It's everywhere, and it's free. It can be found in supermarkets and airport terminals. It can be obtained by mailing a postcard or by calling a toll-free phone number. It's THE PLAIN TRUTH magazine of Herbert W. Armstrong's "World Wide Church of God". A magazine of humble beginnings, like the church that produces it; it claims its purpose is to spread the real Gospel to all nations.
THE PLAIN TRUTH OF HERBERT W. ARMSTRONG
While many Christians recognize Armstrong's name and face and have heard of the WCG, few are aware of the history and teachings of the man and his religion.
The Humble Beginnings
Herbert W. Armstrong was born July 31, 1892. He did not get involved in religion until 1926, when his wife "discovered" that Christians were keeping the wrong day of the week as the Sabbath. Angered at her "religious fanaticism", Armstrong threatened divorce. But rather than divorcing her, he developed an interest in the Bible himself, and as his business failed, he spent more time reading the Bible. This study, Armstrong claimed, led to his conversion to sabbatarianism, the belief that God's people should worship on Saturday rather than Sunday.
He continued his religious work, and in 1932 became a licensed minister in the Oregon Conference of the Church of God, a spinoff of the Seventh-Day Adventists. In 1933, Armstrong began delivering a 15-minute morning devotional from a radio station in Eugene, Ore. The next year, it was expanded to 30 minutes and Armstrong began calling it "The World Tomorrow," the name the show carries today. Armstrong also began printing THE PLAIN TRUTH magazine that year. Its first printing was 250 copies, run off by hand on a mimeograph machine.
Armstrong's communication empire has come a long way. In 1985, his radio and television broadcasts reached every part of the United States, and Canada and Australia and part of other countries. THE PLAIN TRUTH now boasts a press run of 7.5 milion copies per issue. Armstrong considered himself Christ's sole true Apostle on the Earth.
Armstrong's name made the news from time to time. In 1984, his church lost a $1.26 million libel and slander suit that had been filed by the former wife of a church executive. She claimed in the suit that Armstrong and other church leaders had tried to smear her reputation after her divorce in 1976.
That same year, Armstrong divorced his second wife, Ramona, after seven years of marriage. The case reportedly cost the church more than $5 million in legal fees before finally being settled in 1984.
The church was wraked during the 1970s and 1980s by defections, personnel changes and allegations by several ex-members that Armstrong and other leaders had diverted millions of dollars in church money for their own use. These dissidents succeeded in getting the California attorney general's office to place the church's finances under control of a church-appointed reciever in 1979. But the allegations were never proven and the charges dropped in 1980.
All this transpired shortly after Armstrong's son, Garner Ted, once an eloquent and dynamic spokeman for the church and heir-apparent to his father's position, was excommunicated. Garner Ted then founded his own church, the Church of God International, in Tyler, Texas.
While no one can deny Armstrong succeeded in disseminating what he called the "true original Gospel", one can easily question his claim to its fidelity.
THE TRUE ORIGINAL GOSPEL
Armstrong's gospel can be found in Scripture, but only in Paul's warning about the "different gospel" given in 2 Corinthians 11:4. Armstrong's gospel is one of heavy legalism and a "different Jesus" and a "different Spirit" than that of Christianity. Armstrongism is a smorgasboard of unorthodox doctrines borrowed from the Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Scientists and others. Much of the legalism, such as adherence to dietary laws and observance of Jewish feast days, is taken directly from Judaism.
Let's take a look at how Armstronism's key doctrines differ from Christianity:
1) Armstrong, as do Jehovah's Witnesses, went to great lengths to try to show the Trintiy was a pagan-derived doctrine. "The doctrine of the Trinity is false," he wrote. "It was foisted upon the world at the Council of Nicea. It is the pagan Babylonish trinity of the father, mother and child - substituting the Holy Spirit for the mother, Semiramis, and calling it a 'person'."
2) He used the same tactics the Watchtower Society does in denying this doctrine: namely a misstating of the Christian postition. For example, Armstrong led his readers to believe that "Because of false teaching - including that of the 'Trinity' - nearly all of us have been reared from childhood to assume that God is one individual Person."
3) Mr. Armstrong's idea of God, then, is "God is not merely one person, nor even limited to a 'trinity', but GOD is a FAMILY." he wrote. Armstrong's theology of a family of God also lends itself to a defective Christology. While Jesus is acknowledged as God (one of the two persons currently composing the "God Family"), Armstrongism appears to borrow from Mormonism, as it says that when one is born again, he "will possess the same power, glory and holiness of God!"
Thus, one finds the WCG teaching that there is not one God, but two. One is God the Father, possessor of Heaven and Earth, the Father of Jesus Christ. The other is the God of the Old Testament, the creator of Heaven and Earth, the one who became Jesus Christ.
Armstrong's doctrine leaves no place for the personage of the Holy Spirit. So, as in Watchtower theology, the Holy Spirit becomes an impersonal force or power. WCG writings consistently refer to the Holy Spirit as "it."
Here, the WCG departs from biblical Christianity in two major areas.
1) Armstrongism teaches that Jesus Christ himself was born a second time--"born again"--by his resurrection from the dead.
