Monday, November 10, 2014

Herbert W Armstrong's Doctrines and Fruit

Hi! I'm glad to see you're here for part two. (You can find part one of this series here.) I was a little afraid you wouldn't come back. At least not for a while anyway, what with all the false prophet business and questioning HWA's apostleship in my last post.

Guys, I know this is controversial stuff. I've approached this series with even more prayer and input than usual. At this point in the Church of God timeline, it's hard to find the right balance when discussing Herbert Armstrong. There's some people who hear about him nearly every week at church, and who believe he was an apostle God used to restore true doctrine. Others rarely hear his name, or came into the COGs decades after his death. To them, it's hard to understand why anyone would get worked up over HWA.

To be fair, those folks have a point. The modern COGs have largely left behind HWA's bombastic prophecies and date-setting, although speculative prophecy is still their calling card. The leaders of most COG groups have ditched HWA's trademark opulence. They've had no other choice, since each successive split chops their tithe base. They've largely excised Herbert Armstrong from the religious movement he started, holding to a handful of his doctrines and theories.  Then, when people criticize HWA, they feel justified in stating that HWA is tangential, even irrelevant, to their religious practices. I would know. I did it, too. For years.

It's not that simple, guys. It's not that simple both because of who and what HWA claimed to be, and because his teachings are still being perpetuated today.

HWA claimed to be an apostle divinely inspired by Jesus Christ, and said we would know his message came from God because his predictions would come to pass. Which they didn't. Since God didn't appear to back him up on his predictions, we have to question whether he really was an apostle, and thus ask if the rest of the message really came from God.

If the test he gave for his genuine apostleship failed, then the entire message must be re-evaluated. Problem is, it's not. It's being perpetuated. Even the failed prophecies! The COG groups who admit that he was wrong and rush to distance themselves from him still rely on the framework by which Herbert Armstrong misinterpreted prophecy. Is it any wonder why their predictions fail, too? They try to extract the man yet retain what he taught. Beloved of God, this is not good. We have a duty to reevaluate the entire system.

Today, I'd like to look at two more common arguments those in the COGs make when trying to explain why the man who pieced together their doctrinal foundation is not relevant to their beliefs. I know these things aren't fun. I know they aren't inspiring. They aren't particularly enjoyable for me to write, either. But they are things that you in the COGs, especially the young adults, need to hear and consider today. 

3. Herbert Armstrong must have been inspired by God to restore these truths, because no one else taught them.

It's true that Armstrong taught a very eclectic mix of beliefs. Many of them, however, can be traced back to others that were part of his religious background.

The COGs descend from the Millerite movement of the mid-1800s American midwest. Joseph Bates, one of the co-founders of the Seventh Day Adventist denomination, introduced the Millerites to observance of the Saturday Sabbath. He received this doctrine from the Seventh-Day Baptists. Armstrong references William Miller, a baptist preacher, as responsible for a resurgence in Sabbath-keeping in the American midwest (Mystery of the Ages, p. 288). But William Miller never kept the seventh day Sabbath. That was introduced by his followers, led by Ellen G. White. Most of the teachings that HWA espoused seem to have originated with people and organizations who emerged from the Millerite Movement.

William Miller is best known for his prediction that Jesus Christ would return on October 23, 1844, which resulted in what is known as the Great Disappointment. After the Great Disappointment many of Miller's followers refused to accept the obvious truth that his predictions had failed. They changed the narrative then forged ahead. The Millerite movement, now thoroughly Sabbatarian, took on the name Seventh Day Adventist in 1860.

At that very same meeting, an Elder in the Millerite movement by the name of Gilbert Cranmer officially broke away from the SDA church in protest over Ellen G. White and her visions. Cranmer gathered together a loosely knit group under the working name "General Conferences of the Church of God". Cranmer taught that the whole Law of Moses was never abolished and should still be observed. The group added the term "(Seventh Day)" to the name in 1923.

Herbert W. Armstrong was ordained by the Church of God (Seventh Day) in 1931. He later exited the COG-7 during a period of governmental splits in the organization to start his own congregation in Eugene, Oregon. (The Kingdom of the Cults, Walter Martin, p. 510-511).

