The Cultic Revelations of Malachi’s Message
When the Worldwide Church of God began reevaluating doctrines, many people within the organization were suddenly faced with a decision they thought they would never have to make: stay, or go? For the most part, people stayed when Joseph Tkach Sr. began reevaluating and modifying certain church doctrines because in making these changes, Tkach was leaving the core doctrines (Sabbath attendance, tithing, the nature of God) intact. The first changes included a new position on the use of cosmetics, a new scripture to designate the church’s commission (Matt. 28.19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” instead of Matt. 24.14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”), and the decision to seek accreditation for Ambassador College. Gradually, though, Tkach and the WCG leadership turned their attention to doctrines many considered indispensable, and eventually Gerald Flurry and others decided that the WCG, in changing its doctrines and dogmas, had turned its back on God and therefore it was no longer God’s church. Flurry immediately wrote Malachi’s Message to God’s Church Today, the centerpiece of all his writings and, with his followers, formed the Philadelphia Church of God.
Little time need be spent discussing Flurry’s actual argument. His thesis is not incredibly complex and can be summed up quite succinctly: Because we are nearing the end-time, it is necessary for God to separate the true Philadelphian minority from the Laodicean majority. He accomplishes this by sending a “strong delusion” (2 Thes. 2.10-11) in the form of deceived leadership. Converted Philadelphians will see this with the aid of divine revelation (read: Malachi’s Message), thereby escaping the Tribulation and receiving their eternal reward.
The interesting thing to look at when reading Malachi’s Message is not so much the prophetic rantings and ravings, interesting as they may be, but rather the implicit revelations Flurry makes about his personal theology and the PCG’s official teachings while arguing his case. Flurry also illustrates the sociological and theological mechanisms used by cult leaders to keep their “flocks” in submission. Lastly, a close examination of several passages reveals Flurry’s definition of God to be quite heterodox with some rather unnerving aspects to it.
By and large, Flurry’s teachings are identical to those put forth by Herbert Armstrong, the Worldwide Chruch of God founder. Since many of Armstrong’s ideas are unlike anything found in mainstream Christianity and the terms and figures of speech he uses are found in traditional Christian articulations, a few explanatory comments might be helpful.
Herbert Armstrong’s Lingering Influence
From the beginning, Flurry illustrates that this book is intended for those steeped in Armstrongian theology. This is obvious enough when we remember the full title of the book, Malachi’s Message to God’s Church Today. However, this sense is strenghtend by the fact that Flurry expects his readers to grant him several basic assumptions which are based on WCG theology. Remarking that several churches have left the WCG in recent years, Flurry argues, “Your Bible says only one of these groups can be doing God’s work” (x). The idea that God is working with only one group of people during these “end times” is a recurrent theme in both Armstrong’s work and Flurry’s own theology. That Flurry takes this as his starting point makes it clear that this book is designed to do one thing: encourage people to leave the fellowship of the WCG and join his own. To be sure, Flurry does not hide this agenda, and later in the book makes it perfectly clear that he sees the warning of God’s people as his calling. In fact, Flurry argues that Herbert Armstrong (hereafter referred to simply as HWA) “set a precedent for what the PCG is doing now” by writing to the members of the Sardis era and telling them “their Church was dead!” (149). However, Flurry provides no documentation for this, and an otherwise good point is compromised.
This assumption that all readers are thoroughly familiar with HWA’s teachings also manifests itself in the use of Armstrongian theological terms which would be completely incomprehensible to non-WCG members. Flurry tosses around “The Place of Safety,” “The Great Tribulation,” the “Laodicean Era” without defining them or proving them scripturally. They are given truths to be accepted from the beginning. you could go so far as to demonstrate your scholarship ? here and define them for the reader here.
Clearly Flurry feels that there is only one true church, and with so many to choose from, it’s critical to make the right decision, for “if you make a wrong choice, it is going to bring physical and spiritual curse. A right choice will lead to incredible physical and spiritual rewards.” The criterion Flurry initially gives for finding this church is not what most people would expect from a Christian church. Instead of saying that we must weigh carefully what these churches teach against what the Bible says, we must find the “one Church [which] truly follows in the footsteps of Mr. Armstrong” (x). This and this alone is the one true, pure Church of God. To be fair, Flurry does encourage his readers to prove scripturally his argument, but the initial criterion is whether or not the church follows Herbert Armstrong.
Additionally, it’s not enough according to Flurry simply to follow HWA’s teachings. It’s necessary to fellowship with this one true church: “We, as Christians, have the responsibility to be in that Church following Christ” (xiii). The implication is that being a member of the right church is necessary for salvation, not simply following Christ. Even if we keep all the Old Testament commandments (even the seemingly ridiculous ones about wearing clothes of two fabrics and destroying our houses when we can’t get rid of the mildew), it won’t be enough unless we’re in the right church (read: PCG).
The Philadelphia Church of God was formed because the Worldwide Church of God was not clinging to Herbert Armstrong’s doctrines. A logical place to begin an analysis of Malachi’s Message, therefore, is a consideration of how Flurry and the PCG view Armstrong and his teachings.
Flurry explains in the introduction how the WCG has gotten off track: “Why do the Laodiceans fail to see that Mr. Armstrong fulfilled all of these major end-time prophecies? Because their focus is too much on the man–not on God and his message!” (xi). Ironically enough, this serves as a perfect thesis when discussing the PCG’s view of Herbert Armstrong: The emphasis is clearly on what Herbert Armstrong taught and not on what the Bible actually states.
From his introduction onward, then, Flurry makes it clear that Herbert Armstrong’s teachings are of utmost importance. Flurry’s exaltation of HWA is, in fact, the most striking thing in the entire book. This manifests itself in several ways in Malachi’s Message.
The first thing one notices is the manner in which Flurry uses Armstrong’s writings as final authoritative proof concerning almost anything, something which is not surprising since the “true gospel ends with Mr. Armstrong” (130). Many times in Malachi’s Message, Flurry’s final recourse is simply, “Mr. Armstrong said . . . ” On one occasion, Flurry even writes that “Jesus Christ agreed with Mr. Armstrong” (91). One would think it should be the other way around, but to make that assumption is to forget that we are talking about a cult and not a healthy Christian church.
This trend really begins in the introduction when, discussing the “end-time . . . John the Baptist,” Flurry writes, “For years Mr. Armstrong said repeatedly that he fulfilled this office” (xi). No other evidence, scriptural or otherwise, is given that Armstrong did indeed fulfill this role. Yet, since Mr. Armstrong said it, it must be true. Flurry does the same thing when discussing HWA as the end-time Elijah (14) and later when trying to illustrate that HWA was the end-time Zerubbabel (59, 65, 131). In each instance, the fact that HWA said it is enough to establish it as fact.
