Was Herbert W. Armstrong God's True Servant?
Don't members say they aren't following a man?
Herbert Armstrong was heard at Feast sites (i. e., in 1972 in Penticton, BC, Canada) to say, "Follow me! I will lead you into the Kingdom!" [Read about this in a letter to ESN]: and "He [God] is speaking through me!" The ironic thing is that it was HWA who then turned around and taught members that they "weren't following a man, but God." As a result, we hear many of his followers (especially in the totalistic offshoots such as Philadelphia Church of God, Restored Church of God, etc.) talk more about Herbert Armstrong and his "God revealed truths" than they do about the Lord Jesus Christ.
HWA was able to convince many readers and members that it was God who was speaking through him (instead of God speaking through His Son. See Heb. 1:2a). Consequently, without understanding how HWA was setting them up to be controlled and financially exploited, they came to trust him.
If one researches HWA's background and his religious roots, they discover that he didn't really receive any "new truth" from God, but merely copied many teachings from various groups which are known to have heretical belief systems, then gave it his own eclectic spin. Those of us who did not understand how HWA twisted Scripture and its application ended up seeking our own righteousness by trying to keep the old covenant Law. There was no opportunity for us to know the true Jesus Christ or enter into the New Covenant where it would be possible to find rest from our struggles.
HWA also gave out over 200 false prophecies (not "speculations") which he said were to take place "within 5, 10 and 20 years." (See: Did Herbert Armstrong Set Dates?) The Bible shows that it only takes one false prophecy to make someone a false prophet (Deuteronomy 18:22); therefore, wouldn't this show that members were not only following a man (especially a man's interpretation of God's Word), but a false prophet?
He did, but then in what could constitute double-speak he persuaded members to refuse to listen to anyone else but him and to read only his literature. This is known as "milieu control" or "undue persuasion" and abusive groups (i. e., mind manipulating groups) know how to make use of this. This means he held back information, distorted information, offered assumptions and rationalizations, logical fallacies, etc. while using basically only his literature (booklets, magazines, newsletters, videos, tapes, etc.) for biblical instruction. Anything that was critical of his methods or his organization was said to be "only lies," and "of Satan."
"He makes a string of false statements, inserts a correct statement with what seems to be supporting Scriptures, and then summarizes the meaning of the Scriptures while ignoring any Scriptures that could annul his theories." (Excerpted from Mystery of the Ages (a critical review) -chapter 7)
The beginning lessons of The Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course started out by instructing the student to use only a Bible and that Correspondence Course; i.e., no evangelical Christian books, tracts, or other religious literature material, no asking questions from other mainstream Christian ministers--lest the student "get confused." (The Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course, 1965, Lesson #4, p.11. Read HWA's full quote.)
This was the method Herbert Armstrong used as he took Scriptures out of context and lead the student to believe he was actually finding out certain truths on his own (i. e., proving all things). This can be classified as subtle deception because the reader ends up thinking he "proved" all of his religious beliefs (did his own thinking) by simply studying his own Bible. In reality, HWA succeeded in controlling that person's thinking. The result was emotional and financial exploitation.
Chapters 2 and 3 of Armstrongism: Religion or Rip-Off? An Exposé of the Armstrong Modus Operandi included an analysis of Herbert Armstrong's co-worker letters, revealing the propaganda methods he used in order to solicit donors and then con them out of thousands of dollars. Nothing was really "free" in the long run.
Almost all deceptive religious groups, in one way or another, will say "don't listen to me; read your own Bible," or as HWA said, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible," but they are able to lure their listeners into reading only their literature, and distrusting all others, because that is what is supposed to show the reader "how to interpret the Bible."
