I was raised in the World Wide Church of God, a cult/Christian sect that had plenty of bizzare and extreme practices. WWCG renounced most of it's super extreme beliefs over the last 10 years and merged with evangelical Christianity. In the process, it's lost most of it's members to splinter groups and mainstream churches.
Looking back on my former church it's interesting to see the parallels between the founding of the World Wide Church of God and Mormonism. Most quotes below are from the WWCG's own web site. Interestingly, Armstrong was accused of borrowing some doctrine's from Mormonism.
The late Walter Martin, in his classic The Kingdom of the Cults, devoted 34 pages to the group, claiming how Armstrong borrowed freely from Seventh-day Adventist, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Mormon doctrines.
-Both were founded by a man who thought all the other Christian sects "had it wrong". (Joseph Smith and Hebert W. Armstrong).
-Both founders were charismatic and gained followers by force of will more so than sound theological arguments. Armstrong's background was advertising.
many people continued to be attracted to Herbert Armstrong’s style and teachings, and the church continued to grow until Armstrong died in 1986 at the age of 93. He left a denomination that numbered 120,000 people in attendance every week. Annual income was 200 million dollars. Magazine circulation was in the millions every month, and the television program was one of the top two religious programs in America.
-Armstrong also had visions and encounters with God/Christ and viewed himself as God's prophet. Armstrong infamously had an org-chart where he was directly under Christ in authority.
Armstrong viewed himself as God’s apostle, leading the one true church. Armstrong had supreme doctrinal authority. If anyone was disloyal, that person would most likely be fired and expelled from the church fellowship. (Legally, Armstrong was under the authority of a board of directors, but they always supported his decisions.)
-Armstrong also believed that Americans were descended from the 10 Tribes of Israel.
Armstrong also had many unusual ideas about prophecy, and these may have been the most attractive doctrines of all. He taught that the United States and Britain are modern descendants of the northern ten tribes of Israel, and that therefore many biblical prophecies apply to the Anglo-Saxon peoples. He saw himself as an end-time fulfillment of prophecy, with a message of warning for the “Israelite” peoples.
Armstrong was always making bold prophecies. When things didn't go according to plan, he would just make new ones.
The Great Tribulation would soon start, he warned in the 1930s, in the 1940s, in the 1950s, in the 1960s, in the 1970s, and in the 1980s — but the good news is that Christ will soon return and rule for 1,000 years. This prediction was so important to Armstrong that it became the center of the gospel. It was the reason the radio and television broadcasts were titled “The World Tomorrow.” The future utopia was the good news.
WWCG used young college grads to spred the church's message.
Young graduates of Ambassador College were then sent to various cities to gather the believers into small churches. The church grew rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s. The radio program was sent to England, Australia, the Philippines, Latin America, and Africa. Church offices were opened in numerous nations around the world. The name of the church was changed from “Radio Church of God” to “Worldwide Church of God."
Herbert Armstrong had scandals involving sexual improprieties including allegations of incest. The churches doctrine regarding divorce and remarriage changed conveniently at the same time Armstrong wanted to remarry. This is somewhat similar to Joseph Smith's doctrine of plural marriage closely tied his personal desires for multiple wives.
Both churches tithe 10% of their income.
WWCG had similar strict rules of personal conduct. Mormons can't drink or smoke. We had similar strange rules.
n addition to the weekly Sabbath, the WCG observed seven annual Sabbaths, based on Leviticus 23. Church members also avoided pork, shrimp and certain other meats (Lev. 11). They gave one tithe to support the ministry, used another to keep the annual Sabbaths, and in some years gave a third tithe to the church for its poor members. The financial requirements were high, but they also increased the levels of commitment.
Armstrong taught that repentance involves a change in behavior, that Christianity involves a way of life. In the WCG, this focused primarily on prohibitions. WCG members were not allowed to vote, serve in the military, marry after divorce, go to doctors, use cosmetics, or observe Christmas, Easter and birthdays.
Both churches had a practice of banishing troublesome members. We called it "disfellowship".