Why This Issue?
If you ask a doctrinal question to a friend and he or she answers by quoting the teaching of Martin Luther, Dwight Moody, Ellen G. White or some other deceased theologian, are you impressed? Or, do you think: "I would rather hear their understanding of the Bible than a quote from a human whom I can no longer question"? Why then, should we expect others to treat us differently if we respond to their questions by quoting the teachings of Herbert Armstrong?
If we cannot explain a doctrine from the Bible without citing the teachings of Armstrong, should we teach that doctrine at all? Mr. Armstrong did not have even a near-perfect record in prophecy and doctrine. If we repeat his teachings rather than those which Christ leads us to prove from the Scripture, then are not we following a man, rather than Christ?
How Do We Regard His Teaching?
Servants’ News has received many letters and calls asking the above question. Was Herbert Armstrong the prophesied Elijah to come and restore all things? (Matt 17:11.) Was he the apostle of the twentieth century? Was he a "phony", using religion as a way to live the good life? Or, was he a teacher used by the Eternal who made a number of significant mistakes?
The purpose of this and the next Servants’ News issue is not to eternally judge Herbert Armstrong. Christ will do that (John 5:22). However, believers are commanded to judge their apostles, teachers and prophets to see if their words are true (Deut 18:22; Matt 7:15-23; 1Cor 14:29; 1Jn 4:1; Rev 2:2). We need to evaluate Armstrong’s teachings from a biblical perspective not so we can judge him, but so we can know what we should believe of his teaching and what we should do now!
This issue is not so important for many of Armstrong’s basic teachings such as the Sabbath and the millennial reign of Christ. These doctrines can be demonstrated from the Scripture almost as easily as they can be from Armstrong’s writings (Armstrong did do a good job of putting many of the related scriptures in one place and explaining them). The difficulty comes with more obscure doctrines and prophetic interpretation. For example, Herbert Armstrong taught that there were three resurrections based on his understanding of Revelation 20, but there is no Scripture that specifically mentions "three resurrections" or a "third resurrection". Also, there are other scriptures that indicate that good and evil unbelievers will be raised at the same time (Matt 3:12; 25:32-33). Should believers today believe and teach three resurrections only because Armstrong taught it, even if they cannot really prove it from the Bible? The area of prophecy is full of similar questions. Must we believe that the "mark of the Beast" is Sunday-keeping, or could it be a government identification of some kind, or something else?
The important issue is this: when teachings or prophetic interpretations of Herbert Armstrong cannot be proven directly from the Bible, how should we regard them? If Herbert Armstrong was the "Elijah to come" or "the twentieth century apostle," then it would make sense to regard all of his teachings and interpretations as "inspired". On the other hand, if a significant number of his teachings and interpretations are in error and/or if his life was not exemplary of a "man of God", then it is very difficult to accept his teachings as "inspired".
It took this writer many years to come to grips with these issues. I attended Ambassador College right after leaving high-school (1974), and then worked for the Worldwide Church of God and its affiliated corporations until 1992. I enjoyed most of this time very much. I have seen many lives changed through Christ, changes which were initiated by teaching from people in the Worldwide Church of God. I worked in various technical areas and was almost never the receiver of any direct "ministerial commands". From time to time, people I knew would disappear from employment and church membership, and the leaders would say that "they had a problem with Church government". I believed the leaders and avoided talking to these "mixed up" departed people. I believed (probably like most of you at that time) that if there was a problem in the church government, the Eternal would take care of it from the top.
But after Herbert Armstrong died, and new leaders began to reverse many of his doctrines, it became clear that the Eternal does not always correct the man "at the top". I saw other bad and unjust decisions being made, and the Eternal just letting them happen. I looked into the Bible and discovered that most of the kings of Israel died as bad leaders, misleading the people. I began talking to others who had difficulties with "church government" in the past and found that some of them were more concerned with following the Bible than those who were doing the "governing". I also realized that I had almost never applied these verses though I had rendered judgments in my mind about other people:
The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him (Prov 18:17).