It can be demonstrated that much of what Herbert Armstrong taught regarding prophecy came from William Miller. Just take a look at this prophetic chart from William Miller in 1843 and see if you recognize this from Armstrong's works and even modern publications in the COGs. It should appear quite familiar to you. So here we have Herbert Armstrong whose prophetic claims failed in no small part because he perpetuated the earlier failures of William Miller. Armstrong extracted the man William Miller yet kept his failed teachings. And the COGs are falling into exactly the same pit right now!

But William Miller isn't the only source from whom Armstrong borrowed.

G. G. Rupert was born a Methodist but later joined the Seventh Day Adventist movement. He went on to found the Independent Church of God. He believed Christians were required to keep the laws of the Old Testament, including Holy Days and dietary laws; taught church eras; and taught that Sabbath-keeping groups were the only true Christian churches. In 1917, Rupert started a periodical he called the "Remnant of Israel" which espoused a form of British Israelism, claiming the United States was descended from the tribe of Ephraim.

Many sources claim that Ambassador College employees found boxes of the "Remnant of Israel" publication in HWA's basement. If this is true, it would seem to support claims that Armstrong borrowed heavily from Rupert's writings. Similarities between HWA's writings and Rupert's writings, including topics, conclusions, and general writing style, lends considerable weight on its own. As we can see, Herbert Armstrong was demonstrably not the only one teaching what he did.

Some have set out to demonstrate that Armstrong plagiarized portions of many others' publications and passed them off as his own research. (See our article "This Has All Happened Before" for more details.) The most notable case is HWA's United States and the British Commonwealth in Prophecy, which was published in 1954, and appears to have largely plagiarized Judah's Sceptre and Joseph's Birthright, written by John Allen Harden in 1902. Joseph Tkach, Jr., a leader of the post-1995 Worldwide Church of God, had this to say about the booklet:
"In fact, it is no secret that Herbert Armstrong's "The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy" was copied from a book titled Judah's Scepter and Joseph's Birthright by J. H. Allen. It is possible to run down almost the entire list of "new truths" supposedly revealed to Mr. Armstrong and point out where he got them and what preceded them." (Joseph Tkach, Jr., Transformed by Truth, Chapter 7).
WCG withdrew the United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy from circulation in 1990. Say what you want about the Tkaches, but you must recognize that they took a stand for what they believed, even though they knew withdrawing the booklet would be wildly unpopular among the WCG membership. They realized that one cannot simply remove the man yet retain the failed material. You can compare excerpts from both books here.

(For more on how many of the doctrines "revealed" to HWA were borrowed from the COG7, we recommend you read our articles "50 Truths part 1" and "50 Truths part 2".)

So is it a crime to write about the ideas and theories of others? Of course not. I'm clearly using research from other people in this post. Although I am citing it and giving others credit for their work. The problem comes when one passes off someone else's ideas and writings as his or her own. It's even more problematic when they claim the ideas came from God.

Herbert Armstrong never cited Rupert, Allen, Dugger, Dodd, White, Smith, the Watchtower Society or any of the other writers from whom he "borrowed" in his own writings. Remember, in his November 29, 1954 co-worker letter, he certified that his teachings came not from from man, but was revealed by Jesus Christ.
"No, I know of no one else who was thrust into the Ministry of Jesus Christ, untaught by man by the living Christ through His written word, in the manner in which I was." -Herbert W. Armstrong, Autobiography, p. 318-319.
When he said that he was "untaught by man" what he really meant was he was never formally trained as a preacher. He admitted that God spoke to him through the writings of other men.
Herbert Armstrong was not by any means the only one teaching what he did. Not by a long shot. If you really want to see something, we recommend you read the book Churches That Abuse by Ron Enroth. There are a great many groups out there with absolutely no connection to the COGs who teach strikingly similar things and make eerily similar claims to that of Herbert Armstrong, and this book documents several.

There is nothing inherently wrong with HWA learning doctrinal truth from other people. It's the model God created for His church. But there is a problem with him passing off the teachings of others as his own, claiming they came directly from God. Which leads to my next point.

