The Earl Williams Factor
(Was Williams preaching grace way before Joseph W. Tkach, Sr.
supposedly received his "truth about the New Covenant from God"?)
My husband had taken a new job in the Midwest after six years in the Worldwide Church of God [now known as Grace Communion International] in a different state. This job required further training, so we did a fair amount of travel the first year of his new employment. We were meeting people in our new congregation, and learning the ins and outs of how this church functioned. My husband was sent to Atlanta, Georgia on a business trip, and I accompanied him. We, of course, contacted Headquarters to find the nearest WCG local congregation. It was located in Snellville. It was spring, and the dogwoods were in full bloom. Seemed like every street was named "Peach" something or other.
We arrived very early at the Snellville location, and were greeted at the door. We noticed a tall African American gentlemen, who was helping with the set up of the hall. We were puzzled as to why we were being led over to this gentlemen. "This is Mr. Earl Williams, our pastor," and we shook hands while we were introduced. I know I had an astonished look on my face (I had hoped he didn't think I was prejudiced). I couldn't believe that a minister was helping to set up for Sabbath services. My husband and I helped with hall setup for years, and we never had ever seen a minister stoop to that level! Little did I know the hotbed that we had walked into. This was May of 1991.
Services started and Mr. Williams got up to preach. He spoke of the Law and how Jesus fulfilled the Law by His perfect sacrifice on the Cross. He turned to the Scripture that showed how the old covenant was made only to that present generation of ancient Israel, and not with people today. He spoke of the better Covenant, with our Lord Jesus. He told us that the Holy Days, Sabbath, and ceremonial laws were all fulfilled by Christ when he was nailed to the cross. He explained how Jesus was the fulfillment of all the O.T. prophecies. He showed us in Romans where any day of the year can be kept Holy to the Lord, and that the Feast days were no longer required. He read the Scripture about how Jesus made all things clean. The Law was a substitute until the Reality would come. He exhorted us to seek Jesus, the Reality, and that salvation was found in Him and not the Law. All we had to do was accept Him as our personal Savior in order to be saved. I was stumped. I had never heard anything like this before. I remember being told these things as a child while attending Baptist churches, so I knew it was in the Bible, and I knew he wasn't lying. But I still was not putting two and two together. We were invited to dinner by a woman whose sister attended our congregation in the Midwest. They spoke highly of Mr. Williams. They said that their church had grown so large that they had to split the congregation and move part of it to another location. So the Snellville church was a fairly new church.
We returned from that trip, and I thought nothing more of Mr. Williams' sermon. Shortly afterwards, I discovered that I was pregnant with our first child. We decided to go to Corpus Christi that year for the Feast. We had met a few friends from our old church area that were going to meet us there. When we heard that Mr. Williams was the guest speaker at the Feast, I was overjoyed. I wanted to hear more, even though I wasn't sure why. I knew that I had liked him as a person. He seemed genuinely interested in the members and did not treat them with disdain.
When he finally got up to speak, he pretty much gave the same sermon that we had heard back in Snellville. When he got through, you could have heard a pin drop. My girlfriend had come up to me afterwards and said, "I don't think I liked what he said." I still did not understand the significance of what was going on. It wasn't until the last day of the Feast that he got up and went more in-depth. He was pleading with us to trust Jesus as our personal Savior and that only through Him could we find salvation--not in Days, or keeping the Law. I think that's when something finally began to click. If that was all I had to do, then WHY had I been spending all these years doing everything but that? So I went up on stage to confront him. "It's too easy!!" I said, "Just trust Jesus?? That's it?" "Yes," he said, "It's that simple." I remember tears welling up in my eyes (maybe because I was six months pregnant at the time) and I felt pricked to my heart. What had I been doing all these years if that's all there was to it??? He looked at me with serious, pleading eyes, and said, "Pray for the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and lead you into all truth, and I will pray for you that He will," and he headed off the stage.
We came home from the Feast, and I pushed that experience aside. We were being kept busy with the "Paradigm Shift" program. Our pastor had given a sermon about women being forbidden to wear pants at Sabbath services. The very next Sabbath, he had to announce that this prohibition had been lifted and women could, indeed, wear pants. I know he felt very foolish. After all, he quoted Scripture to "prove" that women shouldn't dress like men, etc. It's funny how none of us questioned how "God's Church" could make mistakes. Other small changes kept coming our way. I was busy with a new baby to pay too close attention to the rising discontent in the members.
