Church Versus State - Part 2
Telecast Date: April 23, 1979
QR Code

   Art Gilmore: The Ambassador College campus in Pasadena, California has been the headquarters of the Worldwide Church of God for 32 years. Here on January 3rd began one of the most dramatic confrontations between church and state in 200 years of American legal history. The Worldwide Church of God was placed into Receivership following a secret court hearing, a hearing of which church officials knew nothing. At the hearing, a deputy California Attorney General presented a lawsuit alleging that the church was indeed so mismanaged as to be worthy of Receivership. The lawsuit accused Herbert Armstrong and Stanley Rader of siphoning off the property and assets of the church for their own personal use on a scale of several million dollars per year. These alleged improprieties were said to have plunged the church into a financial crisis.

   This case, officially the state of California versus the Worldwide Church of God, could well become a landmark in the annals of church-state relations.

   Art Gilmore: The church claims the right to govern itself, and the state comes along and claims the same right. Who's going to prevail?

   Mr. Armstrong: The state doesn't know God, but the state is under the government of the United States, and the federal government allows state governments, but the federal government has certain control over even state governments. And the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States is the basis in this particular case, which says that Congress shall make no law respecting religion and which guarantees and has always been so construed by the Supreme Court of the United States. That is the government of the United States, not of God, that God has the right to have His kind of governments. But separation of church and state is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.

   Now, God tells us in the Bible to be subject to the powers that be, and in our ordinary lives. If the laws of man say go 55 miles an hour, we should do that. And the laws of men on the whole are intended for our good, and they are terror only to the thief and the scoundrel and the evil. But when it comes down to a matter of church and worship, the Constitution of the United States says we are free.

   Art Gilmore: The World Tomorrow, the Worldwide Church of God presents the World Tomorrow with Herbert W. Armstrong.

   Art Gilmore: This week, in a special interview program, Herbert W. Armstrong discusses the widely publicized lawsuit brought by the California Attorney General against the Worldwide Church of God, of which he is founder and pastor general, and the implications of this historic case for church-state relations.

   The California Attorney General's Office contended that there were no constitutional issues involved in this case, that it was merely an investigation of financial matters. But church officials claim that the allegations concerning finances were little more than a pretense, an obfuscation of the real motives behind the suit, which were to strike a crippling if not death blow to the church, at least in its present form. The true nature of the suit, said church leaders, could be seen by noting that many of the charges in the lawsuit were nothing but a sham, and that the office of the state Attorney General could have easily discovered as much with only minimal effort. For example, in subsequent court proceedings, a Los Angeles judge described the charge that church leaders were liquidating church real estate at below market value prices as sheer speculation, conclusion, and hearsay. This judge also ruled that there had been no showing that church property in Texas scheduled for sale at $10.6 million was actually worth $30 million. Indeed, reputable appraisals were produced which valued the property at less than its selling price, and the $30 million figure turned out to have been taken from a Texas newspaper clipping.

   In general, church officials were angered over what seemed to be a presupposition of guilt in the proceedings that led to the imposition of the Receivership. One of the first acts of the court-appointed receiver on January 3rd was to fire Herbert Armstrong as executive head of the Worldwide Church of God. The State Attorney General's office had apparently expected that church members would support his action against Herbert Armstrong. But the membership, generally characterized as conservative and non-political, responded in a fashion unheard of in the history of this particular church.

   Several hundred members staged a sit-in in the church's Hall of Administration, making it impossible for the receiver to work. While the plaintiffs had stated in their suit that the church would not be harmed by a Receivership, the immediate result was the cancellation of a million-dollar bank loan. Furthermore, thousands of church members apparently decided that they would not send their tithes to a receiver-controlled church, and the church found itself in an immediate financial crisis.

   Meanwhile, thousands of church members mailed donations directly to Herbert Armstrong in Tucson. And finally, in mid-March, church members, angered at this intrusion of the state into their ecclesiastical affairs, pledged over $2 million to post a bond and get the receiver out.

   Art Gilmore: While we're on the subject of the state versus the church, does the state have any right over God's money?

   Mr. Armstrong: Jesus picked up a coin, and he said, "Whose inscription is on it?" And it was a matter of paying taxes. And they said, "Caesar's." Well, he answered, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, but render unto God the things that are God's."

