"Strange, bizarre sect" was one magazine's appraisal. "They meet in secret," said another. "You can't find out anything about them," complained a newspaper. "They must be Communist, or something" says a bewildered citizen. Persecution? Or the natural reaction to our own "fear syndrome"? Perhaps a little bit of both — but whatever it is, we don't want to bring it on ourselves! UNTIL recently, there existed a good deal of confusion in the minds of a lot of people about the Worldwide Church of God, Ambassador College, and The WORLD TOMORROW.
Speculations ranged from an ultrarightist group with buried caches of arms, supported, perhaps by Howard Hughes, H. L. Hunt, or anyone else whose initials happened to be HH (would you believe — Hubert Humphrey?), to an ultra-leftist organization busily "badmouthing" the country.
Perhaps it was partially our own fault. We didn't want to push ourselves on anyone; we've always had the policy of refraining from public altar calls, public invitations to join anything, and public collections. We have always made it plain we do not wish to "cram our religion down anyone's throat" and have plainly stated our conviction that "none CAN come to the Son except the Spirit of the Father draw him."
Still, though we only tried to avoid the "hard-sell" evangelistic appearance — the sanctimonious "Won't you come to the Lord, right now..." pitch or the "churchified" flavor of the usual run of radio and TV evangelism — we caused a fair amount of confusion to exist over just who, and what, we are!
None of the apparent "secretive" nature of the Worldwide Church of God was desired by any of us — it just seemed to "happen" as a result of a cumulative series of conditions and circumstances. Like Topsy, it "just growed."
Now all of that is very rapidly changing!
Striking the Right Balance One thing is sure. You have no difficulty finding a label for other religious programs, magazines or churches' They are what they are — and by the time you've listened for a whole 30 seconds, you KNOW what they are.
The evangelist who comes on the TV screen, saying, in a slight tremulo, "Surely is a blessing to be here with you Christian brethren to talk about the Lord..." will never have a disclaimer put on the screen by the local station which says, "The opinions expressed on the following program do not necessarily represent the views of...."
But such disclaimers are sometimes put before and after our program. We probably cannot ever change that — simply because no matter how strongly we speak out about Christ's Gospel, His Gospel is so DIFFERENT from what people think it is and it is PRESENTED, both in the Bible and by His true servants, in such a DIFFERENT FASHION from what most people assume would be correct, that some stations feel we must be "disclaimed" when we speak the truth.
Now by properly seeing what has been a little bit of a "fear syndrome" on our part, and by capturing that right balance between not being "ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1:16), and the overdone, "hard-sell" flavor of the world, we can alleviate a great deal of confusion, wonderment and persecution.
My father and I have recently had long, animated and deeply heartfelt talks on these and other subjects. We are both completely confident and thoroughly enthusiastic that God is leading His Church to finish His Work more effectively by a deeper understanding of some of these matters.
Our "Fear Syndrome" I think many of our past syndromes I'm going to talk about in this article began back in the very earliest years of Ambassador College when we were being actively persecuted by one particular man and a few associates, some of whom were former Ambassador College students turned sour. At least partly as a result of their activities — handing out and almost forcing accusing literature on members, etc., and their threats — we began to develop a "fear syndrome."
Visitors on campus were oftentimes looked upon with suspicion. All that had to occur was for a stranger to appear and we began to get what I call a "spooky" (fearfully suspicious) look. And often, as a result of our reaction, we were a lot less than friendly to people who were just honestly interested in God's truth and came here for no other reason than to learn about it.
If an "outsider" suddenly appeared at the Feast of Tabernacles (especially if he wore a black bushy beard, drove a strange-looking car, or walked about handing out little tracts or gathering knots of individuals about himself in the parking lot), a "security system" we had developed took care of him. We had our deacons and parking superintendents out to "spot" such potential "troublemakers." Then they would rush a minister, or several of them, to the area to try to deal with the "problem."
As a result we used to turn off "outsiders" rather regularly — in all parts of the Work. In some cases we still do, without meaning to or realizing it.