The equating of Mr. Armstrong with Zerubbabel deserves some attention in itself. As stated before, Flurry really does little to prove this thesis other than the fact that HWA said it was true. Early in the book Flurry points out, “Zerubbabel died an old man. So did Mr. Armstrong” (3). If this is meant to be taken as evidence, it is a laughably weak attempt to prove this thesis. According to this logic, the following syllogism is true: “God thinks. Humans think as well. Therefore, humans are God.” The real “proof” seems to be in the idea that HWA created a new church just as Zerubbabel was responsible for a new temple. Following that logic, though, anyone who begins a new church would be a candidate for this “Zerubbabel,” including Luther, Calvin, Smith, and Koresh (to name a few). Yet despite the fact that this is complete speculation, Flurry takes it as fact to the extent that on at least thirteen occasions he even equates HWA and Zerubbabel thus: “God says Zerubbabel (HWA) built the house with God’s Holy Spirit . . .” (61). This makes it possible to read all references to Zerubbabel as references to Armstrong.
Assigning scriptures to leaders (both religious and secular) is a favorite weapon in the Armstrongian interpretation arsenal. It is so much so that Flurry considers the WCG’s current reluctance to engage in this practice as one of its major doctrinal changes. (For more on this, see page twenty-six of Worldwide Church of God Doctrinal Changes and the Tragic Results.) Indeed, to interpret prophecy in the exacting detail that the WCG has historically done, it is necessary to assign Biblical passages to individuals, both contemporary and historic. When HWA applied names to world leaders examples? it is simply amusingly bad exegesis; when applied to you’re missing some words here HWA applied names to himself, it was not only poor Biblical interpretation but arrogance. Of course Flurry doesn’t see it this way, and names HWA as Elijah at least ten times and as John the Baptist twice, both in the same fashion as with Zerubbabel.
It’s ironic that while Flurry is perfectly willing to name HWA as certain Biblical figures, he seems reluctant to name Joseph Tkach Sr. specifically as someone from the Bible. To be sure, he hints (more than strongly) that Tkach is the less-than-ideal Joshua of Zech. 3.1-2 and “the man of sin” from 2 Thes. 2.4, but he never equates them in a “Joshua (Tkach)” manner as he did with HWA (90). (It’s interesting to note that Flurry gives two possible roles for Tkach, thereby doubling his chances of an accurate prophecy. There is a doctrinal reason for this, however, which we will explore in due course.) In addition, there is a disturbing comparison which implies that Mr. Tkach represents Judas and HWA, Christ (99), but there is no direct “Judas (Tkach)” comparison.
One major aspect of the Philadelphia Church of God’s mission is to keep the memory and teachings of Herbert Armstrong intact, untainted with accusations of personal immorality and un-Biblical doctrines.
It should, in theory, come as a surprise to discover in PCG’s theology any changes in what Herbert Armstrong wrote. In an older issue if the PCG’s magazine, the Philadelphia Trumpet, writer Dennis Leap asserts that the “Philadelphia Church of God is the only Church on earth that upholds all of the doctrines Mr. Armstrong established in the Church” (“Who Are Today’s Laodiceans?” Vol. 6, No. 8, pg. 27). If the Philadelphia Church of God follows all of Mr. Armstrong’s doctrines then there should be absolutely no changes to any doctrines or dogmas whatsoever. Doctrine for the Philadelphia Church of God should remain constant, never changing, always identical to the teachings of the Worldwide Church of God at the time of Mr. Armstrong’s death. Yet, in reality, the PCG has made several doctrinal “corrections” which, for all intents and purposes, amount to doctrinal changes.
To be sure, Flurry is not making these changes without any outside stimuli. Indeed, the very reason for his church’s existence necessitates certain changes and realignments within PCG theology. All of these changes are almost inevitable given the fact that the Worldwide Church of God has so radically changed its theology from an inward-looking, exclusive cult to an outward-looking, evangelical ministry. None of these things were prophesied to happen in quite they way that they did. Armstrong taught that there would be a lukewarm, Laodicean era which means?, but it seems doubtful that he ever imagined that this “Laodicean attitude” would be embraced by the WCG leaders and make it necessary for the “Philadelphian elect” to remove itself from the Laodicean majority. If anything, Armstrong indicated that the Laodicean’s would be the minority, and speaking from my personal understanding of the doctrines, I always believed that the Laodiceans would remove themselves from the Philadelphian majority and start a new church, not vice versa. Therefore, there is a need to update all prophecies concerning the end-time church eras and Flurry has, according to Dennis Leap (in the same article quoted above), received “new revelation [which] has corrected slightly some of what Mr. Armstrong taught prophetically concerning the Church.” So the key thing to look for is “slight corrections,” not major new teachings. However, change is change, and any “slight correction” invalidates the PCG’s claim to uphold “all of the doctrines Mr. Armstrong established in the Church.” (page number)
The most decisive change in Herbert Armstrong dogma stems directly from this Philadelphian-Laodicean relationship. As with most cults, the WCG used to love to look for significant numbers in the Bible and then, using a hodge-podge mixture of math and prophecy, figure out what these numbers mean ‘for us today.’ Concerning the alleged history of church eras in Revelation, the key number is 144,000. The WCG always taught that this is a reference to God’s chosen, the number of people who would be whisked off to Petra to be saved from the German savagery of the Third World War. any documentation? This also served as a gauge for how close we were to Christ’s second coming, for it was always implied that when church membership reached 144,000 baptized “firstfruits,” Armageddon and Christ’s subsequent return were very near at hand.
However, Flurry no longer teaches that the 144,000 represent Christ’s chosen, Philadelphian elect. Instead, he argues that the 144,000 represents the Laodiceans (43). He quotes an Ambassador College Correspondence Course from 1966 as saying, “They will be some of the modern-day descendants.”
This might have to go. I need to do some research on this and see what the official, frequently taught interpretation of the 144,000 was. This passage in the Correspondence Course is new to me, and does indicate that this is not really a change in doctrine.
Occasionally Flurry obscures the point that he is changing one of HWA’s doctrines by stating that “the Church” has taught such and such. Consider the following: “God’s Church has applied II Thessalonians 2.4 to the world for the most part. But it doesn’t apply to the world. There is tremendous biblical support to show it applies to God’s church” (79). While Flurry doesn’t say that Armstrong taught this, but there can be little question where this doctrine originated. Flurry is basically saying, “Herbert Armstrong taught this, but it’s not quite right. It’s close, but a little flawed.”
Is this a drastic change? In some ways, no. After all, it doesn’t involve a change in underlying assumptions and fundamental dogma. Specifically, it’s still an explicit and direct application of a prophecy to contemporary events, something quite in line with Armstrongian interpretation techniques. Flurry still teaches this is a prophecy which has a contemporary fulfillment. Since the WCG stopped looking at the Bible in such a fashion (one of the catalysts for the PCG’s formation), this is not a major change for the PCG, comparatively speaking. At the same time, it is not at all in line with what the PCG claims concerning their unwavering support of Armstrong’s doctrines. It is certainly an unqualified affirmation of his exegesis techniques, but not complete support of the doctrines themselves.seems a little redundant.
