Two years after drastic changes in doctrine rocked the Worldwide

Church of God, its Tulsa congregation is looking for a smaller

worship space and discovering ties to other Christians.

Jim Martin, a member of the congregation here, said, "It was

really tough.... I have been in the church for about 25 years, so

to live a certain way for 25 years and then all of a sudden to have

a religion that's completely different than what you believed for

25 years -- it just took a lot of patience and a lot of studying

the scripture."

The church was often labeled a cult by other Christians, because

of its unique and restrictive views.

But since the winter of 1994, its members have begun an

unprecedented reaching out to other Christians, while losing large

numbers of members who disagree with the changes. The church has

lost as many as half of its 80,000 members. Some have formed new

churches to carry on the former teachings.

On Sunday, Eastwood Baptist Church, 949 S. 91st East Ave.,

will hold a service of reconciliation with members of the Worldwide

Church of God. The service begins at 6 p.m. and is open to the

public.

Doctrinal changes made in the last few years include deciding

that churches other than their own were not doomed, acceptance of

the Holy Spirit as one of the three persons that are God, ending

the insistence on Saturday worship, acceptance of medical

treatment, and a shift away from an intense focus on

end-of-the-world prophecy.

The Worldwide Church of God was led by

businessman-turned-evangelist Herbert Armstrong, who by World War

II had built a radio ministry that reached millions with his

interpretation of the Bible.

After his death in 1986, the church began gradually moving away

from some of his most radical teachings about the end of the world,

the nature of God, keeping the Sabbath, and the role of women.

Ron Lohr, minister of the Tulsa congregation, said, "God is

leading us into things that we criticized in the past."

His sermon title for the Sunday evening service is "From Sinai to

Calvary," which describes the changes the church has made.

Among other changes, the church observed the sabbath on Saturday

and believed that those who did not weren't truly Christians, he

said. Now the church has relaxed that rule. He has added a smaller

Wednesday night service for people who may not be able to attend on

Saturday, but said he doubts the congregation will switch to Sunday

services.

The congregation worships on Saturdays at 2 p.m. at Lewis and

Clark Middle School, 11th Street and Garnett Road, but the

auditorium's size overwhelms the congregation.

Lohr said about six years ago, Tulsa had two congregations of

about 300 each. Now, there is one congregation of about 200 people.

The Rev. Lonnie Latham, executive director of the Tulsa Baptist

Association, is one pastor to whom Lohr has reached out. They met

at an interdenominational training seminar.

Latham said, "We've tried to help him find a place to meet,

since they're in transition. We are just really proud of the way

the Lord's working with those folks. I believe the Lord is breaking

down those barriers.

"I don't think the laity are that much aware of what's going on,

but within the pastors' conference, Mr. Lohr has come to a couple

of meetings and has been warmly received. The men have shared with

him and prayed with him and made themselves available to him."

The denomination is struggling. The headquarters in Pasadena has

been put up for sale. Most of the staff has been laid off. The

denomination has had to close its college, Ambassador University in

Big Sandy, Texas.

Martin, who joined the church as a teen-ager in Oklahoma City in

the 1970s, said, "I have lost a lot of close friends. That was kind

of tough to do. But what I have really learned in the past two

years has been just amazing to me -- it took us that long for us to

see it. But once we really studied it and dug into the scripture,

it seems pretty clear now.

"We were a pretty legalistic church. We were real strict on

keeping the Old Covenant law, and we studied the New Testament and

have come to an understanding that no longer applies -- the Old

Covenant was done away with, with Christ at the cross."

Becky Hanshaw is a member of the Tulsa congregation, with her

children and husband, Mike. She said of the doctrinal changes, "I

was kind of surprised, but it sounded like it just rang true. I

needed to do some study on it, but I felt that it was absolutely

right.

"It was hard for some people more than for myself. Putting so much

emphasis on certain rules, like the fact that we took such a strong

stand on sabbath observance -- I don't know that it proves you're a

Christian. I was even beginning to doubt that before."

Hanshaw said her family moved here from Corpus Christi, Texas,

about four years ago. She said she's heard that most of the

congregations in south Texas have left the church for groups that

hold on to the former teachings.

Those who have accepted the changes "have learned and grown, and we

feel a greater connection to the Christian community.... We feel

like we are part of something bigger than we ever thought possible."

Lohr said, "I believe that God has brought us this far for a

purpose, and not to be put on the trash heap of religious history.

With God's help, we will regroup and find our place."