I was born a Roman Catholic and attended Catholic grammar school, and I attended church services (Mass) every Sunday, and even almost everyday when I was in grammar school.
As a Roman Catholic, I was taught that I belong to the one true church founded by Jesus Christ. We had the seven sacraments of baptism, penance, holy eucharist, matrimony, holy orders, and extreme unction. We had the four marks of the one true church: one, holy, catholic or universal, and apostolic. We believed in the whole Bible. All the Bible is true. Jesus gave Peter, who was our first pope, the authority to change the laws, according to what He said, “Whatever things you bind on earth shall also be bound in heaven.”
In school, we would pray for the reunion of Christendom. Since we were the one true church, that obviously meant only one thing--that the break away churches of Protestantism would return to us and become Catholic again.
As a Catholic, our main goal was to live as sinless a life as possible, so that when we die, we could go straight to heaven filled with sanctifying grace. There, we would be happy and be with God for all eternity. Heaven is suppose to be so beautiful that you can’t even imagine what it is like. What we were taught is that heaven is a big circle with God in the middle. The really good Catholics are the ones who will be closest to God. The ones who were pretty good Catholics will be somewhere in the middle. The ones who were just Catholic and also the Protestants would be farthest from God. There are three other places you might go when you die. One is the bad place known as hell. This is where Satan lives. It is a very hot and fiery place where a soul is punished for all eternity. A person goes to hell if he has mortal sin on his soul before he dies. Mortal sin is any act or omission that is seriously wrong and is considered seriously wrong. And it must be willfully done. Another place we might go is purgatory. This is somewhere near hell where a Catholic who died with venial sins on his / her soul goes to wash them away in fire or something. Then, after that, he / she can go to heaven. Venial sins are less serious sins--not as bad as mortal sins. The last place a departed soul would go is limbo. This is a place for non-Christians who never heard of Jesus, yet led a relatively good life while on earth. They don’t see God, but they are happy nevertheless, but not as happy as those in heaven.
As a good Catholic, I could not see myself leaving the church and joining another church. But that’s what happened when I was 19 and 20 back in 1969. Back then, the Vietnam War was raging. The Paris Peace talks convened, and so we were going to negotiate peace with the Communists. I was very pessimistic. I believed what John F. Kennedy once said about the Communists, that the motto of the Communists is: What’s ours is ours; and what’s yours is negotiable. So I looked around for the truth in magazines, newspapers and the TV, and came across a TV Sunday morning show called The World Tomorrow with host speaker Garner Ted Armstrong. His topic was the Vietnam War, and so naturally I was very interested in it. At the end of the show, he offered a free book entitled, The United States and the British Commonwealth in Prophecy. I eagerly sent for it because since I loved America, I was very interested in the future of America. When I got it, I think I read the whole book in one day. It was astonishing. It told about our true roots, that most of the white Europeans came from the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel. The lost Ten tribes of Israel were taken captive from the Holy Land to Assyria as slaves. Two specific tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, were to inherit great power and wealth. Ephraim was to become a great company of nations while Manasseh was to become the greatest single nation on earth. It revealed that Great Britain where the eternal Throne of King David sits, along with the British Commonwealth of Nations is Ephraim, and the United States of America is Manasseh. Just as Great Britain has lost its power, the book predicts that the United States would also lose its power because of our sins. We would be punished by God with famine, pestilence, trade war, and finally World War III, in which we would be the losers to a United States of Europe lead by Germany, and be taken as slaves to Europe. Once there, we would repent of our sins and call upon God for forgiveness. Then Jesus will come in his glory in the Second Coming. He will defeat the armies of US of Europe and free our people. He will lead them back to the Holy Land (Israel or Palestine) which is our original home. There, we will become great again and regain our lost possessions. Ephraim would again settle in England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, while Manasseh would return to resettle in America.
Intrigued, I sent for more literature from Garner Ted Armstrong whose father Herbert W. Armstrong was the head of the Worldwide Church of God in Pasadena, California. They sent me a free subscription to The Plain Truth Magazine, a magazine with articles on world events that would lead us to the Second Coming.
