XV. The "Church Depression Period," 1974-1987
Fifteen years seemed like a long time to me in 1972-1973 when I wrote History of the Seventh Day Church of God at age 25. In 1987, at age 40, my perspective had changed somewhat. What happened to the Seventh Day Church of God in these fifteen years?
The years 1973-1987 could be labeled the "Church Depression" period. The 1950's, and especially the early and mid 1960's, were periods of optimism and activity for the church. This began to wane in the late 1960s and early 1970s. By the mid-1970s, there was a definite lack of direction. By the late 1980's, optimism had virtually given way to the stark reality that things were not working out so well. The Seventh Day Church of God, as a whole, was not only unheard of by the world, but the church didn't know who they were, nor where they were going.
What Is the "Seventh Day Church of God"?
I use the term, "Seventh Day Church of God" to designate Sabbath-keepers originating from the Gilbert Cranmer, Hope of Israel, Messenger Party, Marion Iowa, and Stanberry, Missouri people of the Nineteenth Century. In 1987, there were at least four major segments of the Seventh Day Church of God:
(1) Mainline Church of God Seventh Day groups, headquartered in Denver, Colorado; Meridian, Idaho; Caldwell, Idaho; Salem, West Virginia, and Jerusalem, Israel.
(2) Worldwide Church of God, headquartered in Pasadena, California and its numerous splinter groups,
(3) Sacred Name groups headquartered in Bethel, Pennsylvania; Rocheport, Missouri; Holt, Michigan; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, plus other groups and independents.
(4) Other groups and independents.
The Appendix gives history trees for these segments. Our history has concentrated on the first segment, the mainline Church of God, Seventh Day groups. In analyzing the years of 1974-1987, more attention needs to be given to all four segments. It is not uncommon to find individuals who have been associated with several segments of the Seventh Day Church of God. We have seen that the different segments are affecting one another to a larger extent than has happened in the past.
The Denver Group
Mead's 1975 Handbook of Denominations showed that the Church of God, Seventh Day, Denver Group had 56 churches and 5,500 members. According to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, in 1981 the group had 124 churches and 4,431 members and 111 ministers in North America. As reported previously, Canright said in the late 1800's that the Church of God had 30 ministers and 6,000 members. The 1986 Directory of Sabbath-Observing Groups reported 120 congregations and 5,200 members in North America. The 1980 Directory had listed 126 congregations and 6,800 members. Calvin Burrell reported that the Bible Advocate circulation grew from 2,400 in 1970 to 21,000 in 1981. For financial reasons, circulation was drastically reduced to 9,000 in 1984. It grew back to 14,000 in 1987. From all these statistics, it appears that the group is barely holding its own. Total 1987 membership of the Denver Group, as reported by Calvin Burrell, was 5,200 in North America, 18,900 in Latin America, 575 in Europe and Australia/New Zealand, 9,500 in Africa, 1,800 in India, and 1,900 in the Philippines.
Midwest Bible College of Stanberry, Missouri was closed in the 1970s. In its place, the Summit School of Theology in Denver offers ministerial training courses.
Robert Coulter was President of the General Conference from the 1960s to 1987. An aggressive, personable man, Coulter gave stability and cohesiveness to the Church. Under his leadership, the goal of doubling the church organization's membership by 1990 was set. No doubt a key element in that goal was the reunification of the Denver and Meridian Church of God Seventh Day groups, which if successful, would have been a big boost to church morale.
In some areas of the United States, reunification was an accomplished fact. During the early 1980s, in the Portland, Oregon, area, Emmett Samson of the Milwaukee, Oregon Church of God Seventh Day (affiliated with Meridian) joined forces and congregations with Nelson Caswell and the Portland church affiliated with Denver.
Movement toward the Denver-Meridian reunification went through several years of meetings and discussion during the mid-1980s. However, a vote on the union was rejected in 1987 when the Meridians approved it by a simple majority, but short of the required two-thirds vote.
