"and he's not just whistling dixie either!"
Examining HWA and His Teachings With an Open Mind and Bible
Weíve had a bit of fun the past few months in this column examining the teachings of those who hold to the old covenant "revelations" of Herbert Armstrong (and sometimes, "revelations" of their own devising). Simply by using the plain common sense God gave us, and also maybe a bit of logical thinking, weíve had no trouble in exposing the leaps in logic that the typical legalist must make in order to justify his much-cherished beliefs. For some of us, however, "simply using plain common sense and logical thinking" hasnít been that simple, especially since our initiation into Armstrongism. In fact, a number of us are still working at getting our common sense, emotional health, and logical thinking skills back to normal. Hopefully, examining the card castles that the legalists have been building has aided in this recovery.
Weíve gotten more than our share of chuckles from the "pick-a-law here" Ė "pick-a-law there" cafeteria-style approach that legalists such as Bill Dankenbring use in teaching their gullible followers just which of the old covenant laws they need to be observing this month. Most of us are rather enjoying this seemingly endless adventure of following what these people teach to its illogical, unworkable, neurosis-inducing conclusions.
To us, thankfully, it is now readily apparent that all these teachings were never meant to be applied to any other group than the old covenant Hebrews. This is confirmed time and again in the scriptures, for those who have an ear to hear. But those who have been less fortunate in shaking free of the Armstrong influence (or possibly less willing to be freed of that influence?) are still paying a very dear price to continue on in the delusion of being "Godís only true elect." For the practicing of Armstrongism or any other form of legalism by definition brings with it the bearing of a burden and a heavy yoke that God never intended for any true Christian to have to bear.
The more unnecessary weight that these old covenant adherents voluntarily allow to be strapped to their backs, the more burdened down, distracted and short-sighted they appear to become. The deeper they become mired in the task of trying to keep straight the latest "dos and doníts" of being a "saint," the less likely it seems that they will ever be able to summon the mental energy necessary to recognize the absurdity and futility of their situation. They have been participants in a rigged shell game, one in which they must rely on their leaders to reveal beneath which shell "godliness" resides this month.
These old covenant followers have been taught to focus on the myriad trivial requirements of the old covenant physical laws rather than on the weightier matters Ė the new covenant eternal law of love. They have been subtly tricked into settling for a lukewarm bowl of watery pottage rather than enjoying the sumptuous spiritual feast with the father that they could have been partaking of. They have contented themselves with building their spiritual house from warped and gnarled tree limbs, obtained from a rot-felled tree and built upon a bed of sandstone, when they could have been erecting a truly solid and permanent spiritual edifice, built from oaken timbers upon a sure foundation of granite.
Their feet have somehow slipped into the sandals of the Pharisees, and they are every bit as unaware of their own spiritual plight as were some of the Pharisees. Just as the Pharisees were, they also have been duped into worshipping the shadow, rather than he who casts the shadow. They have been unable to distinguish between the symbol and he whom the symbol stands for. And the pity of all this is that these old covenant adherents are VERY sincere, every bit as sincere as some of the Pharisees and Sadducees were.
These deceived proponents of the old covenant system desire to serve God, but not on his terms. Due to either a general lack of Biblical understanding, or a lack of faith that Christís sacrifice, with nothing else added, is fully able to save them, they have unwittingly turned over all spiritual decision-making to charlatans and misguided teachers. They have blindly placed their confidence and trust in those who teach that the recipe for salvation consists of the proper blend of works and self-sacrifice, seasoned with a generous dash of faith in Christís sacrifice. But leave just one of the ingredients out, they are warned, and there is no salvation.
They have unwittingly exchanged Christís freely offered gift of salvation for shackles and a yoke, yet they rejoice at having pulled off a wise trade, indeed. Itís little wonder that these people feel that their daily trials and temptations are severe and that they seem to be continually "kicking against the goads." They attribute this to Satanís attempts to strip away their reward. It never occurs to them that following false teachings also produces the very same "fruits of frustration" and the lack of true peace that they are experiencing. They eventually will be forced to come face to face with a spiritual truism: it is not possible for a false gospel to produce truly good and enduring fruit.
My column this month is directed toward these sincere, well-meaning members of the offshoot churches of the Worldwide Church of God, who by chance may have stumbled across this Missing Dimension website, and this article in particular. They are those who are in various stages of learning the above truism. Admittedly, very little learning usually occurs within the deceived mind without Godís mercy and favor. But hopefully, with Godís help, this column will aid in that learning. My following comments have appeared on a website or two over the past few years, but I feel that they bear repeating to this MD audience.
I acknowledge that these old covenant adherents genuinely and sincerely believe that they are holding fast to the "truth once delivered," supposedly most recently through Herbert Armstrong. I well understand how special and unique they feel, for I used to be one of their number Ė for over three decades.
