In 1996 my family left WCG to go with UCG. WCG had been the only “church” I had ever known. My whole life was there. But as a young adult, I was still pretty much under my parent’s thumb.
Soon I moved out of the house, started drinking heavily, and running with people outside of “the church.” I made a lot of bad choices by this time and my life was not becoming of a Christian in any sense of the word. I felt hopeless and discouraged. By this time, much of my extended family (aunts, uncles, and cousins) left WCG and became non-religious. I started spending more time with them, too. So my attendance record with UCG began to decline.
I was still trying to make sense of my experience. I was hurting deeply and didn’t know why. One of my “worldly” non-UCG friends observed, “You’re so naïve; it’s like you’ve been living underground for decades.” He made a reference to a popular movie at the time, Blast from the Past (1999), and described me as the main character who had the eccentric father. Ha! His remark certainly hit the nail on the head! At the time, I felt afraid. I wanted to go back to what I knew, although by now I became convinced that UCG did not have all of “God’s Truth.” I knew that other Christians bore more fruit of the Holy Spirit than we ever did. It was self-evident. Yet, I wanted comfort.
I started going to UCG on a more regular basis. I met with the minister and asked him about baptism. He remarked that I had to prove myself in paying tithes and having a better track record of church attendance. That meeting discouraged me at the time, but looking back on it God was definitely closing a door to me. I believed that the Bible said I was to repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit. I wanted to repent, but it said nothing about a track record of attendance and paying tithes. Fortunately, a “worldly” friend put me in touch with an mainstream Christian pastor who baptized me after meeting me. I was discouraged from being baptized by the local UCG pastor. I have two adult sisters who still attend UCG to this day, but never have felt worthy enough to be baptized. It’s one of those things that they put off for the time when they feel “spiritually mature” enough.
But being baptized did not instantly heal me. I was so conflicted, and it was going to take a lot of time to allow God to work out all of these issues I was dealing with. I was confused, too. I secretly doubted the validity of that baptism for years afterward, thinking that I had made a mistake. How foolish. I still went to UCG, although changing areas.
When I was in my twenties, I met my future wife. She was not a member of UCG. She attended a Sabbath-keeping Bible study group in her aunt’s home. Her family all had a history in WCG and from what I had heard, her mother had been disfellowshipped because of her views. I was never told what she had said to the UCG minister that got her in trouble. But for the longest time, her extended family had been quite happy to meet together. I also liked the relaxed atmosphere, although this was not without its problems, too. There was a lot of tolerance for a wide range of views. Although at the same time, there were certain caustic visitors who would try to hijack the conversation and force their own ideas on everybody else. I met quite a variety of people. For the Holy Days we’d associate with people from other “living room” fellowships or small independent congregations. In these groups I would meet folks who believed they were prophets, others who demanded that we only refer to God as Yahweh, some who taught us to wear prayer shawls and tassels, a few who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ, and others who wondered if they were one of the Two Witnesses. The craziness abounded.
My wife and I moved to another area. I still felt a tug to go to UCG. I wanted familiarity. So we would attend a living room fellowship a couple times per month, and attend UCG a couple times per month. The UCG area was large, so this arrangement went virtually unnoticed.
This was about the time I first got DSL internet. I was able to do a lot of research in a short period of time. This was the first time I learned about the scandals in Pasadena and the moral corruption of HWA, GTA, and Stan Rader. I mulled over this question that changed my life forever: “Can a good tree bear bad fruit?” And the answer was “No.” This raised a credibility issue with me and exposed these unique doctrines to cross-examination. Like the Bereans, I was going to open the Scriptures and see if these things were true. HWA taught that the first centuries of the early church were undocumented, yet he was restoring the Truth believed by them after 1900 years. But within minutes I was able to find a lot of early church writings from that time. It gave a clear indication about the things the Christian Church believed and taught at that time. I read my Bible and prayed fervently for guidance. I read the writings of the Early Church Fathers. I read writings like the Didache. I met with pastors from several denominations in order to see how they viewed the Gospel, Jesus Christ, and the End-Time. Some of the pastors I met with were Lutheran, Anglican, and Baptist. In so many words I asked each of them, “What does God expect of me? What must I do– where should I go to please Him?” The response was unanimous: It was not what I had to do to please God, but I had to realize what God had already done for me!
