Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Is Armstrongism the only viable version of Christianity?

Is Armstrongism the only viable version of Christianity?
Lonnie Hendrix/Miller Jones

Ian Boyne recently made some interesting remarks in the comment thread for a post on the Banned by HWA blog (“Is Rod Meredith The Most Uniquely Qualified Man To Write About The Protestant Reformation?”). Mr. Boyne spoke of what he described as Dr. James Tabor’s “benign assessment of Armstrongism” which appeared in the most recent issue of Dixon Cartwright’s The Journal (see “I had a valid, positive spiritual AC experience” at Mr. Boyne went on to say:  “He gives a perspective that is radically different from what one encounters on these blogs. In my view, he grasps some strengths of Armstrongism which I have always felt should be acknowledged by critics. It is refreshing to see that an ex-member can take this dispassionate view of the movement, particularly vis-√†-vis orthodox Christianity.”

As a former Armstrongite, this brings a couple of questions to mind:  Does Armstrongism have any strengths to be acknowledged? and, Are Dr. Tabor’s and Mr. Boyne’s views of the movement truly dispassionate?

We could say that Herbert Armstrong’s questioning of the conclusions and traditions of Catholic and Protestant Theology was a strength, but we would have to immediately qualify such an assertion with a few addenda. Mr. Armstrong’s questioning often turned into contemptuous dismissal and disdain for those views – things to be ridiculed and mocked. Over time, this produced a pronounced feeling of superiority among Armstrong and his followers. And, it led to the same phenomenon among Armstrongites that Mr. Boyne is accusing their critics of exhibiting on these blogs:  The careless dismissal of, and callous disregard for, anything perceived as being a part of the rejected system.

We could say that Herbert Armstrong’s emphasis on the Hebrew roots of Christianity was a positive development and one of the strengths of his theology, but we would once again be forced to qualify that assertion. As all serious students of history understand, a story can be radically revised by emphasizing certain facts over others. And, of course, this can lead to ignoring or denigrating evidence which doesn’t support the new thesis. For instance, it would be a gross distortion of both the historical and scriptural evidence to suggest that all early Christians observed the dietary laws and kept the Sabbath and Festivals outlined in the Torah.

We could say that Herbert Armstrong’s understanding that there was a northern kingdom (Israel) and southern kingdom (Judah) is critical to a proper understanding of Scripture and is a strength. However, we would also have to point out that this led to the theologically and historically inaccurate teaching about Anglo-Israelism (which for Herbert and some of his followers led to racism).

We could say that Herbert Armstrong’s teaching that God was not going to condemn the majority of humanity to the fires of hell without first giving them an opportunity to accept “His” truth was a great improvement over the traditional model and a strength. Once again, however, we would have to point out that Armstrong’s theology predicted that untold billions would eventually end up in the Lake of Fire anyway. Sure, according to Armstrong, they would have their chance; but many of them would reject that opportunity and suffer the consequences. Armstrong’s God was angry, and he wasn’t going to tolerate one iota of deviation from “His” expectations/plans.

We could say that Herbert Armstrong’s teaching about man’s incredible potential (that man is to become God, part of the Elohim family) was a strength; but even Ian Boyne has seen fit to modify that teaching by publishing his own booklet on the subject. After much study and consideration, many former Armstrongites have concluded that to say that man will be God as God is God (In other words, full equality) is blasphemous and not supported by Scripture. We also have to remind ourselves that in both The Incredible Human Potential and Mystery of the Ages Mr. Armstrong reasoned that man’s potential was the consequence of the angels’ sin (that God was effectively working on “Plan B”).

We could say that Armstrong’s understanding of Jesus as King was a grand improvement over the Catholic/Protestant view of him as Messiah (the agent of salvation) and a definite strength; but we also have to ask ourselves:  Did that understanding come at the expense of a full appreciation of Christ’s role as Savior for Armstrong and many of his followers? Sure, a few of the offshoots from the old Worldwide Church of God have “rediscovered” Jesus as Savior (but that is certainly a post Herbert Armstrong development). We could certainly say with some justification that Catholic/Protestant theology overlooked this important aspect of Christ’s work, but couldn’t we also say that its rediscovery and emphasis by Armstrong and his followers led to the de-emphasizing of Christ’s role as the Sacrificial Lamb?