Flurry makes another slight “correction” concerning the curse of Mal 4.5-6: “This is a curse which means ‘utter destruction.’ In the past, this has been applied to the ‘utter destruction’ of the earth’s inhabitants. That is not what it means! The message of Malachi was not sent to the nation of Israel or the world. Primarily, the subject is God’s ministry” (119, 141). This is certainly not what Mr. Armstrong taught, but Flurry is careful not to acknowledge this and introduces the idea even more vaguely than the preceding example.
Surprisingly, Flurry does directly and bluntly say that HWA was wrong on one occasion. Referring to the fact that Armstrong felt he would be alive at the time of Christ’s return, Flurry says, “Mr. Armstrong didn’t live to see the end of this age as he thought he would. (So correct that little error in [The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last].)” (110). Of course Flurry had little choice but candidly to admit that Mr. Armstrong was wrong in this case. He would look utterly foolish to try to argue that, ultimately, Mr. Armstrong was right even in this case. But doctrinal revision due to historical incompatibility is a far cry from the drastic changes within the WCG concerning prophecy. The leaders of the Worldwide Church of God had a choice concerning whether or not to disclaim Armstrongism and embrace evangelical Christianity; Flurry had no such choice in this case.
Flurry has also made slight changes in the Church’s “God-given” commission. He writes, “The major work now is getting the message of Malachi to the Laodicean Church. The Gospel has been preached. The Laodiceans must now be warned!” (133). In Worldwide Church of God Doctrinal Changes Flurry goes to great lengths to point out that the WCG has changed its commission from Matt. 24.14 to Matt. 28.19-20 (114-117), but neither verse mentions anything about warning the Laodiceans. Clearly this is a change in the primary directive (read: commission) of the Church, but it doesn’t seem to bother Flurry in the slightest. (Later still Flurry claims that Mr. Armstrong himself changed the commission and said that the primary thing now is to “get the Church ready” (137), yet he provides no documentation of this claim.)
The last change that Flurry has made in HWA’s teachings which we will consider concerns the Bible’s final warning to the people of the end-time, Flurry now states that, “The greatest warning in the end is given to God’s people–not the world” (103). Armstrong never said anything like this (to my knowledge). Indeed, he was quite often decrying the horrible condition of the world and making it known that he was God’s chosen to give the pathetic, deceived wretches of the world their final warning. Flurry, however, feels now that Mr. Armstrong wasn’t quite right concerning to whom the Bible gives the strongest warning (though of course Flurry doesn’t say it in so many words). While this is technically not a change of doctrine, it’s a slight shift of emphasis in what HWA taught.
Of course this final warning is contained in Malachi’s Message and is simple: God prophesied all this to happen, and showed the consequences of not heeding this warning. But this thesis begs the question: Why, with his prophetic acumen, didn’t Herbert Armstrong see these prophecies? He made very specific claims about Germany rising again to initiate the Third World War; he made quite detailed assertions about what would happen to God’s elect during the Great Tribulation. Why, with all his clairvoyance, wasn’t Mr. Armstrong able to see what Flurry now understands so clearly? The answer is simple: Armstrong did not have the privilege of hindsight that Flurry now has. In other words, this is a prime example of what I’ll call retroactive prophecy, a topic we’ll return to in a bit.
It is not surprising, given the preeminence accorded Mr. Armstrong and his teachings, that Flurry is gradually adapting his leadership style to a manner more befitting to someone claiming, for all intents and purposes, to be Armstrong’s true successor. Flurry gives several indications that he learned well from Herbert Armstrong how to lead a cult and has incorporated several Armstrongian techniques into his methods.
Early in the book Flurry makes a most-Armstrongian declaration: “You must prove what I say in this book!” (9) Many times Herbert Armstrong would get quite excited about this point, calling on people to “blow the dusts off your Bibles” and prove what he was saying there. However, both Flurry and Armstrong only allow certain Biblical proof. The criterion for their Biblical proof seems to be to “let the Bible interpret itself” (89). This is not a bad idea in itself, but Flurry’s application of this principle is questionable. Additionally, in telling people to look to the Bible to prove this or that, Armstrong and Flurry are calling on people to exercise rather poor exegesis.
Another example of how Flurry is becoming more like Armstrong in his leadership is shown by a subtle, egotistical claims. One such claim comes from Flurry’s view of his own writing. Mr. Armstrong several times made claims that God was working through him and inspiring all he wrote. The best example of this concerns what HWA said about Mystery of the Ages, specifically that “I myself did not write” it but rather “God used me in writing it.” (See Malachi’s Message 20-25). Armstrong tried to assure us that he viewed all his writing as being more from God’s mind than from his own. Yet sometimes his ego interfered slightly and he let things slip, like saying that Mystery was the “the best work of [his] 93 years of life!” Flurry is beginning to make the same slips. While he often declares that Malachi’s Message was directly inspired by God, he wonders why “Why does this deceived [WCG] minister [would] say it would be wrong for WCG members to read what I write?” (93).
Another claim that smacks of egotism (though in a strangely pathetic fashion) is the declaration (made originally in all caps), “It takes courage to warn the world” (75). This is a courage that neither of the Tkachs have, but clearly Flurry has it in abundance.
Of course doctrinally Flurry will always be akin to Armstrong, but he also makes claims in Malachi’s Message which, while not direct quotes from Armstrong, certainly are in line with Armstrongian leadership. The first one notices when looking at Malachi’s Message is a startling claim on the back-cover abstract: “[Flurry] also preaches the wonderful news that Jesus Christ is going to intervene and save mankind in this generation.” The final prepositional phrase, “in this generation,” leaps off the page and in the minds of educated Christians sets of warning bells. This obviously enough is a direct contradiction of what Christ said concerning his own return in Matt. 24.36, 25.13, and 13.32. Apparently Flurry seems to think he is privy to information that not even God has revealed to Christ.
Flurry is only so specific concerning Jesus’ return once, but on several occasions he hints strongly that it will occur within the next few years. In the introduction he proclaims that “soon it will be obvious to everyone which group comprises the very elect” (xiii). Later, discussing “Joshua’s fellows” (Zech. 3) he declares that the appearance of “Joshua’s fellows [is] a sign that Christs return is very near” (69). As his reference he gives Zech 3.8: “Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the branch.” Even if we read the verses before and after, it’s clear that there is no way this can be seen as a sign that Christ’s return is near. Finally, while discussing the rebellion of 2 Thes. 2, Flurry claims twice that it is an indication that Christ is returning soon. This rebellion, he says, is another sign that the end “is at hand or imminent. It could be very imminent” (79). Later, concerning the same scripture, Flurry writes, “When you see this ‘falling away’ from the truth God taught through Mr. Armstrong, it’s time to think very seriously about Christ returning soon–very soon” (83).