Coulter stepped down as Denver Group President and the Bylaws were amended to allow lay members for the first time on the body's twelve member executive board. The bylaws allow women to serve on district boards which are limited to seven members. Coulter went to minister a church in Texas. His job was divided between Calvin Burrell and Jerry Moldenhauer. Burrell became General Conference President and also continued to serve as pastor of the Denver congregation. Jerry Moldenhauer became General Conference Executive Director, which entailed managing the Denver General Conference offices and coordinating United Ministries programs.
Burrell's father, Lawrence Burrell, was in 1987 still the Treasurer of the Bible Sabbath Association. A native of Fairview, Oklahoma, Lawrence Burrell (b. 1909) held this post since the mid-1950's. Both he and his wife, Lottie (Davison) are descendants of pioneer Church of God (7th Day) ministers.
Calvin Burrell said the main reason for the merger failure was the Meridians' fear of being overpowered by the larger Denver group. Although a standing invitation to merge was extended, Burrell did not expect the merger to go through in the future.
In other significant events, an International Ministerial Congress was formed, composed of representation from nearly twenty national Conferences. Each was recognized as a sister, rather than a daughter, of the Church in the United States.
From 1970-1987, the following are some of the ministers deceased: Ennis Hawkins, Reuben Moldenhauer, K.H. Freeman, A.E. Lidell, Horace Munro, Julian Camero, Rudolph Haffner, W.W. McMicken, Floyd Craig, C.W. Wilkinson, Tiemen DeWind, A.N. Dugger and A.F. Dugger, Jr.
Floyd Turner served as Editor of the Bible Advocate from 1970 until 1981, when Jerry Griffin became Editor.
Ray Straub, son of the 1949 "Merger Engineer" E.A. Straub, developed into a very effective speaker and leader in the church during the latter 1970s. He might have succeeded Coulter. However, charges of immoral conduct resulted in the Marion, Oregon, church removing him from the pulpit. He retained membership.
Meridian, Idaho Group
The Meridian group continued to publish the Acts and Fellowship Herald magazines. The 1986 Directory states there were 26-30 affiliated congregations in North America and five in Latin America.
Caldwell, Idaho Group
Martin L. Ogren, a founder and long time leader of the group, died in 1982. Paul A. Woods assumed editorship of the monthly magazine, Herald of Truth.
Ten congregations were listed in the 1986 Directory: Watsonville, California; Caldwell, Idaho; Chicago, Illinois; St. Joseph, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee; and Everett, Forks, Republic, Trout Lake and Wenatchee, Washington. The group published the Zion Faith College Bible Correspondence Course.
A close relationship existed between the Caldwell group and J.O. Nwakeafor of Nigeria, who was overseer of an organization there, formerly led by R.D. Orukuwu. There were dozens of Nigerian ministers and thousands of members. Like Caldwell, the Nigerians kept the Feast Days, but used the Jewish Calendar which Caldwell rejects. The Nigerians keep Pentecost on Sunday and look both to Caldwell and Jerusalem for leadership and assistance.
Salem, West Virginia Group
The last official census of the group was in 1960 when it reported seven churches and 2,000 members. Their numbers had apparently reduced considerably by 1987, as the 1986 Directory does not give statistics. The Advocate of Truth was still published in the 1980s.
Jerusalem, Israel Group
Andrew N. Dugger died about 1975. Leadership of the Jerusalem organization was assumed by his son-in-law, Gordon M. Fauth. A young peoples' singing group, the Jerusalem Sonbeams, traveled around Israel helping evangelize.
Numerous "Third World" Sabbath-keeping Churches of God in Africa (Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana), India, the Philippines and the West Indies looked to Jerusalem for leadership, Bibles and support. Independent Sabbath-keepers in America supported the Jerusalem work. Perhaps as the older generation dies out, men who knew Dugger, support from the United States may wane.
The group ceased to print the Bible Home Instructor and other Dugger books and tracts. The Mt. Zion Reporter magazine mainly dealt with news from Israel. An "Andrew N. Dugger Orphanage" in India received economic support from Jerusalem.
