History of ’74 in God’s Church: Raymond Cole vs Roderick Meredith, Part I

November 2013

Dear Brethren:

It never ceases to amaze how the facts of history are so often reinterpreted to fit
someone’s preferred worldview. Although it should not be shocking—given the proclivity
of human beings to reinterpret the past to favor the self—we still never get used to it,
especially when it comes from one who was called originally by God and ordained to be a
true minister of Jesus Christ. That is precisely what we have now with recent written
comments concerning Raymond Cole by a long-time evangelist leading one of the major
splinter groups which came out of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG).

In decades past, Mr. Raymond Cole went out of his way to avoid using personal
names in writings or in sermons, even when he was defending himself and the true doctrines
against serious attacks from critics. He preferred to stick to the facts of the principles and
concepts at hand, setting aside any personalization. Even when some of the particular
personalities attacking him in the 1970s were men of authority under God, especially Mr.
Herbert Armstrong, Mr. Cole refused to show disrespect to the man God had put in office,
even as David refused to show disrespect to King Saul in spite of repeated attempts by the
king to kill him.

Today, however, much of that history from forty years ago is fading into oblivion, and
very few of the major actors from that dusty stage are even left alive. Mr. Raymond Cole and
Mr. Herbert Armstrong are both dead, as are the majority of men who were instrumental in
liberalizing the Worldwide Church of God during the 1970s. One of the last survivors from
that era—who held a prominent position within that organization at the time—is Mr.
Roderick Meredith. Now in his eighties, it is he who is still making public statements about
that history, including comments about the actions and intents of heart of Raymond Cole
during those years. Since Raymond Cole is no longer here to defend himself, this letter will
be a defense on his behalf. As you will see, by outliving most of the rest, Mr. Meredith has
the opportunity to “have the final say” about who did what, when, and for what reason back
then. But the documented evidence still tells a different story. Ironically, this letter will
include some of Mr. Cole’s own words to answer his current accuser, because the accusations
are still the same as before he died in 2001. The very best evidence to refute these new
statements is the material already on the record from the past four decades.

Apologies in advance to anyone who feels Mr. Meredith’s name should still be
“shielded” from this rebuttal, as Mr. Cole would have preferred to do. But since Mr.
Meredith is one of the last living witnesses of that history today, and is attempting to
capitalize upon that very status to give increased credibility to his own personal opinions, it
has become quite impossible to reply effectively without addressing the personal credibility
side of the issue.

Laying Down the Gauntlet

In the September–October 2013 newsletter issue to his church members (and posted
for the public at large on his website), Roderick Meredith penned an article entitled, Grow
In Faith Through Trials!
The basic message was that God allows times of trial for His
church, and it should not cause us to become discouraged when it occurs. He cites Mr.
Armstrong’s early trials in the church (quoting from his Autobiography), and how he had to
persevere with faith. He states:

As God inspired the beloved Apostle John to tell us, “For if our heart
condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if
our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And
whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments
and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:20–22).

As we “walk with God”—daily and hourly meditating, praying and sincerely
seeking for Christ to live within us through His Holy Spirit—we will gain
“confidence,” as John’s writing indicates. Then, more and more, He will hear
our prayers and we will receive His answer “because we keep His
commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”

So far, this is all well and good. But it is the next paragraph which lays down the
gauntlet and attempts to rewrite church history from the 1970s:

Dear brethren, a number of times many brethren felt that Mr. Armstrong was
not doing “those things that are pleasing in His sight” and began to withhold
their tithes or even leave the Church. One of those times was when Mr.
Armstrong changed how we counted Pentecost and how we handled the
situations of divorce and remarriage. Many of you older brethren may
remember this. So these things certainly did bring a “trial” on the
Church—mainly because at least a few dozen or a few score brethren were not
able to see the “Big Picture” regarding the fact that Mr. Armstrong was still
preaching the Truth of God and doing the Work of God. These changes were
not changing the basic approach to keeping the Ten Commandments or the law
of God, but were simply “growing in grace and in knowledge” in how to
handle Pentecost and divorce and remarriage.

Nevertheless, many ministers at that time, including Raymond C. Cole and
others, left the Church because of some of the changes Mr. Armstrong had
made. The income would go down temporarily in some cases. But God
always saw us through. This was not because we were “perfect,” but because
we definitely did hang on to the Truth—even growing in understanding of how
to apply certain principles and how to do the Work with genuine faith.

