Armstrongism is a term for the cult started by Herbert W Armstrong who founded the Worldwide Church of God. After he died in 1986 numerous offshoots have grown from this group after the WCG changed numerous doctrines introduced by the founder.
Here, in a nutshell, are the tenets of Armstrongism, what Herbert W. Armstrong taught during his lifetime.
1. The most important teaching in Armstrong’s belief system is that Herbert W. Armstrong was the prophesied end-time Elijah. As the end-time Elijah, Armstrong was preparing the way for Christ’s return by announcing Christ’s imminent return. According to Armstrong, true Christianity was suppressed by the Babylonian Mystery Religion, which hijacked the true church and changed it into a counterfeit Christianity, which eventually became the Roman Catholic Church. God sent Herbert W. Armstrong to earth to restore the true religion and true church. Armstrong was also given a special insight into prophecy. He predicted that the end of the age would come in a few short years, with Jesus Christ returning and setting up the Kingdom of God on earth. Throughout his ministry of over 50 years, Armstrong predicted the end of the age in a few short years. As you are well aware, the end of the age did not occur during Armstrong lifetime, nor in the fifteen years since. But for Armstrong, the end of the age was always a few short years away.
2. Next in importance was Herbert’s teachings on government. God’s government is a pyramidal structure. God the Father is on top of the pyramid and is the ruler of the universe. Second in command is Jesus Christ, who occupies a subordinate position. Third, under Jesus Christ was Herbert W. Armstrong himself. He was the human leader of the church under Jesus Christ, who was the true head of the true church. All members of the church were subject to the edicts of Herbert W. Armstrong, who, as the third highest ranking being in the entire universe, was the mouthpiece of Jesus Christ. He served as a latter-day Moses, sitting in Moses’ seat, passing on the words of God down through the pyramid to the members of the church. Authority was from the top down, and loyalty was from the bottom up. Anybody who questioned or disagreed with Herbert W. Armstrong was subject to disciplinary action by the ministry, up to and including excommunication. The members of the church were to be in agreement, with everybody speaking the same thing. Differences of opinion were sin, and could disrupt the harmony that existed in the church. Since the eternal lives of the members were at stake, anyone who threatened to disrupt the harmony of the church and lead members astray had to be expelled immediately. Members of the church were expected to report malcontents to the ministry. Even to be suspected of being in disagreement would bring swift disciplinary action. Most ministers usually believed the first accuser’s story, whether or not it was true. When an accusation was leveled, the accused was guilty until proven innocent. This method of “justice” insured total, absolute compliance with “truth.” To say anything that might be taken as a criticism of church government, no matter how innocent the remark, was enough to cause the average church member to be very careful how he expressed himself. This was good because to criticize church government was to criticize God, and we couldn’t have that, could we?
Because of its pyramidal structure, the church was stratified. On top was the apostle, Herbert W. Armstrong. Below him in rank were evangelists, followed by pastors, preaching elders, and local elders, all of who were church employees. Below them were local church elders, who were unpaid. Everyone from apostle on down to local church elder was a minister. The ministers were an elite caste to whom God gave advanced biblical knowledge, the ability to discern attitudes, superior preaching and teaching skills, counseling skills, leadership skills and administrative skills. You can take any minister, give him any job to do, and he will do it at the highest level of competence.
Lay members were not worthy to call ministers by their first names. They had to address ministers as “Mister.” Fraternization between ministers and lay members was limited because, as my first WCG pastor once said during a sermon, familiarity breeds a certain amount of disrespect. Ministers generally kept lay members at arms length and would not allow themselves to develop close relationships with members of their congregations. At special church functions, such as festival luncheons or church socials, ministers would dine at separate tables, or even in separate dining rooms. This ministerial apartheid ensured that the ministry retained its special aura, and that the members would view their ministers with the proper amount of awe and reverence. The ministers’ motto was, “Not so close, please.”