All of these examples are clearly in keeping with Armstrongism, but tragically unbiblical. One might imagine that Flurry has learned from the abysmal historical record of setting dates for Christ’s return, to which Armstrong of course made several of his own contributions. Naturally Flurry can rightfully enough counter, “But we’re not setting exact dates!” At the same time, to say Christ will be returning “in this generation” is as close as one can come without actually setting a date.
With such special prophetic knowledge and understanding, it should be clear to all (according to Flurry’s reasoning) that he is now the sole divine messenger, passing on God’s words and thoughts to the nations for their edification. This is an idea common to almost all cults and Armstrongism is not an exception. Following in Armstrong’s example, Flurry elevates himself to prophet and prophet fulfiller. He writes, “This is [that warning to the Laodiceans]. You are holding it in your hands! It is a prophecy being fulfilled this very minute!” (31). Just in case readers don’t get the point, Flurry makes it two more times: “God is knocking–to a great extent through Malachi’s Message” (41); “God must reveal the ‘man of sin.’ God has done that through Malachi’s Message” (87). Flurry gets so carried away with the idea that he alone is God’s spokesperson that he makes two quite fantastic and egotistical claims toward the end of the book. He first argues that “all of God’s ministers are going to know Malachi’s Message came from God–whether they realize it now or in the Great Tribulation” (143). In the conclusion, though, he broadens this claim: “Malachi’s Message was revealed by God. Every human being on this earth must eventually come to see that!” (151). None of this should not come as a surprise as God is using him alone to carry on HWA’s work (99).
Since, in the eyes of the general PCG membership, Flurry is God’s sole messenger on the earth today, we should expect that if Flurry makes claims that have no Biblical support whatsoever they will remain generally unquestioned by the PCG majority. And indeed, Flurry indulges in such extra-Biblical speculation on several occasions. In doing so, Flurry is, for all in intents and purposes, speaking for God, revealing information that God previously chose to keep to himself.
Flurry first makes this mistake when referring to a passage on the famed “church eras.” “God included these verses in Revelation 14 to be an encouragement to the Laodiceans who read them during their trials in the Tribulation” (48). Of course the interpretation (re: seven prophecied church eras) Flurry applies to this scripture is subject to great debate, and many Biblical scholars, if not most, would vehemently disagree with this bit of exegesis. Yet even if this were the accepted interpretation of this passage, there is nothing here to indicate that God included this as comfort for the Laodiceans going through the “Tribulation.” Flurry is making a leap completely out of the Bible and claiming information that is not even hinted at in these scriptures.
One of WCG’s most disastrous doctrinal changes, according to Flurry, is the de-emphasis of prophecy. Flurry says that “God considers this prodigious change by the WCG to be a major sin!” (108). While there is an indication that prophecy should be a part of any ministry (Amos 2.11-12), it is certainly short of saying that not prophesying is a sin. Once again, Flurry is speaking for God.
The most striking (and tragically comic) example of this comes in the final pages of Malachi’s Message. The passage deserves to be quoted at length:
Malachi’s Message was first received by many people on January 16, 1990, the very day of the anniversary of Mr. Armstrong’s death (January 16, 1986). We didn’t plan it, but we were happy it happened that way. You are going to see the date of Mr. Armstrong’s death take on more significance as time goes on. John Amos and I were disfellowshiped on December 7, 1989–40 days before the anniversary of Mr. Armstrong’s death. The number 40 is significant in the Bible. The third 19-year time cycle of the Work of the WCG ended in January of 1991–the same month as the fifth anniversary of Mr. Armstrong’s death. In the original version of Malachi’s Message we asked this question: “Will we see some dramatic event in the world or within God’s Philadelphian and/or Laodicean Churches then?” The Persian Gulf War began on January 16, 1991! God considers the date of Mr. Armstrong’s death to be very significant (149).
After quoting Luke 13.7-9 in its entirety (referring to giving a vineyard three or four years to bear fruit), Flurry continues making wild claims.
God gave the fig tree four years to bear fruit. If it failed to produce, He cut it down. After Mr. Armstrong died, he also gave the WCG four years to bear fruit. When the WCG failed, God raised up the Philadelphia Church to do His Work. Mr. Armstrong died in January 1986. The Philadelphia Church made the first mailing of Malachi’s Message in January 1990–exactly four years later! We planned none of this–God did the planning (150).
The fact that four events of some significance can be “connected” to the date of Mr. Armstrong’s death is hardly proof that “God considers the date of Mr. Armstrong’s death to be very significant.” To begin with, it wouldn’t be very difficult to connect almost any event to Mr. Armstrong’s death using the significant numbers of the Bible (which are abundant in Armstrongian exegesis).
Not only is this an example of poor exegesis, but it is a variation of a logical fallacy known as the cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. One makes this fallacy by asserting that because two events occur together, they must be causally related, and obviously enough, it’s a fallacy because it doesn’t take into account other possible factors and causes of the events. The initiation of the Persian Gulf War on 16 January had many factors, primarily logistical and political considerations.
I need to develop this much more. Flurry could easily respond that all this was orchestrated by God. This makes him “immune”to any criticism of this being merely random chance.
The final point to be examined concerning Flurry’s growing Armstrongian leadership methods concerns writing style. Herbert Armstrong was an advertising man, and he took the techniques which successfully caught people’s attention in the ad business and incorporated into his theological endeavors. The result was the signature Armstrongian SMALL CAPITAL LETTERS FOR MODERATE EMPHASIS, LARGE CAPS FOR SCREAMING EMPHASIS and italics for subtly. Of course Flurry follows in Armstrong’s typographical footsteps, and so he doesn’t have to worry about writing succinctly but instead uses typography to make his point. On at least one occasion he manages to include all three styles in one sentence: “They are taking a Laodicean turn AWAY from Christ–because they ignore what CHRIST ESTABLISHED through Zerubbabel (HWA)” (62).
While the intended purpose of such uses of different type styles may indeed be emphasis, the result is something quite different. Instead, it turns the passage in question into a quite emotional cry. The huge amount of italics and all-caps when discussing the WCG’s donation to help restore the Globe Theater at Stratford-upon-Avon? (129) and when considering whether WCG considers HWA a false prophet (113) reveals a strong emotional response to these issues. One can almost hear how a WCG minister of old (or current PCG minister) would deliver this in a sermon. Good writing makes its own point and a well-planned, well-documented argument reveals its strengths without the aid of typographical stunts.
