(Extract from) Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About the Church of God, International, and Weren’t Afraid to Ask
The Infamous Systematic Theology Project
When founded in 1978, the small group of ministers who formed the first "Ministerial Council" of the church adopted the Systematic Theology Project of the parent organization as the primary statement of doctrines. If and when further doctrinal study proved necessary, it was to be the matrix out of which all such study would proceed.
One of the major charges made against me by my father was that I had begun "watering down doctrine." He never specified which doctrines. He never called me, or wrote to me, or handed to me a single article, booklet, or paper in which he had pointed out or underscored any such attempts at "watering down."
Instead, he pointed to the Systematic Theology Project, and wrote that he had "never seen it," alleging that it was somehow slipped in as a statement of doctrinal belief without his ever knowing about it. This was simply untrue.
Just what is the Systematic Theology Project? Here is the answer, as well as how the Systematic Theology Project began:
For many years, I had been very visible as the only speaker on The World Tomorrow radio and television programs. Continually, I was sought out by reporters, religious writers, and talk-show hosts.
Whenever I would go
to cities in the
Naturally, I was called upon to be the "defender of the faith." Since the doctrines of the church appeared to be extreme to most; since we observed such strange-sounding things as the weekly Sabbath, the annual holy days, avoidance of unclean meats and the like, we were mostly considered to be a cult. In many ways, if not in most ways, we were, during the two or three decades prior to my ouster, closely resembling a cult, but only in the sense that my father's word, his tastes, his ideas about attire, and his decisions regarding personnel and doctrine carried the force of law.
It was one-man rule, and that rule was "in perpetuity." He had the power to fire members of the board of the church in his "sole subjective discretion."
Chillingly, he had the power to remove any board member "with or without cause," and without notice. That is TOTAL power, the power to rule by caprice or whim. There were no "checks and balances."
There were no safety nets, no apparatus for redress of grievances, and little, if any, latitude for doctrinal or administrative change.
I was the one who continually had to defend the organization before the media.
Talk show hosts, before asking me on, would invariably "do their homework" by research which would turn up any number of books, booklets, and articles written about and against "Armstrongism." Sometimes, such books were wildly off target.
I would comment, "It's bad enough to be persecuted for what you really believe and practice, but even worse to be persecuted for things you do not believe!
My father never granted interviews. He was completely shielded from all such attacks. How well I remember reading one particularly lengthy segment of a book about "cults" and commenting to my friends, and to a talk-show host, "The only thing I disagree with in that chapter is the plural s on the end of the name 'Armstrong.'" The writer had attacked practice and financial policies, not doctrines.
Because of all this, it became obvious to me that researchers, either friend or foe, were constrained to discover the doctrines and practices of the WCG by sorting through hundreds of old Plain Truth, Good News, or Tomorrow's World magazines; by reading dozens of old "Co-Worker" letters, or scanning the dozens of booklets and correspondence course lessons distributed by the church. Who could go to such lengths? Where were located archives, available to the public, containing thousands of such documents?
Nowhere was there a volume which was labeled "Doctrines and Covenants" of the church. The church had no published statement of belief. It had no single booklet, pamphlet, or book which stated its doctrines. Embarrassingly, there had been many serious errors. Doctrines, especially those relating to prophecy and predictions, had been changed. Elaborate prophetic scenarios had utterly failed.
But no apologies were made. The errors were simply ignored, and articles in the 1970s made no mention whatever of the dire predictions of the 1950s and 1960s, or of an elaborate timetable for the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord which proved to be totally false.
For over two decades,
the church taught that God's plan revolved around "19-year time
cycles." According to the oft-repeated beliefs of the church, the
When 1972 came and
went, instead of "bombs falling
Antagonists were quick to discover these anomalies, and point them out.
In order to solve some of these difficulties, and because it was at least two decades overdue, I wanted to formalize our doctrines and beliefs.
The project was discussed by several of our leading theologians and a couple of my aides. We then wrote to the entire ministry of the church, informing them of the ongoing Systematic Theology Project, and invited all of them to contribute any papers, articles, or technical, biblical exegesis they wished.
Meanwhile, we asked some of our best editorial researchers to pull together all those old magazines, letters, and correspondence courses, and create a synthesis for each doctrinal subject which represented the best current thinking and teaching within the ministry on every doctrine.
We began with the doctrine of who God is; with major articles on Jesus Christ, our belief in the Bible, salvation, conversion, baptism, the Holy Spirit, tithing, and the like.
Little by little, the Systematic Theology Project (and that was all it was, an ongoing project, involving the best minds in our college theology faculties, and the most astute and well-versed of our ministry in the doctrines of the church) took shape.
We were expecting to
conduct a major ministerial conference in the auditorium on the
Be reminded, the STP had nothing to do whatever with attempting to effect doctrinal revision. It was merely an effort to compile a comprehensive statement of beliefs for the church, so that either friendly researchers, such as students in the college or laymen, or antagonistic researchers, such as news reporters or writers for other religious publications, could have, in one large volume (we knew it would eventually grow to several volumes), the "Doctrines and Covenants" of the Worldwide Church of God.
I clearly remember (and there are several living witnesses who can testify to this) holding the pages of the articles concerning such things as tithing, divorce, healing, and the like on my father's lap, helping him zero in on key points, as he read the pages with the help of a large, hand-held magnifying glass.
He was recuperating
from a protracted bout with congestive heart failure, and could not
leave his home in
He was aware that the other articles, such as those on the law of God, or who and what is God, or Jesus Christ, were virtually as he would have written them; that there was no attempt being made to "change" anything, but that we were merely compiling a comprehensive doctrinal statement.
He knew about the project, for I had gotten his approval for it. He knew about our ongoing research into old magazines and letters, for he read each issue of the Pastor-General's Report which was sent to the ministry, or the Worldwide News, a church newspaper I had started, in which we were continually updating the ministry and the church on the project, and soliciting their input.
He read, asked questions, commented about major segments of the work, and knew exactly what we intended producing. He saw much of it with his own eyes; had the documents on his lap.
By the time the conference was about to begin, we had to rush to bring the first step of the project to completion. We had only a small number of the doctrines of the church really complete. The others were only introductions, bare bones statements, lacking thorough exegesis and biblical proofs.
Finally, the brown Naugahyde-covered, loose-leaf binders arrived, and we were able to pass out hundreds of them to the ministry assembled in the auditorium.
How well I remember being at a table on the platform with several others of our research team as we passed out the document. The hundreds of assembled ministers were told, "You will notice it is in loose-leaf binders. That is because it is incomplete, and we will be publishing additional in-depth articles on our doctrines which can be added to your books later."
My father was still
quite weak, but he managed to come to
I was absolutely astounded a couple of months later, and continued to be astounded after my ouster, as my father wrote a barrage of attacks against "liberals" in the church; defamed the STP, and claimed it was "watering down doctrine."
He accused me of ramrodding the documents through, and said, "I had never seen it!" This was blatantly false. He had never seen the brown leather-like cover in which the STP was contained, but he had seen, and held in his own hands, and read much of the material,
He wrote, and told the church and the ministry, that the STP was to be completely banned. Ministers were ordered to turn in their copies. It was to be destroyed.