WAS HERBERT W. ARMSTRONG REALLY AN APOSTLE?

(Abbreviated versions of this article appear elsewhere on the 'net' with our permission, but this is the Full Version).

TACKLING ERRONEOUS CLAIMS ON THE "APOSTLESHIP" of HERBERT W. ARMSTRONG

Were "Lost Truths" REALLY Restored to Christianity Through Herbert W. Armstrong?


'Some have wandered away .... and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.' (1 Timothy 1:6-7, NIV).

(In the following article I am going to critique the concept that Herbert W. Armstrong was a true apostle of God. I do not do it in anger, spite or bitterness but in love and concern for those whose understanding has been clouded, in the hope that they may yet come to fully appreciate the glorious light of Christ).



T hose who adhere to Armstrongism, that eclectic set of beliefs which are held to by those numerous groups, most of them quite tiny, which have broken away from the Worldwide Church of God sect (which is no longer officially Armstrongist), claim that Herbert W. Armstrong, the original founder of the WCG, was clearly an apostle sent from God. In fact, they base their very existence on their firm belief in Herbert W. Armstrong's apostleship. But I have long noted that their "proofs" or "evidences" of this central tenet are entirely slanted, subjective, emotional and only based on the most selective use of Holy Scripture.

In this article I intend to critique part of Just What is An Apostle? (* see footnote) an online booklet written by one such Armstrongist group. I felt that the time was right to critique the claim of Armstrong's apostleship and looked on several Armstrongist websites for a suitable and typical writing of this sort before finding this one and it seems representative and typical of the usual approach.

Okay. Before picking up a few points from this online book (and I have confined myself to the book's chapter 9 'The Evidence of Our Apostle' as being, perhaps, the central chapter of the writer's thesis and assertion that Mr Armstrong was actually an apostle sent by God), let us notice three or four important points about the biblical office of Apostle. Evangelical Christianity largely agrees that these verses define Apostleship, so we need to consult them. This article is not about possibly subjective or prejudicial personal opinion, this is about learning what the Word of God actually says on this subject.



So What - According To The New Testament - Is An 'Apostle'?

Before we note the clear Scriptural indications of Apostleship, I will kick this off with a brief quote from my 2004 article, 'Who and What Was an Apostle And Are There Any Around Today?'

"The basis of the Greek word translated 'Apostle' (apostulous) is 'One sent forth' and the word has an implication that the one 'sent forth' has been granted extra power by God and certainly has the authority of God to perform this particular mission. The first Apostles were witnesses of the ministry of Jesus and were undoubtedly granted additional strength/power to lay down the first and primary foundation of witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ far and wide in the first century AD.

There is a looser sense of what Paul calls our 'apostleship' which can be applied to all who accept the truth of the gospel and are then appointed by God and 'sent forth' to witness for Christ (Romans 1:5) - this applies to every one of us! Yet this should not blind us to the fact that the original apostles were granted additional power and authority to lay the very foundation of Christian witness. It was vital that this was done correctly since the first century AD had no means of mass communication as we do today and, in order to be a truly effective 'message' the good news of Christ needed to spread fast. We now know that this was certainly accomplished."

Okay, so what does a careful consideration of New Testament teaching show us about Apostleship?

1. The Apostles had seen Christ in the flesh (I will make some comments about the apostle Paul in this regard a little later):

Luke 1:2; Acts 1:21-22; 1Corinthians 9:1; 1 John 1:1.

2. The Apostles had been witnesses of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:2-9 here perhaps especially significant):

Luke 24:33-53; Acts 1:2-9; Acts 10:40-42; 1 Corinthians 15:3-9.

3. The Apostles were specifically empowered to work miracles, often of a most spectacular sort (2 Cor 12:12 here perhaps especially significant):

Matthew 10:1, 8; Mark 16:17-20; Luke 9:1-2; Act 2:43; Acts 5:12-16; Acts 14:3; Acts 15:12; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:3-4.

One might also add a fourth point:

4. They were to rely entirely on God for the material needs of ministry!

Matthew 10:8-10; Luke 6:38; Luke 9:3-4.

