Herbert Armstrong’s18 Restored Truths Report Card
A–Armstrong restored this truth as he claimed.
B–Borrowed truth—others taught this before Armstrong, so he did not restore it.
C–Copy of another "truth"—largely another aspect of a previous point that stands or falls with this one.
D–Doubtful value—key aspects of this teaching are difficult to prove from scripture.
E–Error—the main point of the teaching is not Biblical.
During the last few months of his life (Fall 1985), Herbert Armstrong would often speak in Pasadena auditorium sermons of his life’s accomplishment—the "truths he restored to the Church of God". This writer was there to hear those sermons. The number of "truths" and their order sometimes varied, but there was almost always between 16 and 19 points. A summary of these sermons was printed in The Worldwide News on August 25, 1986, Page 5. We will use this as the basis of our evaluation.
What right do I, the publisher of a small newsletter, have to evaluate the life’s work of a man who taught millions? The same right that a young Herbert Armstrong had to evaluate the life’s work of Plato, Constantine, Darwin, Christ and Andrew Duggar. Mr. Armstrong found the first three men very influential, but in error; the fourth man perfect and the fifth man (a leader in the Church of God Seventh Day) to be a good man in some areas, but lacking in other areas.
All of us must make evaluations of the work of other men. We do not judge their eternal fate, but we judge their works and fruits, and determine to what degree we will accept their teachings and help them in their work. It was necessary for the early church to judge (test) their leaders, even those who claimed to be apostles: "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars" (Rev 2:2).
Most members of the Worldwide Church of God were not in the habit of testing their leaders and their teachings. They read only literature from their headquarters, which never contradicted their leader’s teachings. People who read "outside" papers that sincerely challenged the teachings of Herbert Armstrong were usually disfellowshipped from the WCG. But if we are going to "test those who say they are apostles", we must look at their claims, then look at the Bible and historical sources and see if they are true.
We would certainly like to acknowledge that there are many things to Herbert Armstrong's credit:
1) Much of what he taught was truth from the Bible—more so than many other groups.
2) He diligently taught it for most of his life.
3) He made a great effort to train others to teach his doctrines.
4) He made an effort to promulgate his doctrines to the entire world.
Nevertheless, we cannot use the size and scope of Mr. Armstrong’s work to prove it was all correct. If size were the measure of truth, then we should all become Catholics.
We must also realize that Herbert Armstrong never claimed that his doctrines came as the result of the direct speaking of the Eternal. (By contrast, many books of the Bible did come this way). Mr. Armstrong claimed to be taught by the written word of God, beginning with his "six-month intensive study". This is the same written word of God available to you and me. Mr. Armstrong’s writings never mention the use of a Greek or Hebrew concordance such as the Englishman’s Greek Concordance or the Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance. Yet these books, or their computerized equivalents, are vital to understanding the meaning and use of Greek and Hebrew words in the Bible. They are also vital to establishing every place where the Bible talks about a particular concept. (Englishman’s concordances do not work when a Greek or Hebrew word is inconsistently translated—which happens fairly often.)
Herbert Armstrong did claim that the Eternal guided his mind as he studied and taught him the truth, but this process was obviously not 100% correct. He made major changes in his teachings on Church government, divorce & remarriage, the counting of Pentecost, make-up and others. He also made numerous prophecies that did not come to pass. Herbert Armstrong’s teachings must be evaluated in the light of the Bible—this author finds no proof whatever that a doctrine is true just because Herbert Armstrong taught it.
The purpose of this evaluation will be to determine 1) if each of the "18 truths" really are true, and 2) if Herbert Armstrong actually restored each teaching or if it was taught by others. We cannot go into an exhaustive doctrinal study on each point, but will give brief explanations and references to other literature.
