Who exactly was Herbert W. Armstrong?

Mark Little is a 1995 graduate of Ambassador College. He resides in North Carolina with his wife, Trish, two daughters, Kara and Melody, and son Phinehas. Mr. Little is an elder in God's Church Worldwide, P.O. Box 1123, Clarcona, Fla. 32710, U.S.A.

By Mark A. Little

WHITTIER, N.C.--Who was Herbert W. Armstrong? Considering that Mr. Armstrong, the founder of the Worldwide Church of God, has been dead for 15 years, it's a good question.

Let's take a look at recent history to see what has occurred in the Church of God since the death of Mr. Armstrong, on Jan. 16, 1986.

The corporate entity called the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), which God built through Mr. Armstrong, has degenerated into a Protestant denomination. It has aligned itself with traditional Protestant teaching, seeking recognition from long-established Protestant organizations. Almost nothing remains of the work Mr. Armstrong did over the last five decades of his life.

At Mr. Armstrong's death, the WCG had almost 150,000 people keeping the yearly Feast of Tabernacles. More than 100 Feast sites served the brethren around the world.

No peace, no harmony

Today, in contrast, we see small factions of people in various groups claiming to follow what Mr. Armstrong taught yet unable to come together in peace and harmony. Some try to replicate the taking of the gospel to the world in their own way. Each champions itself as the continuation of God's work, ignoring Mr. Armstrong when he clearly said the prophecy they quote (Matthew 24:14) has already been fulfilled (Mystery of the Ages, p. 291).

Even if one doubts Mr. Armstrong's statements on this topic, step back and take a look at what is going on, or, better yet, what is not going on. Compare the work of these groups with what Mr. Armstrong did.

What we see is a confused effort by various groups trying to do something that has already been completed.

Among the factions that broke away from the WCG are those that still observe certain beliefs taught by Mr. Armstrong but are in great disagreement on other beliefs he taught.

Philadelphia history

For example, associations exist that are not subject to the government of God on earth as administered through His ministers. This was the problem Mr. Armstrong so aptly described in a special edition of The Worldwide News dated June 24, 1985, titled "Recent History of the Philadelphia Era of the Worldwide Church of God."

The people he spoke of despised being subject to authority and therefore will never be in God's Kingdom until they repent of their rebellious attitudes against God.

Yet, amidst the confusion, remember that none of the controversy we see swirling around the Church of God would even be happening if it were not for the existence of Mr. Armstrong and the work God did through him.

I would not be writing this article asking who Herbert W. Armstrong was. The forum to which I have chosen to submit this article, The Journal, would not be a publication.

Further, none of the groups that have splintered from the WCG would even be in place trying to serve people. They would not be keeping the holy days of Leviticus 23 if it were not for Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong keeping those same holy days by themselves for seven years.

Obligatory put-down

Finally, the groups that do have ministers, regardless of how they feel about Mr. Armstrong, would not have any ordained leadership had they not been made so by Mr. Armstrong or men appointed by him.

Today many of these men will not so much as mention Mr. Armstrong's name, except when putting him down.

Since Mr. Armstrong's death we find many of these ministers had been in great disagreement with him, yet they had had no problem taking a paycheck from the WCG when he was alive.

They did not speak out about their disagreements when he was alive, knowing they would be fired for speaking things contrary to God's Word.

To really understand who Herbert W. Armstrong was, we must go back and examine his life.

I have noticed that people use material Mr. Armstrong wrote early in his ministry to argue a point. It is not fair to take this approach, since Mr. Armstrong continually learned from the Bible until the day he died.

If you have not done so in a while, read the Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong, Vols. 1 and 2, to really understand the life of this unique man.

Mr. Armstrong had no interest in religion. When his wife challenged him on the Sabbath question, he thought she had lost her mind. He was also confronted with the theory of evolution, a subject on which he was admittedly ignorant. These two topics led to intensive studies, which set in motion a lifetime of studying God's Word for the true answers to life's big questions.

