Were Vital Lost Teachings Really Restored to the Church Through Herbert W. Armstrong?

We have no wish to single out Armstrongist-type groups for any special condemnation since - in most cases - they are no worse than many other cults and sects which are out there, yet their various leaders continue to support the theological claims of one Herbert W. Armstrong and his errors in understanding do need to be continually pointed out. The official 'Worldwide Church of God' (so-called) now officially reject Armstrongism (and now call themselves 'Grace Communion International') but other groups - mostly very small - do continue to carry the same old errors forward.

Several (in fact, all) Armstrongist groups have claimed that Herbert W. Armstrong restored several vital church teachings (which had supposedly been lost) through his ministry, thereby helping to affirm Armstrong's status as an apostle.

(The following is a brief excerpt from the much longer article Was Herbert W. Armstrong Really An Apostle? - full version. It is recommended that that article is read in full for much greater information and more detailed explanation).

The article which we are considering (an online Armstrongist article called 'Just What Is An Apostle?' - more details in the full article), gives the following examples. My comments are in parentheses:

CLAIM: Truth Restored: The True Gospel of God’s soon coming Kingdom. (Armstrongism's “True Gospel” is nothing other than the old Millerite Adventist Gospel of the 19th century. It is a legalistic message which reduces Christ to simply being a messenger sent from heaven. This 'gospel' makes Christ play second fiddle to the Law whereas the New Testament places Christ absolutely central. There is also confusion about a “soon-coming” kingdom because in this system of thought the kingdom does not truly arrive until the Second Coming. Traditional Christianity, however, understands that Christians enter the kingdom right now so this is indeed a soon-coming kingdom, but the Adventist “soon-coming” kingdom is hardly “soon-coming” at all!)

CLAIM: Truth Restored: The Purpose of God – and how He is reproducing Himself through mankind. (Again, there is nothing new about this heretical teaching since Mormons already held it. The teaching does not occur in the Bible so mainline Christianity rejected it for wholly biblical reasons).

CLAIM: Truth Restored: The re-establishment of God’s Government within the Church. (What is meant here is church government 'from the top down' - as a hierarchy. But certain Christian denominations had always practiced this form of church government including the Roman Catholic Church, Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy, so what would be 'new' about this? Of course, Armstrong believed that only he had authority directly from God so only his church government hierarchy was authoritative).

CLAIM: Truth Restored: Who and What God is – that God is a family of persons into which we humans may be born. (Same as the second point).

CLAIM: Truth Restored: How God is not a trinity and the Spirit of God is not a person. (This was long a heretical doctrine. How on earth can anybody claim that Armstrong “restored” a lost teaching when the teaching was always around but was rejected for the very sound reason that the Scriptures do indeed reveal God to be a Holy Trinity? The teaching that God is not a trinity and the Holy Spirit is not a person was 'alive and healthy' among Unitarians long before Armstrong was born. Unitarianism emerged in 16th century England and Hungary. Nothing new in Armstrong's approach. It was 'old hat' but rejected for solid scriptural reasons! So in what sense can Armstrong have “restored” it?)

CLAIM: Truth Restored: What and Why man is – that he is flesh, deliberately made incomplete, with a human spirit that is designed to be joined to God’s Holy Spirit – uniting him with God. (Nothing new here! Armstrong obviously decided his prejudices very early and therefore never studied classical theology because he probably believed it was demonic. The terms might be a little different but this is classical evangelical theology. Nothing here was in need of “restoring”).

CLAIM: Truth Restored: The nature of this “spirit in man” – that it imparts human intellect to the physical brain. (Again, nothing really new here although the term 'spirit in man' was peculiar to Armstrongism. But Christianity has always understood that man had an intellect provided by a spirit component but has tended to prefer the term 'soul' – this is just a difference of terminology. Also, using the term 'soul' never meant that all of Christianity embraced the doctrine of the Immortal Soul as found in Greek philosophy; in fact, large parts had a problem with it, although 'soul' was still – by and large – the preferred term for what Armstrong called 'the spirit in man').

CLAIM: Truth Restored: That man is not an immortal soul. (Already largely answered. Armstrong appeared to think that traditional Christianity accepted that version of The Immortal Soul which emerged from the Greek world. In fact, while the concept of soul was held, large areas of Christianity re-interpreted it. But the view that man did not have an immortal soul was already widely held and Armstrong did not in any sense “restore” it. His overall view was already present in several sects long before his own ministry commenced).

CLAIM: Truth Restored: That those called by God and given His Spirit are only begotten now – like a human embryo – waiting to be born later in the first resurrection. (It is surprising that this error of Armstrong is still held as something he “restored” since he plainly misunderstood the Greek use of “begotten” seeing it only as a reference to conception. The basic problem is that Armstrong and the men he trained did not understand New Testament Greek. He believed that believers can only be 'born again' at the resurrection when the New Testament refers to being 'born again' at Christian conversion. He stubbornly held to this error for many years. He was far from the first to completely misunderstand Revelation 20 so perhaps should not be criticized about his interpretation of the 'first resurrection.')

