Financing the WCG,
a Work of Faith?
Herbert Armstrong wrote a massive number of member and co-worker letters—we have 618 of them from 1934 to 1986. Some of them were called "The Bulletin" or "Co-Workers Bulletin", but their style and purpose was the same throughout his ministry. Some were only a few pages long, but many were 10 pages or more. It was in these letters that Herbert Armstrong communicated financial requests with church members and co-workers—his contributing followers. He did not ask for money from "the public".
However, a co-worker was often not far removed from the public. If a person asked for two booklets within a few months and sent in a few dollars to help defray the cost, he or she would probably be sent a letter asking if they wanted to receive co-worker letters—which would include "news and financial needs of the work.". What they began receiving was often a shock. But in the 1940s and 50s, co-workers greatly outnumbered members and were responsible for most of Armstrong’s income. This gradually declined, and at Herbert Armstrong’s death in 1986, there were about the same number of co-workers as members but the co-workers supplied only a fraction of the income
The main thrust of most of Mr. Armstrong’s co-worker letters was events of "the work". The stories of his successes have been recounted many times in his autobiography and other Worldwide Church of God literature. What is not often told is the story of the incredible number of requests for money made to co-workers—along with the vast array of methods employed to get them to give. This article attempts to summarize that story. If you would like to read the letters for yourself, ask for our Herbert Armstrong Co-Worker Letter Reprints.
Of his 618 letters, 525 mention financing in some way. The word "offering(s)" appears in 423 letters, "money" in 378 and "tithe(s)" in 376. No small number of letters were primarily emergency appeals for finances. Over 100 letters contain the word "emergency". Other frequent phrases are:
# of letters phrase
114 "air mail" [requested
way to send money]
106 "thousand dollars"
91 "special offering"
82 "generous offerings"
74 "return mail" [another
way to send money]
52 "urgent need"
48 "more money"
29 "regular tithes"
29 "great(est) need"
29 "large(st) offering"
19 "financial crisis
19 "save the work"
By contrast, nearly every letter also mentioned prayer and praying for "the work". Phrases about the Eternal’s power appear in many letters: "Holy Spirit" is in 134 letters and "Spirit of God" or "God’s spirit" in 128 letters, and "power of God/Christ/Jesus" in 77 letters. "Work of faith" is in 15 letters. But the number of words about money greatly exceed those about prayer and the power of God. "Praying for more money" and "for others to send more money" were frequent themes.
It would require hundreds of hours to read all of Mr. Armstrong’s letters and to precisely analyze how much time he spent on each subject. But one thing is certain: A few of his longest co-worker letters contain more words on the subject of "financing the work" than can be found in the entire New Testament. Nearly all scriptures about financing the New Testament ministry are printed in the first five pages of How Do We Give to the Eternal? (available free from Servants’ News). The New Testament does not record one case where some evangelistic activity was not accomplished due to lack of funds. It clearly shows that the Spirit of the Eternal directed the activities, and that The Eternal would provide for physical necessities.
Requests for Money:
From the Eternal or From a Man?
Herbert Armstrong clearly did not learn his money-asking methods from the New Testament, but was it God’s will for him to request all that money so he could do a "big work" and warn and reach a lot of people? Many of the groups which have come out of the Worldwide Church of God want to continue using his methods. Indeed, some justify using his methods by saying his "big work" is proof that God was with him—though these same people would probably reject that reasoning if it were used as proof that the Seventh Day Adventist or some other "work" was of God. But lacking any clear divine revelation or statement in the Bible about Mr. Armstrong’s work, we must understand the methods that he used to finance his work from his letters, and compare them to the Scriptures.
While Mr. Armstrong never claimed that the Eternal gave him the words to say in his letters, he did claim that Jesus Christ supported the overall content. Nearly all of the letters were signed "in Jesus’ name" or "In Christ’s name". A few were signed "In Christ’s Service". What does it mean to write or do something "in Christ’s name"? This is how Mr. Armstrong understood it:
To ask for anything in prayer, or to do or perform anything, IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST, is to ask or do it BY HIS AUTHORITY. It is to act for Him. To do it for Him, in His stead. It is acting as if by power of attorney to act FOR Him (All About Water Baptism (1972).
Herbert Armstrong clearly told his readers that what he wrote in his letters had the authority of Jesus Christ. So what, then, did he write in his letters? This article will summarize the major points about financing in his letters, supporting them with quotations from his letters. In most cases, we had to choose from many quotations with essentially the same message.
