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Cults and World Religions

Armstrongism



Worldwide Church of God

. . . I found that the popular church teachings and practices were not based on the Bible. They had originated, as research in history had revealed, in paganism. Numerous Bible prophecies foretold it; the amazing unbelievable truth was, the SOURCE of these popular beliefs and practices of professing Christianity, was quite largely paganism, and human reasoning and custom, NOT the bible! 51
Herbert W. Armstrong

Mr. Armstrong’s spiritual odyssey was launched primarily through his wife’s discovery that “obedience to God’s spiritual laws summed up in the Ten Commandments is necessary for salvation. Not that our works of keeping the commandments save us, but rather that sin is the transgression of God’s spiritual law. Christ does not save us in our sins but from our sins. We must repent of sin, repent of transgressing God’s law which means turning from disobedience as a prior condition to receiving God’s free gift.” 52

Israelism

To understand the background of this group, it is necessary to go back into the history of what is generally referred to as British-Israelism or Anglo-Israelism. The concept behind this group is that the British/Canadian/Americans and both the literal and spiritual decedents of the ancient Israelites, particularly the “ten lost tribes.”

The concept of the “lost tribes” arises from the schism and conquest of Israel as a nation. After King Solomon’s death in 931 B.C., the ten northern tribes of Israel followed the King’s slave master, Jeroboam, forming a “new” kingdom. Only Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, and the kingly line of David. For their idol worship and disobedience, God allowed the northern tribes to be carried into captivity by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. The southern kingdom of Judah is not conquered for another hundred years or so. In a series of conquests from 605 B.C. through 586 B.C., Judah is carried into captivity by the Babylonians.

The Babylonians had conquered the Assyrians a decade or so earlier. The Babylonians themselves would fall to the MDO-Persian alliance under Cyrus. Cyrus would issue the decree allowing the Jewish nation to return to Palestine about 539 B.C. The issue behind the “lost” tribes is whether or not members of all twelve tribes returned home, could be accounted for from a genealogical view point, and / or remained in the Holy Land throughout the period of captivity. The Anglo-Israelite supporters answer these questions in the negative (contrary to the Scriptural record found in Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and so on).

The promoters of Anglo-Israelism teach that the tribes retained their identity, but became lost to history. The tribes relocated to the British Isles, bringing with them the stone used in the coronation of King David. It is now known as the Stone of Scone and is still used for the coronation of British queens and kings.

History

Armstrongism is the birth-child of Herbert W. Armstrong (1896-1986). He started the Worldwide Church of God in Eugene, Oregon in 1933. It is his writings that have most influenced Anglo-Israelism over the past seventy years, although as we shall see, the state of the modern Worldwide Church of God is, at least on paper, considerably different than that created by Armstrong. Martin quotes a statement of George Burnside to the effect that Armstrong is “an off-shoot of an off-shoot of an off-shoot of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.” 53 It is not particularly clear this is true.

At Armstrong’s death in 1986, the church claimed a membership of 150,000. By 1996 this number had been cut in half. The membership is spread over 100 countries. Among other reasons, the leaders which followed Armstrong did not have the strong personal influence which had been exercised by Armstrong.

Armstrong’s son, Garner Ted Armstrong, was the original prince-in-training. Although desiring to be a movie star, Garner became the national broadcasting voice of the WCG. But due to sexual improprieties, Garner Armstrong was excommunicated from the church on two different occasions. The second and final time occurred as much for the son’s “liberal” views as for the sexual issues. As a result, Joseph W. Tkach succeeded Armstrong senior as Pastor General. Tkach made major changes to WCG teachings, and brought them into closer alignment with traditional Evangelical beliefs. After his death in 1995, his son Joseph W. Tkach, Jr. assumed control and continued the changes. 54

When Garner Armstrong was dismissed from the church, he established his own church, the Church of God International of Tyler, Texas. Both the son’s church and the WCG have moved much closer to traditional teachings and there is a clear indication that they should not be currently classified as a cult.

Other step children and splinter groups also include the Global Church of God, Living Church of God, Philadelphia Church of God, and United Church of God.

Changing Beliefs and Divine Knowledge and Acceptance

After the death of Armstrong, Joseph Tkach beacme the head of the WCG.  As the WCG website (http://www.wcg.org) tells the story:

After he died in 1986, church leaders began to realize that many of his doctrines were not biblical. These doctrines were rejected. Today the church and The Plain Truth are in full agreement with the statement of faith of the National Association of Evangelicals. 

This is an amazing story of God&s grace at work.  If the WCG can continue down this new page it demonstrates on a denominational level that repentance and forgiveness can "save" entire churches just as it saves individuals! See the additional informaton below on the post-Armstrong Church..

Beliefs

What did the World Wide Church of God teach that made it a cult?