In his remarks, Ian Boyne went on to state:  “It is interesting that those who left Arnstrongism and have gone on to gain recognition in the scholarly world---Tabor,Lester Grabbe,Phillip Arnold,Greg Doudna and Robert Kuhn as a philosophical interlocutor---have a more nuanced, less acerbic view of their religious past than those on these blogs. Could a wider grasp of theology and philosophy actually lead one to recognize some of the strengths of Armstrongism --certainly in comparison with orthodox Christianity--while acknowledging its obvious and dastardly elements? When one considers the grotesque nature of Calvinist theology, for example, how can one not deeply appreciate Armstrong's teaching that a loving and just God could not condemn people to an eternal hell fire just because of His decree? Those who reject Armstrongism for atheism, deism or agnosticism I can certainly understand, but not a smart fellow like Byker Bob who has gone to vacuous orthodox Christianity. No version of Christianity is any viable alternative to Armstrongism.

Mr. Boyne suggests that “a wider grasp of theology and philosophy” might actually lead to a greater appreciation of “some of the strengths of Armstrongism.” It may come as a surprise to Mr. Boyne, but it isn’t that many of us have an insufficient grasp of these fields (theology and philosophy). We have simply reached different conclusions about Armstrong’s theology than the ones Mr. Boyne has reached. Moreover, I don’t think that it is too outlandish (or overly emotional) to suggest that almost any version of Christianity would be a superior alternative to Armstrongism. In my humble opinion, the real strength of Christian theology is found in its teachings about love, forgiveness, redemption and spiritual salvation.

For myself, I do not regret my experience in Armstrongism – I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having had that experience. I am willing to acknowledge that my philosophical and theological views have benefited from my former exposure to Armstrong and his teachings (in my view, a necessary step in the evolution of those beliefs). I am also glad to acknowledge that I met many wonderful people within that culture through the years who had a profound and positive impact on my life. Nevertheless, as for any strengths inherent in that theology, I do not see them.  


Anonymous said...

One look at Herbert Armstrong's Prophetic Record should dispel any consideration that Herbert Armstrong knew anything about anything. As Byker Bob pointed out, he didn't even get it right when he said aluminum wouldn't react with food -- cook tomatoes in an aluminum pot and see what happens.

Besides being a narcissistic immoral cult leader, it's doubtful that Herbert Armstrong could possibly have anything resembling 'spiritual knowledge' let alone anything viable about Christianity. He did preach idolatry and practiced it with gusto. Didn't Jesus say 'by their fruit ye shall know them'? What was Armstrong's fruit? Anger? Lust? Self-aggrandizement. Lies. Deceptions. Abuse. Hatred. And then there's GTA, the fruit of his body and child rearing.

Yes, we know: Ad hominem is usually universally condemned as being anathema to logic. Usually, it is necessary to take something at face value rather than condemning it just because so-and-so said it. However, when it comes to men and ministry, particularly so-called Christian ministry, ad hominem is quite valid because religion is all about human behavior after all -- and not just human behavior but consistency between belief and performance, the penultimate test of which is example, and for whatever else you might say, Herbert Armstrong presented about the worst example of any 'religious figure' out there.

If you start throwing out the crap from what Herbert Armstrong taught, you basically have NOTHING left. Nothing! Absolutely, positively nothing! If you paid any attention at all to the last few issues of The Journal, you would have a clear picture that Herbert Armstrong was a delusional narcissistic lying jerk.

It's time to get real and admit the truth.

So if you want Christianity, just move along, the Christian minister you are looking for isn't here.

Martha said...

I suppose I am one of the bloggers whom the authors categorize as finding no strengths in Armstrongism. I wouldn't say that the religious institution has any inherent "strengths." I would say that there are some benefits I gleaned from being "in the system" for decades.

1. I have a better knowledge of the old Testament than many in other churches I've attended. Granted, the interpretations of things in those passages may have been a bit skewed, but I am far more familiar with them. This is helpful as I am becoming more familiar with the New Testament as well.

2. Investing the time to read and study the Bible for myself preparing for the decision to come out of Armstrongism allowed me to establish better Bible study and exegesis skills. I don't take anyone's word for anything. Even with teachers I like, I trust but verify. I continue to employ these methods at As Bereans Did as well as in my own church now, with which I disagree on a not-infrequent basis on certain topics.

3. I am not afraid to disagree with church teachings. When I left the COGs, I was effectively stating that I disagreed with pretty much 99 percent of the significant people in my life. Although it could have been much worse, that break has had consequences. Taking that stance makes it much easier to stand up and/or disagree with teachings in my church that I believe are incorrect or have just been passed on as unsupported tradition. It also gives me insight and sympathy for individuals who have been raised and solely attended a particular denomination for years, and grace when they are stuck in myopic dogmastism.