Tithes, Offerings & More Offerings
Mr. Armstrong always clearly stated that the offerings and urgent needs he was requesting were to be "over and above" regular tithes and offerings. The phrase "over and above" occurs 50 times in his letters:
Aril 5, 1945:So I now ask MORE OF YOU to send in pledges, (as God makes possible) for weekly or monthly offerings over and above your REGULAR offerings, or tithes, for the rest of the work in general.
June 24, 1952: However, the regular work must not suffer because of this special project. Don’t put any money into it you would have put into the Gospel Work. Be sure that whatever you send for this project is an extra, special, additional contribution, over and above your tithe and regular offerings. But the need is URGENT, and IMMEDIATE!
March 30, 1967: He PROSPERS those who pay into HIS WORK their TITHE—which is the first tenth of actual gross income—the same income on which you pay income tax. And God Himself does expect free will offerings beside from us all—according to our circumstances and ability, of course!
Mr. Armstrong strongly suggested that brethren could be killed by God for mixing up their categories of giving:
May 5, 1969:Now about the annual Holy Day offerings.
I am discouraged and sorely disheartened, Brethren, because THE FACTS ARE that on these seven occasions, the receipt of money at Headquarters to carry on the Work of God drops off AS MUCH as the amount put into these offerings! That can only mean one thing! Most of you Brethren are NOT putting in ANY real special Holy Day offering at all, but instead taking what otherwise would have been mailed in-as tithes and normal offerings-and putting THAT into the Holy Day offering!
Brethren I wonder if that is not doing almost exactly what Ananias and Sapphira did! Please read that again-it is in Acts 5:1-11. They professed that they put in the amount they sold their property for. Peter said THEY LIED to THE HOLY SPIRIT. They DROPPED DEAD! If YOU profess that what you put in the Holy Day offering is a SPECIAL HOLY DAY OFFERING, when it is only a regular offering, is not that about the same thing? Brethren, in the name of Jesus Christ I say I WOULD BE AFRAID to do such a thing!
It is interesting to compare this warning with the Worldwide Church of God use of funds: Third tithe was used, at times, for expensive mansions and jet fuel. Excess second tithe and "tithe of tithe" were not always used for festivals or assistance, but simply put back into the WCG general fund. Mr. Armstrong does not seem to consider that his co-workers may have already been giving everything they had available on a regular basis, so they could not come up with extra for Holy Day offerings. He continually encouraged them to send in anything that they had available "right now" by air-mail.
December 20, 1934:Will GOD’S PEOPLE be willing now to GIVE TILL IT HURTS—to GIVE UP THINGS—to SACRIFICE—that many may be saved for eternity? The night is far spent! Jesus is SOON COMING! The MILLIONS are not awake! We must WARN THEM!
Think, now, of some of the material things you plan to buy. Then think of the "stars in your crown" that God will add FOR ETERNITY if you will sacrifice it and use that money to GET THE PURE GOSPEL TRUTH TO THIS VAST MULTITUDE!
August 23, 1945: But please do not neglect to send, by return mail, all you possibly can for the regular work which must KEEP GOING!
December 8, 1947: This work needs your greatest sacrifice—it needs all you and every other co-worker can give. It needs MORE than you can give...
We also must realize that Mr. Armstrong was not asking only the well-off to give out of their abundance, but the poor. "Widow’s mites" are mentioned in 98 of his letters. He was careful to point out that widows should give more than one mite:
November 20, 1945:Co-Workers, I have to appeal to you now—this greatly-multiplied program is NOW GOING OUT—we need the widow’s mites IN LARGE NUMBER now as never before—from many who may not be able to send in more, and have sent nothing for some time!
June 9, 1947: I know that, while MOST of our Co-Workers are in poor economic circumstances and can send only the "widow’s MITES"—notice it was "MITES," not just one "mite,"—and while it is these many small amounts of a couple dollars, or a five or ten, that are the very BACKBONE OF THIS WORK...
March 30, 1969: Remember that even the widow’s mites HELP GREATLY in this Work.
If You Cannot Give It, Loan It
When it became clear that co-workers could not give enough money, Herbert Armstrong also asked for monetary loans, a practice never used in Scripture to support the Eternal’s work (an axe was borrowed in 2Kngs 6:5, but not money).
