Mystery of the Ages (a critical review)
By Kelly Marshall
There are probably few people in the world that haven't contemplated life's deepest questions. Herbert Armstrong claimed his book Mystery of the Ages answered those questions and that these mysteries were divinely revealed to him by God.
Can you know for sure these things are true? Does this book stand up to the truth of Scripture? Or is it merely black and white answers to life that come with a high price?
This review is based on the 1985 hardback version (363 pages) and will go through each chapter and confront these "mysteries." Its purpose will be to: 1. Help those who come into contact with this book to understand the true agenda behind it; 2. Show how Herbert W. Armstrong substituted the true gospel of Jesus Christ with a false gospel; 3. Help those who have exited from these groups to understand how they were snared and help them untangle themselves from the falsehoods, and 4. Prove that HWA was a false prophet and deceiver, who copied and plagiarized from other groups.
[UPDATE: Gerald Flurry of Philadelphia Church of God (PCG) deleted and changed portions of this book. Read: April 13, 2004 letter to ESN.]
By Kelly Marshall (former WCG member)
Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself. (Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book I)
Chapter 6 (Mystery of the Church) (5 parts)
It doesn't take one long to see how Herbert Armstrong carefully lays a foundation for this entire book to be built upon. He begins by asking questions that have plagued man since the beginning of time. "Who am I? What? Why? Where did it all come from? Is there a purpose? etc." He continues by contrasting the world's amazing progress along with its most horrible problems.
He also activates the word "mystery" and firmly plants it into our minds, repeating it seven times in the first page alone! And 31 times in just the first six pages. Constant repetition is the key to advertising success, and HWA skillfully utilizes this technique. The word "mystery" was cleverly chosen. It implies "a puzzle to be solved," and HWA will later set himself up to be the man with all the answers to the puzzle that he is constructing.
Successful salesmen know that they must discredit their competitors in order for consumers to shed their loyalty. Once consumers begin to doubt their favorite brands, they become more willing to try another brand. Salesmen are keenly aware that they must be 100% convinced that their product is superior to all others. As the saying goes, "If you're not convinced, they won't be convinced." One must speak with complete authority and never waiver. Now let's see if these methods are used in MOA.
MOA begins by asking age-old questions about life, but as the book continues, it begins to shift focus. As early as page 2, HWA begins to discredit mainstream church authority. At first it is very subtle, and one may not understand that HWA was a master at progression. His experience as a salesman has taught him how to break down the doubts in the consumer's mind, and then introduce a "better product." Once the person becomes disarmed, HWA will become more flagrant in his pronunciations. Let's see this in action.
By insinuating that man's misguided thinking was foisted upon him by the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant churches, HWA continues discrediting these authorities by berating their picture of Jesus ("long-haired, semi-effeminate"). He begins to plant doubt in institutionalized religion. ("Why, if religious experts can't get the picture of Jesus right, what else are they teaching that is wrong?") But he doesn't stop there. He continues to discredit the scientific community ("these mysteries can't be explained by science"), and higher education ("ignorant minds filled with intellectual vanity"), and finally, government ("ruled by principalities of evil spirits"). Now the reader is set up to mistrust all these "authorities." Before the person has time to digest this, HWA unleashes a barrage a questions that lead up to his conclusion: There are "Seven Great Mysteries" that none of the churches or theologians have comprehended. (p. 5)
As if all this wasn't bad enough, we now learn that nobody can understand the Bible by reading it—"or certainly almost nobody." (p. 5) With all experts and authorities cut down, HWA cunningly introduces himself as "The One" who understands. Now our "new authority expert" takes the reins and presents a new product—a whole new religious belief system.
Let's review the Seven Mysteries:
- Angels and evil spirits
- The Church
- The Kingdom of God
I quote Herbert Armstrong's own words:
The Bible is the basic mystery of all. (p. 5)
God deliberately coded his book so that it would not be understood until our modern time. Why was this purposely done? Even that is a mystery. (p. 6)
Above, HWA says there are two more mysteries. So in actuality, there are nine mysteries, and not seven! But HWA taught that seven is God's number1, considered to be holy and signifying "completion": 7 holy days, Sabbath is the 7th day, creation finished the 7th day, etc. So here we see that he couldn't leave out the Bible, or the reason why it is coded because these are two major topics that cannot be ignored. But he wanted it to appear that God personally revealed these things to him, so he uses the number seven (God's number) to boost his claims, and appends the other two mysteries.
Now all good salesmen know that they must "target" their market. Who do they want to reach with their product? HWA targeted "Bible illiterates"—those who needed to "blow the dust off your Bible and read it." On page x of the Author's Statement, we see this astute observation:
Most people, I realized, accept or reject a belief on careless assumption due to whatever they have heard, been taught, or assumed without proof.
Armed with that understanding, he states,
If one begins reading the Bible continuously from beginning to end, one becomes bewildered. (p. 5)
This statement is partially true. Yes, one can become bewildered because of the pronunciation of unfamiliar names and locations, customs and rituals—not because it is coded, or a jigsaw puzzle that only fits one particular way. HWA knows his market will be those who realize that they assumed what they believed without proof, and now desire a deeper understanding, but who are completely untrained to discern his heretical teachings. He knows they have no solid foundation, so he easily knocks down what shaky little bit they had.
Salesmen are adept at making their customers feel that they have some kind of "inside knowledge" or "expertise" about their products, and they know how to get their customers to desire them (much like the serpent making Eve desire something she didn't have). So the another nail is hammered into the coffin of outside authority:
The clergy and theologians of organized "Christianity" therefore, cannot and do not understand the Holy Bible. (p. 6)
He chisels away at religious authorities more than the others. Why? Because the product he is selling is religion, and he wants the bonds completely severed. Once that has been achieved, he reverts our attention to the unanswered mysteries.
How then, can we, in this book, understand and reveal to the reader these boggling mysteries? That question will be answered in the Introduction to follow. (p. 6)
He ends this chapter by fanning the flames of desire, the quest for answers to these mysteries, not by giving us the answers all at once. Think how many salesmen that have entered your home left in five minutes? They know this will happen if they give you all the information at once. No, an expert salesmen will continue to titillate his customers with desire for their product. The longer he spends with them, the more influence he will have over their decision. With their defenses down, HWA will continue to build on the foundation that he has laid. He promises to answer these mysteries in the Introduction, but what the unsuspecting reader doesn't see is that the next 23 pages of the Introduction are about himself! Notice that the building being erected on the foundation isn't Jesus Christ, or God for that matter. It is about him, Herbert W. Armstrong, and how God has commissioned him to reveal these mysteries to us. Now let's get to the Introduction and review the methods used there.
By Kelly Marshall (former WCG member)
Exit & Support Network™
Footnotes for Preface:
1 Page 24, Introduction to Mystery of the Ages shows this principle of "sevens" in action: "In the first dummy copy of The Plain Truth that I put together in 1927 – seven years before the magazine was actually published..."
*All footnotes throughout have been added by Kelly Marshall and D. M. Williams of Exit & Support Network™.