4. My journey out of Armstrongism has given me an appreciation for grace and faith. While I want to find a church that seems the most consistent to me, I can recognize that I will never find one with perfect doctrine, and my salvation doesn't hinge on doing so. Spending decades trying to pin down things like whether my choice in marshmallows would send me to the Lake of Fire will do that to you.

Martha said...


5. Being taught for decades that both Protestants AND Catholics were wrong for decades has given me the chance to now observe their ongoing conflict somewhat as an outsider. At As Bereans Did, we have writers who attend Protestant churches AND Catholic churches. I do not attend a Catholic church, and do not pretend to understand all Catholic doctrines. But I would never automatically assume someone is not a "true Christian" because they attend a different denomination or an Orthodox Church. I know people from Orthodox traditions whom I absolutely believe are Christians. And often, when there is an Orthodox doctrine I question, I find it has been misrepresented to me, either by Armstrongism or by my Protestant church. I may not always not fully accept the teaching, but I at least see the logic behind their conclusions. Jesus told his disciples to accept others who did works in His name, and that's good enough for me.

6. I am thankful that I was raised with an alternative to Young Earth Creationism. I need to explore the Young Earth/Gap Theory/Old Earth issues further, but so far I find many Young Earth texts to be frustratingly simplistic. Whether I eventually accept the Gap Theory, Old Earth creationism or another explanation, I appreciate not being indoctrinated to write off anyone who believes the earth is more than 10,000 years old as an unbeliever damned to hell.

I remain cautiously skeptical on the nature of hell. In our home, we have a saying: "nothing good came out of the 1800s, religiously speaking." It is my vague understanding that many of the Protestant teachings on hell originated in that era. While I would like to believe that many will get a second chance, this does not appear to be what the Bible teaches, at least on the surface. I have not delved into this topic fully, though, as there is enough on my plate already. Jesus said more about hell than anyone else, and if He came to keep us from that fate, whatever it is, it must be bad. That's good enough for me at this point.

Do I regret my time in Armstrongism? I certainly didn't have a choice in how I was raised, but I stayed for years after I left home, so that was my decision. My spouse and I exited together, but few other COG relationships besides those with family remain intact, due to their rejection of me or just plain awkwardness. But since I remain a theist and a Christian, I must assume it's what God had in mind for me and be thankful for the life lessons and experience that resulted from it.

Byker Bob said...

In retrospect, the research and methodology supporting Armstrongism were just so provably shallow and flawed. Ian has expressed that he and his staff have gone back and found more authoritative resources, but isn't this simply a more sophisticated level of proof-texting? This type of scholarship is hardly the following of an evidentiary trail! It is an attempt to mold a belief system using selective "facts".

So far as friends go, in local church areas, everyone was encouraged to fellowship with all members of the congregation. In Pasadena, the scale was larger, and I found that it was possible to build friendships based on actually having common interests with different individuals. Management seemed to intend that the church constitute the sum-total of the basis for relationships, but my friendships seemed to run deeper than was possible under their game plan. GTA recognized this as one "pitfall" into which members fell, and gave sermons about "false" loyalties. Unfortunately, there were also individuals that were avoided, simply based on common sense. These "mature" and elite members of the WCG establishment were prone towards attempting to impose their personalities and preferences upon all others, and often tattled on those who resisted them. I hate to say it, but a certain percentage of the brethren were flaming buttholes, that one was forced to work around.

We can say much about the Tkaches, but one breath of fresh air which they brought to the party was that they compelled church members to restudy, and to rethink. We constantly hear tales about how mainstream Christianity was not working for some of the people exposed to the Armstrongs through the radio way back when, and these people may be the majority in the church, but there were far greater numbers, better rooted, who ruled out the Armstrong message because there had been a long term history in their families of mainstream Christianity successfully being the backbone of their very existence. The famous Armstrong hook of impending disaster that "you can be protected from" dislodged some of those, but most who ever ran across the broadcasts never drank the Kool Aid.


Gerald Bronkar said...

"No version of Christianity is any viable alternative to Armstrongism". What an honest statement! Please forgive my blunt and crude metaphor, but there is no pony in that massive pile of horseshit. Take some of your "bible study time" to find out where the bible came from, who wrote it, when it was written and what were the motives of the authors. It isn't what you have been taught.

I understand that many on this site and those stuck in "Armstrongism" are addicted to religious beliefs and being RIGHT (knowing the truth). It is not the path to freedom and happiness. You are in dire need of a cure, possibly rehab. Sorry if I offend.

