If the Churches of God (COGs) are so wrong, why did I become a Worldwide Church of God (WCG) member in the first place? The answer, if we wish to analyze it from every angle, is somewhat complex, but it all comes down to one bottom line, one fundamental reason: I was tricked by dishonest literature.
I first heard about the Church of God in the early 1980s. One of the first booklets I read, which left quite an impression on my young mind, was Are We Living in The Last Days? What I didn’t realize is that the booklet contains a lot of deception, including what appears to be a bald-faced lie in which the Worldwide Church of God denied setting erroneous dates for the return of Christ. The booklet said:
For centuries a wily and crafty adversary of God (Satan the devil) has sent his false prophets to delude man into expecting the imminent return of the Messiah. Always there has been a letdown. Christ did not show up when these misguided self-appointed “prophets” said He would. Consequently, people have become doubtful that Christ really will ever return. This is exactly what Satan the Devil has desired! Because when God’s true servants stand up to announce the imminency of Christ’s return, a “once bitten, twice shy” public will not believe it! They’ve been “had” too many times! (Are We Living in The Last Days? p. 42, Ambassador College, 1971, 1973).
By calling themselves “God’s true servants” and calling those who set erroneous dates, “false prophets” of Satan, they imply that they have never set false dates. But the WCG did set false dates. So were they lying? Looked at another way, it amounts to an admission that they are false prophets of Satan, not the true servants of God. But they said they were true servants, and they can’t be both true and false.
When I was new to “the truth” I was eager to learn as much as I could, so I wrote in for booklet after booklet and reprint after reprint. Often I received a disappointing reply in the mail stating that the literature I requested was no longer in print. Booklets like 1975 in Prophecy were no longer available. This puzzled me at first, but I soon learned that liberal ministers were being blamed for cutting down on publishing during the liberal 1970s. However, the liberals were gone by the early 80s, so I should have asked myself why it was taking years just to reprint existing literature. Getting booklets, reprint articles, and the old Correspondence Course back in print could have been easily done in a matter of days or weeks, not years.
Now that this old literature is on the Internet, I can finally read it. Now it becomes obvious why the WCG did not want people to read it. They were the ones doing the date setting!
Here is one example of date setting, from The Proof of the Bible by Herbert Armstrong, dated 1958.
Here is a book—The Holy Bible—that dares to write out the future history of this world in advance—that dares to prophesy what is actually going to happen within 15 or 20 years to specific nations, including Russia, the British Commonwealth, China, the United States, Italy, Turkey, Ethiopia, and many others—most of the major nations of this world.
Near the end of the booklet, he reiterates the same time frame.
We are just coming now to the grand smash climax of this whole age when there are far more prophecies—far more world-shaking events—to happen in the next 15 or 20 years than ever happened before in the history of the world!
1958 plus 20 years brings us to 1978. No COG can tell us what bible prophecies for each of these nations were supposedly fulfilled by 1978. Yet many of them still claim Armstrong was a true servant of God and few will admit he prophesied falsely.
Armstrong’s booklet, 1975 in Prophecy, written in 1956, states:
This time the Germans are coming back from defeat faster and more effectively than they did after World War I. The comeback they are making is phenomenal—faster than any other European nation—faster than we think! (p. 7, original emphasis)
Since it took the Germans 21 years to come back from defeat after World War I (WWI), we can add 21 years to the end of WWII, which was 1945, and that brings us to 1966. So wasn’t Armstrong saying that the Germans would be back before 1966? Were they back by 1966? No, not even close. It is now long past that and still the U.S.A. could handily whip the Germans. The USA has nuclear weapons and Germany does not. The USA has the most powerful military in the world by far.
Quoting again from 1975 in Prophecy, notice how Armstrong was preaching, way back in 1956, how near the end was.
Today the stage is all set! At a certain moment, the new LEADER of this European combine will appear suddenly in the public eye. He’s already behind the scenes–in action! But the world does not recognize him! He still works under cover (p. 9).
Armstrong had no evidence to support that statement other than his own interpretation of bible prophecy. But he goes on:
We shall not have to wait much longer to know! IT’S LATER THAN YOU THINK! (p. 10).
Your immediate future … you have now read YOUR FATE [most of the people who read this in 1956 have since died of old age!] and I say to you on authority of God Almighty that it is absolutely SURE! (p. 31)
I started attending the Worldwide Church of God in the early 1980s, and by then it should have been clear that they had messed up with false dates. Many of the long-time members must have known, but did not want to talk about it, so I was unaware of the false date setting until about the time I finally left the Churches of God, almost 30 years later! The missed dates were almost TOTALLY IGNORED by everyone, but when the subject did come up, excuses were made. We were led to believe that these dates were mere speculations, never intended to be taken literally, that critics had taken words out of context to persecute the church, defame God’s work, etc. This was simply untrue, and some of these ministers and long-time members must have known it was untrue. Most or all of the literature containing false dates seems to have been withdrawn or updated to cover up the mistakes. And if anyone tried to tell me that Herbert Armstrong had set false dates I probably would not have believed it (unless they brought the proof to me in print!) because I had been led to believe otherwise! Are We Living in The Last Days said it was Satan’s ministers who set premature dates. And, I probably reasoned, if the church had really set false dates, what were all these long-time members still doing there!?