Unfortunately, Flurry has taken other aspects of Armstrong’s writing as his own, including an avoidance of documentation of any sort. This actually weakens one claim in Malachi’s Message that otherwise would have been good points. Toward the end of the book, Flurry writes, “Mr. Armstrong set a precedent for what the PCG is doing now” by writing to the members of the Sardis era and telling them “their Church was dead!” (149). This would be a good point response to the claims that HWA began the Worldwide Church of God in a way diametrically opposed to Flurry’s methods (and it was this idea that Flurry was “causing division” unlike Mr. Armstrong had which prompted his disfellowshipment), but it loses any strength by the lack of documentation.
Another example of undocumented claims is the assertion that “Mr. Armstrong’s last instructions to Mr. Tkach were, ‘I have reached world leaders, your job is to get the Church ready’” (137). It’s amusing that Flurry doesn’t see this as a change in the church’s “commission.” The first in Flurry’s list of WCG doctrinal changes is a the new commission of Matt. 28.19-20 as opposed to Matt. 24.14 (see WCG Doctrinal Changes, 16-19). The idea of preparing the church is not in either scripture, so it appears that neither the PCG nor the WCG are following Armstrong’s wishes on this matter.
It seems, in conclusion, that the relationship between HWA’s legacy and the PCG’s theology and leadership is at best troublesome and unbalanced. Flurry wants to keep the core Armstrongian beliefs in his church. However, the fact that the WCG abandoned Armstrong’s teachings and necessitated the formation of the Philadelphia Church to begin with makes it impossible for Flurry to maintain a completely static Armstrongian theology. The result is dogma and doctrine that claim to be Armstrongian but suffer from their own necessary modifications and modulations and are not as pure as Flurry claims
The Cult Characteristics of the Philadelphia Church of God as Revealed in Malachi’s Message
In his book A Rumor of Angels, sociologist Peter Berger writes that the “social psychology of fundamentalism is what Erich Fromm called the ‘escape from freedom’–the flight into an illusionary and necessarily intolerant certitude from the insecurities of being human” (“Religious Liberty–Sub Specie Ludi” in A Rumor of Angels, 177). Obviously, a cult is necessarily fundamentalist, and this psychological analysis applies to the Philadelphia Church of God. Just as the Worldwide Church of God thought of itself as the exclusive body of Christ for so many years, the Philadelphia Church of God believes it is God’s elect.
Exclusive religious tendencies provide a sense of security for believers, as Berger points out, and in the case of Armstrongian exclusiveness there is a sort of double-walled sense of protection. First, it draws from the general Christian idea “God loves me” the simple feeling that even if no one else loves us, God does. Christianity is peculiar because it makes very specific claims and provides a very intense sense of personal importance. When Christians speak of Christ and his crucifixion, they speak of his love, specifically his love for them as individuals. “Jesus loves me,” is a common refrain in Christianity which echoes a frequently quoted passage in the Bible (John 3.16). However, Armstrong’s Christian cultic ideas intensify and slightly modify this feeling. Instead of “Jesus loves me,” stressing the love, one can say “Jesus loves me,” stressing the self, the “me,” implying an elliptical, “But I’m not so sure about whether he loves you.” It hints at a superiority that is intensified in the language of Armstrongian theology: the elect, the firstfruits, and so on.
Therefore, within the PCG, this exclusiveness takes on a new dimension, a sort of triple-layered exclusiveness. At the first tier is the basic Christian exclusive doctrine that Christ is the only way to eternal life. This removes any possible authenticity (“truth,” in other words) of alternative salvational routes offered in other religions and at its extreme, removes the necessity for dialogue between these religions. In other words, it creates a sort of separate universe and states that any universe not identical (i.e., those which don’t have Christ in them) are fundamentally flawed. (Peter Berger offers an insightful analysis of this issue in “A Funeral in Calcutta,” also found within the newest edition of A Rumor of Angels.)
There is ample evidence of this in PCG theology. There is one particularly startling example of this, though: “The Jews have not been commissioned to build God’s Temple–as Zerubbabel and Solomom were anciently. If they build a temple, it will be the Jews’ temple, not God’s temple–just as it was “the Jews’ feast of tabernacles” (John 7.2), not God’s Feast of Tabernacles” (80). In this one sentence Flurry uses excruciatingly poor exegesis to illustrate strong exclusiveness while hinting at subtle yet arrogant xenophobia. To being with, Flurry takes this scripture completely out of its written context and original cultural milleu.
This scripture is not intended to juxtapose Christ’s example or view point to the Jews’. Indeed, Christ was a Jew. If it was the “Jews’ feast of tabernacles” then it necessarily was Christ’s as well.
Flurry also hints at anti-semitism in this passage. Xenophobia is an obvious extreme to which exclusiveness can be taken, and racism abounds in Mystery of the Ages and in Armstrongian theology in general, most obviously in the theory of Anglo-Israelism. Of course it is usually not explicit racism but implicit, as in this case.
Returning to the issue of triple exclusiveness, Armstrong added a second layer by saying, “Not only is Christ the only way to eternal life, but only my interpretation of Christ is the way to eternal life.” While there is much chaffing and back-biting ridicule among denominations about finer doctrinal points, there are not many which go to a cultic extreme and call all other denominations Satanic as Armstrong did.
With the former Worldwide Church of God Armstrongites leaving for either the Global Church of God, the United Church of God, or the Philadelphia Church of God, there exists a possible third layer of exclusiveness. All three new churches claim to be following Armstrong’s teachings more righteously and rigorously than the WCG, but there are certainly differences. One thing is common, though: There is still an exclusive tendency which sets members apart from the world, but now it does so in three ways. First there is the general Christian tendency toward exclusiveness which sets Christians apart from the rest of the world. The second is the Armstrongian exclusiveness which sets believers apart from the rest of the Christian community. Finally, there is what I’ll call the Flurryian exclusiveness, which sets PCG members apart from G/U/WCG members. As we saw before, Flurry claims that “your Bible says only one of these groups can be doing God’s work” (x): “Several different churches have been formed by former Worldwide Church of God ministers. All of these churches–including the WCG–are Laodicean, except one” (6). Flurry points out soon enough that only the PCG is made up of God’s elect Philadelphians: “The Laodiceans are comprised of the WCG and other groups that have left the WCG–except the PCG” (31). This is the doctrinal reason why Flurry gives two possible Biblical names for Tkach: Clearly, someone else (possibly David Hulme or Rod Merredith) must be the other figure. All of this serves to strengthen (for PCG members) the idea that they are the elect and so “no other group is given this understanding [of Malachi's Message] by God” (55). Flurry summarizes this idea nicely himself: “We . . . have a ‘corner on the spiritual market’” (91).
