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A Brief Biography of Herbert W. Armstrong (1892-1986).
A Concise Look at the Founder of the Worldwide Church of God, Herbert W. Armstrong.
Where Did He Come From? What Did He Believe?
My Credentials to make comments about Armstrong and about the Worldwide Church of God.
Herbert W. Armstrong (1892 – 1986) was the founder of the 1933 Radio Church of God which he later renamed Worldwide Church of God. He was chancellor of Ambassador College; publisher of The Plain Truth magazine in several languages; presenter of The World Tomorrow radio and television programmes; father of radio-television evangelist Garner Ted Armstrong; president of the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation; patron of the Ambassador Auditorium concert series and (self-styled) as "Ambassador for World Peace."
Herbert and Loma Armstrong perusing a 'Plain Truth' magazine around 1965.
Background, Early Career, Marriages and Children.
In 1892 Herbert Wright Armstrong was
born in Des Moines, Iowa, to parents who were of the Quaker
faith. As an Armstrong, he was related to the infamous Armstrong clan of outlaws who had caused havoc as 'border reivers' on the English/Scottish border in the 16th century.
Herbert began a career in business sales and advertising around 1908. Most of his early life until 1926 was devoted to selling marketing and advertising services. During this time he adopted his distinctive copy and layout style of presentation in which upper and lower case words were mixed within the text for emphasis and impact. This writing style certainly became his own trademark which he never abandoned throughout his life. But his compelling writing style has since sometimes been ridiculed as an example of the worst journalistic writing excesses, ie., using sensationalist appearance in order to cover up a lack of evidence, compelling argumentative skills or real substance within any particular article.
In 1917 he married Loma Dillon. They had four children: Richard David (who was tragically killed in a car crash in England in 1958), Beverly, Dorothy and Garner Ted, later to become well-known as an Armstrongist evangelist. Armstrong's first wife Loma died in 1966.
He married a much younger woman called Ramona Martin in 1977, a marriage which many members of his WCG organisation deeply frowned upon even though they did not dare communicate their doubts to the fiery and sometimes explosive Armstrong who effectively held all power within the organisation. To personally challenge Armstrong would result in immediate disfellowshipping. Armstrong was aged 85 at the time, while Ramona, a very striking and beautiful woman, was about 40 and was divorced with a living husband. For decades his teaching had forbidden a church member to remarry after a divorce until the death of the former spouse. If a prospective member was married to someone who had a living previous spouse, no matter how long ago the previous divorce had been, and no matter if the current marriage had small children, baptism was denied unless the prospective member ended the current marriage. His austere policy had also highly frowned on any sort of inter-racial marriage but his new wife was part-Cherokee. It appeared to some that Armstrong was quite prepared to flout his own doctrines when he discovered a beautiful young woman who was prepared to marry him. So he wed Ramona Martin, a divorced church member less than half his age with a living ex-husband. That marriage ended in a bitter and acrimonious divorce in 1982.
The Bricket Wood, England campus of 'Ambassador College' one of three colleges founded by Herbert W. Armstrong; the other two were at Pasadena, California and Big Sandy, Texas.
Foundation of his Own Belief System
In his early life Herbert W. Armstrong abandoned the faith of his parents. At some time around the mid-1920s when he was living in Oregon, his wife Loma became friendly with a lady who was a member of the Church of God; Seventh Day. He is said to have been converted to her beliefs after initially attempting to prove them to be wrong. He described it in interesting terms: That she "kept Saturday for Sunday," and that he would prove to her that the Bible taught somewhere that "thou shalt keep Sunday," indicating an early total unfamiliarity with Scripture. This story was repeated endlessly by Armstrong, embarrassing those members of his organisation who already understood that most of traditional Christianity (if not entirely all) never claimed Sunday to be another Sabbath day, but saw it as 'The Lord's Day.' Even though many Christians will loosely apply the term "sabbath" to Sunday this, in most cases, is merely an expression which should not imply that they are unaware of the differences between the Mosaic sabbath and The Lord's Day.
