Mystery of the Ages
(a 2nd critical review)
By William Hohmann
Does this book by Herbert W. Armstrong truly contain mysteries? Or are these things no more than the philosophical questions pondered by men throughout time, with one man's particular spin applied to them? Are we truly going to have secrets revealed, or are we to be misled, having our attention distracted through the sleight of hand of religious misinterpretation?
Calling these things "mysteries"—secrets hidden from mankind—only to be revealed now, and by Herbert Armstrong, gives them an aura of hidden knowledge, and who isn't tempted to know the hidden things?
Those who teach false gospels take the focus off of Jesus Christ as the sole Savior and King of His coming Kingdom, diluting it with other things they claim are necessary, required (and desired), in order to attain to salvation.
This review is based on the 1985 hardback version.
[Update: Gerald Flurry of Philadelphia Church of God (PCG) deleted and changed portions of this book. Read: April 13, 2004 letter to ESN.]
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." ~ II Timothy 2-4:4
In the opening statements of Herbert Armstrong, he makes this observation and claim:
The Church was infiltrated during the first century with another gospel. Many false teachings and false churches under the name of "traditional Christianity" arose. As God reveals in Revelation 12:9, the whole world has been deceived. These basic truths have been kept a mystery. Even sincere and well-meaning men among the clergy have received their teaching from other men as handed down traditionally in these churches. They have assumed these false teachings to be the true teachings of the Bible. Instead of putting the various pieces of the jigsaw puzzle properly and sensibly together, it has become the practice and custom to read an already-believed false teaching into each particular scripture, taken out of its context. In other words to interpret the Scriptures to say what they have already been taught and come to believe. The Bible needs no interpretation because it interprets itself. This becomes clear when one sees the various scriptures of each subject properly put together, and the Bible itself says, "here a little, and there a little" (Isa. 28:10).1 Even the world of a professed traditional Christianity has been deceived." (pp. xii-xiii)
What HWA did, due to his own pre-conceived views, was to fulfill his own observation. He realized that the first century church indeed was infiltrated and another gospel was preached by these infiltrators, but he never bothered to study the Scriptures to discover who these infiltrators were and what they taught that was another gospel. He makes the assumption in these introductory comments that what has been taught by "traditional Christianity" was: "—that God has been trying desperately to 'get the world saved,' (p xiii). This is the basis of what he saw as the false gospel. When one takes this comment by HWA and examines it carefully, problems develop.
Was God desirous that men should be saved or not? The true gospel is a message of salvation. Why then teach that the gospel was preached for the purpose of disguising this salvation-knowledge? Didn't Jesus say that those who believed the gospel would be saved, while those who do not were condemned already? (John 3:18)
What is of interest then regarding the gospel is to ask if any of these "revealed" truths or "re-revealed" as he likes to claim, have anything to do with the gospel and the preaching of the gospel, along with being important regarding salvation.
HWA also claims in his opening comments that the Bible is a "coded book" (p.x) and that one needs to put these pieces of the "jigsaw puzzle" together properly. This premise is slipped in as an already established fact, however Scripture does not support this "coded book" concept at all. The Scriptures are actually quite "plain" in what is stated. It is people who refuse to believe what they read.
2 Corinthians 4:3-4: "But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world [age] hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them."
Herbert Armstrong says this about today's world:
It's a magic, entrancing push-button world where work is done largely by machines. It's the glamour dreamworld of the three "L's"—leisure, luxury and license. (p. 8)
Does the reader feel like he (or she) has more leisure time and living in luxury? If anything, this world has become a pressure cooker. Yes, we have labor-saving devices, and, as a result, we are expected to produce even more so than before. Our reward for doing so is often followed by taxes that remove more and more of our hard earned wages. But under this scenario, one cannot get away with trying to put a guilt trip on people, making them believe they have no excuse for not funding his work through tithes, seeing as they have all this leisure time with machines doing all the work for them.