October 29, 1947:Now, even at greatest sacrifice by all, I realize that we are not going to be able to raise all this money quickly enough by tithes, offerings, and gifts. A few of our co-workers have helped us up to now by LOANING us money they have felt they could not GIVE. Some have said they may never need to take the money back, but in case they do need it, they have our note and guarantee it will be promptly repaid. One or two had money saved up they may need a year or two from now, and they have placed this money at our disposal to help us over this terrible emergency, letting their money WORK FOR GOD now, to be repaid to them, if, and when they will need it, later. One has borrowed money on some property he owned, and we are making the payments to him to pay his bank, as the payments and interest come due. Some have sold bonds, or securities, and loaned us the cash, to be paid back in the manner that fits the needs of each one in each case. We need now to borrow several thousand dollars more on this basis. In each case I give the lender a note, binding the Radio Church of God, incorporated, to repay on whatever terms are agreed upon, as fit the need of the lender.
Numerous co-worker letters continue to talk about these loans and the complex circumstances surrounding their repayment. Can anyone imagine Christ or the apostles talking about borrowing money to board a ship to preach the Gospel, and hoping to pay the loan back with money they received from the city they visited? But Mr. Armstrong kept asking for private loans through his co-worker letter of December 29, 1969. After this time, Mr. Armstrong writes about obtaining loans from banks and insurance companies. Why the change? One possibility is that by that time the WCG had so much real estate that it could easily obtain bank loans. It is also possible that the members realized that Mr. Armstrong planned not to pay back most of those loans:
March 30, 1969:Now WE knew, from years of experience, that only about 20% of these loans would be demanded for repayment—80% eventually would be converted to donations. But a banker examining our financial statement would not know that. Actually, we maintained a 20% cash reserve to back up these loans. Actually our practice was TWICE AS SAFE as bank practice. But we cannot afford to have it LOOK unsound. God’s Work MUST NOT BE BROUGHT INTO DISCREDIT by any act or oversight of ours!
So I have had to ask all of you who can to cancel out your loans by converting them into donations or freewill offerings. And, if you simply CANNOT do that at this time, to convert them into FIVE-YEAR loans instead of demand loans—that is, we would not be legally bound to repay more than 20% in any one year. I have explained that, IF an unexpected emergency should arise and you should seriously need more than 20% at any time, we would try to accommodate you and do the best we could, at our own discretion—but without legal obligation.
In reality, Mr. Armstrong’s practice was not "twice as safe as bank practice". Mr. Armstrong may have kept 20% in reserve where banks only kept 10%, but banks invested the other 90% of their money anticipating all of it back, whereas Mr. Armstrong spent the other 80% of his money. If a bank ran short of money, it could sell its investments to pay off its loans. But Mr. Armstrong was simply relying on new contributions to pay off old loans. He never once hinted that he would sell assets of his work in order to repay loans.
As it was, the old loan program was replaced by a new kind of loan program. This time, members were asked to borrow the money from their banks, and then give it to the WCG. The letter on the next page tells the story. Notice the underlined portions, where members are given some possible lies to tell their bankers about why they wanted these loans. Notice also that a member must be sure that this loan will not cut into his normal giving. And finally, notice that this was directed toward members who had so little money that they might have to take out a loan to buy a TV or dishwasher. They were expected to forgo these items so the work could...could do what? The letter does not say exactly what the need was for—just "IMMEDIATECASH". While Mr. Armstrong and Stanley Rader probably did borrow $5000 from a bank, it is unlikely that they would have needed to. Their salaries were both over $100,000 per year and later disclosures indicated that both had personal savings of many thousands. They did not go without a TV, dishwasher or limousine to help "save the work"..
The Advertising Man At Work
Mr. Armstrong often said that God used him to do "the work" because he was an advertising man who knew how to reach people. This may be true. On the other hand, it may have been a big problem in that his advertising skill attracted many people to his organization when they had no real relationship with God. What is evident, though, is Mr. Armstrong’s advertising skill in asking for contributions. He used an incredible number of methods, varying from one letter to the next—sometimes contradicting himself.
