Monday, November 24, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving, From My Gentile Family to Yours!

I've always loved Thanksgiving. The emphasis on gratitude, the blessings of great food and the family togetherness. What a God-focused time! And in a post-1995 Church of God family, it's one of the few occasions when everyone is guaranteed to be gathered.

But there's always that point in the meal where the conversation inevitably devolves into politics. You know, the issues where the COGs are emotionally invested, yet believe abstaining from punching a ballot-card keeps them righteous and pure. Anyway, I know you've all been there. The discussion turns to how the United States is going to hell in a hand basket. Abortion. Socialized medicine. Gay marriage. One of these three laments is sure to follow:
a. Well, Americans are just like their forefathers, the Israelites, stubborn and refusing to follow God. What do you expect?
b. See, it's all happening, just like Mr. Armstrong said it would!
or, the ever popular
c. If only the people of the United States knew who they really were!
These conversations are only a microcosm of nearly every COG item ever published about Thanksgiving. I have yet to see a Thanksgiving article that doesn't include British Israelism - the theory that the majority of the United States is physically descended from the ancient Israelite tribe of Manasseh (and also that Britain is descended from Ephraim, and that many Western European nations are descended from the other "lost" tribes). What would a good discussion on Herbert W Armstrong's fruit and teachings be without a post on how British Israelism has been completely dis-proven?

Armstrong alleged that Israel and Judah are not two names for the same nation - they were two separate nations, and always will be, until Christ's return:
"The House of Judah always means Jew... the term applies only to those of the House of Judah. There are no exceptions in the Bible."
-Herbert Armstrong, Where are the Lost 10 Tribes, p. 8
Perhaps he never read Luke 2:36-38, which says that Anna the Prophetess was from the tribe of Asher, yet called her a Jewess of Jerusalem. And if the tribes left Palestine well before Christ's birth, and were already settling in Europe, how did Jesus send the twelve disciples to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" in Matthew 10:6? Sounds like He knew where they were - within reasonable walking distance! Jesus repeats this phrase in Matthew 15:24, where He says He "was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Note that Jesus never left Palestine. And then there's Peter, who ended his Acts 2 Pentecost address by proclaiming his message to "all the house of Israel" (verse 36). This language is inclusive - Peter didn't follow up that he was speaking to the Jews as well.

Those who have gone before me at As Bereans Did have done some amazing work untangling the Biblical case against British-Israelism. Rather than rehash this ground, I will direct you to their articles and focus here on how modern genetic research has completely overturned Herbert W Armstrong's apple cart. We'll also take a look at the "inspiration" behind HWA's theories.

For past ABD posts about British Israelism, please visit the following:

The US & Britain; In Prophecy? Pt.1 of 2
The US & Britain; InProphecy? Pt. 2 of 2
True History of the True Church??
Flurry's Follies
More COG Theological Ancestry
The Genesis Prophecies
Pack's Proofs on Peter's Pontificate

And now, without further adieu...

DNA research has proven Jews do not share a common ancestor with Americans and Brits

Do not disregard this finding just because it came from the same guys who brought you evolution. This is not scientists looking for the missing link. This is very specific research, done on a specific portion of human DNA, from actual people with proven ethnic and national origins who are walking the earth today. Or at least they were walking the earth during the Human Genome Project. It also included DNA gleaned from tribal artifacts and intact bodily remains. This scientific evidence is solid enough that it would be considered "proof in a modern court of law." For more information about the Human Genome Project, please click here.

In the portion of the project I'm discussing here, scientists examined the Y chromosome to determine a person's haplogroup - those with whom they share a common ancestor. (If you want to get more technical, which I don't, scientists test Single Nucleotide Polymorphism mutations on the Y chromosome to determine haplogroups). The Y chromosome has been demonstrated to be stable over thousands of years.

Palestinian Jews belong to the J haplogroup, as do the the Arabs. This makes sense, since scripture specifically states that Jews and Arabs both descended from Abraham. So research is able to trace a common father between Jews and Arabs even several generations before Jacob, the father of the 12 Tribes of Israel.

In contrast, Brits and Americans primarily belong to the haplogroup R1b1a2-M269. The haplogroup R1b is the most common one in Western Europe. More than 100 million Western European men belong to this haplogroup.

An Oxford University study further broke down the genetic mapping in the British Isles. The Romano-Britons (the region's original Celtic inhabitants who lived when the Roman Empire fell in Britain, in the 4th century AD) were found to be closely related to the modern inhabitants of France and Ireland. In contrast, the invading Anglo and Saxon tribes were Germanic. They are believed to have come to Britain at the request of the Celtic warlord Vortigern, who wanted help in defeating rival Celtic tribes like the Picts. They came, invaded and eventually took over the country.


A contender for first place in HWA's awkward linguistic arguments was the claim that the name "British" came from the Hebrew word for "covenant man." The Hebrew word for "covenant" is beriyth or berith, and the word for "man" was iysh or ish.
"In the original Hebrew language vowels were never given in the spelling. So, omitting the vowel "e" from beriyth but retaining the 'I' in its anglicized form to preserve the 'y' sound, we have an anglicized Hebrew for covenant, brit. The Hebrews, however, never pronounced their 'h's'... so the Hebrew word for 'covenant' would be pronounced it its anglicized form as brit. And the word for 'covenant man' or 'covenant people,' would therefore be simply 'Brit-Ish.' And so, is it mere coincidence that the true covenant people are called the 'British'? And they reside in the 'British Isles."
-Herbert W Armstrong, United States and the British Commonwealth in Prophecy, p. 95-96.
Simply? Huh? There is nothing simple about that twisted mess of a theory.

Understand that all Israelites were "covenant people". Why is it, then, that none of them, not a single one, call themselves "Berith Ish"? Dan doesn't call themselves Berith Ish. Judah doesn't call themselves Berith Ish. Manasseh doesn't call themselves Berith Ish. The Saxons don't call themselves Berith Ish. Not in the least.

The whole British name came from the Britons - the Celtic tribes whom the German Anglo-Saxons pushed out. In case you missed it, I shall reiterate. The Brits are Celts and the Anglo-Saxons are Germans. They are two completely different people groups. Their DNA was tested and neither are Hebrew, let alone one single Hebrew tribe of Ephraim. The word British comes from the Celtic tribe of Britons and the English suffix "-ish", which means "belonging to." It doesn't mean "covenant man." It means "belonging to the tribe of Britons".