2) Next, one finds Armstrongism teaching that "the Son of God, (was) now no longer human, but composed of SPIRIT--a Spirit Being," and that "Christ's body did disappear. Christ was raised as a divine spirit being!"
Armstrong continually redefined terms as he gained new "insights" into the Bible and nowhere did this happen more often than with his doctrine of salvation.
1) He taught that true Christians are only "begotten" sons now and are not yet born again. The term "born again", Armstrong taught, means "changed into spirit." Thus, it is taught that, like Jesus, believers will be born again--changed into spirit--at the resurrection. Further, salvation in the WCG includes godhood.
Once again we see Armstrong's teaching: "There are only two members in the God Family or Kingdom at the present time--God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son. But God is increasing His Family! And YOU can be 'born' into it!"
Armstrong taught that Christians are wrong to "think they were 'born again' when they 'accepted Christ' and were 'baptized.'"
1) Armstrong denied the doctrine of the nature of the new birth and misrepresented the Christian position on baptism. Christians do not regard baptism as a requirement for salvation.
2) Tied to the WCG's gospel is baptism and Armstrong reasoned the works--faith salvation by saying; "You shall be saved by grace, but God does lay down conditions. You can comply, and recieve glorious grace--or you can rebel, and pay the death penalty--for eternity!"
3) The seriousness of not submitting to sabbatarianism, Armstrong told his followers, that it is impossible for Jesus Christ to dwell in a person if he profanes His Holy Day by
observing a pagan day.
4) Of course, while there are several different religious groups who keep the Sabbath (Saturday) worship, Armstrong maintained that there is only one true church: the WCG.
5) According to WCG teachings, those who reject its "true original gospel," will not suffer eternal punishment in hell, but an all-consuming fire that will annihilate unbelievers. The church's Ambassador College Correspondence Course on hell says; "The 'hell fire' that the Bible speaks of will be thousands of degrees hotter than the imaginary 'hell fire' of most preachers--which is only hot enough to torment. The biblical 'hell fire' will totally consume the disobedient! Never will they exist again."
6) Although Armstrongism teaches that "Salvation will be open to all then resurrected, just as in the thousand year reign of Christ on Earth, only now there will be many more to accept it." But it turns out not to be a second chance at redemption, for Armstrong reasoned, "If they were blinded when they formerly lived, they never had a first chance."
7) One can find more beliefs that separate Armstrongism from biblical Christianity: denial of man's immortal soul; soul sleep; British Israelism; a rejection of holidays (Christmas, birthdays and so forth); and a disapproval of medicine and physicians.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
Christianity is a monotheistic faith and Armstrong's "God Family" concept is not found in the Bible. The Bible does not teach the existence of two gods with additional "gods" to be added to the "God Family" upon their resurrection from the dead. Scripture clearly says there is one God and that there are three persons who are addressed as God. The attributes of God are ascribed to each member of the Godhead. While Armstrong was right in saying that the appearance of God in the Old Testament was the Second Person of the Trinity, namely Christ, the old man clearly was preaching "another Jesus."
Armstrong's distorted theology of God's nature again is demonstrated in his denial of the personality of the Holy Spirit. Scripture presents clear evidence that the Holy Spirit is a person, not a force. The Holy Spirit creates and gives life (Job 33:4). He works according to His own will (1 Corinthians 12:11). He appoints and commissions ministers (Acts 13:2, Acts 20:28). He teaches (John 14:26). He can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30).
The WCG's account of Christ's resurrection is like every other false religion's; a spiritual resurrection which is no resurrection at all. That which separates Christianity from other religions is that its founder made good his claims. Jesus said, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up," in reference to His body.
Armstronites, like the members of the Unification Church and the Watchtower Society, have nothing that distinguishes their "Jesus" from any other religious founder.
Christians have a Jesus who died and whose body then was reunited with His Spirit, got up and left the grave. Scripture testifies that the Jesus who came out of the tomb and now dwells in heaven has a body of flesh and bone.16
Armstrong hid his false doctrines behind a Christian image and Christian terminology. He also proved he was a false prophet by making predictions that went unfulfilled.
For example, in the 1956 WCG publication, 1975 In Prophecy, Armstrong wrote; "But now you're going to peek into the surprising future, exactly as it will happen! Not what men PLAN-but what GOD SAYS!...very soon-of this very present generation-of all people you know now-ONLY ONE THIRD of them will be left alive!" He went on to say that this surviving third would be "uprooted from their homes like cattle as slaves to Europe, and probably some to South America," and "Yes, millions of lukewarm, inactive professing Christians will suffer martydom-and before the anticipated push-button leisure year of 1975 draws upon us!"
Armstrong's prophecy did not come to pass. Neither did the nations return to an observance of "Almighty God and His Laws and Ways" as Armstrong said they would. Those who take God's word seriously will remember Deuteronomy 18:20-22 and conclude that Armstrong does not meet the biblical requirements of a prophet.
Herbert W. Armstrong died Jan. 16, 1986. But Christians should not regard this as the beginning of the end for his church. The WCG probably will continue to mislead many with its appearance of biblical authority unless Christians pray for its members and potential victims and witness more effectively against its lies.
Those who trust in a false religion that Herbert Armstrong taught will like him experience the 2nd death.