History of Armstrongism

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).

Herbert W. Armstrong founded the Radio Church of God in 1934. His early struggles in starting this work are recounted in his autobiography.

His tenacity carried him from the time when he earned $3.00 a week to the end of his ministry in 1986 when his church empire controlled college campuses, data processing facilities, offices, publishing plants, broadcast studios, lavish homes, private jets and much more.

Armstrong raised up a corp of loyal men, trained his way, to do the work. These men did the work, but Armstrong held the reins of power.

Armstrong demanded loyalty: "Loyalty may be a two-way street, but loyalty is, first of all, from the bottom up. And Government and authority is from the tope down. Your first loyalty is to the one above you and those above you all the way up through Christ and to God the Father" (Transcript Ministerial Conference, 6 May 1974 p. 9).

Herbert W. Armstrong proclaims himself God's Apostle for the last days. "No evidence needs to be produced that the living Christ, Head of the Church of God, called and chose me to be his instrument which he has used in raising up and guiding His Church of this generation" (Ibid).

To become a minister in the Worldwide Church of God meant graduating from Ambassador College. A member and a minister were required to follow God's Apostle without question.

Armstrong wrote of the requirements for God's ministers : "God always call and chooses His true ministers - after conversion, a number of years of study and preparation, actual field testing and proving in the ministry, and final ordination when God shows his minister His will. Some however...want to have their own way, and so try to achieve their own goals by wrong means.

False Visions and Dreams

"God's true servants are not called by weird dreams and visions which God keeps hidden from His already - called and ordained officers of the Church" (Plain Truth, October 1958 p. 16).

Can Herbert Armstrong pass the test as God's true minister? What does his own record reveal?

Herbert Armstrong recorded his life history in his autobiography, first serialized in the Plain Truth beginning in 1957.

He recounts his marriage to Miss Loma Dillon and their first small apartment. It was here in late summer of 1917 that, "The first call to God's ministry came while we were living in the single room in Mrs. Brookhart's apartment. But, neither of us recognized it then.

"One night my wife had a dream so vivid and impressive it overwhelmed and shook her tremendously" (Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong, p. 207, 1967 edition).

In the vision Loma saw "flashing stars," then "three large white birds," which turned out to be angels, and then Christ. Then Christ become an angel. The angel told Loma and Herbert that "Christ had important work for us to do, preparing for His coming" (Ibid, p. 208). Armstrong states on the same page that "in this day and age," only about one in one hundred thousand dreams are from God. His wife's vision happened to be that one.

Armstrong records his own skepticism at the time. It would be, according to Armstrong, about a decade before he would meet the true tests for qualification as God's minister.

In 1926, Armstrong was in business in Oregon. Here his wife met Ora Runcorn. Through Mrs. Runcorn, Loma was convinced Saturday was the true Sabbath and day of worship, instead of Sunday. Herbert dove into Bible Study to prove her wrong only to be convinced himself.

Through Mrs. Runcorn the Armstrongs were introduced to the members of the Church of God, headquartered in Stanberry, Missouri. There were about fifty members of this small sabbath keeping church in Oregon.

The Runcorns were lay leaders, as there was no permanent pastor in the state. Occasionally ministers from Idaho would come to minister to the small groups of believers. These ministers held revival meetings in the areas and won a few converts.

Over the years they had built up this small flock. Converts were thoroughly discipled in church doctrine before they were baptized. The people were then sent Bible lessons from Stanberry to study to further their knowledge. They met in small study groups each sabbath.

Loma shared Herbert's research with some of the women she studies with. The women invited him to speak to their group. He recounts this first sermon, "It became very plain that in Exodus 31:12-18 was the account of a completely different and distinctive covenant God made with His people on earth.

"This was `new light' which I felt compelled to present before these Church brethren" (Ibid, p. 346).

Armstrong made a point of introducing himself to the state's leading lay member, Mr. G.A. Hobbs of Oregon City. This elderly man of 80 years, eventually made Armstrong the pastor of this group.

Also, Mr. Hobbs was submitting Armstrong's studies for publication in the church paper, The Bible Advocate.

The Stanberry presbytry heard that someone was teaching a different gospel to its Oregon flock and sent a minister to investigate.

The church minster from Missouri met Mr. Armstrong. He attended Armstrong's second sermon meeting where he again taught doctrine which was not authorized by the Headquarters Church. The ministers recommended that Armstrong's articles be stopped because he was not a member and was gaining too much prestige with the Oregon people.

Armstrong continued to minister for the next two years under Mr. Hobbs' patronage. Hobbs also had Armstrong's articles reinstated for publication.

Armstrong recounts how he had sent letters to Headquarters showing them their doctrinal errors. The head of their headquarters ministers Mr. Dugger assured Armstrong that he was right.

But, the other ministers and members would not accept changes in these doctrines. One of these new truths was British Israelism (Ibid, pp. 344-346).

Armstrong conceded that this was God's true church in his 1974 address to his ministers: "And that was God's Church; it was dying out, though, they were producing no fruit. They didn't have an educated ministry. They didn't have a ministry that even had the Holy Spirit" (Transcript Ministerial Conference 1974, p. 10).

In 1930, Hobbs, Runcorn and about half of the Oregon members formed their own Oregon Conference of the Church of God. So Armstrong joined the rebel faction and was ordained by them in the summer of 1931.

In 1934, Mr. Dugger led off half of the Church of God Stanberry, Missouri and formed the Church of God (Seventh Day) in Salem, W. West Virginia. Armstrong was invited to join the governing board of elders and he accepted.

On January 29, 1934, Armstrong asked for credentials to be issued to him as a minister "in the one body." The request was addressed to the Church of God Salem, West Virginia. This organization was headed by the man who had several years earlier been among those who had refused to change doctrine when Herbert reproved them.

Also, Armstrong claimed the Philadelphia era of the Church began in August of the previous year. The era of the Church for which he was "Christ's instrument" (Members' letter, 11 February 1974).

The record is plain. Mr. Armstrong broke all of the rules he himself set for his own ministers. He would have labelled himself a rebel against God's Government.

He would not have accepted someone called by a dream. He would not have allowed an outsider to minister "new light" in his churches. He would not have ordained a man who was disloyal to Headquarters.

An official of the Church of God (Seventh Day) had this to say about Armstrong: "While reasons given for his separation from the church concern doctrinal dispute, those remaining among our ministry who were involved in the revocation of his Ministerial Credentials cite non-cooperation as the reason. Being self-willed and reflecting continuing membership with the church's ministry was of negative value" (Letter from Ray L. Straub - on file).

Did God really use this rebel to save the True Church from extinction?

It is a matter which deserves sober consideration.

In light of his many false prophesies and major doctrinal reversals during the mid seventies, there is a reasonable doubt as to Armstrong's calling by God.

It is no wonder that the Church is presently re-examining its doctrinal positions. Each member of the Worldwide Church of God should be re-examining what they believe through personal Bible study, independent of church literature and sermon interpretations.

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