Enter the early 90’s…..The WWCG starting going through some major doctrinal changes. I remember things being pretty good till about 93′-94, right when I entered into my early teen years. Great timing….yeah, real great, 😦
In 1986 the church founder and leader, Herbert Armstrong, died. New leadership arose along with a “coming out” from many of the church staff, ministers, and teachers in that there were long unvoiced concerns over certain doctrines that Armstrong taught the church. Basically, the whole doctrinal foundation of the church! Slowly, but gradually over time, these came out and were addressed. A great book to read is The Liberation of the Worldwide Church of God” by J. Michael Feazell and/or you can watch this video:
To make a long story short The church dramatically changed its theology and in the following years many church leaders split up to form their own off shoot churches. We call these the “splinter groups”. Many of which fully held onto all of Armstrong teachings, or did modified them but less dramatically as the parent church did. Massive exodus occurred after the bomb shell sermon was given from headquarters in Winter 1994, but the initial breakup and exodus began as early as 1989 with the formalization of “Philadelphia Church of God” splinter church. Here is a great (unverified) history of all the WWCG church splits that happened: https://rcg.org/sep/articles/sep_htrcgd.html
For a 13-14 year of kid it looked like this: certain families wouldn’t be there anymore and I didn’t really understand why, we moved into a smaller building, and then a smaller one…and then yet a really small building. As far as the doctrinal changes go their effects were minimal in daily life. My dad had already been “letting up” on the strict observance of the Saturday Sabbath before the winter 1994 announcement and I think I was already eating pork from time to time at my friends houses. So in 1995 everything that the church represented in my past as far as day to day observance was formally demolished. But if I remember right we had been gradually moving that direction as a family for a few years anyways.
The church eventually transformed into a regular protestant church and left Armstrongism. From a local church that used to have 400+ members it dwindled down to well under 100…and then to 80, and so on.
Did my family fall off the deep end? Was our faith in God abandoned, shipwrecked, or left with a big scar? Were we spinning around aimlessly and left in a disarray? Hardy. My parents were even more committed and strengthened in their faith. I on the other hand, whom yes was glad to have that burden of keeping the Old Testament law off my back, was already going down the path of diving deep into the world that the church told me not to be apart of. It seemed like so much more fun.
LIVING IN THE WORLD
My church and family correctly maintained the idea that to be a true follower of God you had need get water baptized and give your life wholly up to God and embrace God’s life entirely. As I matured into my early teens the idea living the way God wanted me to seemed terribly dreadful. I was finally starting to live some life with my friends, stay out later, do things on Saturday’s now and have fun. I thought that eventually I would give my life to God and get baptized but I first wanted to have fun now! And God stuff, like going to church, abstaining from doing bad things (like smoking, drinking, staying up late at friends houses, getting into girls, watching cable TV, listening to music with bad words and bad topics) was NOT fun. So wanted to live in the world for a while before I gave my life up. At least that’s what I remember was going through my mind.
I always felt like I could turn back to God at any moment – as long as I would start doing good again then He would receive me back. And I would at times go back and forth for a
while, almost like living two lives. But both lives were sincerely real. I wasn’t putting on or off for anyone. I really enjoyed the church and God stuff when I was doing it but I also loved doing things that were of the world, especially when I was with my friends. I just didn’t want to give up on all the fun that was in the world, not just yet.
On a side note, to reference the picture here, I started to play guitar at 12 (1992). In 1992 we celebrated a holy day (passover-esk meal I think) at a church friends house and there were a bunch of girls there – I really thought they were cute. I was bumming around by myself that night when I stumbled upon a guitar in a closet that belonged to the host. I picked it up and sat on the stairs and started fooling with it, not knowing at all what I was doing on the instrument. Out of nowhere all the girls sat around me and one of them said “ooh, you know how to play the guitar?” And just as fast as they came they left and I was alone again. And from the night on I decided I wanted to learn how to play this thing! That night embarked on my high school journeys dream of being a guitarist and my eventual career in the present day as a full-time musician (man, even my secular career was birthed out of the church – everything was about the church!) Before then I had been involved with music with singing. WWCG church had a great kids choir that I was involved in since 5 years old. I also did a lot of singing in choirs in school and even got to sing solos. I would take my kids church songs and record them for my grandma on cassette tape so she could listen to me singing them acapella. The guitar was a natural extension to my existing musical persona. I played my guitar in church during the service a few times as well. Even got away with singing a KISS song for the 1993 winter talent show at church. The church didn’t ask where I got the song from and didn’t vet the lyrics. I sang a love song so it wasn’t like I sang “Heavens on Fire” or something!!
Speaking of the kids choir, it was HUGE to me. We had a guy that ran the kids choir and then he died when I was like 8 or something. I was DEVASTATED. Singing about God was basically my favorite thing about the church. I prayed for another person to run the choir and a gal took it up. I was ELATED!!
Ok, so where was I?? Oh yeah, living two lives. So throughout the rest of my teens the WWCG became less and less in my life. This is probably what happens to any normal teen growing up in that strict of a church, but what I find interesting is how my drifting away from the church paralleled the dying of the great WWCG that is once was. Almost like the two were somehow connected in their deaths.