He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him (Prov 18:13).
The Worldwide Church of God nearly always printed only the facts most favorable to itself in its publications. Most other "Church of God" groups have done the same. For example, numerous letters were printed about people who began tithing and were blessed for it. None were printed about people who began tithing, lost their home, and went bankrupt. Yet this happened. Also, big headlines announced "new truth" when Herbert Armstrong corrected some of his old doctrine. Yet there was no apology or even a mention of members or ministers who had come to believe or practice that doctrine before Armstrong did and were disfellowshipped for doing it.
While this method of one-sided reporting produces a much more "peaceful" atmosphere than a free press where many people each present their view of an issue, one-sided reporting often suppresses truth. Dictatorships from Hitler, to the former U.S.S.R to Saddam Hussein have had apparent unity in their media, but at the cost of many errors reported as truth. When Christ walked the earth. He did not teach His truth by having one-sided meetings where only He was allowed to speak. Most of the Gospels consist of His answers to questions—questions from those who wanted to know more, and tricky questions from those who hoped to trap Him. Christ could answer them both, and so should his servants, today.
If anyone is going to make a personal judgment as to how he or she will regard the teachings of Herbert Armstrong, can he or she do it only based on the latest words of people who were fervent Armstrong supporters? We must be willing to hear the matter—not assume that since we already have an opinion, we already know. We must be willing to look at all of Armstrong’s writings—including the ones that he contradicted at a later date. We must be willing to examine the testimony of credible witnesses—those with clear knowledge of situations and without a personal agenda to satisfy. Most of us simply do not have time to study everything that Mr. Armstrong wrote and everything that was written about him. But if we are not willing to consider even some of these things, we might as well admit that we are following a man and that we refuse to "try the apostles (Rev 2:2)".
Herbert Armstrong’s Claims
For many people, the very idea of thinking anything negative about Herbert Armstrong sounds like a sin. Herbert Armstrong himself made some rather outstanding claims, and challenged his readers to either accept him or reject him. Notice his statement in his article entitled Must God’s Ministers Be Ordained BY THE HAND OF MAN? appearing in the January 1960 Good News magazine.
Either the Church of God with headquarters in Pasadena is the ONE AND ONLY true Body of Christ, thru whom Christ carries on HIS WORK, or else it is deceived, or it is a fraud. There is no other possibility. You MUST FACE IT, and DECIDE WHICH ALTERNATIVE IS TRUE. If it IS the Body thru whom Christ works in carrying on HIS WORK to the world for this time, then it is THE ONLY BODY that is being used of Christ. CHRIST IS NOT DIVIDED!
Herbert Armstrong said that either his organization was "the one and only true Body of Christ...or else it is deceived". Do you believe that it still is? If not, do you believe some other organization has replaced it today? If so, exactly which date did it change? If people did not switch organizations on the right date, do they need to be re-baptized? If a range of "switchover" dates is possible, how long can that time be? How does one prove these lengths of time from the scriptures? Could there be converted people in the Seventh Day Adventist Church whom God is still waiting upon to switch to a Church of God group? As you can see, these questions have no simple answers, yet we are talking about the very issues of salvation itself. If we must be in a certain organization to be a part of the body of Christ, then these obscure questions desperately need answers.
Can anyone show from the Bible how all converted people had to be part of Armstrong’s organization during the 1930’s to 1980’, but that now the Eternal allows converted people to be in multiple organizations?
Notice the organization chart below. It makes a difference between the spiritual organism (the Church of God), and the various corporations that Herbert Armstrong used. But it shows Herbert Armstrong to be the head of both! This clearly shows Sabbath keepers in the Ukraine or China did not have access to Christ because they did not have access to Herbert Armstrong. It also leaves out a number of other Sabbath-keeping groups which had contact with Armstrong, but would not join his organization because of unbiblical aspects that they perceived in it (see next Servants’ News issue for an article on this subject).
