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By Tal Davis
Organizations associated with Armstrongism:
• Church of God, Pasadena (COGP)-Pasadena, Calif., www.church-of-god.org• Church of
God, International (COGI)-Tyler, Texas, http://www.cgi.org/
• Church of God—Preparing for the Kingdom of God (COGPKG), Cincinnatti, Ohio,
• Church of God Intercontinental Church of God (ICOG)-Tyler, Texas,
Living Church of God (LCG)-Charlotte, N.C., www.lcg.org• Philadelphia Church of God
(PCOG)-Edmond, Okla., www.pcog.org• United Church of God
(UCOG)-Arcadia, Calif., www.ucg.org• Worldwide Church of God
(WCOG)-Pasadena, Calif., www.wcg.org (www.graceci.org) (now called Grace Communion
Key Figure in History: Herbert W. Armstrong, 1892-1986
Other Significant Figures:
• Garner Ted Armstrong (ICOG), 1930-2003
• Gerald Flurry (PCOG)
• Roy Holladay (UCOG)
• David Hulme (COGP)
• Roderick C. Meredith (LCG)
• Joseph W. Tkach, Sr. (WCOG), 1927-1995
• Ronald Weinland (COGPKG)
Ministries Associated with Armstrongism:
• The Key of David television program (PCOG), www.keyofdavid.com
• Armor of God television program (COGI)
• Garner Ted Armstrong Evangelistic Association (ICOG), www.garnertedarmstrong.ws•
Tomorrow's World television program (LCG)
• The Philadelphia Trumpet magazine (PCOG)
• The Good News magazine (UCOG)
• The Plain Truth magazine (WCOG)
• 21st Century Watch magazine (ICOG)
• Church of God News (COGP)
• Tomorrow's World magazine (LCG)
• Mystery of the Ages by Herbert W. Armstrong
• The United States and Britain in Prophecy by Herbert W.
Brief History of Armstrongism
The story of Armstrongism as a movement begins with the life of its
namesake-Herbert W. Armstrong-who was born in Des Moines, Iowa, on July 31,
As a young man, Armstrong was involved in several failed business ventures.
In 1924 he moved to Oregon, where he and his first wife, Loma, became involved
in Adventism. He adopted several unusual doctrines, including Seventh-day
Sabbatarianism and Old Testament dietary legalism. In 1926, Armstrong began an
intense study of the Bible during which he claimed to have discovered the
lost key to scriptural interpretation. This lost key was
actually an old discredited theory that the ten lost tribes of Israel can be
identified in modern times as the peoples of Europe, the British Isles, and
In 1931, Armstrong was ordained as a minister in the Church of God
(Seventh-Day) (COGSD). He soon broke from that sect to form his own movement
when his lost tribes theories were rejected by COGSD leaders. In 1934, he began
a radio broadcast called The World Tomorrow, founded the Radio Church
of God-renamed the Worldwide Church of God (WCOG) in 1968-and, in 1935, started
a free publication called The Plain Truth. He referred to himself as a
modern apostle and later took the title of pastor-general of his
The movement grew, and, in 1947, Armstrong established Ambassador College in
Pasadena, California. He later opened branch campuses in England and Texas.
Armstrong's son, Garner Ted Armstrong, a master communicator, took over
The World Tomorrow radio broadcasts in 1963, and later expanded into
international television. In 1972, Garner Ted Armstrong was suspended from his
broadcasts for four months by his father for alleged sexual misconduct. Garner
Ted Armstrong was excommunicated from his father's church in 1978, and founded
the Church of God International (COGI) in Tyler, Texas. In 1995, he was
dismissed by COGI and, in 1998, started another organization, the
Intercontinental Church of God (ICOG) where he continued his television
ministry until his death in 2003, at age 73.
In the 1970s, Herbert Armstrong was criticized by many inside and outside of
the church for his extravagant lifestyle. In 1978, the WCOG was
investigated by the state of California for mismanagement of funds, and in 1979
was placed in state receivership. After several years of close government
scrutiny, the church returned to solvency under Armstrong's leadership.