"Leaders get members and potential members to believe that they don't interpret the Bible but just 'teach what is in the Bible'--making the Bible synonymous with their interpretation!" (Mary Alice Chrnalogar, Twisted Scriptures, "Tricks to Keep You Controlled," p. 139)
We believed that what we were doing was "believing the Bible," but when we couldn't find it in our Bible, we were told to believe HWA as "God was speaking through him"--or else we would be severely reprimanded or disfellowshipped. But not only did HWA lead members to read (and trust) only his material, but, without our awareness, he distorted historical church documents and omitted words from other books he quoted from. As a result, people can come to place complete trust in an authority figure (especially a biblical authority figure) who tells them he has "the truth" (i. e., the answers to life).
Those leaving any totalistic, high demand group which has taught that Herbert Armstrong had the "restored gospel" and was "God's Apostle," "the end-time Elijah," etc. will have a very difficult time getting this belieef out of their head, mainly due to an ingrained mistrust of all other Christian material and mind control programming. They rarely admit that what they are still holding onto as "restored truth" is not truth at all. Therefore, it is helpful, whether one is still in these Armstrong groups, or has exited, that they study the history of the group (WCG), the background of the founder, and the marks and methods of deceptive religious groups or high demand groups.
The fruits of any deceptive and controlling system have clearly been shown to be evil. Jesus said that a good tree cannot produce evil fruit. (Matthew 7:7-18)
Didn't Herbert Armstrong emphasize the family?
Herbert Armstrong emphasized the family; e.g. "how to have happy marriages" and "how to produce happy children," but at the same time he caused countless break-ups of families in the WCG by his divorce and remarriage doctrine (D&R), by his attitude toward those who were considered "unconverted" in members' family, by "counseling" that was given, by the demands and harsh teaching regarding women and discipline of children. Many people suffered needlessly and mercilessly for years. While many have considered HWA to be the "end-time Elijah," the Scriptures say that Elijah would "turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers..." (Malachi 4:6). Can we honestly say HWA ever did this? His own family was far from happy and certainly did not set a good example.
The members in such an authoritarian structure follow HWA's teaching in regard to isolating themselves from those they consider to be "in the world" (or cutting off from "Laodiceans") and having close relationships only with those inside their group (which they refer to as their "family"); e. g., focusing their life around socials, potlucks, activities for the youth, fund raising, camp outs, Bible studies, etc. This cutting off, especially from their own "unconverted" families who are not a part of their exclusive organization, causes much grief, pain and burdens.
Wasn't Herbert Armstrong unaware of abuses by ministers?
Some have spread the story that certain ministers under Herbert Armstrong were abusive yet HWA had "no knowledge of it." This is false because HWA used abusive methods himself. What is disfellowshipment, if not abusive? What is exploiting someone financially, or deceiving them, if not abusive? Certainly, there were ministers who felt they were sincere in what they were doing, but were they not mind-controlled themselves through the strict training they received at Ambassador College and through the ministerial refresher programs they had to attend? Certain students were carefully chosen at AC for the ministry, and those who would not yield totally to all HWA taught were not chosen. To control others through thought reform methods and mind manipulation necessitates abuse (spiritual and emotional).
HWA often said that we "aren't saved by works," but then if any member didn't tithe three tithes (including "tithe-of-the tithe"), give generous offerings (including on every holy days), not work on the 7th day Sabbath, serve, obey the government of God, etc.--which were the "conditions"; i.e., works--they were said to not be "qualified" to enter the Kingdom of God. For instance, in his booklet All About Water Baptism, he says in the first sentence:
"WE ARE saved by GRACE, and through FAITH -- make no mistake about that; but -- there are conditions!" (emp. HWA's)
If he said there are "conditions," it can't be by grace, because there is no such thing in the Scriptures as "conditional grace." To add anything to grace is to fall from grace. What happened if a member refused to do those "conditions" that HWA talked about? According to HWA (and his ministers that believed him), they would disqualify themselves from salvation and were. In other words, if members didn't do what he taught--and which he added to grace--they ended up out of his organization and headed toward the "lake of fire." Notice what he said in a 1979 Bible Study (copy with ESN): "We have to prove our obedience before we even get into it!" [the Kingdom of God] His many Co-Worker letters reveal how he would threaten loss of salvation if members didn't send him money. HWA's words makes it clear that he was teaching works are required for salvation. We cannot add to what Christ has already done for us in his one time, all-atoning sacrifice on the cross. (Hebrews 10:10) II Corinthians 6:1 says it is possible to receive God's grace "in vain." Vain means "empty, without results, useless." Can we not see that HWA's "saved by grace" ended up as a yoke of bondage?