Some lay members were ordained as deacons. Their job was to assist the ministry by doing all the dirty work. The ministers couldn’t be expected to humiliate themselves by working with their hands. (For example, you would never see a minister helping out at feast of tabernacles sites picking up garbage, setting up chairs and the like because such work was unworthy of their high calling). Ministers supervised. They gave the orders. The deacons carried them out. Normally, deacons were put in charge of lay member volunteers, but they had to climb into the trenches and work. It was not uncommon for ministers to sit on the side lines, drinking coffee and laughing and joking with each other while deacons and lay members did the work needed to set up facilities for church activities. Lay members could address deacons by their first names, but they also had to follow any directions given by the deacons because of their higher rank.
3. The third most important doctrine of Armstrongism is tithing. Members were required to pay three tithes. The “first tithe” was paid by the entire membership, including the ministry, and it was used for the general operation of the church. The members saved a “second tithe” to pay their expenses at the church’s annual festivals. Whatever was left over was to be turned over to the church. Ministers were exempted from saving second tithe. Their expenses at the church festivals were paid using the excess second tithe funds turned over to the church by the lay members. The “third tithe” was paid every third and sixth year of a seven year cycle. Originally, it was earmarked for a welfare fund for “widows and orphans,” but later on it was used to subsidize the lifestyles of the ministry. For example, third tithe funds were used to purchase and operate Herbert W. Armstrong’s private jet plane. The ministers were exempt from the third tithe requirement as well. In addition to the three tithes, members were required to give offerings at the seven church holy days. These offerings were in addition to, not part of, the three tithes.
Why the emphasis on tithes? In his commission to announce the imminent return of Jesus Christ to the world, Herbert Armstrong preached to heads of government all around the world. In order to gain access to these leaders, Armstrong had to donate huge sums of money to their favorite charities and give expensive gifts to these leaders directly. In addition, he could not go before these leaders as mere member of the working class. He had to go before them on their level, which meant he had to be fabulously wealthy. Accordingly, he wore the best clothes, traveled in a chauffeur driven limousine and a private jet plane.
In general, the ministers enjoyed a higher standard of living than the lowly lay member. They were exempted from two tithes, and their festival expenses were paid for them. In areas where the cost of housing was high, the ministers were given a rent subsidy, which in the United States was free from income tax. This was in keeping with the notion that ministers were an exalted caste. Not only were the ministers treated better than the lay members, they lived better as well.
4. The mark that identified a true Christian was his observance of the Sabbath and the Old Testament Holy Days. The fourth commandment is the test commandment. Just as dog has to sit and roll over in order to receive his reward for obedience, true Christians have to keep the Sabbath and High Holy Days in order to be saved, even if it means losing a job or even a career. The Sabbath identifies the true Christian. Sunday keeping is the mark of the beast. A person could feed the poor, care for the sick, never harbor an evil thought, pray daily, read the Bible continuously, but if he didn’t keep the Sabbath, he wasn’t a Christian. The Sabbath keeper might wonder, “Mr. Armstrong says that only Sabbath-keepers are true Christians. But this person exhibits all of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and he worships on Sunday. Maybe he is a true Christian after all. Maybe his church is a Christian church.” Not true. He is an instrument of Satan the devil, a decoy used to lure people away from the true, Sabbath keeping church.
5. True Christians watch their diets. They follow the Old Testament food laws. They do not eat pork or shell fish. To do so is to commit “physical sin,” which causes the “physical sinner” to come down with all sorts of sickness and diseases. True Christians don’t eat pork. Only the counterfeit ones do.
6. Jesus Christ came to earth to warn humanity about the imminent return of the Kingdom of God. He was the savior, to be sure, but that was not his primary purpose. He came to earth to announce the soon to come any minute now Kingdom of God. After he ascended into heaven, Jesus’ mantle was taken up by the Apostles. They didn’t preach a gospel about Christ, they preached the gospel OF Christ, the same gospel that Jesus preached. They, too, preached a message of warning, telling those who had ears to hear that the present age would soon come to an end, and that they had better repent and believe the gospel, or they would end up going through the Great Tribulation.
