Should you be wary of United Church of God? Are they a high demand, deceitful group that uses methods of mind control in order to recruit and retain others? Where does their belief system really originate from?
Note: If you have a loved one who has recently gone into this group, or is becoming involved, be sure and read: If You Have a Loved One in a Deceptive, Exploitive Group.
United Church of God, An International Association, is one of the major breakoffs from the Worldwide Church of God. It was founded in 1995, within six weeks of the WCG changes, by Bob Dick and David Hulme in Arcadia, CA. (More info concerning this is found in OIU Vol. 3, Pt 2 under “The United Church of God is Born” [search for those words when file opens as PDF]).
In December 2007 UCG-AIA announced that their headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio would be moved to property near the town of Denton, Texas that they purchased for $1.6 million dollars.1 Clyde Kilough (former Ambassador College graduate) was the new president of UCG in 2009; however, in April 2010 he was asked by the UCG Council to resign and Roy Holladay became the acting president.
Then in June 2010 Dennis Luker (former minister in WCG) became the new president until his death March 14, 2013. Victor Kubik is now the new president. (Also read: “Victor Kubik Using Lifenets as Front.”)
(Note: UCG-AIA is not the same as United Church of God, Birmingham2 which was founded in 1995 by Ray Wooten; however, when the initials “UCG” are used in this article they refer to UCG-AIA.)
Claims to Be the True Church:
United Church of God has said that they are the “continuation of the one and only true church of God“3 (tracing their origins to “the church that Jesus founded in the early first century” and following “the same teachings, doctrines and practices established then.”). What UCG actually follows are the teachings, doctrines and practices of Herbert W. Armstrong who founded the Worldwide Church of God in 1934 (it was originally called “Radio Church of God”), proclaiming it was the “one and only true church of God.” UCG believes they are “God’s true church” evidenced by their “obedience to God’s Laws”4 and being a “small flock.” (As of 2022, their membership worldwide was about 22,000.) Members are admonished to “find out where God is working” and to “finish the Work of God” (which members are to support through their tithes and offerings).
While they say they are “a continuation of that body Jesus Christ founded,” have a “distinct identity” but “do not claim that all Christians are among our fellowship,”5 they believe those in “counterfeit” Christianity (whom UCG says are teaching a “false gospel”) “remain blinded to the real meaning of sin, repentance and conversion” but “God’s special people” “understand the Scriptures” and “strive” to obey God’s Law.6
They affirm they are “committed to understanding and practicing New Testament Christianity”7 when, in fact, it is nothing but old covenant theology given to the nation Israel (along with scriptures redefined by Herbert Armstrong). By not understanding the New Covenant (including the book of Galatians), they are in essence denying Christ’s finished work for them on the cross. (Read: The Law of Moses and the Grace of God)
They teach what is known as “God’s Plan for mankind” (the O. T. Feast days; also known as “Annual Sabbaths”).
UCG has an array of glossy and slick “free” literature: The United News is the church-wide newsletter for members; their quarterly magazine for their church teens is called Compass Check; and their TV program is called “Beyond Today.” Their “Family Study Guides” claim “to help teach children about God.” Their “Study Papers” purport to be “in-depth doctrinal studies of specific Topics” but are merely a stepping stone to lead one into many of the false doctrines (and false gospel) of UCG.
They have a “Ambassador Bible Center” (ABC) which teaches the same “theology” classes that were formerly taught at Ambassador College (founded by Herbert W. Armstrong in 1947).
UCG is eager to introduce people to their “free Bible Study Course” (which is also online), including “Sabbath School Lessons” and a “Teen Bible Study Guide” for the youth. This 12-lesson Bible Study Course (which emphasizes that “obedience brings understanding” and presents several other “keys” to Bible understanding that Herbert Armstrong taught) is one of the first steps to getting people to believe their teachings are truly Bible-based and, as a result, end up joining. (HWA also made use of these same tactics. See: How Did Herbert W. Armstrong Recruit People?)
