HERBERT ARMSTRONG’S RELIGIOUS ROOTS

Blast from the Past.


During the Ministerial Conference in May 1974, Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA) applied Paul’s statement from Galatians 1:11-12 to himself- “The gospel which was 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.” Then Herbert added: “I say the same thing, brethren!” Not wanting to be outdone by Paul, Herbert claimed that he too learned “by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” He went on to say, “I was not converted as the result of the teaching or preaching of any man.”

In a sermon on July 24, 1976, he declared, “I came to the truth in a way I know of no other church leader. I know of no other minister who ever came to it by himself through the leading of God in that way.”

The Origin of Herbert’s Unique Doctrines. The truth is, however, that many of the teachings of the Worldwide Church of God were plagiarized from other religious leaders and were not “revealed” personally to Herbert by God, as he claims. Consider for a moment that a SeventhDay Adventist publication, Prophecy Speaks, was reprinted almost verbatim with many of its gross inaccuracies in Herbert Armstrong’s Proof of the Bible booklet. (Read the article “Herbert Armstrong ‘Disproves’ the Bible” for further information.)

Much of the material in HWA’s book, The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy (copyright 1967), was extracted nearly verbatim from John H. Allen’s book Judah’s Sceptre and Joseph’s Birthright (written in 1902). Rather than give Allen the credit he deserved, HWA claimed God had revealed to him the “master key” that unlocks the meaning of the Bible’s prophecies. He stated that this special key was “the identity of the United States and the British nations” (The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy, 1967, p. 8). However, the British Israelism theory, which taught essentially the same thing as HWA wrote in his book, had been in existence at least 50 years before Herbert ever came on the scene.

On at least two occasions different Ambassador College employees have discovered boxes in Herbert’s basement containing magazines entitled The Remnant of Israel, as well as a great deal of other related religious material. All this material was published by G. G. Rupert (1847-1922) of Britton, Oklahoma. When we compare Rupert’s beliefs with Herbert’s, we find them to be identical in many respects. (This subject was researched for the WCG in a paper written by Richard C. Nickels in 1972.) Some of the teachings that Rupert and Herbert Armstrong both advocate are: tithing, observing the sabbath and the holy days of Leviticus 23, keeping the Ten Commandments, observing the Passover on Nisan 14, church eras, a form of British Israelism, the correct name of God’s church is “Church of God,” man doesn’t have an immortal soul, Christians shouldn’t observe Christmas and Easter, the holy days foreshadow God’s plan, anointing and laying hands on the sick, sending anointed cloths to the sick, avoiding any military service, not voting, not electing church officers or ministers, there is only one true church, not eating unclean meats, the end is near, and singing psalms rather than the traditional Protestant hymns. (See The Remnant of Israel by G. G. Rupert, April 1919, June 1919, Sept. 1921; also see Is There a True Church Organization by G. G. Rupert, written in 1919.)

The significance of this discovery is that it shows Herbert’s main beliefs were not uniquely revealed to him by God but were simply taken from other ministers and publications and pawned off as his own unique, divinely revealed teachings.

At the May 1974 Ministerial Conference Herbert Armstrong continued to perpetuate the idea that all his beliefs came directly from God: “I did not go to any minister, to any seminary, to any religious school, to any religious denomination, any man or group of men, but I was taught by God in his Book.” The truth is that HWA ripped off the research and teachings of others and palmed them off as his own, and. then even had the audacity to claim that God had something to do with it!

Adolf Hitler stated in Mein Kampf: “The great masses of the people… will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one.” Herbert had duped many with his “big lie” regarding the origin of the teachings of the Worldwide Church of God.

Herbert and His Association With the Church of God. A second “big lie” that Herbert tells is that he was never a member of the Church of God groups with whom he associated: “For some years I worked in cooperation with the Church of God…. I never joined them-never became one of their members” (member letter, May 2, 1974, p. 2).

Research, however, has once again shown that accuracy is not one of Herbert’s strong points. David M. Kauer, secretary-treasurer of the Church of God (7th day), Denver office, stated in a letter to B. R. Guillory dated March 19, 1974, that “Mr. Armstrong was a minister of the Church of God (7th Day).” John Kiesz, long-time minister of the Church of God (7th Day) and associate of HWA till 1945, stated in material mailed from Stanberry, Missouri, on March 26, 1973, that “Brother Armstrong… received his credentials from the Salem [West Virginia] group about the fall of 1934. I was one of the officers of the Salem Church of God at that time.” Carlo E. Rasmussen of the Church of God (7th Day), Salem, West Virginia, office stated in a letter to P. Boehnhardt, dated February 27, 1973, that “Mr. Herbert Armstrong was a member of this Church of God and was even one of the Seventy Prophets until he departed on his theory of British Israelism, which he preaches today. The other officers in the Church studied this teaching for one whole year and concluded it could not be proven through the Scripture.”