What is religion? It is defined as the worship of, and service to, God or the supernatural. It is man's relation to his Creator. Some religions have perverted that definition. They worship not the God who created them, but gods which they have created. Religion involves one's conduct, one's principles, one's way of life and one's concept of the hereafter. (pp. 8-9)
HWA gives an interesting yet limited definition of religion. He states a false religion is worshiping not God, but "gods which they have created." What he refuses to acknowledge is that one could worship something else God created. An example? How about the Law? If you examine the writings of HWA, he treats the Law as though it were a god, applying the attributes of God to the Law. For example, he always described the Law as "eternal."
The human mind is not equipped to manufacture truth with no basis for that truth! (p. 11)
One of the common methods employed by those who run religious cults is to make confusing statements to their followers that tends to induce in them a greater reliance on the leader. In order to understand him, they must listen to him, for he says confusing things to them. This creates dependence on the leader. The above statement from HWA is a good example. One need only understand what was happening in the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve rejected what God said and desired to acquire that which came by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They went seeking other truths, and that search was to lead to death.
How, then, did I come to understand the precious knowledge of the TRUTH? Certainly not on my own, or because I sought it or because of any virtues of my own. But Jesus Christ struck me down in a manner quite different from the apostle Paul's experience, yet nonetheless painfully and effectively. (p. 12)
HWA attempts to equate himself with men who were called by God (Moses and Paul). But HWA never stood before a burning bush. HWA never was struck blind by God while fighting against Christians. His experience hardly qualifies as some special calling. But in order to acquire a following, he makes such claims. Didn't HWA claim he went and spent six months, night and day, in a library delving into whether God existed and the proof of the Bible, and whether Saturday or Sunday was the Sabbath?2 Didn't he study evolution? Yet here he makes a claim that it wasn't from this self-study he acquired a knowledge of "truth." More will be said on this later.
Such basic TRUTHS are revealed, not thought out in any human mind. They come from God, not man! And in all biblically recorded cases the initiative was God's!
Not necessarily so:
Matthew 7:7-11: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?"
HWA relates a dream of his wife's as a proof of his calling. One should ask themselves, would a false teacher make such a claim? Sure. Where the difference is, is that when it came to Moses and other men called upon God, they had proofs of their calling. Moses had a staff that turned into a snake. Jonah was coughed up on dry land by a great fish, and no doubt there were witnesses to the event. But in this dream claim of HWA, he is his own witness, and this is not how God works, ever.
Jesus Christ is the personal Word of God. He, in person, taught the original 12 apostles and the apostle Paul. The Bible is the SAME Word of GOD IN PRINT today. Thus it was the same Jesus Christ who taught both the original apostles, beginning A.D. 27, and 1,900 years later, beginning 1927, myself. (pp. 24-5)
In other writings, HWA claimed "personal revelation" from God. Anyone can pick up a Bible, and read it and misunderstand it "reading into it pre-conceived beliefs". He claims a unique experience, but when examined carefully, there is nothing unique about it. He claims he was challenged over the Sabbath issue; whether Sunday was correct, or the Saturday Sabbath. His very statements regarding this issue show it was a pre-determined exercise; one or the other was correct, with no other possibility entertained.
But in my initial six months' intensive in-depth study I was undergoing a process of UNlearning—discovering that church teachings had been the diametric opposite of Bible TRUTH! (p. 25)
What really happened is HWA learned how to take the Scriptures out of context and come up with his own form of legalism.
But to my utter disappointed astonishment, I found that many of the popular church teachings and practices were not based on the Bible. They had originated, as research in history had revealed, in paganism. Numerous Bible prophecies foretold it. The amazing, unbelievable TRUTH is that the SOURCE of these popular beliefs and practices of professing Christianity was quite largely, paganism and human reasoning and custom, NOT the Bible!" (p. 26)
HWA sets the stage for claiming that observing Sunday as a religious day; or as a commanded day had its origination in paganism. What he conveniently overlooks is that circumcision, for example, was not of pagan origination, but rather was an O.T. command that many Jewish Christians insisted Gentile converts were to practice. The teaching was erroneous and heretical. What then of other O.T. commands and requirements? Seeing as they are not "pagan" HWA perceives them as required of Christians and an integral part of Christianity. Many a ministerial meeting revolved around how to apply O.T. laws to "Christianity." It was a matter of trying to put new wine into an old wineskin.