I wrote in to UCG with specific questions about how they saw the ministry. This was regarding a strange comment they made in one of their booklets. A UCG pastor told me that the UCG ministry were in effect, the “representatives of Jesus Christ Himself.” I thought to myself about what that implied. What they are claiming is that they are a priesthood–new Levites if you will–not a ministry. But I contrasted that statement with the pastors of other denominations, who seemed to have a humble attitude, seeing themselves simply as people who wanted to love and serve Jesus Christ. Furthermore, UCG’s teachings on the Sabbath, Holy Days, and the nature of God did not add up. Also their paranoia and hostility towards Christmas was hypocritical, inaccurate, and completely unjustified. British Israelism is patently false, and I have a suspicion that many in the UCG ministry know that, but teach otherwise. Plain and simple, UCG and groups like it teach heresy and their fruits show it. I found that when you impartially read Scripture, have a good grasp of church history, and compare UCG’s doctrinal statements against the doctrinal statements of other denominations, the Truth will certainly come out. UCG and the other offshoots rely on ignorance.
My wife was not so inquisitive at the time. She was happy with going to UCG and meeting in little Bible study groups. But I promised her that while I had to go where God is leading me, I would not compel her to do anything against her conscience. This meant going to United and sitting there even though I rejected 90% of what was preached. And that is what I did. I witnessed Ambassador College alumni who were arrogant and felt like they were in a special social strata. I had to constantly hear Herbert Armstrong being idolized. Every week I heard some snarky comment about the “churches of the world who don’t have ‘The Truth.’ ” I was wearing out.
It was around 2010 that I decided to go to a Protestant church. I was terrified. I kept asking myself if I was doing the right thing or had I been deceived? I was profoundly struck by how the entire church service focused on the centrality of Jesus Christ. It was worship, joy, and thanksgiving I experienced. Not fear and arrogance. I joined that church and never looked back. I’ve become a new man, as I have received God’s saving grace. Daily I am filled with joy because God has shown me this. As an imperfect follower of Christ, I can say that Christianity is so simple a child can understand it. But we humans have to over-complicate it and add our own ideas to it. All my research, striving, and prayer came together and the simple truth came into focus.
A year or two later my wife got involved in a Bible study group at a local Christian church. She’s very happy and now can see many of the errors in UCG too. For her it wasn’t about theology; it was about where she saw the work of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives, and it wasn’t at UCG. Ironically, when we attended this Christian church together for the first time, we ran into a couple of old friends that my wife knew back in WCG. They went to Ambassador College and their father is still an elder in UCG, but they decided to leave.
Unfortunately, the rest of my family thinks that I’ve joined “Satan’s church,” but now I’m old enough to see through the false accusations. I have forgiven my parents for their misdirected parenting, and am now at peace.
I believe that all things work together for good for those who love God. Just remember the story of Joseph who told his brothers, “You meant if for evil, but God used it for good.” Likewise, my experience, as bad as it was, gave me a first-class education in the Bible. It gave me the ability to go against “group-think” so it later prepared me for leaving the HWA offshoots as well. Many raised in the offshoots deal with issues like alcoholism, anger, anxiety, and social aversion. My advice for these people is to not be afraid to get counseling if you need it. Start viewing the Creator of the Universe, in His infinite patience and mercy, as a loving Father who is directing your life. Rely on Him and take it one day at a time. Know your Bible and do your research. Pray often. And go to another church, even if you don’t feel like participating. Just sit and listen and let what is said sink in.
NOTE: Read the beginning of Evan’s story by going to: Childhood Memories in Worldwide Church of God
My Position in Christ (Accepted and secure forever)
What You Should Know About United Church of God-AIA
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