Exit and Support Network

Letters to Cultivate Ministries

Pt. 1 | Pt. 2


February 17, 2005

Dear Mr. Zilonka,

Thank you for your response to my letter. I am glad that you found my letter informative, but I still have questions that I would like some further clarification. Please do not misconstrue my responses to your letter as attacking, because this is not the spirit that I wish to discuss my concerns. My time is very limited, so please pardon me for jumping right in. In your response letter, you stated:

What took place in 1995 was a beginning of things. At least there was a beginning. Tradition dies hard and there will be continued problems for some time to come.

I know you felt that 1995 was the "beginning of things" and that each year the WCG was getting better and better. I would first like to point out that "tradition dies hard" when the Pastor General states:

And yet we're being accused that we're doing away with God's Laws! We keep God's Laws because we are saved!
Everything that Christ has commanded us is LAW. (Jan. 7,1995 Video Sermon)

Traditions don't die when they were never abolished in the first place. Can a person serve two masters? Can they serve Christ and the Law? Those outside of the WCG know the answer. Why wasn't this made clear to the members from the start?

Now let's examine a contradiction in what Ron Kelly says on the ["Called to Be Free] video concerning the Sabbath:

"In it [the sermon given on Jan. 7, 1995] he [JWT] said that the New Covenant does not carry with it the rules and regulations of the old. They are simply done away. That sermon was the shot heard around the world. Nothing more shocking than to hear the Sabbath is done away."

Now let's see exactly what JWT Sr. said during that sermon:

This is going to be a long afternoon ... It's the Sabbath and contrary to any other rumor you might have heard about that we are going to do away with the Sabbath, pray tell what day are we here on today? Is this Monday? Friday? This is the Sabbath, the seventh day, the example that Christ established for us. We're not here to do away with the Sabbath, we're here to gain a better understanding of what God does require of us. (Jan. 7, 1995 Video Sermon; on file with ESN)

Is the membership at fault for "dragging their heals" during the changes? Or maybe the members understood quite clearly the very words that their Pastor General spoke--that the Sabbath was not done away with, nor the Law for that matter. Why would Ron Kelly say something that Tkach, Sr. clearly did not say? The new leadership simply redefined as "traditions" and continued along the same vein.

Tkach, Sr. also used some interesting phrases during that 1-7-95 sermon.

If you will read Acts 5 vs.32, you'll see in context that it's not talking about God giving his Spirit to those who obey him. How dumb can we be?! God gives his Spirit to those who obey him. Without that you cannot be a Christian, you cannot obey God. You can walk in the letter of the Law and that's about the extent of it.  
When Christ said, do you really want to be healed, what that meant and how it has a spiritual implication for us today!! [shouts loudly:] Do we want to be healed of the stupidity and ignorance we had because we did not understand the word of God the way we should?!!

Remember this is "God's Apostle" speaking to the membership during that "shot heard around the world" sermon referred to by Ron Kelly. How dumb can we be? That's an easy one. If members did not obey everything they were told by HWA, they would be put out of the Church. To be disfellowshipped meant eternal death in the Lake of Fire and loss of one's ticket to the Place of Safety. Maybe "stupidity and ignorance" aren't the correct words. How about "raw fear"? This certainly is not the speech of a Christ-like shepherd who wants to see his sheep overcome their fears. Members were taught to "obey without question" and now Tkach is calling them dumb, stupid and ignorant for doing what they were instructed to do! The video shows Tkach revealing all the changes in a calm, gentle, "fatherly" manner, whereas if the sermon is listened to in its entirety, we soon begin to hear an opposite picture. So my first question is this: Is it acceptable to use shame, intimidation and duplicitous statements, etc., as long as the end result is "converted members"?

A couple years after the beginning of changes, things got a little better. A couple more years later, a little better yet and so on. In 2005 it's a little better than in 1999.

I request, with all due respect, what proof do you have that things have gotten better? What exact criteria have you used to determine this?

But I believe there is a bigger picture here you might have missed.

What exactly is this "big picture" that I have missed?