The following is not written in a spirit of meanness or bitterness, but in love and with a deep concern for the welfare of those who have chosen to follow Herbert Armstrongís teachings. As a former devoted and whole-hearted follower of Mr. Armstrong for many years, but one who has in recent years, through much research and study uncovered many unsettling facts, I am driven by the command given us in Ephesians 5:11-13:
"And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather EXPOSE them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are EXPOSED are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light."
I thoroughly understand your desire to please God and to hold on to those things that appear to be precious truths that a "blinded" world apparently is unable to discern. However, the Bible warns us that from time to time there would arise those who would produce the "unfruitful works of darkness," and that those evil and deceitful works need to be exposed for what they are.
Any time you have a new religious leader popping up on the scene proclaiming new and extra-biblical "facts," that have been "hidden" for centuries, and claiming to be used of God in a way that no other person in the past has been used, that person is a PRIME candidate to have his "fruits" examined. Letís take a closer look at Herbert Armstrong to see if his fruits and teachings can bear up under scrutiny in the light of day. I think it will become apparent that Armstrong was FAR from being the great moral and spiritual leader and bearer of truth that he appeared to be.
Just as it was impossible to forever hide Garner Ted Armstrongís true character (itís been all caught on video at the massage parlor, so that even his most ardent supporters must at times feel like giving themselves a dope-slap), so it has become increasingly hard to deny the facts regarding Herbert Armstrong that are appearing on the internet, etc. These facts can be attested to by hundreds of former WCG ministers and members from the 70ís and 80ís.
Some have written books, others have written heart-rending resignation letters explaining the cover-ups occurring, or made tapes to explain why they were disfellowshipped without being given a chance to reply to charges (such as David Robinson, Jack Kessler, Marion McNair, Charles Hunting, Richard Plache, David Antion, etc.). If it is true, as the Bible states, that a man can be convicted on the testimony of three witnesses, there exists more than enough testimony and witnesses to establish the true character of Mr. Armstrong.
Many higher-level ministers, who are still employed by the WCG and its offshoots, know of these facts. Ask your local pastor about their veracity. If he was one of those in the know, watch him grow very uncomfortable as he tries to give you an answer that wonít be too upsetting! His answer will probably include the standard comparison that King David committed adultery AND murder and was still a man after Godís own heart, and that hopefully Armstrong repented. (But then, David didnít set himself up as a spiritual advisor, nor did he continually repeat his sins after he OPENLY admitted them and repented, did he?) Also, be prepared to be informed that "character doesnít matter Ė itís the MESSAGE," whereas formerly, character was everything!
These truths are getting harder and harder to suppress. The wider availability and use of the internet has given the general public much greater access to research resources, such as Ambassador Report Publications (see www.herbertwarmstrong.com/ar), and to valuable web sites such as David Covingtonís webpage and the really all inclusive, one-stop-shopping site, "The Painful Truth" (www.herbertwarmstrong.com). And of course, this Missing Dimension website is great for news updates, etc. However, one still has to do careful research to separate fact from fiction, as you cannot assume everything found on all sites is true or even Christian, but much that can be proven is brought to light through these sites and the links they recommend.
The disgusting details of Herbert Armstrongís 10-year incestuous relationship with his daughter Dorothy Ė which occurred even as he received "new truth" from God and was establishing the 1st "true church" in 19 centuries, the misuse of 3rd tithe for jet fuel and the refurbishing of top ministerís homes, his plagiarizing of otherís articles, the firing and disfellowshipping of loyal ministers without even a hearing, etc., are now being laid bare on the internet before the world. Itís embarrassing Ė but just maybe we deserved it. We allowed a man to become our authority in place of God. Jesus Christ worked awfully hard and suffered greatly to remove the need for a physical priesthood; the "veil was rent," and so each Christian has direct access to God .
But the HWA approach was to resurrect the priesthood and insert it between God and the Christian. He particularly liked to remind us that we were just so much stinking rotten garbage in Godís sight, unworthy to even draw breath. We dared not rely on our own minds or instincts, as they were inherently evil and not to be trusted. Armstrong convinced us that we couldnít trust other churches, or friends or relatives Ė no one but him Ė as he understood Godís will better than anyone alive. This type of teaching, although great for keeping followers in line, and complaints to a minimum, is deadly to normal, healthy self-esteem. This teaching had the effect, over a period of time, of destabilizing the minds of his followers, and in many, many instances it laid the ground work for problems ranging anywhere from mild anxiety to full-blown psychotic behavior. It can well be summarized in the following descriptive paragraph:
"The membership never feels completely confident in their salvation, but is always left feeling slightly in doubt. They must continually "give more and do more" or risk losing salvation. They feel that God is watching for them to slip up, and is always planning for their next big "test." They believe that God is continually "sifting" them, and looking for weaknesses in their armor. Mentally, they are always in the "gun lap" and find they canít relax. Joy seems elusive. Often, members become quiet, submissive, guilt-ridden, non-thinking, non-creative, depressed, alcoholic, anxious, withdrawn, self-conscious, hopeless, aimless, and have nothing to look forward to in life but the dream outlined by the leaders about the wonderful world tomorrow, which is usually depicted as "just around the corner." They are not enjoying "the peace that passes all understanding" but have become mentally frozen in their religion - rendered unable to function, and yet unable to leave. They are experiencing cultic control or "fear religion " at its best (or worst)."