His most common approach was to mix in "exciting news of the work" with "praise for what co-workers had already done" with "desperate needs for money if the work was to continue". These letters appeared to be heart-felt and believable, especially since the reader was learning Bible truth from Armstrong’s organization and had a natural tendency to want to believe them. But when examined historically, many of these heart-felt and believable items seem to be little more than marketing ploys. It is clear that he rated the effectiveness of his letters by how much money they brought back:
June 9, 1947:I sent out a very special emergency letter. The response was splendid, and in three weeks two thirds of that indebtedness was paid. But then tithes and offerings began to fall off again. The last BULLETIN helped a little, but we have been just barely holding our own with week-to-week expenses.
Mr. Armstrong said "the last BULLETIN helped", but it really was the people who helped.
One of the most common techniques Mr. Armstrong used to increase contributions was "visualization"—making the instruction so clear that a person has nothing left to think about; they know that they could do it now. Advertisers know that a sale delayed so the customer can "think about it" is often a "lost sale". In over 100 letters, Mr. Armstrong suggested specific amounts that a co-worker could give:
December 20, 1934:Some will be able to contribute only 25 cents or 50 cents a month. God will bless it, if you cannot send more. But the number who subscribe will necessarily be SMALL—so that unless everyone who possibly can subscribe MORE than a dollar a month—say $5, or $10—this wonderful campaign for God will fail.
August 23, 1945: …I have sufficient faith in God to believe this BULLETIN will be read by someone—perhaps only ONE—who has the ability, if God makes the heart willing, to supply for this purpose a sum of between one and two hundred thousand dollars. And perhaps one or two others able to put in $35,000 to $50,000. I believe there will be a few more who can manage to place at our disposal from $1,000 to $5,000. There are, I’m sure, still more who can, if willing, find a way to contribute sums of $100, $250, or $500.
As the years went by, the numbers kept getting bigger. But is believing someone else will give huge amounts of money, faith in God? Or is it tempting God? If someone gave an amount between $51,000 and $99,000, would Mr. Armstrong reject it because it did not fit his above statement? Or, is this statement just a hope that a wealthy person reading this letter would have one of these amounts at his disposal and then think that it was God’s will for him to give it? Or, is the purpose of this statement to make slightly wealthy people who cannot give the largest amounts feel like the least they could do would be to give one of the middle-range amounts?
Faith is believing what the Eternal says, not inventing something and claiming that He will do it. Did the Eternal want Mr. Armstrong to use phony faith in order to raise money? It is difficult to believe that Herbert Armstrong was so "close to God" that He revealed to him how much other people could contribute. In the same time period, he was predicting America’s defeat during World War II, and then, a soon-coming World War III with Hitler still being alive and leading the Nazis. Mr. Armstrong’s anticipated big donations were not based on previous fact either, as his June 9, 1947 letter acknowledges that $1000 was the largest gift that he ever received. Over two years later, he said "Never yet has anyone given a single contribution to this work as large as $5,000" (November 11, 1949).
But he also took the opposite approach and used the diligence of his poorer co-workers to spur the wealthier ones to give more:
May 17,1946:And if those who are ABLE would do proportionately anywhere NEAR as much in God’s work as those so poor in this world’s goods—many of whom actually live on a monthly income of $16 to $50, and still spare two to five dollars of it for God’s work—then we would be able to shake this whole world to its foundations with the power at our disposal! For some of you, one to several thousand dollars would not be as great a sacrifice as the "widow’s mite" given by many of our precious co-workers! Just now God’s work sorely NEEDS many of the larger, more generous offerings which many are able to give, if they will let God make their hearts willing—offerings of $25, $50, $100, a thousand or several thousand dollars.
Divine Miracle Required,
but Your Money Will Do
Herbert Armstrong would sometimes talk about miracles from the Eternal, but those miracles nearly always turned out to be co-workers giving more money. We did not find claims that the Eternal sent him money, caused his supplies not to run out, or caused a stranger to give him the things he needed for free. These things did happen in the New Testament (Matt 17:27; 14:19-21; 21:2-3). The following two paragraphs come from the same letter, one near the beginning, the other near the end. The first asks for a miracle, the second is a full-blown visualization technique to get everyone to send everything possible:
April 7, 1947I have to tell you candidly and frankly, that every APPEARANCE—every visible circumstance—says the work is doomed, and we will be shut off the air on our two most powerful and important stations, XEG, and XERB, by the 15th of this month, April! In fact, there is no visible hope that anything can now save the work. GOD MUST PERFORM A MIRACLE! ...