Are We Living in The Last Days? and other prophecy made quite an impression on me, but nothing had impressed me more than The United States and Britain in Prophecy. It is hard to overstate the importance of that book. It taught the doctrine of British-Israelism which was considered the key to proving the bible and a key to proving the WCG was the true church, since no other church taught this doctrine, which was considered to be vital.
The next example of deception I’d like to mention is a bald-faced lie by Herbert Armstrong himself. This lie is exposed on the Armstrong Plagiarism Research web site. After plagiarizing the old doctrine of British-Israelism (nearly word-for-word in at least several places) from John H. Allen, Armstrong claimed that the doctrine was unknown to the world until God revealed it to him.
Did Armstrong actually claim God revealed it [the doctrine of British-Israelism, which states that the “lost ten tribes” are the USA and the UK] to him?
Some say Armstrong was not trying to pass his book [The United States and Britain in Prophecy] off as revelation from God to him personally. They say he was just writing about the subject.
However, he claimed he was Elijah prophesied to come and restore “all things” (lost doctrines) to the church. He also said Anglo-Israelism [also known as British-Israelism] was one of the truths he restored.
Also, please note the following statements from The United States and Britain in Prophecy.
Armstrong said he was doing the work of God:
God has said, IN YOUR BIBLE, that He would get the warning to His people Ephraim-BRITAIN. [1980, p. 225, last chapter, section God Said It!…].
Some day, people will wake up to realize this is the Work of God! [1980, p. 226].
This book has given the WARNING from God and His Word. [1980, p. 228].
By God’s direction and authority, I have laid the truth before you! (1980, p. 229, last chapter, section You Can Escape …).
He said he was the servant of God who had the secret of the lost ten tribes:
Yet the best minds in the world are in total ignorance of the unprecedented cataclysm that is about to strike. And why have these prophecies not been understood or believed? Because the vital KEY that unlocks prophecy to our understanding had been lost. That key is the identity of the United States and the British peoples in biblical prophecy.
That key has been found! We present it to those whose unprejudiced eyes are willing to see.
The events prophesied to strike the American and British peoples in the next few years are SURE!
God says: “Surely the Lord Eternal will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). … [1980, p. xii, Introduction, section, Best Minds — Total Ignorance]
Consider this last quote. Aside from the fact that Armstrong was off in his timing, since more than a “few years” have passed since he wrote this, he again implies that God is using him (and his church) to do the work of getting this message out. In other words, he says he is the servant of God leading this effort. And by calling this doctrine the lost vital key, and then quoting Amos 3:7 about God revealing his “secret” to his servants, he creates the impression that this secret was revealed to him. He quoted Amos 3:7 again later (1980, p. 225, last chapter, section God Said It!…).
In the next excerpt Armstrong excludes the possibility that Allen could have known about the lost ten tribes. Although he does not mention Allen by name, he excludes Allen in two different ways.
First, Armstrong seems to deny the existence of any Anglo-Israelite literature prior to 1950 by asserting that prophecy was sealed until “the latter half of the twentieth century” (p. 8) which would be from 1950 to 2000. According to the Wikipedia article J.H. Allen, Allen died in 1930. Clearly, Allen couldn’t have known about Anglo-Israelism if it was not revealed until 20 or more years after he died.
Of course, Allen did know about these prophecies, so it is simply untrue that the prophecies could not be known until after 1950. If Armstrong did read Allen’s book, he should have known that wasn’t true.
(The Jewish Encyclopedia traces the theory of Anglo-Israelism back to 1822. See here.)
The second way that Armstrong excludes Allen, is that he asserts that only those who keep the ten commandments (which would of course include the seventh-day Sabbath) can understand these prophecies. Wikipedia says Allen was a Methodist minister who was associated with the Church of God (Holiness). I don’t know what that church taught in Allen’s day, but if Allen was not a Sabbath-keeper and part of what Armstrong called the true church, this would also exclude Allen as a possible recipient of revelation from God.
Once again, if Armstrong did read Allen’s book, he should have know that those outside “the true church” could indeed understand these prophecies. (Which implies that revelation was given to someone outside the true church, or Anglo-Israelism is not revelation.)
Even if Allen were a part of the true church, Armstrong taught that truth was lost until the Philadelphia era, which did not begin until about 1930. Allen wrote in 1902 which was during the end of what Armstrong called the Sardis era when the true church had become virtually dead and was receiving no revelation from God.
Here is the excerpt:
The plain truth is, these prophecies were written for our people of our time, and for no previous people or time. They pertain to world conditions of today, and could not have been understood until today.
One of the very pivotal books of prophecy is the book of Daniel. …
At the very close of his book, Daniel wrote: “And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end … and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand” (Dan. 12:8-10).