I simply cannot buy into the propaganda that this "cult" has "found Jesus" and is cured for a number of reasons. The methods employed during the changes were deplorable. If resorting to shaming, blaming, half-truths, and duplicity are reasonable methods to bring people to Christ, then maybe I have indeed, missed the big picture. Should we take cults at face value? Should we naïvely accept the words of those who have spent decades making their living through lies and deception? And shouldn't we question what their motive was for mainstreaming? (OIU Newsletters thoroughly covered this) 

I must ask you directly: Do you believe that Herbert W. Armstrong was a minister of Jesus Christ? If the answer is "no," then how can one endorse a group that has perpetuated this view amongst the members for the past 10 years? Even MacGregor Ministries, an anti-cult ministry for JW's has reported that:

In April 1995 the leaders said that they "regarded HWA as a minister of Jesus Christ" and "do not believe he needs to be condemned." ("MacGregor Ministries, News & Views," p. 4)
Because we have recognized past errors from the pulpit and in print, we fail to understand requests to 'exposé Herbert W. Armstrong. We see no biblical mandate for Christians to 'expose.' " ("MacGregor Ministries, News & Views," April 1995, p. 5)

If this is true, then people like you, Mr. Zilonka, have no business telling Mormons the truth about Joseph Smith. Remember, this is the current leadership that has said these things, and not the leadership of the past regime. If Herbert W. Armstrong was a minister of Jesus Christ, then we can safely conclude that Rev. Moon, Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell, etc. are all ministers of Christ, and anyone who feels likewise, needs to understand that there is "no biblical mandate to 'expose' heretics" – that is, if we are to believe the current leadership of this "repentant cult." May I be blunt? Since when do cult leaders set the standard? Why are we allowing the tail to wag the dog? If they can't tell the truth about HWA from the beginning, then how can we trust them to tell the truth about anything in the present? Is this really about a cult finding Jesus, or is this truly about a cult that has found the right sponsors that have helped them to repackage itself successfully into the mainstream?

As I watched the Called To Be Free video the first time, I put myself back into the mindset of being a Mormon again.

Let's examine the beginning statements of this video. First, they have Ron Kelly saying:

"How could we have been so theologically ignorant? (Ron Kelly, controller, WCG)

Mr. Kelly knows the full answer. It is because HWA taught him that he, only, had the truth, and nobody else did--that all of Christianity was deceived. Therefore, Ron Kelly has not been forthright with his answer by not holding HWA accountable. If Mr. Kelly wants to pretend that he was as duped as the rest of the members, then he certainly wouldn't want them to understand that HWA used Behavior, Information, Thought and Emotional Control to accept "theologically ignorant" doctrines espoused by HWA. Later in the video, Mr. Kelly states:

"How could we have been so theologically ignorant? How could we have embraced error to the degree we embraced it? I still don't have the answer to that. I puzzle over it regularly." (Ron Kelly)

If Mr. Kelly wants to stop all his puzzling and know the real answers, I will be more than glad to give them to him. But I am certain Mr. Kelly knows a lot more than he is letting on.

"We did not understand grace." (Greg Albrecht, WCG Media Director)

HWA taught his church that, "grace was license to sin." Members did not understand grace because, once again, HWA's definition of grace was the only true definition. Albrecht knows this. Once again, the finger is pointed away from holding HWA accountable, and Albrecht wants to pretend that he was oblivious. If Mr. Albrecht was truthful he would have admitted that this "grace-phobia" started in the 70's, when "liberal" ministers were put out for wanting to discuss the New Covenant and the grace doctrine. He was an active member when all this had taken place. Just a few years later, Albrecht received his theology degree from Azusa Pacific in 1977. Why did it take him until 1995 to admit that he didn't understand a doctrine that he got a master's degree in?

Are we really that gullible?