We are reprinting the entire text of the Worldwide News article as it appears to be a sincere effort to summarize Mr. Armstrong’s teaching. Each point will be followed with a "grade" and comments. Please see the above card for the "grading" system used. The point of this article is not to condemn Herbert Armstrong, but to show what a difficult time Sabbatarians will have if they identify themselves as Herbert Armstrong followers and base their teaching upon his work.
HWA’s 18 Restored Truths:
1. The government of God.When Christ comes, He will restore God’s government to the whole earth. So you can be sure the one to come in the spirit and power of Elijah would restore God’s government in His Church. When Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong came among the Oregon Conference era of the Church of God (Seventh day), the church had the right name, the law, the Sabbath and the tithing system. But they also had a government of men, with a biannual conference, voting just like they do in the world.
Today, the government of God has been restored to His Church. That’s the kind of government you find in Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12.
EHerbert Armstrong’s understanding of government from the Bible was far better when he wrote his Good News article on the subject in 1939 (available from Servants’ News). The Bible teaches a system where the Eternal Himself places people with spiritual gifts into the Church (1Cor 12:18, Eph 4:11). Herbert Armstrong used the same system of hierarchical control and human ordinations that is used by the Catholic Church. His teaching that "God would correct the man at the top" proved utterly false. Mr. Armstrong named Joseph Tkach as his successor who, for ten years taught numerous doctrines opposite to Mr. Armstrong’s. No matter which doctrines you believe are correct, the Eternal did not stop either leader in their teaching. For an in-depth study of government in the Bible, ask for our paper: How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans?
2. The Gospel of the Kingdom of Godhas been restored after 1,900 years. The Church of God (Seventh Day) did not have a clear understanding of the Gospel: they emphasized what they called a "third angel’s message".
BHerbert Armstrong’s preaching of the Kingdom of God as the Millennium on earth was a fairly common teaching during the past 1900 years (see Servants’ News, May 1998, p. 1). Many prior teachers of this doctrine also predicted specific years for Christ’s return which did not come to pass. To an impartial observer, Mr. Armstrong’s teachings and unfulfilled prophecies seem about the same.
Sometimes, Herbert Armstrong appeared to teach that the "Gospel of the Kingdom of God" was the only use of the word "Gospel" in the Bible. Actually, it is mentioned only 4 times, whereas terms such as the "Gospel of Christ" and the "Gospel of God" occur much more often. It is important to teach all aspects of the Gospel.
3. The purpose of God, that we are to be born of God and become God. God is reproducing Himself, and no other church on earth knows that or preaches it. As a counterfeit they talk about being already born again. Christ is the firstborn of many brethren. Has anyone else been born again by a resurrection from the dead like He was?
DMany groups over hundreds of years have taught that man can become God (see Servants’ News, May 1998, p. 1). Whether this is true or not is mostly an argument of terminology which is impossible to prove from the Scripture because the Scripture specifically never says "man becomes God" or "man cannot become God". Many times, it says that we can be "children of God". The Apostle John read the Old Testament, knew the writers of the New Testament and spent years with Christ. If he did not try to "nail down" the exact status of believers in the future, do we think we can do it by our scriptural arguments? "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2).
4. Who and what is God?The Jews think God is one person. Many people mistakenly think that God the Father is the God of the Old Testament and then Christ came as His Son. Traditional Christianity believes in the trinity, that the Holy Spirit is a person. God is neither one person nor a trinity. God is a Family into which we may be born and also become God. His Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are the begotten children of God. And when we are born of God we will not even be able to sin.
BA variety of trinitarian and non-trinitarian teachings have existed since the third century. Herbert Armstrong was right to point out the errors of the trinity teaching, but he did not "restore" such teaching. He certainly was aware of the non-trinitarian teachings of groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Also, there were many other scriptures regarding the nature of God that neither Herbert Armstrong nor the WCG ever addressed.