   Now, Caesar, our modern Caesar, the state, sets a certain tax on income. The United States federal government sets a certain tax on income. God has allowed them to have that right, and therefore God commands us to pay those taxes. However, in the way of living, we have certain laws we all have to respect. If I'm driving an automobile and it's now unlawful to go over 55 miles an hour, I will obey the powers that be, as far as I can. I will hold it down to 55 miles an hour. That's one of the things that are Caesar's.

   But when it comes to Christian life and your belief in life and the hereafter, that's another matter. And Caesar doesn't know anything about it.

   Art Gilmore: We've been talking about how the state is affecting the church, and they claim that they own the church property. Will you ever concede that such a thing is so?

   Mr. Armstrong: Well, that just gets back again. That is, whatever we tell them, the Bible says they don't laugh at. So, we just don't do that. But it gets back to the laws of the state and the United States government that we're living under. We're ultimately going to have to fight this in the federal courts.

   Art Gilmore: They say they have a right to protect their members from you.

   Mr. Armstrong: They forget that not over 7% or so of our members are in California. The rest come from all the rest of the world, and our operations are worldwide. And now, they thought we would cave in. They didn't realize the scope of our work. They didn't realize its size. They didn't realize another thing, the absolute integrity and loyalty of our membership. And they will see that money gets to me to carry out what God wants done, no matter what man does.

   Now, in this lawsuit, we're only concerned about the laws of man as far as they go because they are not going to listen to anything about the law of God anyway. We know that we're not going to tell them. Now, this lawsuit, I know the real culprit is Satan, and men don't realize it, but men have been, somehow, they don't know what went on in their minds that caused them to come to the place that they did and what they did to provoke this lawsuit. But there's something really great behind it all, and I happen to know what it is, and God is going to win this victory because it is a challenge against God.

   Now, God is going to let it go to the point that he wants it to go to. The first thing I began to ask is, where am I wrong? Where is the church wrong? What have we done that God allows this thing to come on us? And when I wrote to all of our members all over the world, I said we need to realize this could not have happened if God did not allow it. God did not cause it, but he allowed it. And it's a kind of punishment. But when God punishes, it isn't revenge. That's another thing people don't know about the nature and the character of God. When God punishes, His punishment is always corrective, is always to help us, never to hurt us. But sometimes he has to hurt us in order to help us. I mean, that's the ultimate purpose.

   So, I said to our people, we need to search our own hearts and find out what is wrong with us. Where are we wrong? That God is sending this thing to make us search down deep into our own hearts.

   Art Gilmore: More of our program, right after this announcement.

   You're invited to learn more about these important issues through the pages of Plain Truth. This international journal of understanding comes along every month with a penetrating analysis of world views in the light of Bible prophecy, Plain Truth. This full-color monthly publication underscores the importance of biblical understanding in modern 20th-century living. Your subscription is free of charge. There is no cost or obligation. Call this toll-free number 800-423-4444. That's 800-423-4444. The Plain Truth, a magazine of understanding.

   For several days in early January, the story of a church financial scandal headlined newspapers and newscasts across the country, but often lost amid the publicity was the fact that the action against the church involved much more than an alleged financial scandal. Indeed, the most fundamental and controversial aspects of the lawsuit were not matters of money or real estate.

   The lawsuit against the church claims it is a one-man operation completely controlled by Herbert Armstrong, with members of the church's board of directors serving at his discretion. Church members, says the suit, have never voted on any matter pertaining to the governance of the church, and this, it is charged, is a violation of California state law governing nonprofit corporations. The suit asks that immediate membership-wide elections be held to replace the present board of directors. This, it says, is necessary to conform to California State law.

   But according to church leaders, any state law that is construed so as to interfere with the governing of a church is unconstitutional because in the Worldwide Church of God, as in many, if not most, other churches, church government is a doctrine as much as any other tenet or article of faith, and as in many other churches, it is a central, all-important doctrine, one that gives the church its meaning and vitality.

   It is a doctrine of the Worldwide Church of God that the church be governed in a hierarchical manner. The Good News is a church publication expressly for church members and devoted to articles on doctrine and Christian living. Over the past 30 years, it has printed lengthy and detailed biblical expositions of the doctrine of church government.

