Mr. Armstrong makes the news again

The writer is founder of Giving & Sharing, a nonprofit service organization assisting Sabbath-keepers since 1978. Giving & Sharing operates a mail-order bookstore from Missouri and a free lending library from Ohio. Its Web site is Mr. Nickels is also secretary of the Bible Sabbath Association. He can be reached at or 307-686-5191.

By Richard Nickels

GILLETTE, Wyo.--On Feb. 21 Herbert W. Armstrong's picture was featured in the main story of the front page of The Wall Street Journal. I consider "the rag," as we call it, to be the world's best newspaper, and I read it constantly.

The subject of the story was the copyright-infringement case surrounding Gerald Flurry's unauthorized printing of Mr. Armstrong's final book, Mystery of the Ages.

I was not interested in the details of the court case, which I have heard before. What piqued my curiosity was how secular writers portray Church of God teachings and practice.

The article, titled "Sect Disavows Tenets, and Woe to Him Who Printeth Them Anyway," was written by WSJ staff reporter Jess Bravin. [The WSJ article is reprinted in full beginning on page 1 of this issue.]

The first paragraph is fascinating. The reporter summarizes his view of Church of God teaching: "On Jan. 7, 1934, the Radio Church of God took to the air with the remarkable teachings of its founder, a former advertising man named Herbert W. Armstrong.

Among them: that the British and their colonists in America had descended from the Lost Tribes of Israel, that God was not a Trinity but a family (Father and Son, but no Holy Ghost) and that the apocalypse would begin in 1936 (later postponed to 1943, then 1972, then indefinitely)."

Message in code

Obviously drawing from extensive research files, Mr. Bravin summarizes Church of God teachings to three points: Anglo-Israelism, anti-Trinitarianism and prophetic date-setting.

Then he adds that Mr. Armstrong taught that the Bible is a "coded message not allowed to be revealed and decoded until this time."

Mr. Bravin notes: "Members contributed 30 percent of their income . . . [The church] strove to link current events to prophecies of a coming 'Tribulation.' "

Later in the article he labels Anglo-Israelism "an obscure theory." Mr. Armstrong, he says, "endorsed Old Testament laws such as avoiding pork and keeping the Saturday Sabbath, but not Christian holidays such as Easter. He prohibited makeup and interracial marriage and discouraged birthday celebrations."

How do I feel about my beliefs being summarized in this manner? Not so good.

The first thing I want others to know about my religious beliefs are that I believe in God, the Messiah and the Bible, not that I believe the Anglo-Saxon-Celtic peoples are part of the "lost" 10 tribes of Israel.

The latter is not just an "obscure theory"; it is supported by a great deal of historical evidence. Much of the proof for my belief in the identity of modern Israel is found in history, not the Bible. But it is certainly not a doctrine I would die for.

Did I ever believe in date-setting by the church?

No. Shirley and I were married on Jan. 23, 1972, the month the church was supposed to flee to Petra.

Church date-setting did occur; it was wrong.

I do not want to be painted with the false-prophecy brush, because I did not believe in such erroneous date-setting.

Constant teaching

One of Mr. Armstrong's constant teachings was that he restored the true gospel, which supposedly had not been preached for 1,900 years until he began his ministry.

I never believed this. My study of Sabbatarian-church history refutes such a bold claim.

Yes, Mr. Armstrong put many doctrinal truths together that had lain dormant or weak for a long time. God told Daniel, "Go thy way, Daniel; for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end" (Daniel 12:9).

Another verse says: "O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased" (verse 4).

Did Herbert Armstrong and the Radio (later Worldwide) Church of God have a part in unsealing the book (Bible) in the time of the end?

I believe so. But more humility should have been in evidence.

Instead Mr. Armstrong, Mr. Bravin quotes, called himself "Christ's chosen apostle."

But his whole lifestyle was a stark contrast to that of the humble Savior of mankind.

God is

The statement that we believe "God is not a Trinity but a family (Father and Son, but no Holy Ghost)" is inaccurate. The Church of God does believe in the Holy Spirit. God is the Holy Spirit. The Trinitarian heresy is so prevalent that most people cannot comprehend our teaching on the family of God.

The statement that "members contributed 30 percent of their income [to the church]" is misleading. Only 10 percent, the first tithe, went to preaching of the gospel by the church. The second tithe was kept by the members to pay for expenses in observing the holy days. The third tithe went to aid the poor and needy in the church.

Yes, there was financial mismanagement from the top down. Many members' use of second (festival) tithe was--and is--likewise worldly and materialistic.

Third tithe was sometimes stolen for purposes other than aiding the needy (I saw proof of this with my own eyes). Here is the rub. One can teach the truth, as the Church of God did concerning the three tithes. But living the truth is not so easy.

Sad tidings

The church miserably failed to live up to God's truth regarding tithes. The WSJ's headline's kicker over the article was "Bad Tithings." That accurately describes church practice.

The Wall Street Journal article portrays some of our distinctive beliefs as "avoiding pork and keeping the Saturday Sabbath, but not Christian holidays such as Easter."

According to the this view, we are crackpot Anglo-Israelites who just happen to follow "Old Testament (ugh!)" laws such as the Sabbath and abstaining from unclean meats.

Have we missed setting the proper example? Does the Church of God set a wonderful example in all the laws of health such that our good health is a model for the world to follow? You know the answer.

Has our Sabbath-keeping inspired others to join us because the way we worship God and study His Word on the Sabbath is filled with joy?

If we did live the right way, then the first thing others would say about us is that we are healthy, happy people filled with joy and zest for living, striving to follow Christ in all things. Instead, the first thing others say about us is that we believe in an "obscure theory" of Anglo-Israelism. This tells more about us than we may realize.

The color of weird

Finally, we are labeled according to Mr. Armstrong's prohibition of makeup (which was changed and flip-flopped several times) and interracial marriage and that he discouraged birthday celebrations. The WSJ's Jess Bravin colors us weird.

Gerald Flurry appears to be furthering some of the most unsavory aspects of Herbert Armstrong. Even with Mr. Flurry's apparent arrogance, prophetic date-setting and terming of himself the Elisha ministry, he claims his group is the Only True Church. This is nothing new. The history of the Church of God is a continual line of unfortunate examples of leading ministers.

Again, the WSJ article is an airing of dirty linen, and we have lots of it. No wonder others minimize and distort our core ideals and exaggerate our peripheral beliefs.

Turn to righteousness

Where does this leave us? Between Daniel 12:4, "Knowledge shall be increased," and Daniel 12:9, "The words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end," is verse 7. Here we find that after three and one-half prophetic times "he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people [and] all these things shall be finished."

Who is "he"? It could be God Himself. Regardless, the power of God's people is scattered.

We have done a lot of this dirty work ourselves. Independent splits lead the charge to throw away the baby with the bathwater.

The church I was baptized into is markedly different from the ones portrayed by The Wall Street Journal. Nevertheless, the article provides sobering food for thought. Our worst detractors are our weak and corrupt church leaders.

But with the Almighty's help we can still be wise and understand Daniel 12:10.

We can, we must, "turn many to righteousness" by proclaiming and living God's truth in this degenerate age.

If we do, we "shall shine as the brightness of the firmament" and "as the stars for ever and ever" (Daniel 12:3).

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