Mr. Portune's Experience Mr. Albert Portune told me how he came to Pasadena one Sunday years ago, searching for Ambassador College. Nobody in Pasadena, it seemed, knew where it was, and Mr. Portune was pretty frustrated. He had already written four times wanting to be baptized, but nobody ever bothered to answer him. (We were a little inefficient in those days. When Mr. Portune took over management of the mailing office and later the business office, he had a personal reason for wanting it to become efficient!)
Finally he did find the campus, but there was almost nobody around at the time. He walked in the back door of the old print shop (now the Library Annex) and found one student bending over a font of type. Mr. Portune asked, "Is this Ambassador College?" The student looked up and saw a stranger — a person he didn't know! and got that "spooky" look.
"Yeah, it's Ambassador College."
"Well, I'm here to talk to somebody about baptism."
"Oh, well, er, ah, let's see...." he hemmed and hawed.
Mr. Portune inquired, "Well, you do have ministers' You do have church services, don't you?"
"Well, yeah, ah, as a matter of fact what we have is just a college chapel service — that's what we actually have when you get right down to it." That was our standard answer in those days.
"Well, can I attend?"
Then followed some more conversation which I can't recall, and finally the student said, "I'm not sure, better check with somebody." But somehow Mr. Portune finally got to attend. That following Sabbath he was baptized in the baptismal pool at the college.
I think this fairly well epitomizes what was happening and how we developed what I call a "shame-fear syndrome." We just weren't really being what we were. We became more or less ashamed without meaning to be ashamed, and it has carried over even until today.
Ministers have told me that the longer a member is in the Church the more closemouthed he tends to become about his religion, whereas in the first few months many are not closemouthed at all, sometimes making a lot of mistakes and turning off some of their friends and relatives because they were overly enthusiastic about the truth.
Try to Find Us — If You Can! I remember being part and parcel of this mood or this syndrome at the time. I strongly suspected in years past that some of our enemies would literally try to "infiltrate" the college campus, and that they would infiltrate various branches of the Work and local congregations.
To some measure, of course, some of these apprehensions were valid. The unfortunate part is that in MOST cases they were in error and that the "spinoff" from these apprehensions resulted in large degree to the "shame of religion" that I feel plagues the Church in general today.
It has been reinforced by the fact that we meet in rented halls, oftentimes without outside identifying characteristics or signs. They may be downtown office buildings, American Legion halls, Women's Clubs, Elks or Moose lodges, YMCA, YWCA, or perhaps high school auditoriums or civic auditoriums. Our ministers' names are not listed in telephone directories, and the Church is not identified in the yellow pages, nor is it ever identified or advertised in the Saturday church page in the local newspapers.
Unless I am mistaken, it has been the "generally understood" policy that before a member may feel free to invite a relative, neighbor, friend or casual business acquaintance to hear his minister preach on the Sabbath, he is expected to get "clearance" from the minister, explaining whether or not the person is familiar or conversant with what will be taught, whether the person knows about the Sabbath, what the person's approach and attitude is, etc.
Apparently all of this was to ensure that we did not, under any circumstances, experience any disturbances during a Sabbath service, such as an audible challenge from someone in the crowd. But because of this "syndrome," many people have turned away their own loved ones, their own families and mates. A husband would ask his wife, "May I go to church with you?" and she would say, "Oh, no, you can't unless you get clearance through my minister." And so it makes most husbands angry to be told, in essence; that they are not welcome where their wives are going on the Sabbath.
There have been many cases where our own spiritual brothers and sisters on the way home from the Feast of Tabernacles have thought, "I'd like to stop over the Sabbath here in Tucson (or there in Buffalo, or some other place) and worship with the local members of God's Church." But they didn't have the "combination" — the "secret" address of the meeting hall. They could not have found who or where the minister was or where God's people are meeting to save their life! Even my father couldn't have found them unless he first obtained the information from the Headquarters files!