Now it is true that not all of the first Christians were given apostleship but those who were would carry the main responsibility of Witness to the Christ firstly to the Jews, then to others. These Scriptures clearly show that the biblical Apostles were a unique group called by God at a very special time for a very special purpose. It should be observed at once that this office will hardly be repeated! While the most loose sense of 'apostleship' could be applied to all of us who represent the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if anybody claims that a particular person is an apostle in the specific New Testament sense (it is plainly not an Old Testament office), then that 'apostle' should be able to stand up to these test Scriptures! Don't forget that Christians are admonished to prove all claims from the Scriptures! Acts 17:11; 1 Thess. 5:21; 2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:12.

So these tests may be applied to any claiming to hold the office of 'apostle' (whether in the extremes of the charismatic movement or anywhere else). Regarding Herbert W. Armstrong (and he is always claimed to be a specific 'end-time apostle' sent by God by all the Armstrongist-type groups), let us boldly ask the following questions:

Regarding the apostle Paul, the article writer states this,

During the time of the early apostles, there were several who would not accept the authority of the apostle Paul. They refused to accept that Paul had been specifically sent to them as their apostle. Instead they listened to others – who led them away from the truth formerly revealed to them. However, when we examine the scale of grace given to the apostle Paul, and how God used him in the role to which He sent him, it is that collective evidence that indicates very clearly that he was the genuine article – even though he was not one of the Twelve.”

Mr and Mrs Armstrong

Herbert W. Armstrong with his first wife Loma in 1965. Armstrong announced to the WCG (which he founded), that he was an apostle and Armstrong's followers mostly continue to believe that he was a true apostle, however, put alongside the New Testament tests of apostleship his claim falls well short.

I don't think that “collective evidence” is really the answer to this. Paul was called in a different way to the other apostles. He carefully explains his calling in Galatians 1:11-24, and in the Book of Acts Luke gives full authority to Paul's apostleship. See Acts 9:1-29, and especially note Luke's comment that “...Saul (Paul) on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him...” (verse 27). So while – in a sense – only two of the four tests of apostleship might appear to apply to Paul, in a somewhat different sense, they could all be said to apply to him. Also Paul was in the company of – and accepted by - the original apostles as one of their number – and this really tells us all we need to know. In the case of Matthias too, care was taken to seek an appropriate man who fulfilled what was needed in an apostle,

'Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.' (Acts 1:21-22). Also be sure to carefully consult Acts 10:39-41.

These texts makes it very plain that the apostles themselves were well aware of the criteria needed for apostleship: Witness to the ministry of Christ, His crucifixion and resurrection were important components of this. Again, it is clear that the office of apostle can no longer exist.

The article, Just What Is An Apostle? Which claims apostleship for Herbert W. Armstrong, says this,

If we are close to God, and weigh the collective evidence of our apostle – in the honest way that God demands – then two things become remarkably clear: Mr Armstrong was both our apostle and the prophesied end-time apostle as well. He was the one prophesied to restore the “all things” that God requires for this critical period. “

More on the concept that Armstrong's mission was to restore “all things” in a moment, but please note that an assumption continues to be made that it should be obvious to all that Armstrong was an apostle and that “collective evidence” should convince us of that, even when we have clearly seen that Mr Armstrong cannot possibly be an apostle according to the New Testament's own standard of apostleship. By the way, the phrase, "end-time apostle" occurs nowhere in Scripture, therefore "prophesied end-time apostle" is just an unbiblical statement which continues the old Adventist concept of focusing believers away from the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ to a focus solely on so-called "end-time" events. Oh, by the way, according to the New Testament the "end-times" commenced with Christ's sacrifice. Go Here to check that out. The phrase carries emotional baggage for a people already cut loose from true biblical moorings. This approach and line of reasoning which apparently rejects the testimony of many Scriptures on the precise subject of apostleship but just selects a few preferred scriptural slants and biases is totally unacceptable both intellectually and spiritually and – with all due respect to the writer – does not merit serious consideration. Yet since some are taken in by such reasoning so we need to continue this critique.

The article continues,

It should be plain to all of us who know the Truth today that we learned the vast majority of that Truth through Mr Herbert Armstrong or those he taught. This, more than any other thing, should tell us that he is our apostle. Foundational Truth, as we have seen in preceding chapters, is by its very nature revealed knowledge. It comes only from God, and is revealed via the apostle whom He chooses to send to His people. If we know that Truth – and have therefore been made part of God’s True Church – then the one who taught us humanly is our apostle – sent (grk: apostello) by God.”

