During a recent visit to the Philippines I was invited to speak to a group from the ‘Worldwide Church of God’ (WCG) in Cubao, Quezon City. It was one of the most exciting and moving meetings I have ever attended. The group call themselves the Cubao Berean Fellowship, because their one desire is to search the Scriptures and find the truth (see Acts 17:10-11). There were 18 present.
They told me of the changes that had been happening within their church. The WCG was founded by Herbert W. Armstrong, and published a magazine, The Plain Truth, for free distribution. It was generally classed as a cult, because it taught that the entire Old Testament ceremonial law was still binding, and also had other erroneous beliefs. For example, Herbert Armstrong used to teach that the human race was God in the process of creating himself.
However, in 1986 a letter from a Catholic priest to one of WCG’s leaders started the process of change. The priest was responding to an article in The Plain Truth, about the cult’s view of God. He wrote explaining the doctrine of the Trinity.
The current WCG leader was sufficiently humble to take seriously this challenge to his doctrine, and appointed a working group within the WCG to look into the matter. The group’s conclusion, after some months of detailed study of the Bible, was that the priest was right; their church had been in error since its inception.
Thankfully, further study led to evangelical convictions about the gospel throughout the WCG. I found it an amazing story of God’s grace and providence, how he used even a Roman Catholic priest to begin the process of bringing these people to the true gospel!
Here in the Philippines the national branch of the WCG was welcomed as a member of the Philippine Evangelical community. However, the Bereans spoke with real sadness of what they felt had been a lost opportunity for their church. Some of the bad influences from within modern ‘Evangelicalism’ (which are as prevalent in the Philippines as in the UK) began to infect their church.
Consequently, decisionism and easy-believism have resulted in a decline both in numbers and commitment. The chaotic charismatic scene in the Philippines has resulted in an anti-doctrinal emphasis, with music and entertainment at the centre of services of worship. The Bereans are passionately concerned to see rigorous doctrinal teaching restored as the only hope of preventing the WCG descending once again into serious error.
What was so moving was the sadness with which they described to me these subsequent developments, joined with their frank acknowledgement of previous error, and their joy in having discovered the liberating message of the gospel.
Keep pressing on
It has been a heart-rending struggle for them to come to terms with the total collapse of their previous world view. Yet they feel frustration over the difficulty which some still have in breaking totally with their traditions of the past, which they now know to be wrong. For example, some WCG assemblies still celebrate a Saturday Sabbath.
I preached from Galatians, giving an overview of the whole book. In the discussion that followed, I tried to encourage them to keep grappling with the issues and pressing on into New Covenant truth; but also to accept that change from observing all the ceremonial requirements of the Old Covenant might be as slow as it was for the Jewish Christians in the first century. As long as they keep moving in the right direction, that, I suggested, was the important thing.
I was honoured to receive a further invitation to address the same group. They asked me to speak on the regulative principle with reference to worship. Thinking through what is biblically acceptable worship is a major issue for them just now. They are having to cope with a rather chaotic state of the worship in their public services, largely owing to influences which have come upon them through contemporary Evangelicalism.
Let us remember the WCG in our prayers, that it may see the completion of thoroughgoing reformation.