Herbert W. Armstrong was 93 when he died in 1986 of old age. He was
succeeded as pastor-general by Joseph W. Tkach (1927-1995). Over the
following decade, Tkach and his successor, Joseph W. Tkach, Jr., led the
Worldwide Church of God through significant theological and ecclesiastical
reforms, renouncing the unorthodox teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong. Doctrines
rejected included the God-family concept, British-Israelism, and
legalistic Seventh-day Sabbatarianism. In 1993, the WCOG officially affirmed
the historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity and, in 1997, was accepted for
membership in the National Association of Evangelicals. In 2009 the WCOG
officially changed its name to Grace Communion International.
As a result of these changes, several splinter organizations-led by
ex-members of the WCOG-were formed that continue to espouse Armstrong's
unorthodox doctrines. Those neo-Armstrongist leaders and movements included
Gerald Flurry of the Philadelphia Church of God, Roy Holladay of the United
Church of God, and David Hulme of the Church of God-Pasadena, California.
Doctrines of Armstrongism
Herbert W. Armstrong taught that the Bible was a divinely inspired book and the
authoritative Word of God. However, he taught that the key to interpreting it
had been obscured by God until these last days when he, by divine inspiration,
discovered it. Thus, Armstrong regarded himself as the only legitimate
interpreter of Scripture and his movement as the only true church of God.
Armstrong's books and pamphlets are still distributed by Armstrongist groups
and are regarded as authoritative.
Biblical ResponseChristians agree that the Bible is
the inspired and authoritative Word of God. However, Armstrong's claims to his
singularly authoritative interpretation must be rejected. Many of his unusual
doctrines are based on faulty biblical presuppositions. The Bible should be
interpreted by sound principles of hermeneutics. Christians of all generations
have had the capability of understanding its essential teachings (2 Tim.
3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21).
God is a Family
Herbert W. Armstrong taught an unusual theological concept saying that God
presently consists of two separate individuals, the Father and His Son, Jesus
Christ-excluding the Holy Spirit. These two comprise the God-family.
According to Armstrong, the preexistent Jesus, called Melchizedek and Yahweh in
the Old Testament, was born as a man.
Jesus Christ existed from all eternity but was subordinate to the Father. He
was born again into the godhead at His resurrection, which was
not physical, but only spiritual. The Holy Spirit, according to Armstrong, is
not divine and not a person. It is regarded merely as the spiritual extension
of God, containing His essence and power.
Biblical ResponseThe one God is the personal,
eternal, and infinite Creator of all that exists. He exists eternally as a
Trinity-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the virgin-born,
incarnate Son of God, who existed eternally with the Father and the Holy
Spirit. He lived a sinless life, willingly died on the cross as a sacrifice for
the sin of humanity, and rose again physically from the dead.
The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity and is coeternal with the
Father and the Son. He convicts unbelievers of their need for salvation and
indwells believers at conversion to empower them for effective and holy living
(Deut. 6:4; Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 8:6; 12:4-6; 15:1-8).
Mankind: Potential Members of the God-Family
According to Armstrong, human beings have no immortal soul. Rather, they cease
to exist at death. Mankind is naturally evil, but may join the God-family if
they accept the redemption made by Christ, are obedient and faithful to God's
laws, and are eventually born again into membership in the God-family.
Human beings are created in the image of God and, as such, have an immortal
soul. Nonetheless, people are by nature sinners, in need of the free gift of
eternal life (Gen. 1:26-27; Rom. 3:23).
Herbert W. Armstrong taught that salvation is not a present reality, but
totally future. He stated that no one, except Jesus, is yet
saved or born again. God will soon establish His
government of God on earth led by Jesus Christ. Those who have
faith in Christ and are obedient to God's commandments will be resurrected from
the dead and born again into the God-family. Members are expected to
observe the Seventh-day Sabbath and the Old Testament festivals.