Letting Ourselves Be Known As you probably know by now, all that is changing. We will be listing the "Worldwide Church of God" in phone directories of those cities where we have churches, using our "toll-free" number in Pasadena so that anyone may call for any information he may desire about the Church.
I was amazed when Mr. Dean Wilson told me that he felt so bad when his name and the name of the Canadian office somehow got in the telephone book. The telephone people just put it there without asking him and he didn't have the heart to change it. That happened eleven years ago. In those years, he has had hundreds of telephone calls, many of which resulted in people becoming members of the Church. Only four calls were of a threatening nature. (Each of those was from a spouse of a member who would have known his telephone number anyway.)
One lady called long distance about 3:00 a.m. She thought she had committed the unpardonable sin and was going to commit suicide. Mr. Wilson was able to talk to her and convince her she had not committed the unpardonable sin, then later he talked to her husband. Both are now strong members of the Church.
I can only guess at how many thousands of people over the years have tried to reach us late at night and have not been able, simply because they couldn't find the number!
The "clandestine sect" as some newspapers and magazines have described us, is to a large extent, what we really have appeared to be, because we don't intend to proselyte. We don't want to say, "World come in. World welcome. Come in and worship with us!" But we have needed to strike a balance somewhere in the middle to make sure those little ones who are looking for us can find us!
During the campaign in Richmond, Virginia, a nice looking young man with a big friendly grin and his hand stuck out came backstage to meet me. He was the local pastor of a church of one of the well-known denominations. We talked a bit and he said, "I am glad you are here. I have brought one hundred of my people along with me." He sat right in the front row questioning, listening, taking notes, an open look on his face, just wanting to know!
Maybe he will become a member of God's Church sometime soon. And maybe a few thousand other members of his denomination will too, one of these days. There is no reason why they can't, is there — if God is calling them? I mean, is belonging to a false church committing the unpardonable sin? Is a member of any denomination an "untouchable") Many of us belonged to other churches before, didn't we?
Let Your Light Shine Personally, I have been very unabashed and unashamed to urge people in my acquaintance — including strangers that I meet as I travel here and there — to come into contact with God's Work. I try to ensure they understand that they can see the television program, listen to the radio program, read The PLAIN TRUTH — and I tell them where and how! Of course, I never hard sell my religion — but simply and in a friendly manner make it a part of the conversation.
If each member of the Church in their contacts with people in the world felt a virtual spiritual responsibility to occasionally wax a little bit excited — in a simple, friendly, casual manner — about the worldwide Work of which he or she is a part, how many more people might be added to The PLAIN TRUTH mailing list, or become listeners to the radio program or viewers of the television program!
If we each made this a virtual "drive," realizing we are not ashamed of Jesus Christ or of His way of life or His true religion, what a difference it could make to our local churches, our teen-agers, and even our entire worldwide commission!
That we are not trying to "cram God's truth down anyone's throat," that we are not trying to proselyte in the world's sense, must be remembered. But we need not go to the opposite extreme of "hiding out," burying our talents, covering our light (Matt. 5:14-16), being ashamed and withdrawing into monosyllables and barest mutterings when we are asked about religious matters. I'm sure I Peter 3:15 comes immediately to our minds: "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear."
Now I am going to have to rely on the individual intelligence of everyone reading this article NOT to leap to some completely ridiculous assumption that Garner Ted Armstrong is going "off his rocker" and is advocating some utterly unbiblical program of knocking on doors and forcing religious literature on people like one particular church does today. I do not mean to remotely imply this!! SO PLEASE — let's understand, and find the right balance which is of God!
As you probably know, we have "freed up" our policy on inviting new people to church, as decided by my father in counsel with all the Headquarters Evangelists. With the Worldwide Church of God now becoming very well known through our own radio-TV programs and personal appearance campaigns, we are getting numerous inquiries from new people wanting to attend church. My father stated at the Headquarters Ministerial Conference this last January that we should make all who want to attend WELCOME, even if their interest is only casual.
