Personal - Which "Armstrong" Do You Follow?

Dear Brethren and Friends, Tens of thousands of former Worldwide Church of God members remember Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. They know that he was the leader of the major Church of God movement of his day—and that he was the one used by God to inform the vast majority of new converts about the Sabbath, the Holy Days and all the basic Plan of God. He was used mightily by Jesus Christ—and no one can take away from that.

It is also true that many hundreds of “newer” brethren, coming into the Living Church of God through our telecasts and other media, do not know about Mr. Armstrong at all—or have barely heard about him, and have little or no recollection of anything he said or did. They are “brand new” people to the Truth. Those of us who are carrying on the Work that Christ began through Herbert and Loma Armstrong are able to reach them—and should be reaching them—primarily in the name of Jesus Christ, not the name of Herbert W. Armstrong!

Herbert W. Armstrong

We have seen what happens when, every now and then, an individual or small group of individuals tries to upset others using their particular memories and ideas of what they think Mr. Armstrong did or taught. Leaders of our former association have tried to denigrate Mr. Armstrong, portraying him as a type of “Hitler” whose super-strictness hurt God’s people and even caused some to die for lack of medical treatment. They also dwell on what they consider the harsh approach he sometimes took to individual doctrines and situations. A few of them dwell on what they regard as some of his major “sins”—often ideas for which they can give no proof whatsoever.

At the other extreme, there are those who virtually want to “worship” Mr. Armstrong—adulating him as though he were perfect. These people present their idea of him and his teachings as the only way—or the “superior” way—to worship God and do His Work.

Frankly, brethren, either extreme is wrong! As a servant who has been used by God and His Work now for more than 60 years—as the one Jesus Christ used to teach more Ambassador College Bible classes than any other person in this era—I feel that I can share with you an approach based on experience and wisdom in this regard. And I hope that all of you will listen! I knew Mr. Armstrong very intimately for 36 years—traveled with him, ate hundreds of meals with him, and knew his sons very well. I got to know Mr. Armstrong much better than most of the older ministers simply because of my deep friendship with Dick Armstrong—and later a pretty good friendship with Ted, which lasted for some years until Ted’s “problem” began to come to the surface.

So I ate “Armstrong Special” in their home a number of times—“corn flakes”! And I ate out with the Armstrong family or groups of them scores of times over the years, as well as visiting in their home or my home. The main thing to realize is that Mr. Armstrong was a man. He was not a “god” or even a “demi-god.” God used him to teach more people the basic Truths of God than any other human being in our age. But he was still very human. As he acknowledged publically a number of times, “Herbert Armstrong has made hundreds of mistakes! And God has had to use me in spite of those mistakes and often beat me down to teach me the lessons He wanted me to learn!”

Mr. Armstrong realized his own humanity, and he did not cultivate the “idol worship” attitude that some seem to have toward him because of their skewed memories of what kind of person he was. Herbert W. Armstrong did not want to be worshiped! I well remember a sermonette given in the Ambassador Auditorium, where an elder was virtually blasting out his words about Mr. Armstrong being “God’s true holy apostle”! The speaker actually used this phrase five or seven times in his brief sermonette. And he was literally yelling!

Obviously, many in the audience found it offensive to see how this man was trying to get into an attitude of worship toward Mr. Armstrong. Worse, some who were pushing this attitude of worship toward Mr. Armstrong were using their over-the-top words to distract attention from their behavior, while they were quietly trying to take over the Work and put down those older ministers who actually did follow Mr. Armstrong and what he taught. Still, I did not go to Mr. Armstrong about this man’s “over-the-top” sermonette. So far as I know, no one else did, either.

Nevertheless, about a week later, a plane took off from Los Angeles International Airport, headed for a medium-sized city in the southern United States. The elder who had given the offensive sermonette was on that plane—being sent away from Pasadena! He never returned to Headquarters again in any capacity. Mr. Armstrong did not appreciate the kind of “HWA worship” this man and a few others were trying to promote. He knew it was wrong.