We attended the Feast the following year in Lexington, Kentucky (1992). I remember going out to lunch with a young man who had grown up in the WCG. More restrictions had been lifted, and we were excited by all the changes. But he was more reflective and seemed dismayed. He was always such a cheerful fellow, and I asked him if he was okay. I'm sure he didn't feel that he should voice his concerns, but I think he was feeling that his life had been a lie all those years. He had sacrificed much, and now he was asking, "For what?"
After that feast, we returned and shortly discovered that our pastor had decided to leave and start his own church. It came as quite a shock to me since I thought that he was in full agreement with Headquarters. The minister was an older man, close to retirement, and I'm sure all the changes were more than he could take. He had spent his whole life teaching things that were no longer considered, "True." Little did I know that these were only the "small" changes. The big ones were yet to come.
Another minister had arrived and took his place. Small changes continued under his leadership, but we were assured that we were only going through paradigm shifts. (WCG told us a paradigm1 is a belief that one's personal view is correct, only to discover that it wasn't. The example they gave us was about a man who was driving his car and had to swerve to keep from being hit by a woman coming in the opposite direction. He hears her yell, "Pig!!!" and he gets mad and yells a nasty name back, only to crash into a large pig in the middle of the road hidden by a blind curve.) The members continued to hear how they should "follow God's Apostle" and not rebel against His Government. We were told that if Herbert W. Armstrong were alive, he would endorse all these changes, even if he didn't agree with them!! He would follow Mr. Tkach just because he was the Pastor General and he would submit to God's Government. When Roderick Meredith (originally with Global Church of God; today founder of Living Church of God) and Gerald Flurry (Philadelphia Church of God) broke away, the minister would read quotes from the book of Jude to us. (I later found out that the PGR [Pastor General's Report] instructed them to do so). I was not going to be guilty of rebelling against "God's Government." I was going to be loyal to the end. I had decided that I would not fall away by leaving with false ministers who would rebel against "God's Apostle."
Then the big one finally hit. (I recently had another baby and was completely oblivious to all of this). We had walked into Sabbath services and there was much commotion and excitement going on. I heard, "Today we're going to see the showdown in Georgia." "Georgia?" I said, "Why Georgia??" "Because Mr. Tkach is going down there to put Mr. Williams in his place! You just wait and see!" "Mr. Williams? Earl Williams?" I said, "Why?" "Because he's been preaching grace and he's caused a major split in the church." Another person said, "Haven't you heard? There's going to be some big changes made. We just got back from Texas and everything they believe there is completely different from what we believe in our church here."
So the January 7th video was played. Much to our surprise, no such showdown happened. Mr. Williams wasn't even mentioned! JWT covered several points in this sermon:
- If a person was unemployed, he could find a job and work on the Sabbath. But once he started working, he should try to get the Sabbath time off as soon as possible. This would not be considered "breaking the Sabbath," since it was an "ox in the ditch" situation.
- Other Christians could be found in other denominations (but he did not say that "other churches were Christian"), so we should not say that God doesn't work with other people.
- We could eat unclean meats because what comes out of a man is what makes him unclean. "If 'other Christians' (outside of Worldwide) wanted to eat unclean meats, then God bless them, but I wouldn't eat those things," said JWT. [So if the Pastor General won't eat unclean foods, neither will we since he sets the example].
- The Holy Days are not required for salvation, but we observe them because of our tradition. [Nothing changed here]. 5. Tithing is no longer required for salvation. But now we were free to give 10, 20, 30 even 40%! This shows where our hearts really are. We should want to give more than what was required in the O.T. tithing system. [This made us feel more guilty].
When the video was over, the young man who was in Lexington with us, said, "Anyone want to go out for some pepperoni pizza?" People turned and gave him dirty looks. I still did not understand what the big deal was. I didn't think anything had changed, only we were expected to tithe more. The other changes I comprehended as lifting a few restrictions to accommodate those in dire circumstances.
