Christian apologists who specialize in observing cults and other aberrant groups are by no means ready to issue a clean bill of theological health to the Pasadena, California-based Worldwide Church of God (WCOG). But those who have followed the 59-year-old movement agree that it has moved tentatively in the direction of orthodoxy in recent years.

WCOG, which claims 99,000 baptized members, is known to many through its weekly television program, “The World Tomorrow,” and its monthly publication, The Plain Truth, which is distributed free of charge. The group is active in over 100 countries.

In recent years, the group’s new leader has entered into dialogue with evangelical scholars, hoping to create understanding. Among other refinements, the group has modified its stance on dress codes, observing certain holidays, and seeing doctors, and it has rethought its view of the Trinity.

The church’s move toward orthodoxy began in 1986 with the death of its leader, Herbert W. Armstrong, who founded the movement in 1933 with 20 adherents. Indeed, it is unlikely that change could have occurred until Armstrong’s passing, since in the minds of many followers his identity was so closely entwined with the distinctive beliefs of the church.

Toeing A Hard Line

Several theological and behavioral emphases characterized the church under Armstrong’s leadership. Members, for example, were not allowed to celebrate birthdays or national holidays, to use cosmetics, or to go to doctors. Those who disobeyed risked being put on trial and perhaps kicked out of the church. James Walker, Texas director for the Christian watchdog group Watchman Fellowship, says that to be put out of fellowship was tantamount in members’ minds to eternal damnation, given Armstrong’s ...

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