Herbert Armstrong left no written record or reliable witnessed testimony that he ever repented or expressed sorrow for the things he did. He was said to have been sitting in a chair, listening to the Ambassador College music tapes when he died. He had plenty of time to repent as his failing health continued for some time. In fact, he was supposed to have appointed his successor nine days before he died, written a letter to the members one week before he died, made out a will four days before he died, gave instructions for his jet and Big Sandy College to be sold and his Autobiography Vol. 1 to be reprinted and Vol. 2 printed, plus he was able to play the piano almost to the end. Nothing mentioned of "confessing his sins." For the last ten years of his life many who were close to HWA wrote letters to him, pleading with him to start living the way of life he had preached for decades and to reconcile with his son, Garner Ted.
There is no record, or evidence, that Herbert Armstrong ever admitted he did anything wrong; likewise that he ever confessed to living a double standard, or destroyed a massive number of lives and wasted thousands of dollars (from those who sincerely thought he was the head of God's "one true church") by living in luxury and opulence. Is this how a person who has repented will behave? (For a stark contrast of how a true servant of God will conduct his personal life and his work for God, read the book: George Muller of Bristol by A. T. Pierson.)
But let us ask a question: Did Herbert Armstrong even know the true God, or want to know Him? If so, why was he not sensitive all those many years to the sins he was engaging in? A "death-bed repentance" has often been the excuse of those who want to justify someone as being "commissioned and led by God." In HWA's case, there is no evidence there was even a death-bed repentance, or any kind of repentance. But if HWA ever repented, he would have had to come to God through Jesus Christ as His Savior, which is the only way he could have come. HWA, as we know, was ashamed of the name of Jesus, not only failing to mention it to dignitaries that he visited in foreign countries, but leaving out songs in WCG's hymnbook about Jesus.
The Bible is clear that Christians are to teach the whole Word of God, which centers around the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and his free gift of eternal life. Instead, HWA ridiculed and slandered other Christian ministers (calling them counterfeit). He did not teach that we can receive eternal life now by turning to Jesus Christ as our Savior and placing our faith in Him, instead of membership in what he called "God's one true church" and in doing various works. Instead, he made the unscriptural statement that we are "not called just for salvation," but for "a special training provided only in God's Church." (Mystery of the Ages, p. 270-271)
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." ~Matthew 7:15
For someone not to care about the thousands of people they were exploiting, the numerous families they caused to be torn apart, the fears and guilt they were injected into innocent minds, turning a deaf ear to others' pleas, and knowing the hypocrisy of their own life, has got to be the absolute depth of evil. HWA may have said, "follow me as I follow Christ," but the reality was, he did not follow Christ (nor "imitate" Christ, which is what the Greek word for "follow" means in II Thessalonians 3:7, 9). Anyone who proclaims that Herbert Armstrong was "a sincere Christian," or "dedicated to Christ" when they know otherwise is having a part in that evil. These words are hard to hear but we cannot continue to hold onto a myth.
Notice David Robinson's words:
"The truth is that this man is so profligate, so practiced a liar, so evil that he can only be a direct servant of Satan the devil. He operates in the name of God to serve his own wicked self, just as he took his own teenage daughter and abused her for 10 years, in the name of God! Many of his ministers know this and privately say so. He has brought great shame on the name of God and on true religions." (excerpted from a 1981 letter Robinson wrote; published in Ambassador Report #17)
William B. Hinson, a former WCG minister, had this to say:
"Herbert W. Armstrong has destroyed more lives than anyone I know in the name of religion in such a short period of time. The Armstrong work is a work of darkness and Christians are called upon to reveal the work of darkness." (The Broadway to Armageddon, chapter 1, p. 10)
Many others have written about Herbert Armstrong sins, his false prophecies, intentional deceptions, abuse of others, and twisting of Scripture, but it remains very hard to admit that the fruits show HWA was a fraud who used religion as a racket.