Mr. Armstrong was forced to admit he was wrong on the Sabbath challenge, and, regarding the theory of evolution, he conclusively proved the theory wrong: that a real God created all things.

These challenges, coupled with two business failures, caused Mr. Armstrong to take a long, hard look at himself. What he saw was a man in opposition to the great God and thus in need of deep spiritual change.

Facing obstacles

Mr. Armstrong's study eventually led him into the ministry, but not by his own choosing. A small group of people in Oregon felt Mr. Armstrong was a sincere believer in God's Word and that he had proven himself a faithful teacher.

This group of simple and sincere people rallied around him for spiritual guidance and direction, yet he faced many obstacles from ministers and other people who claimed to be believers of God's Word but were not.

The same is true today. Men claiming to be God's ministers are in fact opposing what God says in the Bible.

It is an individual's responsibility to check out such men and to judge them by their fruits. Throughout his life Mr. Armstrong refused to be stopped by those who opposed him.

Over the years the impact of Herbert W. Armstrong began to be felt. God blessed his life and work. He established a radio broadcast and started a magazine, both of which grew to include audiences of millions.

This cannot be said of the groups trying to replicate what Mr. Armstrong did in taking the gospel to the world. Combined, their impact is a dismal drop in the bucket. It is obvious to any converted mind that God is not blessing their efforts.

From a small operation in Eugene, Ore., Mr. Armstrong relocated to Pasadena, Calif., where he could have better access to media facilities.

God's work continued to grow quickly into the 1960s. Then, in the late '60s, problems began to surface. They culminated with the turbulent '70s, which saw the growth that God had given during many years of Mr. Armstrong's hard work disappear to almost nothing.

This disaster was caused by an infestation of false doctrine and false teachers that caused God to remove His blessings. As a result, the message and its impact were vastly reduced.

During this time Plain Truth circulation dropped from five million to just over one million magazines per month.

After heart failure and an attempted takeover by the State of California, Mr. Armstrong returned, filled with fire and energy, to get God's Work "back on the track." This was something he talked about in nearly every sermon he gave in the final years of his life.

God blessed Mr. Armstrong's efforts, as is evident by the following numbers:

  • At the time of his death The Plain Truth was published in seven languages, with a circulation of more than eight million copies per month.
  • The World Tomorrow was viewed on more than 400 television stations around the world. Mr. Armstrong was also in near-continuous contact with many world leaders. Yes, truly Mr. Armstrong did take the gospel to the "world as a witness."

Back on track

When Mr. Armstrong died, he had accomplished putting the church back on the track. The correct doctrines were restored, but the hearts of the people were a different matter.

In several sermons during his final years Mr. Armstrong wondered whether 50 percent of the brethren were converted. He also questioned whether the ministry was really "getting it."

Well, did the brethren and ministry get it? Take a look around. What do you see? What you see is mass confusion in the Church of God. Few truly understand what has happened and why.

Numerous people display great animosity toward Mr. Armstrong, while others are indifferent. If you feel either way, then perhaps this article has been of no value to you.

If, on the other hand, you do respect and appreciate the life and work of Herbert W. Armstrong and want to hold fast to the biblical truth you learned through him, then you can get help.

There are people scattered across this country and around the world who do appreciate and still follow the teachings we learned from Mr. Armstrong. They recognize that Matthew 24:14 is a prophecy that has now been fulfilled, and they are getting ready for the return of Christ.

Getting the church ready was the commission Mr. Armstrong gave Joseph Tkach Sr. Instead, Mr. Tkach took the church back into "mainstream Christianity."

Mr. Armstrong completed his commission and rests with the dead saints, waiting for the remnant of the church to get ready to meet Christ.

If you recognize who Mr. Armstrong was and realize time is growing short to get prepared for Christ's return, I suggest you make contact with God's Church Worldwide.

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