Herbert Armstrong was able to establish authority over us by showing us "new truths," Ė one being that we were still under the Old Covenant Ė the New Covenant would not be established until our marriage to the Lamb. Never mind that Hebrews 8:13 tells us: "In that He says, ĎA new covenant,í He has made the first obsolete. Now what is obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." (which it did when the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.)
Years later, we were instructed that even if the Old Covenant had been made obsolete, it would have no affect on the Ten Commandments, as these laws have existed from the time of Adam, and therefore were NOT PART of the Old Covenant. Too bad we didnít take the time to do a little research Ė we might have stumbled across Exodus 34:28, which tells us, "So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the TABLETS the words of the COVENANT, the TEN COMMANDMENTS." And we might have even read Deuteronomy 4:13, which tells us: "And He declared unto you HIS COVENANT, which he commanded you to perform, even TEN COMMANDMENTS; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone."
And chapter 5:3 further verifies that "the Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us." If we had done a little outside reading, we might have realized that following the Ten Commandments strictly doesnít bring righteousness Ė for one can follow them to the letter and be "blameless," even if we HATE our neighbor. Therefore, obviously, there is a higher law of God.
We were led to believe that Armstrong had more of Godís Holy Spirit than anyone on earth and understood prophecy as no one else did. To quote Roderick C. Meredith in "The Inside Story of The World Tomorrow Broadcast," (p. 17): "This is the ONLY Work on earth that really understands . . . the specific meaning of present-day world events, and the EXACT TIME SCHEDULE OF PROPHECY!" This, in spite of over 40 failed prophecies since 1934, including the 1972 disaster ( HWA said it was not his fault - God had to give us more time, as we didnít "sacrifice" enough to get the work done)!
We were told that "getting the work done" Ė our calling Ė was to pray, pay, and obey so that Godís "true church" could get out to all nations the gospel of the coming tribulation and Christís imminent return. However, nowhere does the Bible say this is our "work." Christ himself states in John 6:29, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent."
Armstrong loved to quote Matthew 24:14 in support of our commission Ė "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come." He told us this was the reason we were called Ė to back him up in the spreading of this gospel. Somehow he never got around to explaining why an angel had the same commission. Rev 14:6 tells us "Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth Ė to every nation, tribe, tongue and people Ė " Thus the above prophecy is fulfilled by an angel, with no mention of us humans being absolutely necessary for its fulfillment. (See Matthew 28 for our commission.)
We believed he was an "apostle" Ė not realizing that to qualify, one must have been taught directly by Christ. We would have done well to consider the words of Rev. 2:2: "I know . . how you can not bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who SAY THEY ARE APOSTLES AND ARE NOT, and have found them liars.."
And nowhere does the Bible tell us that the gospel is the proclaiming of the coming tribulation and the imminent return of Christ. The heart of the gospel is not built on prophecy, no matter how attention-grabbing that prophecy might be, but deals directly with Christ and the "good news" of the salvation his death has assured us upon repentance and faith. Our being prepared for Christís return and entering his kingdom all hinges upon what we do in the here and now.
Speculating on when Christ will return, what the tribulation holds in store, or what our final reward will be like may be interesting, but it is not the gospel Ė and can actually detract from the joy and peace brought by the gospel if it becomes a source of worry and fear. Herbert Armstrong, hopefully unknowingly, taught us "another gospel," which the Bible warns against time and again. A study of all the uses of the word "gospel" in the Bible will verify the subject of the true gospel. (See especially I Corinthians 1:17-18 and 15:1-20)
God holds us accountable for whom we follow and what we believe. He has given us the ability to think, examine, research, study and read opposing views before coming to a final decision (this was frowned upon by HWA as allowing Satan into our minds). God has instructed us to "trust no man" but to prove ALL things as the Bereans did . . . to be careful no one deceives us. We overly trusted one man and only studied his chosen scriptures and believed his interpretations. We built upon sand, and now it is starting to wash away. (Could this explain why there have been well over 100 church split-offs since 1970? When the foundation is faulty, nothing with any real stability can be built upon it!) Why is it that we can see everyone elseís deception but our own? I guess thatís the very DEFINITION of deception!
My prayer is that those of you who are still clinging to Armstrongism will take the time to examine these issues (this may involve doing some further intensive research Ė with an open and prayerful mind), for your own sake and that of your family. After all, the scriptures do admonish us that "he who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him" (Prov 18:13). Maybe, just maybe we've been mired in folly and deception long enough!
Till next time, hereís whistliní at ya! ;o)