"I don't know of anything like this that has ever happened. It was a showdown." (Hank Hanegraaff, self-appointed President CRI)

Why would the WCG deal with a man with a reputation such as Hanegraaff? Hanegraaff has been alleged to be a man of very questionable character. Jesus stated, "By their fruits, you shall know them" and Hanegraaff seems to display some pretty rotten fruit. I think one needs to ask why is Hanegraaff in this video? Will Hanegraaff benefit financially from its sale? Do the cults make it financially lucrative for Hanegraaff to "work" with them? He has no degree in theology, so how does that make him qualified to pronounce cults "cured"? I hope you truly consider what I am saying, Mr. Zilonka, for it would be a terrible thing for one unscrupulous individual to be instrumental in infusing cults into the mainstream just by his endorsement and promotion (and financial gain). We will all live to regret this if he opens up the floodgates for cults to infiltrate the mainstream and redefine "orthodoxy," especially if it was within our power to prevent it.

"It is the whole belief system that is in error. It can't be fixed. It has to be demolished." (Dan Rogers, superintendent of Minister U.S.)

What part of this belief system was demolished? If Dan Rogers stated that the "whole belief system is in error" then why are they hanging on to any of it? This is a misleading statement, making outsiders believe that the whole system was destroyed, and this is simply not true! The top-down government structure is still in place and the top leaders are not held accountable. To this day, they refuse to reveal their personal salaries to their parishioners. Why? Can true reforms really begin with an un-elected, nepotistic leadership in place? True reforms start from the grass-roots, from the bottom up. There were no grass-roots reforms in this group. Members were told "this is what you are going to believe because God's Church isn't afraid to change" (the same tactic the JW's use when they want to introduce "New Light") and the ones who stayed just shrugged their shoulders and said, "Okay, we will obey because we won't rebel against God's Government." All of these changes were announced to members under the guise of "New Truth." The leadership wanted the members to believe that God revealed these New Truths to Tkach, just as God revealed "truths" to HWA, so the members would obey without question.

Dr. Robert L. Summer has questioned the WCG's claim of "mass conversions." If we believe the membership figure of 150,000 given by Feazell in the video, which he claimed that 60,000 left after the "changes," then that would leave about 90,000 remaining in the WCG. Don't you find it rather inconceivable that 90,000 found themselves suddenly "converted"? Was this really Jesus working in their lives, or were the usual cult dynamics employed to get everyone to believe the same thing? If the members believe that they are following "God's Apostle" and that apostle says, "If HWA were here today, he would submit to the changes" then it stands to reason that the members would simply comply. Is compliance equal to conversion? I think scripture teaches us otherwise.

You stated that as you watched this video, you put yourself in the position of a Mormon, and SDA, and a JW. I would like to share with you what I understand as a Worldwider. Mr. Zilonka, there are people in the WCG who still agree with the doctrines of the JW's. They still believe in soul sleep, the wonderful world tomorrow (Paradise Earth), Universalism, and annihilation. How in the world can they witness to JW's when they're in agreement with them? This is simply the blind leading the blind. I, too, have had various JW's in my home, once a week for over two years to witness to them. How could I witness to them if I'm saying, "Oh, yes, we, too believe in a beautiful coming millennial paradise where people will be resurrected and given a chance to finally learn The Truth" and "Oh, good, I'm so glad you don't believe in punishment of the wicked. We, too, believe that people will finally be given a chance at the resurrection. We also believe that the soul is mortal. I'm glad you got that from reading your Bible. So many people don't. They just simply accept what traditional Christianity teaches." Worldwiders are not surprised when other groups hold some of the same doctrines, and comparing similarities with other false groups does not cause them to think. (I am using your example of the JW's and Mormons who were at your door). Worldwiders have been taught that others outside of the Church have some of the truth (because they, too, read the Bible and can derive some truth from it) while those inside the Church have the whole truth and not to be surprised when there are similarities.  

Of all witnessing tools that are out there, this video will have little impact on the cults. A Mormon or JW would watch it and think, "Wow, isn't it nice these people came out of their cultic lifestyle and stopped following that false prophet, Armstrong. Too bad they went into satanic traditional Christianity instead of becoming part of our church where the real Truth is found."

Can a cult utilize the same language as Christians, but still be a cult in practice? Let's look at this example. What person of religious notoriety made the following statements?