This exclusiveness has several theological ramifications, some of which Flurry notices (and even revels in), some of which he ignores. He does realize quite clearly that he is denouncing in the strongest possible terms other people’s religion, for he states that the failure to recognize Armstrong as the end-time Elijah “condemns a person’s religion” (52). He also understands that such exclusiveness removes almost completely the possibility that God even acknowledges non-Armstrongian Christians, to the point that he implies that God refuses to witness (and, hence, sanctify) non-Armstrongian marriages (16). However, this doesn’t follow logically even if we grant that only PCG members are true Christians. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that God ignores those who aren’t his chosen favorites. Indeed, we find just the opposite in most everything Christ does and says, but Flurry overlooks this.
One of the results of this extreme exclusiveness is an equally exclusive view of the Bible. “The WCG has taught for years that when the Bible says ‘you,’ it’s talking to God’s people” (28). The Bible is written, therefore, solely for the PCG audience only. This conclusion is allows Flurry a great deal of latitude in determining what passages are prophetic for God’s end-time elect. Verses directed to the human population in general (in as much as any passages in the Bible are directed thus broadly) can be scaled back and applied only to the PCG. A good example of this is found on page 93 where Flurry discusses the “strong delusion” of 2 Thes. 2.10-11.
Another cultic characteristic which Flurry illustrates in Malachi’s Message is the tendency to create a separate reality opposed to general society in as many ways as possible. This is related to the exclusiveness I just mentioned, but whereas said exclusivness tends to be more theological, what I have in mind now is the practial results of this mindset.
The best way to create this alternative universe is to limit contact with non-Armstrongites which would give members something to juxtapose to Flurry’s teachings. The closed-door policy of the PCG’s church services accomplishes this nicely. While Flurry doesn’t specifically comment on this policy in Malachi’s Message (see WCG Doctrinal Changes, page 73, for Flurry’s view on this topic), he does make it clear through his use of Armstrongian vocabulary that the message is intended for Armstrongites familiar with the terminology of the cult. This perptuates the need for a closed-door policy because it makes it necessary for perspective members to receive much “counciling” before they are ready to attend services. In other words, Flurry’s use the Armstrongian theological lexicon (without providing any definitions or explanations) both creates an alternative reality (theological and practical) and assures the believers’ distance from non-PCG society.
One of the tragic results of this exclusive universe is a lack of compassion for those of “the world.” Flurry declares as a waste of money the donation the WCG made to “hurricane and other disaster funds. Instead of spending money to warn people why disasters are happening, the WCG helps them financially. Soon the world is going to be literally flooded with disasters! . . . Tithes and offerings are going to be spent in vain if they continue this approach” (95). Since “only God’s people have true love” (98), we are left with the startling conclusion that true love preaches about how humanity’s sins brought these disasters upon various individual but it shouldn’t not help them.
It stands to reason that the creation of a separate reality necessitates an inherent distrust of those outside that protective reality. In this sense, Flurry continues with Armstrong’s education bias, thereby providing another assurance that nothing can challenge his teachings. This is clearly why “Mr. Armstrong taught us to avoid educational areas such as pyschology, sociology, the word’s theology and much of man’s law” (76), for each of these areas of scientific inquiry can illuminate the unhealthy, cultic aspects of Armstrongian theology as well as call into question many of HWA’s core doctrines. For Flurry, the results of “relying more on human, scholarly reasoning” (75) based on the “authorities of the world” (73) are clearly illustrated in Satan’s beguiling of the WCG’s leadership. “The Worldwide Church is too scholarly–too academic in wordly ways” (138), and the consequence is Satanic deception.
As an aside, it’s interesting to note that Flurry declares as Satanic only things from the outside world (“the scholars of the world”) which criticize or refute Armstrongian theology. When the world supports Flurry’s pre-conceived conclusions, it is a clear plus. Concerning whether the rebellion in II Thes. 2.4 is in the world or in the church, he points out that The Interpreter’s Bible Commentary says it’s within the church, concluding that “If people in the world understand this, certainly God’s people should!” (79). Later, he writes that “‘Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse’ implies that some of the tithes are being misdirected (see almost any commentary)” (128). (I will return to this topic when I examine Flurry’s interpretation techniques.)
Any cult leader must have mechanisms to ensure that members follow whatever rigorous guidelines the particular leader imposes, and most of these mechanisms are fear and guilt based. Flurry uses both with a dexterity Armstrong would have been proud of.
Flurry’s primary tactic is simple. He writes, “God’s truth is sometimes very hard to receive. But there is no other choice when you consider the alternative” (104). Clearly, fear is used to offset the heavy obligations of the law. “You think it’s difficult to follow the law? Here’s the alternative!” he seems to be saying. This means that people are following Flurry not to gain benefits but to avoid punishment. Since Flurry rejects the idea of eternal punishment, he is writing here about the loss of eternal life. And he makes this point quite a few times. The first time he connects it through implication to Armstrong’s teachings: “Either we hang on to what we learned or we lose our eternal life!” (97). At another point, he makes the connection to the Laodicean majority: “God will destroy the work of the Laodiceans!” (86); “The Laodicean work of rebellion is destined to be smashed. It can end no other way, because God is against it” (87). Later, it evolves into a simple, general threat: “Eternal life or eternal death is at stake for many of God’s people!” (101). By the end of the book Flurry has incorporated also the fear of losing one’s physical life and makes a direct connection with Joseph Tkach: “If you follow [Mr. Tkach], nuclear holocaust awaits you!” (127).
Flurry’s Interpretation Techniques
As stated before, a common element in Flurryian exegesis is the acceptance of worldly authority which conforms to Armstrongian doctrine and a rejection of other wordly influence. A long-time King James Only advocate, Flurry has often maintained there are interpolations included in other translations (i.e., the New International Version) which are Satanically inspired. Others, like the Zerubbabel inset (Zech. 4.6-10) are seen as inspired by God (63). No criteria are given for how to determine whether it is inspired by Satan or Christ, but it seems safe to assume that all passages which support Flurry’s pre-conceived interpretations are from Christ and all which detract are Satanic. (There is, in fact, an article in an old Philadelphia Trumpet which makes a case for the KJV-Only position–unfortuantely, I don’t have the documentation for it at the moment.)
There is a deeper irony in Flurry’s KJV-Only position which he doesn’t seem to grasp. If the New International Version and others are flawed because the translators were worldly and Satanically deceived, how did King James’ scribes and interpreters escape this same pitfall? And more importantly, how does Flurry know that they weren’t, in fact, deceived by the wily devil? Surprisingly, he does maintain that King James’ interpreters were deceived in at least one area: They wrongly translated hagios pneuma as “Holy Ghost” instead of “Holy Spirit.”
Naturally, the best way for Flurry to avoid the problem of deceived translators is to read the Bible in the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. To do so, though, would require a proficiency in these ancient languages that Flurry simply doesn’t have. He could attend a university and take classes in these languages, but that would be going out into the world and receiving the instruction of worldly academics, something he’s not willing to do.