So according to British Israelism, who would be the real "covenant people"? The Celtic tribes who gave the British Isles their name, or the Anglo-Saxons who pushed them out? It can't be both. It's likely actually neither, but it definitely can't be both.
And what about the other non-Briton Celts in the Isles? For instance, the Welsh, Irish, Scots, Picts, and others. Are they Ephraim, too? You should be aware that all of these Celtic groups, including the Britons, were already on the Isles while the northern ten tribes were still in Palestine. Before Tigleth-Pileser III subjugated Israel, the Celts were already established on the Isles. And this is well before the prophet Jeremiah. It is simply impossible that these groups populated the Isles centuries before the exile into Assyria - and - that they migrated there centuries later because of the exile. It can't be both.


HWA would have us believe the Saxons are genetically descended from Ephraim and Manasseh on rock solid proof like this:
"They were descended from Isaac, and therefore are Isaac's sons. Drop the 'I' from "Isaac" (vowels are not used in Hebrew spelling), and we have the modern name "Saac's Sons," or as we spell it in shorter manner, "Saxons"!
-Herbert W Armstrong, The United States and Britain in Prophecy, p. 95-96
Vowels weren't written, but they were pronounced. We aren't talking here about how Isaac was spelled, where the "I" was already dropped, but how it was pronounced, where vowels are never dropped. Dropping the I makes no sense. Think about it. If vowels are dropped when spoken, then why was the "A" pronounced? The "A" was not written any more than the I was. If dropping vowels from spelling means dropping vowels from pronunciation, why are there any vowels pronounced? Why isn't Isaac pronounced "Sc"? Claiming that the "I" was simply dropped inadvertently would have been one thing. But you see, claiming the "I" was dropped because it wasn't written makes the opposite of sense.

What happens when you drop a vowel from pronunciation? It's gone forever. The truth is, one does not drop vowels in spoken Hebrew.

Herbert Armstrong also tried to skirt the issue of the Saxons being a Germanic tribe in his 1980 version of the USBC booklet, where he claimed the Anglo-Saxons are an entirely different people from the "Old Saxons," who still live in Germany.

Um. Ok.

So where did the migrating Saxons come from? The Anglo-Saxons are a combination of two of the tribes, the Angles and the Saxons, that took over the Britons' land after the fall of Rome, after Vortigern's fateful invitation. The Anglo-Saxon designation is actually more of a politico-religious label than an ethnic designation. They were all Germanic "barbarians". That's where the Saxons of the Anglo-Saxons came from. From the "Old Saxons," who were just plain old Saxons until the ones who migrated to the Isles and joined the Angles needed to be differentiated from the ones who stayed in Germany. They aren't Hebrew, they are Germanic - also known as Teutonic - the very people that HWA said were Assyrian. There is no Hebrew "Saxon" and Germanic "Old Saxon", there is only Teutonic "Saxon". They are all the same tribe of people. And this doesn't even address the Angles.

The Angles were just another closely-related Germanic barbarian tribe along with the Saxons. The name England comes from the Angles, as do several place-names in England (eg. East Anglia). They migrated to central and northeastern England from the Jutland peninsula in the northernmost area of Germany and the southernmost area of Denmark. Denmark? You would expect them to be from the tribe of Dan, then, not Ephraim. But they are neither Dan nor Ephraim. They are Germanic.


But wait! Maybe the "Saxons" of the Anglo-Saxons descend from the Scythians, whom the United Church of God and other COGs assert suddenly appeared on the world scene just after Israel's lost 10 tribes disappeared?

Well, the nomadic Scythian tribe does appear to have colonized in Eurasia north of the Black Sea, around parts of Russia and the Ukraine. So at least that much is true. But are they the displaced 10 tribes? Most everyone else believes they descended from Sarmatian tribes like the Alans. Don't worry, I've never heard of them, either. But the Sarmatians were Persian - like the Iranians, who are fiercely proud of their non-Arab heritage. If they aren't genetically related to the Arabs, then they aren't genetically related to the Jews, either.

"But," you may interject, "we don't have Scythians today to test. So isn't UCG's theory just as good anyone else's?" Not really. Because we do have Scythian DNA, thanks to the discovery of tombs containing Scythian warrior bodies in the Monglian-Alatai mountains.
From 2005 to 2007, researchers from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona worked together with French and Mongolian researchers to excavate more than twenty tombs. Many of the tombs contained frozen and mummified human remains of soldiers buried with their horses, artifacts and possessions, which identified them as Scythians.


So am I telling you these Saxons, whom Herbert W Armstrong claimed were Israelites, are actually from the nation he labeled as Assyria, the Israelites' mortal enemy? IF the Germans are Assyrians, then yes. Yes I am. However, even if they are not Assyria (and DNA seems to support the idea that they are not) then they are still Gentiles through and through. Assyria or no, either way they are Gentiles.

Even the COGs themselves seem to support this thinking - in December and April, when they gleefully bash the Christmas and Easter traditions we got from our Germanic European ancestors. How is it that the rest of the year we are descended from Israel?

The Angles and the Saxons are German and therefore Gentiles. The Britons and Scots and Irish are Celts and therefore Gentiles. The Roman conquerors were primarily Gentiles. The Gauls were Celts and Gentiles. The Franks are Germanic and Gentiles. The Goths were primarily Germanic and Gentiles. The Vikings, among whom are the Norsemen and Swedes, are Gentiles. The Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe and Russia are Gentiles. The seemingly unstoppable Huns who ravaged Europe are Gentiles. The Moors, who for centuries controlled the Iberian Peninsula where Spain and Portugal are today, are Gentiles. And you most likely are, too, if your descendants came from Europe and up into the British Isles.


How can this be? Didn't God specifically reveal these things to Herbert Armstrong, His end-time prophet? Funny you should mention that. The theory that the British people descended from Israel has been around since at least 1649, when John Sadler (who had nothing to do with any proposed COG ancestry) published his pamphlet "The Rights of the Kingdom."

The teaching gained more traction as put forth by Richard Brothers, an 18th Century lieutenant in the British Royal Navy who claimed to have his first call from God in 1790 (he also had nothing to do with any proposed COG ancestry). On May 12, 1792, he wrote to the king and other heads of state, warning them he would declare the imminent fulfillment of Daniel 7 on May 17. He later proclaimed the king would die and the crown would be given to him; he then was committed to Newgate Prison in London.

Brothers was eventually released and went on to pen 15 books, most arguing for an Israelite ancestry for the English people. Two of the titles included "A Correct Account of the Invasion" and "Conquest of This Island by the Saxons." Brothers attracted numerous followers thanks to his mixed record of political predictions. He talked some into selling their property so they could come with him when he built his New Jerusalem, on both sides of the Jordan River, 1795. The government later committed him to the Bethlehem Royal Hospital, England's first asylum for the mentally ill. He was once again released in 1806 and died twenty years later, his New Jerusalem unbuilt.