Sadly, today, we still find people “shouting” about how they are the only ones who are the “true followers” of Mr. Armstrong. I happen to know pretty well most of those who are doing this.  And I know firsthand that not one ever really knew Mr. Armstrong intimately. They did not eat hundreds of meals with him, spend thousands of hours with him, and really get to know him the way I—and a few other of the early pioneer students—did.

These people have simply concocted their own imagined version of Mr. Armstrong, and of what they want to indicate that he said or did—which is often dead wrong!

The leader of one group has tried to convince people that Mr. Armstrong never talked about Jesus Christ being a vital part of the Gospel! This man teaches that bringing in the facts about Jesus Christ of Nazareth being our Savior, our High Priest and living Head in connection with the Gospel is wrong—and that it is actually preaching a false gospel!

Auditorium at Ambassador College

Frankly, brethren, this is weird! As many of you know—if you are willing to read your own Bible and believe what it says—you can simply read 1 Corinthians 15:1–4: “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”

Therefore, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul declared that the “Gospel” he preached had everything to do with Christ’s death and resurrection and ascension into heaven! This is, of course, very good news! All of us should be extremely grateful for God’s willingness, through Christ’s suffering, to forgive our sins and make us “at one” with Him. This is a vital part of the Gospel.

Yet, we also know that Christ’s life, death and resurrection are not the “only” part of the Gospel—as we have always taught in this Work, and as Mr. Armstrong taught. Though the early apostles emphasized that aspect, of Christ’s connection to the Gospel, throughout the book of Acts—please read it for yourself!—today we more often emphasize the Good News of the coming Kingdom of God or Government of God soon to be set up under Jesus Christ as King of kings (Revelation 11:15).

As you know, I have always emphasized that aspect of the Gospel—and anyone who says otherwise is a liar! All you have to do is listen again to my scores of taped sermons and telecasts, and read the hundreds of articles I have written over the years. I and those with me in the Living Church of God do emphasize the Gospel of the Kingdom of God—especially as it is more “current” in its application today just before Christ’s return. This is very different from the worldly churches, which do not understand at all the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, and who greatly misunderstand Jesus Christ’s role in the Gospel.

Brethren, there is a big danger for those who get this wrong. It goes beyond people’s misunderstanding of Mr. Armstrong’s teachings. The big problem I want to address here is the human desire to “worship” another human being—to make another person a sort of infallible “champion” and even look to him instead of God the Father and Jesus Christ.

Remember the Apostle Paul’s urgent plea to the Christians at Corinth, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). Then later Paul wrote, “For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.  Now I say this, that each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ’” (vv. 11–12). Today, a number of people—whether they even realize it or not—are virtually saying  “I am of Armstrong!” These people are forgetting that Mr. Armstrong himself taught that all of us should be “of Christ”—worshiping Him and God the Father whom He came to reveal! You should not look to any man—including me—in an attitude of adulation. To do so is wrong. It is idolatry!

The real Mr. Armstrong spoke about the vital importance of worshiping Jesus Christ, and recognized that His life and death and resurrection are a vital part of the message we should be preaching. I remember Mr. Armstrong devoting an entire sermon to that topic at our Headquarters in Pasadena. He said, in effect, “Brethren, most of you know that I have constantly emphasized the message about the Kingdom of God—the Government of God—and talked very little about Jesus Christ. I may have been responsible for misleading you in this, simply because the message about Christ and His Person has been dwelt upon so much by the Protestants and that they have totally neglected the message Christ brought about the Kingdom of God. But I realize that either extreme is wrong and that we must not leave Christ out of our preaching about the Kingdom of God or the true Gospel. For Christ will soon be the King of that coming Kingdom. We must worship and honor Him as a vital part of our message and not neglect that aspect of God’s true message to mankind!”