Note: A much better option than UCG’s Bible Study Course for studying the Bible is Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee or Bob George Ministries with Bob George. A description of both are listed on our Links.
This is only a sampling of the deception you will find on their site.
If one carefully examines their “free” literature (including their free 12-lesson Bible Study Course), they can clearly discern that it is filled with mind control methods of guilt, striving for perfection, preoccupation with sin and repentance, fear, and “true church” dogma.
Only Road to Eternal Life:
UCG’s belief system is taught to be the “only road” to eternal life. UCG’s booklet (no longer on their site, but in the Wayback Machine archives for 2003 and we have the booklet downloaded) entitled, The Road to Eternal Life (1995, 1996, 2009), incorporates “buzzwords” that all mind-manipulating groups use and which have meaning to the members. (Be sure and read: Loading the Language/How Loading the Language is Used in Totalistic Groups.) Following are a few quotes from the booklet, bolding emphasis ours; italics theirs:
“We must recognize the sin within us and comprehend our deep-rooted hostility to God.” (p. 7)
“Yet while salvation is given to us as a gift, there are conditions attached.” (p. 13)
“We see that the Holy Spirit is given to us by the prayer of and laying on of hands by God’s ordained ministers, serving as His representatives.” (p. 19)
“Overcoming our habitual sins and selfish nature does not happen instantly. It is a lifelong process, often involving great effort.” (p. 21)
“As long as we actively seek God’s will and allow His Holy Spirit to work in our lives, our eventual salvation is guaranteed.” (p. 31)
“Now that you know what to do, will you act on it, or will you let this precious calling from God go unheeded?” (p. 31)
“Laid before you, then, is the road to eternal life—the only road.” (p. 31)
“We trace our origins to the Church that Jesus founded in the early first century.” (Back of book: If You’d Like to Know More…)
This is saying that they will only receive eternal life “as long as” they get rid of their “hostility toward God” (i.e., God’s Law”) receive the “laying on of hands” (by “God’s ministers”), “overcome” (which takes “great effort”); otherwise, their “calling from God” (i.e., recruiting), goes by the wayside; their “origins” (a bogus tracing of their history) shows they are the “one and only true” church of God,” and what UCG teaches is the “only possible way,” etc., etc. (Read: All or Nothing Statements (from those that have “the truth”))
The booklet goes on to inform the reader that they are to submit to “the government of God” (p. 15) (which means submitting to the UCG leaders over them) in order to be “God’s faithful servants,” and “attain to perfection.” They must be “duly baptized” (by immersion). They are to “struggle for Christ,” and “strive to obey God’s Laws.” This includes adherence to the O.T. law of clean and unclean meats (Leviticus 11), observance of the Ten Commandments (especially resting on the Sabbath from sunset Friday evening until sunset Saturday evening) and all the annual O. T. feast days (“biblical holidays”) listed in Leviticus 23 (termed “God’s Holy Day Plan“). These O.T. “annual Sabbaths” are “commanded assemblies” and members are expected to take off from work in order to be at services. Passover in the spring (with foot washing) and Day of Atonement (fasting without food or water for 24 hours) are two days out of the year that, if not observed, can cause them to be “cut off” from the assembly (i.e., “God’s true church”).
Even though the above booklet is no longer available on UCG’s website, they have other articles on their site; i.e., “What Does God Require for Eternal Life?” (July 26, 1996 by Don Henson) and “Does God Set Conditions on His Gift of Eternal Life?” (April 20, 2012 by UCG), which are teaching the very same thing. One only has to read through several of them to see this is true. UCG has a knack for cherry-picking Scriptures that can be twisted to appear like they agree with UCG doctrines (which are the same as Herbert Armstrong’s).
In a sermon by David Nunn entitled, “The Road to Eternal Life” (August 23, 2014), mainstream Christianity is referred to as “nominal Christianity.” In other words, only UCG knows the way to eternal life.
