Joseph W. Tkach

Joseph W. Tkach

Infobox Person
name=Joseph W. Tkach


image_size = 150px
caption=Second Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God
birth_date=birth date|1927|3|16|mf=y
birth_place=Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
death_date=death date and age|1995|9|23|1927|3|16|mf=y
death_place=Pasadena, California, U.S.

Joseph W. Tkach (pron-en|təˈkɒtʃ) (March 16, 1927–September 23, 1995) was the appointed successor of Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God. Tkach became President and Pastor General of the church upon the death of Armstrong in 1986. Tkach spearheaded a major doctrinal transformation of the Worldwide Church of God, abandoning Armstrong's unconventional doctrines and bringing the church into accord with mainstream evangelical Christianity. His son, Joseph Tkach Jr., continued his work and in 1997 the Worldwide Church of God became a member of the National Association of Evangelicals.cite web|url=http://www.wcg.org/lit/aboutus/media/nae.htm|title=NAE Accepts Worldwide Church of God, NAE press release, May 7, 1997|accessdate=2006-08-16]

During Tkach's tenure, the changes that he implemented stirred much controversy and significant dissent among those who continued to follow Armstrong's theology. The dissenters labelled the changes as heresy and many left to form new church organizations. Within the mainstream Christian community, some have hailed Tkach's reforms, which brought a church from the fringe to orthodoxy, as unprecedented in the history of the Christian church.Ruth Tucker, "From the Fringe to the Fold", "Christianity Today", July 15, 1996, pp. 26–32]

Background

Joseph W. Tkach was born March 16, 1927 in Chicago, Illinois, the youngest of five children and the only son of Vassil and Mary Tkach. The name Tkach (pron-en|təˈkɒtʃ)cite web|url=http://www.wcg.org/lit/AboutUs/history.htm|title=A Brief History of the Worldwide Church of God|accessdate=2006-10-12] is of Carpatho-Russian (Rusyn) origin, but his parents were originally from Czechoslovakia. [Telephone interview with Anna Bregin, sister of Joseph W. Tkach, as quoted in [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR41.html John Trechak, "Joseph W. Tkach - God's New Rep on Planet Earth (Part 1)", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 41, March 1989. See also [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR44.html John Trechak, "Joseph W. Tkach... (Part IV)", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 44, June 1990.] The neighborhood where he grew up was composed mainly of blue-collar working people of Russian origin. [ [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR41.html John Trechak, "Joseph W. Tkach - God's New Rep on Planet Earth (Part 1)", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 41, March 1989] He graduated from Tilden High School in southwest Chicago. He then served a short term in the U.S. Navy near the end of World War II and afterward returned to his native Chicago.Joseph Tkach Jr., "Transformed by Truth", Chapter 6, Multnomah, 1997] On March 31, 1951, Tkach married Elaine Apostolos and had three children: Joseph Jr., Tanya, and Jennifer.Jeff Zhorne and Michael Snyder, "Passing the Baton", "The Worldwide News", January 27, 1986, as quoted in [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR41.html John Trechak, "Joseph W. Tkach - God's New Rep on Planet Earth (Part 1)", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 41, March 1989]

Tkach grew up in the Russian Orthodox faith, but eventually his family, including his parents, became interested in the Radio Church of God through the radio broadcast of Herbert W. Armstrong, the founder of the church.Joseph Tkach Jr., "Transformed by Truth", Chapter 6, Multnomah, 1997] The Radio Church of God would eventually change its name in 1968 to the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), the church that Tkach would lead. It was a church characterized by the strong influence of its founder and his unique doctrines based on his own interpretation of the Bible. Initially Tkach was the only member of his family who was not interested in listening to the radio broadcasts. However, a purportedly miraculous event was to change him. At the time, Tkach suffered from severe ulcers and was required to stay on a special diet. His wife then suggested that God would heal him if he were to become a minister in Armstrong's church. Although skeptical, he accepted to become a minister and he found himself cured, never again to suffer from the ulcers.Joseph Tkach Jr., "Transformed by Truth", Chapter 6, Multnomah, 1997] He was baptized by Radio Church of God minister, Dean Blackwell, on March 1, 1957. On June 7, 1961 Blackwell ordained him a deacon in the Chicago congregation, and on June 3, 1963, Roderick C. Meredith, who would eventually lead a breakaway church from the WCG, ordained him as an elder.Jeff Zhorne and Michael Snyder, "Passing the Baton", "The Worldwide News", January 27, 1986, as quoted in John Trechak, "Joseph W. Tkach - God's New Rep on Planet Earth (Part 1)", "Ambassador Report", Issue 41, March 1989]