So the prophecies of Daniel were CLOSED, sealed, locked up until now! But today we are living in “the time of the end.” Today the “wise” do understand! But who are “the wise”? Only those who fear and obey God–and who have the master key to unlock the locked-up prophecies. God says: “The fear of the Eternal is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments” (Ps. 111:10). And even most professing “Christians” [like J.H. Allen?] refuse utterly to do that. No wonder they [people like Allen?] can’t understand.
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.
Stop a moment and think. If the prophecies Daniel wrote could not be understood by him; if they were “closed up and sealed till the time of the end” — till the latter half of the twentieth century [after 1950] — as the angel said and as Daniel wrote, then they were closed to the ancient Israelites of that day; they contained no message for Daniel’s time [or for anyone prior to 1950]. (1980 edition, pp. 7-8).
So, to recap, we have the following:
(1) Armstrong said that this doctrine was the lost key, i.e. a secret unknown to the world at large.
(2) Armstrong said that God reveals his secrets to his servants.
(3) He taught many times that ministers outside the WCG (which Armstrong founded) were the ministers of Satan, not the servants of God. Obviously, God would not reveal anything to a minister of Satan. Logically, this would include J.H. Allen who was a minister outside Armstrong’s Church of God circle.
(4) Armstrong said he was God’s servant and that he (and his organization which he totally controlled) alone were doing the work of God and that he had laid this information before the reader.
(5) He said the prophecies were closed, which implies they had to be revealed (opened up) with the key, which he had.
(6) He said the prophecies were closed until 1950 (or later), which is after Allen died.
(7) Nowhere in the book does he mention Allen.
And so, we ask: Did Armstrong take credit for the work of others, conceal his sources, and deliberately create the impression that God revealed this “secret knowledge” to him personally?
The evidence, which is covered in detail on the other site that we referred to, makes it clear that Armstrong plagiarized from J.H. Allen’s book which was written in 1917. So I don’t see how we can escape the conclusion that Armstrong lied when he said this doctrine was not known until God revealed it to him after 1950. He must have known that was not true if he copied it from Allen. If he was not above lying, perhaps he was directing people under him to lie also, such as the unnamed person who wrote Are We Living in The Last Days?
The subject of false Worldwide Church of God prophecy, both date setting and erroneous predictions, has been covered in detail elsewhere, so I need not list more examples here. But the reader, if he still has any doubts, is encouraged to research it further.
If I had known the truth of these matters, I never would have gone to the WCG in the first place. The way they got me into their church was by covering up their past failed prophecies and by lying to conceal the fact that Armstrong got British-Israelism and other doctrines from other men, rather than from God as he claimed.
It was fraud that tricked me into attending the WCG, forking over my money for many years, and worse yet, wasting the best years of my life. By not telling the truth, and the whole truth, about Herbert Armstrong’s past mistakes, COGs are still perpetuating the same frauds.
I was well intended but gullible. I guess I just couldn’t believe someone would have the audacity to tell such bald-faced lies. I also didn’t believe someone could put them in print and get away with it. I assumed that surely, if they did that, someone would expose those lies, and they would have to retract them. I thought, surely, their own church members would notice those lies, and leave the church. Well, many did leave the church (I wasn’t putting two and two together properly) but many more stayed, so why did all these people stay if their church was telling obvious lies? I never met the ones that left before I got there, so they never had a chance to warn me, and the ones that stayed seemed like decent honest people. They became my friends. They would not mislead me, right? Well, they did. Not so much by lying, but more by what they wouldn’t talk about. Everyone was afraid to talk much about the decade of the 70s that had just passed. They didn’t want to cause some new person like me to “fall away from the truth” and they didn’t want to get in trouble with the ministry for doing so. This conspiracy of silence, this keeping people, especially new people, in the dark to avoid “causing offense” still exists in the COGs.
It still amazes me how they distort so much, in print, and use that deception to ruin people’s lives, rob them of over 10% of their gross income, and apparently never get sued. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion is one thing, but outright fraud is another.
Suppressing the truth is also a great sin, so one has to wonder how these ministers, who know they are covering things up, can justify such deception in the name of God. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18, NKJV).
There is much more that could be said to warn prospective members; this article is just the tip of the iceberg, so keep researching and keep reading the material on sites like this one. When I first discovered “the truth” (or so I thought) in the early 1980s the Web did not exist. There were a few books exposing “Armstrongism” but I didn’t even know those books existed, except for one of them, which I think had only one chapter on the subject. I took a quick look at that chapter, but it did not impress me because it was written by a traditional Christian who didn’t like Armstrong’s unorthodox views on the Trinity, etc, without being able to properly refute them. I sure wish we had the Web in those days. By time the Web really got going it was about 1993 and by then I was “hooked” on the COGs so my mind was closed and I wasn’t even looking for a second point of view.
Much more could be said about Mr Armstrong’s false prophecies and other COG errors than I can cover in this article.
To summarize this warning: there is a lot of information out there that can be used to decisively refute “Armstrongism.” There is quite a bit on this site and even more on the sites we link to. People have sacrificed a lot of time writing up this information to help others. This effort has cost some of us tens of thousands of dollars in lost income. Don’t neglect this information. Find it. Read it. Use it.
Related article on British Israelism.