Herbert Armstrong: Mr. Confusion
by Roger F. Campbell
"For God is not the author of confusion" ~I Corinthians 14:33
1. Herbert Armstrong Is Confused About Himself
Perhaps the most thorough job of deception that Satan has done with Herbert Armstrong is the deception of Mr. Armstrong himself. He is so deceived that he is sure that no one ON EARTH IS PREACHING THE TRUE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD EXCEPT HIM AND HIS CO-WORKERS. An article in the Plain Truth of February 1958 has this to say:
"There is ONLY ONE WORK that is preaching the true gospel of the kingdom of God—the rule and the reign of God—to the nations. This is that work. Then those who have their part in this work and are converted MUST CONSTITUTE THE CHURCH OF GOD! ...
"Every other work rejects the message of Jesus Christ or else rejects His rule through His laws. There is no exception.
"Yes, this work is the work of the true church of God. All others are satanic counterfeits! It is time we come out from among them and become separate."
Do you believe that every faithful pastor or missionary in the world today is a counterfeit? Probably not, but Herbert Armstrong does. Can it be that men and women in all parts of the world have turned from sin to receive the precious Saviour, are shut out of the true church of God, unless they are followers of Herbert Armstrong? Of course not! But Mr. Armstrong believes and teaches that they are. If your pastor and church are true to the Bible and people are saved by their ministry, are you to label them as "counterfeit" and stay at home to listen to "The World Tomorrow" and send Mr. Armstrong your tithe? Of course not! But Mr. Armstrong teaches that you should.
Not only does Herbert Armstrong think he is the only preacher of the truth today, but he also has adopted the Mormon error of thinking that all truth was lost from the days of the apostles until he began his broadcast in 1934. Let him speak for himself:
"On the first Sunday in 1934 God's time had come. God opened a DOOR! Jesus Christ Himself had foretold this event! Millions have read His prophecy.
"Yet on that first Sunday in 1934, probably NO one—certainly not I myself—recognized what a momentous event actually was taking place.
"What really occurred that Sunday morning precisely at 10 o'clock was a momentous event. It was the fulfilling of a definite cornerstone prophecy of Jesus. More than that, it was the initial, start-off event of the fulfilling of some 90% of all the prophecies in the Bible! And approximately a third of the whole bible is prophecy!" (Plain Truth, Jan. 1959, p. 3).
Now follow this closely. Mr. Armstrong teaches that even though he did not even know it himself, 90% of all the prophecies in the Bible hinged upon the beginning of his radio broadcast.
The article goes on to say that in about 69 A.D., the Romans successfully stamped out the organized preaching of the Gospel in any effective manner, and that the professing Christians turned away from Christ's truth, and embraced pagan fables. Soon, Mr. Armstrong says, the true Gospel message was lost. Now notice this further quotation from the same article:
"From that time, the world has heard the name of Christ. The world has heard a Gospel of MEN ABOUT Christ. The world has called it 'The Gospel of Christ'—but it is very far from CHRIST'S Gospel—it is a paganized gospel of MEN ABOUT Christ. It is a counterfeit!"
Please note that this is not a review of Catholicism through the centuries. It is not a commentary on modernism1 in the last days. It is Mr. Armstrong's evaluation of all Gospel preaching from the days of the early church until his radio broadcast began in 1934.
Does he mean the life-changing ministry of D. L. Moody2 was a counterfeit? Yes he does. Does he mean the world-shaking ministries of men like Luther,3 Wesley,4 and C. H. Spurgeon5 were counterfeit? Yes he does.
When one considers the Scriptures, it is really not so strange that a false prophet should be confused about himself. Satan had the same problem. His heart being lifted up because of his beauty, he set about to ascend to the very throne of God (Isa. 14:12-14). Pride became the downfall of the "Son of the Morning." The perusal of a few issues of the Plain Truth, with special attention given to Mr. Armstrong's autobiography, should convince most readers that pride is not the least of his problems also.