In 1927 Herbert W. Armstrong was baptized by a Baptist minister (something he certainly never mentioned in later years), but he continued as a member of the Church of God. In 1931 Armstrong was ordained by the Oregon Conference of The Church of God, but in 1933 the Church of God group into which Armstrong had been baptized and ordained split into two factions. Herbert W. Armstrong followed the breakaway group which was led by A. N. Dugger who then formed the Church of God; 7th Day with its American headquarters in Salem, West Virginia and (real or claimed) "world headquarters" in Jerusalem. In the same year of 1933 Herbert W. Armstrong took to the airwaves for the very first time with a religious programme on radio station KORE in Eugene, Oregon where he also pastored a church congregation. The broadcast over KORE gave rise to the name Radio Church of God. In 1934 he began publication of The Plain Truth magazine.
Herbert W. Armstrong received his ministerial credentials from the Church of God; Seventh Day. Elder John Kiesz of Denver, Colorado (who died in 1996), an associate of Herbert Armstrongs in the 1920s and '30s in that organisation wrote: "In 1931 he [HWA] was ordained to the ministry, and in 1932 he received his Ministerial License Certificate from the Oregon Conference of the Church of God, signed by O.J. Runcorn as President, and Mrs. I.E. Curtis as Secretary."
After documenting and explaining his belief that the Bible required true Christians to observe the biblical Holy Days as set forth mainly in Leviticus 23 (as well as the 7th day sabbath), the leadership of the Church of God; Seventh Day, told him that although some of them agreed with him, that this doctrine could not be taught as many members would be offended. Herbert Armstrong then decided he had to discontinue his association with that group. A few years later (around 1937) the Church of God; Seventh Day revoked his ministerial credentials for doctrinal differences.
As editor and publisher of The Plain Truth, Armstrong received press accreditation from the United Nations to cover the UN Charter Conference in San Francisco in 1945. It is claimed that Armstrong continued to have a variety of other press credentials until his death.
Herbert W. Armstrong preached a "gospel" that was certainly different from that of mainstream Christianity mainly because he was convinced that they were preaching "a counterfeit message" but also partly because he did not primarily intend to attract members, but to serve as a base with which to warn the world of a timetable of coming events. The climax of those events, in his concept, would result in the return of Jesus Christ to Earth as King of kings and Lord of lords in order to establish the Kingdom of God which he equated with a 1,000 year "millenium." Some Armstrong adherents would later claim (and often still claim) that belief in a literal, 1,000 year 'millenium' was something that Mr Armstrong "restored to the church" even though this whole theological approach was lifted straight out of Adventism, which pre-dated Armstrong by quite a few years. Of course, belief in a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ is certainly older than Adventism, but it was Adventism, to say nothing of 'Dispensationalism,' which developed the concept as a fully organised doctrine; Armstrong was a late-comer to this and certainly not a "restorer" of the teaching.
Main Points of Armstrongist Doctrine
Does Hebrews 4:9 Support Sabbath-Keeping?
Although Armstrong always taught that faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the baptism of believers into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were central tenets of belief and practice for Christians, he also taught certain other beliefs or practices which mainstream Christianity believes to be either (a) non-binding because of the New Covenant, (b) plainly heretical, or (c) completely irrelevant to biblical teaching. Armstrong taught:
1. Strict observance of the seventh day Sabbath from Friday sunset until Saturday sunset.
2. Strict observance of the Judaic 'Holydays' as outlined, mainly, in Leviticus 23. However, these were not to be observed in a traditional Jewish way but in the light of the knowledge of Christ.
3. Recognition of the "knowledge" that the British and American peoples were descended from the 'Lost Tribes of Israel.' This "knowledge" meaning that certain prophecies were applicable to those peoples. Armstrong claimed that this belief was peculiar to him, having been "restored to the true church" by "God's Apostle" (himself). In fact, his very poor booklet on this subject is now widely believed to have been heavily plagiarized from other writers of 'British Israelitism.' Certainly the booklet, entitled, The United States and the British Commonwealth in Prophecy, was weak, poorly argued, and based on little more than folk lore and legend.