One aspect of this chart really needs to be noticed. The job of Jesus Christ seems to be only relaying messages from the Father in Heaven to Herbert Armstrong on Earth. He apparently has only one human to manage. Almost any management consultant who reviewed the organizational chart would probably recommend that the "Christ’s job" be eliminated. Obviously, the problem is not with Christ, but with the chart. When Christ was on Earth, he managed twelve apostles, 120 disciples, and answered questions of thousands. The Bible clearly says He is the Head of the Church (Eph 5:23), managing all of it. Each believer has access to Christ. The Bible never mentions a "human head" of the Church.
Armstrong’s teaching apparently conflicts with the teaching in Revelation chapters 1 through 3. There were seven actual churches in Asia Minor to whom John was to deliver the book of Revelation (Rev 1:11). Every church (congregation) had different characteristics—some had very serious problems. Yet, Christ calls all of them His churches. John was not told to issue orders to "kick out" those who were lax or preaching false doctrines, but every member of every church was told to hear the messages and to repent of their individual error.
The Bible Analyzes Leaders’ Strengths and Weaknesses
Many have compared Herbert Armstrong to David. Their reasoning often goes like this: "They were both good men, but they both had sins, and God overlooked them, so we should, too". However, David was a man "after His own heart", yet when he sinned, his sins were recorded forever for everyone to see. God did not deal privately with David’s sin, but he sent another man, Nathan the prophet, to him (2Sam 12:1). He also gave David a punishment, that "the sword shall never depart from your house" (v 10). As later chapters show, some of David’s children killed and raped each other. Absalom and Adonijah died trying to take over the kingdom.
But was Herbert Armstrong like David, or was he more like Solomon?
Before we answer that question, let us first summarize the life of Solomon. Solomon was given the commission of building the temple by David, his father (1Chr 29). Solomon didn’t seem to have much choice in the matter. The material was voluntarily donated ahead of time for Solomon—he did not have to collect taxes to build the Temple. When Solomon first became king, he asked the Eternal for wisdom and the ability to judge such a great people (2Chr 1:7-12). The Eternal granted him this wisdom, and also gave him great wealth. But that was not enough for Solomon. He imposed heavy work and tax burdens on the people as well (2Chr 1:7-12). Solomon took 7 years to build the temple, but 13 years to build his own house (1Ki 6:38-7:1). All of this was very useful for impressing foreign rulers like the Queen of Sheba (1Kngs 10, 2Chr 9), but there is no record of all these foreign peoples turning to the Eternal because of Solomon’s works. Please read the Eternal’s conclusion on Solomon:
6Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not fully follow the LORD, as did his father David. 7Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, on the hill that is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the people of Ammon. 8And he did likewise for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods. 9So the LORD became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the LORD God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, 10and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what the LORD had commanded. 11Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, "Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant. 12Nevertheless I will not do it in your days, for the sake of your father David; I will tear it out of the hand of your son" (2Kngs 11:6-12).
Notice it said that Solomon "did not fully follow the Lord". It is possible to follow the Eternal in some ways and not in others. Solomon built the Temple of the Lord and executed righteous judgment among the people. But he also followed after foreign women and their false gods. Of course, he needed money from the people to support all his palace activities. Similarly, Herbert Armstrong built up the temple (the church) of the Eternal, but at the same time continually asked people to give money so he could live a wealthy life-style. (The next Servants’ News will have an article covering this subject.)
Solomon’s successor, Rehoboam, did not have near the wisdom of Solomon, and not long after he took over, he offended people, and the northern kingdom of Israel departed. The Eternal said that the division was from Him and could not be stopped (I Kings 12:24). The kingdom never regained its wealth or strength to this day. Similarly, a couple of years after Armstrong died, it became clear that his successors had much less skill than he at keeping a group together. In this case, they have split off into many competing groups, and the prospect of more splits seems much better than the chance of any of them getting together. Most of the physical things that Herbert Armstrong built in his lifetime are already gone. Two of his colleges have been sold and a third is in disrepair. His "House for God" (auditorium) is little used and his TV studio has been gutted. His great volume of books and articles are virtually all out of print.