Herbert W. Armstrong and Garner Ted Armstrong each had their own story of how they were converted to the true Christian church. Herbert W. Armstrong’s wife had been talking to a Church of God woman who told her about the true Sabbath. His wife started keeping the Jewish Sabbath which made Herbert furious. He read the Bible and studied it carefully to show his wife that Sabbath keeping was not right, and that Sunday observance was commanded in the Bible. He could not prove it. Instead, he converted to the Church of God. His son Garner Ted Armstrong, grew up irreligious. He thought the Church of God was his father’s religion and wanted no part in it. But, eventually, he came around and accepted the truth.
The Armstrong’s told the story of the true church, that it was always to be a small church that was persecuted and despised by the world from the time of the apostles to the Second Coming. In these end times, the Church would be given a little power to broadcast the true gospel to the world. This would be in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 24:14, when he said, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations, and then shall the end come.”
As servants of God chosen to carry out the great commission of preaching the Gospel to all nations, Herbert W. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God relied on tithes and offerings from its members to finance the ministry, publications, and air time on radio and TV stations around the world.
Mr. Armstrong’s former livelihood was an advertising businessman. He said three times God struck him down his business until he turned and became a Christian. Then God use him for the great work of preaching the gospel. He built three campuses, one in Pasadena, California, one in Big Sandy, Texas, and one near London, England. Since he was a publisher, he published The Plain Truth Magazine which was sent out to millions of subscribers free of charge.
Tithing means to give one-tenth of your income to the church. The Armstrong church claimed that everything was made by God and so everything belongs to God. No Bible-believing Christian or Jew can argue that. Then Armstrong said that God requires you to pay ten percent of your income. Once you do that, He gives you the 90 per cent to do as you please.
"Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me. But you say, 'Wherein have we robbed you?' In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse that there may be meat in my house; and prove me now says the Lord of hosts if I will not open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it." Malachi 3:8-10
Who wants to rob God? Who wants to be cursed with a curse?
There were actually three tithes in the Armstrong church. The first tithe is what I just mentioned. The second tithe is ten percent of your income which you spend on yourself on the church feast days. The third tithe is ten percent of your income which you set aside every three years for the orphans and widows. This money, like the first tithe, was to be sent to the church headquarters in Pasadena, California. That's why, Mr. Armstrong said, the Bible says to bring in ALL the tithes, not just one tithe. In addition to these tithes, the church encourage its members to send in offerings. And, in addition to the tithes and offerings, the church urged its members to sacrifice, sacrifice, and sacrifice. A lot of members gave up this religion because it costs so much money. But God says if you tithe, He will bless you. That’s what it says in Malachi 3:8.
There was a controversy about whether you tithe your gross income or your net income. My parents said that you don't see your gross income, you only see your net income. So a tithe payer should pay 10% of the net income, not your gross income. Mr. Armstrong insisted that you tithe your gross income because your taxes go to an earthly government which they claim is Satan's government.
My parents didn't like me giving all that money to the Armstrong church. They saw the church ministers come to visit me all dressed up in handsome good-looking suits while I was wearing rags.
After seven or eight years of obeying that law, I had enough. I was going from one meager job to another meager job. Most of the time I was on the dole. I thought I wasn't receiving the blessings that I couldn't find room enough to receive. God wasn't keeping his promise. The Armstrong church said it's because I have a bad attitude. That was a terrible fault for a Christian in the Armstrong church to have--to have a bad attitude. But the verses in Malachi 3:8-10 say nothing about a bad attitude. A promise is a promise. No ifs, ands, or buts. I stopped tithing. I stopped giving anymore money to the Armstrong church.
Then I read an article about Garner Ted Armstrong in Time Magazine in which he was disfellowshipped from the church by his own father Herbert W. Armstrong. One reason given was because of his womanizing and his adulteries. Another reason was because he was usurping his father's authority and "destroying the Work of God." In the article, Herbert W. Armstrong's yearly salary was given. It was a half million dollars a year. After reading that, I no longer considered myself as a member of the Worldwide Church of God.
There were articles from ex-church ministers and other Biblical authorities about tithing. The tithing laws were to be enforced only when the temple was on earth. The temple doesn't exist today. Only farmers, herdsmen and fishermen were required to tithe with their produce and catch. Everyone else was exempted. God truly is very generous to us.
We are commanded to support the church. We are commanded to be generous. And we Americans are generous. We give to the church. We give to the poor. We give foreign aid to other countries. We help each other in times of troubles and disasters. We are one of the most caring, generous nations on earth. God blessed us, and we bless God. Jesus also tells us to beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (Matthew 7:15) Amen to that, Lord Jesus. Amen to that.