Undeterred by the failures of the past, historian John Wilson built on Brothers' theoretical foundation, publishing a book version of his "Lectures on Our Israeltish Origin" in 1840. Then the theory crossed the pond when preacher William Miller, from whom the COGs descended, encouraged his followers to read books by Wilson and others. By 1876, five editions of Wilson's book had been published.

Just before Wilson's fifth edition was printed, Edward Hind issued his "Identity of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel with the Anglo-Celto-Saxons," which explained the basics of British-Israelism. Hine, also the editor of a magazine called The Banner of Israel, sold more than 250,000 copies of his book.
Remember how we dealt earlier with the Germanic Angles and Saxons, and the Celts. They are not the same peoples, yet Gentiles all.

You can read more about Brothers, Wilson and Hind here.

As I discussed in a previous post, John Harden Allen published his book, Judah's Sceptre and Joseph's Birthright, in 1902. There is compelling evidence to believe Herbert Armstrong plagiarized large portions of this book in his United States and the British Commonwealth in Prophecy, which was published in 1954. (See our article, "This Has All Happened Before" for more details. And you can compare excerpts from both books here).

G. G. Rupert, an Adventist pastor who greatly influenced Herbert Armstrong, also espoused British Israelism. Many in the COG community accept this fact, including "cogwriter" Bob Thiel, who admits that Rupert and others who crossed paths with HWA espoused forms of British Israelism. Herbert Armstrong fell into the same error by extracting the man yet perpetuating his failed teachings. (As an aside, Rupert was also was a major force in popularizing the idea of the Yellow Peril - the idea that the "yellow" "oriental" races would invade the United States. Some may look at the current economic conditions in the world and say that Rupert was right, the "yellow races" have invaded the United States! But, no. No they haven't. Rupert stated exactly what he meant, and none of it has come to pass as he said. He was not right).


Simply put and in summary, the teaching that Americans, Brits and Western Europeans are descended from the "lost 10 tribes" of Israel is wrong. Disproven. Unbiblical. Unhistorical. Created by false prophets and perpetuated by false prophets. God did not divinely reveal it to Herbert Armstrong. HWA was hundreds of years late in even making the claim.

Armstrong taught over and over and over again that this blatantly false set of claims is the key to understanding Biblical prophecy. He said no one can understand prophecy without this "vital key". Without the vital key of British-Israelism no one could understand where Israel is today, and thus no one could know how prophecy was going to play out. But British-Israelism is false and all predictions made using it have come to nothing.

With a starting point like that, is there any wonder that his predictions of the future failed, and more importantly, the very foundation of his understanding of Biblical prophecy altogether have failed? And continue to fail to this day? The COGs still attempt to build on this same foundation to this very day. No wonder at all that relying on Armstrong's inaccurate foundation has led the COGs to think the Apostles and even Jesus were confused about prophecy. Is it good, oh sought after by God, to claim that the Bible is wrong in order to defend your prophetic missteps, as the UCG has done? Wouldn't it be better to just let those assumptions go?

I certainly don't blame anyone for being drawn in by Herbert Armstrong's teachings about British Israelism back in the days of the Radio Church of God or Worldwide Church of God. Especially in the hopes that doing so would help you escape the Great Tribulation. We didn't have the benefit of things like the Human Genome Project, Google, or hindsight about HWA's 200+ failed prophecies. But now you have a choice. You can either check out the links and consider the evidence, or you can stick your fingers in your ears and ignore what I've said.

I'm sorry if you're disappointed that you're probably a Gentile. But guess what? I have good news!

In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male, nor female. Jesus loved you enough to suffer and die on the cross for you, whether you are Jewish, Kenyan, Greek, Irish, Japanese or American. He is the means through which God promised Abraham that the whole earth will be blessed. He is the descendant of David who sits on the throne forever. Don't worry about who is descended from whom, or which ethnic group has inherited whose blessings when. His grace was sufficient for Paul, and it's more than enough for you, too. Avoid those genealogies; they are useless (TIT. 3: 9). So when you sit down this Thanksgiving and give thanks, be sure to thank God for the greatest blessing of all - salvation by grace through faith in the shed blood of Jesus. That's better than any special "gnosis" about prophecy, even better than the undeniable blessing of being born of an American. His grace was sufficient for Paul, and can be for you, too.

God bless you all, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

Herbert W Armstrong and Today's Churches of God

I sat on her couch, just like I had a hundred times before. This time, though, I kept my focus on the worn fabric cushions. It was better than making eye contact with her. Over the years, we had laughed and cried together on this couch. We had commiserated about pregnancy pains and nursed babies on that couch. My kids had slept on it, staying in her home during family emergencies.

This time, however, I knew it was the last time I would sit on her sofa. I knew what was coming. I had gone to tell her that we were leaving the Church of God. I told her we could no longer accept their doctrines in good conscience. She dutifully picked up her Bible, turned to Matthew 18, and issued what could only be described as an official biblical rebuke.

I stood to leave before she could herd me to the door. As I grabbed my purse, the words just slipped out. "You know you're following a false prophet, right?"

"Here's the thing I like about my minister," she said. "He teaches directly from the Bible. It doesn't matter what Herbert Armstrong said or did. It's all in the Bible."

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that claim in my lifetime, I wouldn't have to pursue this lucrative blogging career. Seriously, though, I have heard that claim hundreds of times. It's probably the main point that drove this series of posts. (You can find the first post here and second post here.) Which leads me to my final point in this third post.

5. Even if Herbert Armstrong taught things that were wrong, that doesn't affect me. My minister teaches straight from the Bible.

Is that so? I'd like you to to consider the comments of John Kiesz, an elder in the Church of God Seventh Day who was close friends with HWA in the 1930s and 1940s, according to The Journal, which is an independent publication to the COG community. Keisz and Armstrong ran an Oregon Feast of Tabernacles site together for several years after ending up on the same side in a split within the Church of God (Seventh Day). Their friendship continued despite the fact that the Church of God (Seventh Day) revoked Armstrong's ministerial credentials in 1937, and after Kiesz himself resigned from the organization in 1938. Armstrong broke off his friendship with Kiesz in 1945, reportedly after Kiesz held an altar call at a Feast of Tabernacles service.

In this letter to an audience who questioned HWA's legacy, Kiesz disclosed that HWA told him of his plans to start a college not long before he decided to "drop" Kiesz.

"He told me at his Eugene, Oregon office, that he will start a college and train his own men for the ministry, so they will all speak the same thing, and his problems in that area will be over," Kiesz wrote.