4. Herbert Armstrong wasn't perfect. No one is. By your rationale, you would have rejected David - a man after God's own heart - as king of Israel because of his sins with Bathsheba.

And by this same rationale, would this same defense apply to Nimrod, or the Pope, or Ellen G White?

I don't think that Herbert W. Armstrong had to be perfect to start a church. There's only been one perfect man, and HWA wasn't Him. HWA wasn't perfect, and neither am I, neither is my pastor, neither is my Bible study leader... the list goes on. And includes everyone. All of us have sinned and fallen short of God's perfection. So I'm not going to ramble on about the Czar's golden flatware or Steuben crystal or $2,500 bottles of Remy Martin Lousi XIII cognac in the special baccarat decanter. I won't focus on the makeup flip-flop, the Pentecost controversy, or on the families destroyed by WCG's policy on divorce and remarriage in the years before HWA's own divorce.

I originally planned not to mention the most troubling accusation against HWA. But then I noticed that, in one of the Living Church of God articles I quote later, Rod Meredith states that those who accuse HWA of "major sins" often have no proof whatsoever. (Note that he said "often" and not "never.") I simply cannot let that statement go unchallenged. So I'll just include this link for those who are inclined to read about it. It's important to note that HWA never filed a libel suit against David Robinson for the claims he made in his book; he simply tried to prevent the book from being published, as the link's author also points out. The allegations were reported as fact during HWA's divorce proceedings with Ramona Martin. Even UCG's own Gary Antion is reported to have said he knew the claims were true since the 1970s. And with that, I will move on.

Matthew 7:15-17 tells us we will know a false prophet by his fruit. What was HWA's fruit like? What was he known for, the fruit of the spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control? As Christians, we are supposed to grow in the fruit of the spirit over the course of our lives. What does the fruit of his church look like? Gentleness, love, forbearance, kindness? Good, healthy trees don't grow bad fruit, Matthew 7:17 tells us. Did HWA gently tend the sheep in his care? Did he gather the lambs in his arms, as Jesus instructed the apostle Peter to do? Or was he a different kind of shepherd?

There are many examples of difficult words HWA wrote to the WCG membership. Perhaps the most troubling letter was written on March 2, 1967, addressed to the "Brethren and Co-Heirs of God." At this time, his wife, Loma, was critically ill with a bowel obstruction. Armstrong wrote that the Holy Spirit produced her tragic illness to awaken Church leadership and membership to the fact that they had become spiritually sluggish. It's a long letter, so please allow me to quote from the most relevant sections. The only changes I have made to these sections are to refrain from HWA's practice of capitalizing letters for added emphasis, only because it slows down my typing too much.
"Brethren, I have suffered as perhaps never before, with my wife lying there - with a bowel blockage that held locked inside of her putrid human waste - knowing that unless God grants her continued life by a miracle of healing, I would have to go it alone, without her. And Jesus has looked down upon His beloved wife, whom He loves, as I so deeply love my wife. And as I have seen my wife about to die unless purged of this physical poison, so Jesus sees His wife - our church - about to die for eternity, unless we are purged of our spiritual poison."
"It may be that God is still waiting for this spiritual awakening to spread through the whole church - on down to the last member - even you! before my dear wife can be delivered, and completely healed and restored to active, vigorous health."
"Many professing to be church members say, when a co-worker letter arrives, in a grumbling, complaining disgust, 'Oh, that's just 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 the spiritual body of Christ's wife, just as the 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."
So how has the Church been "falling down on the job," as HWA asserts? Well, the church was in the middle of a building campaign to expand Ambassador College and church mail processing facilities. Without more space for students or room to process mail, the work could not grow. Special offerings for the building fund - those over and above tithes and regular offerings - had dwindled to about half the amount from the previous year, even though membership was up by 30 percent.
"Think of it! How ashamed God must be with this, His Church!"
I have no words to follow up on the content of this letter, other than to urge you to heed the words of Hebrews 13:7. Remember what those who rule over you have taught you, whose faith you follow. Consider the outcome of their conversations and conduct. You can read the full text of the letter here if you wish.