...Now, as never before, the work needs generous offerings from some who can—if their heart is yielded to God and made willing—put five or ten thousand dollars into GOD’S WORK. We need many offerings of a hundred dollars or more. But—most important—those of you who do not have such amounts, DON’T THINK THAT BECAUSE OF THE GREAT NEED THE WIDOW’S MITES WILL DO NO GOOD—there must be a quick, air-mail SHOWER of WIDOW’S MITES if this need is to be met. Just send QUICKLY—by air-mail—and if a larger sum, by WESTERN UNION TELEGRAPH, the largest sum YOU can, whether a dollar or ten thousand.
Building the Guilt Trip
It is an unusual person who does not sometimes feel guilty before God. Mr. Armstrong often stepped into the role of the authoritarian parent (claiming to represent God) and gave his co-workers a stiff lecture about their laziness. He could not have known their personal income and expenses—there were too many co-workers for that to be possible. When he chastised them for non-payment, he never seemed to consider that they might have given everything they had after receiving his last letter and actually needed to pay some of their own bills in order not to bring disgrace to Christianity by their bad example.
These are among the dozens of accusations against co-workers:
June 9:1947:Suddenly it had gone thousands of dollars behind, because some of our Co-Workers had grown lax and careless.
November 11, 1949: Neverthe less, while the ACTIVITIES of this work, and the RESULTS accomplished, and the BLESSING FROM GOD, have steadily increased thru this year, our co-workers have at the same time STEADILY LET DOWN!
May 23, 1958: This is an EMERGENCY letter. It must be short, and quick to the point! Please put this ahead of everything you have to do!
Right now God is blessing His work as never before, while many of you Co-Workers are slacking off in your part!
The expressions "slacking off" or "slackening" are in 19 other letters. The guilt trip was taken further when those who did not give enough were threatened with the Lake of Fire. This letter was written when Mrs. Armstrong was suffering from an intestinal blockage:
March 2, 1967:Many professing to be Church MEMBERS say, when a Co-Worker letter arrives, in a grumbling, complaining disgust: "Oh, that’s another of Mr. Armstrong’s REQUESTS for MONEY," and many don’t even read the letter!
Are YOU one of those? If so, LET ME BURN YOUR EARS before the Almighty GOD burns YOU in the Lake of FIRE! If that has been YOUR attitude-if YOU are only on the GETTING side, and SHUN helping, and giving to the cause of GOD, then I say to you ON AUTHORITY OF JESUS CHRIST, if you don’t REPENT and QUICKLY, and change that hostile, despicable, detestable attitude, you DO NOT BELONG in GOD’S CHURCH! You are some of the ROTTEN, PUTRID, spiritual WASTE that has been PLUGGED UP INSIDE OF THE SPIRITUAL BODY OF CHRIST’S WIFE, just as physical waste is plugged up in my dear wife’s body! And the living Jesus is just as able to EXPEL YOU from the spiritual Body of HIS WIFE as He is to expel this physical waste from my wife’s body!
January 15, 1962: MANY OF YOU WHO ARE ABLE AND OUGHT TO PLEDGE HAVE FAILED OR REFUSED!
Brethren, do you realize this is the work of ALMIGHTY GOD? Do you realize HE is holding you accountable, according to your ability? It is not yet too late-but if you become a spiritual slacker, there is a Lake of Fire looming ahead, and I say to you in all sincerity and love, and by authority of Jesus Christ, you had better begin to fear and TREMBLE! This is EXPECTED of you, and if we don’t do MORE than expected, we are UNPROFITABLE SERVANTS, and Jesus Christ says that the unprofitable servants are to be thrown into the Lake of Fire! I did not decree that-CHRIST DID!
There is no doubt that people who do not obey Christ will be put into the lake of fire. But in these letters, Mr. Armstrong makes failure to obey him the same as failure to obey Christ. Beside the "stick" of the Lake of Fire, he also dangled the "carrot" of a Place of Safety for those who supported him:
December 8, 1947:Every individual who HEEDS this warning, turns to God, is WATCHING and PRAYING ALWAYS, being filled with God’s Spirit, living by every Word of God, with a life consecrated to Him, will be given special divine protection—taken beforehand to a place of SAFETY—preserved thru the final horrifying tribulation, time of plagues and human anguish soon to visit this earth!