CLAIM: Truth Restored: That God is not calling the world at large – only the first-fruits who are training to become the teachers of the future. (And here it is hard to be too critical of Mr Armstrong – he did indeed perceive that much of traditional Christianity's view of 'race against the clock evangelism' is actually erroneous and unbiblical, even if entirely well-meaning. But did he truly “restore” this understanding? Hardly. The understanding was already around that God was only calling a few during the age of the church, although not always widely accepted and frequently misunderstood).

CLAIM: Truth Restored: The purpose of the Millennium in eventually opening up salvation to the entire world for the first time. (This teaching was hardly new in any sense at all and it is amazing that pre-millenialism is claimed to be something Armstrong “restored.” There were always Christians around who believed in a literal millenium and Darby's Dispensationalism popularised the belief even more in the 19th century United States. Today many American Christians accept Darby's view of the millenium, but JN Darby can be credited with this – not Armstrong. The Darby/Scofield view was not identical to Armstrong's but very very close; but even if we would reject the Darby/Scofield view because of minor differences, Armstrong's so-called "classical pre-millenialism" is very old and throughout Christian history one finds certain groups which held to it. There was absolutely nothing new or unique or even 'uniquely restored' about this teaching when Armstrong adopted it - from others!)

CLAIM: Truth Restored: The incredible Truth of the Last Great Day – when all who have ever lived will be given their first chance for salvation through a physical resurrection. (Mr Armstrong's view of the Last Great Day was an interesting line of thought, without any doubt. Many of us also believe that the masses will finally have their eyes opened but do not feel that we need to invoke the concept of the Last Great Day. He believed that this “physical resurrection” would be to a further 100 years of life on the basis of a somewhat obscure verse – Isaiah 65:20 - which is certainly capable of being explained differently).

CLAIM: Truth Restored: The identity of Israel – as physical nations within this modern world. (Armstrong's British-Israelitism was nothing new. It had been quite a popular view long before Armstrong's birth even though it is based on no more than shifting sand. The “evidence” is no more than folk lore and legend and is nothing whatsoever to do with Holy Scripture. For any to claim that this view was “restored” to Christianity by Armstrong is little short of nonsense of almost Alice in Wonderland proportions).

CLAIM: Truth Restored: The specific identity of Ephraim and Manasseh – that unlocks our understanding to the vast spread of end-time bible prophecy. (Armstrong's view that Ephraim became Britain and Manasseh became America was fanciful, unprovable, a little silly and nothing whatsoever to do with Holy Scripture. But none of this was peculiar to Armstrong – he “restored” nothing. His concept that there was a “vast spread of end-time Bible prophecy” was not new either – this came from Adventism. In fact, there is little doubt that the large percentage of Bible prophecy has already been fulfilled. He imposed these things upon the Bible, he did not 'draw them out' of the Bible. In other words, this was not 'exegesis' but 'eisegesis' – that is, to read things into the Bible).

CLAIM: Truth Restored: Second tithe and its link to the festivals of God. (Armstrong believed that the Levitical holydays – Leviticus 23 - were commanded for Christian observance and that the second tithe was to help families to pay for keeping and attending these feasts – especially the Feast of Tabernacles. All of this just underlines how different Armstrongism is from New Testament Christianity. Acts 15 makes it very plain that these festivals and even the weekly sabbath were not even to be passed onto Gentile Christians. Of course, the flawed Armstrongist understanding of Anglo-Saxon racial identity taught that British, Americans and many western Europeans were part of Israel. What Herbert W. Armstrong did not seem to comprehend is that even if these peoples were of Israelitish stock, the New Covenant - which Armstrong very definitely never understood - would mean that the Levitical holydays and the seventh day sabbath were no longer commanded observances anyway).

CLAIM: Truth Restored: The administration of third tithe. (This was for the poor and was to be paid the third and sixth years out of every seven. This understanding meant that WCG members were - effectively - required to hand over 30% of their earned income in every third and sixth year. In fact, when one carefully looks at what Josephus and other Jewish writers have written about this practise, it is almost certain that the first tithe was dropped every third and sixth year. But the main problem here was Armstrong's complete lack of understanding of the New Covenant which rendered all such regulations obsolete).

CLAIM: Truth Restored: The identity of Babylon the Great and her harlot daughters – identified within the Catholic and Protestant churches of this world. (Little needs to be said here. Again, this understanding was nothing new. Even in the 16th century Calvin saw Roman Catholicism identified in Babylon the Great. Millerites and Adventists had added Protestant churches to the mix because they observed Sunday rather than Saturday. Nothing here was new and Mr Armstrong “restored” nothing).

CLAIM: Truth Restored: How Satan remains the guilty party today – even deceiving the so called “christian” churches whom God leaves blinded – so God’s Church should not sit in judgement of them. (The last part is new to me because Armstrongist ministers spend rather a lot of time in judging Christian churches. But the first part is nothing new and nothing was “restored”).

CLAIM: Truth Restored: The importance of God’s Church being separate – “called out ones” from this world of Babylonian confusion. (Nothing new and positively nothing restored here. All of evangelical Christianity shares the same sentiments that Christians should be ambassadors for Christ and retain a certain separation from the world).

Robin A. Brace. 2007.

Far more information on Hebert W. Armstrong and on Armstrongism is available here:

A Brief Biography of Herbert W. Armstrong

Was Herbert W. Armstrong REALLY An Apostle?

(A full list of articles to assist those coming out of the Armstrongist groups)