Worldwide Church of God and Related Groups
In early 1974, the roof caved in on the Worldwide Church of God. Dr. Ernest L. Martin, Al Portune, Ken Westby, George Kemnitz and a host of other leading ministers left the church, ostensibly over its failure to change its teachings on Divorce & Remarriage (D&R) and Pentecost, and church government. In an apparent effort to stem the tide, the Church's leader, Herbert W. Armstrong, at the behest of his son Garner Ted Armstrong, drastically liberalized the church's teachings on D&R, allowing divorce and remarriage for just about any reason, even when both were married in the church. Also, the date for the annual Pentecost observance was changed from Monday to Sunday. Many other doctrines were changed and/or liberalized. In 1977, Joseph Hopkins in Christianity Today listed 29 doctrinal changes or liberalizations, including a more relaxed approach to Sabbath observance.
While thousands had left because the church had refused to change doctrines, hundreds more left for opposite reasons when the church liberalized its doctrines. All these departures produced numerous splinter groups. Those who remained were largely composed of those who would follow Herbert W. Armstrong no matter what he said. The Ambassador Report newsletter became an organ for a growing anti-Armstrong movement.
In 1972, Garner Ted had been put out of the ministry and excommunicated from the church for marital infidelity, but was soon reinstated. In 1973, the elder Armstrong had turned over much of the reigns of church leadership to his son Garner Ted, yet still remained in top control. Conflict raged over the financial control of the church's vast assets and millions of dollars of annual income. Conflicts between Garner Ted Armstrong and Stanley Rader, the church's legal counsel and others led to Garner Ted's final ouster in 1978. He formed his own church organization, the Church of God International, headquartered in Tyler, Texas. In the latter 1980's it had several thousand members in the U.S. Garner Ted Armstrong continued to produce television sermons.
In 1979-1980, a conflict raged between the Worldwide Church of God and the State of California when dissident members convinced the State Attorney General to investigate alleged financial wrong doing and place control of the church under a court appointed receiver. Resistance from members plus a law passed by the California State Legislature put the quietus on the investigation.
Herbert W. Armstrong continued his world travels, meeting with heads of state in Japan, Germany, Israel and elsewhere. In 1986, Armstrong died and leadership of the church went to Armstrong's last-minute appointment, Joseph W. Tkach, a relative newcomer to the church's leadership. The church had entered a period of tranquility which even the death of Herbert Armstrong did not shake.
Former Worldwide Church of God minister Dr. Ernest L. Martin's Foundation of Biblical Research, later called Associates for Scriptural Knowledge, produced a stream of literature in the Protestant mold, purposely designed to tear down Worldwide Church of God theology such as the Sabbath, tithing, healing, Passover and Holy Days.
Some of the many ex-Worldwide Church splinter groups were: The United Church of God, led by Richard A. Wiedenheft and others, who kept the annual "Lord's Supper" but abandoned the Holy Days. The Biblical Church of God, originally led by Fred Coulter (ex-Worldwide Church of God minister, no relation to Robert Coulter of the Denver Group). In 1982, Fred Coulter parted and formed his own Christian Biblical Church of God. Another division is the Biblical Church of God in Canada, headed by Keith Hunt.
The Church of God, The Eternal, led by Raymond C. Cole, numbered about 500 members and had branches in Canada and Switzerland. Cole was one of the original graduates from Ambassador College and a former Worldwide Church evangelist and regional church director. This group originated with some of those who refused to go along with the 1974 Worldwide Church of God doctrinal changes, particularly Divorce and Remarriage and Pentecost. In 1976, Paul S. Royer broke off to form the Church of God, Sonoma.
The Church of God Evangelistic Association, led by David Smith, published News Watch magazine. The group emphasized prophecy, especially the association of the mark of the beast with the universal price code. The Hebrew Calendar was rejected.
One would think that the problems in the Worldwide Church of God and the creation of many ex-Worldwide splinter groups had created a golden opportunity for the Church of God Seventh Day mainline groups such as the Denver Group. Many ex-Seventh-Day Adventists became associated with the Church of God, Seventh Day during the early 1900's. However, few who left the Worldwide Church of God, or its splinter groups, affiliated with the Denver, Meridian or Caldwell groups.