Even though he staunchly maintains a KJV-Only position, Flurry occasionally admits that other translations offer a better interpretation of a particular word or passage. Sometimes, in stating that such-and-such is a better translation, he falls into his familiar and habitual lack of documentation: “In II Thes. 2.3, ‘deceive’ should be translated ‘beguile’” (81), he writes, giving no documentation whatever. Ironically enough, not even the HWA favorite Strong’s uses “beguile” in its definition. A couple of pages later, he does the same thing, saying that “the ‘traditions’ of II Thes. 2.15 are better interpreted ‘instructions’” (83). Again, there is no indication of how he determined this.
Flurry claims that the best way to read the Bible is to “let the Bible interpret itself” (89). This is, in fact, not a bad idea, but in applying it, Flurry makes one basic mistake in doing this: Flurry’s Armstrongian dictate to look to the Bible to “prove it!” (9) necessarily entails approaching the Bible with pre-conceptions about what we will find there, and this is one of the worst mistakes we can make when interpreting the Bible. If we look to the Bible to prove a specific point, we’ll do just that. In the meantime, we will take scriptures out of their context in every way imagineable, mis-quote, and ignore contradicting passages, all of which Flurry does.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see how Flurry, bent on prophecy, easily turns anything and everything in the Bible into a prophetic pronouncement. Therefore the story of Esau and Jacob can be a prophetic description of the end-time church (122). In this case, Flurry’s reasoning seems to be thus: a) Malachi is clearly a prophecy directed to the church; b)Esau and Jacob are mentioned in Malachi; c)Therefore, all references to Esau and Jacob are at least somewhat prophetic and directed at the church. Once again this is sloppy exegesis combined with flawed logic. In this case, Flurry commits the circulus in demonstrando fallacy. This fallacy occurs if you assume as a premise the conclusion which you wish to reach. But as logic is a wordly science, Flurry can’t worry himself too much if he violates a few of its principles here and there.
Sometimes, there doesn’t even need to be a slight indication of the desired conclusion in a verse for Flurry to declare that it has some special prophectic meaning. In other words, he finds things in scripture that aren’t vaguely indicated in the passage in question. For example, he claims that Amos 6.1 (“Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel came!”) is “a prophecy for the Laodicean church today!” (126). There is nothing in the verse itself or in the contextual verses to indicate this.
The God of the PCG
While Flurry never gives a succinct definition of God and his attributes in Malachi’s Message, we can piece one together from various parts of the book. Not surprisingly, the resulting God is startlingly different than the God of orthodox Christianity in that Flurry has disallowed from his definition of God the three main assumptions of the Western world, namely omniscience, omnipotence, and complete beneficence.
One of Flurry’s worst techniques of exegesis is an indulgence in inappropriately literal interpretations of some scriptures, resulting in an incredibly anthropomorphic view of God. In short, Flurry creates an anthropomorphic God which is incapable of omnipotence and omniscience, two of the most basic components of the Western idea (and in particular, the Christian articulation) of “God.”
Scripture attributes to God a great deal of qualities and emotions, many of which are necessarily anthropomorphic. This is, of course, to be expected. As humans, we have nothing except our own experience to form frames of reference about anything. To be sure, our finite nature makes it nearly impossible for us to speak of God without resorting to anthropomorphic (or, as Peter Berger refers to it, “humanizing”) language. We must therefore speak of God in terms of analogy (specifically, through analogy of proportionality, not analogy of attribution), though this still presents certain problems. (The British philosopher H. P. Owen deals with these problems of analogy in religious language in his book The Christian Knowledge of God.)
The trick to developing a blanaced view of the Scriptural claims about God (and indeed, of forming a healthy view of God) is a balance between our necessarily human-based, limited articulations and the realization that they are such. Either extreme produces ridiculous propositions about God: On the one hand, it would be impossible to say anything about God if we limit ourselves to strictly non-anthropomorphic explanations of God. Even St. Bernard’s via negativa relies on anthropomorphic language in describing what God is not. On the other hand, if we forget that these things we say about God are necessarily flawed (contaminated with our own humanity, you might say) and indulge in a linguistic free-for-all in our descriptions of God, we will only end up looking quite ridiculous (as Tillich pointed out in his article article for The Christian Scholar entitled, “The Nature of Religious Language”).
Flurry’s explanations of God and his omnipotence cross the line and are simply too anthropomorphic. He takes a literal interpretation of what Scripture says when he says God “didn’t know” this or “couldn’t do” that, failing to keep in mind the different shades and hues language must take on when discussing God. In other words, he has greatly reduced the powerful symbolic meaning of Scripture by viewing it too literally.
Flurry’s exegesis most commonly creates a God which is decidedly not omniscient. There are almost endless examples of this in Malachi’s Message. Twice he mentions something about our actions “revealing” something to God. First he says that “your approach to Bible study helps reveal to God how nobel you are” (10). Later, “the next few months and years are going to be very revealing–to God’s people and to God” (91). It should be impossible to “reveal” anything to God, for something to be “revealed” necessitates prior ignorance While Flurry doesn’t say as much, he is implying that God is ignornant of certain things.
However, Flurry later crosses that line of implication and says specifically that there are things God doesn’t know: He argues that “we’re either going to be God, or we’re going to be nothing. God wants to know who is going to qualify for His Kingdom. That is the whole purpose of our existence” (11). Later still Flurry maintains that there is a “precise point when God will know absolutely which Laodiceans are to be saved and which Laodiceans are to be lost” (46). And lastly, “God wants to know if they love Him and His truth more than a man, a church, or even their own lives (Luke 14.26)” (94). It seems, then, that human existence is little more than a cosmic experiment, with God testing a hypothesis about free-will by creating humans, and clearly Flurry’s God isn’t quite sure of the outcome of this grand experiment.
That being said, the story of Abraham and Issac has startling implications: “God didn’t know until after the test what Abraham would do” (100). Of course the seemingly inescapable conclusion here is that God was ignorant before the temptation. However, before we reach this conclusion, we must first interpret that God said, “Now I know” in a manner identical to how we as humans would say, “Now I know.” Most theologians and philosophers would contend that this is a faulty interpretation, that God didn’t mean “Now I know” in the way that humans mean, “Now I know.” However, that’s what is written in Scripture and Flurry, taking huge liberties, interprets this and other passages literally, resulting in an almost comically unorthodox God.
Obviously these examples constitute a complete denial of God’s omniscience. How does Flurry get around it? He resorts to one of Armstrong’s most un-Biblical and illogical assertions: “God does not yet know . . . because He has chosen not to know” (87). To begin with, there is absolutely no scriptural support for this idea. It is necessary only when we interpret scripture too literally, as Flurry does and Armstrong did before him.
