Armstrongism: Obedience Unto Death

Phillip Arnn

The articles on our site concerning the Worldwide Church of God are to inform readers about the history of that organization and the doctrines taught by its founder; numerous splinter groups still practice Armstrongism. The former Worldwide Church of God--now named Grace Communion International--is now a Christian denomination and a member of the National Association of Evangelicals and Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR).

In 1952 a small booklet written by Herbert W. Armstrong officially inaugurated a doctrine which brought suffering and death to the Worldwide Church of God for more than thirty years. The booklet was entitled, Does God Heal Today? Some of the subheadings of the booklet are: "Medicine Condemned as Idolatry" and "The Pagan Origins of Medicine". This doctrinal pronouncement was issued under the same threat of loss of eternal life as were many of his other writings.

In Does God Heal Today?, Armstrong leaves no doubt in the reader's mind as to the seriousness of seeking medical help:

"We take the broken bread unworthily if, and when, we take it at communion service and then put our trust in doctors and medicine instead of in Christ, thus putting another God before him." (p. 14)

Armstrong admonishes his followers to be obedient to James 5:14-15 which instructs a believer to call for the elders who will anoint them with oil and pray the prayer of faith. He then adds: "He does not say, call the doctors and let them give medicines and drugs and God will cause the medicines and drugs and dope to cure you.... Instead, God says call God's ministers...," (p. 19).

"Don't pay any attention to how you feel, or what you see, after you have called on God for healing. Just know you are to have it -- and that's that!" (p. 20).

This doctrine was emphasized by other Worldwide Church of God writers through the years In The Good News magazine of October, 1959, there appeared an article by Donald G. Wofford entitled, "The Origin of Medical Science."

Wofford stated: "Either we trust God to heal our diseases... or trust in medical science -- which won't help us and which God terms `sorcery,' `witchcraft' and `idolatry' -- and suffer agony now and an excruciating death -- the second death in the lake of fire," (p. 8).

These writings were accepted as God's law by the members and resulted in many cancelling their health insurance policies, refusing to vaccinate their children, and denying themselves novocain when attending dentists. Dental visits were acceptable, but not the use of pain relievers. Even aspirin was shunned by many as the devil's medicine.

The real extent of this tragic obedience can be seen from the stories of those who followed Armstrong's teachings to the death. In an article in the 1977 Ambassador Report by publisher and editor John Trechak entitled, "Modern Moloch: Human Sacrifice in the Armstrong Church," a number of examples are cited. Trechak gives this account:

"I recently asked a former high-ranking minister of the Worldwide Church of God if he knew personally of any cases of church members dying as a result of the Armstrong healing doctrine. This is what he told me:

`Yes, absolutely. Many. I can specifically recall one case that plagues me even yet and that's (of a) little boy, five years old, who had spinal meningitis.

`Dr. McReynolds, the Seventh-day Adventist doctor who worked with the church, was advising them to take the child to the hospital and try a new treatment that was 90% to 100% effective.

`The people asked me what they should do, and I kept saying, "Read the booklet (Herbert Armstrong's healing booklet), follow God, and have faith."

`So they did. They remained faithful to the doctrine of the church. I didn't tell them to do it, but I sure encouraged them. And the little boy died.

`I remember it so well because it was such a tragic incident, and Dr. McReynold's was so angry. `He just flailed at me and said, "That's just an absolute waste of human life, and there's no reason for it," and he just let me have it.

`I know of literally scores or hundreds of cases like this. There's no way to determine the exact number of people who were affected. We're talking about a forty-year period. I think thousands actually died over the years as a result of this doctrine.'"

In the mid-1970's it became known that high ranking members of the Headquarter's staff had been seeking medical assistance. Rod Merridith had had eye surgery and Herbert Armstrong had seen doctors abroad. Many ministers and members began to question the healing doctrine.

The failure of Herbert Armstrong to deal with the problems with this doctrine and others culminated in several dozen ministers and five thousand members leaving the Worldwide Church of God in 1974. Although the booklet Does God Heal Today? was discontinued in 1968, the members were not immediately given any new doctrinal paper to guide them into a sane approach to health care.

It has only been recently, in the late 1980's, that such a booklet has been published.

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