This is the second installment of this historic letter. Today we deal with brainwashing. Herbert Armstrong promotes the idea that we should “suspend our disbelief” and follow him.
Herbert Armstrong used to say to his followers “Follow me as I follow Christ” The reality (as this letter should make clear to the reader) is that Herbert saw loyalty to the Worldwide Church of God more important than loyalty to God’s Word.
Our most precious, God-given possession at birth is our mind — our ability to think independently, to question, to learn. Couple this with the Holy Spirit and we have the most fantastic tool known to man — a mind begotten with God’s Spirit. The approach of the Worldwide Church of God indicates that the lay member needs the Holy Spirit only to help him overcome “personal problems” and help him accept that which the ministry tells him the Bible says. The Holy Spirit isn’t simply to help us agree with the way the Worldwide Church of God explains it. In this way, the “weak of the world” are being made weaker. It doesn’t take a spiritually strong person to merely accept exactly what the Worldwide Church of God teaches and to obey it strictly. But it Does require strength of character and spirit to question, research, prove, and then abide by your convictions, regardless of what the Worldwide Church of God or anyone else says.
In this way I think the members of the Worldwide Church of God are not being helped. They know what they believe and how to “prove” it. If there is a doctrinal change they are then taught what new thing they should believe and how to “prove” it. But they are not encouraged to draw conclusions on their own, to research through many “worldly” commentaries written by “unconverted” men, to discuss with many the various options. I do not think it can be said that the members of the Worldwide Church of God are allowed, let alone encouraged, without fear of reprisal, to approach with intellectual freedom and honesty and candor any scriptural issue on which Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong and the “church” have ruled. And: of course they would be forbidden from remaining “in the Church” if, based upon the results of their study and convictions, their actions were contrary to the official Worldwide Church of God teachings.
So in these ways and others, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong’s letter of Feb. 25, 1974, to the membership, was very disturbing to Connie and me.
Continuing the chronological chain of events, David L. Antion, Albert J. Portune, and many other ministers resigned or were fired, and some 3,000 members quit attending. I was curious as to the reasons these men were quitting, but I did little investigation — I felt this (the Worldwide Church of God) was God’s One True Church and He would take care of the situation. I felt I should obediently follow Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong (although I didn’t totally agree with his tactics).
It was in April, 1974, that Connie and I found out that her parents in Missouri were about to leave the Worldwide Church of God. By phone and letter we immediately encouraged them to stay in the True Church, even though it wasn’t perfect. We sincerely felt they’d be making a serious mistake to leave, and if they had left at that time, we would have flown out to discuss it with them.
Next came the May Ministerial Conference. Since I received “The Bulletin,” I was allowed to attend all the “plenary sessions,” although I attended none of the “workshops.” I was very impressed and encouraged. that Armstrong seemed to be sincerely willing to examine any doctrine.
But Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong still took what seemed to me a less than candid approach. He called our Divorce & Remarriage change “new light,” “new truth” which God has (finally) shown us. In other words, he subtly blamed our doctrinal error on God. He never once admitted that he had simply been wrong. He never apologized to all the people whose lives and marriages he had ruined. He gave God all the credit for wrecking and destroying thousands of families.
In Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong’s May 14, 1974 letter to all the brethren he said on page 10, “A strong and firm family structure is a basic building block of any happy and stable society. ” And yet for years we’ve been destroying thousands of these “building blocks” of society. Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong still claims he has never made a major mistake in his guiding of this church, yet I can scarcely think of a more serious and damaging theological blunder as far as the physical, day to day lives of people are concerned. *(Editors note: Barack Obama said the same thing pertaining to his presidency. This is a prime example of narcissism at work.)
Continuing in the May 14 letter (page 11): “No matter how much anguish is caused God’s Church cannot depart from God’s Laws or His Truth.” In other words, the Worldwide Church of God can’t depart from its interpretation of what God says on the matter.
