from the Worldwide Church of God. Due to the significant doctrinal changes which occurred in the WCG throughout the 1990s, the largest percentage of ministers and members left the WCG during this decade. This resulted in the formation of many denominations, most notably the Philadelphia Church of God (1989), Global Church of God, the Living Church of God (1993, 1998), United Church of God (1995), and the Restored Church of God (1998).[22] The United Church of God (UCG) is the largest of these denominations.[23]


  1. ^ http://www.wcg.org/namechange.htm
  2. ^ "NAE Accepts Worldwide Church of God, NAE press release, May 7, 1997". http://www.wcg.org/lit/aboutus/media/nae.htm. Retrieved 2006-08-16. 
  3. ^ "1946 Articles Of Incorporation Of Radio Church Of God"
  4. ^ "1968 Certificate Of Amendment Of Articles Of Incorporation Of Radio Church Of God"
  5. ^ Flurry, Stephen (October 30, 2006). Raising the Ruins:The Fight to Revive the Legacy of Herbert W. Armstrong. Philadelphia Church of God. pp. 23–24. ISBN 978-0974550718. 
  6. ^ Flurry, pp. 25-26
  7. ^ Religion: Garner Ted Armstrong, Where Are You?
  8. ^ "Stanley Rader on Sixty Minutes with Mike Wallace"
  9. ^ PEOPLE EX REL. DEUKMEJIAN v. WORLDWIDE CHURCH OF GOD, 127 CA3d 547 (Court of Appeals of California, Second Appellate District, Division Two December 9, 1981).
  10. ^ A Call for Tolerance on Christmas and Easter
  11. ^ Who Is "Babylon"?
  12. ^ Anglo-Israelism and The United States and Britain in Prophecy
  13. ^ Is Leviticus 23:3 a Command to Have Worship Services on the Weekly Sabbath?
  14. ^ "Called To Be Free". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWAtvE1xiRk.  (video, point 61:57) by Living Hope Video Ministries
  15. ^ Worldwide Church Of God Announces Name Change
  16. ^ Current GCI Statement of Beliefs
  17. ^ Worldwide Church of God Joins NAE - Christianity Today magazine - ChristianityTodayLibrary.com
  18. ^ Covington, David. What is the Worldwide Church of God? Quoted at http://www.apologeticsindex.org/w01.html, accessed 03-13-2007
  19. ^ Worldwide Church of God (WCG) - religious cults, sects and movements
  20. ^ Tucker, Ruth. "From the Fringe to the Fold, Part 1." Christianity Today, July 15, 1996.
  21. ^ See section 7 of the Worldwide Church of God Church Administration Manual
  22. ^ Worldwide Church of God Organizational Splits
  23. ^ Christianity Today, July 15, 1996.


  • Frank S. Mead, Samuel S. Hill, and Craig D. Atwood, Handbook of Denominations in the United States. Abingdon Press, 2001. ISBN 0-687-06983-1.
  • J. Michael Feazell, The Liberation of the Worldwide Church of God. Zondervan, 2003. ISBN 0-310-25011-0.
  • Gerald Flurry, Malachi's Message to God's Church Today. "A thorough explanation of how and why the Worldwide Church of God rejected Herbert Armstrong's teachings, and how to hold fast to Herbert Armstrong's teachings."
  • Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults. Revised and Updated Edition, Bethany House, 2003. ISBN 0-7642-2821-8. See Appendix A, pp. 471–494.
  • Larry Nichols and George Mather, Discovering the Plain Truth: How the Worldwide Church of God Encountered the Gospel of Grace. InterVarsity Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8308-1969-X
  • Joseph Tkach, Transformed by Truth. Multnomah Publishers, 1997. ISBN 1-57673-181-2
  • http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/relmove/nrms/philcog.html
  • Tarling, Lowell R. (1981). "The Armstrong Churches". The Edges of Seventh-day Adventism: A Study of Separatist Groups Emerging from the Seventh-day Adventist Church (1844–1980). Barragga Bay, Bermagui South, NSW: Galilee Publications. pp. 41–62. ISBN 0 9593457 0 1. 

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