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THE PHILADELPHIA CHURCH OF GOD AND GERALD FLURRY’s PROPHETIC INTERPRETATIONS:
Is Gerald Flurry, the televangelist on the “Key of David” program, a true prophet of God? Has he interpreted the Bible incorrectly?
By Eric V. Snow
All Laodiceans will die in the now-imminent Great Tribulation. Mr. Tkach is the Joshua “with filthy garments” of Zech. 3:3. Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA) was the Elijah to come of Mal. 4:4-6, Matt. 17:10-11. The book “Malachi’s Message” is an inspired revelation from God, the “little book” of Rev. 10:9-10. The head of the Worldwide Church of God is or will be the “man of sin,” “the son of perdition” of II Thess. 2:3-11. Here the startling teachings of the Philadelphia Church of God (PCG) just merely begin.
Founded by Gerald Flurry and John Amos in 1989 with a mere 12 people meeting in a home, the PCG has expanded into a worldwide work heavily emphasizing prophecy, featuring a telecast, a magazine, a church newspaper, books, and numerous booklets. “The Key of David” telecast appears on 66 stations in America and abroad, while “The Philadelphia Trumpet” magazine circulates some 51,000 copies monthly. Normally monthly, the PCG sends out 3250 copies of “The Philadelphia News” to members and co-workers. Dynamically lead by Gerald Flurry as Pastor General, the PCG now boasts 53 elders and ministers (14 full time) and 4,500 members. Headquartered in Edmond (“Protector”), Oklahoma, the PCG is preparing for the Feast of Tabernacles at 19 locations on five continents. Feast sites this year include Colorado Springs, CO (1200 expected attendance), Charleston, WV (1600), Red Deer, Alberta (1000), Blankenberge, Belgium (250-300), and other sites in New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. By satellite link on the first and sixth days of the Feast, Mr. Flurry will speak at all PCG locations.
The PCG believes its main commission is to warn physical Israel (America, Britain, etc.) and the Laodicean church, the latter defined as the WCG and all its non-PCG offshoots who reject one-man top-down church government and HWA as the Elijah to come. “Bethel (a type of God’s church) is going to come to nothing in the Tribulation and Gilgal (a type of modern-day Israel) is going into captivity (Amos 5:5). . . . The job of the Philadelphia Church of God (PCG) is to warn both of them. . . . THE LAODICEAN CHURCH, AMERICA, AND BRITAIN MUST BE WARNED!” (his emphasis throughout this article, Gerald Flurry, “The Lion Has Roared,” 1991, 1992, p. 9, 30). Mr. Flurry maintains all those outside the PCG in the Church of God will die in the Great Tribulation: “The verse that allows this statement [Amos 9:1-2 is being discussed--author] says that all of God’s Laodicean members must die physically” (Ibid., p. 22). Further, many Laodiceans will lose their eternal lives as well: “Perhaps as many as 50 percent of the Laodiceans will lose their eternal life (Matt. 25:1-10)” (Gerald Flurry, “Malachi’s Message [MM],” 1992 edition, p. 66).
Such deadly serious claims by Mr. Flurry must be examined: On what authority does he assert them” He maintains that his book “Malachi’s Message”--which lays out the core of the PCG’s special work to the world--was a direct revelation from God, and that God continues to reveal new understandings to the PCG through himself. “Malachi’s Message was revealed to me in 1989. GOD REVEALED IT! . . . Malachi’s Message is a new vision from God. It’s a NEW REVELATION--not something somebody already knew!” (Gerald Flurry, “The Little Book,” 1995, pp. 20-21). “Malachi’s Message was REVEALED by God. EVERY HUMAN BEING ON THIS EARTH MUST EVENTUALLY COME TO SEE THAT!” (Flurry, “MM,” p. 152, see also pp. 104, 145). He contends it is the “little book” of Rev. 10:9-10 that the apostle John swallowed: “As we said before, the LITTLE BOOK IS MALACHI’S MESSAGE” (“The Little Book,” p. 8). The seven thunders of Rev. 10:3-4 are claimed to be the seven main chapters of Malachi’s Message (“The Little Book,” pp. 10-13).
