Herbert was a proud, cocky man, as he himself admitted, who was determined to make a financial success of his life. His background was in advertising. He lost almost everything in the great Depression. He had learned through many of his professional contacts something he later called “the Seven Laws of Success.” This gave him the tenacity to build his own Radio Church of God against all odds.
How to build a financial empire
The observance of the sabbath that ancient Israel observed, was the source of one particular revelation to Herbert W. Armstrong. It would be a game changer for the man who coveted affluence and adoration all his life.
The Sabbath Day he called a “sign” between God and ancient Israel. This seemed rather obvious that the keeping of the seventh day Sabbath would provide a mark of distinction in modern times. Especially in looking through history for God’s one true church. Could it really be that simple?
The Sabbath was not only considered a “sign” of who God’s people were. Armstrong indicated that the observance of it had a mystical quality. Sabbath day observance could reveal that God’s great purpose was the advent of the millennial reign of Christ (the kingdom of God).
Annual Sabbaths were the holy days mentioned in the Old Testament. The Passover, Days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles and Last Great Day. To Armstrong, the law of Moses was to be kept today. They would become a requirement for salvation and further revelation of understanding about God’s plan of salvation.
In the Old Testament, the observance of the spring and fall festivals required a special way of tithing of one’s increase, Armstrong informed his readers. Tithing was part of the eternal law of God and was taught in the New Testament for Christians to practice. In 1927 Herbert Armstrong felt that he had come into contact with the descendant of the New Testament church. Just how did he identify it?
They held faithfully to the things that are HOLY TO GOD–his Sabbath and paying his tithe. They held to the true biblical NAME, “the Church of God.” No other church on earth held to these three pivotal basic beliefs and practices. They were humble and sincere and would have sacrificed their lives for these basic truths. (Where Is the True Church?, Herbert W. Armstrong, p. 19)
So tithing, far from being abolished, is NEW TESTAMENT LAW! But, the priesthood being changed to that of Jesus Christ–the Melchisedec Priesthood restored–that tithing law is also changed of necessity, so as to become God’s system for financing the ministry of Jesus Christ! (Ending Your FINANCIAL WORRIES, p. 20, Herbert Armstrong, 1959)
God has a financial law for our nations. He says 10 percent of the increase, or gross income of each one of us, belongs to God for his purposes and his work.
In Malachi 3:8-10: “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes in the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”
After the year 1800 we prospered because of Abraham’s obedience and God’s unbreakable promises to him. But now having received such individual and national prosperity, we sin by stealing from God. That has brought our nations under a curse. We have won our last war. Nothing but troubles now lie ahead until we repent. (Mystery of the Ages, Herbert W. Armstrong, p. 158)
Seducing the sheep one step at a time
“…for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you” (Ex. 31:13)
What tremendous meaning is packed in that portion of this sentence! Yet most people read right past it, failing to get the vital TRUTH it contains! Notice! Here is the purpose of the Sabbath. “…for it is a SIGN…” (Which DAY is the Christian Sabbath?, p. 52, Herbert Armstrong, 1976)
The people of the world are willing to acknowledge the other nine commandments–but the Sabbath command is the one they positively REBEL against! It is THE ONE that is the crucial test of obedience! It IDENTIFIES those who have surrendered their wills to God–who OBEY God, regardless of persecution or cost!…God’s SIGN is one you accept voluntarily–of your own volition, or not at all.
But the “beast”(symbol of the coming resurrected, so-called Holy Roman Empire in Europe) has a MARK, which is soon going to be BRANDED ON, by physical FORCE! And it has something to do with “buying or selling”–trading, business, earning a living, having a job (Rev. 13:16-17; Rev. 13 and 17). Yes, this is the TEST COMMAND–the one on which YOUR VERY SALVATION AND ETERNITY DEPEND!
As doctrinal revelations began to snowball, Armstrong’s credibility began to grow and his paradigm appeared plausible. By accepting the Sabbath, members could now be shown one of Herbert’s favorite mysteries. The Sabbath sign led to the discovery of a unique people who had lost their identity and yet were destined to fulfill a dual purpose of the Old Covenant after collectively recovering from amnesia.
That unique people were “the lost ten tribes of Israel” who were primarily found in the United States and Great Britain. This doctrine is refer to as British-Israelism. And like all of the other revelations of truth, the identity of who modern-day Israel was opened followers’ minds to yet another conclusion: Israel’s identity was the master key to understanding prophecy.
