Ground Zero

The Genesis of the United Church of God
A Personal View from Ground Zero

By Victor Kubik

At its peak, it was a vibrant, global church. It counted more than 120,000  members meeting collectively each Sabbath on every inhabited continent. Its television program was ranked No. 1 by Nielsen and aired weekly on more than 100 satellite and terrestrial stations, leveraging a media budget of $57 million (in 2023 dollars). It published a monthly flagship magazine with more than six million copies distributed in seven languages. Attendance at its annual festival sites was regularly measured in the multiple thousands. Annual contributions neared the quarter of a billion dollars mark. The Gospel of the Kingdom of God was powerfully thundered across every available media.

Then, one day, it was all but gone.

This once was the Work of the Worldwide Church of God.

Stunned, even horrified, many ministers, members and families in the early 1990s watched in alarm and shock as cherished and solid beliefs were inexplicably reversed, abandoned, even mocked. Once a literal “City on a Hill,” a marvelous hub of high energy that was transformed from slums and dilapidated old buildings into the church’s magnificent headquarters and college campus was sold off piecemeal, together with remaining properties across the United States.

Even the high-profile bold declaration in the lobby of the Ambassador Auditorium, the church’s physical capstone – a prominent phrase displayed for many thousands of people to openly see in public: “Dedicated to the glory of the Great God – made possible by gifts from the Worldwide Church of God” – was stripped out.

Lost faith

Disillusioned and betrayed, many lost their precious faith, becoming agnostics, even atheists. Many were resentful, some even angry at God Himself. A sad legacy was emerging.

As multiple thousands of people grappled with wholesale upheaval, many tried to uphold the established belief structure. As the Worldwide Church collapsed into what one WCG administrator described as “the holocaust years” (when the former organization fell apart and splintered, down-sizing as finances shrank), new organizations were formed.

Act of betrayal

One of the chief reasons that the demolition of the prior organization was even possible was attributable to one factor: the intense concentration of legal power and physical authority in a single person. As one of the organizers and leaders of the dramatic theological and organizational turmoil later admitted in print, the very autocratic – and previously criticized – power that had ostensibly led to the changes was now deployed again. But this time to foment broad upheaval, an act of betrayal that was mercilessly pursued at great cost to families and friends.

One last-try effort was made by a group of ministers, who appealed for fairness and peace, together with the opportunity to continue prior beliefs and structure. When the current administration vehemently denied this option, adherents to biblical truth were left with no choice. At that time the first steps began to explore how to create a new organization. There was no framework or plans laid in advance.

Within this group, all agreed on one element: whatever this new organization looked like, there would never again be an opportunity for the concentration of power – especially that of a doctrinal nature – within the hands of a single man, unanswerable to anyone but himself.

And thus was born the United Church of God, an International Association.

Why this narrative history?

Having served in the ministry of the Worldwide Church of God for many years and subsequently assigned to the Church Administration department in Pasadena, my wife Bev and I were unique eyewitnesses of the before, during and after of this crisis. As an active pastor in the field, I had never sought an administrative position.

As is a fact of history, I personally served as Assistant Director of Church Administration, meeting frequently with senior administrators from the  early 1990s who would later trainwreck established beliefs and wreak havoc in people’s lives with a barrage of changes.

In the second decade of the 21st century, why would any of this be relevant?

Now that more than a quarter of a century has passed and the now-established United Church of God is moving into a new generation of members and leaders, important lessons need to be preserved.  I have had numerous people asking me to recount what had happened that led to the formation of the United Church of God.  Included in this number are curious young people who want to know why and how we began.

An unbreakable promise

We hold this unbreakable promise from the living Head of the Church, Jesus Christ: “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). No matter what happens, the spiritual Church of God will always exist through the ages.

All of us who attended Ambassador College or who were trained locally in the ministry knew that the original first century Church of God had been rent by division following the fall of the Jerusalem temple.

We just never thought it would happen to our 20th century church organization.

What does this mean for today? A true saying, cited by many, reads: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Thus the rationale for preserving the history of the events and focus that led up to the founding and creation of the United Church of God, an International Association.

An important caveat

Originally coined to describe the vocal point of a devastating nuclear explosion, the phrase “Ground Zero” has also come to define a point of origin of a momentous event. The place of the 9/11 Memorial in New York City is also described and known as “Ground Zero” of the events of that terrible terrorist attack in 2001.

In many respects, my wife Bev and I have a “ground zero” view of the unique events where a global church willingly collapsed and a new organization – firmly guided and governed by a General Council of Elders, whose directives were carried out by a 12-person Council of Elders and a President – emerged to continue the biblical mission of preaching the Gospel and preparing a people.

As I write this, I will obviously reflect my own memories and recorded narratives of this time. Many people, including Bev, have already contributed to this “ground zero” narrative, which has been greatly helpful. This helps to reduce the potential subjective nature of writing a memoir of past events.

It is important to note upfront that I have no personal axe to grind or hidden agenda. In many respects, the 1990s were intensely painful for Bev and me, as for thousands of others. We certainly did not profit financially from any of it. In fact, our stories mirror those of many who subsequently met in Indianapolis in 1995. Apart from the Bible, there was no framework. There was no established pathway. And certainly no promise of any financial compensation. We were prepared to do what it took to preserve and practice the revealed truth of God.

During time there was a great deal of prayer, fasting and study into the Word of God, beseeching Almighty God to show us the way and reveal His divine will to us. As many will attest, what emerged wasn’t perfect. But the leaders, minsters and people of the United Church of God, an International Association have never given up.

As you read this narrative, I invite you to remember that many of the administrators mentioned in this account were once close friends. I am not “at war” with any of them today. If and when they read this account, they may disagree with my perspective and perceptions. The fact remains, I was there. I was in many meetings where changes were being introduced, then enforced.

I would not be honest if I didn’t say that many actions, comments and assertions of the time were not hurtful. When Bev and I stood in the office of the then-Pastor General to resign, that was not a pleasant experience.

The outcome of those experiences is that I may sound direct or forceful. That is not my intent. I am certainly not a victim or hold a victim mentality, nor am I resentful. I believe the Bible and its unbreakable promises. We will all one day stand before God and Jesus Christ and give account of ourselves. And has Jesus Himself promised, the Church of God will stand.

If you’ve read this far, I thank you. Many who witnessed these events now sleep and await the resurrection, and several people have encouraged me to put this history into written form before it is lost.

Our focus? The future of the Church of God is bright. As members of the Body of Christ, let us “be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10, English Standard Version).

Let us now turn to an eventful saga...

Posted in Ground Zero.