From Beware of Armstrongism
I was a member of Worldwide Church of God for about 10 years under these false teachings. I want to describe the process of accepting these "truths" so you are aware of the danger.
First, you become indoctrinated into the idea that the Seventh Day Sabbath, annual festivals, and clean/unclean meat laws apply to you as a seeker or believer. Unfortunately, due to the ambiguity of traditional Christianity on this subject, younger or less experienced Christians fall for this idea easily. Many within traditional Christianity itself teaches that the Ten Commandments as a whole apply to everyone. They think the day switched from Saturday to Sunday, but they still think that the Sabbath still applies to everyone due to their assertion that it is a moral absolute, rather than a sign of the Old Covenant. They also fail to teach that the Old Covenant applied to ancient Israel and not New Covenant Christians. There is much ambiguity on this topic, and this ambiguity has created an opportunity for Armstrongism to develop.
Second, you become indoctrinated into the idea that the whole world, including Orthodox Christianity, is deceived by Satan, including orthodox Christianity. Because of your new-found knowledge, you and your group alone possess 'the truth'. Orthodox Christianity is viewed as a bunch of unconverted, bumbling idiots who know nothing. They are non-Sabbathkeepers who are still in their sins, and have nothing to teach you. Therefore, you reject any source that could correct your errant belief system. The fact that you know 'the truth' appeals to your sinful nature, as the essence of sin is pride. Most Armstrongites are totally absorbed into intellectual pride and superiority. This increases your enslavery to this false belief system.
Third, you accept doctrines that are even more aberrant because you give great credibility to the source who convinced you of Sabbathkeeping. You are totally ensnared into many false beliefs that you would not have accepted if you had seen the whole picture at the beginning.
Other elements of Herbert Armstrong's teachings include the following:
- British - American Israelitism - the claim that Western Europeans and Americans are physical descendants of the "lost ten tribes of Israel". This doctrine was used to strengthen the argument requiring Sabbathkeeping for most individuals who were a part of the church, since they were largely white people of Western European descent. It also created a situation where most of the prophecies in the Bible applied to white people of European descent. Prophecy was a big part of Worldwide Church of God theology.
- God Family Doctrine - the claim that God is a "family" into which converted human beings would be born into, with the full nature and powers of God. Christians were considered to be literal sons of God in this sense, to be born into the Kingdom at the resurrection as a full-fledged God being. Speculation was that they would have their own planet and be worshipped like a God by other human beings at some point. This doctrine denied the fact that Christians have eternal life now. The focus tended to be on the 'not yet' Scriptures of the 'already but not yet' status of believers.
- Apostolic Authority - Herbert Armstrong claimed to be God's apostle or sole authority on Earth. He restored true Christianity to mankind after a 1900 year void in spiritual knowledge, much like Joseph Smith claimed as the founder of the Mormon church. He also claimed to be a prophet by calling himself the Elijah to Come. He prophecied the return of Jesus Christ in 1975, which obviously failed to come true, clearly identifying himself as a false prophet. Unfortunately I did not know the details of this until I was already indoctrinated, and his prophecy was misrepresented to me as a speculation rather than a prophecy.
- View of the Bible - The Bible was written in a coded manner that required putting verses together from different places in the Bible to arrive at sound doctrine. The hermeneutic used to justify this was Isaiah 28:10. If he simply read down to verse 13, he would see that the result of this verse wasn't a good one. The classical error that Herbert Armstrong was engaging in was "collapsing the context"....connecting two unrelated verses in different contexts to create a doctrine.
- Rejection of Orthodox Christianity - Cults must create suspicion about traditional Christianity and Church History in order to make their erroneous assertions by nature. Herbert Armstrong was no different. Besides portraying other Christians as antinomians which are unconcerned with obedience, he characterized them as blind leaders of the blind.
- Trinity Doctrine - He rejected well-founded Christian doctrines such as the Trinity as being of pagan origin. The biblical basis for the Trinity doctrine is solid, and I would encourage anyone who doubts this to read Forgotten Trinity by James White.