2. Herbert Armstrong Is Confused About Salvation
A lot can be endured in conflict of Bible teaching if a man is right in his understanding of the simple plan of salvation. Men may differ on events of prophecy, modes of baptism, systems of church government or some of the so-called non-essentials of the faith, but in this one important area a man must either be right or wrong. There is no middle ground or room for debate. There is but one way of salvation.
Armstrong's contempt for the promise of salvation by receiving Christ as personal Savior is expressed by Roderick C. Meredith, one of his writers, in the March, 1957 issue of the Plain Truth. He scorns the work of present-day evangelists in the following words:
"Many people contend that there are many evangelists stomping up and down the land telling their audiences about the REALITY of Jesus Christ and HIS SHED BLOOD and calling upon them to 'Accept Christ and be saved.'
" 'Come up and give your heart to the Lord tonight,' they plead. 'Won't you come? Come now while the Spirit is moving you. Come up and say, Tonight I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Saviour from sin.'
"The truth is that the inspired apostles and evangelists of New Testament times NEVER relied on this kind of empty preaching to save people from sin. That sounds SHOCKING but it is true."
To speak lightly and sarcastically of preaching of the REALITY of Jesus Christ and His shed blood is blasphemous. When the Apostle Peter wrote his epistle, he spoke of the "precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot."6 If preaching of Christ's blood is "empty preaching," then certainly all of the apostles are guilty of "empty preaching."
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians that they were "made nigh by the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2:13). In his epistle to the Colossians, he wrote of the "redemption we have through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins" (Col. 1:14).
The book of Hebrews abounds with references to the importance of Christ's shed blood, and John speaks of the "blood of Jesus Christ his Son which cleanseth us from all sin" (I John 1:7).
Although Herbert Armstrong howls denials to the contrary, his way of salvation is a way of grace and law homogenized. In his article "JUST WHAT DO YOU MEAN—SALVATION" (Plain Truth—July 1961), he sets out to prove to the world once and for all that the "persecutors" are wrong when they accuse him of teaching salvation by works.
His method in the article is to make you (the reader) the lost person whom he is leading to conversion. (We dare not say salvation—for Mr. Armstrong doesn't really believe you have that until the resurrection). He points out that you are a sinner and guilty before God, which of course is correct.
From this he leads you to forsake your sin and to begin to keep the law but points out that although you have done this, you are still lost. He does this to prove that he doesn't teach salvation by keeping the law. He then leads you to what he calls "contact with God." This state is achieved through Christ but must be maintained by keeping the law. He writes: "Your works—your Law-keeping while certainly required..." and further, "So where are you? Even with your Commandment-keeping which—make no mistake—God requires of you."
Anyone with a knowledge of Seventh-Day Adventism will immediately recognize Herbert Armstrong's source for this part of his theology, but let us not give Ellen G. White undue credit for originality either, for she borrowed her pattern of teaching from certain teachers who "troubled" the church at Galatia (Gal. 1:7).
How wisely Paul deals with this problem in Galatians 3:1-3: "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?"
Salvation was not probation to the great apostle. He wrote, "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God" (I Cor. 1:18). Paul was so sure of Heaven that he assured the Philippians that to die would be "gain,"7 and that to "depart to be with Christ was far better."8
Not only is Herbert Armstrong confused about the means and the way of salvation, he is also unconcerned with the urgency of salvation.
In his booklet Predestination—Does the Bible Teach It? he writes that all his effort in producing the booklet will be worthwhile if he can just comfort those who have had loved ones, wicked or good, who have died without accepting Christ. He says grief in such cases is needless and that the real need is a little "enlightenment," which he then proceeds to give.
One heading in the booklet is "All Unsaved Not Finally Lost." Under this heading, he labels as one of the greatest errors of this time the assumption that there are only two classes—the SAVED and the LOST. Like the Jehovah's Witnesses, he then endeavors to prove that the great majority of those who die without Christ will be saved during the Millennium. Compare the following two statements, the first from Armstrong's booklet and the second from Let God Be True, (Jehovah's Witnesses).