7. God is not a trinity. The trinity concept was borrowed from paganism and is satanically inspired. It is a counterfeit used by Satan the Devil to hide the truth about man’s true destiny. God is actually a family. God the Father is the head of the family. Jesus Christ is the first-born Son of God the Father. It is the ultimate destiny of all of mankind to become members of the God family, to become God as God is God. How do we do this? First we have to repent and believe the gospel (remember, the gospel is the message about God’s soon returning kingdom). Once we repent, we must be baptized. When we are baptized, we receive the Holy Spirit (and not before; we can only receive the Holy Spirit if we are baptized by a properly ordained minister of God’s one and only true church). The Holy Spirit is like a sperm cell, and the new convert is like the human ovum. When we receive the Holy Spirit, we become a begotten child of God. If we persist and overcome during our lifetimes and remain loyal members of God’s true church (which is like a human mother; a begotten child of God within the church is like a developing baby in its mothers womb) we will be born again at the resurrection of the dead and become children of God and members of the God family. If, however, we fall away from the faith and leave the church, or if we are excommunicated from the true church (it is impossible to be a true, spirit begotten Christian apart from the church), we are spiritually aborted. At the resurrection of the dead, those who have fallen away or were disfellowshipped from the church will be cast into the lake of fire. Like an aborted child, the wayward Christian will die.
The Holy Spirit is not a person in the Godhead. It is God’s power, which does God’s will. It is a disembodied force, like electricity or radio waves. God fills his true believers with the Holy Spirit, with the literal power of God. The Holy Spirit enables the believer to understand God’s truth as expounded by Herbert W. Armstrong and gives him the strength to keep the Sabbath, Holy Days and other laws of God. If a true Christian deliberately breaks God’s law, he quenches the Spirit. If he quenches it enough, he extinguishes it altogether and loses the ability to keep the law and understand why keeping the law is necessary. Soon, he will stop observing the Sabbath and Holy Days and leave the true church altogether. He will lose his salvation and end up in the lake of fire.
8. The nation of Israel has descended through the past two millennia and become the United States and Great Britain. Upon the death of King Solomon, the Kingdom of Israel split into two separate kingdoms. The Kingdom of Judah consisted of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi and remained loyal to Solomon son Rehoboam, with their capital at Jerusalem. The remaining ten tribes formed the separate Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam, an official in King Solomon’s administration. Their capital was in Samaria. The Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians and forced to move to what is now northern Turkey. Eventually, they migrated through the Caucasus Mountains, the Ukraine, eastern Europe, and eventually ended up in Western Europe.
The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh ended up in the British Isles. From there, the tribe of Manasseh migrated to North America and became the United States. Part of the tribe of Ephraim stayed put. But some of the tribe migrated to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the other outposts of the British Empire. When Jacob, whose name God had changed to Israel, was on his deathbed, he blessed the two sons of his favorite son Joseph. In his blessing he said “let my name be named on them.” Therefore, whenever you see a reference to Israel in a prophecy, it actually applies to the United States and the British Empire, because the name of Israel was given to Ephraim and Manasseh.
Proof of this truth is found in the origin of the name “British.” The Hebrew word for “covenant” is “beriyth,” or “berith.” The Hebrew word for man is “iysh” or “ish.” The house of Israel is the covenant people. The Hebrew words “berith” and “ish” mean “covenant man.” Put them together and, presto!, you get the word “British,” because the British are Israel, the covenant people.
9. All prophecy in the Bible is dual. Each prophecy has two applications: an ancient one and a modern one. For example, the prophecy of an Elijah to come before the coming of Jesus Christ was only partially and imperfectly fulfilled by John the Baptist. He prepared the way for the human Christ’s three and a half year ministry on this earth, after which he died, was resurrected, and ascended into heaven. It was fully and perfectly fulfilled by Herbert W. Armstrong, who prepared the way for Christ’s second coming as a spirit being to restore the Kingdom of God in power and glory for all time. The first fulfillment of prophecy is imperfect and physical. The second fulfillment is perfect and spiritual.
