Question: "What is the Living Church of God, and what are their beliefs?"
Answer: The Living Church of God (LCG), headed by Presiding Evangelist Roderick C. Meredith, grew as an offshoot of Herbert W. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God. The Living Church of God claims that the name “Church of God” is the only biblical name for a church and was given by God Himself (Acts 20:28). The ways in which the Living Church of God differs from historic Christianity are numerous, and because of their distinct errors—a strange mixture of the Jehovah’s Witness belief, Mormonism, and apocalyptic fear—this “church” could be categorized as a cult to be avoided.
The Living Church of God believes that they are the “true Church of God that stands apart from this religious Babylon,” meaning all other Christian denominations. Their website makes continued references to the errors and false teaching of “mainstream Christianity” and “most ministers.” The Living Church of God has a defining focus on legalism. They claim that salvation is by faith in Christ’s finished work (Hebrews 9:15), yet they place equal emphasis on Law-keeping. They state that the Law God gave the Israelites is binding on New Testament Christians as well. They believe that Americans and the British are the “lost tribes of Israel,” so the Jewish feast days, dietary laws, and the Ten Commandments are all still binding as part of the path to salvation. They do not celebrate birthdays, Christmas, or any other holidays and stress the Sabbath as the only proper day to worship. The Living Church of God also forbids members from taking part in politics, juries, voting, and military service. They boldly assert that any group of Christians that does not mix the Law with grace as they do is not the “true church.”
This focus on Law-keeping is nothing new. Those who attempt to combine the Law with grace for salvation are called Judaizers. Paul dealt with Judaizers in the early church, as many converted Jews refused to accept Gentile believers who did not keep the Law (Romans 9:31). Paul was firm: “A person is not justified by the works of the law” (Galatians 2:21), and he argued against the Judaizers’ position logically: “If keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die” (Galatians 2:16). The issue of salvation by faith, apart from works of the Law, was resolved by the apostles in Acts 15. Peter stated, “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (verses 10–11).
Another major difference between the Living Church of God and evangelical Christianity is their rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity. They believe that Jesus and the Father alone comprise the Godhead. Their website states, “The Holy Spirit is the very essence, the mind, life and power of God. It is not a Being.” However, Jesus never referred to the Holy Spirit as an “it.” Jesus always called the Holy Spirit a “He” (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13). Matthew 28:19 gives one of the clearest presentations of the triune God when Jesus told His disciples to baptize believers “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” If the Holy Spirit is not a distinct entity, why would Jesus name Him separately?
The Living Church of God does not believe in the immortality of the soul and spirit, but places great emphasis on the coming earthly “kingdom of God” at the physical resurrection of the dead (Revelation 20:4). They do not believe that heaven is the destination of the children of God or that hell is the eternal fate of the unrepentant. They claim that, after death, a person stays dead until the resurrection. Then after the resurrection “all human beings who have ever lived will be given genuine understanding of God’s word and of true Christianity—and the vast majority will respond!” They state that this is “not a second chance” but a “first opportunity.” According to them, hell is a brief moment of punishment after the resurrection, and then the unrepentant are forever annihilated.
This is not taught in Scripture. Jesus had much to say about eternal life and eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46; Mark 9:43). He illustrated this concept very clearly in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, found in Luke 16:19–31. The rich man cries, “I am in agony in this fire” (verse 24). Jesus also said that “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13). If the Living Church of God doctrine were true that everyone would receive another opportunity to be saved, why would Jesus have commanded us to evangelize the world now (Matthew 28:19)? Why would the apostles have suffered persecution and martyrdom if they knew that everyone would get another chance after death?
The Living Church of God also distorts the term “born again” (John 3:3). They claim that Jesus was “born again” when He rose from the dead and that those who believe in Him will also be “born again” to reign with Him in His kingdom on earth.
The Living Church of God maintains that “God Almighty is not trying to save everyone now. Rather, God is allowing humanity to go its own way for this 6,000 years of human history—under the evil influence of Satan the Devil. God now intervenes occasionally . . . to call certain individuals to be part of His Church . . . and to prepare them to be the kings and priests under Christ in the coming Kingdom of God on earth.” However, the Bible says that one reason Jesus has not returned yet is that God desires many more to be saved. Second Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is . . . patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” If most people are going to repent after the resurrection anyway, then why would God need to wait?
There are many other doctrinal errors in the Living Church of God. One sign of a cult is its claim to be “the only true way” to salvation. When the emphasis is not on Jesus being the only true way (John 14:6), then error will follow. Jesus said, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Mark 8:15). Yeast (leaven) in this context represents man-made additions to the pure, saving work of God. The Living Church of God, with its Pharisee-like adherence to the Law, is surely a “leavened” group to be on guard against.