Those brethren who fell away because of these changes were not blessed.
Those ministers who followed Raymond Cole, and later those who followed
Ken Westby and the great “rebellion” on the East Coast and other defections,
mostly split up among themselves and virtually “disappeared” as far as having
any impact on the world as a whole or doing the real Work of God.

Well, within three paragraphs, Mr. Meredith truly says a mouthful. The question is,
is his “take” on all of these events accurate? We will address each of his conclusions point
by point and then let you make that decision.

Were Pentecost and D&R Small Changes?

The primary point of Mr. Meredith’s whole article is that we should not let “little
things” distract us from the “Big Picture.” He chooses to cite the change of Pentecost from
Monday to Sunday in February 1974 as a little thing. He likewise cites the change in the
marriage doctrine three months later (May 1974) as a little thing. Those were not corruptions
of God’s law, he states, but merely an act of “growing in grace and knowledge” in “how to
handle” them. But does that argument hold water?

The claim is that changing the day upon which we observe Pentecost is not changing
the Ten Commandments or the law of God. We all believe the annual Holy Days are part of
the “law of God.” So how is the day we observe not a serious matter? How is the proper day
for the weekly Sabbath (either Saturday or Sunday) a more serious matter than the appropriate
days for the annual Sabbaths? Mr. Armstrong made a huge issue out of the proper day for
observing Passover. He absolutely rejected the Jews’ practice of merging Passover with the
first night of Unleavened Bread. But if the particular day for Pentecost is not really an issue
of obedience or disobedience to the law of God, maybe Passover on the 14th or the 15th of
Nisan is not really an issue either? Perhaps we are all just making mountains out of molehills
by putting emphasis on which days God made holy. After all, as long as we have “good
intentions,” perhaps “how we handle them” is not all that critical. And yet, Mr. Meredith
certainly seems to think that the doctrine of the weekly Sabbath is an issue, because that
became a “breaking point” with him in the early 1990s when Mr. Armstrong’s successor
nullified the importance of Saturday as the Sabbath. Notice his comments a little later in the
same article:

Certainly, if we in this Work turn away from the basic things such as the Ten
Commandments, the Sabbath, the Holy Days, etc. then you should be able to
see through that and leave—as I had to do when Joseph Tkach completely
abandoned the basic foundations of the Truth we had come to understand.
That is different.

So what Mr. Tkach changed in the 1990s (including the weekly Sabbath) was a
perversion of basic Truth, but not what the Worldwide Church of God changed in 1974
concerning Pentecost? If one still wants to debate that the weekly Sabbath is more important
than the annual Sabbaths, so be it. But let us test that logic a little further concerning the
other major change of 1974.

What about the change in teaching about divorce and remarriage? Was that truly just
changing “how to handle” the doctrine? Prior to May 1974, the Worldwide Church of God
taught that God bound marriages both of the called and the uncalled. It did not matter
whether one was in the world or in the church, if it was a first marriage for each one, then
God applied His binding power to make them “one flesh” till death do they part. This
teaching can be confirmed in Mr. Armstrong’s own booklet published in 1973, entitled,
Marriage and Divorce
. But the change of 1974 reversed that totally and said that God bound
only the marriages of those who are part of the true church. Within short order, the new
ruling was not limited just to those who already had been married in the world before
conversion
, but expanded to apply even to those married in the church, if one of them ever
left the church later on! What is the actual effect of that change as it impacted members of
the WCG? Individuals taught previously that they would be committing adultery if they
married (because they already had a living spouse, even though being divorced), were now
told that they were free to marry because that original marriage was really never bound!
How does that kind of amendment not affect the Ten Commandments? Before May 1974,
the member would have been breaking the seventh commandment by marrying and would
face the danger of eternal damnation, but after May 1974, the same individual would not be
breaking that commandment and was “just fine” in God’s eyes. If that is not a change to the
basic law about adultery—and what constitutes the definition of adultery—pray tell, what is?

Concerning those whom God says will never be in His Kingdom, He states:

Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor
effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor
covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the
kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9–10) [emphasis mine].

It would appear that this issue of what God considers to be adultery should indeed be
important to every member of the Body of Christ. And the definition of adultery was
certainly changed in 1974, no matter how someone tries to spin it otherwise.