This duality runs through all of prophecy. One-third of the Bible is prophecy, and 90% of prophecy is for our day. Thus, all of the prophecies referring to Israel have a modern fulfillment. When you read of Israel being taken into captivity, not only was this fulfilled in ancient times, it will be fulfilled in our age. The key to understanding prophecy is knowing who are the modern descendants of Israel and the other nations mentioned in the Bible. When you read that the Assyrians will take Israel into captivity, this means that the German nation, who are the descendants of ancient Assyria, will conquer and take the United States and Britain into captivity. When you read of an empire made up of ten kingdoms, it is the European Economic Community united and controlled by a revived, neo-Nazi Germany under the auspices of the Pope in Rome. This revived Holy Roman Empire, led by Germany with the blessing of the Pope, will conquer the United States and Britain and carry them off into slavery. Unless you understand that Bible prophecy is dual, that it has a former and latter fulfillment, you’ll never be able to figure this out. Fortunately, Herbert W. Armstrong was sent to this earth with the keys to understand prophecy.
10. Many events will occur during the end times. As mentioned above, the people of the United States and Great Britain, because they don’t observe the Sabbath and obey God’s law, will be taken into captivity by an Assyro-German led resurrected Roman Empire as punishment for their sins. They will be in captivity for three and a half years. This is the Great Tribulation. Because of war, famine, disease and false religion, two thirds of the world’s population will perish during this period.
The members of the true church of God, those who follow the truth as revealed to Herbert W. Armstrong and who belong to the church he founded, will escape the Great Tribulation by being taken to a place of safety, most likely Petra in Jordan. During his lifetime, God granted Herbert W. Armstrong favor in the eyes of King Hussein of Jordan. Because of the goodwill built up in the minds and hearts of the Jordanian leaders, the members of the Worldwide Church of God will be allowed to settle in Petra without being disturbed by the local authorities.
Petra will be a great place for the church. Although the climate is inhospitable, the members of the church will be able to build the Godly character they need to qualify for the Kingdom. Petra is also known as the place of final training. This will be the last opportunity for church members to advance to more prestigious positions within the Kingdom of God.
In Petra, there are thousands of caves in which the members can live. Petra is located in a valley with excellent acoustics. Whenever the church members need to hear the words of their leaders, Herbert W. Armstrong and Gerald Waterhouse in particular, the leaders will be able to speak and be heard without the need for amplification equipment.
At the end of the three and a half year period, Christ will return to earth and set up his throne in Jerusalem. When Christ returns, those who endured to the end and died while still members of the true church will be resurrected and will be made members of the God-family, to rule alongside Christ. Those church members who survive the great tribulation will also be changed to spirit and admitted to the God family as well. This, in Armstrongian theology, is known as the First Resurrection. It is the first phase in the transformation of humankind into God kind. There are two resurrections to follow.
Christ and the resurrected saints will destroy the end-time Roman Empire and the false church which leads it, and bring the remnants of Israel to Jerusalem. The communist nations of Soviet Russia, China and their Asian satellites will not accept Christ’s rule. They will assemble an army of 200,000,000 in the valley of Har-Meggido, better known as Armageddon, to march on Jerusalem and overthrow Christ. They will be defeated in the most horrible battle of all time. Their eyes will melt away in their sockets and their tongues will melt away in their mouths. Literal rivers of blood, as high as a horse’s shoulder, will flow from this desert battlefield. Christ, having defeated his enemies, will rule supreme.