Our pastor was trying to follow Pasadena's orders. He dutifully tried to read the Pastor General's Report to the congregation. It seemed that he didn't take time to read it the night before because he kept stumbling over it, and pausing to reread it, as if to make sure what he had just said was right. His facial expression was clearly disturbed by what he was reading. He wasn't our pastor for very long either. He had some deacons and elders go through the congregation to determine who was "for" or "against" the changes. I was oblivious to all of this until I noticed a mother sitting by herself. I went over and said hi and asked if she was okay. She seemed reticent, but sensed that I had no agenda. She finally said, "Doesn't it bother you?" It caught me completely off-guard. "What?" I questioned. She said, "Haven't you noticed? The congregation is divided in half. The one group over there is against the changes. The other group over there is for the changes. Nobody speaks to me anymore, and I don't want to speak to anyone. People that have known each other for over 20 years aren't speaking to each other!" Then she asked me how I felt about the changes. I was for them, but I couldn't understand why people were so upset over them. I was afraid of the "rebellion of Korah" (Numbers 16), so this was the side I had taken. I figured that I would wait until the dust settled before making any concrete decisions. When this pastor left, he took half the congregation with him. We were shell-shocked to lose two pastors in such a short time.
In the meantime, we had received a new pastor. We had also moved into an old, dilapidated school building. This pastor continued to pass out papers about "God in Three Persons" which explained that God was a "Hypostasis." I remember studying the papers, but not understanding them. I finally ran into a family that had been members for 28 years and were leaving the WCG. He told me that he had been listening to Earl Williams' tapes.2 I was surprised that he knew Mr. Williams and I knew nothing about it. I asked if he could get the tapes for me and he said he could. I knew Mr. Williams was credible3 and I wanted to hear what he had to say. That evening he brought over a small box of tapes, and told me about another long time family that was involved with distributing the tapes underground. He said that he wasted 26 years in WCG and never knew Jesus. He told me that the WCG was a [religious] cult,4 and that I needed to get out. I knew he was telling the truth, but I was really scared! I was afraid of losing my salvation, but he assured me that salvation was found in Christ alone.
Mr. Williams was very careful not to use any disparaging terms against Headquarters. He plainly showed from Scripture that we were wrong in our beliefs. The O.T. was only a foreshadow of the coming Messiah. Either we believed the Messiah had come, or we didn't. That's why some of the Jews keep the O.T. laws--they don't believe Jesus was the Messiah. I realized that I was guilty of this. Mr. Williams also referenced several post-cult books by Ken Blue5, David Johnson6, and Janis Hutchinson. I had never heard anything like this preached by the Headquarters' leaders. I went to the library and checked out these books and started reading. It was all starting to fit but I was still so confused. Then I had a frightening thought. If the Holy Spirit were merely a power source7, then I had nothing to lose by not acknowledging it. But if the Holy Spirit were indeed a Divine Personage, then I had a lot to lose for rejecting Him. I had to find out.
I remembered what Mr. Williams said to me at the Feast in Corpus Christi. So I prayed and asked God to help me to understand what in the world was going on. I asked for forgiveness for relying on days for my salvation, instead of believing in Him. I felt such sorrow for completely missing the mark, and for rejecting the Holy Spirit. I asked the Holy Spirit's forgiveness and asked Him to lead me into all truth. I did not want to believe that the WCG was a [religious] cult--it's the same feeling one gets when discovering that a spouse had been unfaithful--but I had to know the truth no matter how painful it was going to be. At that moment, I felt something like a blindness lifted from my eyes, and I could finally clearly see that the WCG was not "God's True Church." I was so convicted by this, that I immediately stopped attending services. I could no longer be a part of a lie. It was painful, but I felt amazing peace over it.
It was a long journey, but one that would have never been started had Mr. Williams kept silent. Through this one man, thousands of us escaped the death grip of the WCG.
By Kelly Marshall
Exit & Support Network™
January 21, 2003
Last updated December 2005
P.S. The group of us that exited my WCG congregation had all listened to Earl Williams' tapes and none of us went into an Armstrong splinter group. (CDs/Tapes on Earl Williams' N.C. sermons)
P.S. P.S. If Joseph W. Tkach agreed with Earl Williams about grace, then WHY isn't it ever mentioned in WCG's books and pamphlets today?? Seems strange, don't you think?