Divergent Reactions to the 1974 Changes

Mr. Meredith’s statements contrast his own personal responses to the 1974 doctrinal
changes with those of Raymond Cole. He implies that Mr. Cole had ulterior motives for
resisting the changes. More on that later. But he highlights his own response to the crisis
as a model for you and me to follow. Here is what he states about his own dilemma in 1974:

We who remained did not always fully understand these changes at first. Yet
the faithful brethren had to be willing to think through where the Work was
still being done and where faithful men were still teaching the basic way of
God and being used by God to preach “the things concerning the kingdom of
God and the name of Jesus Christ” around the world (Acts 8:12). Therefore,
brethren, your “faith” does not rest upon your immediately agreeing with every
scintilla of each little new nuance God may show us in some aspect of our
understanding the overall basic flow of prophecy. Certainly, if we in this
Work turn away from the basic things such as the Ten Commandments, the
Sabbath, the Holy Days, etc. then you should be able to see through that and
leave—as I had to do when Joseph Tkach completely abandoned the basic
foundations of the Truth we had come to understand. That is different.

First, notice a monumental admission by Roderick Meredith. He did not initially
understand or agree with the 1974 doctrinal changes! In past writings and sermons, we have
referred to “one particular Evangelist” who absolutely disagreed with the change in the
divorce and remarriage teaching, but who “came around” in time and accepted that change
to save his position within the corporate church. That was none other than Mr. Meredith.
We have witnesses alive yet today who attended that very dedication ceremony of the
Ambassador Auditorium on May 6, 1974, where the change in marriage doctrine was
announced to the assembled ministry and their wives. Roderick Meredith was witnessed
afterwards in the auditorium lobby, angry and vociferously asserting that this change was
wrong. For the first time, we now have his own words in writing which acknowledges he
did not agree
with the change when first announced.

The question is, since Mr. Meredith consistently claims to have been so close to Mr.
Armstrong, and the marriage doctrine change was approved by Mr. Armstrong (for proof of
this, please read our articles, The Doctrine of Divorce and Remarriage—How and Why It
Was Changed!
, as well as our February 2013 Monthly Letter), why was he so “out of the
loop” during this critical time of doctrinal “breakthrough” in 1974? He seems to cast himself
in the role of an insulated local church member, uninformed, confused, and waiting for more
clarification before finally “figuring out” what was going on. But that was not so! He was
a high-ranking Evangelist under Mr. Armstrong in Pasadena (as was Raymond Cole), and
he was fully “in the loop” during all of those months beginning in 1972 during which the
Doctrinal Committee did their work, finally ending in that fateful announcement in May
1974. He knew as much about the arguments for and against the doctrinal change as anyone
else in the church, and knew it early on! And yet, even after Mr. Armstrong approved the
change, Roderick Meredith still disagreed. Yes, the average laymember of the church was
in the dark until sermons were finally given and letters written to explain the technicalities.
But Roderick Meredith was hardly in that category. He knew!

Obviously, he has since not only come to accept the new definition of marriage and
what God considers to be adultery, but teaches the very same thing to his congregants today.
But the point is, if that 1974 change was indeed the act of God to help the church “grow in
grace and knowledge,” what is true is that Roderick Meredith was not one who was helping
God make that change for the good. He opposed it. He resisted it. And now he admits that
he was confused, requiring time to come around to it. Therefore, at least during that time, he
was not a true leader in the church, but a confused follower.

By contrast, the response of Raymond Cole in 1974 was quite different. As quoted
to you a number of times over the years, here is how Mr. Cole described the event:

. . . For the conference, nearly every minister, elder, and even some lead men
in church areas had been flown into Pasadena. Something definitely was in the
making. There were, according to my best recall, about 700 men and their
wives present for the opening session. The first order of business was the
dedication of the newly constructed Ambassador College Auditorium. With
these celebratory events out of the way, the conference quickly turned sober
and anticipatory. Nearly everyone was deeply concerned about projected
doctrinal decisions. The anticipated day came. Mr. H. W. Armstrong began
attempting to explain the proposed change for the doctrine of divorce and
remarriage. He could not do it. He quickly yielded the floor to his son. You
are aware of the information distributed. Succinctly, the conclusion was that
many marriages were never marriages and that divorce was acceptable.

To say the least, I was stunned. The preparatory work of the committee had
already been written, duplicated, and distributed to all the ministers with the
exception of myself. I heard the conclusion for the first time in that fateful
meeting. So shocked was I that I experienced one of the severest headaches
of my life—for some three days. It was incredulous. I could not believe my
ears. The thought flashed through my mind, “Now nothing will be restrained
from them.” The way was paved. Doctrine after doctrine will fall at the hands
of those who had no love for the truth. I knew my days within Worldwide
Church of God were limited (An Open Letter From Raymond C. Cole,
December 1999).