The following quote is from a letter written by HWA to the Salem Church of God on January 29, 1934, just three weeks after his true church had supposedly begun: “I hasten to follow your suggestion, and enclose herewith my acceptance of the ministry of one of the Seventy.” The acceptance states:

“I am anxious to begin on the ministry… in the one body, and am determined… to live and teach the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, as found in the Holy Scriptures, and as outlined in the Constitution of the Church of God…. Will you please record this my acceptance, and have credentials issued to me….”

Note that HWA acknowledged that they were “the one body.”

In a letter to Salem, West Virginia, dated August 15, 1934, HWA affirmed that his views were “in harmony and accord” with their “40 Points of Doctrine” and that his teaching was “not out of harmony with that of the other ministers of the church.”

Well, one lie leads to another. Herbert now says: “I was not a member of this Salem organization, nor did they pay me any salary” (member letter, May 2, 1974, p. 4).

Elder Straub, one of Armstrong’s fellow ministers in the Church of God who now lives in Lodi, California, was contacted by telephone in early 1974 by Martin Lieber. Here’s what Elder Straub said on the subject:

“Just the other day… when I talked to Brother Helms I said. ‘Why he [HWA] claimed he never took any money from the organization.’ He [Helms] said, ‘Oh, that’s a big fib…. Everything he ever got never got to any place else but him-he hung on to it pretty tightly.'”

Elder Straub continued, referring to a confrontation with Herbert in 1935:

“When he [HWA] said that he never received that money, Elder Haber [the treasurer] went to his briefcase and he got a check, over $500. It was over $500 which was cancelled by Herbert. He said. ‘Herbert, what is this here? You never received any money from the organization? What is this here?’… That was too convincing, I mean, that was an open falsehood.”

Chris W. Royer of the Church of God (7th Day), Salem, West Virginia, office stated in a letter to Bill Hughes, dated July 22, 1976, that “it is time consuming to go through old records. However, in our ledger we’ find that Mr. Armstrong received pay as late as March 1937.”

Yet Herbert recklessly declared:

“I received no salary or remuneration of any kind from either the Salem or Stanberry organization.…’ The story that I went out from them… is 100% false! I was never even a member of them” (member letter. May 2, 1974, p. 4).

Herbert did leave the Church of God, but why? Did he have a genuine conscience problem over a doctrinal point? Officially, “it was basically his teaching on British Israel and the observance of the Feast Days which led to his separation [in 1938] from the church” (Kauer letter, March 19, 1974). At the Ministerial Conference in May 1974 HWA claimed that he didn’t leave the Church of God because of doctrinal reasons but because he merely got so busy that he “just didn’t have time to work with them anymore.”

In an April 1939 Good News article (p. 7) he justified his leaving the Church of God and starting his own work by declaring:

“Our heavenly Father never planted any super-organization, or established any church government, or set men in authority over either spiritual or financial affairs, in the New Testament Church.”

Now that HWA’s church organization has grown large and wealthy, he has disavowed his 1939 statements.

So by Herbert’s own admission, he “fell away” from what he stated was the one true church of God. Remember, HWA said the Philadelphia era began in August 1933 (The Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong, p. 492), and yet on January 29, 1934, he affirmed in writing that the Salem Church of God was “the one body”-God’s one true church.

Here, perhaps are the real reasons why HWA left the Church of God as put forth by some of his fellow ministers:

John Kiesz: “The real reason seems to have been because of his uncooperative attitude…. Nobody can work with him.”

Brother Helms: “Herbert wouldn’t study…. Herbert was always the big man and everybody else was the little man.”

Elder Haber: “He [HWA] said that he didn’t have to pay any attention to anybody.”

Elder Straub: “Here was the point. We put him on the radio. It was the church…. But he wasn’t willing to study with the ministers, and what the Church of God was teaching…. There was no way of reasoning with the man…. He had his way, he ordered the people….

In 1935 the ministers offered him a study [of British Israelism], to sit together and study it out; they wanted to know. And he flatly denied and said, ‘There will be no study. I’m going to preach what I think should be preached.’ He’s definitely an independent man that takes nothing from nobody…. He won’t listen to any reasoning. What he says just goes. How can one man be so sure?”