In the August 18, 1995 PCG co-worker letter, he says “Malachi’s Message” came to him as follows: “God began revealing Malachi’s Message--the prophesied “little book”--to me. God was revealing to me that the great LAODICEAN falling away had begun. It was all prophesied in detail. After about seven months of receiving revelation, I began to discuss this understanding with my associate pastor, the late Mr. John Amos. He also became very excited. So much was being revealed to me in 1989, that it became obvious that I must write these revelations in a book. A rough draft was completed in the fall of 1989.” Hence, similar to his top Church of God rival (and critic) in matters of prophetic interpretation, William Dankenbring of Triumph Prophetic Ministries (TPM), he felt he received direct revelations from God in the late 1980s.
So now--just what is the message of “Malachi’s Message”“ And by extension, what does the PCG wish to specially communicate to the Church of God, physical Israel, and the world” First, to most, saying Herbert Armstrong was the Elijah to come would be either cultic vainglory or, at best, a minor point of prophetic speculation. But to the PCG, this point is SO important that nobody can attend services or become a PCG member without confessing HWA was the Elijah to come. While there’s no question HWA saw himself in this role (see Mystery of the Ages, pp. 9-10, 348-349; WCG co-worker letter, March 19, 1981, quoted in Gerald Flurry, “Worldwide Church of God Doctrinal Changes and the Tragic Results,” 1994, pp. 26-27), he certainly didn”t emphasize it any where near to the extent the PCG does today. Indeed, in Mystery of the Ages, he seemed rather reticent about making this identification. Further, we have to ask the question whether he was the Elijah to come, as opposed to (say) one of the Two Witnesses of the book of Revelation: Could have he turned the heart of the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers (Mal. 4:5-6) when the WCG has had a drop out rate of half to two-thirds among children raised in it” This fact being well-illustrated by the choices of his own flesh-and-blood children (three of four not ending up with the WCG eventually as adults)” And how much did the world even notice his “Elijah work,” let alone have reconciled families due to it” And didn’t the old divorce and remarriage (D&R) policy split up many families, instead of uniting them” Nevertheless, Mr. Flurry says: “HWA restored all things (Matt. 17:10-11)--He finished the house and then he died. . . . YOU MUST FOLLOW WHAT CHRIST ESTABLISHED THROUGH THE PHILADELPHIA MESSENGER!” (“MM,” p. 62).
Further, Gerald Flurry sees HWA as the Zerubbabel of Zech. 4 who “laid the foundation of the house; his hands hall also finish it” (v. 9). Here, the important conclusion drawn is that HWA was fundamentally infallible in the doctrines he taught, major and even minor, since he restored all things. Certain teachings of HWA which even many who no longer fellowship with the WCG may find questionable--bans on birthdays, cosmetics, voting, and interracial marriage, the old healing doctrine, etc.--should not be reconsidered. Hence, the need for deep rethinking and reproving of HWA’s views get automatically eliminated within those joining the “Elisha” work of the PCG.
Further, Mr. Flurry believes Joseph Tkach, Sr., is not only the Joshua “with filthy garments” (Zech. 3:3-4), but he (or his successor) may be the “man of sin” in II Thess. 2:1-11)! “His big problem WAS HOW HE [the Joshua of Zech. 3, i.e. Mr. Tkach] RULED--AND FAILED TO FOLLOW ZERUBBABEL’s EXAMPLE! THIS PROPHECY SAYS THERE IS GOING TO BE A LEADER IN GOD’s CHURCH WHO HAS A SERIOUS GOVERNMENT PROBLEM! He refuses to submit to what Christ Established through Zerubbabel (HWA)!” (“MM,” p. 67).