And that assessment was true. More and more doctrines were attacked and repudiated
in very short order. All was done under the same banner of “growing in grace and
knowledge.” The Pentecost and D&R changes were used as a template to challenge every
other fundamental teaching of the church. Roderick Meredith was not part of that liberal
drive to overturn God’s doctrines. But neither was he willing to stand up and defend the truth
under assault. Instead, his response was consistent with what he advises now to the laity:
” . . . your “faith” does not rest upon your immediately agreeing with every scintilla of each
little new nuance God may show us in some aspect of our understanding the overall basic
flow of prophecy.” Yet, God gave a very clear standard for evaluation when doctrinal
changes are presented:

What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add
thereto, nor diminish from it.
If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer
of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder
come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods,
which thou hast not known
, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto
the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God
proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart
and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him,
and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and
cleave unto him (Deuteronomy 12:32; 13:1–4) [emphasis mine].

Rather than admonishing us to look past “smaller” doctrinal changes and focus instead
upon the outward signs of a “great work” still being done, or other “proofs,” God says even
if someone is able to perform miraculous signs, but begins to tamper with the revealed Truth
and pull Israel into strange new doctrines, they should reject it! This same concept was
reconfirmed for the New Testament Church as well:

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace
of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that
trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an
angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have
preached unto you, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6–8).

Were the changes that began in 1974 truly just “little nuances”? How were they any
less significant than the changes made by Mr. Armstrong’s successor in the early 1990s? As
we have demonstrated to you often by this history, the changes of the 1990s were only the
final, natural result of a philosophical avalanche unleashed beginning in 1974. They were
not separate and unconnected events. The later could never have occurred if the precedent
for doctrinal change through the “better scholarship” of worldly experts had not been
established in 1974. The difference is, Raymond Cole recognized it for what it was in 1974.
Roderick Meredith did not. The former understood that the very foundation of the Church
was being assaulted, and he refused to become part of that apostasy. The latter, although
highly troubled at the time by the doctrinal changes, finally mollified his own conscience by
recasting them as “little nuances” which did not really mean that much.

Herbert Armstrong Confirms It Was a Mistake

As we have also documented many times in the past, even Mr. Armstrong himself
admitted before he died in 1986 what was the real error in thinking leading to serious
problems which prevailed during those early 1970s. How did he describe it? From The
Worldwide News Special Edition
, June 24, 1985, Recent History of the Philadelphia Era of
the Worldwide Church of God
:

A small few Ambassador graduates who had become ministers in the
Church were somewhat scholarly inclined, especially one who had a specific
problem [He is referring specifically to Dr. Ernest Martin]. He suffered from
an inferiority complex. Because some of our graduates at the time were
enrolling in outside universities for higher degrees, a few came to conceive
that a “scholar” was in the loftiest position of humanity.

If this inferiority sufferer could feel in his own mind that he was a
scholar he would feel elevated above other people and therefore delivered
from feelings of inferiority. He began to question some of the established
doctrines of the Church of God, such as counting the day of Pentecost, divorce
and remarriage, tithing and others.

Soon he [Earnest Martin] was entering into what he considered a
scholarly research to DISprove some of the Church’s basic teachings.

Stopping right here for the moment, notice that Mr. Armstrong—after more than ten
years of hindsight—chose to include the pre-1974 teaching about the counting of Pentecost
(confirming a Monday observance), as well as the doctrine of divorce and remarriage, as
established doctrines of the Church of God,” and also called them “the Church’s basic
teachings
“!

How does that compare to the way Roderick Meredith now treats them in hindsight?
We already saw he called them only “little new nuance[s],” merely changes in “how we
handle” the doctrines. Furthermore in his recent article, he states:

Again, dear brethren, try to see the “Big Picture,” in all of this and not be
“picky” and always looking for the “loose brick” or some excuse to fall away
or to do your own thing (Roderick Meredith; September–October 2013).

So Raymond Cole went “overboard” in treating a Monday Pentecost and the original
teaching about marriage as basic, fundamental doctrines of the church, considering that the
foundation was under assault. Mr. Meredith, by contrast, says the changes were only picky
nuances. Continuing Mr. Armstrong’s quote from June 1985:

. . . Gradually one or two others, then even more, joined in a self-appointed
“scholarly research” to DISprove plain biblical truths.