It is obvious, then, from history and from the mouths of several different individuals that HWA did not receive his teachings from God by revelation and that he was both a member and minister of the Church of God-which he called the true church and which he left.

-Robert Gerringer

6 Replies to “HERBERT ARMSTRONG’S RELIGIOUS ROOTS”

  1. Interestingly, we have people attempting to do this same thing today, leave a group, and then thru chutzpah and charisma, steal the original group’s fire. I don’t know if there is another example in the history of religion of a church movement splintering so frequently and completely as has the WCG. The really strange aspect to this is that most of the men who have started the splinters played the role of “yes men” to Herb, whose temper was of legendary proportion, but couldn’t continue this role in working with anyone else. I guess this is what happens when the person behind a personality cult dies, and everyone attempts to grab their little piece of the pie. Greed and a sense of self-importance take over.

    BB

    1. …to do this same thing today…

      When I read your comment I was pondering some of Bob Thiel’s recent critique of LCG teaching. His recounting of the emergence of CCOG seemed to fit HWA’s experience with CG7.

      But I feel that Bob did not have the same intentions as HWA; he already had his own voice and following, which was to some degree independent but supportive of LCG. Perhaps his ambition was more like that of Dr Hoeh – researcher, historian, refiner of doctrinal matters. If Rod had tossed Bob a bone by appointing him to some elite position, I think there would be one less splinter to contend with.

      1. Hoss,

        “If Rod had tossed Bob a bone by appointing him to some elite position, I think there would be one less splinter to contend with”

        Never could have happened. 2 narcissistic men in the hierarchy would compete with each other. One would come out the winner at the top. Rods not giving up his cash cow family business. It is not worth the contention and risk.

        1. Yes, it was another hypothetical, dependent on if Rod wanted to keep Bob under control, or be done with him, and if Bob was just itching for recognition within LCG, or was looking for an excuse to depart. I remember the problems between Rod and HWA, but in this case, Bob is not ordained, and can’t be exiled to Hawaii.

          Bob seems very keen on a rigid Catholic-style hierarchy of leadership, and for Bob to be an official Prophet, Rod would have to become an Apostle. Then what would happen after Rod’s demise – a bit like the Republican Party thinking they silenced Teddy Roosevelt by making him Vice President…

  2. This is not the whole picture. To get the whole picture of Herbert Armstrong, you must understand the nature of the Whitedolatrous nature of the vicious Seventh Day Adventists, the effect the incest of ten years had on his ministry, his boundless hubris bound up with narcissism and the socio-dynamic of his cult created by his drunken alcoholism.

    To neglect these four factors is to miss the point of who and what Armstrong was and what sort of impact his cult had upon his members.

  3. To think there was a time when I trusted anything HWA said, and felt very concerned when he made a factual error. Now I take almost everything he said with a grain of salt the size of Lot’s wife.

    For the two points raised in this post, revealed truth and CG7 non-membership, I used to default to Obi-Wan’s statement that truth was based on a particular point of view. More fitting perhaps is a line from Lawrence of Arabia: when one tells a lie, they hide the truth, but when one tells a half-lie they forget where they put it.

    When HWA quotes Galatians, obscuring what Paul was actually writing about, he is referring to what John Kiesz explained was HWA’s understanding of “revealed”. In HWA’s meaning, if he comes across some “new truth” when reading the Bible, the Bible Advocate, J.H. Allen, G.G. Rupert, or anyone else, this “truth” was revealed to him. To be the “truth” it would need to pass proof-texting, and, I assume, be something that is useful in some way.

    In an editorial (possibly PT, late 1950s) HWA said he had come across Allen’s book, but it contained errors. (I don’t remember his exact quote). Of course, he had enhanced or “value-added” to Allen’s work many years earlier, after it had been “revealed” to him. Half-lies take little time to grow into whole lies.

    As for “not a member”, there could be an element of truth here too. We know that HWA had been baptized by a Baptist minister. According to a statement of beliefs from CG7 (Salem), to become a “member” one must be baptized by a minister of that church. As the Salem church arose from a split from the main body, it is unlikely that existing members were baptized again; so, just based on the statement of beliefs, HWA did not fulfill the stated requirement for membership.

    So perhaps HWA was “telling the truth” from a particular point of view, just as Edison said he invented the light bulb. No, Joseph Swan invented it; Edison copied and modified it. I guess it had been “revealed” to Edison when he read Swan’s British patents…

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