   For example, this article from The Good News explicitly states, "Far from prohibiting all authority, Jesus sanctioned the right kind of government, God's rule, theocracy for the church." Speaking of the early Christian church, the article says there was no membership politics, nor voting on church offices or doctrines. And in regard to administration within the Worldwide Church of God, this clear statement, "The members do not elect and dismiss elders, meaning church leaders, nor do they vote on doctrines.

   This particular article was published in 1953. Many similar articles could be cited down to the present. Thus, while the lawsuit against the church includes statements by several former members saying they were never given the opportunity to vote on church affairs, it can be clearly shown that certainly since the early 1950s, no one who became a member of the church was led to believe he or she would vote on church matters. In fact, those who became members were clearly informed as a matter of doctrine that they would not do so.

   Art Gilmore: Mr. Armstrong, do you feel that the church government or church rule is the real issue in this lawsuit?

   Mr. Armstrong: Yes, I'm sure that's the main issue.

   Art Gilmore: Well, what do you mean by church government?

   Mr. Armstrong: That goes into something that is peculiar to our doctrines. I might have to go back to the beginning of 52 years ago when I was challenged on some questions that were very vital to me at the time. One had to do with the Bible. And ever since I had been 18, I had been away from church and religion and any such interest. I was in the world of business and advertising.

   But it drove me to an intensive six-month in-depth study. I've had to prove to myself whether or not God exists. And I began to wake up to the fact that I had always taken it for granted that God is, I've been taught it since I was a child, and that's what I took for granted. But now I had to prove it to myself. I realized I had never proven them at all. And I did prove it. It doesn't make any difference whether I prove it to anyone else or not. I only had to convince me. And so, I was convinced anyway.

   And the next thing was if God does exist and is the creator, has he communicated with us? And isn't there knowledge that we could not have otherwise? And if so, how has he communicated? I have delved into a lot of these things past what most people have because I wanted to understand the Bible. That is the revelation of God, and that is knowledge that a man can never have of his own accord. You can't think these things up.

   I often see that picture of a statue of the thinker. And there he sits on a rock or stone or something with his hands, his elbows on his knees, holding up his head, just thinking, thinking, thinking. But you're getting nowhere unless he has something here and there to think about. He's not thinking from any source. Now, the Bible is the source I like to do my thinking from and put together what is here and there. And like you read in Isaiah that you don't get all of the Bible just starting a story flow beginning in Genesis and ending in the last chapter of Revelation. But it's here a little, there a little, line upon line, line upon line.

   But now to get back to what we were talking about, God's government is based on God's law. God's law is a way of right. Sin is the transgression of that law. This church that has been raised up through my efforts believes in the law of God. It does exist within the church. Now, it doesn't mean that there's a government in the sense that we have a police system or anything of the kind.

   There are certain laws that we find in the Bible and for the New Testament Church, and we try to follow those. But it is not of all things. It is not a dictatorship. On the other hand, it is not a democracy, and that's what a lot of people would like to make it. And that's what the state of California had in mind when they came crashing down on the Worldwide Church of God. They wanted to appoint a new board of directors. They wanted it to be democracy.

   Now, it isn't democracy, and God's government is not democracy, but God himself has seen fit to put into the Worldwide Church of God, which is merely a continuation of the church that he started in 31 A.D. in Jerusalem, the government of God.

   Now, that is a government that is accepted voluntarily or not at all. Its jurisdiction extends only as far as those people who have, of their own will, come into it, extend. But it is based on the law of God and the ways of living of God.

   Art Gilmore: The lawsuit against the church was most vocal about financial improprieties, using phrases such as "siphoning off the property and assets of the church," "appropriating of church funds and assets to personal use," and "pilfering." But while the terminology sounded severe, it was not at all clear what it was intended to mean. Such words could be construed as suggesting embezzlement or fraud, but it is a civil suit. No criminal charges were made.

   What seemed most upsetting to the State Attorney General were the travel expenditures of Herbert Armstrong and his staff. Without question, Herbert Armstrong has traveled extensively over the past decade. His trips have ranged over much of the globe, and he has been abroad an average of 200 days per year. On his trips, he meets with government officials, often including heads of state, and he lectures before civic, business, and academic groups. He and his small staff travel aboard a church-owned jet. It could never be said that the trips were a secret, especially not from the church members whose contributions were paying the bills.

