Was Herbert Armstrong A Cult Leader And False Prophet?

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.[2] These theological doctrines and teachings have been referred to as Armstrongism. His teachings included the interpretation of biblical prophecy in light of British Israelism,[3] 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[4] before the return of Jesus Christ. He also founded the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation, which promoted the arts, humanities, and humanitarian projects.[5] 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.”[6]

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.

This post was written by

Donald Baker – who has written posts on Tribulation Project.

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Donald Baker

11 comments
donaldbaker
donaldbaker moderator

Bill I decided to temper my criticisms to what I felt were the most pressing.  I tried not to condemn the man entirely.  He did try to do the Lord's work albeit in a misguided way.  Surely he did do some good while he lived.  Now whether Armstrong was a murderer is not my call.  I will let God judge him on that one.

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BillC48
BillC48

Donald first I like to state I am atheist and would like to comment on Armstrong. Armstrong was truly the epitome of a false prophet and your criticism of the man did not go far enough into explaining his warped ideas on God. The WCG was a cult, which was clearly identified by its rules. The laity was not allowed to associate with people outside of the WCG and were subject to disfellowship if they did association with outsiders. Another of Armstrong's rules denied the laity the right to see a doctor when ill. This specific rule resulted in people dying. Therefore in my opinion Armstrong is a murderer. I do question your remark, stating Armstrong helped Christianity, when his involvement with Christianity was clearly a detriment to the Christian faith.

Donald this post is strictly for your eyes and does not request any criticism from any other posters. To any posters that wish to comment on my post, please don't bother, won't bother reading or responding to negative posts.

RobertLeeRE
RobertLeeRE

And your correct, God used him in a mighty way. He was on the radio a lot. But it is okay for us to critique his theology. That is how we and others that are listening learn, by listening to our midrash or discussion. and when I put him in the same group as Jehovah Witnesses and Mormans I was, the purpose was for clarification, not accusation. I am not accusing the bretheran, only equal critique for all. You know most people haven't a clue what in the world we are talking about. :-)  But it truly is important for people to see the danger of Mosaic law.

 

God Bless,

Brother RobertLeeRE 

RobertLeeRE
RobertLeeRE

I hear ya. And that is the same way I feel. You know most all, if not all theologians have some theology that is skewered a bit. So that is not that unusual. Never the less it is good to point out the weaknesses of their theolgy. When i was an early Christian before i knew better I was influenced by some of his stuff. His ten tribes stuff is original and quite thought provoking. But never the less they are into mosaic law and that is why all the legalism. The problem of mosaic law is it is a slippery slope. Once it creeps in it starts growing and expanding. Eventually it becomes a set of rules of how each church member should dress compliments of Leviticus. yes, I understood from your article you were not saying he was a bad person. Neither was I, and if it came across that way that was not my intention. All sects of Christianty have weaknesses. I was not accusing, only educating. :-) . For those readers,

 

God Bless,

Brother RobertLeeRE 

donaldbaker
donaldbaker moderator

I'm not saying Mr. Armstrong was a bad person.  He actually did quite a bit of good.  I think many of his teachings were skewed and off base.  I'm not sure I buy into the Lost Tribes doctrine of his, but I can't disprove it either since disproving it is near impossible.  I mean he could be right in his assertions, but it's not likely.

RobertLeeRE
RobertLeeRE

Brother Don,

 

Good Post-This subject matter is dear to my heart.

 

Armstrongism- basically they accept parts of mosaic law as part of the gospel of which it is not of course. I think this is the key to any of the sects of Christianity that strays off the straight and narrow path-they accept certain portions of mosaic law. You see this clearly in the structure of their church and the their government of church elders. Many times you see them wearing all white just as Islam does because it is Elder Worship/Idol Worship. So they all dress in white because salvation and righteousness is based upon works principals from the mosaic law system instead of faith as it should be according to the Apostle Paul. Paul called this the other gospel, although Paul was referring to a group called the Judaisers. But these groups all have similarities to consider.

     But I do believe they are saved, of course this is God's decision not mine. The scripture doesn't clearly say other then saying they are on the wrong path. Scripture says you are saved when you believe Christ was your Savior and you Repented and asked Christ into your heart. If you were to ask any in these groups they would claim Christ was their Savior. And there are probably many in their group not saved, possibly even more within Christian groups not saved. Armstrongism is no different then the other Christian cults, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, and many many small branch deviations of different Christian sects. They all believe scriptural truth comes from what the Elder teaches IS scriptural truth.

       Since there is no concept of scriptural truth in these groups there is another common string that runs through them all piercing them, hooking them all together. They do not believe scripture is absolute. They all believe there are mistakes and impurities in the bible that must be screened out by these same Elders. So while the Elder is lifted and put on this high pedestal the commoner is put down and the Liberty and Grace of the gospel are stripped away to reinforce the tyrant community of Elders and their Pastor. And they all wear white at their special.

       Another thing about Armstrongism. From my understanding and research a lot of this group has changed into what I would call Yahweh cults which wasn't around when Armstrong died. They believe they are the Ten Lost Tribes and that they are the real Israelites and the ones in Israel today are the Jews which is kind of like a cup of a little truth mixed with a whole lot of speculation nonsense. Someday I would like to write a detailed expose on how all these group beliefs are closely linked and interconnected to document more easily for layman Christian. But the common string that runs through all them is mosaic law. They do not go to church they go to temple. They Celebrate Feasts always claiming they don't do it for righteousness sake but separate themselves from other Christian groups and act like they are more righteous in their speech patterns and the way they dress. Try to get any of them to sit down and read the bible and have bible study and they flee for no Elder is present to tell them how to think. Want to know how to get rid of JW's when they come to the door? Invite them in to sit at the kitchen table and read scripture. They will flee so quick your head spins.

 

God Bless, 

 

 Brother RobertLeeRE

 

donaldbaker
donaldbaker moderator

I just want to say that I believe Herbert Armstrong believed in Jesus Christ and I also believe many came to Christ via his ministry.  I expect to see him in Heaven, but I also expect that God will point out where he erred.  But then again, only God knows who is saved and who isn't.

RobertLeeRE
RobertLeeRE

Brother Don

 

That is the major problem when preachers and their followers mingle God's words with the words of men. his teaching that the 10 lost tribes are the English speaking countries have absolutely nothing to do with the gospel and the spreading of the gospel. It is all speculation and you cannot build church structure and church doctrine on speculation. It does make good read though. This issue is it gets away from the words in the bible and toward the words of men. That is a major problem. I would call him an influential sect of Christianity leader. I would not call him a cult leader, nor a False Prophet. He is neither. he was the leader of a sect of Christianity that transformed into a new sect of Christianity called the Yahweh Movement. What ever it takes to get people to open theirs hearts and follow God. maybe some people need to follow mosaic law, I don't know, but it is not what Paul teaches in his church dogma outlined in the Pauline Epistles.

 

God Bless,

 

Brother RobertLeeRE 

 

marlonmanaoat
marlonmanaoat

@donaldbaker

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

marlonmanaoat
marlonmanaoat

@donaldbakeri don't think why many church leaders now are criticizing HWA. Are these church leaders now proved that they more correct than HWA teaching?

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