Reasoning that the temple of God in I Thess. 2 refers to the church spiritually, and not to a physical temple (which HWA himself had taught until the last months preceding his death before changing his mind--note Mystery of the Ages, p. 246), he says the man taking “his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God” (v. 4, NASB) is the WCG’s top leader: “THIS “MAN OF SIN” HAS REPLACED CHRIST AS THE HEAD OF THE WCG!” (“MM,” p. 103). However, he is surprisingly cagey about whether he targets Mr. Tkach or a possible successor or assistant: “Joshua and the “man of sin” could be the same person. Yet it is conceivable that they are not the same person” (“MM,”, p. 90; see also p. 102). In later writings He seems to lean towards Joe Tkach, Jr., as “the son of perdition” (i.e. “destruction,” NASB): “Toward the end of this age, the Bible tells us there will be many lies coming from a man showing himself to be God in God’s own Church! . . . That statement [that the WCG in 1990 provided the same message more economically to its members after discontinuing Mystery of the Ages by another means--author] by Joe Tkach, Jr. is a prophesied lie from your own Bible” (“WCG Doctrinal Changes,” pp. 86-87). Elsewhere, Mr. Flurry says: “This man is intent on destroying what God built through Mr. Armstrong. This means that this Joshua and the man of sin are probably two different men! Two of the most powerful men in the Laodicean church are DESTROYERS OF WHAT GOD HAS BUILT!” (“The Little Book,” p. 13).
Mr. Flurry’s interpretation of II Thess. 2 has some MAJOR problems. One, nobody in the WCG’s leadership says he is God, as per v. 4. Indeed, by discarding the God Family doctrine, they deny anyone can become God as well. Two, the “man of sin” “is in accord[ance] with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders” (NASB, v. 9). Who leading the WCG prophesies, speaks in tongues, heals the sick spectacularly, calls fire down from heaven, and generally works miracles” Three, if this view is correct, then almost nobody outside the WCG and its offshoots have noticed or been affected by the man of sin taking over (if he has). You would like to think that when the events of II Thess. 2 occur, the whole world would sit up and notice, not just (as the world sees it) a few thousand members of a small, unorthodox fundamentalist sect. Fourth, as the Seventh-day Adventists (SDAs) observe, this passage was fulfilled in the ancient or medieval past through the presumptuous titles the Papacy took for itself, such as: “Most Divine of all Heads,” “Holy Fathers of Fathers,” “Christ by Unction,” “Melchisedec in order,” “Vicar [in place of] of Christ,” etc. While a dual application is a certain reality, which makes it a prophecy for our future as well, it would be wiser to see it as describing either the Beast or False Prophet of Revelation, who surely don”t just influence the affairs of a few thousand Church of God members, but of Europe and the whole world.
Mr. Flurry may quote Amos 2:11-12 more than any other scriptures, and his use of them is very illustrative of his general method in biblical interpretation (NASB): ““Then I raised up some of your sons to be prophets and some of your young men to be Nazarites. Is this not so, O sons of Israel”“ declares the Lord. “But you made the Nazarites drink wine, and you commanded the prophets saying, “You shall not prophesy!”“ He interprets this passage thus: “One of the WCG’s major topics today is how the Church dwelled too much on prophecy in the past. They are taking a “prophesy not” postures. . . . “PROPHESY NOT” IS ANOTHER WAY OF SAYING, “DON”T PROPHESY THE WAY HWA DID IN THE PAST!” The “prophesy not” attitude means there was a time when the WCG had a strong prophecy program. . . . God considers this prodigious change by the WCG to be a MAJOR SIN! God wants His Church to prophesy of the soon coming world catastrophe, and of the imminent return of Jesus Christ and the glorious World Tomorrow. Remember that the primary time for this prophecy, that the Laodicean Church will not prophesy, is at the very end” (“MM,” pp. 108-109).