So the illogical reasoning continues, but here the concept of “Truth” is firmly equated with Armstrongism whereas the Bible equates 'The Truth' firmly with Jesus Christ (John 1:14,17; 3:21; 4:23-24; 5:33; 8:32,40,44-46, 14:6,17).

If, in fact, 'Truth' is all about Armstrongist doctrines (as this writer asserts), would this not have been revealed to the apostle Paul who was plainly the first theologian of the Church? After all, in his often weighty epistles Paul even found time to discuss the length of people's hair and the wearing of head coverings in church! Okay, arguing from silence can only achieve so much but let us consider the following:

But the online booklet, 'Just What is An Apostle?' continues on its own merry way with the assumption that any who are 'spiritual' enough should readily understand Mr Armstrong's apostleship,

It is our ability to understand spiritual things that gives the major proof of Mr Armstrong’s position as apostle...”

Hmmm! One might well suggest that the ability to comprehend spiritual matters, as well as to understand the plain biblical teaching on apostleship would only tend to show that Herbert W. Armstrong – as sincere as he may have been – could not possibly have been an apostle! Will we read, appreciate and accept the Bible's own doctrinal authority or won't we? There seems to be an inference here that Armstrong was infallible which he most certainly was not since he can be credited with quite a list of failed predictions (that is another subject which I won't get into here but I vividly recall – as just one example – that in 1982 when Britain went to war with Argentina over their seizure of the Falkland Islands, Armstrong predicted that Britain would lose. In fact, Britain only took a matter of days to defeat the Argentine war effort. Without doubt, if Armstrong was not an apostle he certainly was not a prophet!!).

But now the assertion is made that Armstrong's own acceptance of his “apostleship” is yet further proof that he must indeed have been one,

If we look at the way in which Mr Armstrong taught as an educator – doing an Elijah-like work – the very same Elijah-like qualities within John the Baptist can also be seen in him. He clearly recognised this parallel himself. Notice this quotation from Mystery of the Ages:

But now God's time has come! He now sends a voice to cry out with amplified world-covering power to reveal the way out of this senseless madness, into the world of peace and righteousness that soon shall grip the earth!

In the book of Isaiah is a "now" prophecy: "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord . . . lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say . . . Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him” (Isa. 40:3, 9-10).

That voice now cries out!

The prophet Malachi confirmed this: "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts" (Mal. 3:1).”

The teaching here was always an important Armstrongist teaching; That is, that just as John the Baptist had prepared the way for the First Coming of Christ, even so an “end-time Elijah” would prepare the way for Christ's Second Coming and that end-time Elijah was no other than Herbert W. Armstrong! It is surely somewhat surprising that Armstrongist groups still unashamedly teach this in view of the fact that “God's Apostle” (so-called), died in 1986 (twenty years ago as I pen this article) and Christ's return has still not occurred!

The article continues with this illogical line of reasoning,

...Mr Armstrong knew he fulfilled the role of end-time Elijah. In the early 1980s he also repeatedly referred to himself as “God’s apostle,” both when he spoke and in his writings. Anyone who has any doubts about this, should listen to the bible-study he gave on Zerubbabel’s Temple on 21st July 1978 in which he specifically answers both how and when he knew he was God’s apostle. He knew who he was. Those of us who know the Truth – revealed to us by God through him – must hold this fact in crystal-clear focus. This is particularly true now, after his death, when so many formerly with us in the Church have lost sight of the utterly momentous times in which we live – and into which we are poised to enter.”

But this is just emotional rhetoric which contains an inference that Armstrong's 'apostleship' is beyond doubt even when - at no point - has the writer ever established such a thing.
Moreover, according to this manner of reasoning, it seems that a large part of the proof of the apostleship of any claiming that apostleship is the very fact that they claim it!! Hmmm! Am I missing something here? Is this making any sense? If, from tomorrow morning, a few of us started to claim to be 'end-time apostles' should this – in any way or sense at all – be taken as very good evidence that we were indeed “end-time apostles”? (especially in view of the fact that we only get the knowledge of 'apostle' from the New Testament and – as we have seen – New Testament teaching itself seems to strongly indicate that since Jesus walked this earth almost 2,000 years ago and the apostles were part of that ministry, apostleship is now impossible!) No; I suggest that if a few of us started to claim apostleship from tomorrow morning that would only tend to indicate that we were suffering from delusional problems.
In fact, why would any claim to be an apostle at all since the New Testament shows that pastors, ministers, teachers and even evangelists can be reasonably be expected to be found in our day? Why "apostle"? The answer, of course, is either total self-deception or sheer vanity - and, more likely, a mixture of both; if enough sincere and religious people can be convinced that one is truly an apostle then one places oneself on a very high plane of spirituality/religiosity - one is specifically 'sent by God' and people better make sure that they believe and obey you! Armstrong is not the only man who - during the last 150 years or so - has convinced truly sincere people of their claimed "apostleship."