- Conspiracy Theories involving Church History - In addition, in order to assert the Sabbathkeeping doctrine, suspicion was created by a distortion of the history of the migration from Saturday observance to Sunday observance. The Emperor Constantine is often blamed for this switch, along with the Roman Catholic church. The reality is that the switch occurred long before that, around 90 AD or earlier, when Christians were no longer welcome in the synagogue due to anti-Christian resistance from the Jews. Christians would often go to the synagogue to hear the Scriptures read on Saturday, and meet by themselves on Sunday to discuss these Scriptures from a Christian standpoint. It was a natural thing for them to begin meeting themselves on Sunday, as they were not parties to the Old Covenant anyways.
- Legalism - Besides adherence to the Saturday Sabbath, Armstrong taught that Christians needed to observe the festivals of Leviticus 23, clean and unclean meat laws, and a system of tithing which allocated about 23% of one's gross income to devotional purposes. This created a serious bind financially amongst the membership. The funny thing is that the pastors did not tithe, so they subjected others to burdens that they themselves did not bear. This reminds me of the Pharisees and Christ's statement in Matthew 23:4. In addition, the Church was inconsistent in its assertions. For example, they claimed that Colossians 2:16-7 was teaching Sabbathkeeping rather than refuting it, but there are problems with that view. One problem is that it's ignoring the context of the rest of the verses around it and the context of the book itself. The other problem is that they did not observe New Moons which were commanded by the same verse.
- Rejection of holidays with pagan origin - Christmas and Easter were rejected as pagan. I know this is an issue with many different Christians outside of Armstrongism, so I have some level of sympathy for anyone who holds this position. However, for me, Christmas simply means getting together with family for fellowship and there is nothing pagan about it. In addition, Easter simply means going to church, and inviting an unsaved friend to attend, as the message is about salvation generally on Easter. If God is going to throw me in hell for that, so be it. I don't hunt easter eggs or do anything with bunnies anyways. This reminds me of another thing about Armstrongism...when the Church had Pentecost calculated wrongly, and were observing it on the wrong day, the Church strongly insisted that God was merciful and would overlook such mistakes, but somehow their doctrinal intolerance did not extend to others outside of their circle..hmmmmm. Sounds like a double standard. Legalists want God to be merciful to them, but not to others.
- Virtual Universalism - Armstrongism teaches that not all are called now, but only a select few individuals, church members, who will be priests and kings in the Millenial reign of Jesus Christ. This is a very dangerous doctrinal position. It implies that today is not the day of salvation, and is a disincentive for evangelizing. In their view, these chosen individuals (again, appealing to human vanity of Armstrongites) are going to guide others into following God in a subsequent resurrection that occurs after the Millennium. A few will reject salvation and be destroyed in the lake of fire, but the majority of mankind will accept salvation during this 100-year period following the Millennium. They call this period of time 'the judgment'. The Bible refutes this idea by stating that the vast majority are on the path of destruction.
- Annihilationism Annihilationism is the doctrinal position that denies eternal torment for those who are lost, but specifies that punishment will be temporary. I am not going to get into this point too much. Suffice it to say that I think both positions, eternal torment and annihilationism, have some reasonable basis in the Scripture and I neither deny or affirm either one of them. Some Christians consider annihilationism to be a damnable heresy but I do not put it on this level. John Stott, a famous theologian who is well respected in evangelical circles, was an annihilationist.
- Soul Sleep - This is the position that the dead are not conscious until the resurrection, either to eternal life or eternal death. This is another doctrinal position that I hold no position on. Scriptures seem to indicate either position, and Martin Luther held the position of soul sleep from my understanding.
- Spirit Resurrection Herbert Armstrong held the position that Christ did not have a resurrection body but that he manifested a physical body at the resurrection. The bodily resurrection is a fundamental doctrine of Christianity. Scripture uses the phrase 'spiritual body' to describe the resurrection body..the Greek word is pneumatikos. Spiritual does not mean composed of spirit, though. It is a glorified physical body which has been changed to be incorruptible and to have different characteristics than the body we currently have. Armstrong denied the bodily resurrection of Christ. If his view was correct, the physical corpse of Christ should have been in the tomb, and we all know that's a primary evidence that he was resurrected. In fact, there is no need for a resurrection unless it involves the physical body. This is a position that he seems to have obtained from Jehovah's Witnesses theology.