Grace Communion International
Founded in 1934 by Herbert W. Armstrong as a religious broadcasting radio ministry named Radio Church of God, the Worldwide Church of God had a significant, and often controversial, influence on 20th century religious broadcasting and publishing in the United States and Europe, especially in the field of interpreting biblical end-time prophecies. Within a few years after Armstrong's death in 1986, the succeeding church administration modified the denomination's doctrines and teachings to be compatible with mainstream evangelical Christianity, while many members and ministers left and formed other churches that conformed to many, but, not all, of Armstrong's teachings. In 2009, the church adopted its current name.
The Radio Church of God began with Herbert W. Armstrong, who in 1931 was ordained by the Oregon Conference of the Church of God (Seventh-Day), an Adventist group, and began serving a congregation in Eugene, Oregon. On January 7, 1934, Armstrong began hosting a broadcast on a local 100-watt radio station KORE in Eugene. It was essentially a condensed church service on the air, with hymn singing featured along with Armstrong's message, and was the launching point for what would become the Radio Church of God. In 1933, the Church of God (Seventh-Day) split. Armstrong, who sided with the faction centered in Salem, West Virginia, fell out with the local congregation over various doctrinal issues, especially his espousal of British Israelism.
Although his views were rejected by the local congregation, he gained a growing following of his own, chiefly through his World Tomorrow broadcasts and the Plain Truth magazine. Armstrong moved to Pasadena, California. To facilitate the work of the growing church, he incorporated it on March 3, 1946, as the Radio Church of God. In 1947, Ambassador College was founded in Pasadena by the church, and the campus served as the church's headquarters.
The broadcast of The World Tomorrow went into Europe on Radio Luxembourg on January 7, 1953. In 1956, Armstrong published the booklet 1975 in Prophecy!, which predicted an upcoming nuclear war and subsequent enslavement of mankind, leading to the return of Jesus Christ. He explained that the book was written to contrast the spiritual condition of the world to the modern inventions that scientists were promising for the year 1975. Armstrong himself did not put a date to Christ's return, although some in the ministry began to teach that Christ would return in 1975.
The church grew quickly in the late 1960s and, on January 5, 1968, was renamed to Worldwide Church of God.
In 1956 Armstrong met Stanley Rader at Ambassador College. Rader stated that he was employed to sort the church's accounts, which he claimed had become disorganized. Armstrong reportedly was so impressed with Rader's work that, under Armstrong's encouragement and patronage, Rader furthered his education by going to law school. Rader then graduated as valedictorian of his 1963 law school class at the University of Southern California Law School. Rader continued this relationship as special legal and financial adviser to Ambassador College and the Worldwide Church of God, working for them in a full-time capacity by 1969.
Armstrong's son, Garner Ted Armstrong, who had been given the responsibility to host the radio and later the television version of The World Tomorrow, opposed some of his father's teachings and was disfellowshipped by his father, who resumed the broadcasting duties of The World Tomorrow program. The son did not reconcile with his father before his father's death.
In 1970, the first of many groups to splinter from the Worldwide Church of God were founded. Carl O'Beirn of Cleveland, Ohio led what may be the first group, the Church of God (O'Beirn), away from the Worldwide Church of God. Others followed that year, including John Kerley's Top of the Line ministry in 1978; the Restoration Church of God; the Church of God (Boise City) in Boise City, Oklahoma; Marvin Faulhaber's Sabbatarian group also known as Church of God (Sabbatarian); and the Fountain of Life Fellowship of James and Virginia Porter.
Ambassador International Cultural Foundation 
During the sixties "Armstrong had sought to put into stronger action what he termed God’s 'way of give'". To Armstrong and his students, this was generally said to include "the way of character, generosity, cultural enrichment, true education: of beautifying the environment and caring for fellow man." He began undertaking humanitarian projects in underprivileged pockets around the world, which sparked the creation of the church-run Ambassador International Cultural Foundation (AICF) in 1975. The Foundation’s efforts reached into several countries, providing staffing and funds to fight illiteracy, create schools for the disabled, set up mobile schools, and conduct several archaeological digs at biblically significant sites. The church auditorium hosted, at highly subsidized ticket prices, hundreds of performances by noted artists such as Luciano Pavarotti, Vladimir Horowitz, Bing Crosby, Marcel Marceau, and Bob Hope.