It became evident that those attending other universities came to
consider Ambassador College as inferior and substandard intellectually and
academically because of our belief in God. Secularism and the anti-God
approach of evolution seemed to them far superior to the revealed knowledge
of God.

Notice once again how Mr. Armstrong portrayed those pre-1974 teachings. From
where did those doctrines derive their authority? From man, or from God? He labeled them
as “the revealed knowledge of God“! That is exactly the way Raymond Cole treated them,
but it did not take ten years for him to see it that way. He understood it at the very time Satan
was attacking the church! Continuing further in Mr. Armstrong’s assessment from 1985:

This brought controversy into the Church. These self-professed
“scholars,” influenced by teaching in universities in which they were enrolling
for higher degrees, were becoming more and more liberal. They wanted to
skirt as close as possible to the precipice of secularism, falling off the cliff into
Satan’s world.

These were the years when my commission required that I be absent
from Pasadena, and traveling overseas to almost all parts of the world as many
as 300 of the 365 days of the year. This liberal group, small at first, came to
be in executive positions at Pasadena, surrounding and influencing the one
responsible for day-to-day administration at headquarters during my absence.
Much of what they did was carefully kept from me.

Those of higher rank [including both Mr. Raymond Cole and Mr.
Roderick Meredith], but subject to the one in day-to-day executive
administration at Pasadena [Mr. Garner Ted Armstrong], who were steadfastly
loyal to the Church and its true teachings, were suppressed or gradually
removed from Pasadena and sent “into the field,” pastoring single churches in
other locations. So much of what was going on in Pasadena was kept from me
that I did not realize the direction the Church was actually traveling into
controversy, liberalism and either Protestantism or total secularism.

Did Mr. Armstrong go as far as outwardly promoting the return to a Monday
Pentecost or the former teaching about marriage and adultery? No, he did not. He did not
mention Pentecost again, but he did reference the marriage doctrine immediately as follows:

I quote now from a memorandum by Leroy Neff, the current treasurer,
who was on the first Doctrinal Research Committee and wrote concerning
others on the committee. I am quoting this to give an example of the direction
some of the liberals on the doctrinal committee were taking.

1. Any marriage where the people are unconverted, or did not fully
know what they were getting into, was not a valid marriage.

2. Polygamy was tacitly approved by God in Old Testament times, so
multiple marriages or divorces in modern times might just be a form of
polygamy by having wives sequentially rather than concurrently.

3. God divorced ancient Israel and then both parties were free to
remarry.

4. The ministry should be able to loose marriages that God joined.

These liberals wanted complete freedom in the Church for divorce and
remarriage at will [emphasis mine].

Wait a minute! Was not point number one above part of the very change in 1974
which Mr. Armstrong himself approved? Yes it was! The written transcript from that
ministerial conference announcement at the Ambassador Auditorium on May 6, 1974, proves
it! Yet before he died, Mr. Armstrong seemed to be viewing that change in a different light.
Recall the way he viewed it one year before the change, in April, 1973. This was what he
had said in a recorded Friday night Bible study in the Ambassador College Gymnasium,
April 13, 1973:

So I will just tell you now, that I myself, cannot see one scintilla of an
argument so far that is going to overthrow the teaching of God’s Church on
divorce and remarriage. . . . If we would do that, brethren, do you know what
would happen in less than another three months? I’ll bet you nearly hundreds
and hundreds of members of the Worldwide Church of God would divorce and
they would go out and marry someone else. And that would be the end of the
Worldwide Church of God—and Jesus Christ would spue us out of his mouth.
And anyone who does go and do that will get spued out. I have to warn you.

Nonetheless, one year after these emphatic statements, he retracted his 1973 booklet
confirming the original teaching since the 1930s, and signed off on the “new change,”
allowing those who had been unconverted when married to be treated as “free” to remarry.
In 1973, Mr. Armstrong seemed to believe the original teaching was a “basic, fundamental
doctrine” of the Church. Before he died, he likewise seemed to have come to that same
conclusion once again. It is only the years in the interim which seem to be at issue.

Time and space does not permit the conclusion of the analysis this month. In the
December issue, we will continue to look at the recent comments of Mr. Roderick Meredith,
including his condemnation of Raymond Cole as one who was looking for excuses to
separate and to start his own church. Is there any validity to that charge? The evidence of
the real truth is available, and it will be revealed.

Yours with sincere love and deep appreciation,
Jon W. Brisby signature
Jon W. Brisby


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