So why am I writing all this? I must really despise Herbert W. Armstrong and harbor bitterness toward everyone the COG ministry. Not really. I was indifferent about the man for years. It's hard to work up a deep loathing in a matter of months. Even now, as I read his letter calling people I've known and loved "rotten, putrid spiritual waste," all I can really do is shake my head. And the ministers? Some of these guys were a big part of my childhood and teenage years. It sometimes pains me to quote men who, years ago, taught this shy young girl to play YOU basketball or shoot a rifle at youth camp.

Maybe it's because I think everyone in the COGs is a dummy? No, that's not it either. Remember, I was there for years. It took me almost two years to untangle the convoluted doctrinal web to the point I felt marginally comfortable leaving. In some cases, I'm still working on it. And I still have family there. A few of you folks even still consider me to be a friend.

I know. I must be really bored, so I sit around picking on HWA and the COGs all day. I need to get a life. I probably should just turn off my computer and watch "Dancing with the Stars" like everyone else. I've "thrown the baby out with the bathwater" and now I obviously don't have anything else going on. No, I assure you, that's not it either.

So why do I do it? Believe it or not, it's because I care about you. First of all, God loves you and calls after you. That is my primary motivation. Second, Galatians 4 and 5 have some strong words for those who believe observance of Sinai Covenant laws factor into their salvation. I'm concerned for your eternal spiritual welfare. 

I could just hang it up and use my computer to play Candy Crush Saga while the COGs come to nothing, like Gamaliel described in Acts 5:38. Surely, deep down, you know that's where the COGs are headed. But that doesn't mean I want you to suffer through the fallout. I've been through splits, and I've cried through the isolation. It's not going to get any better as time marches on, and deep-down you know. You hope it won't, but you know it will. My heart aches when I think of the future the youngest in my family have ahead of them. Herbert W Armstrong is primarily responsible for the doctrines and the interpretations and the points of view and the attitudes that have caused splinter after splinter. If holding to those is what God expects of you, what He requires for salvation, then it's worth it. Anything is. But what if it isn't? What if the teachings of HWA handed down through his disciples are not what God requires of you at all? What if the problems you see all around you, the splits, the egos at the top, the failed prophecies, the difficult scriptures, the anomalies with history and science, and all the rest, aren't because of a cosmic conspiracy against you but rather because the system itself is fundamentally flawed and it's just behaving as all fundamentally flawed systems do? Jesus came for you to have an abundant life, not the one that lies ahead of you in the COGs. 

Finally, I want you to experience the full blessings of the New Covenant. The blessing of salvation by grace, through faith in the shed blood of Jesus. The blessing of peace that surpasses all understanding. The blessing of truly understanding grace, and the restoration it allows in your relationships with others. None of these are possible while you are actively steeped in HWA's doctrines and his misconceptions about the historic Christian faith. In my next post, I will explore one of the biggest myths in the COG young adult mind - the belief that Herbert W Armstrong and his mistakes don't influence their churches today.

You can find part 1 of this series here. You can find part 3 of this series here.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11


Anonymous said...

Great job, Martha! You hit it on the head as usual!

Anonymous said...


Looking forward to more. Letter from Herbert...spooky. As a COGWAdite...ya gotsta crawl out from under rocks

The Wanderer

Anonymous said...

As a still-recovering, still-allergic-to-religion, ex-member of WCG ~ I very much appreciate your well-researched, graciously-worded, FAIR blog! Helpful and healing. Thank you, Martha!

Link to your blog posted by Ray Lussier on FB group "WCG Survivors."

Mike said...

Hi Martha! Good post! Just a few weeks ago, while this subject was on my mind, I ran across this scripture (I haven't referenced other Bible translations to make sure it was a proper translation). At first I was kind of shocked to see it (their plagerism...specifically HWA's) so precisely spoken about but then I found it funny and had to laugh! (I know... peculiar sense of humor!) Anyway, here is the verse...Jer. 23:30 "I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from Me."