Another quote from the same letter: “Brethren, this very experience (the Divorce & Remarriage change) ought to teach all that loyalty to God and to His Church must always be placed first, over supposed or real wrongs or personal grievances. Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong is saying loyalty to the Worldwide Church of God must be placed above loyalty to God’s Word! He’s saying that it was right for us to obey the Worldwide Church of God’s unbiblical and anti-scriptural teaching on Divorce & Remarriage all these years, because this is what he terms “loyalty to God’s Church.” And he says this loyalty must “always be placed first, over supposed or real wrongs or personal grievances;” in other words, loyalty to the dictates of an organization must be placed first over what the Bible really teaches (on the subject of Divorce & Remarriage, for instance) if you personally come to see the Bible and the Worldwide Church of God do not agree. Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong goes on to say (page 11), “God has given those of us who are loyal to Him and His Word the relief we relied on Him to give us.” In actual fact, the “relief” has been there for 2,000 years, but it has taken the Worldwide Church of God this long to discover and accept it. And those who were “loyal to Him and His Word” on the subject of Divorce & Remarriage needed no relief since they refused to ever submit to the Worldwide Church of God’s incorrect teaching in the first place. Yet Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong would consider those who ten years ago refused to obey the Worldwide Church of God’s teachings on Divorce & Remarriage, Pentecost, etc. to be disloyal, even though they were being loyal to what God said in His Word.
Another quote, same letter (page 11): “I want all of you to know how happy we are for the answer given by God Himself.” Again, this makes it sound like God has been responsible for our wrong teaching, and that now God has decided to clear up the matter (which must make people wonder why it took God so long). Mr. Hunting, the truth is that Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong and everyone else who taught, supported, and accepted (myself included) the disgraceful practice of breaking up marriages is responsible – but one Being isn’t responsible — God. He had nothing to do with the Worldwide Church of God being in error all these years in the matter of Divorce & Remarriage. It is a giant “cop-out” to claim the only way out of the doctrinal nightmare called Divorce & Remarriage was for God to provide “the relief we relied on Him to give us.”
Then Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong tells how much he and the other ministers appreciate “the faithfulness of those of you who have endured this anguish in order to be obedient to our God.” Actually, they were obedient to Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God rather than God every time they submitted to a Worldwide Church of God command to break up a happy home. Anytime we obey men rather than God, He is not pleased, regardless of the sincerity of the individuals involved. Mr. Hunting, is it ever right to obey Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong rather than the Eternal? Yet Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong commends the brethren for doing exactly that, and then labels it faith in and obedience to God. Finally, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong says, “Loyalty and faithfulness always pays.” And whether he realizes it or not, he is saying that “loyalty and faithfulness” to himself rather than to God (if they differ) “always pays.” Why? Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong feels if he is wrong it is God’s fault, and God is responsible to provide “the relief” through “new light,” “new truth”, “revelation,” etc.
I am not questioning the sincerity or dedication of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong or anyone else. But back at the time of that Conference, what Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong was saying and writing was not providing me with the reassurance that God agreed with his approach or attitude.
So all of the things I’ve been relating to you finally led to perhaps the most important question and a very pivotal issue for any member of the Worldwide Church of God: Is the Worldwide Church of God the True Church? Is it the only True Church? Are True Christians only found in the Worldwide Church of God?
I had not looked into the doctrinal issues facing the Worldwide Church of God. I had not consulted with or read any literature from any of the “dissidents.” I felt this would be disloyal to Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong and God’s True Church. If the Worldwide Church of God was the only true church, where else was there to go? why go elsewhere anyway? and since God was totally in charge of the Worldwide Church of God, wouldn’t He take care of everything in time and in His own way? and wasn’t it showing both a lack of faith and insubordination to question the way the Worldwide Church of God handled things and the way Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong directed things since that would be identical to questioning God?
But would God be upset at me for studying extensively into both sides of the doctrinal questions? Would God really be upset if I dared to read some of Dr. Martin’s literature; many in the Worldwide Church of God said we shouldn’t even open a piece of literature written by a “dissident.”
When I first began attending the Radio Church of God, I was told this was the true church because we did and taught exactly what the Bible said. Recently the Worldwide Church of God has said we’re the true church because we change our teachings when they are wrong.
By July of 1974 the Worldwide Church of God had changed two of its teachings in a short period of time. It was obvious the Worldwide Church of God didn’t have the Bible 100% correctly understood. Since there had been errors in the past, there certainly would be errors in the future, so of course, it couldn’t be said the Worldwide Church of God was the true church “because we have 100% accurate teachings.” So what is it that would make the Worldwide Church of God the only true church? Is there a certain percentage of correct doctrines necessary? 99%? 90%? 80%? Are there certain key doctrines which must be understood correctly, whereas others are not as important?
I could more easily explain my conclusion and the reasons for it in person, but it became clear to me that there is no such thing as one True Church the way the Worldwide Church of God believes there is — in other words there is not one true organization. The Worldwide Church of God is not the True Church of God.
The one true Church of God certainly does exist, but it has no organizational boundaries. The definition of a Christian, one who is a part of the body of Christ, a member of the Church of God is one who has God’s Holy Spirit in him (Rom. 8:9).