. . . A.D. 69, the apostles and the church fled to Pella from Jerusalem according to Jesus’ warning (Matthew 24:15, 16). That was the END of the organized proclaiming of Christ’s gospel by His church to the world! . . . For eighteen and one-half centuries. All worldwide organized proclaiming of Christ’s gospel was stamped out . . .” 55

Walter Martin in his work Kingdom of the Cults clearly marks Armstrongism and the WCG as a cult. This characterization is based upon the elder Armstrong’s statement of beliefs for the WCG which included:

completebook.gif  Identification of the British and American people as descendants of two sons of Jacob: Ephraim and Manasseh.
completebook1.gif  Belief that the term "British" is derived from the ancient Hebrew word "beriyth" (covenant).
completebook2.gif  Belief that the term "Saxon" originated as "Isaac&s Sons"
completebook3.gif  As the "lost" ancient Israelite tribe of Dan spread across Europe, they named many rivers, towns etc. after themselves (e.g. Danube River, Denmark, Donegal).
completebook4.gif  Rejection of the traditional Christian concept of the Trinity as being of pagan origin. Armstrong accepted a modified Arian view of the nature of God; this was a teaching by Arius in the late third century CE. They believed that deity consisted of a dual divinity: The Eternal (their translation of the Hebrew name of God (Yahweh) and Jesus. He taught that the Holy Spirit is a power, not a person. He promoted the concept of the "Family of God", which consisted of Jehovah, Jesus and human believers in the WCG who became Gods; in other words, a plurality of personal gods.
completebook5.gif  At the crucifixion, Jesus& body and spirit died for three days and three nights. He was later raised by the Father and his human body was transformed into a spirit body.
completebook6.gif  Belief in Jesus is a “necessary and sufficient” requirement for salvation. But, members will be rewarded in heaven according to their works, that is, in following the commandments of God (the 10 Commandments, dietary laws, holy days etc.). This is self-effort, not grace, since failure to obey the commandments results in a loss of “salvation.”
completebook7.gif  Identification of the WCG with the "Philadelphia church" in Revelation 3:7.
completebook8.gif  Rejection of the concept of Hell as being pagan in origin. People who die without meeting the dual requirements (faith and works) for salvation will be resurrected, and taught Biblical truths. If they still do not accept the teachings, they will be cast into a lake of fire and simply cease to exist.

Armstrong observed all of the Jewish feast days, worshiped on Saturday (the legalism of the Galatians?), and practiced the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, and foot washing as the ordinances of the church.

Armstrong’s teachings are also full of false prophecies. Armstrong taught the original church of the apostles undertook two nineteen-year ministries (A.D. 31 to 69) and then departed from the faith. To allow mankind another “chance,” God decided to allow true believers two more cycles of nineteen years. According to Armstrong, this work began in 1934, thus, it should have ended in 1972. In the mid-sixes, Armstrong issued several writing prophecies predicting great stress and nation-wide drought, famine, epidemics, and the like. Armstrong called this time the commencement of the Great Tribulation of Revelations. Still, Armstrong was wrong and prophets are not prophets if they are wrong, at any time.

The post-Armstrong Church

However, under the leadership of the Tkachs, the WCG has drastically modified its statement of faith and some of its practices. The church now recognized the doctrine of the Trinity, the virgin birth, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, the existence of the Holy Spirit as the third Person of the Godhead, and Satan as a created, fallen being. Hank Hanegraaff, Walter Martin’s successor at the, Christian Research Institute, in a three part interview program with Tkach, Jr. on the Bible Answer Man, blessed the WCG as Christian, removing the stain of cultism Martin and others had placed on the church. This recognition moved the church out of the definition of a cult. In particularly, Hanegraaff acknowledged that the church had

Most likely this adoption of the essential beliefs of Christianity by the WCG is the main reason for the decrease in its membership. The church still observes some other practices not in line with conservative views (Sabbath worship--from the WCG website: "We allow congregations to change meeting times, locations and days according to local needs. We encourage each congregation to meet on the day that serves its needs and purpose best. It is our intent to provide, as much as is reasonably possible, for the worship needs of our people — whether that be congregations who want to meet on Saturday, Sunday or, in certain unusual situations, another day or evening of the week"), but its overall teachings are now in line with Christianity’s.

Only time will determine if the transition will be steadfast.

Footnotes
51. Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions, San Bernardino, California: Campus Crusade for Christ, Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1989, 114, quoting Herbert W. Armstrong, The Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong, Pasadena: Ambassador College Press, 1967, 298.
52. Walter W. Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1965, 1977, 1985, 303, quoting Herbert W. Armstrong, The Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong, Pasadena: Ambassador College Press, 1967, 284.
53. Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, 305.
54. It is to be noted that while the WCG may have changed its doctrinal position, there are still groups of true British/Anglo-Israelism practioners at work in the world. This is not a cult which has entirely died away.
55. McDowell, Handbook of Today’s Religions, 115, quoting Armstrong’s autobiography, page 502, 503.

 

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