4. That Armstrong himself was not only an Apostle but the direct end-time equivalent of John the Baptist, and that just as John had prepared the way for the First Coming of Jesus, Armstrong (and he alone) was "preparing the way for the Second Coming."
5.That members needed to tithe (that is, give a tenth of their income) in order to support this unique end-time God-given ministry! In fact, Armstrong taught the requirement for, not one, but three tithes! So Worldwide Church of God members were effectively required to hand over 30% of their wages to the WCG (The first tenth was to support the wages of the ministry, the second was for members to pay for their attendance at the eight-day Feast of Tabernacles, the annual autumn vacation/assembly, and the third 10% was to be sent to the Church every third year in a cycle of seven, which was used to help those in the Church who were in financial trouble. Deut 26:12).
6. The belief that the WCG was not part of Protestantism but had a separate history. In order to further this claim, Armstrong himself and several of his WCG writers made several attempts to trace a history of groups with similarly heretical beliefs to themselves right back through Church history to the first century AD. This meant claiming that groups as mixed and different as the Waldenses (mostly a very worthy group) and the Ebionites (plainly heretical) were part of their own lineage. Many Armstrong admirers were won over at the time before finally having to admit (often years later) that these attempts to establish an Armstrongist "true church" lineage amounted to a most appalling abuse of church history, this abuse included claiming that certain groups kept the seventh day sabbath, when no such evidence exists.
7. The belief that the New Testament term 'born again' did not refer to Christian conversion but to the spiritual birth of the resurrection (it did not bother Armstrong that 98% of Christianity, including many formidable Greek experts, disagreed with him).
8. That the Christians in all denominations (whether Protestant or Catholic) would eventually have to accept Armstrongism ("the knowledge of the truth") or they could not be saved. Currently, non-Armstrongist Christians had been misled into a "false conversion" and were "false Christians."
9. Whereas most of Christianity teaches one resurrection, and many other more fringe Christian groups teach two resurrections, Armstrong actually taught three resurrections! (Those in the third resurrection would only be resurrected in order to immediately go into the Lake of Fire!) The majority of Common Greek-fluent Bible expositors and theologians would consider that the concept of perceiving three resurrections in Revelation 20 is based on a very flawed understanding of that chapter.
10. The Christian Godhead is a family currently made up of two personages, the Father, whom Jesus revealed, and the Son, Jesus Himself. However, the Godhead will later expand to include billions of personages, as the destiny of humans, if they obey the Law of God and keep the faith of Jesus. Armstrong taught that true Christians would eventually become God beings. The Holy Spirit is not a third Person of the Godhead, but rather it is the power that emanated from God the Father and Jesus Christ that can be in mankind making us one with them and enabling us to keep God's commandments as Jesus did.
11. That members ought not go to doctors for medical help since this was undermining their faith in 'divine healing.' However, from the early 1980s this was only very patchily taught and observed in the organisation and many people accepted medical advice, aid and even surgery from doctors including many ministers and Armstrong himself, who, in fact had much medical treatment in his later years! Therefore, rather like the modern health, wealth and prosperity gospel teachers, this was an area of incredible hypocrisy and double-standards.
That the victory of Christ is not complete until His Second Coming (whereas traditional Christianity teaches that Christ's victory was complete with His death and resurrection).
The Stanley Rader
Many members of the Worldwide Church of God were utterly perplexed and puzzled by a man called Stanley Rader who was a lawyer who appeared to come from almost nowhere to take a leading position in the organisation almost overnight. The Wikipedia Encyclopedia sums it up this way:
"Following a series of scandals involving Garner Ted Armstrong which began shortly after the dawning of the 1970s ... Garner Ted Armstrong was finally removed as second-in-command of the church and replaced by attorney Stanley Rader, who had enjoyed a long relationship with Herbert W. Armstrong. From the early 1970s until approximately 1978-9. Stanley Rader created and directed another organization funded by the church called the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation. This development sparked a public relations war between the younger evangelist Garner Ted Armstrong and financial strategist Stanley Rader, for continuing influence with the now elderly Armstrong regarding present financial dealings and who would inherit the future legitimate control of his wealthy church college. Following a climax when the church was placed into involuntary financial receivership by action of the State of California, legal battles to the USSC, California state legislature, with a major 60 Minutes segment on CBS, Stanley Rader retired with a large cash bonus from Armstrong, followed by a substantial pension."