But if we to whom God has revealed this terrible future thru His divine prophecies fail to heed it—if we fail to each play his or her full part in WARNING this nation and the world, now, while we may—then God says we shall not escape, but He will require the blood of this entire people at our hands!…
I tell you, ON THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS CHRIST, IT IS COMING! Many of you NOW, are in financial condition to DO A LOT MORE than you are doing for GOD’S CAUSE...
Prophecy the Reason for Urgency
Mr. Armstrong usually asked for money to pay specific bills or for specific future projects. His reason for not waiting for money to be available to start the new project was nearly always the same: time was short and the Great Tribulation and the Return of Christ was near. He continually reminded individuals that they would not need their property soon, while he piled up millions of dollars of property in Pasadena. Many of the prophetic reasons he gave to urgently collect money have proven false:
February 14, 1941:Dear Co-Workers, He is able to supply every cent of this need—and He WILL, if you join me in BELIEVING EARNEST PRAYER, and each does his VERY UTMOST, sending the largest offering you possibly can, even at great sacrifice. Our work is God’s work. We must not slacken or let down. We must press forward harder now than ever! TIME IS SHORT! We are near the END! Soon the true Gospel will be BARRED from the air.
58 years later, the Gospel has not been barred from the air.
January 23, 1945:Where are we, now, in the prophetic unfolding of God’s PLAN? We are already IN the very crisis at the close of this age, spoken of by Daniel the prophet. We are in that period portrayed by the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—of the Book of Revelation. Jesus explained these in His Olivet prophecy (Mat. 24). The false prophets representing a false, counterfeit Christ, have appeared.
...Expenses are mounting past $1,000 weekly. So PRAY! Respond, by return AIRMAIL with the largest offering you can. It’s URGENT! We can’t falter! God bless you for standing by me!
The false prophets he identified are dead, the prophecy has yet to be fulfilled.
May 17, 1946:This lull in between World War II, and the final great ATOMIC WAR now acknowledged by leading observers in Washington as a definite possibility within FIVE YEARS, is the most dangerous time of our history!… Soon it is prophesied, THERE WILL BE A FAMINE OF EVEN HEARING THE WORD OF GOD PREACHED! We cannot delay. We dare not let down! This is by far the most important business in this world. WHAT an opportunity, NOW! Soon that opportunity will be GONE—TOO LATE! Think of it! TWO THOUSAND precious souls reached with every dollar you put into this vital, glorious work!
HOW MANY of those dollars are you able to send, now, in this present emergency?
November 11, 1949: BUT WE MUST HAVE YOUR HELP, AND IT MEANS REAL SACRIFICE ON YOUR PART!
This is the most important work and activity on earth today! WE ARE IN A TIME OF PEACE FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF ALLOWING ME TO PROCLAIM THIS MESSAGE TO THE WORLD! In a few years YOUR MONEY, YOUR PROPERTY, will be worthless, or blown to bits. Present so-called "peace" won’t last! We are near the end of this world—this age—this civilization! ONLY THE WORK OF GOD COUNTS NOW!
November 20, 1957: What does this new WORLD CRISIS mean? It means God’s work MUST speed up, even as hell-bent Science and Technology are SPEEDING UP toward world-destruction. It means that this great work of God must SPEND MORE MONEY THAN BEFORE! IT MEANS the expenses of this work are speeding up—and so must the income!!!
...The time for thinking of pleasures, the things we can buy to enjoy, the things we’d like to do that take money, IS PAST, if we’re AWAKE to the FACTS and URGENCY of the hour!
No Guidance in Following Bible
While the co-worker letters contained numerous requests for money, and asked for all kinds of sacrifice, they contained almost no guidance as to how co-workers might balance these requests with commands in the Bible:
If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs (Deut 15:7-8).
But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1Jn 3:17).
A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children... (Prv 13:22).
But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1Tim 5:8).
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27).
Thanks to computer searching, we can be nearly certain that Herbert Armstrong never explained these verses in his co-worker letters. He talked about the giving of "widow’s mites" in 98 letters, but never once talked about helping to care for widows. Co-workers were left completely on their own to determine how to balance their contributions to Herbert Armstrong’s work with helping those they know that were in need, helping take care of their spouse, taking care of their children, planning for their education, paying for medical bills, or buying things that would save them money in the long run (for example: new, energy-efficient appliances can pay for themselves in a few years by reducing utility bills).