In 1966 Tkach moved his family to Pasadena, California, where he enrolled in classes at Ambassador College, a state-approved, but not regionally accredited, college that was sponsored by the WCG. In 1974 he was ordained to the rank of preaching elder. [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR42.html John Trechak, "Joseph W. Tkach - God's New Rep on Planet Earth (Part II)", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 42, September 1989 ] Armstrong taught that the Bible endorsed "ranks" in the ministry, and elders could progress up the ladder from local elder to preaching elder to pastor to evangelist. The highest rank, apostle, was reserved for the leader of the church. [John Robinson, "How WCG’s Top-Down Rule Evolved", In Transition, December 16, 1996, 7, as quoted in Joseph Tkach Jr., "Transformed by Truth", Chapter 7, Multnomah, 1997]

In the late 1970s a period of financial and leadership disputes occurred within the church hierarchy, with church treasurer, Stanley Rader, at the center of many of the disputes. [For details on these disputes, see the article on the Worldwide Church of God and Stanley Rader] The gravest incident was when the church was placed in financial receivership by the Attorney General of California, George Deukmejian, an action that was later disallowed in court. During this period Tkach took an active role in the defense of Armstrong, Rader, and the church headquarters' operations. He rallied the WCG membership to take action against the court proceedings. Armstrong recognized his effectiveness and subsequently, he ordained him to the rank of evangelist on September 27, 1979.Joseph Tkach Jr., "Transformed by Truth", Chapter 6, Multnomah, 1997] ["Evangelists ordained in Tucson", "The Worldwide News", October 29, 1979, p. 3] . See Evangelists of the Worldwide Church of God. In March 1981 Armstrong appointed him to the WCG's advisory council of elders, and eventually Armstrong named him Director of Church Administration, one of the most prominent administrative positions under Armstrong himself.John Trechak, "Joseph W. Tkach - God's New Rep on Planet Earth (Part II)", "Ambassador Report", Issue 42, September 1989]

elected by Armstrong

Armstrong had recovered from severe heart problems in the late 1970s, but by the mid-1980s he was experiencing rapidly declining health. By 1985 this was common knowledge among church members as the 93-year-old preacher had not been seen in public for several months. [ [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR34.html John Trechak, "Herbert Armstrong's Sinking Ship", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 34, January 1986 ] According to "The Worldwide News", the official church newsletter, Armstrong told his advisory council on January 7, 1986 of his decision to appoint Tkach to succeed him in the event of his death. [ [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR34.html John Trechak, "HWA Names Tkach Successor", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 34, January 1986 and [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR35.html John Trechak, "Herbert W. Armstrong Goes to His Reward", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 35, April 1986 ] It was also announced by Armstrong in a letter to members of the church. Armstrong died on January 16, 1986, only nine days after naming his successor.

Initially there were few visible changes within the church. Tkach continued Armstrong's tradition of travelling abroad, although his emphasis was more on visiting church members and operations than on Armstrong's agenda of visiting world leaders to attempt to witness to them. The church entered a period of rapid growth during the early years of Tkach's administration. In fact, the membership peaked during his tenure at 126,800 members in 1988.Joseph Tkach Jr., "Transformed by Truth", Chapter 5, Multnomah, 1997] The finances were stable, largely due to the church's teaching that members should tithe, giving a tenth of their gross income to the church. The church magazine, "The Plain Truth", continued to serialize the final and most controversial book by Armstrong, "Mystery of the Ages". Tkach also continued, at least in public, to promote the church's unique doctrines. [Joseph W. Tkach, "The Worldwide News", August 25, 1986, p. 5]

Tkach did not have the charismatic personality of his predecessor.cite web|url=http://www.wcg.org/lit/AboutUs/history.htm|title=A Brief History of the Worldwide Church of God|accessdate=2006-10-12] Unlike Armstrong, who kept a strong hold of the reins, Tkach delegated many tasks, including the presentation of the church-supported television broadcast, "The World Tomorrow" and the authoring of articles and booklets produced by the church. Although Tkach was not known as a theologian, and made no claims as such, eventually he was to have profound impact on the theological foundations of the WCG.Joseph Tkach Jr., "Transformed by Truth", Chapter 6, Multnomah, 1997]

