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). His teachings are 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) (sometimes referred to as "COG7" to differentiate it from similarly-styled sects which worship on Sunday), 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 doctrines 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.
Some of Armstrong's identifiable doctrines 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 being 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.
Sabbatarianism and Old Testament beliefs
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.:181
Other non-mainstream teachings
- God will soon set up his government on earth, under the rule of Jesus, at Jesus' Second Coming. He will rescue humanity from sin and self-annihilation, inspire mankind to voluntarily turn to God's law, and usher in a 1000 year period of peace, prosperity, and justice. Humanity will be under the rule of the children of God, who are the biblical saints and faithful members of the Worldwide Church of God, "born again" as spirit in the first resurrection, when Jesus returns to the Earth.
- Non-believers are not yet eternally judged, having a future opportunity for salvation after a mortal resurrection (the second resurrection).
- The vast majority of all people who have ever lived will be saved; thus, the relatively small number of true Christians of this age are predestined to be merely the early "First Fruits" of God's harvest, to help teach the majority of humanity raised by the second resurrection.
- The strict observance of the Ten Commandments is a required response of Christians to receiving the unearned gift of salvation from God. The Ten Commandments are an eternal and inexorable law, set in motion by God, which brings about every good effect when obeyed, but exacts pain, suffering, and eventually death (especially an ultimate spiritual death) when violated.
- The Holy Days of the Old Testament are still to be observed by Christians, and teach symbolically the seven steps of God's master plan of salvation for humanity.
- A system of tithing in which 10% of one's total increase was donated to the church for its operation and for sharing the gospel with the world ("first tithe"); a second 10% was to be saved for the Christian family's expenses during the Holy Days ("second tithe"); and during the third and sixth year of each seven-year cycle, a third 10% was to be used for the indigent, widows, and orphans within the church ("third tithe"). Besides first, second, and third tithes, there was a "tithe of a tithe", 10% of one's second tithe, for maintenance of festival sites. Free will offerings were expected as well. On top of that there were the building fund, the Summer Educational Program (SEP), and the YOU youth program, all financed by church members. The ministry did not pay tithes; they received tithes as Levites, and lived on a higher income than most members.
- Abstinence from eating unclean meats listed in the Old Testament, such as pork and shellfish.
- God's children are not actually "born again" into spirit until after the return of Jesus to the Earth.
- The "sleep" state of the dead, meaning the dead have not yet been judged, rewarded, or condemned, but rather wait to be resurrected.
- Punishment of the incorrigible is not an eternity of torment in Hell, but rather a merciful annihilation, through fire, by the edict of God.
- Humans are completely mortal (i.e., they do not possess an immortal soul). Salvation is the free, unearned gift of eternal life in God's family as children of God, given upon the prerequisite of faith in God and repentance from sin. This results in a motivation to completely observe God's "eternal laws" (i.e., Old Covenant laws).
- Three resurrections of the dead—first, faithful believers as the First Fruit harvest at Jesus' Second Coming, second, non-believers temporarily resurrected to mortality for an opportunity to learn and accept God's way, and third, resurrection of the incorrigibly wicked for final judgment. This final group will consist of those whose minds had been fully opened to God's truth, either in this age or after the second resurrection, and rejected it; mainly, those truly called but who fell away, and those who incorrigibly rebel in the "Wonderful World Tomorrow".
Armstrongism is defined as a cult in Walter Martin's book, The Kingdom of the Cults (1965). Martin argues that Armstrong's teachings are largely a conglomerate of teachings from other unorthodox groups, noting similarities in elements of his teachings to the Seventh-day Adventists (sabbatarianism, annihilationism, and soul sleep), Jehovah's Witnesses (denial of the bodily resurrection), and Mormonism (God Family doctrine).
Churches of God
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."
- Church of God International (United States) (COGI) – the church founded by Garner Ted Armstrong in 1978 following his departure from WCG
- House of Yahweh (HOY) – a religious sect in Texas founded in 1980 by former WCG member Yisrayl Hawkins, who preaches a message based on some of Armstrong's core beliefs
- Philadelphia Church of God (PCG) – founded in 1989 by former WCG pastor Gerald Flurry following gradual doctrinal changes in WCG
- Church of the Great God (CGC) – founded in 1992 by John Ritenbaugh after WCG's doctrinal changes
- Global Church of God (GCG) – the church founded by Roderick C. Meredith in 1992 following a series of doctrinal changes in WCG
- United Church of God (UCG) – the largest splinter from WCG founded in 1995
- The Intercontinental Church of God (ICOG) – formed by Garner Ted Armstrong in 1998 following his removal from COGI over sexual assault allegations
- Living Church of God (LCG) – founded by Meredith in 1998 following his removal from GCG
- Restored Church of God (RCG) – founded in May 1999 by David C. Pack after his firing from GCG
- Church of God Preparing for the Kingdom of God (COG-PKG) – founded by Ronald Weinland in 2006 following his departure from UCG; Weinland was convicted of tax evasion in 2012
- Church of God, a Worldwide Association (COGWA) – a church that split from UCG in 2010 under UCG's fourth president, Clyde Kilough
- The Plain Truth – WCG's flagship magazine, originally written and produced by Armstrong's Radio Church of God; publication continues to this day.
