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Herbert W. Armstrong (1892-1986)
Herbert W. Armstrong (1892-1986)
Armstrongism is a term, usually considered derisive, used to refer to the teachings and doctrines of Herbert W. Armstrong while leader of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), and is professed by him and his followers to be the restored true Gospel of the Bible. Armstrong said they were revealed to him by God during his study of the Bible. The term Armstrongite is sometimes used to refer to those that follow Armstrong's teachings. Armstrongism and Armstrongite are generally considered derogatory by those to whom it is applied, who prefer to be known as members of the Church of God (COG). The doctrines discussed on this page can be found in several of Armstrong's writings, especially The Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course, The Incredible Human Potential, The Wonderful World Tomorrow and Mystery of the Ages, and these doctrines were also espoused by his sons Richard David Armstrong (until his death in 1958) and Garner Ted Armstrong (until his death in 2003) with slight variations.
Armstrong's teachings have similarities to those of the Millerites and Church of God (Seventh Day), from which WCG is spiritually and organizationally descended, as Armstrong himself had been a COG7 minister before departing the fold to begin his own ministry.
Armstrong taught that most of the basic doctrines and teachings of Mainstream Christianity were based on traditions, including absorbed pagan concepts and rituals (i.e. religious syncretism), rather than the Judeo-Christian Bible. His teachings have consequently been the source of much controversy. Shortly after Armstrong's death in 1986, the Worldwide Church of God started revising its core beliefs towards the concepts, doctrines, and creeds of mainstream Christianity. This resulted in many ministers and members leaving the WCG to start or join other churches, many of which continue to believe and teach Armstrong's views to one degree or another. Eventually, the WCG changed its name in 2009 to Grace Communion International (GCI). Today, the official doctrinal position of GCI is mainstream evangelical, although there are still GCI ministers and members who do not fully embrace all of the changes.
The following are some of Armstrong’s identifiable doctrines that are in addition to or are different from traditional mainstream Christian doctrines. Many groups and churches which splintered in the aftermath of doctrinal changes within the Worldwide Church of God continue to hold many or all of these teachings of Armstrong.
The God Family doctrine holds that the Godhead is not limited to God (the Creator) alone, or even to a trinitarian God, but is a divine family into which every human who ever lived may be spiritually born, through a master plan to be enacted in stages. The Godhead now temporarily consists of two co-eternal individuals (see Binitarianism), Jesus the Messiah, as the creator and spokesman (The Word or Logos), and God the Father.
According to this doctrine, humans who are called by God's Holy Spirit to repentance, who [accept], hope to inherit, the gift of eternal life made possible by Jesus' sacrifice, who commit to live by "every word of God" (i.e. biblical scripture), and who "endure to the end" (i.e. remain faithful to live according to God's way of life until either the end of their own lifetime or the second coming of Jesus) would, at Jesus' return, be "born again" into the family of God as the literal spiritual offspring or children of God. Armstrong drew parallels between every stage of human reproduction and this spiritual reproduction. He often stated that "God is reproducing after His own kind—children in His own image." Whatever the changes brought about by this new entrance of humans into God's family, God the Father will always be the omnipotent sovereign and sustainer of both the universe and the spiritual realm, forever to be worshipped as God by the children of God. Jesus, as the creator of the universe and savior of God's children, will always rule the Kingdom of God, which will ultimately grow to fill the entire universe, and He likewise will forever be worshipped as God by the children of God.
Armstrong taught the Bible (excluding the Biblical apocrypha and deuterocanonical books) is the authoritative Word of God (The Proof of the Bible). He taught that the Bible, while inerrant in its message, had been distorted through many conflicting interpretations, and it was not until the 20th century that God had restored the full Gospel message of the Kingdom of God, as understood by the original apostles, to the Church through him (Armstrong) by opening his mind to the plain truth of scripture. Armstrong taught that all other churches calling themselves "Christian" were not merely apostate, but actually counterfeits whose history could be traced back to the first century, as described in the epistles (which refer to a "false gospel" and "false ministers" and "false apostles"), the eighth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles (the appropriation of "Christian" trappings by influential and ambitious pagan religious figures [including a man known to secular history, Simon Magus, mentioned in Acts]) and later historians like Eusebius.
The observance of the Sabbath from dusk on Friday to dusk on Saturday was the first non-traditional religious practice (as compared to mainstream Christianity). Armstrong wrote in several of his books that his wife, Loma, after she met a member of a Sabbatarian church group (the Church of God [Seventh-Day]), challenged him to prove to her from scripture that, as Herbert claimed, Sunday was the proper day for Christian worship. After months of bible study, Armstrong decided that there was no sound scriptural authority for Christian worship on Sunday, but rather asserted that the Apostles and the first generation of Christians, both Jewish and gentile converts, continued for decades after the establishment of the Church age to set an example of observing the seventh day of the week (Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset) as the Sabbath.
Eventually, Armstrong accepted and observed many principles and laws found in the Old Testament and taught converts to do the same. These included the Ten Commandments, dietary laws, tithing, and celebration of high Sabbaths, or annual feast days such as Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. Furthermore, he taught that the celebrations of Christmas and Easter were inappropriate for Christians, considering them not of biblical origin, but rather a later absorption of pagan practices into corrupted Christianity.
Armstrong was a proponent of British Israelism (also known as Anglo-Israelism), which is the doctrine that people of Western European descent, especially the British Empire (Ephraim) and the United States (Manasseh), are descended from the "Ten Lost Tribes" of Israel. It is also asserted that the German peoples are descended from ancient Assyrians. Armstrong believed that this doctrine provided a "key" to understanding biblical prophecy, and that he was specially called by God to proclaim these prophecies to the "lost tribes" of Israel before the coming of the "end-times". Grace Communion International, the lineal successor to Armstrong's original church, no longer teaches the doctrine, but many offshoot churches continue to teach it even though critics assert that British Israelism is inconsistent with the findings of modern genetics.
There are many splinter churches as well as second-generation splinters from WCG since Armstrong's death. Most of these churches hold fast to Armstrong's teachings and primarily pattern their organizations on how WCG operated. They are often referred to collectively as the "Sabbatarian Churches of God" or simply as the "Churches of God" or "the COG."
There are a number of people publicly associated with Armstrongism and the legacy of WCG.