The "family of God" concept may be true, but is not found directly in scripture and will therefore always create arguments when taught to people who are allowed to ask questions. We should learn from the analogies in the Bible, but not use them to build more analogies. For example, the Bible teaches that believers are Christ’s body (1Cor 12:27; Eph 1:22-23; Eph 5:30; Col 1:24) and that believers will be the bride of Christ (Rev 19:7-9). If we try to put both of these analogies together, we have Christ marrying himself. Obviously, neither analogy perfectly describes the way things are in heaven. If the Eternal gives someone clear revelation to preach about His nature, then he should teach it. But we should not take our favorite analogy from the Bible and extend it to mean something that the Bible has not said.
5. What is Man?Do we have an immortal soul? Or are we just an animal? What happens at death? The dead are unconscious and they don’t know anything. The Church of God (Seventh Day) people understood some of what happens at death, but not fully. They believed that man did not have a spirit. That’s been explained more fully now.
CThis point is largely a combination of point 3, above (Man to become God), and point 6, below (the spirit in man).
6. The human spirit in man. What makes the difference between a human mind and an animal brain is that there is a human spirit with the human brain. That spirit is not the conscious part of the man. And it needs to be united with the Spirit of God.
BMuch of Mr. Armstrong’s teaching on this subject was the work of Robert Kuhn, a minister of the WCG who had done much research in the study of the sizes of various animal brains, and noted that the human brain was only slightly larger, yet many times more capable. Armstrong gave some credit to Kuhn, but also presented many of Kuhn’s ideas as his own.
The concept of a "spirit in man" is and has been taught by many Christian groups (a search on the Internet will reveal thousands of pages from numerous religions). On the other hand, Adam Clark’s commentary, finished in 1825, says this about Job 32: "...and by the afflatus [divine blowing] of this spirit he [man] become capable of understanding and reason, and consequently of discerning divine truth." These many teachings may not be identical to Mr. Armstrong’s, but the parts that are clearly taught in the Bible have been taught before by others.
7. The Church is only the firstfruits,and not the end of God’s plan of salvation. God isn’t trying to save the whole world yet. It starts with us, and we’re being taught and trained so that we, under Christ, will be the teachers and rulers when Christ comes to rule in the Millennium, when He starts to save the rest of the world.
We have the great opportunity of being made God and, in the future, to rule over others and teach them and help them be converted so they can become children of God, also. And those who are converted during the Millennium will, with us, be kings, priests and teachers for the rest of the world that will be resurrected after the end of the Millennium.
ANearly all "Christian" religions teach that those who are not saved now are going to an ever-burning Hell. This doctrine has been the excuse for the torture, death and "forced conversion" of millions of people throughout history—church leaders justified mistreating another’s body in order to "save its soul". This is the exact opposite of "loving one’s neighbor as oneself."
This writer knows of no teacher before Herbert Armstrong (other than Bible writers) who correctly taught that those who do not know God now will be raised from the dead and given a chance to understand later.
8. The Church is not yet the Kingdom of God,but we are the embryo that will become the Kingdom of God.
DThe question of whether or not the church is "the Kingdom of God in embryo" is another example of introducing new terminology that is not in the Bible, and therefore it is not possible to prove it one way or the other from the Bible. The Bible makes no such comparison. Some religious groups teach that the Kingdom of God is here now, but many other groups look to a future literal Kingdom of God (see Servants’ News, May 1998, p. 1)
Also, some scriptures indicate that we are in some way part of His Kingdom now: "Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (Eph 2:19). "He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love... (Col 1:13).
9. Only those whom God the Father calls and draws to Him can be converted now.No other church knows that or believes it. That’s another truth restored to the Church through Mr. Armstrong. None of us had ever heard that before, except as we got it through Mr. Armstrong. Only those God chooses and calls now can come in and become part of the firstfruits. Satan has deceived the whole world, and the Church is called out of the world.
CThis is an "A" point—very true and good—but it is part of point 7, above. All of these teachings stand or fall together.