That key is knowledge of the astonishing identity of the American and British peoples–as well as the German–in biblical prophecies. This very eye opening, astounding identity is the strongest proof of the inspiration and authority of the Holy Bible! It is, at the same time, the strongest proof of the very active existence of the living God! (p. 3, The United States and Britain in Prophecy, Herbert W. Armstrong,
And don’t forget, the specific key that unlocks these closed doors of prophecy is the definite knowledge of the true identity of the American and British nations as they are mentioned in these prophecies. (p. 6, The United States and Britain in Prophecy, Herbert W. Armstrong, 1980)
Like the picture that emerges when piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, Armstrong’s paradigm unveiled a unique view of the cosmos. If accepted as truth, the vortex of circular reasoning would now show the self-convinced followers that they were on to something that made sense and offered them a special place in the universe. For instance, being a descendant of Israel magnified the need to observe the Sabbath; keeping the Sabbath revealed one’s special identity and pleased God; knowing one’s special identity led one to understand the real meaning of prophecy; and understanding prophecy could save one’s life. Therefore, one must keep the Sabbath or risk getting amnesia and losing one’s salvation.
The one thing Herbie was able to prove in his life is that perseverance really can bring success. This was true of William Miller’s followers; this was also true of those Herbert had rubbed shoulders with in the business world. Herbert attempted to impress upon his followers that the pursuit of success was not contradictory to the Christian way of life.
Bleeding the sheep
Although his church had once operated on a shoe string budget and Armstrong had maintained his filing system in shoe boxes, it soon began to garner millions of dollars in donations only to be absorbed insatiably by the expanding dominion of Ambassador College and its many functions.
Armstrong had a particular method for financing his “work.” It was an interpretation on tithing which had never existed before in history. By the time a member was baptized he would be taught that God required him to give as much as 30% of his gross income, plus generous offerings seven times per year, to church activities. The use of these funds was seldom accounted for but primarily ended up in the pockets of the Armstrongs, Rader (each salaried at approximately $300,000 per year) and the ministry.
This unorthodox teaching was seasoned with threats upon members of being cursed by God if one did not comply and empty promises of gaining God’s blessings if one did. Members were told that if they cheated on their tithes they were “stealing from God.” This accusation was lobbed at members for nearly a decade after Armstrong’s death.
The stories are countless of the many financial calamities to loyal members who persisted in trying to tithe the right way to gain God’s favor and blessings. Many early converts were promised that the world would not be around long enough for them to pass on the family farm to their children and sadly signed the deed over to Armstrong.
The ministry was not required to live by the same standard though. Ministers were of the Melchisedek priesthood. The priesthood (Armstrong’s “spiritual Levites”) had been hand-picked by God to partake of the tithe. This gave ministers a lifestyle that was more comfortable and luxurious than the average member. Not only were they well-paid, they were provided new church-leased vehicles, church financed homes and special expense accounts.
Ministers were also only subject to one tithe; whereas members were required to give as many as three tithes of their gross income, as well as generous holyday offerings at the seven annual festivals, special offerings, participate in yard sales and bake sales, donate used clothing and canned goods, and contribute to the building funds in Pasadena, California and Big Sandy, Texas. They were often goaded by the ministry to “give until it really hurts” and be cheerful about it because “God loves a cheerful giver.”
One of Armstrong’s ex-ministers, Marion McNair, documented through several years of Armstrong’s co-worker letters that Armstrong used a strong guilt tactic to always portray the church in financial calamity, just short of collapse, thus squeezing every last penny from his supporters. Members did not want God’s wrath falling upon them for not supporting the one true church so they gave until it hurt and did so cheerfully as commanded.
Understanding prophecy seemed to depend upon a Christian’s performance in several ways. If America and Britain (modern Israel) did not obey God and keep the Sabbath, God would bring a curse upon them–this is how Old Testament prophecies were played out. Armstrong’s followers were the only ones who knew the vital keys to prophecy. His church was the only institution that knew the identity of modern Israel. Therefore the church felt a responsibility to God for warning Israel (America) of God’s impending wrath.
One other revelation, of minor importance, seemed evident. God had a particular interest in race. After all, He had never given up on the descendants of Abraham. Again, this implied that God was exclusive with salvation.
On the world scene nothing is so important right now as to know where the white, English-speaking peoples are identified in scores and hundreds of prophecies–prophecies which describe vividly our sudden rise to national power and reveal the causes of that greatness; prophecies that paint a crystal clear picture of our present international dilemma; prophecies that open our eyes wide to see what now lies immediately ahead for our nations–and what our ultimate and final status shall be. (p. 10, The United States and Britain in Prophecy, Herbert W. Armstrong, 1980)
Armstrong claimed that these restored truths had been delivered to him by divine providence. They all revolved around one basic premise–the laws that were given to Moses, beginning at Sinai, were never abolished but were still in full effect. But if this were the case, then, who were all of the other people, outside of the Worldwide Church of God, who thought of themselves as Christians?
Truncated by James.