Read something other than the bible or the church booklets that "explain" what it says.

Open up the pages of "Jesus Interrupted" by Bart Ehrman, or "The Age of Reason" by Thomas Paine, and open your mind just a bit, if you dare. There is some truth in the bible. Love, kindness, hope, honesty, ethics, a moral code. These are positive aspects encouraged in its pages, but there is also a ton of ugliness, prejudice and bigotry. It was a book written by and for superstitious people who were trying to understand thunder, lightning, the weather patterns, earthquakes, sickness, death, unexpected hardships, etc.

The bible is like numerous puzzles each with pieces missing, thrown into a box to be shaken and poured out on the table for assembly. There is no way to put it together and form a beautiful scene. It can't be done. It is a jumbled mess, but those addicted keep on trying to find the missing pieces. Trying to make sense of the bible is a hurtful, wasteful, time-consuming endeavor. This wasted time could be spent in a variety of productive efforts.

I doubt these words will move anyone to break the habit, but some posts cause me to try again anyway. Who knows? In 2017, the bible offers very little of value, even the history is bad, and the prophecies continue to ruin lives.

nck said...

"We constantly hear tales about how mainstream Christianity was not working for some of the people exposed to the Armstrongs through the radio way back when, and these people may be the majority in the church, but there were far greater numbers, better rooted, who ruled out the Armstrong message because there had been a long term history in their families of mainstream Christianity successfully being the backbone of their very existence"

This is a grotesque distortion of what really happened in the Western World during the sixties and seventies. It was a time when the vast majority of people saw that Christianity was not working for them. In these "disturbing" and "revolutionary" times a lot of Christians hearkened back to the "Golden age" of Christianity which was 1955. The history of "Fundamentalism" is that it was a reaction to changing times, mores and morality and the fear or anxiety that accompanies sociatal change.

hwa was at the right time at the right place with his re direction to "fundamentalist" principles.

I could add that millenial apocalyptic cults have been around since the Essenes all through the ages and will be around everytime society goes through upheaval, transformation or is threatened from "outside", by for instance the Soviet Union or something new in the future.

A "messiah' or deliverer is psychological need for 99,999 percent of humans in time of trouble.


Hoss said...

Is Armstrongism the only viable version of Christianity?

Compared to what I had at the time I encountered it, I thought it was. I'm so grateful that I found it isn't. Thanks to all those who helped me find that...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comments, Martha; I always enjoy reading your posts on ABD. You have a very straightforward way of putting things.
I have been finding your #5, #3 and #2 above quite useful in recent months. There is much to be learned, much more than we have been taught in years past!

Anonymous said...

The one constant theme of this site is the human failing of the Armstrongs and many of the tainted leaders that were a product of a cultish group. To me is was simple to see the humans faults and the cultish behavior from the beginning. But where was I to go. I was raise Catholic, filled with lies, man made fairy tales and pagan traditions. As bad as the leadership was in WWCG, much of the theology was of enormous help. As a Catholic student in grade school, we NEVER opened a Bible. When you delete from the HWA teachings on birthdays, makeup, D&R, and the garbage of Petra from Waterhouse, the remaining teachings give a clearer insight as to what our Creator is in the process of doing. Adding members to His Family.

HWA has to be held responsible for the extreme focus on the Sabbath, Holy Days and the use of fear religion and idle worship of himself. It's a lot to forgive, but the obvious pagan accepted teachings by the Protestants is so blatant, that their theology is a joke.

My point is that with proper balance of recognizing the excepted truths during the New Testament of the Sabbath, Holy Days and through them having some understanding of God's salvation plan, mixed with the missing focus on Christ's loving examples and words, you come closer to truth.

Beating up the Armstrongs to me is beating a long ago "dead horse". Instead, debate the theology.

Hoss said...

Anon 253 wrote: Beating up the Armstrongs to me is beating a long ago "dead horse". Instead, debate the theology.

The 700+ splinters resulted from debating (if that's the correct term here) the theology. Beating up the Armstrongs is easier.

Anonymous said...

Armstrongism is anything BUT Christianity.
Nothing pagan about Protestantism at all. Plenty of pagan idol worship in Armstrongism. They worship the man, the sabbath etc but they have nothing to do with Christ Jesus.

Byker Bob said...

HWA took a crap on the holy days and the plan of God by co-opting them, making them all about himself, his little pissant church, and his falst interpretations of prophecy. That's supposed to be deeper and more meaningful than Christianity or Judaism???


Anonymous said...