(1) "And then what shall happen during the thousand-year reign from then on? ... Here are the earth's nations—earth's mortals—all nations! And now begins a process of SEPARATION. It is according to the decisions they make, and the actions they take. Those who turn to a life of RIGHTEOUSNESS are set on the RIGHT hand. They are converted—given IMMORTALITY." (Predestination—Page 11—Armstrong)
(2) "During Christ's millennial reign they will return from the realms of the enemy and will ultimately, if obedient, see the promise fulfilled. At the end of Christ's reign after successfully passing the final judgment test, these will attain to their justification to the right to life from Jehovah God." (Let God Be True—p. 282—Jehovah's Witnesses).
How different this is from the truth of God's Word with no distortation of translation. "But the rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years were finished" (Rev. 20:5)
If you are not saved, be saved today. This is the day of salvation (II Cor. 6:2). If your friends and neighbors are not saved, witness to them today. Tomorrow may be too late. See the tears in the eyes of the precious Saviour as He weeps over Jerusalem and you will know that salvation is an urgent matter. Hear the heart-cry of the great apostle as he states his willingness to be accursed from Christ if Israel might be saved,9 and you cannot escape the importance of settling the matter of salvation NOW.
Read your Bible and see God pleading with men to come to Him while there is time and then see how impossible it is to reconcile this with the unscriptural statement in the Plain Truth—March 1957, p. 26: "God is not trying to save many now." This is as far from the Gospel as a man can get. God is doing all that is divinely possible to save men NOW. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). You may know that everlasting life today by receiving this Saviour as your own.
Again following the Jehovah's Witnesses, Herbert Armstrong goes to great trouble to prove that belief in the Trinity is pagan. He is a bit unlike the "Witnesses" in his views concerning the Father and the Son, but seems identical with them in his teaching about the Holy Spirit.
To Armstrong the Holy Spirit is not a person but simply a "force." To support this unscriptural teaching, Dr. C. Paul Meredith10 blasts all who do not agree with him on this point by declaring, "Note now that the pagans termed the Holy Spirit a 'Being' such as the Father and Son. They wrongly made a Trinity. SATAN WAS CONFUSING MANKIND" (Plain Truth, Feb. 1960, p. 26).
If everyone who speaks of the Holy Spirit as a person is pagan then, of course, Jesus must also be labeled as "pagan" for He referred to the Holy Spirit as "He" time and again. As He revealed the great truth of the coming Comforter to the disciples, He said, "Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. ... Howbeit when he the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you" (John 16:7-14). Notice the teaching of Jesus about this personal member of the Trinity who can hear, speak, show, and guide.11 Certainly this can never be said of a "force" as Armstrong defines the Holy Spirit.
Once the scriptural identification of the Holy Spirit is seen, the wonderful truth of the Trinity becomes evident. Let the reader return to Matthew 28:18-20, John 1:1-34 and other Scriptures and just believe the Bible and he will have no trouble in seeing that this plain scriptural teaching concerning the Holy Spirit is not pagan, but proper.
4. Herbert Armstrong is Confused About the Nations
Someone has said, "Show me a man who is right about Israel and I'll show you a man who is right about the rest of the Bible." That statement may not always be correct to the letter, but one thing is always sure, "Show me a man that is wrong about Israel, and I'll show you a man who is wrong about God's prophetic plan."
Herbert Armstrong is wrong about Israel, and this then becomes a source of error to him in a multitude of other things.
Perhaps most exciting of Armstrong's writings is his booklet, The United States and the British Commonwealth in Prophecy. In this he unveils his acceptance of the outworn and unscriptural theory of British-Israelism. That is, he teaches that Britain and the United States are the lost ten tribes of Israel.
Prefacing this booklet, he pulls all the stops of his journalistic organ to write: "No story of fiction ever was so strange, so absorbing, so packed with suspense, as this gripping story of the Bible." After this interest-capturing beginning, he then presents in "Armstrong" style the usual fact-ignoring pattern of British-Israelism. "Ephraim is Great Britain. Manasseh is the United States. The throne of England is the throne of David."
