On March 24, 2000, Bernie Schnippert, Chief Financial Officer for the Worldwide Church of God, announced that the former Ambassador College Campus in Big Sandy, Texas, had been “sold, for an undisclosed sum, to Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a privately owned corporation headquartered in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, who in turn is leasing it to the Institute in Basic Life Principles (“IBLP”), a nonprofit educational and service organization based in Oak Brook, Illinois.”
A letter written by Schnippert went on to explain the proposed future use of the property:
The Buyers intend to use the property primarily for two important missions according to information released by the IBLP. The first is to train young men for local, national, and international emergency response. The second is for an international orphanage. The two programs will make good and full use of the entire campus with all of its facilities. Six years ago, Mr. Ron Fuhrman, a leader with the IBLP and the one who will oversee day-to-day operations on the University site, saw a need to challenge and train young men to be givers rather than take. He designed the Air Land Emergency Resource Team (ALERT) to train qualified young men to effectively respond to disasters and emergency needs. The campus will now become a training center for this program.
Additionally, the IBLP has been deeply involved with orphanage work overseas, especially in Russia, where they were invited by education officials to teach character and English in their public schools, to work with orphans, to rehabilitate juvenile delinquents, visit youth prisons, and assist pensioner teachers. IBLP anticipates the Ambassador campus can be an ideal place to expand their work with orphans from other nations as they continue serving the nations they represent.
It appears that the IBLP indeed does some good work. But it is similar to the WCG in that it is a one-man rule type of organization that often pries deep into the personal lives of its members. Bill Gothard is its founder, chief teacher, and hierarchical leader. Additional information may be found about the organization at these websites:
So what will the WCG do with the funds from the sale? Help the poor? Start a new gospel-preaching program? Apparently not. Presently, their income is about 15% below budget, and they have been disbanding congregations with less than 20 members. The Big Sandy campus that thousands of people sacrificed to build, on land donated to the WCG by Roy Hammer, will be used up by the WCG’s continuing administration. From Mr. Schnippert’s letter:
The proceeds, while measured of course in the millions of dollars, are in fact a modest sum when compared to the scope of the Church’s worldwide operations, and will not appreciably change our balance sheet. Rather than being used to fund some new enterprise, the monies will simply be added to our general fund and used to further the Church’s mission of preaching the Christian gospel and supporting its local and international congregations and ministry.”
How does the WCG preach the gospel now? Are they making many new converts? Why would someone want to join that organization rather than a local, independent Protestant Church? The WCG has attempted to answer that question in a number of their publications—giving completely different answers at times.
To both the long-time members as well as outside visitors, the WCG doctrines and practice are incredibly confusing—especially if a traveler visits several congregations:
• The WCG proclaims there is no need to keep the Sabbath or worship on Saturday, yet most of its congregations meet then. Others meet only on Sunday; some meet on both.
• The WCG claims there is no reason to keep the annual Holy Days, yet it still sponsors them in some areas.
• The WCG is the only Protestant denomination to celebrate “The Incarnation” and “Resurrection Sunday”. Every other Protestant group simply celebrates Christmas and Easter.
• The WCG talks a lot about spiritual gifts and participatory governance as is common in other protestant churches, but it is still a hierarchy—Joseph Tkach Jr. has nearly complete control over all the assets. The membership has no power over who becomes their minister or who is or is not allowed to be a member of a local congregation.
• The WCG seems to continue to praise Mr. Armstrong, even though he clearly labeled many of the WCG’s current teachings as deceptions of Satan. In a March Bible study, Joe Tkach, Jr. agreed with Jack Hayford’s comment that “Herbert Armstrong right now is in the Kingdom of Heaven... he’s cheering on the progress of the Worldwide Church of God.” If anyone considers the last 10 years of the WCG changes “progress”, they would have to consider most of Herbert Armstrong’s 50-year ministry as “regress”!
The theologians of the WCG are not stupid. There is a reason for these discrepancies. The purpose is clearly to provide a gradual change in doctrine from the old WCG teaching to common Protestant teaching, and to gradually change the thinking of as many members as possible. I have several friends who were personally told of this plan in the early 1990s. While my friends would not “go on record” saying, this past 10 years have proved them right. Most long-time members should remember the first God Is... booklet that essentially said “God is three” while claiming not to be “Trinitarian”. Now, the WCG is soundly Trinitarian—they got there one planned step at a time.
More and more people in the worldwide Church of God are figuring this out. Based on people who contact Servants’ News, there has been another upsurge of people leaving the Worldwide Church of God. They are leaving to attend other Sabbatarian congregations, as well as to attend standard Protestant congregations.
The WCG congregations that seem to be the most stable and in some cases growing are those which have enthusiastically accepted the new Protestant teachings. Some local groups are now using new names. Even though they would still say their denomination is “Worldwide Church of God”, their sign on the front might say “Park Street Church”, and people walking in from the street might have no idea that it is related to the WCG. Even the WCG headquarters has considered new names, both for the church and its publications. If those changes take place this year, there will be virtually nothing recognizable left of the old WCG.
The sale of the Pasadena campus to Legacy Corporation should be finished by the end of this year. Joe Tkach, Jr. has already moved off the campus. As of 2001, the WCG will no longer have its old properties (including its auditorium), its college, its media outreach, its doctrines or much of anything else that made it unique during 1950s through the 1980s.
Many individuals are still hoping and praying that God will miraculously intervene and restore the WCG to the way it was. Servants’ News receives mail from them frequently. These people are probably worse off than the millions of Jews who lived their whole lives desperately hoping that the Eternal would cause His temple to be rebuilt in their lifetime. At least the Jews can point to many scriptures that prophecy the rebuilding of a physical temple. Christians ought to know that the spiritual temple is the people—the church—the body of Christ. But there is no clear prophecy of a building that is a “New Testament Temple”. There is no promise that God will again use the Pasadena, Big Sandy or Bricket Wood campuses.
Many other groups claim that their group is the one faithfully continuing the work of the WCG. But none of them are baptizing members or growing anywhere near like the WCG did in its early years. I would hope these groups all realize that if God has ended the Work of the WCG, they will not be able to make another WCG. Rather, each group and leader needs to look to the Eternal and say “show me what You want me to do.”