Here we see two salient characteristics of PCG exegesis operating. First, a very loose definition of “prophet,” and “prophesying” is employed. The latter involves confusing receiving new direct revelations from God by visions, etc. with discussing, proclaiming, and interpreting the Bible’s prophecies using history and current events. While HWA did plenty of the latter activity, he denied being a prophet as Mr. Flurry said above: “Emphatically I am NOT a prophet, in the sense of one to whom God speaks specially and directly, revealing personally a future event to happen or new truth, or new and special instruction direct from God--separate from, and apart from what is contained in the Bible” (HWA, “Personal from Herbert W. Armstrong,” Tomorrow’s World, February 1972, p. 1). It was through the Bible that truth was revealed to HWA (see Mystery of the Ages, p. x-xi, 23-25) by the Holy Spirit illuminating his mind as he read it.
Second, the principle of duality in the fulfillment of prophecy gets pushed well past the breaking point by asserting Old Testament scriptures speak very specifically about the WCG, its leaders, and/or offshoots. Other examples of this procedure--which can be cited ad nauseum--include when he says the United and Global Churches of God are the illegitimate children of Hosea’s harlot wife, while the first (legitimate) son represents the PCG (see Gerald Flurry, “Hosea and God’s Adulterous Wife,” Philadelphia Trumpet, August 1995, pp. 2-6). (By the way, how can a ‘son” (i.e. a male figure) represent a church in the Bible, instead of a woman”) Amos 3:3 and Mal. 3:16 are said to discuss the church split between the Laodicean WCG and the PCG (“MM,” p. 140; “The Lion Has Roared,” p. 5, 14). The dubiousness of this should be self-evident: Does the Bible really specifically discuss a small group such as the WCG so much, instead of (say) the conditions either of ancient Israel (such as in the first two chapters of Malachi) or the errors of traditional Christian (Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, etc.) priests or ministers down through the centuries” An end-time interpretation of a text is not justified by citing some other place within a given book of the Bible where these do occur, then turning back and reading these verses” context back into earlier or later chapters or sections that lack end-time references. Hence, it’s dubious to take the clear end-time events of Mal. 3-4, and then say this proves Mal. 1-2 also speak of end-time events instead of circa 400 b.c. spiritual problems in ancient Israel or (perhaps) hundreds of years of mistakes by traditional Christian prelates and parsons.
Gerald Flurry also wages an all-out war against attempts to junk the one-man rule of the WCG among the offshoot churches by more broad-based or representative systems of church government. He repeatedly equates rejecting HWA’s system of top-down one-man rule with rejecting Christ as the head of the church. “When you reject God’s government, you reject the Head--Jesus Christ. No doctrinal change could possibly compare with changing God’s government. And the fruits alone prove that Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong established God’s government” (Gerald Flurry, “God’s Family Government,” 1993, p. 38). The idea that God could lead several top leaders of various corporate church bodies, or use groups of people to lead such churches, to do His work, gets repeatedly rejected by Mr. Flurry: “God always uses only ONE Church to do His Work. There is never an exception to that statement!” (“God’s Family Government,” p. 29). “This kind of [close spiritual] unity can only be achieved by Christ using one man to lead for Him--as He did with Mr. Armstrong” (Ibid., p. 33). In particular, Dr. Roderick Meredith, presiding evangelist of the Global Church of God (GCG), got raked over the coals by Mr. Flurry in the above booklet for advocating “collegial” government. Even though Dr. Meredith is speaking good sense, he still gets blasted by Gerald Flurry for the following notions: The former says that the New Testament has a different form of church government than the WCG has (p. 33), that we hadn”t understood before what “God really says about church government” (p. 34), that the true church isn”t a single corporate or physical organization, but can have different branches (p. 29, 34-36, 42), that HWA wasn”t the end-time Elijah (p. 35), and for mistakenly assuming God would guide His church such that no serious doctrinal deviancies would occur (p. 40). Dr. Meredith gets lambasted as advocating ‘satanic government” by saying: “The right church government should be “collegial,” that is, it should included a broad representation of all the elders and ministers of the church as the account from Acts 15 makes clear” (as quoted in ibid., p. 41). It’s very illuminating to compare the 1995 GCG booklet, “When Should You Follow Church Government”,” a revised version of the booklet Mr. Flurry attacks in “God’s Family Government,” with the latter. This booklet shows that Dr. Meredith had been willing, even before he very recently vested final authority over doctrine in the GCG in a Council of Elders by a three-fourths majority vote, that he intended some time ago to do things differently in the GCG than when he was superintendent of ministers of the WCG in 1961-72.