However, the 1974 doctrinal changes in the Worldwide Church of God and mass exodus of thousands of former members did affect the Church of God, Seventh Day, especially the Denver Group. For a while in the latter 1970s, Don Prunkard, former Worldwide Church minister, worked with the Denver Group. He wrote an article in the August, 1979 Advocate attacking the Feast Days, which he had kept while in the Worldwide Church but had by this time renounced. Prunkard later drifted away from the Church of God, Seventh Day.
It appears that not many ex-Worldwide Church members migrated to the Denver Group. It has been my personal experience that the response of Denver Group people to ex-WWC members is not overly friendly. Calvin Burrell stated in a personal letter to me: "Most of our members with whom I speak have made compassionate efforts to help ex-Worldwide members adjust to our Church. Generally, we have not been very successful. Reasons for this, it seems to me, are more psychological than doctrinal (mistrust of organizations, baggage of the true-church syndrome, liturgical shock, negative focus of people hurt by W.C.G., etc.)."
Many people were so badly hurt by the Worldwide Church experience that they rejected religion entirely. Many developed a total contempt for the ministry. As a result, some discarded all Truth they had. The average membership growth of the Worldwide Church of God, which had been +30% per year during the period of the 1950s and 1960's, sufered drastically and took a long time to reach its former level of about 100,000.
Sacred Name Groups
Sacred Name groups insist on using the Hebrew names for the deity. They often disagree among themselves just exactly how the Hebrew names YHVH or YHWH should be pronounced. Sacred Name group history is covered in Volume II of this history, part H. A few from the Worldwide Church of God and Church of God Seventh Day have joined Sacred Name groups, and vice versa.
Jacob O. Meyer, whose voice was heard on the Sacred Name Broadcaster broadcast, published a magazine by the same name, and led the prominent Bethel, Pennsylvania Assemblies of Yahweh. His dogmatic stance and leadership style has been compared by some Yahwehists to that of Herbert W. Armstrong.
In 1980, there was a division when Donald Mansager and others withdrew from Meyer to form Assemblies of Yahweh in Messiah in Missouri. Meyer launched a punitive lawsuit against the new group, claiming that Assemblies of Yahweh was a "service mark" and that nobody else could use this name or "any colorable imitation thereof", and that former members had stolen the address list. The two groups settled out of court when the Missouri group agreed to pay several thousands of dollars damages and change its name to Yahweh's Assembly in Messiah. The Missouri group continued to publish Master Key magazine.
Other Sacred Name groups were in Holt, Michigan and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Why Are They Declining?
The Worldwide Church of God North American membership in the latter 1980s was about the same in the early 1970s before its major internal problems. The Church of God Seventh Day and Sacred Name groups were holding their own, barely. Splits have been disastrous to all these Sabbath-keeping groups.
Splits, schisms and internal bickering seem to be the continual rule of the day. It is ironic that Herbert Armstrong said in 1927 when he was converted, that the Church of God, Seventh Day was small, unheard of, not proclaiming the gospel to the world with power. At that time, the church was undergoing its greatest period of growth, and was engaging in unprecedented evangelistic activity. Thousands of people were being baptized. Yet the church was small and unheard of by the bulk of the population.
But then, something happened. It appears that the economic depression of the 1930s contributed to a spiritual depression in the church. Unhappily, it has never recovered. They stopped spreading the faith. Some stopped keeping portions of the Truth that they once believed in, such as the Holy Days, because of economic difficulties. It is sad that in the late 1980's, when there was relative economic prosperity, that these groups of people nevertheless acted as if they were spiritually depressed. So little desire to work on overcoming the carnal self, and little enthusiasm to spread the Truth to others.
The men who lead the various groups, are, with some exceptions, seemingly dedicated individuals who are definitely not like Jim Bakker of the ill-famed PTL Club, who gained notoriety in 1987 for religious playboyism and financial corruption. Why have numbers been relatively declining in the Church of God, Seventh Day, while other groups such as Mormons and Seventh-Day Adventists reported strong membership gains? Could it be a more conservative doctrinal stand plus just plain laziness?
Granted, the church would be a little flock, Luke 12:32, and not a large political institution. Yet all of these splits, schisms, bad feelings and finger pointing are depressing! Does it have to be like this? Isn't there a better way?
