The background on Herbert Armstrong is somewhat nefarious depending on what source you use. According to Wikipedia:
Herbert W. Armstrong (31 July 1892 – 16 January 1986) founded the Worldwide Church of God in the late 1930s, as well as Ambassador College (later Ambassador University) in 1946, and was an early pioneer of radio and tele-evangelism, originally taking to the airwaves in the 1930s from Eugene, Oregon. Armstrong preached an eclectic set of theological doctrines and teachings that he claimed came directly from the Bible. These theological doctrines and teachings have been referred to as Armstrongism. His teachings included the interpretation of biblical prophecy in light of British Israelism, and required observance of parts of the covenant Law including seventh-day Sabbath, dietary prohibitions, and the covenant law “Holy Days”.
Armstrong proclaimed that behind world events during his lifespan loomed various Biblical prophecies, and that he was called by God as an ‘Apostle’ and end-time ‘Elijah’ to proclaim the Gospel of God’s Kingdom to the World before the return of Jesus Christ. He also founded the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation, which promoted the arts, humanities, and humanitarian projects. Through his role with the foundation, Armstrong and his advisers met with heads of governments in various nations, for which he described himself as an “ambassador without portfolio for world peace.”
Armstrong became a well established radio and television personality that had access to world leaders. He disseminated his ideas in a widely circulated magazine called “The Plain Truth.” He believed in his calling so much he proclaimed to be an apostle to God. He treated his teachings as mandates from God and were to not be questioned by his adherents. It is this last point that forces criticism that Armstrong became a cult leader and a false prophet.
One of Armstrong’s most controversial ideas was British Israelism. British Israelism is the belief that those of Western European descent, notably England (Ephraim) and the United States (Manasseh), are direct descendants of the ancient northern Kingdom of Israel. Armstrong never was able to prove this claim conclusively from any historical, anthropological, or archaeological research he did. Mainstream Christians never received this idea and used it to dismiss Armstrong’s prophetic teachings. When Armstrong died in 1986, The Worldwide Church of God moved away from many of Armstrong’s core teachings in an effort to rejoin mainstream Christianity. The result was a schism of the church and the creation of a successor in the Philadelphia Church of God now led by Gerald Flurry.
Some other notable teachings Armstrong adhered to that pushed him out of the mainstream Christian thought was his belief that there was no Trinity, and that there was no eternal judgment in this life — what he termed “soul sleep” — where a nonbeliever would rest in unconsciousness until resurrected before God where then they would be given the choice of accepting God’s government. He also did not believe in the use of medical doctors for healing. He also taught his followers to shun traditional holidays such as Christmas and Easter which he said were of pagan origin.
Herbert Armstrong is a text book case of a false teacher. He claims to have received a unique divine revelation told to no one else by God. He then uses this privileged connection with God as a basis for spiritual authority over others that cannot be questioned. He then takes on the mantle of special servant of God by self proclaiming himself an apostle in the same rank as the original 12 disciples of Christ. He then takes on a following who accept his teachings as the veritable extensions of scripture itself. Over time, his followers invoke him rather than God in their witness. All dissenters are purged from the church body and when Armstrong died, his hold over his church was broken and it then fractured into splinter groups. The Worldwide Church of God was held together by Herbert Armstrong’s cult of personality and nothing else.
The purpose of this article is for those out there who are members of churches similar to the Worldwide Church of God and teachers like Herbert Armstrong. Any church that does not allow one to think for themselves and proclaims a unique divine revelation is not of the body of Christ. Any church that forbids personal freedoms in such an intrusive way such as forbidding women to wear makeup (something Armstrong forbid), runs counter to Christ’s teachings of being liberated from the Law. Jesus purposely violated some of the Levitical laws to show that man is more important to God than just his mere obedience to legal statutues. The Law is a tool to help man spiritually, but it is not able to save him. Legalism does nothing but devalue the sacrifice of Jesus and even nullify Atonement itself. Any church that says one must obey certain observances to be saved are teaching incorrectly and are leading their adherents to spiritual suffering each time they fail to live up to the standards set. In other words, one becomes a slave to the Law again in such situations.
Now it is possible, however, for one to place restrictions on oneself in an effort to please God. For example, if one abstains from sex until married, or chooses not to wear makeup or use caffeine or smoke, then one does so by personal choice, and God will honor those choices if they were made to please Him and preserve personal holiness in His sight. If one does so because his or her preacher commanded them to, it is of no relevance to God. How can you honor God by doing something you were compelled to do? One’s relationship with God is not to be mired in legalism and its resultant enslavement. How can one love God if one is enslaved to a living code that suppresses the joy of being in His spiritual family? Yes it is God’s will that people abstain from sinful and lewd behavior, but that is something that should not be enforced by the Church. Only individuals can decide to live Godly. Cain and Abel both brought offerings to God, but only Abel’s was accepted because he offered the best of his first fruits willingly whereas Cain made his offering out of obligation. Cain technically did what he was supposed to do, but he did so because he felt compelled to and God rejected him because of this. No matter how many statutes one obeys, if they do so because of obligation and compulsion, God will still reject it because it does not come from the heart out of a desire to be pleasing to God. Avoid teachers and churches who prefer to hold power over their members with such legalism and instead choose churches who empower their members with the freedom to worship and serve God in their own creative expression. God is after a contrite and sincere heart; not an obedient slave.
For those of you who still cherish what Herbert Armstrong did, please understand that if you came to Christ through Armstrong’s ministry, then be happy in your salvation. It is likely God used Armstrong to win many souls for the Kingdom despite Armstrong’s personal flaws and theological errors. This also applies to those who follow Gerald Flurry today. Just be careful to scrutinize and pay attention to what you are being taught and if it harmonizes with God’s word. Also, never accept a man’s claim to authority or privileged access to God. We are all afforded the same access to Christ. We all share in His authority via the adoption. Even if Peter or Paul were to stand before you, it would be as equals in the eyes of God. They were chosen servants who God imparted authority to, but they never used their authority to lord over Christians. In fact, Peter and Paul chose rather to serve their congregations, and make the ultimate sacrifice instead of setting themselves up as rulers in God’s Church.
Remember, you have the right to question your pastor. You have the right to your personal freedom (of course it is expected you will make wise use of that freedom). Never allow a pastor or church to govern you in such an intrusive manner. The end result will be personal suffering and alienation from God, which is the goal of Satan when he uses false teachers. However, true pastors deserve your respect because they were given their position by God. They are not infallible, but they are to be respected so that they can do God’s work. Finally, pray to God if you doubt your pastor or your church. Let the Holy Spirit guide you away from false teachings and give you the ability to discern when you are being deceived. In today’s world, there is a greater danger of being led astray now more than ever. Be on guard.