Joseph W. Tkach, head of the Pasadena-based Worldwide Church of God, died Saturday of complications from bone cancer at Huntington Memorial Hospital. He was 68.
Tkach headed the church since 1986, when he succeeded Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the 95,000-member Christian denomination, which until recently ran the Ambassador Auditorium and Ambassador College in Pasadena.
Tkach led the church through a doctrinal shift by embracing mainstream Christian concepts of the Trinity, emphasizing salvation through the grace of God alone--and not through good deeds--and lifting requirements that members tithe and observe the Sabbath.
A ban on members observing Christmas and Easter also was withdrawn under Tkach's leadership.
The changes upset some members, and groups of dissidents formed breakaway churches.
Financial difficulties forced the closing this year of the Ambassador Auditorium, a world-class concert venue.
Ambassador College, an undergraduate school in Pasadena, closed in 1990, but a campus in Big Sandy, Tex., remains open.
Tkach's son, Joseph W. Tkach Jr., was designated to succeed his father as pastor-general of the church on Sept. 5, church spokesman Tom Lapacka said.
A World War II Navy veteran, the senior Tkach joined the church at age 31, when he was a Chicago-area businessman.
Tkach moved to Pasadena in the 1960s to work for the church, Lapacka said.
In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife, Elaine, of Pasadena, and daughters Tanya Horchak and Jennifer Butler of Colorado.