10. The resurrection to judgment, the Great White Throne Judgment. God has a plan to save those who have not had an opportunity for salvation and who are now dead in their graves. They have not had the Holy Spirit. Their time is coming. But our time comes first, and we have to fight the devil, and they won’t.
In the judgment, they’ll be found guilty and condemned to death. They’ll have their first chance to know that Christ came and paid the death penalty for them.They’ll be allowed to accept that payment, and they’ll have 100 years to prove they want to live differently than they did in their first life. They can be saved at last.
A&C Many Christian groups preach that there is a resurrection to judgement. The important difference in Mr. Armstrong’s teaching is that the judgement will provide a means for salvation for those who have never had an opportunity. This concept is in some ways a "copy" of #7 & 9, above.
11. The Millennium.The Kingdom of God will rule nations on earth, and Christ and the saints will rule and bring prosperity to the entire earth. The Church of God (Seventh Day) understood the time duration, but, because they did not adequately grasp the full meaning of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, they knew little in the 1930’s of what the Millennium would be like. Salvation will be open to all for the first time since Adam sinned and God closed off the tree of life.
BOther groups have taught that the millennium is a time when the earth will be ruled in righteousness and when salvation will be open to all. Please see the Servants’ News article in the May 1998 issue, page 1).
12. The Holy Spirit coming into us only begets us.It opens our minds so we can understand the coded book, the Bible. Eye has not seen nor ear heard the things God has in store for us, described briefly in the Bible. God does reveal them to His Church by His Spirit that resides in us. Without that Spirit we cannot understand the Bible. Spiritual knowledge comes from the Bible, but by the Holy Spirit.
DMr. Armstrong’s concept of believers being "begotten of God" now and "born of God" at the resurrection is difficult to prove from the scripture since only one Greek work, genao, is used for both "born" and "begotten". Mr. Armstrong wanted to translate genao as "born" in verses like John 3:6: "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit", but "begotten" in verses like 1 John 5:1: "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born [begotten] of God...". This is circular reasoning: the doctrine can be learned from the Bible only if the Bible is translated according to the doctrine.
A study of analogies in the New Testament shows that being "born again" or "begotten of God" was not a slogan of the first century church. The believers did not go around saying "I’m born again" or "I’m begotten again". Rather, the scriptures use a variety of analogies comparing physical life to human life. Mr. Armstrong is correct in pointing out analogies where the change from flesh to spirit is compared to being born of God: "for in Christ Jesus, I [Paul] have begotten you [Corinthians] through the Gospel" (1Cor 4:15). But humans are also compared to already-born babies: "As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby" (Peter 2:2). And finally, they are compared to children or adults: "Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature" (1Cor 14:20).
13. We are only begotten now, not born again. We are heirs, not yet inheritors. The Holy Spirit begets us as children of God, but we are not yet born.
CThis is largely a duplication of the previous point. The holy spirit begetting or birthing believers is taught by numerous Christian groups.
14. The identity of modern Israel. What are America’s roots, our national identity? We are Manasseh, one of the lost 10 tribes of Israel. Numerous other groups have some knowledge of this truth, but no major denomination does. The Church of God (Seventh Day) officially rejected this truth. Mr. Armstrong wrote up the proof in an article and sent it to the leader of that church. You’ll find a copy of the leader’s letter in response in Mr. Armstrong’s autobiography.
BHerbert Armstrong used J. H. Allen’s book to write his own book on this subject (see Servants’ News, November 1998, p. 19). Numerous groups have taught this concept in the past, and numerous groups are teaching it today: the Identity movement (both Sunday and Sabbatarian), some Messianic Jews, and even some Jews in Israel.
15. Prophecy can be understood only if you know that we are the Israelites, and what prophecies apply to us and which do not. Others who do not know Israel’s identity can’t understand, for example, the 30th chapter of Jeremiah and scriptures like that, which show the Great Tribulation will be the time of Jacob’s trouble.