"...he caused you to trust in a lie." (Jeremiah 29:31
HWA wrote in the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course that one of the keys to understanding the Bible was "obedience." If that is true, then why was he known to be engaged in sexual abuse of his own daughter at the time he said he was "restoring the true gospel"? HWA never denied this was untrue.
Why was HWA reported to be stealing from the till (financial improprieties) when he was with the Church of God 7th Day (and supposedly converted) and then later fled to Pasadena to start up his Radio Church of God?1
"In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God ..." (I John 3:10).
"...Speaking lies in hypocrisy" (I Timothy 4:2).
Why was HWA reading Hitler's Mein Kampf and studying communism?2
Those who continue to hold tightly to the belief that Herbert Armstrong had to be God's "true servant" will often cling to one last straw: "HWA was God's true servant because he lived a long life and died peacefully in his sleep, while Joseph Tkach, Sr. died a miserable death not long after making the changes." While this may sound like ridiculous reasoning, it is actually what is known as mystical manipulation (which is used in high-demand, mind-manipulating groups). The fact is that many wicked people and good people have lived both long and short lives.
Others will totally ignore the hypocrisy in Herbert Armstrong's life and say it makes no difference because "the truth is the truth," or HWA got "some truth" out to others. But where did HWA receive his "truth"? Were his revelations really "taught to him by Jesus Christ and not by any man" as he often said? It is common knowledge that he plagiarized/copied much of these "truths" from Church of God 7th Day and other groups such as Seventh-day Adventism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, etc.7 It was nothing "new." Holding to the belief that "HWA had the truth" is actually putting doctrine over person (explained in Lifton's Eight Criteria of Thought Reform). Whereas, the Scriptures teach that a person will not live in sin, but their life will be transformed after conversion:
"For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God" (John 3:20-21).
"If the truth that you have doesn't lead to a godly life, then you don't have the truth."
~J. Vernon McGee
Many refuse to see the real truth as they continue to look through the glasses of Armstrongism.
Did HWA do "a great work" as some have tried to claim? Or was it Christ who did the great work when He shed His blood for us on the cross of Calvary?
The Scriptures warn us about those who will bring a "different gospel"; those who claim to speak for God, but instead are not who they claim to be.
"But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity" (Luke 13:27).
Look first to the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work on Calvary, not to any man who would try to beguile you by claiming he has "God's truth."
By D. M. Williams
Exit & Support Network™
November 23, 2003
Last updated April 18, 2013
Three books available in PDF which ESN can send through email (covers HWA's methods and fruits)
"The evil are 'the people of the lie,' deceiving others as they also build layer upon layer of self-deception." ~The People of the Lie, M. Scott Peck, p. 66
1 Radio Church of God was renamed Worldwide Church of God in 1968. Stealing from the till in Church of God (7th Day) is mentioned here in ESN's letter to author Janis Hutchinson
2 Read: Herbert Armstrong Used Mein Kampf as a Guide in Controlling People and this part in OIU 5, Pt. 3 which shows HWA studied communism.
3 See: The "Key to Unlocking Prophecy" (Did Herbert Armstrong Say it Was Revealed to Him Alone?). For evidence of HWA's copying from the Jehovah's Witnesses, read chapter three, Pt. 2 and chapter six of our critical review of Mystery of the Ages (search for the word "Watchtower") and for his copying from Mormonism, see chapter two of the same review (search for the phrase "Latter Day Saints). Also read: Herbert W. Armstrong's Religious Roots.