While United Church of God boldly claims: “you will never be asked to pay for our materials” “no one is ever asked for donations”; “no offering is collected at services” and “we do not solicit the general public for funds,” these are the exact same words HWA used for years through his “free” Plain Truth, World Tomorrow and Bible Correspondence program. However, once ensnared within Herbert Armstrong’s “one true church,” members were commanded to save more than a first tithe. There was a second and third tithe to be paid, plus seven holy day offerings a year, as well as numerous other “needs” such as a building fund and emergencies.
UCG members likewise are told it is biblical to pay headquarters a first tithe on their net income (along with offerings) for the “furtherance of the Work.” To fail to do so is considered “stealing from God,” yet, in the same breath they go on to say that they are “free to tithe on gross income if they so choose” and can even “give contributions above their tithes.”8 (This is nothing more than manipulation.) A 2nd tithe is saved for the purpose of spending it during the Feast days (most specifically the Feast of Tabernacles). A third tithe is paid every 3rd year out of seven, and while they will give a lengthy explanation about who is ineligible to pay this tithe, members are still “encouraged” to give a third tithe to the “Church’s Assistance Fund.” (Ministers claim they are part of the Levitical priesthood and do not have to pay 2nd or 3rd tithes.) In addition, the tithe of the tithe (10% of 2nd tithe) is paid and generous offerings are taken up on all the O. T. feast days.
They teach that “tithing remains a universal law” and that it is “the duty of the Church to teach people to tithe, but it is the responsibility of the individual to obey.” They say, “this law reflects the unselfish, giving nature of our Creator and Provider” (Then they refer to 2 Cor. 9:6-8 which doesn’t mention tithing).9
UCG offers a booklet, What Does the Bible Teach About Tithing? which shows 3 tithes.
How Many Tithes Were in the Bible? [offsite article]
Their entire dogma and belief system is rooted in the teachings of Herbert Armstrong, known as a false prophet who gave over 200 false prophecies. (Read: Did Herbert Armstrong Set Dates?)
UCG is not content to receive only tithes and offerings. In their greed, they have other ways to coerce you into turning over even more money to them, especially after you die. At the top of their webpage on their header it says “Planned Giving.” When you click on it, it says “Contact us for more information” and they give a phone number and email. Scrolling down further, they inform you of all the ways you can “support the gospel message” and “advance the church mission.” Some of these ways are through:
Charitable gifts: cash, check, wire transfer; stocks, bonds, another securities, and mutual funds.
Planned gifts: will or living trusts; from retirement plans; estate notes; life insurance; beneficiaries designations; charitable remainder trust; charitable lead trust.
So instead of your family receiving anything, it will be given instead to UCG-AIA.
Besides requesting their booklet on this subject, they want you to read their articles such as: “Fundamentals of an Estate Plan”; “Leaving an Inheritance, What Should I Consider?”; etc., and to listen to their podcasts on topics that cover: “Planning a Financial Legacy”; “Life Insurance and Charity Giving”; etc.
There is also a FAQ down further on the page with a rich brown wood tone background to answer your questions and then a Glossary of terms. At the end is another “Contact Us” “if you have questions and want to learn more.” If this wasn’t enough, they even have the address, phone number and name of the Planned Giving Coordinator for UCG with his address and phone number.
The Holy Spirit:
UCG does not believe the Holy Spirit is God but only the “power” of God (same as Jehovah’s Witnesses): “The Holy Spirit is the power of God and the Spirit of life eternal.”10
They believe the Holy Spirit is only “Spirit of God and of Christ” and that God is “two distinct divine Beings” God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son. They believe these two beings make up the “one God family” but others will be born into it later.
They reject the eternal sonship of Christ and believe He was created at His human birth. (Read: The Eternal Sonship of Christ by George W. Zeller and Renald E. Showers).