What This Will Do for the Church In the past, some of us may have tended to misinterpret or misapply the scriptural command "to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness." This does not mean to go to the extreme of virtually shunning even casual conversation with people in the world. There's a vast difference between "fellowship," which involves going back and forth in partying, double dating, joining civic organizations and clubs, or attending their churches, and simply being a friendly, vital, lively and interesting conversationalist with people you come in contact with in your daily life.
When you are in supermarkets, drugstores, restaurants, motels, etc., you inevitably come in contact with other people. These casual contacts, I feel, can become an important way in which this Church can GROW!
I feel we are missing a very important area for real exposure for the total Work of God in this end-time generation as a result of this worldwide "shame syndrome" that seems to reign in the Church.
Are we REALLY ashamed of the truth of God? Are we ashamed of the fact that we observe Passover, go to church on the Sabbath, keep the Feast of Tabernacles, or send our tithes to Headquarters? Now I'm sure our answer is, "Absolutely not!" Yet, some of our postures in life make it APPEAR as though we are, indeed, ashamed.
Remember, Jesus did say that if anyone is ashamed of Him, He, Jesus, will be ashamed of that person at His coming' (Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26.)
Let's put it this way, brethren: Are we PROUD — in a sense of being thankful, grateful, and unashamed (not in the sense of being prideful, lifted up, or filled with vanity) — of our Savior, of our religion, of our ministers and of our church?
Because churches of the world have misappropriated the name of Jesus Christ, and talk glibly about how they love the Lord and the Lord loves them, and "Bless you, Jesus" and "Oh! what He has done for me," we as a church tend to shy away from anything that smacks of such — and rightly so. But if each member can feel free simply to tell people about The PLAIN TRUTH, the television and radio programs — that he (or she) is proud of and pleased with them — and even about certain aspects of his (or her) own way of life, and blessings, and personal triumphs, this entire syndrome of fear, shame, closemouthed and clandestine exclusiveness will be ended — with dramatic results!
Think of it this way. We have over 70,000 attending church every Sabbath, of which over half are adults — over 53,000 individual baptized members. Is every single one of our homes a microcosm of the Headquarters of God's Work in that right there conveniently laid our for guests, relatives or neighbors to see is the current number of The PLAIN TRUTH and some of our most colorful and readable booklets?
Does each member who works carry along the latest PLAIN TRUTH magazine on the automobile seat in hope that perhaps he (or she) may show it casually to others? Is The PLAIN TRUTH, or perhaps one of our booklets, in each man's lunch pail at work, and is he not afraid to be seen reading it during lunch and not ashamed to talk to people about it?
Remember, I am not talking about being like the denomination whose only purpose in life is to proselyte for their church. I'm talking about just being open about who we are and what we do. Our ministers, for example, who have been carrying identification cards that say, "Ambassador College Representative" are now going to be identified as "Worldwide Church of God, Minister."
Giving Our Teen-agers a Chance Take a look at our teen-agers. Our "shame" of religion is far more intensified among the teen-agers of the Church. Why? As a direct result, I feel, of a subdued, or subliminal, or concealed shame on the part of the average church members.
But just give them a chance as we did at the recent campaign!
The teen-agers were the ushers in Richmond. I talked to them afterward, and they were on "cloud nine" just because they were so excited to be able to serve — just to have a part in something that was going on!
The kids in the Church want to be involved. They want to help! Just imagine the effect it would have if our teenagers could tell their teen-age buddies to come to these campaigns and the follow-up Bible studies, and even to church!
Great Growth Ahead Already in these weekend personal appearances, I have spoken to a cumulative audience of upwards of one hundred thousand people. Each time I introduce the local pastor, I have said something like, "This is so-and-so, with whom I used to play college basketball. He's a good guy and he's not going to hurt you, and he's the pastor of the Worldwide Church of God right in this city." Meanwhile, all of our counselors and ushers scurry around handing out cards with his phone number to all who want them.