  1. I found absolute and positive proof of the existence of the Supreme Creator God and also of the absolute authority of the Holy Bible as the Word of God.
  2. I studied diligently, worked toward self-improvement. All this, of course, developed great self-confidence, which was later to be replaced by a different kind of confidence – FAITH in Christ.
  3. Jesus Christ is the personal Word of God!
  4. Jesus Christ had bought and paid for my life by his death.
  5. And in surrendering to God in complete repentance, I found unspeakable JOY in accepting JESUS CHRIST as personal Savior and my present High Priest.
  6. When I read and studied the Bible, God was talking to me, and now I loved to listen! I began to pray, and knew that in prayer I was talking with God. I was not yet very well acquainted with God. But one gets to be better acquainted with another by constant contact and continuous conversation.
  7. I had been brought to realize my own nothingness and inadequacy. I had been conquered by the great majestic God – brought to a real repentance – and also brought to a NEW ROCK-BASED SOLID FAITH in Jesus Christ and in God's Word.
  8. I was baptized, and the infilling of God's Holy Spirit opened my mind to the JOY UNSPEAKABLE of knowing God and Jesus Christ – of knowing truth – and the warmth of God's divine love.
  9. We are saved by GRACE, and through FAITH – make no mistake about that;
  10. Christ is a living Saviour!
  11. Jesus, during his human life, was both God and man.
  12. Jesus was the Word (John 1:1) born of the Virgin Mary.

Are these words that we would expect to hear from R. A. Torrey? John R. Rice? D. L. Moody? The answer is, "None of them." These words were spoken by Herbert W. Armstrong and taken directly from his publications. When taken at face value, even HWA can sound orthodox. But under closer scrutiny, this "minister of light" has proven to be a minister of darkness. Should we open our arms and invite in men who "sound religious" but refuse to be held accountable, who refuse to tell the whole truth? Those who pretend that they can't figure out how all this could have happened, and refuse to hold HWA accountable?

In your conclusion you stated:

10 years from now, if the Lord tarries WCG might be a little better than they are today. They probably will be since there's people like you who can work with them to make things better.

Mr. Zilonka, I guarantee that people like me are not welcome in the WCG. If I spoke to members about the things that I know, I would be put out for causing dissention. It deeply concerns me when people feel that the end justifies the means. It is naïve to think that I would be welcome in such a group, or to even entertain the unreality that they would let me work with them to make things better. I do not mean this harshly, but I am being realistic. I would not stop talking about Jesus, and how this organization was never founded upon him. I would openly declare HWA a heretic and false prophet. I would help them to understand how mind control was used on them. I would educate them to understand cult dynamics so they would be able to discern the inner-workings of any group. I would teach them about the lies and contradictions employed by HWA, and the current leadership. I would show them that they are free from the Law and that they are saved by grace--period. I would show them how HWA lied about the early church "keeping the Sabbath," and that he lied about restoring the Church back to the "original truths." I would tell them all the truth about what happened in the 70's, and about HWA's extravagant lifestyle. I would hand out books written by Margaret Singer, Tobias and Lalich, and others who have written about mind control (books that the WCG never recommended their members to read). And this is just a small sampling of what I would say. You better believe that I would not be welcomed.

Thank you, Mr. Zilonka, for listening to my concerns. I can tell by your response to my previous letter that you love the Lord and want to be excited at what seems to be His divine intervention in a cult. How I wish it were true.

I pray that the Lord will give you discernment and will burden your heart to understand the ramifications of accepting deceivers into the fold.

Sincerely in Christ,

Kelly Marshall
Exit & Support Network™

NOTE: No reply was received back from Jim Zilonka.

Pt. 1 | Pt. 2

Recommended reading:

Is Grace Communion International Still Holding to Some of Herbert Armstrong's Doctrines?

Has WCG (GCI) whitewashed Herbert W. Armstrong? (from our Q&A; includes quotes)

Living Hope Ministries Still Practice and Hold on to Cult-like Ideas (2009 letter)

Dialoguing or a Widening of the Road (a change in the LDS church by their leaders?) [offsite article]

Mainstreaming Mormonism (includes at end: "Worldwide Church of God: EMNR's Model for Mainstreaming Mormonism") [offsite article]

Back to Research Letters Concerning Worldwide Church of God Changes