If a person were to literally believe what Herbert Armstrong said, that he was the only voice that God was using to speak, and that the whole world would be over in a few years, how could they use any money on themselves and their families when they receive a message like this in the mail:
January 29, 1948:NOWHERE else can this money do so much good, or reach so many people! Except ALMIGHTY GOD interferes, this world faces certain DOOM—utter annihilation of human life on this globe by atomic destruction at the hand of man! The glorious GOOD NEWS of the coming KINGDOM OF GOD, and the SECOND COMING OF CHRIST to at last straighten everything out for us and bring a blinded and deceived humanity understanding, peace, and joyful salvation—the true GOSPEL of Jesus Christ—must now be shouted in great power to the entire world. Soon it will be TOO LATE. NOW is the time! YOU have your part, just as I have mine. I’m doing my very best—will YOU do ALL that YOU CAN? Please rush your offering, as large as possible, as soon as possible—air-mail (now only 5 cents) or even by telegraph.
God bless you—SOMEHOW I know we will be carried through, and this great work will survive and continue on, TO THE END!
But his work did not endure to the end. A great many of his co-workers did not help others in need, did not attend to their own medical needs, did not plan for their children’s education, did not plan for their retirement, did not plan for their own funerals and now they are dead. "The End" predicted by Herbert Armstrong did not come in his or his listener’s life times and his "great work" is gone. This writer knows of many people who suffered greatly because of the money sent to Herbert Armstrong, and others who appeared to receive miraculous protection through it all—the Eternal may well have honored their zeal. But all of these co-workers will be judged by scriptures like the ones listed above (1Pe 1:17; 2Tim 3:16), not by their response to the co-worker letters of Herbert Armstrong!
Several places, Herbert Armstrong claimed that he would not ask co-workers to do anything that he would not do. He also talked about how he suffered more than any of his readers would ever know. But he virtually never shared any information about how much money he personally received, the type of house he lived in, the cost of his office facilities, the type of clothes he bought, etc. When he wrote about his own personal wealth he was usually claiming to be giving up some of it.
He did sell his home (which was partially paid for by the local congregation) and put the money into "the work" in 1944. But this "forced" him to eat in restaurants for the next three years as he lived in various rented rooms without kitchens. (Most poor people I know who find themselves without a kitchen eat sandwiches and raw fruits and vegetables). Three years later, he admitted that this expense of eating in restaurants was equal to a house payment: "It [the new home] came to us with no down-payment except just three monthly payments in advance, and on monthly payments which just equal what we have had to spend in restaurants for food" (June 9, 1947).
Did Mr.Armstrong stop eating in restaurants regularly after he bought the home? People who knew him at that time say "no". Did he encourage his co-workers to buy homes? His letters never indicate such.
A January 12, 1958 letter indicates that he was planning to personally save $100 per month for emergencies or to take care of Loma should he die. He never encouraged any such saving among co-workers.
In the late 1970’s when court proceedings and private investigations delved into Herbert Armstrong’s finances, they found that he had a salary of over $200,000 per year, benefits worth hundreds of thousands, and assets he personally used worth millions. When Mr. Armstrong entertained the Ambassador College seniors in the 1970s, he would boast that his table setting cost over $100,000. If he could have served the seniors on a $1000 table setting, every poor person in the church worldwide could have have had a new pair of shoes.
No Spiritual Gifts for Co-Workers
Herbert Armstrong virtually never taught about spiritual gifts, even though the Bible contains a lot about them (Rom 1:11-13; 12:6-8; 1Cor 12; 14; Eph 4:11-15; 1Pet 4:8-11—to help study these, ask for our free paper, How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans). Now that he is gone, those who followed him are having a very difficult time teaching new people from the Bible. We have not prayed for spiritual gifts, and if we have them, they have not been developed. Mr Armstrong’s approach was simple—it was just nothing like New Testament teaching:
November 20, 1945:...MY PART in the work is to conduct it, do the preaching and writing—and while YOUR PART in the work is to provide the financial means to keep it going...
Little Concept of Divine Guidance
Herbert Armstrong seemed to have little concept that the Eternal could guide his ministry by dream or vision—or even by supplying money for the projects that He wanted, and by not supplying money for the projects that He did not want. Mr. Armstrong seemed to regard any apparent "setback" as a failure of co-workers to contribute. The apostle Paul lists many beatings and real setbacks as signs of his apostleship (2Cor 11:22-28). He also shows how the Spirit guided them to do things that they would not have humanly chosen:
After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us" (Acts 16:7-9).
