Rooting Armstrongism out of Ex-Worldwide Church of God Folk

Picture of Armstrongs

(A picture of Herbert and Loma Armstrong taken about 1965 and now believed to be in the public domain)

Museltof Countercult and Apologetics UK are often involved in counselling former (and present) members of the Worldwide Church of God sect/cult (usually referred to as the 'WCG').

Yet despite the fact that my wife and I are former members of this small, but surprisingly influential, group I have written very little about them, except for My Testimony which comes up on just about any search for information on the WCG.
I have also written The Move Away From Legalism, of course, but the intention there is broader than just the WCG alone. It is to encourage all who may have come under the influence of the sects and cults to understand what the gospel message is all about, and to help them understand that legalism effectively masks that message. (By the way, if you have never read 'The Move Away From Legalism' and would like to, it is also available Here).

But I have now decided to also write this article and although it concentrates on the difficulty of rooting Armstrongism out of former WCG people, there is no doubt that many of the principles will apply to people who have left other sects and cults and who are now struggling to come to a fuller understanding of all that the genuine Christian Faith means and entails.

But first of all let me yet again make it clear that I intend to maintain my practise of being very conservative in my criticisms of Herbert W. Armstrong, even while recognising that he was - without doubt - a false prophet who led sincere people astray. I cannot identify with some of the hate-filled and malicious anti-Armstrongist material which is so extensive on the 'net'.

Several times over the last few years I have come into contact with ex-WCG and even current WCG people who tell me that they have long since left Armstrongism with all of its errors. Yet when we start chatting, all too often I am finding Armstrongist influences lying only just beneath the surface which have not been satisfactorily dealt with. Frequently after a few minutes conversation these people will say things like, 'Of course, Mr Armstrong always used to say...' Even now this always surprises me! I will often retort by saying, 'I thought you said that Armstrong and Armstrongism are now firmly behind you...'
It just makes me realise that if a person has been heavily influenced by a cult or sect for, perhaps, many years, those influences cannot be overcome in a short space of time!

Perhaps it was easier for me; when I came to see that Armstrongism was flawed right the way through, I determined to cleanse myself from it thoroughly as an influence. I determined to move ahead in biblical knowledge with an acceptance that - theologically speaking - Armstrong was wholly unreliable as a source of biblical understanding. Yet many who have emerged from his teachings still feel that much of what he said was biblically reliable. Perhaps I was fortunate here - I was about to start a theology degree and this gave me access to literally hundreds of books written by men of faith who have studied the books of the Bible in astonishing detail in their original languages (of course, I also gained access to much distorted theology but, by this time, the Holy Spirit had granted me a truly clear and transparent discernment of just what the gospel is all about). I studied both Hebrew and Greek. I can't claim to have become any kind of Hebrew expert because I only studied it for a year, but my comprehension of Common Greek (the language of the New Testament), appeared to develop rapidly, surprising not only myself but a few of my fellow students. Of course, all the praise goes to our Lord for this because I recall - years earlier - praying for a fuller understanding of New Testament Greek, even while not knowing how I would be able to attain that.

But the majority of those who came to see that Armstrongism was a fraudulent representation of the Holy Bible just did not enjoy such access to materials which could have helped them so much. Indeed, in the case of those who remained within the WCG, they were restricted to the WCG's own gradual overturning of Armstrongist influence. This was necessarily slow and patchy. Also The Worldwide News (The WCG's internal newspaper) often did not point members to very helpful books/study materials, even when the WCG leadership sensibly started to reject the worst excesses of Armstrongism. Moreover, articles written by WCG ministers were necessarily written by men whose former Armstrongist indoctrination meant that their Bible knowledge was not of the order which they had been led to believe.

Mr Armstrong was a highly confident and rather brash individual; he believed that his Bible knowledge was second to none, while - in truth - it probably verged on the woeful. Armstrong passed on this same over- confidence to the ministers whom he trained. So while they too were only expert in the narrow areas which Armstrongism continually focused upon, most of them (not entirely all) had a certain swaggering over-confidence in their biblical moorings!
Indeed, all the sects and cults (and Jehovah's Witnesses are a particularly good example of this) focus adherents on quite a narrow band of scriptural 'knowledge' while being quite prepared to ignore other areas of biblical knowledge which never captured their founder's enthusiasm and interest.