The same question with regard to an individual arose in my mind –must an individual understand a certain percentage of doctrines correctly in order to be a Christian (in order to comprise a part of the true Church of God)? 90%? 80%?
Mr. Hunting, God looks on the heart and the attitude of an individual, not on how much they understand. We cannot draw lines and say a person must agree with a certain view of a certain number of doctrines, or he cannot receive the Spirit of God. People who are illiterate, elderly, blind, deaf, and/or low IQ, etc., can all become Christians. They may understand very few of the Bible’s doctrines, but if God finds a receptive heart and attitude, God can give His Holy Spirit and so add another member to the true Church of God.
I concluded the Worldwide Church of God has no corner on truth or Christians. I feel most in the Worldwide Church of God are in the “True Church,” but the Worldwide Church of God isn’t that “True Church.” Neither is any other organization on earth, although many of them also have members of the “True Church” in their organization. The Body of Christ transcends man-made organizational boundaries (such as the Worldwide Church of God) and comprises all whom God has chosen to receive His Spirit.
Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong feels the Worldwide Church of God is the only True Church. He feels he is an apostle — God’s one direct representative on this earth. But after coming to grips with the “One True Church” issue, I could no longer agree with Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong on these matters. I came to realize that simply taking the word of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God would displease God. I would be placing them above Him and His Word as the primary molders of my beliefs.
Chronologically, I arrived at these conclusions in early August, 1974. It was at this same time that Connie, 3-week-old Teddy, and I took a two-week vacation to Seattle to visit Chuck and Carol. Chuck and Carol had, completely independent of Connie and I, arrived at these same conclusions, and they had already begun studying all sides of the issues. It was at Chuck’s home that we first read some Dr. Martin’s literature and listened to his tapes. Many members in Seattle received Dr. Martin’s materials, so Chuck originally sent for it so he could study it, then disprove Dr. Martin’s teachings to any who raised questions regarding these subjects. However, upon careful analysis, Chuck and Carol were surprised to discover that much of what Dr. Martin said indeed appeared correct, and so they began to study more and more.
I was very skeptical when Chuck declared Dr. Martin was right on a number of issues where he differed with the Worldwide Church of God, but I knew then I’d really have to confront these issues.
When we returned from the Northwest, I visited Dr. Martin’s Foundation for Biblical Research. I discussed a few things with him, then took copies of his writings and tapes. I studied what he had to say on a subject, what the Worldwide Church of God had to say, what the Associated Churches said. The subjects we researched were: Church government, old and new covenant, Sabbath, Holy Days, tithing, healing, law and grace, etc, etc, as well as a number of areas of prophecy.
I will not even begin to try to relate my conclusions in these various doctrinal areas. But by the Feast, 1974, we knew it would be our last with the Worldwide Church of God — the doctrinal gap between them and us was growing with virtually every subject we looked into.
As soon as we returned to Pasadena following the Feast, I began looking for another job. It was about this same time that Chuck and Carol, and Connie’s folks quit attending the Worldwide Church of God. Virtually independent of them, we were nevertheless reaching very similar conclusions.
I perhaps reached the depth of my disappointment with the Worldwide Church of God when I read a statement written by Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong appearing on page 631 of the December 3, 1974, “Bulletin.” It’s implications are horrendous. He said, “Christ has BOUND in heaven what His Church, even in unrealized error, has bound in earth.” The statement hit me like a lightning bolt. I am enclosing with this letter a copy of my contribution to the “Open Forum” of the “Bulletin.” In it I explain why I feel nothing can be further from the truth than the above statement by Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. Needless to say, the “Bulletin” would not print my opinion in the Open (?) Forum. Bob Kuhn refused it because it was “too inflammatory.”
The Worldwide Church of God cannot afford to openly present both sides of the story, cannot allow its members to read the opinions of those who disagree with Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong and the official stand of “the church.” In the ministerial meeting of March 4, 1974, Garner Ted Armstrong said he was just trying to hold it together. He and Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong treat the effect and not the cause of the Worldwide Church of God’s problems. This is why disfellowshipment is such a bandy tool for them. New, unapproved, “heretical” ideas and opinions can be stopped by kicking the trouble-maker out of “the church” and then forbidding anyone in “the church” from talking with him.
When it comes to controlling both the actions and minds of people’, the Worldwide Church of God has a lot in common with the Catholic Church of the Dark and Middle Ages and the Renaissance. That church used excommunication to rid itself of “heretics.” (They used even stronger tactics in the Spanish Inquisition.) Galileo believed and was trying to disseminate facts regarding the earth and the universe. “The church” threatened him with excommunication if he would not recant. Rather than allow people to examine the facts and judge for themselves, the pope felt he had to protect the “babes” of the church from deception, and so shut-up Galileo. He may have even claimed Galileo was in the bonds of Satan” and greedily trying to get a following so he could get their tithes: The Catholic Church had such absolute control over Europe for over 1000 years that it was largely responsible for the Dark Ages.