Furthermore, where are these prophesies that it would be pagan influences that would create a counterfeit Christianity? And the Law, along with the Sabbath command, is in the Bible, hence required in his thinking and theology. If HWA were a false prophet; then would he have "prospered" under these conditions? Yes, through tithing, and all without pagan influences.
The opening of my eyes to the TRUTH brought me to the crossroads of my life. To accept it meant to throw in my lot with a class of humble and unpretentious people I had come to look upon as inferior. It meant being cut off from the high and the mighty and the wealthy of this world, to which I had aspired. It meant the final crushing of VANITY. It meant a total change of life! (p. 26)
Is this what happened? HWA used the money he got from those who followed him to visit the high and mighty of the world, and to associate with them. In essence, he accomplished through religion what he wanted to do through business, but was unable; and he did this beyond the expectations of being a business man.
It meant real REPENTANCE, for now I saw that I had been breaking God's law. I had been rebelling against God in many more ways than just breaking the Sabbath command. It meant turning around and going THE WAY OF GOD—the WAY of his BIBLE—living according to every word in the Bible, instead of according to the ways of society or the desires of the flesh and of vanity." (p. 26-27)
HWA made the same mistake the Pharisee Christians of Acts 15 made; believing the Law had to be kept. Not living according to the Law is perceived as rebellion against God, and demonstrates the total ignorance regarding Law and Christianity. Christianity is not Judaism, and Judaism is not Christianity. Those that confuse the two are described by the apostle Paul in II Corinthians chapter 3 as having a veil before their eyes, blinding them to this truth. Theirs is a false Christ.
HWA's idea of repentance was to turn from breaking the Law to keeping the Law. The inner man is hardly addressed. Did Cornelius in Acts "repent" or did he "believe"? What was the result of having received the Holy Spirit? Would he have not changed as a result and due to the influence of the Holy Spirit?
Giving up this world, its ways, interests, pleasures, was like dying. (p. 27)
HWA hardly gave up these things. He frequented many very expensive restaurants in the Los Angeles area. If you doubt this, contact David Antion.3 He and his wife were often dinner guests of HWA on these nights out.
On another occasion, Stan Rader4 arranged for HWA to have a day out on a fancy yacht. The bill for this day of "giving up pleasures" was $50,000. Mr. Bob Smith worked in the department that took care of accounts payable when this came through to be paid. It concerned him greatly.
And I can say now, with the apostle Paul, "that the gospel which [is] preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.... But when it pleased God...to reveal his Son in me...immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I [to a theological seminary, but I was taught by Jesus Christ, the Word of God (in writing)]" (Gal. 1:11-12, 15-17). (p. 29)
If ever there was an outright lie made by a man, this is it. Jesus did not take HWA aside and teach him personally over the course of two years. Earlier he stated how it was a matter of reading the Bible that this came about, and not some personal revelation. But it sounds good, and bolsters his claim of Apostleship. People believed him, and paid dearly for this blind faith in a man.
That is why I have said the experience I was painfully subjected to in this original intensive study was unique in human life and conduct in our time. I know of no world religious leader who arrived at his teachings in such a manner. This world's religious teachings did not come from GOD! Only God is infallibly correct! (p. 29)
Understand what he is claiming here. He is the only one who ever read the Bible in order to come to his understanding and belief system.
I had taken a beating! I had been brought to realize my own nothingness and inadequacy. I had been CONQUERED by the great majestic GOD—brought to a real repentance—and also brought to a NEW ROCK-BASED SOLID FAITH in Jesus Christ and in God's Word. I had been brought to a complete surrender to God and to HIS WORD. (pp. 29-30)
I am sure that the Pharisee Christians who were in the first century church could make the same claims, and they too believed Gentiles had to be circumcised and be made to keep the Law also.
By William Hohmann (former WCG member; graduate of Ambassador College)
Exit & Support Network™
Footnotes for Introduction:
1 The words in Isa. 28:10 do not prove the Bible is a "coded book" as HWA insisted. "Here a little, there a little" was a method that was used to teach young children. The priests and prophets were angry because they felt Isaiah was treating them as if they were such and so they mimicked him.
2 Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong, 1957, p. 300-306.
3 David Antion, an evangelist in the Worldwide Church of God resigned in 1974. His message, "Firing and Disfellowship," is with ESN.