Many people are interested and have responded to this. After the very first meeting down in New Orleans, for example, 20 people responded with telephone calls. A large number of families voiced an interest in wanting to attend our church regularly, and 150 additional people actually did begin to attend the very first follow-up lecture.
You may say that's very small. Perhaps it is, but 15 or 20 years ago an intensive campaign going painstakingly through many doctrines and prophecies six nights a week for six weeks added no more than two hundred. Now we are having the cumulative fruits of campaign after campaign.
We are planning to run as TV specials this summer, several tapes of actual meetings and sermons in our personal appearance campaigns. Each will last one hour, into which we will insert two different three-minute spot "commercials" showing the college, the Church, The PLAIN TRUTH, the booklets. Then flashed on the screen will be the "800" toll-free number direct to Pasadena which our viewers can call to receive further information, request literature or receive whatever help we can give.
We are going to put these specials on during prime time, three nights one after another and include several messages about writing for various booklets. We hope to put them on in many smaller cities too, not just the big ones — and later go to those cities in person. And so I expect a tremendous response from all this!
We are also planning a series of personal appearances by Mr. Albert Portune, Mr. Ron Dart, Mr. Charles Hunting, Mr. Howard Clark, Dr. Clint Zimmerman, Mr. Dean Wilson, and others. And they're all very excited about the prospects. Of course, because they have not had the previous public exposure I have, and budgetary limitations prevent an extensive advertising campaign prior to the meetings, we will not anticipate the size of audiences to be as large as those that I have been privileged to speak before.
Mr. Wilson can go to, places in Canada most of you never even heard of — like Moose Jaw, Moosomin, Medicine Hat, Prince George, etc. Some of them may sound small. But these campaigns will be worthwhile if he has just a few hundred people coming because by word-of-mouth neighbors invited neighbors and friends invited friends, saying: "Come and hear my minister; he's a good preacher; I'm really pleased with the Church to which I belong and the religion which I have found." In this way, we will reach people with Christ's message and members will be added to the Church.
Evangelists evangelize. They are not just administrators and desk executives and department heads. They preach the Gospel! That is one very vital area where the Work needs to grow. So, I'm just really enthusiastic about the future.
I know that without anybody proselyting, without anybody saying, "Oh won't you please come," but just through this medium of television specials and the campaigns and many other brethren getting involved in campaigns, we are going to receive a tremendously greater number of requests for visits.
Already, by March, just from the Calgary campaign and following up on that, the growth of the Canadian Work had reached about half of last year's record. A significant fact: just from the billboards alone, before we even got the campaign started, we had about twenty requests from people who wanted to start coming to church. Several said, "Why, I always wondered where your church was, and I wanted to come and see if I could attend, but I didn't know how to find it." People are funny. It never occurred to them to write to Pasadena and ask!
All Signals Are "GO" Mr. Herbert Armstrong is one hundred percent in accord with what I've been talking about in this article!
So I am very, very encouraged about these significant breakthroughs in the Work, and I also look forward to seeing a BIGGER financial income this fall than we have ever had before! Already TV and the new booklets are bringing huge amounts of mail. And just as much as the "white mail" increases now, the "pink mail" (as we used to call it; i.e., letters with money enclosed) — including visit requests — will soon increase dramatically.
The total impact of the Church's effort is going to increase too — as it's got to! It's got to in a hurry, because world conditions are going crazy. The dollar is devalued, the EEC is growing fast, and the first shots of a trade war have already been fired.
If a tiny handful of television stations at unearthly hours outpull all of our three hundred radio stations in letters, what will a greatly enlarged number of television channels do at better listening times? On into the autumn and the beginning of next year, what will the mail be like?
I think this Work is getting ready for growth like we have never seen before. (I don't look at any present budget cuts as a giant step backward. We are just getting ourselves trim and fit and "rarin' to go"!) That's the way all of us feel on all three college campuses. Everybody is willing to work together and pull together, and so I'm really excited about the prospects for the future.
Let us all in God's Church unitedly pull together and get the job done!