Friday, October 10, 2014

The First WCG Splinter Group: Church of God (Carl O'Beirn)

As is all too well known the religious movement started by Herbert W. Armstrong has since splintered off into about 700 different groups. Most are very small, composed of only a single congregation. Recently Silenced has released their own chart chronicling some of the many splinter groups of Armstrongism.

Out of all of these groups one has the distinction of being the first to split away from WCG. That distinction appears to go to the Church of God founded by Carl O'Beirn.

There is not much information about this splinter group but it appears that Carl O'Beirn was kicked out of WCG after he came to disagree with how WCG dated Passover. It appears he came to believe that if the barley is not ripe in the Holy Land then the calendar must be delayed by a month.

One written account of the history of WCG (which appears to have been mirrored elsewhere) mentions this splinter group as the first of many schisms.
In 1970, the first of many groups to splinter from the Worldwide Church of God were founded. Carl O'Beirn of Cleveland, Ohio led what may be the first group, the Church of God, away from the Worldwide Church of God.
Ambassador Report has this to say about this splinter group.
The Church of God
P. O. Box 247
Cleveland, Ohio 44121
 Carl O'Beirn, former pastor in. the Worldwide Church, directs this group.
This is from a letter published in Ambassador Report 31 (March 1985).
Thanks for your continuing efforts to clear the air with true information. I would like to bring another subject to your attention. I recently spoke to Dee and Carl O'Beirn and I commented that they at least got out of WCG with their money. In 1970, Carl (a former WCG minister) was called to Pasadena before the board and expunged from the organization. The meeting concerned doctrinal questions he had raised about the calendar and law based on lunar timing. After this episode there came forth from the WCG ministers a "story" that Carl was leaving the WCG because he had inherited about $80,000 from his family. False! Now what possesses those WCG ministers to say things like that? As usual, a smoke screen to cover the real issue. All Carl got was a humble taken severance check and a quick pick-up of the company car! 
 This is from Pam Dewey's website discussing COG calendar controversies.
This is not to say that calendar issues were not brought up by mavericks in the organization from time to time, even while Armstrong was still in charge. For instance, one ordained WCG minister, Carl O'Beirn, was forced from the organization in the late 1960s when he was unrelenting in his pressure for a calendar change. He insisted the beginning of the sacred year in spring should be postponed a month if the barley harvest in Palestine wasn't at a stage of ripeness he believed to be necessary at the end of the twelfth month of the year just ending. He evidently had someone contact him from Palestine with reports on the barley's condition. Records are not clear on what his general perspective was regarding other aspects of the modern Hebrew calendar.
This is from Giving and Sharing. (Please note: this is a COG splinter group that continues to promote HWA's anti-medicine superstition.) Here the author is condemning Carl O'Beirn's stance regarding how to date Passover.
Carl O'Beirn, former Worldwide Church of God minister of Cleveland, Ohio, left that church about the year 1970 over the issue of the calendar. His main point was that the barley must be RIPE, or the first month is postponed. He had an "official observer" in Palestine to report on the barley harvest. O'Beirn insisted that the "meat (cereal) offering" of Leviticus 23:13 was of the new produce of the land, failing to mention that the drink offering of the last part of the verse is of wine (obviously from the last fall or earlier grape harvest). O'Beirn's Holy Days are generally a month later than the Hebrew calendar.

Let's test O'Beirn's "ripe barley" theory. What happens in the seventh sabbatical year, or the jubilee year, when no barley is sown at all? Do we cancel the Holy Days those years? Obviously not, but there isn't any barley, ripe or not, to examine! What about Deuteronomy 16:13? "Thou shalt observe the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine." Do you mean that you have to postpone the Feast of Tabernacles if all the crops are not harvested? But I broke my plow, we had a late summer, the grapes were late this year! No wonder the Rabbanites teased the Karaites, with the pitifully weak Karaite arguments presented by such as O'Beirn!
It was disagreement regarding dating the calendar that led to this particular schism. Armstrongism had long been divided over calendar issues even before this schism. This may be seen in a previous post.
Further evidence that such was not the case may be found in Raymond Cole's Open Letter.

Raymond Cole was one of the first five Evangelists ordained by HWA in 1952. He left WCG in 1974 because of disagreement with the changes of 1974, which affected the doctrine of Divorce and Remarriage and changed WCG from observing a Monday Pentecost to a Sunday Pentecost. He then founded his own COG sect, the Church of God, the Eternal, which he led until his death.

He reveals that there was great turmoil over the proper date of Pentecost in what he called "the traumatic years of 1948 and 1949."

Does this reveal that the Radio Church of God was somehow democratic before 1957?
Although the subject of Pentecost had become sensitive and divisive even in the 1940s the intensity of the subject was growing in the latter '40s and was also geographically spreading. Unrest had developed in as diverse areas as San Antonio, Texas; Wichita, Kansas; Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; as well as Eugene, Oregon. Satan was intensely at work. He hated the real truth about Pentecost. An alarming effort was made to destroy the fledgling church before trained and loyal ministers could be sent to the growing number of areas across the United States where the Truth was taking root. For a number of reasons, I was chosen by Mr. Armstrong, even before ordination, to go out to these troubled areas and quell the unrest about Pentecost. These defensive measures took me to Portland, Oregon for a year—prior to graduation. My matriculation from college was postponed for one year. These assignments necessitated my understanding the arguments being advanced as well as the premise of divine revelation and the proofs for a Monday Pentecost the church had taught over the years.
So it can be seen that even in the late 1940s and early 1950s many of HWA's followers were worried and concerned that the dates were not correct. What a shame that so many, because of what HWA taught them, became so focused on such esoteric issues and tearing themselves apart over such issues. Instead of focusing on Christ they became divided over these esoteric issues.

Little did anyone foresee back in 1970 that Carl O'Beirn would be the first of hundreds of splits that would shatter the Armstrongist movement so thoroughly.


  1. I remember Carl O'Beirn very clearly from the few times he came to Spokane. He was nuts. The issue he brought forth was using literal palm fronds for the Feast of Tabernacles to construct temporary booths. He even fabricated a Bible Study question for a Friday night Bible Study on the topic. He answered by saying, "We will hear a lot more about this from Pasadena".

    I'm pretty sure that the calendar was not the only issues and the Palm Frond thing was really important to him -- he wasn't going to compromise.

    My perspective was that he was an eccentric egoist who was determined to get his own way.

    Given the corruption of the Cult of Herbert Armstrong sometimes it's hard to know who to root for, but in this case, it certainly isn't O'Beirn.

  2. Thank you for that enlightening comment. It is good that people know what really happened.

  3. He preached in Akron, Ohio where I attended. None of the issues presented here arose that I knew of there. He left just before I did. It was late in the 60s or possibly 1970. I knew he was in Cleveland someplace. While no official reason for his departure was given (that I know of) the rumor was indeed that he inherited a lot of money. While I did like him I must add that he presented the most boring ever Bible study of Psalm. He simply read Psalms word for word KJV with almost zero comments. As of today I can honestly say I gained nothing what-so-ever from that.