His plan seems to have worked. The COG splinters largely retain the doctrines Herbert Armstrong taught at Ambassador College, where they were trained to read the Bible through HWA's doctrinal lens. Some even vie for the title of HWA's true successor. Granted, not all of the men who attended Ambassador College have remained with COG splinters. But the top-level leadership in nearly every organization are all Ambassador graduates. If you're in a COG, the doctrines HWA taught underpin your minister's teachings.  That's great if HWA's Biblical interpretations were revealed directly to him by God, as he claimed. But if they weren't, well, not so much. Let's consider the HWA/Ambassador College connections in the following Worldwide Church of God splinters:

Philadelphia Church of God
It's barely worth the time to trace PCG's connections to HWA, since they run the Herbert W Armstrong College in Edmond, Oklahoma. Still, since we're trying to establish a pattern here: Pastor General Gerald Flurry was graduated from Ambassador College in 1970. I was not able to find any other church officials listed on the group's web site. Fun Fact for the day: Flurry refers to himself as "That Prophet," more specifically, the prophet discussed in John 1:19-25. He also has been known to teach that his book, Malachi's Message, is the "little book" mentioned in Revelation 10.

Living Church of God
LCG's Presiding Evangelist Roderick Meredith received his bachelor's degree in 1952; his master's degree in 1958 and his ThD in 1966, all from Ambassador College (which did not have a doctoral program and shouldn't have been handing doctorate degrees out). He would later serve as an instructor at the college. LCG's other top leadership are all Ambassador graduates - Richard Ames (class of 1965), Douglas Winnail (class of 1970) and Gerald Weston (class of 1971).

Meredith opines about HWA in his "Personal" address section of Tomorrow's World, January/February 2012 edition:
"Tens of thousands of former Worldwide Church of God members remember Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. They know that he was the leader of the major Church of God movement of his day - and that he was the one used by God to inform the vast majority of new converts about the Sabbath, the Holy Days and all the basic Plan of God. He was used mightily by Jesus Christ - and no one can take that away."
and also
"Dear Brethren and Friends, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong set all of us a fine example, as many of you older brethren remember. He always tried to move forward, to grow and to improve."
-Roderick C. Meredith: Tomorrow's World, March/April 2012, Personal - Is it wrong to GROW in Knowledge.
Church of the Great God
You may not have heard of this small splinter, headed by John Ritenbaugh. Despite their size, I have to give them an honorable mention since Ritenbaugh still maintains that Herbert Armstrong was an apostle. He believes HWA showed the signs of apostleship through the fruit of his ministry, preaching the gospel, casting out demons, raising up congregations, clarifying doctrine, healing the sick and converting individuals.

"As our 'father in the faith,' directly or indirectly, he (HWA) played a part in each of our conversions," Ritenbaugh wrote.

Ritenbaugh was ordained as a local church elder in 1966 and attended Ambassador College on a special one-year program for local church elders.

Church of God, a Worldwide Association
In COGWA: President Jim Franks was graduated from Ambassador College in 1972. Doug Horchak, operations manager for Ministerial Services was graduated from Ambassador College in 1974. Media Operations Manager Clyde Kilough was his classmate, he also was graduated in 1974. Britton Taylor, COGWA's Treasurer and Financial Operations Manager also was graduated in 1972 with Jim Franks.

Herbert Armstrong is still praised on COGWA's (rather sparse) web site. In a sidebar to an article titled "Change Your Life This Year," writer Mike Bennett describes HWA as "one of the most successful writers and religious figures of the 20th century."

United Church of God
UCG has an admirable goal of circumventing abuse of power by spreading it among a 12-member Council of Elders. The Council deck, however, it stacked full of Ambassador graduates.

Council members Robin Webber, Roc Corbett and Donald Ward all were graduated in 1973. Ward went on to teach at the college. Council member Scott Ashley and Rex Sexton both were in the class of 1976, and their colleague Mark Mickelson was graduated a few years later in 1978. Council member Carmelo Anastasi was graduated in 1990; and Mario Siegle attended the college but his year of graduation is not listed.

Across the pond, Council member Bill Bradford was graduated from Ambassador College's Bricket Wood campus in 1965, and Rainer Solmaa was graduated from Bricket Wood campus four years later. UCG's web site reports Council member of John Elliot attended Bricket Wood, but his year of graduation is not listed.

Finally, Council member Aaron Dean was graduated from Imperial Schools in 1970, from Ambassador College in 1974, and then became Herbert Armstrong's long-time personal assistant. Few were closer to HWA than was Aaron Dean. Dean was considered to be in the running to take over leadership of the WCG upon HWA's death. Dean refers to Armstrong as a "wise old sage" and remembers January 16 as the "death of my closest friend."
"He was part of my life for as long as I can remember. I thank God he was willing to listen as God gave him biblical understanding and motivated many of us to also pass to others the truth of God's Word,"
-Aaron Dean, "The Search for Wisdom," United News,February 2013.
Dean also writes that the most important lesson he learned from HWA was to "Follow the Leader."

"I followed Mr. Armstrong and made allowances for his physical shortcomings, because God did put him there. There are times when men fall short and we follow anyway when it is not a salvation issue."
-Aaron Dean, "Follow the Leader," United News, January 1999.
UCG has gone to great lengths to distance itself from Herbert W Armstrong, although, to my last knowledge, a framed portrait of HWA adorns the halls of its Home Office. Dean's "Follow the Leader" article reminds UCG members that Christ is the head of the Church, and the Father His head. These reminders are a great start. However, their impact is diminished by other lengthy articles asserting that the organization didn't follow a false prophet. (Cecil Maranville, Treasure Digest, Be Ready to Give an Answer: Didn't You Follow a False Prophet?)
"No, we do not agree that the late Herbert W. Armstrong was a false prophet. He did not claim to be a prophet, nor did the church regard him as one. We believe he was striving to be a faithful minister."
"If you read his writings or heard his messages, you would encounter admonitions he often repeated with great emphasis: 'Blow the dust off your Bible! Do not believe me! Believe the Bible! So we respectfully disagree with the idea that he interpreted the Bible for the Church. It is the responsibility of each person person to study and prove his or her own biblical beliefs."
For my discussion on these points, see my first post on this matter, specifically point one, which demonstrates why HWA was a false prophet.

And please note that nowhere in Deuteronomy 18 does it say a single word about a a thing failing to come to pass by a person who says the phrase "I am a prophet". It only mentions a thing failing to come to pass which was spoken in God's name. The act of speaking about the future in the name of God is the thing being tested, the thing that makes them a prophet. Whether or not that thing comes to pass is the actual test itself, the thing that proves them true or false. Did HWA speak about the future in the name of God?