It was the “free spirits” and rebels against the church who got the world back on the track of progress. There was no dirth of sin during the Dark Ages, but there was complete stagnation in the areas of learning, knowledge, invention — the only progress was backwards. I feel the members of the Worldwide Church of God are in their own Dark Age.
I’m sure that not everything Galileo believed was accurate, but he should have been able to express his ideas for public evaluation. I definitely do not agree with everything Dr. Martin teaches, but I thank God that at last he can express what he believes and why without fear of reprisal. And I’m equally thankful that I can feel free to study and evaluate for myself what he and everyone else says — then I can decide and act accordingly.
God does not today have any organization of men ordained to tell others what the Bible says and what God wants them to do. The Worldwide Church of God is inaccurate in many of its teachings — so I know it isn’t commissioned to enforce its beliefs on others.
Wherever: there are thinking, questioning, probing, seeking inquisitive curious, independent, intelligent, free people, there will be differences of opinion and interpretation, and I don’t mean only regarding obscure, relatively unimportant scriptures dealing with seven thunders or why eagles gather around carcasses. God intended this — He gave each of us individual minds and He gave us His Word which in parts is anything but perfectly clear. God is concerned with our heart and our attitude, and not with our ability to, like programmed computers, all profess the same point of view on a specified number of doctrines. Individuals can differ significantly in both their beliefs regarding and their application of the scriptures, and yet all be brothers in Christ and members of His Body.
But whenever someone who used to be a loyal supporter and member of the Worldwide Church of God begins ‘to believe and teach something different Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong declares them to be “in the bonds of Satan.” In his letter of February 25, 1974, he makes such statements as: “These deceived ministers (are) allowing Satan to use them, “Satan is the real author,” “these Deceived men (are) now allowing Satan to turn them the wrong way,” “this thing is of SATAN.” It is one thing for Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong to disagree with them, but when he dogmatically declares them to be agents of Satan he is making a serious accusation. And when I began to see that many of the things “these deceived ministers” were saying were true and that many of the actions they were taking were the only courses they could follow and still be loyal to God, I began to recall Matt. 12 wherein the Pharisees accused Jesus ;0f acting “by Beelzebub the prince of the devils,” although Jesus said His actions were “by the Spirit of God.” If God through His Holy Spirit is motivating and guiding certain individuals, He will not look lightly on accusers who claim the Spirit-led individuals are actually motivated by and in the bonds of Satan (see verses 31 and 32).
I would like to quote from The General Catalog of Ambassador College –1973-74: “The entire curriculum in religion and theology is designed from a fresh viewpoint and approach … (The student is) under continual caution to lay all preconceived ideas and religious bias on the shelf ·.. All difficult verses are studied not only in relation to other Scriptures, but also in connection with Hebrew and Greek texts, historical and archaeological facts, expositions of commentaries and recognized authorities, and the processes of careful study and specialized research. Students are taught to approach the Bible with open-mindedness and with due respect for the results of past research, but accepting only that which is proved true, regardless of previously accepted or universally approved theories or doctrines .Nothing is accepted unless proved, and every student is emphatically encouraged to think for himself in the realization that his salvation is a personal matter between him and God.”
Mr. Hunting, the above quote is a misrepresentation of the facts. As students we were not encouraged to think for ourselves. Careful re-evaluation of one’s thought system and the admonition “to lay all preconceived ideas and religious bias on the shelf” were urged if one had other than a Worldwide Church of God upbringing. However, once one accepted the Worldwide Church of God theology, all serious, and especially vocal, re-evaluation was expected to cease. One is then expected to proxy all “important” re-evaluation to Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong and, perhaps, Mr. Garner Ted Armstrong. Dr. Hoeh and others have often made the statement, “We shouldn’t try to cross the Red Sea before ‘God’s Apostle’,” — meaning that, just as the Red Sea wouldn’t open up for anyone except Moses and only Moses knew the proper time and method for crossing it, understanding in “important” doctrinal areas will not open up until Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong puts his mind to it and decides the matter. As one faculty member expressed it, “I’ve just had to come to accept the fact that we can never grow any faster than the two men at the top.”