The supreme irony in Mr. Flurry’s attack on Dr. Meredith’s views on church government is that the latter is quite conservative in his revisions. The GCG is still on record as being against any kind of voting for church offices. Hence, the PCG would totally oppose the United Church of God’s system of electing a national board by a vote of elders and ministers, and local boards by all local laymembers (which the GCG also opposes). Worse yet would be the radical decentralizing views of those associated with Norman S. Edwards” Friends of the Brethren and its Servants” Newsletter. Mr. Edwards doesn”t even think an ordained ministry is a biblical doctrine! Mr. Flurry’s views about THIS notion might be well-nigh unprintable! He sees no need for a system of checks and balances against the authority of the top human leader of God’s church, or against potential abuses by local pastors, such as arbitrary disfellowshipments. Nor does he carefully go through the New Testament--as Dr. Meredith does some in the above booklet, or especially Mr. Edwards in his essay, “How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans”“ in trying to figure out what the Bible says about church government. Instead, he assumes what HWA or the WCG did in the past has to be the right way to do things by the fruits produced, not realizing the fruits could have been even greater had (say) unnecessary disfellowshipments been curbed. For while the fruits of one-man rule were quite good--say from 1951-90 in the WCG--they have been quite bad since, leading one to believe that a more sustainable, less arbitrary form of church government is necessary than a one-man theocratic dictatorship that might make even Jesuits blush.
Mr. Flurry and the PCG must be given credit for seeing trouble in the WCG when most of us were saying, “Huh” WHAT problems”“ He correctly notes that: ‘salvation is an INDIVIDUAL MATTER BETWEEN YOU AND GOD--NOT YOU AND THE CHURCH!” (“MM,” p. 129). But, he overemphasizes prophecy badly--even though this is partially justified by how the WCG presently discounts it excessively. He says he is a prophet with special private interpretations of scripture inspired by God. Further, the post-1990 problems in the WCG with doctrine changes coming exclusively from the top down don”t cause him to reconsider advocating a system of one-man rule in church government. He doesn”t acknowledge that many of the early changes in WCG doctrine or practices were correct (especially in the period 1986-90). His views on some subjects are remarkably similar to Martin Filippello’s, an ex-WCG minister who prophesied that HWA would be resurrected in the January 1988, and who founded the Church of God Philadelphia Era. Mr. Filippello said that the WCG was Laodicea, that Mr. Tkach was the “man of sin” in II Thess. 2:1-11, and that he was a prophet of God. Mr. Flurry’s views aren”t necessarily fully original. All who claim to be a prophet fall under the weighty responsibility to be always accurate, as God inspired Moses to write Deuteronomy 18:21-22: “And you may say in your heart, “How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken” “When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” Even if Mr. Flurry’s prediction about the Auditorium being destroyed on July 17 during the World Cup match in 1994 may have been put somewhat tentatively, is it wise to follow anyone willing to make such predictions to begin with” For the PCG and Gerald Flurry present us in the Church of God a stark choice: If Mr. Flurry is a prophet, and the PCG the one true church, then we should all go follow him as Christ leads him. But if he isn”t a true prophet of God, then all members of the PCG should stop following him. The decision is ours.
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