Brethren, though I am paraphrasing, the above is very close to the essence of what Mr. Armstrong said during that sermon. Many hundreds of people were there—no doubt a number who are still living and will recall Mr. Armstrong making those statements. He said many similar things over the years in various ministerial meetings, in classes and on other occasions where I was able to hear him personally! Anyone who suggests otherwise is dead wrong!

Dear brethren, I have in front of me at this moment three examples of how Mr. Armstrong not only spoke but wrote about the Gospel. The first one is an old co-worker letter from June 9, 1947. Mr. Armstrong writes:

“this is the true gospel—the Good News of the Kingdom of God, its Message of the right way to live, it’s Message of redemption thru Christ, and God’s gift of eternal life! Yes, this is the Kingdom of God which Christ revealed over 1900 years ago—this is the true New Testament gospel—the true gospel of Jesus Christ!”

The second quote from Mr. Armstrong—among many others—is this letter he wrote from Palm Springs on December 12, 1958:

“We do not seem to stress sufficiently Christ as Saviour—faith in Him, and then His faith in us (living faith which is inseparable from obedience). We must remember that the orthodox fundamental worldly churches and evangelists stress almost solely just Christ, and faith in Him, and accepting Him as personal Saviour. Our more or less general omission of this leads many automatically to assume we preach the gospel of earning salvation by works. To a world accustomed to hearing almost altogether about Christ and a ‘born-again experience’ (which of course they do not understand), we put ourselves and God’s Truth in a wrong light. Instead of speaking of being converted—changed—by real repentance, surrender, faith in Christ, and receiving God’s Holy Spirit, we speak of ‘coming into the Truth.’ A man may ‘come into the Truth’—that is, let a certain amount of truth into his mind, and still be totally unconverted. We must not lead people to gather that we believe only in Commandment keeping (which to them means Saturday-keeping) and earning salvation by works.

We must stress the whole truth more—repentance, surrender, Christ as Savior, being changed by God’s Spirit as God’s gifts, by grace, following our conforming to His conditions of repentance and faith in Christ—the change from carnality to Spiritual-mindedness—being begotten—and then the overcoming and enduring and growing life of obedience and living faith, with Christ living His life in us. Let’s not leave Christ and grace out of our speech and letters.”

The third is from Mr. Armstrong’s article in the January 1970 Tomorrow’s World magazine:

“We must believe the Gospel, and that means also believing on Jesus Christ, the King of the Kingdom of God, and coming King of kings over all the families of the earth.  It means believing in Him as personal Saviour, as High Priest now, and as coming King” (“What is the True Gospel?,” p. 7).

So, it should be clear and plain that Mr. Armstrong, consistently over the years, preached about Jesus Christ as a vital part of the Gospel. I heard him do so, again and again. Thousands of the older brethren heard this for themselves. Frankly, this should not be a point of debate in any way, except for those who want to cause division, or to provoke an argument that will help them justify themselves—perhaps in appointing themselves as ministers of God or exalting their own position in some way.

Nevertheless, the key issue is that we must look beyond man—always—and look to Jesus Christ as our Savior, our living Head and our coming King. The Gospel of the Kingdom of God does not exclude Him, as He will be the King of that coming Kingdom! If we deny this, in effect denigrating Christ’s own office, we are simply hurting ourselves and even reducing the degree of reward we will have in the coming Kingdom of God, or forfeiting that reward entirely.

Dear brethren, we must not be deceived by those who have invented a false “Armstrong” to advance their own agendas.  We must follow the true teachings of the Herbert Armstrong whom God truly used to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, including the awesome role of Jesus Christ in our salvation through which we can become part of that Kingdom. And we must never adulate or in any way worship any man—especially putting our imaginary ideas of what a man would say or do in place of what the Bible clearly says. Jesus said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God’” (Luke 4:4). We must obey God and not follow man in any way contrary to what God’s clear word instructs!

                 

                              With Christian love,

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