Upon its mere mention, religious leaders rush to warn professing Christians against the “dangers of Armstrongism.” Here are the facts behind this term.
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The finest, most effective schools, corporations, nonprofit organizations, relief agencies, government administrations and their leaders share one thing in common: Despite all their successes, despite all the accolades they have received, someone will always criticize them.
Most historians, scholars, statesmen and other thinkers consider Abraham Lincoln the greatest president ever to lead the United States. Most believe Sir Winston Churchill was the most inspiring and dynamic leader of Britain during the 20th century. Yet Lincoln and Churchill, courageous leaders in their own right, had detractors in their day. Even today, long after their deaths, both men still have their share of critics.
This grim reality exists for all leaders and organizations, including religious groups and those who lead, guide and instruct them.
Detractors are increasing the volume and rate of their criticism through the Internet, a medium that enables even the most sophomoric rant to garner instant exposure and some credibility before a worldwide audience. Even worse, those so inclined can spew lies, half-truths, salacious rumors and malicious gossip with near impunity—and once something is posted to the Internet, it never goes away.
But, you might ask, what does this have to do with “Armstrongism”?
“Armstrongism” is a derogatory term used by detractors to describe those who observe and teach the plain understanding of the Bible, and its spiritual application to mankind’s problems, as taught by Herbert W. Armstrong.
For more than half a century, Mr. Armstrong was the presenter of The World Tomorrow program (first radio, then television), the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Plain Truth magazine, founder and chancellor of Ambassador College (three campuses), and Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God.
From 1970 until his death in 1986, Mr. Armstrong had personal audiences with more than one-third of the world’s heads of state. Among them were India’s Indira Ghandi, Israeli prime ministers Golda Meir and Menachem Begin, Jordan’s King Hussein, Prince Mikasa of Japan, Egyptian presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and numerous other leaders and dignitaries.
Mr. Armstrong came to be viewed as “an ambassador without portfolio,” a representative of world peace. Unlike most religious leaders, he possessed a unique and extraordinary gift for explaining the truths of the Bible in simple, easy-to-understand language.
Instead of pleading with kings, presidents and prime ministers to “just accept Jesus,” Mr. Armstrong presented Christ’s gospel message in clear, concise and practical terms. He taught the difference between the way of give (symbolized by the “tree of life” in the Garden of Eden) and the way of get (symbolized by the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”). He explained that the only way humanity will achieve universal peace, security, harmony, prosperity and happiness is through practicing the way of giving, helping and cooperating with others.
What Herbert W. Armstrong taught so plainly from the pages of God’s Word refuted nearly every belief and tradition commonly taught by the churches and denominations of traditional Christianity.
Subsequently, critics and defamers—especially religionists who had a personal stake in keeping their adherents content with non-biblical teachings—attacked through written word and speech, inventing the derogatory term “Armstrongism.”
Today, more than two decades after his death, the attacks and gross distortions continue.
Mr. Armstrong wrote numerous articles, booklets and books, and gave countless messages, explaining the truths of the Bible. He proved from Scripture that the churches, denominations and religious movements of this world base their teachings on manmade dogma—the “traditions and commandments of men,” as Jesus Christ described in Mark 7:5-9.
Here are five basic beliefs that scoffers reduce to or attack as “Armstrongism”:
• The True Gospel: Ministers, pastors, missionaries and countless other religionists preach a gospel about Jesus (in reality, “another gospel” about “another Jesus” – II Cor. 11:4).
But what gospel message did Christ Himself actually preach? “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent you, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). Christ’s gospel was not about Himself. It was about the soon-coming kingdom of God—the Family of God ruling over humanity through the government of God. And that world-ruling government will be established upon the earth at Jesus Christ’s triumphant Return (Isa. 9:6-7).
• The Church: Most professing Christians believe God’s Church is scattered, and comprised of differing, divided and competing faiths, denominations and movements.
However, as Mr. Armstrong taught throughout his 52-year ministry, the New Testament speaks of the Church of God as being the same as the Body of Christ. The apostle Paul wrote that the Church has many separate members (brethren), yet is like various parts of the human body, in that these members were connected. Notice: “For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body…For the body is not one member, but many” (I Cor. 12:12-14).
When one is converted—has repented, been baptized and received the Holy Spirit—this verse reveals that he has actually been placed into the Body of Christ as well as into the Church of God.
Chapter 12 of I Corinthians uses the analogy of hands, feet, eyes, ears and the mouth to show how different parts of a human body are connected within the same person.
Paul continues, “But now has God set the members every one of them in the body, as it has pleased Him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body” (vs. 18-20).
The “Christian” world teaches that the Body of Christ—Jesus’ Church—consists of many denominations, fellowships or “communities of believers,” said to all be connected by the “Holy Spirit” working in believers wherever they are affiliated.
But this thinking is contrary to what the Bible teaches. This substitute—counterfeit!—idea asserts, in effect, that Christ and His Body are divided among many groups or organizations—which is simply false.
I Corinthians 12 cannot be “spiritualized away” by human reasoning. It does not describe an amorphous, disconnected, “spiritual” body of disagreeing people and organizations throughout professing Christianity. Any foot, eye or ear that is removed from a human body dies! No severed body part can live for very long without blood supply and the connective tissue necessary to secure it to the body. God created the human body, so He obviously understands the analogy that He inspired.
The Bible definition of the Body of Christ is the Church! They are the same. Notice: “And He [Christ] is the head of the body, the Church” (Col. 1:18). Also read Ephesians 1: “…and gave Him [Christ] to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His body” (vs. 22-23).