There is not space here to deal with every aspect of this teaching12 but perhaps it will suffice to show the false foundation upon which it is built. Anglo-Israelism holds that at the return to Palestine after the captivity, only the house of Judah returned, leaving the rest of Israel to wander on to Great Britain and the United States in the centuries to follow, making these two nations "Israel's New Land" (The United States and the British Commonwealth in Prophecy, p. 15).
In the above-named booklet, Armstrong writes: "Only those of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, who constituted the house of JUDAH, returned at that time. Consequently those in Jerusalem in the time of Christ were only these three tribes, NOT of the House of Israel."
NOW WHAT SAITH THE SCRIPTURE? "...the priests, and the Levites, and some of the people, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinims, unto Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king" (Ezra 7:7). "So the priests, and the Levites, and the porters, and the singers, and some of the people, and the Nethinims, and all Israel, dwelt in their cities; and when the seventh month came, the children of Israel were in their cities" (Neh. 7:73). "And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers."
As to those in Palestine at the time of Christ, we quote the words of Peter on the day of Pentecost: "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36).
It is the applying of specific judgments promised Israel, to the United, that leads Garner Ted Armstrong to write: "By the time slow-moving Russia is finally READY to strike, your Bible says America will have ceased to be a nation, her citizens removed into a horrible captivity, and another, totally DIFFERENT power will have risen—GERMANY" (Plain Truth—July 1959, p. 16).
How important it is that we rightly divide the word of truth.
5. Herbert Armstrong Is Confused About Heaven
While striving to give hope to those who have had loved ones die without Christ through his second-chance teaching, Herbert Armstrong seems equally anxious to steal the hope that loved ones who die in Christ are immediately in Heaven with the Lord.
Adding his voice to the Jehovah's Witnesses on this doctrine, he declares, "To continue with the question, 'Who knoweth (whether) the spirit of man,' that is the breath of man, 'goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast,' that is, the breath of the beast, 'goeth downward to the earth?'13 Well, does anyone know of it? The answer is, Nobody does" (Plain Truth, March 1957, p. 8).
To see the true teaching of this verse as the view of the natural man, "under the sun" one needs but to read it in its context. Surely God has not given His entire revelation, the Bible, only to conclude in uncertainty. No, there is no doubt about it, the Bible teaches that we can be sure of Heaven after death, if we are saved. Multiplied portions of the Word of God guarantee it. Do not let anyone rob you of this wonderful hope so surely promised to God's children in the Bible.
Jesus said: "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2).
Paul wrote in confidence, "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven...Therefore we are always confident, knowing that whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord" (II Cor. 5:1,2, 6-8). The constant desire of the apostle was to "depart and to be with Christ, which is far better" (Phil. 1:23).
Peter looked forward to an "inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven..." (I Peter 1:4)
John was privileged to get a view of many of the scenes of Heaven while he was on the Isle of Patmos, and he wrote of them in the book of The Revelation. There he saw those who had been saved while on earth and those who had gone through great tribulation. He previewed the marriage supper of the lamb where all the saved will one day sit with their Saviour. The book abounds with the wonders of that blessed place where all the saints have their inheritance.
I am happy that we can reject Armstrong's statement, "So Christians are not going to heaven after all" (Plain Truth—Feb. 1958, p. 20). For I have it on far better authority that Christians are going to Heaven "after all." After all the problems of this life; after all sickness and sorrow in this life; yes, the Christian is going to Heaven "after all."
6. Confusion Conclusions
In one sense it is very difficult to conclude a study such as this, for with nearly every new published work or radio broadcast of Armstrong's there are more issues that need to be properly exposed.
Perhaps, however, if in conclusion we remind the reader of a few basic facts about this system, it will assist him in guarding himself and others against this system of error.