So these are some of the difficulties/hindrances which the good, sincere folk of the WCG have had to cope with.

Okay, so what are the typical marks which cult/sect membership tends to leave on people and which those of us who regularly counsel these people should be aware of?
Also, how can we help in these areas?

1. I think that one of the most typical marks which those who leave the sects and cults tend to carry is the tendency to continue to be somewhat secretive and exclusivist and to feel that, whilst their particular cult founder may have been in error, there really is 'secret knowledge' out there somewhere......if only they can find it.

One former member came to accept many of Armstrongism's failures, but, within a year, thrust himself into the probably worse excesses of 'New Ageism' - it just seemed as though the gospel of Jesus Christ, as outlined in the New Testament, was not exciting enough for him! He was looking for further intrigues and further conspiracy theories. How very sad.
Another former member came to reject his previous dubious "understanding" and appeared ready to accept the biblical Christ (rather than the Armstrongist one), but then amazed me by saying he intended joining the Seventh Day Adventists! I persuaded him that this was an unwise move and he accepted this but later became very confused by the Word-Faith movement with its horrendous flaws. Make no mistake that 'Word-Faith' is possibly the first cult to have successfully infiltrated Christian congregations. ('Word-Faith' is that wholly perverted message which emphasizes 'positive confession' and preaches the 'health, wealth and prosperity' gospel).

I was recently trying to explain to a very sincere current WCG member who believes that his Armstrongist influence is now behind him, that it might now also be reasonable to challenge Armstrong's literalist view of the millenium. While it is perfectly permissible for the Christian to hold to pre-millenialism (and many thousands of American dispensationalist believers do), there is a big world out there and it is certainly not wrong (and is frequently very helpful) to consider how other Bible-believing Christians consider certain Scriptures in those areas which do not affect one's faith. But the man withdrew and felt that Mr Armstrong was (in his opinion) certainly right in this area. But he added a very revealing comment, saying something like, 'This is secret knowledge hidden from many, perhaps even from you!' At a stroke, he was betraying the long-term influence of groups such as the WCG.

In truth, Bible-believing Christians do not hold to the belief that there is 'secret knowledge' which give some believers an advantage in their relationship with God. This whole concept came from the Gnostics who - even before the apostle Paul had concluded his ministry - started to assert that there was secret 'higher knowledge' available for some believers.

But the Bible makes it clear that God has revealed to all believers everything which they need to know at the present time! We should point these Scriptures out to these people.
Deuteronomy 29:29 says,
'The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever...'
Sure, there are undoubtedly things God has not told us and probably cannot at present, but if He does reveal something, He makes it clear. With specific regard to the revelation of the gospel, we should consider some verses in John 17:
'I have manifested Your Name to the men who You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them...'
(John 17:6-8).
Let us just remind ourselves that these were men who believed that Jesus was the Christ and accepted the gospel message. The reader may wish to look up 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 as a reminder of what that message entailed. There is no further 'secret knowledge' beyond the gospel in this present age:
'...all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you'
(John 15:15)
If anybody tells you they have additional knowledge granted to them by God, beyond what the gospel clearly states - then that knowledge did not come to them from God!
Again, a few are always looking out for additional "signs and wonders" and wonder whether any particular preacher manifests them. But what did Jesus say about this?
' evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth'
(Matthew 12:39-40)
The proclamation of the gospel is our sign! And this is the sign of this age of the Church. If 90% of the adult population of the world have heard of Jesus, and heard of the message of the gospel, then they are aware of the only sign they can expect to receive! Indeed, after defining the message of the gospel in Acts 26:22-23, Paul could even tell King Agrippa - right back in the first century - that he had no excuse for being ignorant of the gospel (Acts 26:26). So if people like Joseph Smith, Ellen G. White or Herbert W. Armstrong say they have an additional revelation or that the sign itself is insufficient knowledge to save, we may say quite confidently that such people are false teachers and do not come from God.
So the tendency towards holding any concept of certain teachers/teachings having 'secret knowledge' is unbiblical; God has clearly revealed the knowledge which leads to Eternal Life - it comes through faith in Jesus!