- The Good News – a WCG-produced Christian living magazine. The name was taken up by the United Church of God after the 1995 schism until 2016.
- 1975 in Prophecy! – Armstrong's book describing an impending apocalypse before 1975. Illustrated by Basil Wolverton.
- The Philadelphia Trumpet – Philadelphia Church of God's monthly magazine
- The Pillar – Restored Church of God's bi-monthly magazine for members.
Television and internet
- The World Tomorrow – The original radio and television broadcast at first anchored by Herbert W. Armstrong and later by his son Garner Ted Armstrong. The show is still being produced by Church of God, Worldwide Ministries.
- The World To Come – Restored Church of God's weekly video and daily audio programs preaching the church's doctrines.
- The Key of David – Philadelphia Church of God's television broadcast
- Beyond Today – United Church of God's television broadcast
- Tomorrow's World – Living Church of God's television broadcast
There are a number of people publicly associated with Armstrongism and the legacy of WCG.
- Herbert W. Armstrong – Founder of the Radio Church of God, which later became the Worldwide Church of God. His teachings are the basis for Armstrongism today.
- Garner Ted Armstrong – Herbert W. Armstrong's son and a long-time WCG evangelist; he later had a falling-out with his father
- Jules Dervaes – a proponent of the urban homesteading movement and former member of WCG still adherent to Armstrong's teachings
- Bobby Fischer – the chess grandmaster was a member of WCG from the mid-1960s until 1977
- Roderick C. Meredith – a chief evangelist in WCG who later founded the Global Church of God before starting the Living Church of God
- Stanley Rader – Armstrong's lawyer and close confidant during WCG's glory years
- Terry Ratzmann – an American mass murderer who shot seven fellow Living Church of God members in Wisconsin in 2005 before taking his own life
- Denis Michael Rohan – an Australian member of WCG who famously attempted to set fire to the Al-Aqsa mosque in 1969 under the belief it would accelerate the coming apocalypse
- Joseph W. Tkach – Armstrong's successor who was ultimately responsible for WCG's doctrinal reformation and shift away from Armstrongist teachings
- Joseph Tkach, Jr. – Tkach's son and successor who eventually finished WCG's transition to mainstream Christian orthodoxy
- Ronald Weinland – leader of the Church of God Preparing for the Kingdom of God
- Basil Wolverton – a Mad Magazine artist noted for illustrations in Herbert W. Armstrong's book 1975 in Prophecy! about the impending apocalypse
- "What is "Armstrongism"?". Retrieved 2010-08-30.
- "Armstrongism, The Worldwide Church of God, The Church of God International" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2016-01-26. Retrieved 2017-04-30.
- "Armstrongism". Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2010-08-30.
- Tkach, Joseph. "Transformed by Truth". pp. Chapter 7: What we Believed. Archived from the original on 30 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-16.
- Mystery of the Ages, pp. 7–30
- Parfitt, Tudor (2003). The Lost Tribes of Israel: The history of a myth. Phoenix. pp. 52–65.
- The United States and Britain in Prophecy.
- Orr, R. "How Anglo-Israelism Entered Seventh-day Churches of God: A history of the doctrine from John Wilson to Joseph W. Tkach". Archived from the original on 2008-08-04. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
- "Transformed by Christ: A Brief History of the Worldwide Church of God". Grace Communion International. Archived from the original on 25 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
- Hale, Amy (2016). "Reigning with Swords of Meteoric Iron: Archangel Michael and the British New Jerusalem". In Parker, Joanne. The Harp and the Constitution: Myths of Celtic and Gothic Origin. Brill Academic Pub. ISBN 9789004306370.
- Martin, Walter (1985) Kingdom of the Cults, Bethany House Publishers. pp.303-37
- Herbert W. Armstrong Searchable Library Armstrong's literature before being edited by the Philadelphia Church of God which now owns the copyright to some of his works
- Grace Communion International, "A Brief History of the Worldwide Church of God"
- Ambassador Report— John Trechak's periodical focusing on the Worldwide Church of God during the period of 1976-1999.
- Called to be Free (Documentary about the theological shift of the Worldwide Church of God)
- The Painful Truth Website, critical of Armstrong and his successors
- What is Armstrongism? Perhaps the most clear, straightforward description of the tenets of Armstrong
- The Exit and Support Network, Information on Armstongism and recovery from involvement
- Armstrong Delusion Critique of Armstrongism from the perspectives of science, philosophy, and history