Point two of the same post addresses the fact that Herbert W Armstrong did claim to interpret the Bible for the church.

Did HWA claim that the things he taught - both the doctrines and the understanding of what the prophets had written - were revealed to him by God?

While UCG does not, "venerate him as a recipient of 'holy writings' in the way that many religious look to men... you will immediately recognize the same biblical message Mr. Armstrong taught when you read our magazine, newsletter, booklets and brochures. However, we should note that Mr. Armstrong saw the need to constantly grow in knowledge. Similarly, you may find minor changes in our teachings reflecting better research tools that bring out previously unseen nuances in biblical teaching. But the foundation is the same as it was in the Church of God decades ago."

The UCG article also glosses over HWA's practice of date-setting in God's name; instead painting it as a "passionate belief that Christ would return in his lifetime." They go on to equate this belief with the first-century apostles and church elders who expected Christ would soon establish His Kingdom on earth. Even Jesus spoke in terms of an imminent return in Matthew 24, they say. Note that no one in the New Testament ever said, "By the authority of God Almighty ... I say I/Jesus will return within 20 years" or anything close to that. But Armstrong did. Regularly.

In what must be UCG's attempt to head off the "false prophet" label of Deuteronomy 18:20, UCG notes that the prophet discussed in Deuteronomy 18:18 is Jesus.

"Certainly, He was not a 'false prophet,' in spite of the fact that countless disciples took His teachings to mean that He was returning their lifetime."

Right. But the passage they quote juxtaposes the true prophet of Deuteronomy 18:18-19 with the false prophet of Deuteronomy 18:20-22, a description which HWA undoubtedly meets. Context is key, and is something the COGs consistently ignore. In this article, UCG seems to deliberately distract the reader from Deuteronomy 18:20-22 and instead guide you to Deuteronomy 13:1-5, which describes a totally different scenario, one into which HWA does not fit. Don't let their smoke and mirrors fool you. Read both passages.

UCG writer Michael Snyder had this to say in his 2013 book review of "The Fragmentation of a Sect: Schism in the Worldwide Church of God.
"Instead of claiming theological authority from HWA, the United Church of God focuses on confirming that it is a continuation of what the Septuagint renders in Greek Ekklesia tou Theou , literally the spiritual Church of God that transcends any human corporate form of organization. In the United Church of God, Herbert Armstrong is remembered as a man highly respected and regarded as one whom God used in a powerful way, but his legacy of writings, sermons and broadcasts  (particularly as they changed and shifted over his 53-year ministry) are not viewed as divine scripture nor infallible (page 127). Like other human servants of God, Herbert Armstrong was a man, and therefore subject to everything that being a human means."
As you can see, the modern COGs try to have it both ways with Herbert W Armstrong. They distance themselves from his prophecies and claims to be an apostle, calling him a fallible human being. But they cling to the doctrines and their own ordinations to office.

The Bible shows that all humans save one are fallible. The question is, is God fallible? Because HWA claimed to receive an ordination, new truth, divine revelation, and prophetic understanding from Jesus Christ. Nearly all of these truths, revelations, and prophetic understandings are still held and taught in the COGs today.


With their mouths they say he wasn't an apostle, but with their actions they say he was. To disregard HWA's claims yet uphold his doctrines as divinely inspired is disingenuous. He did make the claims which they now say are untrue. In effect what they are doing is saying he was not a false prophet ...but he certainly was a liar. Is that a wise trade? Perhaps they would argue that what he claimed was not true, but it wasn't a lie, exactly, it was just tragically misguided. Is it best to promote the idea that God powerfully used a tragically misguided man to found the current era of the true church?

Even so, if HWA didn't have the authority he claimed to have, then he had no authority to ordain his students into office. He cannot pass down authority which he never had in the first place. Herbert Armstrong was ordained to the ministry in the Church of God (Seventh Day) in 1931. He would receive his ministerial license certificate from the same group - which he later described as the dead "Sardis Era" of the true church. The COG7 later split, and Armstrong was then credentialed by the half of the COG7 that was headquartered in Salem, West Virginia. This Salem branch of the Church of God - HWA's only tie to the "true church" - revoked his credentials in the fall of 1937, and later disfellowshipped him. The Salem organization's official record states they revoked his credentials because he taught and kept the annual festivals. Kiesz indicates the real reason behind this decision was HWA's uncooperative attitude.

This brings up a critical issue!

If HWA was not an apostle then he had no authority to ordain anyone, because the group from which he derived his authority revoked it. Since his only connection to the "true church" revoked his authority, if he wasn't an apostle in his own right then it stands to reason the COG ministers he later ordained were never actually ordained. Their ordinations are invalid. Your minister is not really a minister at all.

You would think folks as concerned with hierarchy and authority as most COGs are today would realize this. Is the true church led by ministers with no office? Which is it, current COG leaders? Was HWA an Apostle; did he somehow retain his authority after a "true church" revoked his credentials, or is your ministry invalid? Your choice.

I already know how this one ends. Today's COG leaders attempt to side-step HWA's invalid ordination by claiming a larger ordination as modern descendants of the one true church through time. But what does that do to the authority of the "true church"?
But doesn't that mean that if the true church revokes your authority, then your authority is not actually revoked after all, because you are part of a larger true church through time? "Revoke, revoke, as much as you can! You can't stop me, I'm part of a larger church through time." Doesn't that also mean that anyone can ordain, even if they lack the authority, because ordinations are apparently part of a larger true church through time? "Anything goes!" Has the church any authority at all, then? So now what?

But what larger true church through time are we talking about? When we check the historical accounts put out by the COGs we find over and over that they are rife with inaccuracies. Most of the past groups the COGs claim as their ancestors were actually Gnostic, or Catholic. There is no "larger COG church through time".  It doesn't exist. There are three churches who can easily trace their history from the first century - the Copts, the Orthodox, and the Catholics - but those aren't COG groups.

HWA is the only direct link to the past anyhow. Remove him and you've cut yourself off from the past completely. Herbert Armstrong is the singular link between the COG's "Philadelphia Era" (the WCG) and the "Sardis Era" (the COG7). So once again we are left asking, now what?