However, Tkach, Sr. is alleged to have told David Hulme that "significant further changes" were in store, but that he intended to "keep them under wraps for at least five years, lest they set off a fire-storm within the organization."8 NOTE: Read in OIU 3, Pt. 2 how David Hulme said Joseph W. Tkach, Sr. told him Earl was getting in front of him and that couldn't go on.
The author's purpose in writing this article is listed as follows:
- To show that grace had been preached by Earl Williams at least since 1991 because I heard it with my own ears and saw it with my own eyes.
- To show that Earl Williams did not "censor" information. He told people to read books outside of the WCG's booklist; i.e., The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by Johnson and Van Vonderen, etc., not books written by Ruth Tucker, Mike Feazell and Joe Jr. These outside authors helped me to understand what a religious cult was and how they functioned. [Refer to ESN Booklist]
- Once I learned that we are under grace and not Law, then I had to question why "God's True Church" didn't get it right the first time, since after all, God was revealing all Truth to "his Apostle" and "his Church." Earl Williams was clear at explaining this grace and our close fellowship with Jesus Christ. The WCG would tell us, "You don't have to tithe under the New Covenant, but if you don't, then this shows where your heart really is" and other such nonsense. [1995 Video Sermon to the members] They still wanted to glue the old onto the new. They still won't come clean about Armstrong and who he really was. A false prophet cannot be a founder of a "True Church."
- I am giving a personal account of how Earl Williams had affected me personally. I also am aware that when ministers leave the WCG, somebody will always get hurt (we had lost two ministers in rapid succession, and even though I was not close to either one of them, it was still very painful for me). I do not know Earl Williams' personal motives, but I feel that I would still be in the WCG today had he not spoken up.
- And lastly, the whole incident raised a big question with me. If JWT was a "New Covenant Christian," then why didn't he go to Atlanta and embrace his "New Covenant Christian brother" since they were in agreement doctrinally??? When Paul rebuked Peter for his hypocrisy, they still ironed things out openly. Peter, the one who stood corrected, didn't put Paul out of the church. They spoke about each other with respect and wanted to be seen as unified leaders under Christ. But JWT did not say, "Earl, you were right. Thanks for setting me straight on the understanding of grace in the church. Since we are in agreement, let's work on putting the church back together as brothers in Christ."
Tkach, Sr. High-Fived Earl Williams on the Stage / Atlanta a "test" area:
March 25, 2005
Pasadena was trying desperately to hold on to the members [at the time the new changes were introduced in 1995], knowing that they would have no reason to stay and continue giving THREE TITHES if the Law was fulfilled and you could attend any Christian church. I know that Pasadena did not think the whole scenario through because the sermons of Earl Williams went out like wild fire. Earl did not want them copied. You know how ministers used to say that tapes could not be shared since it was only for your area? Earl gave me one tape since my husband was not there with me. It was the only one he gave permission for to be copied. We thought that HQ would fire him and it would all be over, but it never happened. In fact, when JWT Sr. came to Atlanta, Georgia in January 1995, he gave the same message and he high- fived Earl Williams on stage. I was told this by those who saw him do it. People were shocked.
Earl went through a major transformation while in Atlanta and I believe that Pasadena was using him. He told me in a phone conversation that Pasadena bragged about using him. The congregation that my family attended was told that Atlanta was a "test" case on these new beliefs and if all went well that it would be carried out all over the United States.
I talked to Earl a couple of times after this new stuff came out. I was there for the first big sermon on Grace vs. the Law. Once in a phone conversation, Earl told me about how the WCG ministers would use racial slurs when speaking to him, or about him, and how he won his legal battle against the WCG and had proven this in court. Looking back, I am glad that he stood up for what was right and took on the WCG for the racial abuse he endured. I also believe that he was saved and that he did have a life-transforming experience coming out of those Armstrongism beliefs and that he truly believed in what he was preaching about grace. He may have been the only minister with the courage to do the right thing. He had a very nice family.