Biblical ResponsePeople are totally saved and
born again as a past, present, and future reality when they
repent of their sins and, by grace through faith, receive Jesus Christ as their
Lord and Savior (John 3:16; Rom. 10:9-10; Eph. 2:8-9; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23).
The ChurchHerbert W. Armstrong taught that all
Christian denominations are apostate and have lost the true biblical message of
the government of God. He claimed that he restored the true gospel of
Christ to the world in 1933. He claimed that his was, therefore, the only true
movement of God in the world and was ordained by God to prepare the world for
the return of Christ.
Biblical ResponseThere is no organization,
denomination, or religious movement that can claim exclusive designation as the
only true church. Christ's universal church consists of all the redeemed in
Jesus Christ in all of the ages. There is no evidence that Herbert W.
Armstrong, or his movement, is uniquely ordained of God to proclaim an
end-times message (Matt. 16:15-19; 1 Cor. 1:12-14; Eph. 2:19; 3:11-12).
Last ThingsHerbert W. Armstrong taught an unusual
form of biblical interpretation called British-Israelism, also called
Anglo- Israelism. This novel view, which originated in the eighteenth
century in England, says that the Western European peoples are descendants of
the ten lost tribes of Israel. Specifically, the British and their North
American offspring are the descendents of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.
The throne of the king or queen of England is believed to be the throne of King
David-which means that they, and not the Jews, are the true inheritors of the
prophetic promises of God to His chosen people. Thus, all end-time biblical
prophecy must be seen through that perspective.
Armstrong also taught that a final world battle- Armageddon-will soon take
place, after which Christ will return to establish the government of
God on earth for 1000 years. At the close of the millennium, a final
judgment will occur in which the wicked will be annihilated. The redeemed will
inherit eternal life on a perfect earth. Eventually those who are born
again will join the Father and Jesus in the godhead as
British-Israel interpretation of biblical prophecy has been
discredited by many Hebrew and Greek scholars. There is no basis for
maintaining that Europeans are the descendents of the lost tribes of Israel-or
that the tribes were ever really lost.
The doctrine of eternal hell is affirmed. The saved will enjoy eternal life
with Christ in heaven and the lost will suffer eternal punishment (Matt.
18:8-9; 25:41-46; Mark 9:43-48; John 3:16; 14:1-3; 2 Thess. 1:9; Rev.
Witnessing to people influenced by Armstrongism
1. Have a clear understanding of your faith and the Bible. Learn basic
biblical truths and be able to defend your beliefs from Scripture.
2. Reaffirm the Bible alone as your authority. State that any doctrines or
practices that cannot be confirmed scripturally, using sound principles of
interpretation, are not valid. State that no one interpreter of the Bible has
exclusive understanding or any special key to
3. Know the basic teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong and the various
organizations that espouse them. Learn how Armstrong deviated from biblical
teaching on many essential issues.
4. Define all terms thoroughly both from the historic Christian perspective and
from the Armstrong perspective. Be prepared to demonstrate how they
5. Determine the person's level of commitment to Armstrongism on doctrines and
organization. Many people not holding formal membership in one of the
Armstrongist groups may nonetheless be influenced by the literature or
broadcasts of Armstrongist ministries.
6. Build a personal relationship with the Armstrongist follower. Using the
Bible, discuss various doctrinal issues as they arise. Focus on the essential
issues of the nature of God, the Person and work of Jesus Christ, and the way
of salvation and spiritual rebirth.
7. Present the clear biblical gospel of salvation-by grace through faith-to
your Armstrongist friend. Show that salvation is entirely a free gift, and not
a matter of adherence to legalistic precepts or membership in any
8. Pray for the Holy Spirit to lead you in your encounter and to open the heart
of your Armstrongist friend to the biblical truth of the gospel.
Tal Davis is on staff at the North American Mission Board, SBC.
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