In the United States, religious enthusiasm increased during the 1980's, partly due to the influence of President Ronald Reagan. Yet at the same time, religious fervor and zeal in the Seventh Day Church of God declined. Why?
My 1973 analysis showed that the Church of God, Seventh Day grew up on dead soil historically. The legacy of the Millerite, "Burned Over District" of western New York, the Seventh Day Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists and Church of God "independent view" with so many splits and schisms prevented much unity and evangelizing zeal. This coupled with bad leadership rife with lies and hypocrisy precluded substantial growth. In 1973 the Church of God, Seventh Day was a dying or dead church. In 1987, more so.
Can We Recapture "the Good Old Days"?
The Church of God, Seventh Day rests on its laurels of prior periods of evangelism, the so-called "good old days." The Denver Group does this. The Worldwide and its splinter groups do this to a limited extent. Then, powerful evangelists started small churches scattered across the country in various areas.
The world of the 1970s and 1980s was centered on suburbs ringing the major cities. In 1950, some 44% of USA population was located in rural areas and 24% in suburbs. In 1984, these figures were reversed. The Church of God Seventh Day is NOT active in these growing suburb areas. For example, the Church of God, Seventh Day is still unheard of in the Saint Louis, Missouri, metropolitan area of 2.5 million people. Members in various American towns tithe to their local Church of God Seventh Day minister, to a headquarters organization, or get involved in some kind of vicarious missionary work in Jerusalem or elsewhere, and it stops there. Then there are numbers who just bank their tithes, waiting for Elijah to come.
Where are the evangelists, the religious writers, the hard working dedicated people who care enough about the Truth of God they know to share it with others? They are watching television or engaging in other frivolous pursuits, while continuing to show up for Sabbath services or annual religious meetings. These Sabbath-keepers today are doing little to spread the gospel to the world. I am glad many people cared enough to help me come along the road to Truth with literature, fellowship and prayers. But so many today frankly don't care any more!
If the Church only realized the sad shape it is in, it might do something about it. But we are like a frog in a pan of lukewarm water. The frog doesn't notice as the temperature is gradually increased, degree by degree, until finally he is cooked to death.
A Great Spiritual Depression
In the late 1980s close to 50% of the U.S. population was Catholic. America had fallen from the world's largest creditor nation in 1981 to the world's largest debtor, owing other countries $400 billion. These factors do not bode well for future growth of Sabbath-keeping groups in North America and the world.
Many felt that the October 1987 stock market crash signalled the beginning of a worldwide economic depression similar to 1929. But for the Sabbath-keeping Churches of God, the period of 1974-1987 had already been a period of great spiritual depression.
As a student of history, the more I learn, the more questions I have. I am sure that God will answer them someday. When will we learn the lessons of history? There ought to be a better way, a way of love and compassion among the brethren, of respect and support for true ministers of the Almighty who will spread the true gospel to the world with power, and without splits, schisms, internal problems in the church. There is so much work for us to do. Is this a pipe dream or can it happen?
Are We Dead, Lukewarm, Or Full of the Holy Spirit?
The dead "Sardis" church mentioned in Revelation does nothing. The "Laodicean" church is lukewarm. It is difficult to distinguish between these two similar conditions. I don't want to be classified as either one!
And yet, if each one of us is truly honest with ourselves, we will all have to admit that each one of us is part of the problem. As the Pogo comic character stated: "We have met the enemy, and he is us!" We cannot look at the record of mankind in the Bible, and history of the New Testament Church from its foundation on 31 A.D. and say we are much better than they were. Paul's epistles are full of internal church problems that boggle the mind. We are no better than they. This history of recent day Sabbath-keeping Churches of God further confirms the fact that history does repeat itself.
The record of the entire Bible is that we must learn to be submissive to God's authority. Obey God, and you will be blessed. Disobey God, and you will be cursed. The Bible is the historical record showing that NOTHING comes out right when you disobey God, and the ONLY way to blessings is to obey God, through the Messiah our Master.
The Eternal says to US, in OUR day:
Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found your works perfect before God . . . . I know your works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will [am about to] spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: . . . As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Revelation 3:2, 16-19.
Will we learn the lesson of history? W
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