Members are to expected to observe the Sabbath, which they say is “a sign of God’s people.” (HWA also plagiarized from Seventh-day Adventism (co-founded by Ellen G. White who plagiarized from others yet claimed the “Truth” was revealed to her directly by God.)
UCG holds their services in rented halls, churches, recreation centers, lodges, etc. and are in various countries in the world. They have no church buildings (especially in the U.S.) of their own. Members take copious notes during services as they listen to sermonettes and long sermons, which can seem more like college classes. However, only certain selected sermons are available to the public online. There is no nursery for the children at services; parents are to bring something to occupy them with, or they lie on the floor by their parents on a blanket or pad and sleep.
They do not believe in the Trinity and say that such a notion is “utterly false” and a “gargantuan fraud.” 11
They use many of the same arguments that HWA did in attempting to prove the Trinity to be “pagan.”
God is a “Family”:
United Church of God believes God is a “family” composed of only Father and Son, and members in “God’s Church” who “endure to the end” will, in the first resurrection, become part of this “God family” (a doctrine HWA copied from the Mormons [known today as Latter-day Saints]). At that time, they will rule with Christ as spirit beings (“kings and priests”) in the Kingdom (“Government”) of God on earth in order to teach mankind “God’s way of life” which is to bring worldwide peace. Their training in UCG (listening to sermons, attending Bible studies, etc.) is preparing them now for that task that lies ahead.
They teach that they will be resurrected with a “spirit body.”12 This is contrary to being raised with a glorified spiritual body, as taught by the Word of God. (See: The first heresy in the church was the denial of the bodily resurrection in Mystery of the Ages (a critical review), Chap. 6, Pt 1.)
They believe in a second resurrection to mortal life for “all those who died and never had a chance to receive an opportunity for salvation” and a third resurrection for those who have “willfully rejected the truth.”13 These last ones are to be thrown in the Lake of Fire and cease to exist (annihilation). They do not believe man has an immortal soul that lives on after death; neither do they believe anyone goes to heaven or hell after dying, but that everyone “sleeps” in the grave until their time to come up in the resurrections. (This, again, is identical to the teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ and other Bible-based cults.)
The three resurrections as taught by UCG are thoroughly explained in: Mystery of the Ages (a critical review) by Kelly Marshall (PDF).
In referring to the Great Tribulation, they say, “As a result of these terrible things, some of those who survive and remain will eventually be humbled enough to finally repent and accept our Creator’s promise of a bright future in the world beyond our age.”14 Notice how the emphasis is placed on “the Kingdom” not on accepting, trusting and believing in Christ Jesus as personal Savior.
UCG holds to Herbert Armstrong’s “United States and Britain in prophecy” theory (see our article: British-Israelism–True or False?). They formerly expected that they (who have been faithful to God’s Law) will be “forced to flee (to a place of safety) from persecution from their enemies before the return of Jesus Christ.” However, lately, UCG appears to be moving away from teaching that all of their members will go to this “place of safety.” While in a 2011 article they said, “God does offers protection for His people during the time of the Tribulation” for “those who faithfully serve him”15 (i.e., keep the Ten Commandments), they also said, “not all of God’s people will be protected during the end time.” Some ministers are now speaking of end-time persecution and martyrdom and being in the Tribulation.16
They believe they are commissioned by God to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God (which they say is “not only about Christ” but is about the “government of God”) to all the world before the return of Christ. Herbert Armstrong stated that the Kingdom of God was the “born family of God” which would “restore the government of God earth wide.”17 (Read: Why do members emphasize the government of God?)
The “gospel” UCG preaches is a false gospel and is nowhere close to the gospel of grace taught by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament (see (I Corinthians 15:1-4 and “The gospel of the Kingdom is a gospel about government!” for more scriptures). Instead, the grace of Christ is replaced with Mosaic laws, rituals and government given to the nation Israel under the old covenant. UCG believes (as HWA taught) that the church is “spiritual Israel”18 but members must be obedient to the Law (i.e., the Ten Commandments which they do not consider to be part of the Mosaic Law). It is almost ironic that UCG should tell others to “beware of false teachers.”