It's unlikely HWA even met the biblical standards to be ordained an elder, let alone an apostle. He fails on at least nine of the eleven qualifying points given in I Timothy 3: 2-11.
Need we remind you that he was disfellowshipped?? He didn't leave in a moment of extreme temptation and repent later, as Peter did. He was kicked out. Banished. How many people did he remove from the church in his day? More than just one or two. He disfellowshipped his own son. All of those people were told they were no longer part of the church and they could expect the Third Resurrection (which for those unfamiliar with Third Resurrection, it means, basically, a one-way trip to death.) But if he himself can be disfellowshipped and then found the one true Philadelphian Era, why should anyone else's disfellowship be any more valid than his? You go to Gehenna but he becomes the "founder, Pastor General, and spiritual and temporal leader of the Church of God on earth." Today, most people do the same. They just attend a different COG and act like nothing happened. After all, that's what Garner Ted Armstrong did, and plenty others besides. Why shouldn't you? But we ask, where is the authority of the church???

So tell me, LCG, was Herbert W Armstrong a fine example to the brethren, and someone Jesus Christ used mightily? Tell me, COGWA, how HWA measured up to other religious writers and figures of his time, like C.S. Lewis? Tell me, UCG, did God talk to Herbert Armstrong or didn't He? Deuteronomy 18:20-22 tell us what we should do with a false prophet. And it doesn't tell us to parse his life, writings and teachings to find the good points.


You see, Herbert Armstrong is at the root of everything taught in the COGs today. Even when they teach how irrelevant he is, they're still dealing with him being at the root of their church, their ministries, their doctrines, and their prophetic interpretations.

Friends, I know these are hard things to hear; hard issues to weigh. In many ways, I'm glad that I only learned about them after making my decision based on doctrine. And in the end, you must make your choices the same way, based on doctrine. Truth is truth, no matter who speaks it. But when you consider your doctrines, it's important to have the full picture of where they came from, who delivered them and what he claimed about himself. I submit to you that you have not been given a true picture, and in some cases, that picture has been hidden from you.

If in the end you decide these doctrines from Ellen G. White, G. G. Rupert, Gilbert Cranmer, and later from Herbert W Armstrong, are what the Bible teaches, that's up to you. If you understand that your salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus, and that your works are not a factor in your justification, then I am happy to peacefully agree to disagree on the rest. If you believe that following the teachings of White, Rupert, Cranmer and Armstrong honors and pleases God, that's between you and Him. Do the best you can with what you have. We should always aim to honor our Creator and Savior to the best of our knowledge and understanding. And we can be confident that He will "carry out the words of His servants, and fulfill the predictions of His messengers." (Isaiah 44:26, NIV).

"It's time we face the hard, cold, realistic fact: humanity has two alternatives: either there is an Almighty, all-powerful God who is about to step in and set up the kingdom of God to rule all nations... or else there will not be a human being alive on this earth twenty years from now!... It's about time you come to know who are the false prophets, and who is speaking the true Word of God faithfully."
-Herbert W. Armstrong, 1962, Just What Do You Mean... Kingdom of God, p. 19.

You can find part 1 of this series here. You can find part 2 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

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

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Herbert W Armstrong: Why He Still Matters

"I want to tell you that all this weather disturbance means a terrible famine is coming on the United States that is going to ruin us as a nation inside of less than 20 more years. All right, I stuck my neck out, right there. You just wait 20 years and see whether I told you the truth. God says, 'if a man tells you what's going to happen, wait and see. If it doesn't happen, he was not speaking the word of God, he was speaking out of his own mind.' You watch and see whether these things happen. You see who's speaking to you, my friends."
-Herbert W Armstrong, World Tomorrow broadcast, mid-1950s.
If you recently attended the Feast of Tabernacles with a Church of God splinter group, you probably heard at least one reference to Worldwide Church of God founder Herbert W Armstrong during the festival. Some of you at the more senior end of the spectrum may have gotten a little misty-eyed. Others of you - mostly in the under 40 crowd - probably tried hard not to roll your eyes.

I can totally relate. I was in your place, barely suppressing that eye roll as recently as five years ago. Herbert Armstrong died when I was young. I had no emotional attachment to him. He was little more than a footnote in my COG experience. The splinters I attended distanced themselves from him. So on the rare occasion that a speaker waxed nostalgic about him, the voice in my head was yelling "Move on! He died more than 25 years ago!" I thought he was irrelevant.

I was wrong. Totally wrong. Herbert Armstrong is extremely relevant. Few things could be more relevant.

Let me state up front that this post isn't a rant about how much I dislike HWA. For most of my life, I regarded him with apathy, when I regarded him at all. It was only when I started searching for answers about the state of the WCG splinter groups that I understood just how relevant he was to everything I had been taught.

Many COG groups distance themselves from HWA, especially his claims to be an apostle who received revelation directly from Jesus Christ. So it strikes me as intellectually dishonest for them to uphold his teachings as divinely inspired. In this post and others, I'll address arguments along these lines that I myself made as a COG member or have heard others make.

1. Scriptures condemning false prophets don't apply to Herbert Armstrong. He never claimed to be a prophet.

So, he's not a prophet? Then what is he, a fortune-teller? Is that really any better?

It's true that HWA technically called himself an apostle, and never used the phrase "I am a prophet." But! He was indeed seen as a prophet, regardless of what some today might lead us to believe. Gerald Waterhouse, the most vocal evangelist in the WCG, went on speaking tours throughout the church and often waxed on for hours at a time extolling Armstrong's prophetic greatness. Waterhouse would often make ludicrous claims such as, "If Christ doesn't return in Mr. Armstrong's lifetime, the Bible is false!" Bold words! But not so bold after all, since this is essentially the same claim that the UCG makes when they attempt to demonstrate how wrong the Apostles were on the timing of the return of Jesus. They defend Armstrong's foibles by pointing out that the Bible is wrong. Wise? Probably not. We ask, were the Apostles wrong, or is there just something fundamentally incorrect on the UCG's understanding of what the Apostles were saying? Best bet is the latter. Where did the UCG get their understanding of what the Apostles were saying in the first place? From the very man they admit was totally wrong. Whereas Waterhouse said, "If Armstrong was wrong then the Bible was wrong," the UCG says, "Armstrong was wrong, but the Bible is wrong too." We find it the apex of irresponsibility to stand on this defense. Is this truly the hill they are willing to die on?