(See article, Herbert W. Armstrong http://en.wikipedia.org/)
I am informed that during court proceedings, Rader once made the incredible claim that he had owned homes in Beverly Hills, Pasadena and Tucson, all initially financed by the church. He sold the Beverly Hills home at a tidy profit and told reporters during a break in proceedings, "Buy low, sell high. I don't take 'stupid pills,' you know."
Herbert W. Armstong was a keen writer and most of his works were stamped with his early style of attention-grabbing sensationalism that had been popular in the 1920s and 1930s but was seen as very passé by the 1950s and decidely embarrassing by the 1970s; this involved the mixing of upper and lower-case letters right across any written script and the over-use of exclamation marks. He wrote many articles and booklets and just a few full-length books. However, shortly after the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, disputes arose over the copyrights to these works when the Worldwide Church of God withdrew them from circulation. Other Armstrongist groups argued and continue to argue over the rights to use these books.Some of these groups then attempted to reprint and circulate the writings of Herbert W. Armstrong and this eventually led to a major and lengthy court case between the Worldwide Church of God and the Philadelphia Church of God which still largely accepts many Armstrongist doctrines. Following mutual resolution of that case the Philadelphia Church of God gained legal copyrights to some of the most noteworthy works and these include:
Mystery of the Ages
The Incredible Human Potential
The Missing Dimension in Sex
The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy
The Seven Laws of Success
The United States And Britain In Prophecy
The Demise of Herbert W. Armstrong
Joseph Tkach Snr. who replaced Armstrong as WCG 'Pastor General' following Armstrong's death in January 1986. Mr Tkach preached at Wembley Conference Centre, London, twice during the late 1980s endearing himself to British WCG members with a warm and caring approach which had often been absent from WCG leaders. He further endeared himself by showing a firm resolve to cut back on previous lavish WCG overspending within its ministry.
Armstrong died in 1986 after appointing Joseph W. Tkach to be his successor.
In the years that followed, Tkach commenced a doctrinal review process that led to a change in many of the central beliefs and doctrines that the sect had developed under Herbert W. Armstrong. This process included a decision to withhold from further circulation all previous publications that had been authored by Herbert W. Armstrong. Following the major changes in doctrine and practice by the Worldwide Church of God, many members left the organization, resulting in a dramatic fall in church donations. Joseph W. Tkach Snr. died in 1995. Just as he had been Armstrong's hand-picked successor, he chose his son Joseph Tkach Jr. to assume the office of Pastor General and control of the Worldwide Church. The title of 'apostle' has not been claimed by either of Mr Armstrong's successors, as far as the writer is aware.
Today the WCG organisation seeks to avoid being labelled "Armstrongist" in teaching and it seeks to follow the route of conservative evangelicalism but, without doubt, Armstrongist influences remain entrenched in many longer-term members, including certain ministers. Meanwhile numerous off-shoot Armstrongist groups now exist of which the United Church of God, the Philadelphia Church of God and the Living Church of God are perhaps the best known.
Robin A. Brace. 2006.
You must also read the testimony of my own involvement in Armstrongism.
Postscript to the 2006 Edit of our Testimony
(Including where we stand now on Armstrongism and the WCG; You may want to read this)
WAS HERBERT W. ARMSTRONG REALLY AN APOSTLE?
(There is no reason to be in any doubt on this subject, because the New Testament makes the topic of 'Apostleship' really clear).
There is a whole collection of articles to assist those who have been influenced by Armstrongism HERE.
Recovering From Armstrongism