The Worldwide Church of God (WCG) under the leadership of its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA), was a Sabbatarian denomination that was considered by Armstrong and his followers to be the only "True Church" on Earth. It maintained a distinctive set of doctrinal beliefs and practices which set it apart in many ways from most other Christian denominations.
The name Worldwide Church of God was adopted by Herbert Armstrong for his organization in 1968. Prior to that it had been known as the Radio Church of God (RCG) since its incorporation in 1946.
After Armstrong's death in 1986, the top leadership of that organization, under the leadership of the late Joseph Tkach, Sr., and later his son Joseph Tkach, Jr., embarked on a complete and drastic revision of the organization's belief system, which led to the denomination becoming a part of mainstream Protestantism.
However, the methods by which that leadership made and imposed these changes on the congregations of the WCG were startlingly harsh, and the reasoning they used was unpersuasive to many of the members and ministers. The result was division in the denomination, and the formation of many splinter groups.
At the time of Herbert Armstrong's death, the WCG claimed over 100,000 members around the world. As the doctrinal changes were gradually imposed by the Tkach leadership, a continuing exodus ensued. Some former members dropped out of "organized religion" totally as a result of their disappointment with their WCG religious experience. Others formed independent congregations in local areas. But many thousands are now members of smaller denominational organizations which reflect, in varying degrees, the original doctrines and structure of the WCG as it had been under HWA.
The central WCG organization, under the leadership of Joseph Tkach, Jr., eventually
changed not only its doctrines and practices, but its name. It is now known as Grace
Communion International. GCI is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals,
and was claiming in 2009 that it had approximately 42,000 members. And thus there
is no organization at this time officially known as the Worldwide Church of God.
But the “spirit of the WCG” lives on in the many smaller break-
This section of the Field Guide is dedicated to description and evaluation of the WCG as it had been under HWA, and to the many teachers and breakaway groups which maintain some or all of the doctrinal distinctives, practices, procedures, and policies of the parent organization. (For more information about Grace Communion International, see the entries for Joseph Tkach Sr and Joseph Tkach Jr in the Field Guide WCG Family Tree.)
The following background material may be helpful in understanding aspects of the profile of the WCG presented below.
"Questions about the Myth, answers from the Man"—An extensive collection of excerpts from the writings of Herbert W. Armstrong.
Field Guide WCG Identification Icon
Anyone who was ever a member of the Worldwide Church of God would immediately recognize the artwork icon that is used on this Field Guide to identify pages dealing with the WCG. It is an illustration from a booklet titled The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last! that was first published by the organization in 1959 and enthusiastically promoted and distributed from that time until the early 1970s. A similar booklet titled 1975 in Prophecy contained similar illustrations by the same artist. That one purported to establish the fact that Jesus was going to return to set up His Kingdom and inaugurate the Millennium on Earth by the year 1975. The set of these two pieces of literature combined may have been the most effective “evangelistic tool” ever used by Herbert Armstrong to attract members for the RCG/WCG.
The booklets were full of dire warnings of what was going to happen before the fateful
date of 1975–a Great Tribulation was going to come upon the inhabitants of the Earth
with uncontrollable world-
In order to get maximum effect from the dire warnings, the booklets were loaded with graphic illustrations by an unlikely RCG member. Basil Wolverton had been a professional comic book artist for decades by 1956. (He continued to have his illustrations published in Mad Magazine and other secular publications clear up to his death in 1978, and was inducted into the Jack Kirby “Comic Book Hall of Fame” in 1991.) Wolverton specialized in science fiction and horror comics, so he was a perfect choice to draw the horrifying illustrations of the Apocalypse.
The Wolverton illustration above was specifically intended to portray “Famine.”
The caption to the picture in the booklet read:
Look at these pathetic faces! Famines and epidemics, next to sweep the earth (Reve.
You can see the fellow with the club on the left in the picture getting his “prize catch.”
The material in the profile below describes the RCG/WCG as it was when Herbert W Armstrong was alive, but is equally applicable to those teachers and groups which adhere closely to the doctrinal base of HWA's teachings, still consider him a Great Man of God, and view their efforts as a continuation of his.
Within the Worldwide Church of God before Herbert Armstrong's death, the following beliefs were accepted by the majority of the leadership and laymembers. (Note that these points do not address Biblical "doctrinal issues" in which Herbert Armstrong might have differed from other religious teachers. They rather address perspectives that the leadership and members of the WCG had regarding the role of Herbert Armstrong and his organization.)
Herbert Armstrong had discovered and restored Truth ignored by mainstream religion
since the first century.
HWA's ministry was that of the "Work of Elijah" prophesied in the Bible to be extant
just before the return of Christ.
Only HWA had correct insight into the exact scenario of prophetic events soon to
come to pass.
HWA's particular doctrinal package was unique, it did not just contain "some" truth
but rather was The Truth, and all True Believers would recognize this fact. Thus
the Worldwide Church of God was the "Only True Church" on earth.