Earl's original sermon was given in August of 1994. I must have listened to his sermons on Grace vs. the Law hundreds of times while copying them and it never sank in for me until two years ago when I re-listened to one. Maybe it just was not my time to understand. Maybe I had to join all of these other creepy cults to be able to help others later on. --Former member of several offshoots [name withheld]
More on Earl Williams and Atlanta Being a "Test" Area:
March 25, 2005 Letter to ESN
I read the comment by David Hulme in OIU 3, Pt. 3 where he said in a letter to JWT [Joseph W. Tkach], "by mid-December as you said to me on April 13, Earl Williams was getting out in front of you, and that could not go on. You then had little choice but to agree with him openly in Atlanta on December 17, 1994."
This is very interesting since I did not see JWT agreeing openly to Earl Williams. If you read the sermon transcript, you will never see anything even remotely referencing EW. He never once said, "I agree with Mr. Williams" and he (JWT) continued to say that the Law was not done away with. So my guess is that Hulme said that because he thought that any preaching of grace was siding with EW. (EW and Hulme were at the same feast site when EW gave his grace sermons. David Hulme called up JWT and asked if he could publicly denounce EW, but JWT said "no.") I believe that the WCG was planning on making the changes, but making them very, very slowly so members could not discern that they were changing. (This could be what Hulme meant when he said "the time being right.")
They wanted to keep all of us intact so they could continue making money. But EW's tapes were going out and were causing a rift. JWT couldn't disfellowship him, then turn around and make the same doctrinal changes, because members would question. JWT's sermon was an attempt to pacify both sides and cause confusion so nobody really knew which side he was standing on. Look how many duplicitous statements were made on that tape. He was counting on members hearing what they wanted to hear, but we weren't as dumb as what he had hoped.
At that time, EW's message wasn't so widespread. I think HQ didn't count on members duplicating EW's tapes and sending them out on a mass scale (I know that is what I did). That is why I think JWT said that EW "preempted" him. I don't think he ever dreamed that EW's message would catch on like wildfire. Maybe they thought if he did preach this message that the members would have thrown him out, but since that didn't happen, and they embraced it, then that could have been a "green light" for HQ to introduce their changes. I think it spiraled out of their control and HQ was angry that their plans had been foiled, and had to step up the pace in introducing the changes.
Before he was preaching grace, I think EW's said he started listening to Christian radio, which got him thinking and questioning (something none of us dared do). I think that he did say that he went to HQ to tell them about the teachings on grace that he had discovered while reading the Bible and listening to Christian radio, and they didn't have a problem with it. (Of course, they wouldn't since they were gong to slowly introduce these teaching to us). So when EW talked to Feazell & Co it may have been considered a "test" by them. EW brought the grace message, they heard it and knew they (HQ) were going to adopt it, so they gave EW their blessing and really were waiting and watching to see if the whole thing was going to flop in EW's face. If it flopped, then they would know to be more careful introducing it. If it succeeded, then they knew members were accepting (obedient) enough to accept what the higher-ups were telling them. I think they completely underestimated the impact that the gospel message was going to make. EW didn't pussyfoot on his message. He didn't say, "We're going to keep these days as our tradition." He said, "These days are obsolete, part of the old covenant. We must let go of days and grab hold of Christ." He was very clear about the Law being obsolete, whereas HQ tried to make us believe that it wasn't. I do not see a lot of "agreement" between the two parties. It seems that if they (EW and WCG HQ) had conspired together, then there would have been some kind of doctrinal agreements, but there aren't any. --Former WCG member [name withheld]
NOTE: It is further known that WCG leaders such as Joseph W. Tkach, Sr., Joseph Tkach, Jr., Roderick Meredith, Greg Albrecht and others at headquarters had understood the truth about tithing not being mandated, plus many other doctrines since the 1970's. (Read: Worldwide Church of God History) This shows how all the changes were not "new revelation from God." Request the 1976 Richard Plache message to hear about this and the terrible exploitation of members. Also read: Robert Gerringer 1975 Letter to Charles Hunting. Much of this information has been exposed on other websites, but anytime anyone reveals these things, WCG simply labels it a "lie" or says it was "in the past and things have changed." In addition, because of Williams' sermons on grace, Tkach, Sr.'s plan to change things "gradually over a period of several years" came to a halt and headquarters had to speed up the changes since so many members were starting to ask a lot of questions.