Doctrinal changes under Tkach

The first major change under Tkach's tenure was the WCG's doctrine on healing. Previously the church taught that true believers were healed by faith in God and not by doctors. Tkach asked the church leadership to study the question. Once Tkach was satisfied with the results of the study, he officially softened the church's teaching on the matter, encouraging members to seek proper treatment while retaining faith in God as healer. [Joseph W. Tkach, "New Understanding of the Meaning of Christ’s Broken Body and the Church’s Teaching on HEALING", "The Worldwide News", March 23, 1987 as quoted in [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR38.html John Trechak, "Tkach Rewrites HWA's Healing Doctrine", "Ambassador Report", Issue 38, April 1987] and Joseph Tkach Jr., "Transformed by Truth", Chapter 8, Multnomah, 1997]

Another officially published doctrinal change was that women in the church would be allowed to wear makeup. In the earliest years of the denomination, Armstrong announced the prohibition of makeup for women. In the 1970s that prohibition was lifted, but in 1981 Armstrong reinstituted the teaching. In 1988 Tkach eventually lifted the ban for good. [Joseph W. Tkach, "The Worldwide News", November 14, 1988, p. 1 as quoted in [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR41.html John Trechak, "WCG News in Brief", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 41, March 1989. See also Joseph Tkach Jr., "Transformed by Truth", Chapter 8, Multnomah, 1997]

The first major sign of dissent occurred in 1989 when a WCG minister, Gerald Flurry, published a manuscript outlining what he and others believed were disturbing trends in the work, including the beginnings of the doctrinal departure from what had been established by Armstrong. Flurry and another minister, John Amos, were disfellowshipped and went on to form the Philadelphia Church of God (PCG). The PCG began an alternative radio program and magazine, and over the next several years a few thousand WCG members left to join the PCG. Despite this, Tkach continued to implement additional changes in thinking including: the deemphasis of observing world events primarily through the lens of prophetic interpretation; [Joseph W. Tkach, Editorial of "The Worldwide News", July 3, 1989 as quoted in [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR42.html John Trechak, "WCG Growth Stalls As Doctrines Shift", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 42, September 1989] the removal of the prohibition of interracial marriage; [Joseph W. Tkach, Editorial of "The Worldwide News", July 30, 1990] the allowance of work on the Sabbath; [ [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR45.html John Trechak, "More Oxen, More Ditches", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 45, September 1990 ] the acceptance of the trinitarian doctrine; [ [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR53.html John Trechak, "WCG Adopts Trinity Doctrine", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 53, September 1993 ] the acceptance of the validity of other Christian denominations; [ [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR56.html John Trechak, "Tkach: There Are True Christians In Other Churches!", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 56, October 1994 ] among many other changes. Older Armstrong publications that supported the church's once unique doctrines were allowed to go out-of-print. [David C. Pack, "Doctrinal Changes of the Worldwide Church of God", "Ambassador Report", Issue 53, September 1993]

As these reforms were being carried out, questions arose as to whether the decisions were truly made by Tkach himself or by others in the church leadership. The church leadership at that time included Mike Feazell, executive assistant and editorial advisor to Tkach, Greg Albrecht, editor of "The Plain Truth", and Joseph Tkach, Jr., the son of Joseph W. Tkach and church administration director. One conspiracy theory stated that the decisions did not come from Tkach himself but from the church leadership. Another stated that the ideas did originate from Tkach but he formed them early in his career, kept them hidden from Armstrong, and only allowed the ideas to come to fruition after Armstrong's death.Joseph Tkach Jr., "Transformed by Truth", Chapter 5, Multnomah, 1997] Feazell claims that the reforms were initially driven by a reexamination of church literature that was mainly spurred by questions posed by church ministers and members. [J. Michael Feazell, "The Liberation of the Worldwide Church of God", Zondervan, 2003, pp. 22–25] These examinations were done by Tkach and Feazell, but the final decisions and approval of materials for publication were made by Tkach.Joseph Tkach Jr., "Transformed by Truth", Chapter 5, Multnomah, 1997] By 1990, Tkach authorized the formation of a "Doctrinal Manual Group", consisting of thirteen ministers and Ambassador College faculty members with the mission of assuring doctrinal consistency, refinement, and advice to the Pastor General. Tkach reviewed and made the final decisions on all recommendations made by the group. [J. Michael Feazell, "The Liberation of the Worldwide Church of God", Zondervan, 2003, pp. 29–32]

