The following was originally printed in the May-June 2011 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here.
Though I can’t recall addressing this publicly, I am often asked whether or not I envision the Mormon Church making a radical departure from heresy like the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) did back in the 1980s. For those unfamiliar with the history of the WCG, allow me to give a very brief overview.
The WCG was founded in 1934 by Herbert W. Armstrong (1892-1986) primarily as a radio ministry and was originally known as The Radio Church of God. The WCG name came about in 1968. Armstrong was probably best known for the controversial teaching of Anglo-Israelism (or British-Israelism). This teaching argues that the Ten Tribes of Israel are currently represented by those of Anglo-Saxon heritage (particularly those in Great Britain). Armstrong believed that true Christianity ceased to exist after the death of the apostles and that Christ’s church did not appear again until the institution of the WCG. He rejected the Trinity and became a Sabbatarian. He also taught that keeping the commandments was necessary as a means of salvation.
When Armstrong died in 1986, the WCG saw radical doctrinal changes under successor Joseph W. Tkach (1927-1995). When Tkach died in 1995, the leadership was left to his son, Joseph Tkach, Jr., who continued with his father’s reforms. So great were the changes that the WCG shed the label of cult and is now accepted in the Evangelical fold. As changes were being implemented, membership and revenue continued to drop. Some have estimated that the membership peaked at just under 150,000. In 2009, the WCG changed its name to Grace Communion International; its current membership stands at around 42,000.
I agree that what happened with the WCG was unprecedented. Never before have we seen such an incredible doctrinal transformation. Can this happen with the LDS Church? Of course, with God anything is possible, but I personally think the checks and balances inherent in Mormonism make this extremely unlikely. Remember, the WCG was ruled by only a few men. The LDS Church has a minimum of 15 men in the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve, all of whom would have to agree to abandon a host of heretical teachings.
Some have pointed to scattered comments from Mormon academics that give hope to imminent change; however, while such lay members may have their opinions (inconsistent as they often are), they have no authority to make doctrinal changes for the church.
Do those who think the LDS Church is changing ever listen to general conference and/or read church publications? Those of us who do have yet to see anything that hints of such a change. In fact, I myself have been a little surprised at how much traditional Mormonism has been dusted off recently and reintroduced publicly to the membership. Who would have imagined that two separate speakers at the general conference last October would highlight Ezra Taft Benson’s “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet” speech? This is hardly a move towards orthodoxy!
President Gordon Hinckley stated in general conference,
“Those who observe us say that we are moving into the mainstream of religion. We are not changing. The world’s perception of us is changing. We teach the same doctrine” (Ensign, November 2001, p.5).
If the Mormons insist they are not modifying their doctrines, why are Christians claiming they are?
Even if President Monson did announce that Mormonism was just a bad joke, consider how many splinter groups would immediately form. Some have estimated that there are literally hundreds of splinter groups now claiming to teach true WCG doctrine, and that from among a peak membership of 150,000. Imagine the number from a church that currently represents 14 million members.
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