David Covington (former WCG minister) speaks of Earl Williams
"I am thankful for Earl Williams' ministry and regret that I did not take more of a stand at the time when he was being blamed for the church's problems--blamed by those who would eventually go with United [COG] because of his message of grace, and blamed by those who would stay with WCG because of his 'preempting the pastor general' and 'having a government problem.' I believed the administration was fostering this approach and wrote [a January 19, 1995 letter to Joseph Tkach, Sr.] to entreat the WCG to utilize Mr. Williams instead of attacking him." (Excerpted from "Tribute to Courageous Ministers - Pastor Earl Williams' Significant Role 1, 1997," David Covington's website [no longer online])
In this same article, David Covington says he backed out of sending the letter to Earl because it seemed to him that "loyalty to WCG church government, not to the gospel of Jesus or the good of the membership, was and is the standard operating procedure."
What About Earl Williams and Robert Brinsmead?
It has been noted that Earl Williams was distributing photocopies of Robert Brinsmead's Sabbath material in 1993 in an effort to teach the New Covenant to his congregation. Who is Robert Brinsmead? Brinsmead was a theologian who left the Seventh-day Adventist church in the 1960's due to disagreements. His past literature (he published Verdict in the 70's and 80's) and tapes on why Christians didn't need to observe the Sabbath looked/sounded very well written. In fact, the WCG leaders were sending copies of his articles to the entire WCG ministry around the time of the changes. But those that got caught up in his material noticed that Brinsmead was also "growing" in his understanding. In fact, he grew so much that he later came to the radical conclusion that we "no longer need the Bible because Christ is the Word." Brinsmead, age 65, later went on to denounce the virgin birth of Christ and His redeeming blood.
What About Any Abuse of Members by Earl Williams?
ESN founder L. A. Stuhlman talked to Earl Williams several times on the phone during the time these new changes in WCG were taking place. We saw no reason at that time to question him. Another former member told us that they knew Mr. Williams personally and that a close friend of theirs knew him very well. Both of them believe that he was sincere. Others may have opinions or grievances with many things Earl did, or didn't do, at the time of the changes. He undoubtedly made mistakes and handled things at times in a wrong way which offended others. How much Earl abused other members in his twenty-five career as a minister we do not know, but if he enforced all the rules of the WCG, then we are sure there was abuse. However, we are confident of the fact that Earl has repented of his former abusive ways. In fact, in his sermon Let Go of Days, Take Hold of Christ, he said, "I apologize for teaching such things." He went on to say that God had to change him "from the inside out" and "if I have wronged anyone, intentionally or unintentionally, I hope they will forgive me."
Earl Williams eventually disassociated himself from the Worldwide Church of God in March 1995.UPDATE ON WCG: In April 2009 Worldwide Church of God changed their name in the United States to Grace Communion International. (Some local church areas and countries may still carry the former name or a different one). Today they have gone on to embrace New Age Teachers and philosophies. Read: Grace Communion International - New Age and Ecumenical Connections and Letter to Worldwide Church of God, Philippines (On Apostasy--A Radical Proposal) (this letter reached close to 350 WCG ministers, including those at Headquarters).
1 In 1993 a "Paradigm" sermon was sent out to the members. A video was played which was called "Discovering the Future." "The word paradigm describes the New Age idea of transition between two world views. ... Do not ask questions, for questions and Biblical reasoning is a solid block against this change." - Joseph Chambers, 1997. A paradigm shift designates a change in thinking and in one's perception of reality.
2 It was reported that when some members tried to share these tapes by Earl Williams, WCG would suspend the person, saying they had a "government problem." These sermons on the New Covenant by Earl Williams are now offered on the ESN Catalog.
3 If I hadn't seen and heard with my own eyes, I would never have known who Earl Williams was, and I wouldn't have believed him. He would have been like all the other names of passing WCG ministers that people don't know today.
6 David Johnson is co-author of The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.
Earl Williams and the Worldwide Church of God (More on the Earl Williams story and what happened; includes criticism Earl has received)