The church's traditions of following the Sabbath, the Old Testament holy days, and tithing were initially retained. But some WCG ministers and members continued to express alarm over the doctrinal revisions Tkach had already made, and from time to time some would leave to create dissident branches. They included Tkach's one-time mentor, Roderick C. Meredith, who formed the Global Church of God in 1992. [ [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR52.html John Trechak, "Rod Meredith Becomes Contender for Church of God Crown", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 52, June 1993] As various breakaway groups were established, additional clusters of church members followed.

The Christmas Eve sermon

The doctrinal changes in the church occurred gradually, but by 1994, most of the concepts of Armstrongism had been largely modified or discontinued. However, the major bombshell was dropped during what is now called the Christmas Eve Sermon. [For the text of the sermon, see cite web|url=http://www.wcg.org/lit/law/newcovsabb.htm|title=The New Covenant and the Sabbath|accessdate=2006-10-11] Tapes of Tkach's sermon (dated January 7, 1995) were delivered to local congregations for viewing. In this sermon, he publicly declared that the Worldwide Church of God was a New Covenant church and, therefore, not bound by the terms of the Old Covenant. [Joseph Tkach Jr., "Transformed by Truth", Chapter 2, Multnomah, 1997] Christian theology defines the Old Covenant as the Mosaic Law embodied in the Torah. Hence, by making this statement, Tkach officially dropped all doctrines based on Mosaic Law (i.e., the keeping of the Sabbath, the Holy Days, and the dietary laws), making observance of such practices an individual choice. He also dropped the requirement of tithing, declaring that giving as taught in the New Testament was voluntary. The last change had a significant and rather immediate impact on church finances. [ [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR57.html John Trechak, "Tkach Says Sabbath, Holy Days, Tithing Not Mandatory!", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 57, January 1995 ]

These and other major changes brought about major defections among ministers and members, which in turn contributed to a further drop in church revenue. In order to bring the finances in order, major changes in the church infrastructure were implemented. "The World Tomorrow", which had seen record numbers of viewers in the early years of the Tkach administration, was stopped. [ [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR55.html John Trechak, "No More World Tomorrow", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 55, May 1994 ] "The Plain Truth" publication runs were reduced. Staff at the church headquarters were laid off. The famous, church-subsidized Ambassador Auditorium concert series was cancelled and offers were sought for the purchase of the Ambassador College Pasadena campus. [ [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR58.html John Trechak, "Cuts, Cuts, and More Cuts", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 58, April 1995 ]

Final days

The Christmas Eve sermon only served to accelerate the departure of church members. A new branch, the United Church of God, was created in 1995 by a conference of departing ministers and named Tkach's one-time associate and former "The World Tomorrow" presenter, David Hulme, as president. [ [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR59.html John Trechak, "'The Uniteds'", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 59, June 1995 ] It eventually became the largest of the groups to break away from the WCG during this period. Although revenues continued to drop, Tkach remained steadfastly committed to the changes that he had implemented.Joseph Tkach Jr., "Transformed by Truth", Chapter 6, Multnomah, 1997]

On May 12, 1995 Tkach had surgery to remove his gall bladder. Shortly thereafter he was readmitted to the hospital because of severe intestine and back pain. Surgeons then removed a grapefruit-size tumor from his intestines and discovered he had cancer. As Armstrong had done before him, Tkach named a successor to become pastor general in the event of his death. In this case, it was Tkach's son, Joseph Tkach Jr. [ [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR60.html John Trechak, "Tkach Sr. Dies of Cancer", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 60, October 1995 ]

Tkach died on September 23, 1995.