2. Another major problem which tends to be manifested in those emerging from the cults and sects is very much associated with the tendency to continue looking for 'secret knowledge' which we have already considered:
This is the failure to fully appreciate that the New Testament is adamant that Justification is by Faith Alone!

Justification by Faith Alone is what marks the Christian Gospel out as being so different to all other religions - this is what the gospel is saying, i.e., that the Christ has now come and died for our sins, and that we can now be restored to God since He has taken the entirety of our sins on His shoulders! We could never 'earn' God's favour by any amount of our own works or any amount of law-keeping. In other words, we could never have 'reached up' to God, but God sent His Son to 'reach down' to us! This is revealed by so many Scriptures that it seems superfluous to quote any here.

All other religions - and all perversions of the Christian gospel - will uphold Justification by Works. Indeed even certain legalistic and ritualistic areas of 'Christianity' will tend to encourage this approach by what they do, even though they will reject it in their creeds and confessions.
But why do false religions love this false teaching? It is very simple. Satan does not want us to truly appreciate the uniqueness of Jesus Christ! The moment we add to the gospel message (as Paul is at such pains to point out in Galatians), we have a different "gospel message" (which of course is no gospel at all).
Think how many verses in books such as Romans and Galatians Paul is hammering away at this point as he confronted the judaizers who wanted to bring the early Christians back under reliance on the law.
The Christian now walks in The Law of Christ (Galatians 6:2) - this is not any written code which we have to regularly check in case we contravene it; the Holy Spirit Himself guides us in the way of this spiritual law as we walk with Christ. Christ outlined the principles of the Law of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). It goes without saying that things like adultery, lust and murder continue to be wrong - indeed more so for those who have the Holy Spirit. So any concept of antinomianism (that is, that we can now do as we like) is firmly ruled out. If we start to do just as we like, without reference to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we are walking as though under what Paul called 'The law of sin and death' - this is all beautifully explained in Romans 8:

'There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin ('to be a sin offering' NIV): He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit'
(Romans 8:1-4)

There is not a cult or a sect out there which does not teach Justification by Works! And Justification by Works is rightly considered an age-old Christian heresy because it renders the gospel virtually meaningless. The particular form of 'works' will vary according to the group, of course. Herbert W. Armstrong said that the gospel traditionally preached by the churches (he meant the biblical gospel) could not save. One also had to keep the Levitical Holydays - albeit in some sort of 'Christian way'. He taught that one had to accept the whole gamut of Armstrongism, including the legalistic "need" to put even the tiniest bit of flour leaven out of one's homes before the Days of Unleavened Bread commenced! He also taught that refusing to obey him (Herbert W. Armstrong, that is) was tantamount to rebellion against God Himself! Indeed most all the cult founders have taught this.
We could go on and on; Joseph Smith taught that his particular "revelation from God" of Mormonism had to be understood and obeyed, likewise with Russell, the founder of the Watchtower Society (Jehovah's Witnesses). But the insistence on the necessity to accept and live by these additional works as part of the gospel revelation very plainly amounts to the teaching of Justification by Works.

With love and patience, we need to point out to those emerging from these various groups how absolutely intrinsic Justification by Faith alone is to the gospel of Jesus Christ - indeed, as we have seen, without that...there is simply no gospel!!
The gospel stands or falls on the principle of Justification by Faith Alone.
Robin A. Brace

© This article is Copyright Robin A. Brace 2004. If you want it on your own website please do the honourable thing and come to us for permission first. It is forbidden to excerpt this article without our permission. Thank you. We really regret having to use copyright warnings but unfortunately a few unscrupulous people have already stolen our material word for word and claimed it as their own.

Museltof Countercult and Apologetics
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Other Helpful Pages:


The Move Away From Legalism

My Personal Testimony

UK Apologetics

Witness to the Word

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