United Church of God says they merely want everyone to have a chance to know “the truth.” But this “truth” (which they say God has given to them) is merely the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong who plagiarized from other Bible-based cults and aberrant groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, Church of God (7th Day), Seventh-day Adventism, Pentecostalism, etc., and who knowingly lied about many things in order to exert his “authority.”19 Members in UCG still believe that HWA was used of God to “restore the true gospel,” which HWA claimed had been “lost” since the first century. Armstrong offshoots will always assert to have a monopoly on this “truth” and that they can “trace their origins back to the N. T. church.” They teach that this “truth” cannot be found outside their particular belief system. (See: All Or Nothing Statements (from those that have “the truth”).
More about UCG’s false and heretical beliefs can be found by reading their booklets, especially their fundamental beliefs, or going to their Questions and Answers.
Teachings on the Mark of the Beast:
They have several prophecy articles on their site which are rooted in Herbert Armstrong’s dogma. Included are several fearful articles on the Mark of the Beast. For instance:
In Beyond Today, Bible Questions and Answers, “What is the Mark of the Beast Talked About in the Book of Revelation?” they say the mark is evidently a “mark of disobedience to God” and go on to say, “Many Bible students have pointed to God’s seventh-day Sabbath” as an identifying sign of God’s people, yet they don’t reveal who these “many Bible students” are. (Seventh-day Adventists? COG 7th Day?)
The heading for the article says: “God’s people won’t accept the mark of the Beast [which is referred to as forced observance of Sunday] and will not be permitted to engage in commerce.” But nothing is said about how or if they will be able to survive. HWA taught that those who took the mark would suffer the seven last plagues and those that didn’t may be tortured to death in the Great Tribulation. So that doesn’t leave them much of a choice.
In the Beyond Today article, “Will you Be Ready to Reject the Mark of the Beast?” it says the “very important thing we should ask ourselves: Will I be ready to reject the mark of the Beast when that time comes?” Members are to “prepare their heart to choose God” and “be ready to reject the mark of the Beast.” The fear in this article is very similar to how HWA would write except he talked of a place of safety in Petra.
In their extremely fear-filled booklet The Book of Revelation Unveiled they state that God promises protection for His people at the end of the age, but no mention of where this protection, or place of safety, is. Instead, they say, “Though some are prophesied to survive the Satan-inspired onslaught, the Scriptures reveal that many others will be martyred.” It is found in their booklets on the Place of Safety where they talk about “flying into the wilderness” as HWA taught, while part of the church suffers persecution. But they don’t know how, when or where they will be protected. They will know it at the “essential time.”
Read: What is the Mark of the beast and how do we keep from being afraid? (Q&A on ESN).
COGWA a Splinter of UCG:
Church of God, a Worldwide Association is a splinter of UCG that formed in 2010. UCG stated the next year that it had lost 53% of its paid ministers in the United States.
While United Church of God outwardly gives the appearance of a “nice, friendly, laid back, non-controlling church,” interested in social issues of the day, they use propaganda and psychological manipulation to cause others to come to the conclusion that in order to be “fully committed to God” and to enter into eternal life they must believe and put into practice all that “God’s Church” teaches/commands, and that they must not ever depart from these teachings (“truths”). “Obedience to God’s law (i.e., the Mosaic Law) is required of those who will receive the gift of eternal life.”4 Those who join UCG have cut themselves off from former friends and family members (those “in the world”) who do not espouse the same beliefs. Members’ entire lives revolve around “the Church.”