Assessing Tkach

The impact of Tkach’s tenure as the head of the WCG was notable. Church income dropped from a high of over $200 million in 1990 to $50 million by 1996. [ [http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/AR61.html John Trechak, "Tkach Jr. Downsizes WCG", "Ambassador Report"] , Issue 61, March 1996 ] By then the church could only count 49,000 as members, less than half from its peak.Ruth Tucker, "From the Fringe to the Fold", "Christianity Today", July 15, 1996, pp. 26–32] The circulation of "The Plain Truth", distributed free by subscription and via newsstand distribution around the globe, fell from a peak of 8,000,000 to less than 100,000 before it switched to a paid subscription status. Eventually the magazine was spun off into a separate, independent, evangelical ministry. [ [http://www.ptm.org Welcome to PTM ! ] ] The number of employees at the church headquarters fell from 1,000 to about 50. Ambassador University, as the college had become after earning regional accreditation in Texas, ceased operations in 1997 as the church could no longer provide its annual operating subsidy. The Pasadena campus was finally sold in 2004.cite web|url=http://www.wcg.org/lit/AboutUs/history.htm|title=A Brief History of the Worldwide Church of God|accessdate=2006-10-12]

In assessing the work of Tkach, there are two points-of-view. The critics of Tkach, especially those who formed the splinter churches, see Tkach as the key person responsible for the collapse of the WCG. They believe that the changes he brought were a turn against God and note that his rejection of Armstrong's doctrines were, at best, without biblical foundation. [cite web|url=http://www.ucg.org/about/history.htm|title=Brief History of the United Church of God|accessdate=2006-08-22]

Tkach’s supporters, including those in the leadership of the WCG, see events differently. The WCG describes Tkach’s tenure as “A Decade of Painful Change” and that the end result of his work was the reconciliation of the church with mainstream Christianity.cite web|url=http://www.wcg.org/lit/AboutUs/history.htm|title=A Brief History of the Worldwide Church of God|accessdate=2006-10-12] Ruth Tucker, an evangelical leader and an early supporter of the changes which occurred in the WCG, wrote in an article in "Christianity Today" that

The "changes"—as they are referred to by insiders—are truly historic. Never before in the history of Christianity has there been such a complete move to orthodox Christianity by an unorthodox fringe church.Ruth Tucker, "From the Fringe to the Fold", "Christianity Today", July 15, 1996, pp. 26–32]
Vern Bullough, a secular humanist and senior editor of "Free Inquiry", commented on the significance of the changes noting:
The shedding of almost every doctrine the Worldwide Church of God once clung to is a story almost without parallel in American religious history. [cite web|url=http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/bullough_22_4.htm|title=The Will to Believe Keeps the Worldwide Church of God Afloat, "Free Inquiry", Volume 22, Number 4|accessdate=2006-10-13]

After his death, the WCG reiterated its full acceptance of the doctrinal changes implemented by Tkach and published an apology to current and former members of the church for the impact previous doctrines had had on members. [cite web|url= http://www.wcg.org/lit/AboutUs/media/forgive.htm|title=Forgive Us Our Trespasses|accessdate=2006-08-22 Published in the March/April 1996 issue of "The Plain Truth"] As evidence that Tkach's work was instrumental in the move toward mainstream Christianity, the WCG was accepted into the membership of the National Association of Evangelicals within two years of his death.cite web|url=http://www.wcg.org/lit/aboutus/media/nae.htm|title=NAE Accepts Worldwide Church of God, NAE press release, May 7, 1997|accessdate=2006-08-16]

Notes

References

*Feazell, J. Michael, "The Liberation of the Worldwide Church of God", Zondervan, 2003, ISBN 0-310-25011-0.
*Tkach Jr., Joseph, "Transformed by Truth", Multnomah, 1997, ISBN 1-57673-181-2.
*cite web|url=http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ar/index.htm|title=Trechak, John "Ambassador Report", Issues 34 to 61, January 1986 to March 1996|accessdate=2006-08-24
*Tucker, Ruth, "From the Fringe to the Fold", "Christianity Today", July 15, 1996, pp. 26–32.
*cite web|url=http://www.wcg.org/lit/AboutUs/history.htm|title=Worldwide Church of God, "A Brief History of the Worldwide Church of God"|accessdate=2006-08-24

External links

* [http://www.wcg.org Worldwide Church of God] - official website
* [http://www.pcog.org Philadelphia Church of God] - official website of splinter church formed in 1989
* [http://www.lcg.org Living Church of God] - official website of splinter church formed in 1992
* [http://www.ucg.org United Church of God] - official website of splinter church formed in 1995

Persondata
NAME=Joseph W. Tkach
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Joseph Tkach, Sr.; Joseph Tkach
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Second Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God
DATE OF BIRTH=March 16, 1927
PLACE OF BIRTH=Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
DATE OF DEATH=September 23, 1995
PLACE OF DEATH=Pasadena, California, U.S.


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