Quest was a periodical that was published monthly by AICF from July 1977 to September 1981. Originally published under the name Human Potential, the project was directed by Stanley Rader as a secular outreach of the church-funded AICF. "Quest" publishers hired a professional staff unrelated to the church to create a high quality glossy publication devoted to the humanities, travel and the arts. The original name and design of Human Potential were conceived in the aftermath of Armstrong's poorly received 1975 in Prophecy!, a publication which caused accusations of false prophecy to spread like wildfire. ("1975" was defended by church members as an explanation of Biblical prophecy in contrast with the scientific world's declaration of 1975 as the year of technological "Utopia".)
The AICF had become secular in its approach and thinking. Thus, the church began to cut back on its funding. Eventually, because the AICF was perceived to have strayed from its original goals, it was discontinued by Armstrong and its assets were sold to other interests.
Scandal and conflict 
In 1972, some people started wondering whether the events predicted by Herbert Armstrong would come to pass. While the European Union was an idea in the making, the nations of Europe were far from united, as the union itself was still another 20 years in the future. Some understood Armstrong to have believed that 1972 was the year. When this did not happen as some understood would happen, they began to waver in their faith and to lose patience.
Herbert Armstrong began to speak openly and critically of his son. The senior Armstrong voiced disapproval of Garner Ted's practice of attributing specific dates to end time prophecies. Garner Ted also spoke of greatly expanding the church's media ministry on the model of the Church of Christ, Scientist with its widely read Christian Science Monitor. Herbert W. Armstrong vehemently disagreed.
In a report in the May 15, 1972, edition of Time magazine, Herbert Armstrong was reported to have said that Garner Ted was "in the bonds of Satan."  The elder Armstrong did not elaborate, but it was speculated that Herbert was alluding to Garner Ted's alleged problems with gambling and adultery with Ambassador College coeds, and serious doctrinal differences. Garner Ted Armstrong was soon relieved of his star role within the church.
Garner Ted led a secret coup to gain control of the Church and displace his Father. But, it was Garner Ted who was to be removed. While Garner Ted Armstrong was being removed, Stanley Rader had been orchestrating the church's involvement in a number of corporations which Rader and Herbert W. Armstrong established. Critics saw Rader's moves as an attempt to seize control of the church. Rader characterized his involvement as that of an advisor and claimed that his advice was opening doors for Armstrong that a strict theological role would not have allowed for. Herbert Armstrong approved of the establishment of the AICF, which Rader set up ostensibly to give the elder Armstrong a role as the "Ambassador for World Peace without portfolio".
As the church was experiencing internal crises, its external, public face was also crumbling. Church followers had anticipated the removal of church faithful to Petra, Jordan, to await the prophesied apocalypse.
Despite the scandals of 1972, the church continued to grow in the 1970s with Herbert Armstrong still at the helm. In 1975, Armstrong baptized Stanley Rader, who until then had been a practitioner of Judaism despite his association with the church.
After being left a widower by the death of his wife, Loma, eleven years earlier, Armstrong married Ramona Martin, a woman nearly fifty years younger, in 1977 and moved to Tucson, Arizona while recovering from a heart attack. While Armstrong recuperated in his home in Arizona, he administered and guided church affairs through Stanley Rader and Church Administration. The church continued to be headquartered in Pasadena.
With Garner Ted Armstrong resuming his role within the church, the rivalry between the younger Armstrong and Stanley Rader intensified. As the accusations of Garner Ted's past resurfaced, Herbert W. Armstrong started giving more responsibilities to Stanley Rader. This action was infuriating to the younger Armstrong, who thought it his birthright to take over as the leader of the Church. The adultery problems that reportedly had previously driven Garner Ted from the church allegedly continued unabated. In 1978, after a failed attempt to seize control of the Church from the Elder Armstrong, Garner Ted Armstrong was disfellowshipped a final time. Garner Ted moved to Tyler, Texas, and there founded a splinter group, the Church of God International. He later spearheaded a coalition of six ex-ministers who brought accusations of misappropriation of funds directed against Herbert W. Armstrong and Stanley Rader to the Attorney General of California. Contending that Herbert W. Armstrong and Stanley Rader were siphoning millions of dollars for their personal indulgences, the Attorney General's office seized the Pasadena Campus. This action was later determined to have been illegal.
Receivership crisis 
Garner Ted Armstrong blamed Stanley Rader for his two-time ousting from his father's church. Garner Ted and other former and discontented members of the Worldwide Church of God prompted the State of California to investigate charges of malfeasance by Rader and Herbert W. Armstrong. In 1979, California Attorney General George Deukmejian placed the church campus in Pasadena into financial receivership for a half year. The State of California went through the Church's records.