And then there were statements in church publications like this:
"WHERE ARE God’s true prophets today! In this age of world chaos and sudden death, you had better rid your mind of preconceived ideas and prejudice and honestly seek to find out! Listen! This work has been warning America of definite and tremendous events to come for many years! ... They use the words “may," “could,” or “might.” They are afraid to be definite and specific! The truth of the matter is that they DARE NOT be specific about the future because they just DO NOT KNOW what the Bible says is going to happen! But on “The World Tomorrow” broadcast and in this magazine we have dared to unlock the Bible prophecies and apply them to specific nations and events that are NOW being affected. Do you grasp the SIGNIFICANCE of this?"
-Plain Truth Aug. 1957, p.3 (bold mine)
Oh, we grasp the significance alright. The church did see itself as having "true prophets" who made prophetic statements under divine influence. (For more, see our article, "An Inconvenient Plain Truth".) But it wasn't just future prophecies, no. Armstrong also claimed to have divinely-revealed understanding of the interpretation of ancient Biblical prophecies. He spoke as if the Bible itself was written for him personally, and you could tag along.
"And, knowing that such an unbelievable catastrophe is soon to strike, I HAVE TO WARN YOU!! You can read what God says to me in Ezekiel 33: 1-6."
-Herbert Armstrong, 1975 In Prophecy, p. 20 (bold mine)
What God said to him through Ezekiel?? So, God supposedly wrote the Bible to Herbert Armstrong, but he's not really relevant to anything? We respectfully disagree.
Armstrong understood himself as the end-time fulfillment of several Biblical types.
"Although God has personally given Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong no commission, he nevertheless feels that virtually every commission God has ever given is his. Mr. Herbert W Armstrong either thinks he is, or is to do the job given to: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the 'watchman,' the 'inkhorn,' the one who 'cries aloud and spares not,' Elijah to come, a type of John the Baptist, either Joshua or Zerubbabel, one of the two witnesses, an apostle, a 'messenger' one who 'prepares the way,' Hosea, Malachi, Moses (anyone who disdains Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong’s authority or position is immediately compared to Korah), Daniel, Joel, Amos, etc., etc., etc. And, of course, he primarily feels he is to fulfill Matt. 24:14 -- see Rev. 14:6 for the most likely individual to take care of that job."
-Taken from Robert Garringer's 1975 letter to Charles Hunting, as posted on the Exit and Support Network website.
Most popular of all was how Armstrong called himself the end-time Elijah. Click here for a YouTube video entitled "The End Time Elijah - Herbert W Armstrong" for one example. Or, here again:
"It is revealed in Malachi 3:l-5 and 4:5-6 that God would raise up one in the power and spirit of Elijah, shortly prior to the Second Coming of Christ. In Matthew 17:11 Jesus said, even after John the Baptist had completed his mission, that this prophesied Elijah “truly shall first come, and restore all thigs.” Although it is plainly revealed that John the Baptist had come in the power and spirit of Elijah, he did not restore anything. The human leader to be raised up somewhat shortly prior to Christ’s Second Coming was to prepare the way-prepare the Church-for Christ’s coming, and restore the truth that had been lost through the preceding eras of the Church."
-Herbert W Armstrong, Mystery of the Ages, 1985 edition, pp. 290-291
This doesn't just apply to Armstrong as some nickname, it claims he had the power and spirit of Elijah. The last time I checked, Elijah was a prophet, and one of the greatest of them. When Elisha received the spirit and power of Elijah, he also became a prophet. When John the Baptist came in the power and spirit of Elijah, he too was a prophet. And this is precisely what everyone in the WCG understood Armstrong's claims to mean! When the imprisoned "Spokesman of the Two Witnesses," Ron Weinland, set out to eclipse his former master, Weinland opted to claim to be an even greater Elijah than Armstrong was. (For a great deal more on this, see our articles "Elijah - Ron Weinland or Herbert W, Which?", "Herbert W Armstrong: End-Time Elijah?", and "The Plain Truth About the End-Time Elijah".)

Only Elijah and John the Baptist never went around wildly speculating on time-specific events. (Nor either did the Apostles, but we digress.) Everything happened precisely as they said it would. But we are supposed to overlook all of this.

Several sections in the Bible were written to HWA, he is the fulfillment of multiple Biblical types, he is the end-time Elijah, he was the first person in 1,900 years to preach the Gospel, he is the "founder and spiritual and temporal leader of the Church of God on earth," God spoke to him and through him ...but Armstrong never uttered the magic phrase, "I am a prophet", you see, so he's irrelevant and it's all just harmless exuberance.

Armstrong doesn't help his case by concluding statements with phrases like, "thus saith the Lord," as in this prophecy about Mussolini triggering the battle of Armageddon:
"But then what will Mussolini and these ten dictators do? Notice the prophecy - absolutely sure to happen - in Revelation 17:16-17... Thus shall the Catholic Church come to her final end. Thus saith the Lord."
-Herbert W. Armstrong, The Plain Truth, March 1938, p. 8.
While we're on the topic of HWA's failed World War II prophecies, let's consider the time that he said the war that would usher in the Great Tribulation could start within two months' time... in 1939.
"Once world war is resumed, it must continue on through the great Tribulation, the heavenly signs, the plagues of the Day of the Lord and to the Second Coming of Christ, at the last battle, at Armageddon! This you may know! This war will be ended by Christ's Return! And war may be started within six weeks! We are just that near Christ's coming! That should make every reader stop to think."
-Herbert W. Armstrong, The Plain Truth, August 1939, p. 6.
You know what made me stop and think? When I read that HWA said that the Bible showed that Hitler would be victorious in his ill-fated Russian invasion.
"Hitler is the 'Beast' of Revelation.... There, Bible prophecy does indicate that Hitler must be the victor in his present Russian invasion."
-Herbert W. Armstrong, The Plain Truth, October 1941, p. 7.
Unfortunately, HWA did not learn from his embarrassing record of WWII prophecies. Pay attention to the dates on these quotes.
"It's time we face the hard, cold, realistic fact: humanity has two alternatives: either there is an Almighty, all-powerful God who is about to step in and set up the kingdom of God to rule all nations... or else there will not be a human being alive on this earth twenty years from now!... It's about time you come to know who are the false prophets, and who is speaking the true Word of God faithfully."
-Herbert W Armstrong, 1962, Just What Do You Mean... Kingdom of God, p. 19.
"The 'Day of the Eternal' - a time foretold in more than thirty prophecies - is going to strike between five and ten years from now! You will know, then, how real it is... I am not writing foolishly, but very soberly on authority of the living Christ."
-Herbert W Armstrong, The Plain Truth, February 1967, p. 47.
All in all, HWA had hundreds of failed prophecies. You can call them predictions, if it makes you feel better, but there are still more than 200 of them. Deuteronomy 18:20-22 is very clear on the matter of false prophets.

"But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, 'How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken' - when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken, the prophet has spoken presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him."