First, let us be reminded that almost none of Mr. Armstrong's teachings are original. While the style of his writing and speaking seems to try to convey most of his doctrine as NEW, STARTLING, and SENSATIONAL, it is in fact simply a rehashing of teaching that has been rejected through the years by those who are true to the Bible.
Secondly, Mr. Armstrong's teachings are largely a mixture of the doctrines of Seventh-Day Adventism, Jehovah Witnessism and British-Israelism. While occasionally moving in some other direction, nearly all of Armstrongism falls into these three areas.
Thirdly, Mr. Armstrong regards all other Bible teachers, pastors, churches, and Bible Schools as satanic counterfeits. This even includes those other groups from which he has borrowed his own doctrine.
It is quite amusing to read from his article Persecution (Plain Truth, Oct. 1960, p. 13). Mr. Armstrong's defense against one who has written an article accusing him of satanic deceptions. He writes, "There is an axiom. One who accuses another is always guilty himself of the very thing of which he accuses another." This, of course, carried through in Armstrong's case would make him a satanic counterfeit, for calling others the same. Confusing, isn't it? But then that is the way of confusion. It multiplies.
No, God is not the author of confusion, nor is He the author of Armstrongism, a system of confusion. The system must have an author, but it certainly is not the God of the Bible.
In this day of urgency, in the closing hours of the age, do not lend your strength nor give your time or financial support to the cause of furthering confusion. Rather, give of your all to lead men from confusion to Christ.
—Reprinted from The King's Business
Note: The booklet, "Herbert Armstrong: Mr. Confusion" may be ordered from: The People's Gospel Hour (search for the title on this page.
NOTICE: Although Herbert W. Armstrong died in January 1986, there remain today hundreds of offshoots and splinters from the Worldwide Church of God which continue to teach Armstrongism. Some of the major offshoots are: Philadelphia Church of God, Living Church of God, Restored Church of God, United Church of God-AIA and Christian Biblical Church of God. See list of other splinters.
For further study:
ESN's critical review of Mystery of the Ages (chapter 3 and 6 covers how HWA borrowed doctrines from the Jehovah's Witnesses; search for the word "Watchtower.")
Footnotes by ESN:
1 The history of Modernism can be researched on the Internet. Modernism denies the Deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, the Blood Atonement, and the Bodily Resurrection. Also see New Neutralism: Exposing the Gray of Compromise and The New Evangelicalism on our Booklist.
2 D. L. Moody (1837-1899). Within a 40-year period he won one million souls, founded three Christian schools, and inspired literally thousands of preachers. He refused to become involved in any theological debates that might detract from his evangelistic work. (His sermons may be found online.)
3 Martin Luther (1483-1546). Widely regarded as starting the Protestant Reformation, although his ideas were already anticipated by earlier thinkers. Between 1510 and 1546 he preached approximately 3,000 sermons.
4 Charles Wesley (1703-1791). Founder of the Methodist Church. Became a widely traveled itinerant preacher. He rode 250,000 miles on the roads of England, Scotland, and Ireland to preach 42,000 sermons. At age eighty-six he preached a hundred sermons in sixty towns in nine weeks.
5 Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), British preacher. He was converted to Christ at age 15 and by age 21 was London's most popular preacher. There is more material in print by him than by any other Christian author, alive or dead. (His sermons may be found online.)
6 I Peter 1:19.
7 Philemon 1:21.
8 Philemon 1:23.
9 Romans 9:3.
10 C. Paul Meredith (uncle of Roderick C. Meredith) was appointed director of the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course in 1954 by Herbert Armstrong.
12 Two books out of several which go into more detail are: Armstrongism: The "Worldwide Church of God" Examined in the Searching Light of Scripture by Dr. Robert L. Sumner. (Chapter 8: "The Armstrong Teaching About Israel" covers HWA's Anglo-Israel theory) and The Armstrong Empire by Joseph Hopkins (See chapter 5: "The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy"). Also see: Where are the Tribes of Israel Located?
13 Ecclesiastics 3:21
How Do I Receive Eternal Life?