DHerbert Armstrong’s teachings on prophecy are not as unique as most of his listeners believed (most did not listen to other prophecy teachers, so they never knew). Some of his teaching came from the Millerite movement in the 1840’s and other things from the Scofield Reference Bible. In the June/July 1934 Plain Truth, Mr. Armstrong stated: "Most Bible students know, too, that the seventeenth chapter of Revelation tells us the ancient Roman Empire will once more be revived, this time by a federation of ten nations—and it will be the aggressor in war."
While understanding that the British and North American people are largely descendants of Israel is helpful for understanding some aspects of prophecy, this understanding did not help Mr. Armstrong predict world events very well. Many times, he predicted the wrong outcome for leaders, wars and who would join the European Economic Community. Mr. Armstrong predicted the return of Jesus Christ numerous times during his lifetime, all of which were in error (see article on page 17). If an auto mechanic can only repair a small fraction of the vehicles brought to him, no one is going to ask about his secrets of auto repair. When someone makes as many errors in interpreting prophecy as Herbert Armstrong did, few people will be interested in his "keys to prophecy".
16 The annual festivals, the feast days. What other church knows about them or keeps them? Where did you hear it from? God revealed it to Mr. Armstrong.
For seven years he and his wife kept the annual Holy Days alone. And for seven more years they kept God’s Holy Days with the Church in Eugene, Oregon, before God revealed their meaning.
It was not until the end of World War II in 1945 that they began to see that we have to get away from our homes for the Feast of Tabernacles. These Holy Days picture the seven major events in God’s plan of salvation. How many of us would have kept God’s days for 14 years without fully understanding their meaning?
AMr. Armstrong began to keep the holy days on his own and apparently did not learn this practice from any Christian group. Jews have kept them for centuries. Today, many groups keep the holy days, some of which have never heard of the WCG.
17. The authority of the sacred calendar, preserved by the Jews. Before Mr. Armstrong revealed this to the Church of God (Seventh Day), they were confused as to when the year should begin. Mr. Armstrong also made clear the importance of the Jews’ preservation of the weekly cycle.
BMost groups that keep either Passover or all of the Holy Days use the Jewish Calendar. This writer believes that the Jewish Calendar is the best one for groups to use to meet together on the Holy Days. However, Herbert Armstrong did not explain that the Jewish calender has clearly been modified by the Jews, and is not a "sacred calendar" that has been preserved unaltered for thousands of years. He never taught the errors associated with this calendar, nor the somewhat arbitrary decisions that were humanly made. Mr. Armstrong certainly brought nothing new to the study of calendars.
18. Second and third tithe. What other church knows these points? The second tithe is for God’s feast days. Other churches do not keep the feasts, so they have no reason to have second tithe. Third tithe is for the needy, primarily within God’s Church.
EHerbert Armstrong’s view of "second tithe" and "third tithe" are very difficult to prove from the Bible, because those terms do not exist in the Bible. Very few of the strict Orthodox Jews believe that the scriptures require 30% of one’s increase to be tithed in some years. Furthermore, both the Bible and Jewish history only mention tithes on agricultural products. Paul would have been breaking the law to accept tithes because he was not a Levite. When he was arrested, his accusers did not say that he unlawfully received tithes, but had to make up charges. Furthermore, Paul often worked to supply his needs—neither the New Testament nor secular history records any transfer of tithing from the Levites to the New Testament ministry. All the brethren are the new priesthood, not just the ministry (1 Pet 2:5-9). For more information, write for our paper, How Do We Give to the Eternal?
Herbert Armstrong taught many truths, both those listed here and many others. He also taught error—some borrowed, some his own. There are some scriptures that he never explained at all. This writer believes Mr. Armstrong probably taught a higher perentage of truth than most Bible teachers throughout history, but finds it impossible to say that he was "the Elijah" who restored "all things". The process of studying, accepting truth and rejecting error must go on. It is difficult when we come to realize that we may not know as much truth as we once thought. But that is the first step to learning more.
—Norman S. Edwards