The matter gained the attention of Mike Wallace who investigated the church in a report for 60 Minutes. Wallace alleged that there had been lavish secret expenditures, conflict of interest insider deals, posh homes and lifestyles in the higher ranks, and the heavy involvement of Stanley Rader in financial manipulation. No legal charges were leveled against Herbert W. Armstrong, Stanley Rader, or the Worldwide Church of God. Wallace invited Rader to appear on 60 Minutes on April 15, 1979. Wallace showed Rader a secret tape recording in which Herbert Armstrong was purported to have alleged that Rader was attempting to take over the church after Armstrong's death, reasoning that the donated tithe money might be quite a "magnet" to some evangelists. Rader abruptly ended the interview. This tape was later alleged to have been made about someone else, and illegally taped by one of the 6 embittered ex-members who had gone to the State of California with the accusations.
In the meantime, Herbert W. Armstrong switched the Worldwide Church of God Inc. corporations to "Corporate Sole" status, making him the sole officer and responsible party for the affairs of the corporations.
In referring to the investigation of the California Attorney General, Rader wrote Against the Gates of Hell: The Threat to Religious Freedom in America in 1980, in which he contended that his fight with the Attorney General was solely about the government's circumventing religious freedoms rather than about abuse of public trust or fraudulent misappropriation of tithe funds.
The California Second Court of Appeals overturned the decision on procedural grounds and added as dicta, "We are of the opinion that the underlying action [i.e., the state-imposed receivership] and its attendant provisional remedy of receivership were from the inception constitutionally infirm and predestined to failure."
Herbert W. Armstrong, Stanley Rader, and the Worldwide Church of God later received full vindication.
Stanley Rader left his positions within the church in 1981. While remaining a member, he left the public spotlight as an attorney, and retired.
Armstrong's death and doctrinal changes 
On January 16, 1986, Herbert Armstrong died in Pasadena, California. Shortly before his death, the Council of Elders (among them were Rodrick Meridith, Richard Aimes, Aaron Dean, and Ralph Helge) named Joseph W. Tkach Sr. to succeed as leader of the church. Armstrong had been evaluating each of them, in an attempt to determine which one should be selected as director/chairman of that board of directors. Armstrong had picked Tkach to be next for evaluation (to be the director of the Corporation. (Armstrong did not pick him as a successor to lead the Church.) Tkach was two weeks into the evaluation when Herbert W. Armstrong died.
As early as 1988, Joseph W. Tkach Sr. began to make doctrinal changes. Doctrinal revisions were made quietly and slowly at first, but then openly and radically in January 1995. They were presented as new understandings of Christmas and Easter, Babylon and the harlot, British Israelism, Saturday Sabbath, and other doctrines.
In general, Tkach Sr. directed the church theology towards mainstream evangelical Christian belief. This caused much disillusionment among the membership and another rise of splinter groups. All these changes, the church admits, have organizationally brought about "catastrophic results," though they believe that it is spiritually the best thing that ever happened to them. During the tenure of Joseph Tkach Sr., the church's membership declined by about 50 percent. His son, Joseph Tkach Jr., succeeded him after his death in 1995.
Eventually all of Herbert Armstrong's writings were withdrawn from print by the Worldwide Church of God. In the 2004 video production Called To Be Free, Greg Albrecht, former dean of WCG's Ambassador College, declared Herbert Armstrong to be both a false prophet and a heretic.
Beliefs and practices 
Current teachings 
After Armstrong's death, the church's new leadership began a process of theological revision. The church now claims to be considered within the evangelical mainstream as shown by its acceptance into the National Association of Evangelicals. Its doctrinal summary highlights mainstream Protestant beliefs such as the Trinity, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that faith in Him is the only way to receive salvation, and that the Bible is the inspired and infallible word of God.
Historical teachings under Armstrong 
Until Armstrong's death, the Worldwide Church of God adhered to its founder's teachings. The most notable feature was Armstrong's version of British Israelism, which was based on reading the account of Jacob blessing his sons (Genesis 49) as end-time prophecy. Armstrong saw in it a description of national characteristics of contemporary descendants of Jacob, and deduced that the United States, the British Commonwealth and several countries situated in northwestern Europe were actually the Lost Tribes of Israel. Armstrong held that these countries played a central role in the end times that were about to begin.
Armstrong rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, regarding it as a pagan concept absorbed into mainstream Christianity. Armstrong contended that God was not a closed Trinity but was instead building a family through the Holy Spirit, which Armstrong considered to be God's powerful unifying essence guiding and bringing to remembrance those things which Christ taught. Armstrong contended that the Spirit is not a distinct personality like the Father and the Son. Armstrong also taught that members of the church would actually become members of the God family themselves after the resurrection. Armstrong rejected as unbiblical the traditional Christian views of heaven, hell, eternal punishment and salvation.