But the above comment from our considered article raises a particularly serious issue: According to the writer, the "Truth" is "...revealed to us by God through him" - that is, through Armstrong. We alluded to this a little earlier and this is actually a very common belief among Armstrong adherents, but this actually attributes the properties of the Holy Spirit to a man. Might not this be seriously close to being a blasphemous doctrine? Carefully check out John 15:26 and John 16:13 to see Who the Spirit of Truth really is!! So while the New Testament is clear that the 'Spirit of Truth' Who would bring things to a sharper understanding for believers (following Christ's ascension), is none other than the Holy Spirit of God, the Armstrongist view is apparently that a mere man would guide God's people into all truth and bring things to their 'remembrance.' Of course, in fairness, Armstrongists would agree about the work of the Holy Spirit, but apparently are unaware that they have tended to grant the Holy Spirit's attributes to a mere man! The completed Bible canon gives ample testimony of the Holy Spirit's activity in inspiring various Spirit-led individuals to bring the sayings of Christ and the work of the first Christians into remembrace and accessibility to God's own people, neither can we restrict the Spirit's activity to that, of course.



Were Vital Original Church Teachings Really Restored Though Mr Armstrong Thereby Providing Even Greater Proof of His Apostleship?

It has been claimed that several vital church teachings which had been lost were only restored through Armstrong's ministry, thereby affirming his status as an apostle. The article which we are considering gives the following examples (my comments in parentheses):



We can now clearly perceive the error in these closing comments from the pro-Armstrong article which we have been looking at,

Each of the above foundational Truths was restored to the Church at this end-time through Mr Herbert Armstrong. Although we today can clearly see this knowledge within scripture, before it was restored it was not perceived humanly. Only at the appropriate time – the end-time – did God choose to reveal it. He did so using the same Spirit that inspired the original scriptures – sending that revelation through a single individual. This is why Mr Armstrong could confidently say, “don’t believe me – believe the Bible” as both sets of Words were coming from the same Source.”

Here we have the clear assertion that the words of Mr Armstrong were of the same authority as Holy Scripture, this is what Armstrongism really believes even though the admittance is rarely so plain. In fact, in other parts of this online book I found a subtle inference that Armstrong's 'apostleship' was of more importance that Paul's apostleship - this is because of the old Millerite/Adventist error that the events leading up to the Second Coming are more important than the events surrounding the First Coming.



CONCLUSION

We should test all claims of those who 'come in the Name of Jesus' against Holy Scripture. In the case of the office of apostle, our Lord surely knew that other 'Johnny come-latelys' would claim apostleship and it can be no accident that the Scriptures show us quite sufficient to show that the office of apostle is now a closed office, reaching its conclusion with the death of the last apostles, almost certainly before 100 AD.

In the case of Herbert W. Armstrong's message of Legalism+Christ we only need to consult Paul's epistle to the Galatians which reveals Paul's red-hot anger with those who perverted the message of Christ by turning it into an essentially legalistic message, thereby turning people who had understood the grace of Christ back to the law.

'I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which really is no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!' (Galatians 1: 6-9, NIV throughout).

'You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing – if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?' (Galatians 3:1-5).

'Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the sons born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does the Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son.” Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman but of the free woman. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.' (Galatians 4:28-5:1).

Robin A. Brace. 2006.

(* Footnote: I have critiqued the online article 'Just What is an Apostle?' as I found it and read it on September 25-26th, 2006. Sometimes articles are dropped, edited or completely revised).

The reader may also wish to read:

Our Testimony

A Brief Biography of Herbert W. Armstrong

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


Recovering From Armstrongism

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