Former members and exiters of UCG have testified of spiritual abuse, suffering and exploitation, and having to go through a very difficult exiting process and recovery.20
Before considering that the United Church of God might be a “good church” to join, and before giving away your time, your money and your life, thoroughly check out the history of UCG, investigate the religious roots of Herbert Armstrong, the roots of Worldwide Church of God, and educate yourself on exploitive groups in society. Then you will understand why you need to beware of United Church of God!
By D. M. Williams
Exit & Support Network™
Updated May 27, 2023
Note: More info on the beginnings of United Church of God-AIA is found in OIU 3, Pt. 2, OIU 3, pt. 3 and OIU 4, pt. 4. (OIU Newsletters available as PDF)
Update: In 2018 UCG was said to have about 12,000 members; as of 2020 they had a little over 7,000 members. Also see: Individuals who have resigned or been removed from their positions in the last year (This is an older article about the UCG crisis and contains a long list of names.) [offsite link]
Testimonies: (Names have been changed)
Why I Left United Church of God
I’m Leaving United Church of God
United Church of God Threatened to “Call the Police” on Us (2003)
Exiter of UCG Feels Like He is Going Crazy (2004)
WCG and UCG Front Connections with Dynamic Resource Group (2006)
Child in United Church of God Attempted Suicide Twice (2008)
Abuses Suffered in United Church of God (2009)
Traumatized by United Church of God-AIA (2015)
Joe Horchak Caught Faking Numbers in UCG-AIA (2020) [Joe Horchak is brother of Doug Horchak]
How Do I Receive Eternal Life?
What Were the Lies and What is the Truth?
Confession and Freedom From Specific Cult/Occult Strongholds (includes WCG, PCG & all offshoots)
1 United News, December 2007, “Council Approves Purchase of Texas Property.”
2 Ray Wooten operated United Christian Ministries in Birmingham, Alabama. (UCM has since been dissolved.) Ray Wooten died February 9, 2014. There was also a United Church of God founded by Richard Wiedenheft in 1978 and a United Church of God, Missouri, founded by Richard Prince in 1979. Today there are a number of splits; some having broken off into small home church/study groups.
3 About the Church of God, “Who We Are.” (Note: UCG has since removed their words “continuation of the one and only true church of God”; however, in their FAQ, “How can I find the true Church of God?” they said: “The true church is the one that continues in the traditions, teachings and practices of the New Testament Church.” They go on to reveal that they believe UCG is this “true Church of God” as it preaches the gospel of the Kingdom of God and observes the “correct day of worship” [i.e., the 7th day Sabbath].) Update 2018: UCG has replaced their FAQs with “Bible Questions and Answers” which will answer it by going to another article and and question to the next. In one of them they say, “We trace our beliefs to the Church that Jesus Christ founded in the first century. Our ongoing commitment is to continually recapture and practice true biblical Christianity.” (Herbert Armstrong would use almost identical words.)
4 What Does God Require for Eternal Life? by Don Henson
5 Claiming the Title “Church of God” by Jim Franks
6 The Church of God Today
7 About the United Church of God
8 UCG-AIA Doctrinal and Study Papers, “Tithing”
9 Fundamental Beliefs of the United Church of God
10 Fundamental Beliefs of the United Church of God
11 Is God a Trinity?
12 What Does Christ’s Resurrection Teach Us?
12 You Can Understand Bible Prophecy, “Beyond the Millennium”
13 Jesus Christ’s Olivet Prophecy: Where Are We Now?
14 World News and Prophecy, November, July-August 2011, “Failed Rapture and Doomsday Prediction – Again” by John Ross Schroeder, Tom Robinson
15 You Can Understand Bible Prophecy, “The End of ‘This Present Evil Age’ ”
16 Mystery of the Ages by Herbert W. Armstrong, p. 171
17 See: How is the Term Israel Used in the New Testament? (Shows how the church is not “spiritual Israel”) (also covers Galatians 6:16) [offsite article]
18 Documentation can be found in our section: Herbert W. Armstrong.
19 Emails sent to ESN