The Great Tribulation was soon to come, and only those in the WCG could count on
being protected, in a hidden "Place of Safety," from the horrible plagues this would
Because HWA had been God's instrument to restore The Truth, he was in the position
of authority of a modern Apostle.
Because HWA was God's Apostle, the only Apostle in modern times, his authority within the organizational structure of the WCG was that of a total dictator.
Escape from alleged prophetic events soon to come under the safety umbrella of
Complete doctrinal package which answered all questions
Conviction of being part of an elite, extremely exclusive band of servants of God
For those with previous specific doctrinal beliefs derived from their own Bible study, such as observance of the annual Biblical Holy Days, the WCG may have been the only organized group they were aware of which believed and practiced such things.
Herbert Armstrong, by the clear record of his fruits, was not a spiritual giant,
either at the beginning, middle or end of his ministry.
The WCG, by the clear record of its fruits, was not "The One and Only True Church
The WCG was built in great measure on the foundation of fear and a string of false
prophecies, as HWA used the fear engendered by those false prophecies to persuade
his supporters to send the money necessary to build the system.
The organizational structure of the WCG, and the system of leadership in place,
was unbiblical and ungodly.
The doctrines of the WCG were a mixture of truth and error.
A number of the doctrines which were in error were not just intellectual issues,
but had consequences which devastated the lives of many thousands of members.
Loyalty and obedience of both members and ministry within the organization was
in many cases elicited by fear and intimidation. Complete shunning of disfellowshipped
members, even by closest friends, was practiced, and any who would not join in the
shunning were subject to possible disfellowshipment themselves.
Leaving the organization, no matter how Biblical the reasons, was viewed as denying Jesus Christ, and any who had done so were viewed as headed directly for the Lake of Fire unless they recanted before death.
Nuggets of truth
The literature published by the Worldwide Church of God during its years under the
leadership of Herbert Armstrong emphasized the following excellent principles which
have been neglected by many religious groups and teachers.
Christianity is a way of life, not just an intellectual belief or a set of "religious"
activities or rituals.
The average Christian, not just those in leadership positions, should be Biblically
literate and capable of independent Bible study using a variety of Bible helps such
as concordances, lexicons, and commentaries.
The Bible is a complete, integrated document: the Old Testament isn't just ancient
history, but is the foundation for the New. A solid foundation in understanding the
people, ideas, and events of the Old Testament is absolutely necessary for clearly
understanding many of the events and concepts presented in the New Testament.
God cares about every aspect of the life of His children, including marriage relationships,
The Bible includes much wisdom applicable to daily living, not just promises for the afterlife.
Personal from the Webauthor
Memoir of the Tribulation:
A personal perspective by the Field Guide Webauthor of
the "Tribulation Period of the Worldwide Church of God: 1972-
Herbert W Armstrong began dogmatically predicting in 1953 that the "Great Tribulation"
prophesied in Matthew 24 would begin in 1972, and that Jesus Christ would return
to the earth to set up His Millennial Kingdom in 1975. This Tribulation was particularly
to come upon the nations of the United States, Great Britain, and the nations of
the British Commonwealth. Those who were faithful members of Armstrong's organization
were promised protection during this terrible time-
Armstrong frequently used this threat of coming trouble to rally support and income for his ministry during the next decade and more. As the 1972 date approached closer and closer, however, the dogmatism regarding the date turned to a more tentative "suggestion" of the "possibility" that the prophecies would occur in the proposed time frame. But the average member of Armstrong's church didn't pay much attention to the hedging of bets creeping into Armstrong's articles and sermons. Many still expected to be on their way to that promised Place of Safety in late 1971 or early 1972.
Obviously Armstrong had to change his strategy when 1972 came and went without the expected Tribulation. What he didn't realize at the time, however, is that a Great Tribulation really did begin in 1972. But rather than coming upon the nations, it poignantly and ironically came upon Armstrong's organization.
I was a zealous, dedicated member of the WCG from 1968-
The story also provides an interesting "case history" that illustrates many of the issues of what makes some religious movements particularly unhealthy to the spiritual, mental, emotional, and some times even physical lives of those involved. So it may well be of interest to some folks without a Worldwide Church of God background, as a sample view of a sociological phenomenon.
Click on the link below to go to the Introduction of the Memoir. That page will provide links to the installments as they are completed.
The following link may be useful for those who have an interest in the history of the Worldwide Chuch of God.
Use the navigation bar at the top of this page to explore documentation and commentary underlying the “Concerns” mentioned above. You may wish to start with the History and Overview of the Ministry of Herbert Armstrong.
Unless otherwise noted, all original material on this Field Guide website
is © 2001-
Careful effort has been made to give credit as clearly as possible to any specific material quoted or ideas extensively adapted from any one resource. Corrections and clarifications regarding citations for any source material are welcome, and will be promptly added to any sections which are found to be inadequately documented as to source.
The Worldwide Church of God
Under Founder Herbert W. Armstrong
Basil Wolverton artwork for 1975 In Prophecy