In addition, the contention that God “wills not to know” is logically fragile. To have a will about anything one must have knowledge of it. God would necessarily have to know what he was willing not to know, therefore creating a logical contradiction. (If Flurry were to respond by saying that “God doesn’t ‘know’ in the same way that we know,” then he would be trying to turn my argument against me without applying it to himself. In other words, he would be making my earlier argument for me and render the whole issue a moot point.)
To back up the contention that God “controls what He knows and doesn know”, Flurry might point out that God “forgets” our sins when we are forgiven. However, there is a big difference between ignorance and forgetting. For God not to have known the outcome of Abraham’s temptation requires both a priori and a posteriori ignorance. Forgetting implies a posteriori knowledge which is removed. In other words, to forget means that we know before the act of forgetting, but later lack this knowledge. This is of course quite possible, as I do it myself all the time, and while it’s impossible for us to forget intentionally, I’ll allow that God, in his omnipotence, can do such a thing. There seems to be no logical incongruity there. However, to interpret that God “forgets our sins” as proof that he controls what he knows is ridiculous because it amounts to God forgetting before he knows, which is impossible.
Not only is Flurry’s God not omniscient, but he is also not omnipotent. Toward the end of the book, Flurry declares that “if we faithfully do our part, God’s message won’t be suppressed!” (108). This implies that it could be suppressed, that God would be incapable of overcoming the obstacle of PCG’s failure. He says the same thing a few pages later: “If the Philadelphia members don’t protect God’s truth, it will perish from this planet!” (147). So impotent is Flurry’s God that it is possible for humans to overwhelm him and eradicate his “truth” entirely. It makes one wonder what would God do then? Pack up and say, “Oh well, we tried.”
The last traditional aspect of God to fall in the wake of Flurry’s inept exegesis is beneficence. As pointed out earlier, Flurry’s thesis is that God is separating the true Philadelphian minority from the Laodicean majority by sending a “strong delusion” (2 Thes. 2.10-11) in the form of deceived leadership (11, 91ff). This contemporary prophetic interpretation of 2 Thessalonians has dire implications for God’s beneficence. It means that not only can people lose their salvation by leading a sinful life, but also because God deceives them. In other words, Flurry’s God tricks people into losing salvation. Flurry all but admits this: “God is testing each of us to see what we will do. This is a carefully laid plan to reveal the quality of our character” (134). It sounds more like a carefully laid trap devised by an immature, immoral being than an act of a loving God. Obviously, this “plan” too has obviously dreadful consequences for God’s omniscience, for it also implies that God doesn’t know the quality of our character without toying with us. Additionally, this is not only dreadfully immoral but also a complete contradiction of the Bible: “Let no man say . . . I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man” (James 1.13, KJV).
The God of the PCG also places conditions on his acceptance of humans. There are numerous references to “qualifying” for God’s kingdom (and therefore, escaping the horrible death that awaits humanity in the Great Tribulation). Also, Flurry makes it clear that “God remembers the Philadelphian group because they remembered him” (2) and “God is not going to take his people to a place of safety unless they support those who serve God!” (135). Not only is there no scriptural support given, but this flies in the face of all that Christ did. (It does, however, go a long way in assuring Flurry will have financial support to carry out his self-ordained mission. It is, in other words, another example of using fear to control the general membership. Also, the general lay-members are not the only ones who get this treatment: “Fellow ministers, what is God going to think of us if we fail to act?” (133).)
Since Flurry’s God is limited in knowledge, power, and goodness, it would be well to stay always on his good side. Fortunately, Flurry provides plenty of guidance concerning how to remain in good standing with God: in a word, works. God has provided a set of rules concerning everything from what meat to eat to how to spend your Saturday afternoons (though there are several portions of the Hebrew law that the PCG doesn’t follow, i.e., destroying one’s home if mildew persists or not wearing clothes of two fabrics). Through strict obedience to these laws, we make God happy and he blesses us. If we don’t follow these laws, God gets irritated and curses us.
One way we can get on God’s bad side is not following his earthly leaders. Of course since God sends out strong delusion, we might have trouble discerning who are the true elect leaders, so we must be careful: “We all have the potential to fail horribly” (135) because our “reward depends on recognizing the true representatives of God” (145). Once we find out where the true church is, we must redouble our efforts to hold onto the precious knowledge that God gave us through HWA because “we are judged by what we do with all that knowledge” (49). Ministers too must watch their backs because the “are being judged by what [they] do with God’s flock!” (144)
We are must still be vigilant once we’re in the true church because God “will allow His followers to go astray. Then He usually has to start a new era–or work with those who remain loyal to him” (8). This means that if we go astray, God essentially abandons us.
Also, our salvation is ultimately in our hands–we can mess it up to the point that God is no longer willing (or possibly not able) to help
The observation that PCG/Armstrongian theology is completely works-based is nothing new, but Flurry takes this to a frightening level when discussing the fate of the Laodiceans. After less-than-ample proof that all the Laodiceans are to die in the Tribulation (46), he says, “The Laodiceans have to prove themselves by dying for God” (47). Armstrongian theology has moved from saying that we must not eat pork to prove that we are godly to saying that some of us must die to prove that we are godly. There is really no need to comment on the frightening implications of this except to say that it raises the cult status of PCG to a level nearing Jim Jones/David Koresh intensity in some ways.
There is a practical purpose for this works-based legalism, though: It provides a measuring stick for righteousness. “God loves me . . . so much that he chose me–not you–to be among the first fruits of his coming Kingdom. What? How do I know God loves me? Because unlike you, I follow his laws! I don’t work on the Sabbath. I pay my tithes. I don’t eat pork or other unclean foods.” It gives us added security that we are in good standing with God and a strong sense of superiority over and condescending pity for the deceived masses.
As a final point it’s important to point out that Flurry has even managed to incorporate works into his definition of faith: “Faith is nothing more than acting on God’s word!” (144). Obviously enough this contradicts the Biblical definition in Hebrews 11.1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” While it seems impossible, Flurry has forumlated a definition of faith in which works plays a significan roll. It would seem that there doesn’t need to be a link between faith and works for Flurry as there is in other denominations–they are simply pronounced synonymous
In tracing several of the themes in Malachi’s Message, it becomes obvious that the Philadelphia Church of God is far from the Christian orthodoxy and exhibits theological and behavioral symptoms of a cult. Of course this is nothing unexpected as the WCG’s initial motions toward orthodoxy which prompted Flurry to form the PCG. What is surprising is the level this reaches and its pervasiveness. Flurry takes the already-unhealthy ideas of Amstrong and uses WCG’s doctrinal shift to construct a new layer of guilt-producing, works-based, exclussivist theology. It’s probably a good thing that Flurry teaches that the members of the Philadelphia Church of God should wear the “cult badge” with pride–unless there are incredibly drastic (and equally unlikely) changes, the membership will be wearing that label for many years to come.