The church strictly observed the Saturday Sabbath, annual festivals described in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus, and strongly advocated the clean meats of Leviticus 11. Members were encouraged to tithe and to follow a dress code during services. They were discouraged from marrying outside the church. In fact, these practices are still observed in several of the Church's remaining branches today. Herbert W. Armstrong summarized his teachings in his book Mystery of the Ages, published shortly before his death. This book was the centerpiece of a titanic struggle between the Philadelphia Church of God and the remnant of the Worldwide Church of God under Joseph Tkach Jr. The battle went as far as the United States Supreme Court. At that point, however, the leaders of the WCG decided to drop the case and give over not only Mystery of the Ages, but also several other works originally written by Armstrong.
Under Armstrong's leadership, the Worldwide Church of God was accused of being a cult with unorthodox and, to most Christians, heretical teachings. Critics also contended that the WCG did not proclaim salvation by grace through faith alone, but rather required works as part of salvation. The late Walter Martin, in his classic The Kingdom of the Cults, devoted 34 pages to the group, claiming that Armstrong borrowed freely from Seventh-Day Adventist, Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormon doctrines. Armstrong contended that all Church doctrine could be proved simply and effectively through the Bible, and that one did not need to "accept on faith" any of the Worldwide Church of God's doctrinal beliefs.
Grace Communion International has a hierarchical polity. The ecclesiastical policies are determined by the Advisory Council of Elders. Members of the Advisory Council are appointed by the President. The President, who also holds the title of Pastor General, is chief executive and ecclesiastical officer of the denomination. A Doctrinal Advisory Team may report to the Advisory Council on the church's official doctrinal statements, epistemology, or apologetics. The President may pocket veto doctrinal positions he determines to be heretical. However, the President is also a member of the Doctrinal Advisory Team, and so he is aware of and involved in the activities of that committee. Historically, Presidents, as chairmen of the board of directors, have appointed their own successor. This and the President's power to appoint and remove members of the Advisory Council have remained areas of concern even among those who applaud the church's doctrinal changes.
The Church maintains national offices and satellite offices in multiple countries. Pastor General Joseph Tkach, Jr. periodically travels worldwide in personal appearance campaigns to congregations in diverse intercontinental areas, such as Great Britain, Africa, and the Philippines. However, membership and tithe income originate primarily from the eastern United States.
Regional and local 
In the United States, denominational contact with local assemblies or local church home small group meetings, i.e., cell churches, is facilitated by district superintendents, each of which is responsible for a large number of churches in a geographical region (such as Florida or the Northeast) or in a specialized language group (such as Spanish-speaking congregations).
Local churches are led by a senior pastor, pastoral leadership team (with one person designated as a congregational pastoral leader), each of which is supervised by a district pastoral leader. Some senior pastors are responsible for a single local church, but many are responsible for working in two or more churches. Salary compensation for the paid local church pastor, if available, is determined by the local church.
Most local church groups retain the long-standing traditional policy of meeting in leased or rented facilities for meetings or services. The trend since 2000, however, has been to adopt a local church setting blending into the local milieu with headquarters retaining administrative oversight functions. As of 2005, the church established a new computer system of financial checks and balances for church budgets at the local level. Also, GCI now mandates a local Advisory Council, which includes a number of volunteer ministry leaders (some of whom are also called deacons), and often additional elders or assistant pastors.
The early Worldwide Church of God used a three-tithe system, under which members were expected to give a tithe or ten percent "of their increase," usually interpreted as a family's income.
- The first tithe, 10 percent of a member's total income, was sent to church headquarters to finance "the work", which was all operations of the church, as well as broadcasting and publishing the church's message.
- The second tithe was saved by the individual member to fund the member's (and his family's) observance of the annual holy days, especially the 8-day-long Feast of Tabernacles. Unlike the first tithe, these funds were not sent into the church but retained by the member.
- A third tithe was required in the third and sixth years of a personal seven-year tithing cycle, and it was also sent to headquarters. The third tithe was used to support the indigent, widows, and orphans - distribution was decided privately at the discretion of the ministry.
In contrast to many other churches' religious services, the practice of WCG was not to pass around offering plates during weekly church services but only during holy day church services (seven days each year). These funds were considered "freewill offerings" and regarded as entirely separate from regular tithes. The church also gathered funds in the form of donations from "co-workers," those who read the church's free literature or watched the weekly TV show but did not actually attend services.