This passage does not give wiggle room. It does not allow us to say, HWA was right, his timing was just a little off. It seems to give a cutoff date, not allowing years to pass to see if maybe the prophecy will come true later. Just saying "bad things have happened and are happening more frequently" doesn't count. The Bible says that. But the Bible doesn't set dates. HWA did. So, did HWA speak presumptuously in the name of the Lord? "Thus saith the Lord." "I am not writing foolishly, but very soberly on the authority of the living Christ." You tell me.

If I made the rules, I probably wouldn't be as harsh as Deuteronomy 18 prescribes. No one's perfect. Everyone has an off day now and then. But it's not up to me. When you claim to speak for God, you have to get it right. HWA did claim to speak "the TRUE MESSAGE FROM GOD" (1975 In Prophecy p. 28), and HWA did claim that he spoke "on the authority of God Almighty" (1975 In Prophecy p. 31), but HWA didn't get it right.
Unlike Deuteronomy, I'm not asking for anyone's blood. I'm just asking you to take an honest and unbiased look at the facts.

2. Herbert W Armstrong was a fallible man, but he still revealed a lot of truth despite his problems.

This is a nice thought, but it contradicts the very authority by which HWA established this "truth." It contradicts what the founder of the religious movement taught and believed about himself. Herbert W Armstrong claimed to be God's apostle. He stated that God dealt with him "in no uncertain terms, even as he had dealt with Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, Andrew, Peter and the apostle Paul." (Herbert W Armstrong, Mystery of the Ages, p. 14).
"I wonder if you realize that every truth of God, accepted as truth doctrine and belief in the Worldwide Church of God, came from Christ through me, or was finally approved and made official through me... I was appointed by Jesus Christ, the head of the Church."
-Herbert W Armstrong, "Personal From..." The Plain Truth, Feb. 1977, p. 17.
It's one thing for a Christian layperson or pastor to make doctrinal errors. It's quite another thing for an apostle to do so. As an apostle, you are either divinely inspired or you aren't. Did Peter sin or make errors in judgment? Sure. But did Peter and Paul make doctrinal errors? In multiple publications, HWA claimed God worked with him similarly to the way He called the apostle Paul. In this Co-Worker letter from November 29, 1954, Armstrong references Galatians 1:11-12.
"And so I say to you, as the Apostle Paul said to those at Galatia. I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which is preached of me is not after man, for I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it but by the revelation of Jesus Christ... When it pleased God, who... called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me that I might preach Him to the world; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood - neither went I to any sect or denomination or human theologian, but I went directly to the word of God, on my knees, corrected, reproved , and instructed in God's righteousness and truth."
Incidentally, how exactly did HWA claim he knew God called him to apostleship? Through a vision-like dream his wife Loma had just days after their wedding. In her dream, she and HWA were crossing the stream when they noticed a banner-shaped mass of stars in the sky. The stars quivered and separated twice, then three white birds flew toward them, turning into angels as they approached. In the dream, Jesus Christ descended from among the angels. He put His arms around HWA and his wife, then turned back into an angel. Loma asked the angel if it was wrong for her and HWA to go to the movies so much. The angel replied that Christ had important work for them to do and there would be no time for movies. Then the angel vanished. (Mystery of the Ages, p. 15-17). HWA tried to put the vision out of his mind, but God soon got his attention through the loss of his business. His business fell apart in the flash depression of 1920, when major clients like Goodyear and John Deere fell through.

I'm not saying Loma and HWA made all this up. I'm not saying that there was no dream, or that they didn't find it convincing. There's no doubt that dreams can be inspired by God. After all, Peter saw a vision of unclean animals on a blanket. John had visions of locusts, horses and dragons. Those dreams sound strange, too. Although theirs have a bit more street cred since their dreams came after their apostleship had been established, instead of being the means through which they declared their apostleship. So I guess what I am saying is that if I ever declare my apostleship, I hope I will base my claims on something a little more substantial. Temporary blindness, complete change in life direction along the lines of Paul's experience. Not my business falling apart in a stock market crash. That happened to a lot of people. If God used this to reach HWA, just imagine what He must have been trying to tell Goodyear and John Deere!

Not only did HWA claim Jesus predicted his work in Matthew 24:14 and Mark 13:10 (per HWA's personal letter to cult and false religion writer Robert Sumner, dated November 27, 1958); he also claimed God suppressed the "true gospel" for almost 2000 years in the lead-up to his end-time work. The gospel was hidden from the world from the time of Christ's apostles until a century of 19-year-time cycles (Herbert W Armstrong, Mystery of the Ages, p. 294). The time cycle thing also somehow figured into everything from the expiration date of God's curse against the Israelites, to the Louisiana Purchase, and to the beginning of the "Philadelphia Era of the Church of God" under HWA's leadership. Don't ask me to explain 19-year time cycles, I never understood them. I do, however, understand that this claim seems to contradict Matthew 16:18, which indicates the gospel would never disappear. It also seems to contradict modern COG attempts to trace themselves back to the Mumfords, the Seventh Day Baptists, the Waldensians and any one else who would lend them an air of credibility. More on that later.

Is it possible that God truly did inspire Herbert W Armstrong in some ways, but didn't bestow upon him the role of apostle? Certainly God could have cleared up that detail at some point. But Armstrong never deviated from his claim of divine apostolic inspiration. The above quote about God dealing with him similarly to Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Peter came from Mystery of the Ages, which was printed the year before his death.

So why am I writing this? Because I want to sling mud at Herbert Armstrong? Because I am bitter toward the leadership in the COG splinter groups? Absolutely not. Compared to others, I led a relatively easy life in the COGs. Growing up in WCG did have some positive fruit - it ingrained within me a belief in God, respect for the Bible, knowledge of scripture and a strong sense of morality. I have no deep-seated anger toward HWA, although some of the things I've read leave me with the heebie-jeebies.  I regarded him much like the wacky older second-cousin-in-law at the family reunion. You know who I'm talking about - the one who makes off-the-wall comments that everyone pretends they don't hear.

No, I didn't leave the COGs because of HWA. As far as I was concerned, truth is truth, no matter who says it. I left because I saw many doctrines were not true. It was only afterward, as I struggled to understand where some of the issues I saw originated, that I learned so much more about this man. Some of you attend COGs where Armstrong is mentioned almost weekly, where institutions are named after him. You know that he matters. But others of you attend splinters that have distanced themselves from HWA, where he is downplayed. I am writing because you need to be aware that what you now believe as a member of a COG group hangs on Herbert Armstrong. You need to be aware of these things. And more, which I will continue next time.

You can find part 2 of this series here. You can find part 3 of this series here.

(Oh, and in case you are wondering, the video clip I quoted in the introduction can be found here  between time markers 5:10 and 5:42).

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