The selection I quoted from the college catalog is an example of the artfully developed technique used by the Worldwide Church of God and Ambassador College to advertise their indoctrination as “education.” I realize this is a strong statement, Mr. Hunting, but were we ever encouraged to challenge and question the doctrines of the Worldwide Church of God? Back when I was in Ambassador College, suppose that during an Old Testament Survey class a student had seriously questioned the reasoning behind a “Monday Pentecost.” Would such inquisitiveness and open-minded re-evaluation have been welcomed? Would the student have been encouraged to continue researching until he satisfied himself with a logical, proven conclusion? Suppose during an Epistles class a student had expressed disagreement with the instructor’s explanation of Gal. 4:10? Suppose the student felt this indicated Paul was opposed to the Galatians observing the Holy Days, and that they were not to be kept by the Christian today? Would the instructor have applauded this student’s intellectual curiosity? Would the instructor have encouraged the student to conduct “careful study and specialized research,” including the “expositions of commentaries and recognized authorities”? Would the student have been warned to put no more emphasis on what the Worldwide Church of God says than other theologians, but rather to prove it for himself? And would he have been allowed to present to the class his research and his conclusions, regardless of the outcome of his study?
We know what would have happened if a student would have been so daring and bold as to have asked such questions. There would have been gasps of horror in the classroom at his virtually blasphemous statements. The instructor might have taken the time to repeat the Worldwide Church of God’s official explanation of the question. If the student seemed unwavering in his point of view, he would have been “called in, counseled,” told not to question “God’s Apostle,” told God is in charge, told this is the only true church, he must repent and change his attitude, “the doors swing both way,” asked if he was really converted, told he was disloyal and would never make it into the field, etc., etc. Am I exaggerating? If so, only slightly. The college catalog’s glowing description of intellectual freedom and honesty as an exemplary specimen of higher education is very different than the real-life approach taken by Ambassador College and the Worldwide Church of God towards those who question and disagree with official church dogma.
Probably no college instructor at Ambassador College has ever had to face such a situation, because it is doubtful whether any truly inquisitive, questioning, open-minded individuals still actively possess these traits by their third year of college. Almost everything about Ambassador College teaches one to accept what he is taught without question. Unquestioning acceptance and unfailing obedience prove ones loyalty to “God’s Church.” Ambassador College is not a ‘liberal arts college”; it isn’t an “educational institution.” At most Ambassador College is a theological seminary where a person can go to learn what the Worldwide Church of God denomination believes and how to instruct others in those beliefs. I vividly remember attending, in my freshman year, Pasadena Bible Studies conducted by Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. He was always getting very upset at people who sent up questions during the Bible Study.If any question only slightly expressed disagreement with him, what he had said, a belief of the Worldwide Church of God, etc. Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong became very irate. He would scold the questioner for “his attitude,” his lack of respect, disloyalty, and so on. Mr. Hunting, I’m not exaggerating. He made it quite clear he does not want to be questioned. He was very defensive and constantly felt the questions to be a challenge to his authority. He made it clear to all of us that he was responsible to no one but God (and the more people who believed that, the more powerful he became). At first it bothered me when he responded so defensively and antagonistically to the honest, open questions sent up by people in the audience. However, as the months went by and I attended many Friday night sessions conducted by Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, I began to look at it the way he did. When he chewed someone out because they asked a certain question, I agreed with his appraisal of their “wrong attitude.” Slowly my outlook was being warped until I concurred with his belief that no one had the right to seriously challenge or question him or the Worldwide Church of God.
The above is only one example of the Worldwide Church of God intolerance of beliefs contrary to theirs, or even of those who merely have questions about the church’s doctrines. Being a student at Ambassador College, and to a-lesser extent a lay member in the Worldwide Church of God, is to experience a type of brainwashing. The indoctrination results in a form of mental castration; theologically the individual will not or cannot think for himself. He will blindly accept, believe, and obey whatever Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong says. He will loyally support and uphold the Worldwide Church of God’s castigation of those who question, doubt, or criticize.
Primarily theologically, and oftentimes in many other facets of life, the Worldwide Church of God has turned thinking, reflective, inquisitive, analytical, seeking, free people into a dependent, unconfident, gullible, easily led and manipulated group. Obviously there are a wide range of degrees of how individuals were before entering the Worldwide Church of God and how they are ending up, but I feel the above trend represents the vast majority of cases. II Cor. 10:5 does not say, “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God.”
*There’s a word for somebody who thinks that everything that goes wrong is just not their fault. There’s a word for somebody who has no conscience, who has no sense of responsibility for anything. There’s a word for this. It’s “sociopath,” and they are typified by people who blame everybody else for what’s gone wrong.