Under Joseph W. Tkach Sr., the mandatory nature of the church's three-tithe system was abolished, and it was suggested that tithes could be calculated on net, rather than gross, income. Its income has plummeted. Its leaders sold much of the property, including the festival sites used by church brethren and campsites built for teenagers. They shut down the college campuses which Herbert Armstrong raised up for the work and for young people, and sold the airplane he used to visit the brethren and world leaders. They discontinued all the books, booklets and magazines published by Armstrong. Afterwards, church income declined precipitously (membership also dropped at the same time). Today the GCI headquarters has downsized for financial survival. Facing possible bankruptcy, the church liquidated its high maintenance real estate properties, such as Ambassador College, and other auctionable inventory to pay for current headquarters expenditures.
To further economize, the church sold its properties in Pasadena and purchased an office building in Glendora, California. Formerly, the church's membership -- meeting in rented halls on Saturdays such as public school buildings, dance halls, hotels and other venues -- sent all tithe donations directly to the headquarters. Under the new financial reporting regime, local churches are permitted to use some funds for local purposes, such as constructing local church buildings for use by the congregations. As of 2007, 85 percent or more of all congregational donations stay in the local area, with 15 percent going to the church's headquarters in Glendora for ministerial training and support, legal services, and denominational administration.
Related denominations 
From the 1970s through to the 1990s several of the Sabbatarian Churches of God that adhered to some of Armstrong's teachings separated from WCG. Due to the significant doctrinal changes which occurred in WCG throughout the 1990s, the largest percentage of ministers and members left WCG during this decade. This resulted in the formation of many denominations. There is significant overlap in their teachings with those of Herbert W. Armstrong. Most claim to teach "all" of the truths restored through Herbert W. Armstrong, most notably the Philadelphia Church of God (1989). The "PCG" purchased the copyright to several of the books and booklets of Herbert W. Armstrong and systematically changed both the wording, content and meaning of what Armstrong wrote. They maintain that Armstrong was right and that they are preaching and teaching the very same teachings and are in fact a continuation of the parent WCG.
Global Church of God, the Living Church of God (1993, 1998), United Church of God (1995), and the Restored Church of God (1998). The United Church of God (UCG) is the largest of these denominations.
- Church of God International (org. 1978)
- Philadelphia Church of God (org. 1989)
- Twentieth Century Church of God (org. 1990)
- Church of God (Philadelphia Era) (org. 1991)
- Church of the Great God (1992)
- Global Church of God (1992)
- United Church of God (1995)
- Church of God Fellowship (1992)
- Living Church of God (1998)
- Restored Church of God (1998)
- Church of God, an International Community (1998)
- Pacific Church of God (2009)
- Church of God, a Worldwide Association (2010)
Most teach that they are the continuation of the WCG and many have also rewritten Armstrong's books and booklets. Some have altered them to fit the splinter church's particular church doctrines.
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- Gerald Flurry, Malachi's Message to God's Church Today. "A thorough explanation of how and why the Worldwide Church of God rejected Herbert Armstrong's teachings, and how to hold fast to Herbert Armstrong's teachings."
- Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults. Revised and Updated Edition, Bethany House, 2003. ISBN 0-7642-2821-8. See Appendix A, pp. 471–494.
- Larry Nichols and George Mather, Discovering the Plain Truth: How the Worldwide Church of God Encountered the Gospel of Grace. InterVarsity Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8308-1969-X
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- Tarling, Lowell R. (1981). "The Armstrong Churches". The Edges of Seventh-day Adventism: A Study of Separatist Groups Emerging from the Seventh-day Adventist Church (1844–1980). Barragga Bay, Bermagui South, NSW: Galilee Publications. pp. 41–62. ISBN 0-9593457-0-1.
- Grace Communion International official website
- Statement of beliefs
- Writing of H.W. Armstrong
- Archive of the Ambassador Report publication published from 1975 through 1999
- Exit & Support Network—aiding those spiritually abused by Worldwide Church of God and offshoots
- God's Work NOW Holding fast to the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong
- Herbert W. Armstrong Searchable Library
- Bad News Religion: The Virus That Attacks God's Grace by Greg Albrecht, World Publishing (2004), ISBN 0-529-11954-4
- Journal: News of the Churches of God independent non denominational monthly newspaper.
- Word of His Grace Ministries Support and Biblical Backing for ex-'Armstrong' members.
- "Called to be Free" Documenting how the doctrinal changes in WWCG occurred after Armstrong's death. From the point of view of current WWCG leadership.