What You Should Know About
United Church of God-AIA
Should you be wary of United Church of God? Are they an authoritarian, high demand group that uses methods of mind control? Where does their belief system really originate from?
(Includes UPDATE at end on UCG's 2010 splinter, "Church of God, a Worldwide Association.")
NOTE: If you were formerly in Worldwide Church of God, we recommended that you read the Outsider's Inside Update™ Newsletters and An Open Letter to Our Acquaintances in Worldwide Church of God.
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. 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. (UPDATE: Dennis Luker died March 14, 2013 of cancer and Victor Kubik is the new President.)
(Note: UCG-AIA is not the same as United Church of God, Birmingham,2 which was founded in 1995 by Ray Wooten; however, when the initials "UCG" are used in this article they refer to UCG-AIA.)
United Church of God teaches that they are the "continuation of the one and only true church of God" (tracing their origins to "the church that Jesus founded in the early first century" and following "the same teachings, doctrines and practices established then.").3 (HWA likewise proclaimed his organization was the "one and only true church of God.") 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" and being a "small flock." 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,"4 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.5
They affirm they are "committed to understanding and practicing New Testament Christianity"6 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.
UCG has an array of glossy and slick "free" literature; e. g., World News and Prophecy (to "discern the times...in light of Bible prophecy"); The Good News ("a magazine of understanding"); Vertical Thought ("magazine of understanding for tomorrow's leaders") and Virtual Christian Magazine ("Hope and Encouragement For the Real World"). The United News is the church-wide newsletter for members and their radio program is called Good News Radio Program. They even have a "Ambassador Bible Center" (ABC) which teaches the same "theology" classes that were formerly taught at Ambassador College (founded by HWA in 1947). Their TV program is "Beyond Today."
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 Bible 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 Others?)
If one carefully examines United Church of God's "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.
UCG's belief system is taught to be the "only road" to eternal life. Notice quotes below from UCG's booklet, The Road to Eternal Life, which 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. (All emphasis ours)
"We must recognize the sin within us and comprehend our deep-rooted hostility to God."
"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."
"Overcoming our habitual sins and selfish nature does not happen instantly. It is a lifelong process, often involving great effort."
"As long as we actively seek God's will and allow His Holy Spirit to work in our lives, our eventual salvation is guaranteed."
"Will you let this precious calling from God go unheeded?"
"We trace our origins to the Church that Jesus founded in the early first century."
"We believe that this fundamental spiritual law [Ten Commandments] reveals the only way to true life and the only possible way of happiness, peace and joy."
"This is the only road to eternal life."
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 LCG 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" (which means submitting to their LCG leaders over them) in order to be "God's faithful servants," and "attain to perfection." They must be "duly baptized" (by immersion); and 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 feast days 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").
While United Church of God boldly claims: "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."7 (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, generous offerings are taken up on all the O. T. feast days.
Members are not to observe Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day, etc., calling them "pagan" (similar to the Jehovah's Witnesses' teachings, which is one group that HWA plagiarized from). However, birthdays are an exception.
Members are to expected to observe 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.)
They frown on marrying someone who is not a member of UCG.
They teach that voting in public elections, while not in itself considered a "sin," nevertheless, should not be done. (More double-talk.) It's the same with the military. They are encouraged not to join.
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). 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 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."8 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.)
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."9 Notice how the emphasis is placed on "the Kingdom" not on accepting, trusting and believing in Christ Jesus as personal Savior.
UCG teaches about end time prophecies and events and hold 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"10 (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 are speaking of end-time persecution and martyrdom and being in the Tribulation.11
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."12 (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"13 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 Youth Corps" and "United Youth Camps" are set up for the youths in UCG, who participate in "various international service projects" and are to be committed to "the way of give instead of get" and to "form character." (More buzzwords of HWA's.) This is just another way UCG causes the youth in their congregations to sacrifice their lives by spreading UCG's teachings in other countries in order in order to recruit more vulnerable people into their group. It also ensures that they will be more submissive to their leaders in UCG.
UCG holds services in rented halls, churches, recreation centers, lodges, etc. 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.
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."14 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").
While United Church of God outwardly gives the appearance of a "nice, friendly, laid back, non-controlling church," they still 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 (i. e., commands), and that they must not ever depart from these teachings ("truths"). 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."
Attendance in UCG dropped from 20,000 to 12,000 as of 2004, and they continue to experience slow growth, even losing members in many areas. Most of their new members have been from those who have exited other "churches of God" (i. e., splinter groups from Worldwide Church of God).
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.15
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 HWA's Worldwide Church of God, and educate yourself on mind control and exploitive groups in society.
By D. M. Williams
Exit & Support Network™
January 6, 2001
Last updated June 3, 2013
February 19, 2006 letter to ESN, which exposed United Church of God / WCG connections with Dynamics Resource Group.
INFO on COGWA: On December 13, 2010, Church of God, a Worldwide Association, Inc., Orlando, Florida, was formed due to "fundamental disagreements" with UCG-AIA. Several thousand members resigned at this time and dozens of pastors and elders were fired or forced to resign. As of this writing, Jim Franks is the President of COGWA. UCG has also lost a lot of young people to COGWA. COGWA introduced an e-magazine in 2013 which is ironically called Discern (Clyde Kilough is Editor). It simply contains the same HWA rhetoric and propaganda. Also read: "I See a Bleak Outlook for Church of God, a Worldwide Association" (January 18, 2014 letter to ESN) and "Why the Church of God, a Worldwide Association Will Splinter and Come to Nothing" (February 2, 2011 letter to ESN).
Footnotes by ESN:
1 United News, December 2007, "Council Approves Purchase of Texas Property."
2 Ray Wooten is now with United Christian Ministries in Birmingham, Alabama. 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 say: "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].)
4 Claiming the Title "Church of God" by Jim Franks
5 The Church of God Today
6 About the United Church of God
7 UCG-AIA Doctrinal and Study Papers, "Tithing"
8 You Can Understand Bible Prophecy, "Beyond the Millennium"
9 Jesus Christ's Olivet Prophecy: Where Are We Now?
10 World News and Prophecy, November, July-August 2011, "Failed Rapture and Doomsday Prediction - Again" by John Ross Schroeder, Tom Robinson
12 Mystery of the Ages by Herbert W. Armstrong, p. 171
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