Why we exist today
Our strengths as a denomination include a fresh awareness of the importance of grace, a high respect for Scripture, and a willingness to do what it says. We recognize that Jesus, as our Savior and as our Lord, has reconciled us to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We rejoice in the implications of Trinitarian theology. For an overview of Trinitarian theology, click here
We know that Christ makes a difference in the way we live. Through the agency of the Holy Spirit, he transforms our lives in this age, and gives us eternal life in fellowship with our Creator. Jesus is alive and active, therefore he is not done with us yet. We are still being shaped and fashioned for his purpose. We praise him and worship him, and seek to know his will for our lives.
Jesus has bought and paid for this church. It belongs to him, and we rest in this assurance!
There are some similarities between the story of Paul and our story. We have roots in the old covenant, and are now firmly planted in the new. We have embraced grace with joy, and there have been Barnabas-like people who have helped reconcile us to other Christians, and who have helped teach us. As a denomination, we have examined our history in helping us understand our identity and our role in the Christian world.
We do not have any delusions of grandeur, that we will be as great as the apostle Paul. We do not imagine that we will turn the world upside down. We do not think we will transform the church like Paul did. But we do expect God to use us to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. There may be a niche that needs our particular experience. Perhaps God is preparing us for situations that do not yet exist. We do not know, but we remain ready to respond to God’s leading. We emphasize grace, and we accept Trinitarian theology.
Our organizational roots and transformation
In the early 1930s, Herbert Armstrong began a ministry that eventually became our denomination. He founded the Worldwide Church of God which adhered to many unusual doctrines that fell outside of orthodoxy. He taught these doctrines so enthusiastically that eventually more than 100,000 people attended weekly services. Even though much of Armstrong’s doctrinal foundation was faulty, there were still core Christian truths to the message he preached. Many unchurched people who had little previous exposure to Christianity came to faith through his evangelical pleas. People came to Christ, accepted his death for their sins, and trusted in him for salvation. Many lives were transformed from sin and selfishness, to service and humility. A germ of life existed inside the crust of his erroneous doctrines.
As Jesus Christ changes lives, he has the power to change an organization, too.
After Herbert Armstrong’s death in 1986, our organization began to shift dramatically. Church leaders began to realize that many of his doctrines were not biblical. These doctrinal changes took the better part of 10 years.
For example, in 1993, the church accepted the doctrine of the Trinity. The church declared that the cross is not a pagan symbol, that it is not a sin to have illustrations of Jesus, and that Christians may vote. Such changes may seem inconsequential to most Christians, but each change was significant for the church’s members because each change attacked strongly held beliefs about how we ought to express our devotion to God. Our identity was based in how we were different from others, so each change had to be explained from the Scriptures and had to explain how previous explanations were not correct.
These were years of turmoil and tremendous reorientation as many left the church over these changes. Those who remained had to reorient themselves and fully re-evaluate their relationship with God and what they believed. After struggling to understand the doctrinal change, many members began to experience a new sense of peace and joy through a renewed faith in Jesus Christ. Their identity was in him, not in the particular laws they kept. Through all this, many members were transformed and rejoiced with renewed zeal for their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Today, the leaders of this denomination reject Armstrong’s doctrinal errors. We acknowledge that our errors were deep and serious, but that Christ has rescued us from them.
The church is now in full agreement with the statement of faith of the National Association of Evangelicals. To reflect these doctrinal changes, in April 2009, the denomination changed its name from Worldwide Church of God to Grace Communion International. This name better reflects who we have become and what we now teach.