The Church of God is a type of Christ’s own Body. As its Head, Jesus governs, directs, builds and adds to His Body. Passages describe it as being unified in both doctrinal truth and love, and demonstrate that the entire Church (“whole body” and “every part”) must walk together in complete doctrinal agreement under Jesus Christ’s authority. And He works through His true ministers to keep the Church from drifting into “every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:11-16).
• God: In the very beginning of the Bible, where it records God preparing to create the first human being, He says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Clearly, more than one personage was involved in the creation of man. The Hebrew word translated “God” is Elohim, a uniplural term like team, group, family or church.
Now read John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (vs. 1). God is one Family—one God—composed of two Beings: God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, who was the Word (John 1:14).
God and Christ enjoy perfect harmony and agreement in everything they do, reflecting perfect outgoing concern, love and cooperation. Scripture reveals that the Father is the supreme leader of a Family that both He and Christ (the Word) have chosen to expand by adding future members!
Traditional Christianity has long been ignorant of this truth, believing instead that God is a trinity—a closed off three-in-one Being who cannot be expanded to include other members. History shows that the trinity concept thrived in ancient pagan religions that existed thousands of years before Jesus Christ built His Church on Pentecost, AD 31. Historical records also prove that this ancient “three-in-one” idea, along with other pagan teachings, was grafted into the visible face of professing Christianity.
• Mankind’s Potential: Billions have been falsely taught that human beings possess immortal souls, and after they die their souls will spend eternity in either one of two places: (A) in heaven “dancing with Jesus” or “staring into the brilliance of God’s face” or (B) wallowing in endless suffering and misery in hell.
Total fiction! God’s Word teaches no such thing!
Genesis 2:7 states, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Man is physical, finite. He was not given a soul—he “became a living soul.”
When people sin—when they break God’s Law (I John 3:4)—they earn the wages of sin: death! Not eternal torture in hell. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Here, the Greek for “death” means just that—death—not “being separated from God,” as false ministers teach. Mankind is already cut off from God, here in this lifetime: “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear” (Isa. 59:2).
Multiple verses, in both Old and New testaments, refute the “immortal soul” doctrine, with verses such as “the dead know not any thing” (Ecc. 9:5)—are oblivious to the living—and “the soul that sins, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:4, 20).
But what does await humanity in the next life? A future so vast, so mind-boggling, so amazing, it makes the dream of spending eternity “staring up at God” pale in comparison. Read our book The Awesome Potential of Man, written by David C. Pack, to learn more.
• Salvation: Even today, false ministers claim Mr. Armstrong taught that one can “earn salvation through works”—despite the countless times he said the opposite! Religionists of traditional Christianity believe that God’s Law was nullified through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. They teach millions that “Christ kept the Law for you,” and, in effect, they give license to sin.
But time and again Mr. Armstrong showed millions of his readers, viewers and listeners plain biblical verses—from Genesis to Revelation—instructing all who claim to be Christians to obey God. In other words, to stop sinning—breaking His Law (I John 3:4)—and start putting the Way of God into action. However, Mr. Armstrong also stressed that keeping the laws of God does NOT earn one salvation! Eternal life is a gift, freely given; it cannot be earned through works. Yet obedience is necessary for building holy, righteous, godly character.
“What is perfect character?” Mr. Armstrong wrote in The Incredible Human Potential. “It is the ability, in a separate entity with free moral agency, to come to the KNOWLEDGE of the right from the wrong—the true from the false—and to choose the right, and possess the WILL to enforce self-discipline to DO the right and resist the wrong.”
Over a lifetime of overcoming sins, faults and weaknesses in the flesh and building God’s divine nature within oneself—through faithful obedience to God by the power of His Spirit, walking in the way of outgoing concern for others and “love [which] is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10)—a Christian can qualify—that is, meet God’s standard of approval—to receive salvation and rule under Christ in God’s kingdom.
These five doctrinal teachings are among the hundreds that critics and naysayers denigrate as “Armstrongism.” Yet when people with open minds look into their own Bibles and let God’s Word interpret itself, the teachings of modern “Christianity” are clearly revealed for what they are—false!
If what you have read thus far is unlike anything you have heard from televangelists and the pulpits of Sunday services, this should not be. Jesus Christ and His disciples taught these truths, and they are recorded in the Bible.
But as the first century closed, the majority of those who called themselves Christian began to mix truth with error. Some, for example, still observed the seventh-day Sabbath, but began to keep Easter, a pagan holiday formerly known as Ishtar. By the end of the first century, nearly all of the original apostles were dead. Only John was left, and even he was kept from entering the Church at Jerusalem, for a false leader named Diotrephes (III John 9-10) had risen to leadership in John’s absence and seduced most believers away from the true doctrines and traditions.
As the second century was ushered in, a veil fell upon the religious landscape. Historical records during the next 100 years—called “the lost century”—are spotty at best. By the time the veil lifted, history revealed a much different “Church” from the one that Christ built. This new body of believers no longer kept the Passover or God’s annual Holy Days, or even the Sabbath. They worshipped on Sunday instead. They stopped observing the laws of clean and unclean meats. They changed works (diligent obedience to God, developing His righteous character and qualifying for His kingdom) into penance (earning salvation) and transformed God’s grace into license to sin.
Over the past 2,000 years, the Church of God remained small as a counterfeit church calling itself Christian came to preeminence on the world scene, influencing civil governments and the course of nations. The true Church suffered persecution and setbacks, but never died out—just as Jesus had promised (Matt. 16:18). Down through the years, persecutors invented derogatory names to describe those faithful few who held fast to the truth, without compromise. They were called different names: “Nazarenes”—“Paulicians”—“Waldensians”—“Armstrongites.”
But God and Jesus Christ have always known them as Christians.