TAKING SIDES ON THEOLOGY
As families took sides and joined the various off shoots of the WWCG (United Church of God, Philadelphia Church of God, Global Church of God, Living Church of God, etc.) my family stuck with the original WWCG and followed it’s doctrinal changes. If I remember correctly my dad described that the changes mostly hinged on one point – how to treat the old and new covenants in the bible in relationship to each other. Should they both be embraced at the same time? Or does one cancel out the other?
The old WWCG taught that we need to kept both covenants. The new leaders of the WWCG were moving the church into embracing only the latter. The argument is that in Christ there was a new covenant/contract made with man the superseded and voided out the old covenant made with Moses (the old covenant is sometimes called “The Law”). And in this new covenant (Matthew 26:28) there must be a clean break from the Old Testament covenant. You can’t mix them together. What did that mean in practice? So in Jesus’s new covenant our relationship and right standing with God is said to be based on faith in Jesus and His work only, not faith in Him PLUS keeping the food laws, holy days, the Saturday sabbath, tithing, etc. of the Old Testament covenant. While those things of the old covenant are ok to do, they are not required NOR are they even commanded to do any more. Jesus fulfilled those requirements perfectly when he lived on earth so they could be done away with and then ushered in a new covenant in His death and resurrection. Some people in the church just plainly disagreed with that and felt compelled to leave to one of the group that continued to hold Armstrong’s beliefs while a vast majority just got up and left the movement entirely.
My dad sought the changes out himself and pressed into God about them. He had been in the church for 20+ years and my mom for 30+ years. This was no easy change either. Then, once day during mediation, reflection and prayer, he says he received a vision. He saw two bundles of paper, one was representing the old covenant and one was the new. The old covenant started to fade and deteriorate away till eventually the only thing left remaining in the vision was the new covenant. That sealed the deal for Him that’s why we stayed with the WWCG (which later changed to its present name, Grace Communion International).
I was aware of all the changes, but probably oblivious to what this all meant for me in respect to my relationship with God. I do remember my dad trying to explain the “salvation through faith in Jesus only” message but my memories are vague (I still claim that I don’t even remember one teaching in the WWCG about Jesus. Only about God the Father. If they did talk about Christ I had no idea what they were taking about. So really I had no idea who this “Jesus” was in relationship to God the Father).
My parents continued seeking God and the church and my interests in the church waned. I was too concerned about my new life of freedom to eat pork, not have to be under a house curfew of sundown Friday-sundown Saturday with the sabbath, and going out and experiencing the fun of the world without restriction, to really care about what was going on with the church. I was pretty much out to lunch by 1994 anyways. But I always believed that God demanded of me to stop doing worldly stuff and to get water baptized to be ultimately be right with Him. I just wasn’t ready to give that up yet – I kept thinking that I could just come back to Him later.
So between 1994-97 I was living life fully in the world but I always kept God on my mind – feeling like He hated what I was doing but yet having time to change my ways someday. I would still pray, especially if I was in a bad situation, and would often talk about God and evangelize with my friends insisting that He exists.
WHERE I ENDED UP
Near the end of my high school years I attended the church more regularly. I was gifted a bible from the church with my name engraved on it for my high school graduation. I still have it today! And it got ALOT of use in my 20’s 🙂
In the Winter of 96′-97, my Junior year I had a weird health issue that I couldn’t explain. I should have probably gone to the doctors to get checked out. But our church taught so strong on faith healing (to which I actually still believe even stronger today, just with a more balanced approach to medicine) that doctors were a no-no…and I still fully believed God for healing of my body as I had did my whole life. After a few weeks of feeling very run down accompanied with what seemed like an irregular heartbeat my parents knelt down to pray together for me. During the prayer my dad start talking in weird words. I remember saying loudly something like, “Dad, what are you doing???”
I felt strange when he was talking in those weird words. A little disorientated too. He said he was praying in tongues. I had no idea what he meant by that. I soon recovered from whatever was ailing me but the remnants of that health experience brought on what I now know is defined as a moderate generalized anxiety condition.
Lastly, I can’t explain concisely how by which my parents taught me about Jesus through my most troubled years. I was smoking a lot of marijuana and wrapped up in my music and girls so my memory is rather cloudy. All I can say and is that through a long process, and in the months following my health issue in winter 96′, I became a believer in Jesus. But my doctrine about God was all screwy. I knew that I didn’t need to keep the Old Testament laws anymore more, I knew that Jesus was God, and in believing on Him I would later come to have eternal life in His new Kingdom, but I had no concept of what I later figured out to be having a “now” relationship with God based on grace. My day-to-day relationship was all based upon my performance and how good I thought I was acting for God – just as it had while I was in the WWCG. I did come to change my ways after I came to believe and entered into my last year of high school in a much better place. But I was still a mess. I still didn’t get water baptized either – I was still holding out cause I believed that after water baptism there was no turning back.
Check out part 3 –>
**If you’re interested in the rest of my faith journey which includes going to secular college, the baptism of the Spirit, marrying my wife, going to bible college, etc., you can listen to my full testimony —> VINNIE’S TESTIMONY (if you can’t listen to it by directly clicking on that link you should be able to at least download it from that link).
*As always, I’d love to hear what’s on your mind so please drop your thoughts in the comment section below!