His rule will extend for 1,000 years, a period known among the adherents of Armstrongism as “the Millennium.” Christ’s government will rule with an iron hand, but fairly and with love. Christ will force mankind to be happy by making them obey God’s laws. If anyone chooses not to obey God’s law, he will be destroyed with a plague. Men will learn to keep God’s laws, especially his Sabbath and Holy Days, and will for the first time experience true happiness and peace because Satan will be imprisoned during the Millennium. God’s Holy Spirit will be in everyone, and Satan will not be able to influence humanity for evil. There is a cause for every effect. The effect of sin is caused by Satan’s influence. On the other hand, the effect of happiness is caused by obeying God’s laws, especially the fourth commandment.
After the Millennium, Satan will be turned loose for a short time. Once again, he will influence mankind to assemble an army and try to overthrow Christ, but this army will be decisively defeated. This will be final proof for all to see that it is fruitless to oppose God. Satan will finally be cast into outer darkness forever, where he will weep and gnash his teeth.
At this point will occur the Second Resurrection. All those who never had the chance to hear the true Gospel of Jesus Christ will finally get their chance. This will include practically all of the so-called Christians. Since the Roman Catholic Church was actually Mystery Babylon the Great, and the other churches were her harlot daughters, they weren’t really Christians anyway. All the members of those churches, along with Buddhists, Moslems, Hindus, and various and sundry pagans, will be raised to life once again in physical bodies. They will live for 100 years, and will spend the time learning that Herbert W. Armstrong was right after all. If they accept the truth after the 100 years, they will be transformed into spirit beings, admitted to the God family, and will rule alongside Jesus Christ, their elder brother, forever. If they choose to reject the truth, they are cast into the lake of fire, along with those raised in the Third Resurrection.
Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Ceaucescu, and all of the bloodthirsty barbarians of the past will be given the opportunity to learn and accept the truth of God, as taught by Herbert W. Armstrong. They will be fully informed of the consequences of rejecting the truth. Undoubtedly, most, if not all of them, will choose to follow God’s truth. The will stand at Christ’s right hand as they watch the incorrigibles cast into the lake of fire.
Who are the incorrigibles? They are the peoples raised in the Third Resurrection. Those who were members of the Worldwide Church of God, who learned the truth during their lifetimes, but left the truth either through neglect (not praying, studying, meditating, fasting and tithing enough), or by willfully rejecting the truth as taught by Herbert W. Armstrong, Christ’s representative who restored the truth to the true church, are the incorrigibles. This is where those who left the Worldwide Church of God suffer the consequences. They will be raised in the Third Resurrection and will be cast into the Lake of Fire. They will burn up and suffer the Second Death. There is no resurrection from the second death. It is eternal.
The traditional Christian teaching about heaven and hell is a pagan myth. When one dies, he goes to the grave. He is asleep. There is no consciousness after death. One is resurrected to consciousness in one of the three resurrections. He is either resurrected to eternal life as a member of the God-family, or he is resurrected to judgment. God is merciful. He is not a cruel God who will cause someone to be punished forever. An incorrigible individual will suffer eternal punishment, not eternal punishing. The consequences of his sins are eternal-he dies forever. He is not tormented day and night forever. Only Satan the Devil and his demons suffer that kind of punishing.
These are the main teachings of the branch of Christianity founded by Herbert W. Armstrong. Hundreds of church organizations still follow these teachings, although most have made modifications to suit their purposes. However, the number of individual followers has diminished over the years because more and more people are discovering that Armstrongism does not bring the peace of mind and happiness it promises. Others have been disappointed by the questionable personal life of Herbert W. Armstrong, who had been accused of committing incest with his daughter, alcoholism, and misuse of church funds to support his extravagant lifestyle while church members did without in order to tithe to the church. In recent years, many people have been turned off by the self-aggrandizing behavior of their ministers.
Whatever the reason, it is becoming more and more difficult to scrape together enough Armstrongites to put together a decent feast of tabernacles site. Armstrongism is a religion in decline. When stripped of all its fancy packaging, the slick video presentations and glossy magazines, it is a preposterous mixture of bad history, biblical misinterpretation, and pure fantasy. Clever marketing and advertising give Armstrongism its appeal. But once you strip away the facade, you are left with a bad joke.