   In recent years, large portions of church publications have been devoted to detailed descriptions of Herbert Armstrong's work, including where he traveled, with whom he met, what was said, and even specifications about gifts and hotel accommodations. At times, the extra expense of film or video coverage has been incurred in order that the church members might get an intimate view of what they were paying for. One such occasion was Herbert Armstrong's most recent trip to Israel, where he met with a number of leading Israelis, including Moshe Dayan and Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

   Church leaders contend that the State remains adamantly ignorant of the significance of Herbert Armstrong's travels. The State, they say, insists on viewing the trips and the money spent on them as it would view the travel expenses of any corporation. But to members of the church, these trips are not a corporate operating expense to be minimized. They are the heart of the church's work. They are a tool that has been nurtured for a decade to the point where these trips are now the church's most significant avenue for preaching the gospel. And to members of the Worldwide Church of God, preaching the gospel is the primary reason for the church's existence.

   To cease such activities would mean, in the eyes of members, forfeiting the church's spiritual legitimacy, ceasing to be a viable church of Jesus Christ.

   Art Gilmore: Will the State be able to frustrate or prevent you from carrying out the Great Commission?

   Mr. Armstrong: Nothing can stop us because our people will stand back of us. They will get the money to us in whatever manner is needful. We are even set up in a way that we can reach practically our entire membership in 10 or 12 hours in all parts of the United States and Canada. We have a telephone network established, and no one can tell what numbers we're calling and what numbers they will call until we reach our membership. And we've had to employ it just a week ago, and the results came back, and the money came, and our members are loyal, and they look to God. Now, we're not going to try to violate the laws of man, and we haven't violated any of the laws of man. We just simply have not.

   And the only thing that I can know about where they get this "siphoning off of millions of dollars," which shows their lack of knowledge of the way things actually exist. Some of our ministers have believed that we should just run a local church and never try to go any farther and not get the gospel around the world when I've been called to carry the gospel around the world. If they haven't been called for that, that's fine and dandy with me. I'm not going to try to change them. But, I know what I've been called to do, and I know what God is giving me the power to do, and I shall keep on doing it.

   Now, there's a prophecy about it in our time. It's not in itself a commission. It's a prophecy. Matthew 24 verse 14 (Matthew 24:14), "This gospel of the Kingdom," which is not the gospel that is generally preached in the world at all, "shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations. Then shall the end of this present civilization and era of time, and Christ will come and set up the Kingdom of God." It doesn't mean the end of the earth or anything of that kind, of course, that's what God wants done, and it's going to get done. A man can't stop it.

   Now, God has given me favor in the eyes of heads of many, many governments. And as a result, I've been able to hold campaigns and evangelistic campaigns and meetings in those countries. And so many of them, surprisingly, the English language is becoming a world language today, its replacing French, which about 75 years ago, French was the leading international language. But today, English is, and I have no difficulty anywhere I go, hotels, anywhere they speak English, and the gospel is getting out.

   Now, we're not trying to, as they say, get people "saved." God has not sent us to do that. He wants, I like the word "announcement." It's not used in the Bible, but that's what it is. We are not going out with the, in other words, we're not proselytizers. We're not trying to get or take members away from someone else. I wouldn't turn a finger to take someone from another church. But if he wants to know a little more truth than he knows, I'd be glad to help him.

   Art Gilmore: Well, in essence, this confrontation with the church and the state. Don't you feel that in this fight? You're really fighting for other religions, other churches as well as the Worldwide Church?

   Mr. Armstrong: Of course, because it's a matter of the Constitution of the United States and what rights it does give us, and it gives us those rights.

   Art Gilmore: I know the answer to this next question. I'll ask it anyway. Who are you accountable to, God or the state?

   Mr. Armstrong: Well, both to a certain extent. I'm accountable to the state, but primarily to God.

   Art Gilmore: For the free literature offered on this program, write Herbert W Armstrong Pasadena, California 91123 in Canada Box 44, Vancouver BC or in the continental United States, you may call this toll-free number 800-423-4444. That's 800-423-4444 in California dial direct 213-577-5225. The preceding program and all literature were produced by the Worldwide Church of God.

Please Note: The FREE literature offered on this program are no longer available through the Address and Phone Number given, please visit for all FREE literature offered on this program.

Telecast Date: April 23, 1979
Back To Top