If new people are to learn the Bible truth that we know, how should it be presented to them—as "truth from the Bible", or as the teachings of a man now dead, from an organization now largely defunct? Mr. Armstrong’s accomplishments impressed a great many people when he was alive. But that is history that is becoming more and more ancient.
Furthermore, it is very important to recognize the difference between works and fruits. Did Mr. Armstrong have great fruits, or great works? The article beginning on page 5 of this issue discusses the difference between fruits and works. There is an important difference. Works are the outward things we do, whereas fruits are things that come from the heart. Some of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day had great works, but they did not have good fruit. Herbert Armstrong had great works. But all of the buildings and organization he built are clearly just works. The New Testament never teaches wealth as a sign of conversion or righteousness. Rather it teaches that those who preach the Gospel should not seek wealth by it (1Tim 3:3,8; 6:5; Titus 1:11; Jude 1:11). The New Testament does not even mention so much as a humble church building that was owned by the Church or its leaders.
Judging whether or not Mr. Armstrong had great fruits is much more difficult. Most of us never spent any time with him, so we do not know why he did what he did, and the attitude he had. This author has spent no significant amount of time with Herbert Armstrong, but has spent many hours talking to people who have, and also has numerous writings from people who have worked closely with him. Much of this information was not common knowledge to Worldwide Church of God brethren. The next issue will cover this subject. We will try to present only those things that can be documented or confirmed by more than one living witness. (We intend to avoid some of the wilder rumors which we have no way of proving.)
In the next issue we also will have an article quoting the many prophecies of Herbert Armstrong, from 1934 until his death, and you can judge for yourself if it is reasonable to ask others to rely on his prophetic understanding. We will also have an analysis of the "18 Restored Truths" that Herbert Armstrong spoke of in his last days. The first "truth" is "church government"—did Mr. Armstrong actually restore the truth here? We will also analyze which teachings he actually restored and which were taught by others.
This issue has articles on The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy and the older booklet Has Time Been Lost? These articles are both valuable in understanding whether all of Mr. Armstrong’s teaching was inspired from God or possibly borrowed from others.
It was not easy doing all of this research. I spent my younger years believing I was in the "One True Church or God", and that we had Christ’s direct guidance through His Apostle. The Worldwide Church of God was big enough that this idea seemed believable. We had "the best" and of course God, the owner of the universe had "the best". But was that what the apostle Paul taught were the "signs of an apostle"? No. He described the sufferings and difficulty he went through to help others as his qualifications (2Cor 11-12—two good chapters to read).
It was a "letdown" to realize that I was not a member of an elite group that was somehow "special" to the Eternal. I finally came to the realization that Mr. Armstrong, like Solomon, did some incredible things. But he also did some things contrary to scripture. And when his work was tried by fire, it seemed to catch fire and burn (1Cor 3:13-15). Obviously, God is not interested in which men we follow, but how well we follow Him. Christ is the one who promised never to leave us or forsake us. If there is any lesson we can learn, it is that our trust must be in Christ and not in man.
We have already mentioned many things that we will cover in our next issue. We will also have some concluding comments about what we believe the Eternal expects of His people now. We hope you will read them.
—Norman S. Edwards
Research Tools Now Available to All
We would like to thank Don Tiger and the small group of brethren who work with him for making these writings of Herbert Armstrong available on computer CD-ROM. These are clearly the best facilities available for researching the writings of Mr. Armstrong. The three most useful CD-ROMs are photo images of the 1951-1969 Good News, photo images of the 1934-1960 Plain Truth, and computer searchable text of all of Mr. Armstrong’s books and coworker letters.
You may obtain a set of these CD-ROMs free of charge from the Web-site www.herbertwarmstrong.org or by writing Don Tiger, 1163 E Ogden No 705-261, Naperville Illinois, 60563.
(See also Oct 30, p. 1 story in The Journal, News of the Churches of God.)
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