Herbert Armstrong saw every possible opportunity as "an open door" to walk through. He said this so often that his co-workers (including myself) believed it. But the truth of the matter is that numerous religious organizations did the same thing that he did—as long as they had enough money. Mr. Armstrong virtually never asked co-workers to pray with him and send money only if the Eternal showed them that a particular project was His will. He almost never peacefully said that "if this project is the Eternal’s will, He will fund it, and if not, I know that I am not responsible to do it." When projects became possible, he asked his co-workers to fund them, and went looking for more projects. If existing projects fell into a snag, the co-workers suddenly had to bail them out.
October 25, 1954:Now, in addition, in order to keep the network stations on the air thru the summer, Mr. Mattson had been gradually getting behind with XEG, XELO, and XERB and XERF. The last of September they had suddenly demanded that all the unpaid balances be paid immediately, or we would be thrown off the air.
I want you Co-Workers to know just how near this work has come, and just how close it is this very moment, to being STOPPED—KILLED! This is the crisis we are in!
Mr. Armstrong did not present the facts honestly and say that he "will have to drop one or more stations for a period of time". He says "killed" and "thrown off the air" (that expression is used in 10 other letters). If Herbert Armstrong had a divine revelation to place his program on as many stations as possible and never go off any of them, one might understand the panic here. But in reality, Mr. Armstrong frequently dropped stations that were producing little response for their cost. He dropped subscribers from his mailing lists who had not responded in a certain length of time. Could not he realize that the Eternal might sometimes show him ahead of time which stations not to go on because they would not bear much fruit?
70s - 80’s: Milder, But No Apology
The letters of the 1970s and 1980s were milder than those that went before. After the "1975 in prophecy" concept failed, new dates were not set for Christ’s return. The motivations used to "contribute now" were more like "the end is near" or "we are in the gun lap". Also, the wealth of the WCG became more generally known and it was harder to ask co-workers to sacrifice when they knew that Mr. Armstrong and top assistants were living in million-dollar mansions, chauffeured in limousines, and flying in 20 million-dollar aircraft. But Herbert Armstrong never publicly apologized to anyone for their great personal sacrifice in sending every spare cent to him only to see it used for a false prophetic warning or a $1000 dinner at a restaurant.
It seems that Mr. Armstrong never did attract any wealthy donors—possibly the wealthy could see through his marketing techniques. Only the Eternal knows how many people were genuinely interested in the Bible truth that he taught, but stopped all contact with him when they received his first money-grabbing co-worker letter. This writer remembers his parents considering that very thing.
Living Past the Legacy
Herbert Armstrong reached millions of people with Bible truth, but we have no way to know how many really established a relationship with God, and how many were simply humanly convinced by his great marketing skills that he was God’s representative. We cannot judge Mr. Armstrong’s motives for asking for so much money. Did he believe it was all God’s will, or was he partly selfish? What we do know is that his legacy of co-worker letters has been preserved for all to see. It is on the Internet; it is in books and magazines. Anyone who studies Mr. Armstrong in the future may well think of 1 Timothy 6:5 (NIV):
And constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
People who believe that God’s future "work" will be based on Mr. Armstrong could start a massive effort to suppress negative history about him. But is the Eternal in desperate need of people to "cover" for Him so He can work?
The "work" of Herbert Arm strong is gone. His broadcasts are off the air, his writings are nearly all out of print, his buildings are being sold and the organization he founded is a fraction of its former size—no longer teaching his doctrines. Those upholding Mr. Armstrong as a great man are divided among many small groups. Even if one of them were to rise up and build a big organization with 100,000 members, it will be a new organization with mostly new people, and considered the work of the new leader, not a continuation of the work of Mr. Armstrong.
The method Herbert Armstrong used to finance his work is not worth keeping. The methods used in the New Testament are worth keeping. The truth that Herbert Armstrong taught is worth keeping—it can be much better taught without his name attached to it. We need to look inward to see what truths we know that we can teach from the Bible without having to refer to Mr. Armstrong’s writings. We need to look outward to the world around us, to understand the questions in the minds of people today and how we can best serve and teach them. We need to look upward to our Father in heaven, and ask, "Please lead us, we want You to show us what to do."
He Will! (Heb 13:5; 1Jn 5:14)
—Norman S. Edwards