Herbie is a mixed bag. He introduced many to God and the bible, but threw in what he knew were distortions. I don't believe he qualified for the kingdom, and I don't believe many are being completely honest on this blog. God just about always performed miracles in members lives in their early church days. This confirmed Gods existence. But they spiritually withered away, some even concluding that God doesn't exist. While here, I don't believe some of the supposed atheists on this blog are true atheists. A life time of experience tells me that they would react differently than they often do on this blog. They are pseudo-atheists if not outright frauds. They are simply trying to steal others eternal crowns. This phenomenon does exist folks, so ignore their mockery to the contrary.

Anonymous said...

When I have the time I want to challenge my friend Byker Bob and prove that Armstrongism-- at least Reformed Armstrongism without the obscurantism, authoritarianism and excesses -- is superior to orthodox Chrustianity. I will have to do so as an article, and I know Gary will be only too happy to facilitate. Stay tuned!
Ian Boyne

Martha said...


I look forward to reading that article.

I'd like to propose that you do this fairly. I have no reason to believe that you, personally, would be unfair, but Armstrongism has a history of setting up Orthodox Christian straw men for purposes just like this. If you're going to invest the time in an effort such as this, begin with the end in mind.

If you are going to put forth "reformed Armstrongism" without its obscurantism, authoritarianism, excesses and other tenets you personally consider to be tangential idiosyncrasies, I would request you do the same for orthodox Christianity.

For example, no parading around the commandments. While some (misguided) denominations (such as the one I attend) are confused about Sunday fulfilling the fourth commandment, many get this right. This misunderstanding is not definitive of all Christianity.

Another example - the rapture. The rapture is not accepted by all denominations. I'm undecided, but as I've said before, little good came out of the 1800s, religiously speaking. It is not a definitive marker of orthodox Christianity as a whole.

In other words, if you get to just "write off" all of your weirdos and dogmas as "non-essentials" and distractions, then so do we. If you're going to be fair, I would suggest going back to the tenets of a creed that virtually all of orthodox Christianity accepts.

Anonymous said...

Excellent points, Martha! I accept your wise, unimpeachable counsel and NEVER intended to do otherwise. I want to focus on the big stuff--soteriology, theodicy, philosophy. I must say, Martha, that I admire your work at the Berean website. You have taken the road less traveled by critiquing Armstrognite theology rather than focusing on scandals, corruption, and abuse. That's too easy. And there is a whole group of Armstrongites out there who are untouched by that. I mean the evidence of the Armstrongs' moral corruption and immorality has been well known for over well over 40 years. I read "The Broadway to Armageddon" by former Minister William Hinson from 1977.

I also read "Herbert Armstrong's Tangled Web" and every book written on the movement I have read every issue of Ambassador Report. And I don't mean recently. I was a subscriber. I read the March 1974 Time magazine expose "Trouble in the Empire", which covered the major split then and which mentioned allegations of GTA's sexual immorality. These things are old hat, though rehashed day after day on these blogs. HWA's prophetic failures are also well documented. As you know, 1972 is Byker Bob's obsession. It had a lifelong impact on him. I knew all these things when I was a teenager in Armstrongism. And on Monday I turn 60!
What has not been successfully done, in my view, is a rigorous robust theological refutation of Armstrongism . You attempt to do that and I commend you highly for doing so.
There will be need for continuing shaming of those abusers in Armstrongism and so I understand the work of Gary and James. But it has to be supplemented by what you do. Ian Boyne

Martha said...

Ian, you are very kind, but I certainly am not unimpeachable. As Bereans Did was a much-needed resource for me during my journey and I am simply trying to pay that forward given my years in Armstrongism and my particular skill set.

I obviously think it's interesting to read about scandals and corruption, since I'm here. They're certainly entertaining, and make me feel a little better about the relatively small amount of hardship I've been through. But let's face it, most folks are drawn to reading about people like Allwine and Meredith since their situations and statements are so attention- grabbing. I think they give us opportunities for valuable spiritual lessons and theological thought experiments to consider, and I take those opportunities whenever possible. Especially since life doesn't leave me with much time for lengthy exegesis anymore.

Anyway, at the end of the day, there are unhinged people who are distracting sideshows in any movement. It seems to me that's something upon which we can all agree.

nck said...

At 11.29 I said something about the peak of christianity in 1955.
Although my comments may be ignored since I heard the read like puzzles I just stumbled upon Pam Dewey'latest article on Meet Myth America blog.
Again outstanding research, but perhaps self evident for those who lived during those times.


Anonymous said...

60 on Monday. Lets all join in:

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday dear Ian
Happy birthday to day