"Daughter Of Babylon,
The True History of
The Worldwide Church of God"
by Bruce Renehan
Chapter 16 The Church of Brotherly Love
In my many interviews with past acquaintances of Herbert Armstrong, I was surprised to hear this same description repeated so many times about him: "He was a man with such a tremendous ego." Adding that to his background in advertising and business, his strongly held opinions in philosophy and religion, his flair for quality and culture, his tireless zeal for success, his distinct mid-western dialect and deep resonating broadcaster's voice would explain why a man could make so many mistakes and yet still hold a charismatic sway over thousands of followers a decade after his death.
The force of his personality alone became the catalyst building his Worldwide Church of God into an international multi-million dollar corporation eventually luring hundreds of thousands into the organization believing he was an apostle and prophet of God. After luring in his believers, they would be held captive by their own fears.
In 1936, Armstrong had actually started mimeographing his Plain Truth magazine and had eventually built up a subscription list with the help of the Oregon Church of God. With his move to Pasadena in 1946, Armstrong began to develop a vanguard of true believers who paid homage to their leader by helping him reproduce his version of the "primitive church." He announced to his subscribers that he was beginning a college to train ministers.
The church was now called by the same name as the original radio program: "the Radio Church of God." It wasn't until 1964 that its name would be changed to the "Worldwide Church of God."
The first year of Ambassador College produced a total of five pioneering students. Upon graduation three of these students were raised up as evangelists (Armstrong's highest rank of reward): Herman Hoeh, Raymond Cole and Herbert's oldest son, Richard. Hoeh served as a type of minister of propaganda for Armstrong. Becoming part of Armstrong's faculty, he began to exemplify the absent minded professor image. For decades, he traversed the college campus with a dowdy appearance, befuddled and lost in his own thoughts. Rumors about his eccentricities included the story that one morning he walked into his office wearing a brown shoe on one foot and a black one on the other. His quirky manner led him to refuse to drive a church-provided fleet car, opting rather for public transit until a church widow died and willed him her black 1957 Chrysler which some students began to call Hoeh's batmobile. The only thing that Hoeh lacked, in his role as the bookish intellectual, was the necessary disciplined and meticulous scholarship. In that area, as we have seen, he was rather sloppy. As for the other inaugural graduates: Richard Armstrong was killed in a car crash just a few years later when fellow minister Don Billingsley fell asleep while driving, exhausted during a baptizing tour in California; Raymond Cole was disfellowshipped in 1975, starting his own church, the Church Of God, The Eternal.
Probably the second most influential disciple of Armstrong was Roderick Meredith, who came to study at Ambassador College in 1949 from Joplin, Missouri. Meredith was a feisty young ex-golden gloves boxer and ROTC student who rose quickly in the organization, being made an evangelist upon graduation in 1952. An evangelist-ranked minister was only outranked by Armstrong himself. Later ministers would be ranked in lower positions of authority: pastor, local elder and local church elder respectively. Local church elder was an elevation in rank from church deacon. Men were not raised in position because of spiritual knowledge or ability. Loyalty and willingness to obey and to dote upon those of higher status came first.
Meredith trained hundreds of future church leaders and ministers in the confines of Ambassador College where he taught the Epistles of Paul and leadership classes. These classes were all spiced with as much blind loyalty to founder Armstrong as soldiers are taught to show for their commanding officers in the military. Meredith and other upwardly motivated disciples, unwittingly adapted to their apostle's desire to be adored as an end-time prophet and tried to mimmick his personality. As one ex-minister commented to me, "No man in the organization had ever patterned his own character and personality after Herbert Armstrong more than Rod Meredith." The crude sycophantic behavior of Armstrong's immature evangelists magnified what would soon become a phobic bastion of mind control.
Also raised up to evangelist in 1952 were Rod's uncle, C. Paul Meredith, Marion McNair and his brother Raymond.
From the outset, Armstrong covered up for an inward fear of failure by requiring unquestioning loyalty from his ministers who, as early as 1951, referred to him as an apostle. Armstrong still maintained the aura of being a prophet of God, even though he had already developed an embarrassing track record of prophecies that had never come to pass. This reveals another quality about his nature. He was a man who had great difficulty owning up to his mistakes.
As churches began to be raised up away from Pasadena by his young evangelists, Armstrong saw the need to build heightened loyalty to him and "headquarters" in his followers. Therefore he employed a roving evangelist by the name of Gerald Waterhouse to make sure outside congregations were always pointed toward Pasadena. Herbert had learned by early experience that he needed to do this. Before he had organized his college, he had raised up a couple of prototype field churches in the mid-40's. So eager to build a large following with his radio program, he shortly lost control to the pastor he had abandoned the congregation to. He thus needed to maintain the concept of headquarters as a hub of activity and growth in the minds of the members in his field churches.
Waterhouse's job was to bolster up blind loyalty and obedience through exaggerated predictions about Armstrong. He taught members to fear disobeying church authorities, intimidated members who did, and mocked those who would "fall away" and leave the church. Leaving God's church and apostle soon became the biggest sin a member could ever commit. Once convinced that Armstrong was God's earthly apostle, rebellion to him was equated with criticism toward God. Once ministers learned that no asinine statement would be challenged by their colleagues, as long as it exalted Armstrong, the game was afoot to outdo Machiavelli.
Ministers were prone to make such statements to their congregations as, "If Mr. Armstrong asked me to shave my head I would do it," or "If Mr. Armstrong said, 'Jump!' I would answer, 'How high?'" Waterhouse himself was so good at such adoration tactics that his boss rewarded him with a carte blanche expense account to travel to every church area around the world more than a dozen times, acting as a one-man cheerleading squad for his boss.
Those who abstained from doting on the apostle soon aroused suspicion. Suspicion led to insecurity, insecurity to gossip, gossip to accusation, accusation to intimidation, intimidation to ultimatum, and finally, ultimatums were carried out in the form of ex-communication called disfellowshiping. Disfellowshiping became like a self-defense plea in the process of removing an offender's salvation to protect the church. In justifying its use, ministers reminded members that one rotten apple can spoil a whole bushel basket full; one member who questions church authorities can quickly unleash the rebellion of Lucifer upon the congregation and all would suffer God's damnation. A benevolent ministry was practicing self-defense on behalf of the flock to remove the offender. The disfellowshiped were to be shunned by all loyal members and everyone learned not to be too critical of those in authority. Later the disfellowshiped were referred to as "fallen away"--as if God had noticed that they were rotten apples too and cast them away from the good.
Yet, gushing in Armstrong's presence would bring a stinging public rebuke from him. He would fly into a rage before the entire church, blasting both minister and church for not recognizing that Jesus Christ had divinely raised up the church through him and that he was nothing of himself. He encouraged personal adulation only if he were not present when it was happening.
Herbert Armstrong carried himself with an air of regal sophistication. Always well groomed, he wore the finest handmade suits, many purchased in Hong Kong. He stressed the need to dress well among his ministry. Dressing in the finest quality one could afford would command respect from worldly sophisticated moguls as well as the struggling tithe-payers in his congregations.
Armstrong's forte was that he was an experienced salesman and had a natural flare for broadcasting. He had purchased radio time on powerful stations in Mexico, like XERB, that were capable of blanketing several states. In 1955, he was able to do a similar feat in Europe by purchasing time on super-powerful Radio Luxembourg.
In 1957 Herbert Armstrong was introduced to a brilliant CPA by the name of Stanley Rader. He was a graduate of UCLA and from a prominent Jewish family. Armstrong was attracted to Rader and felt that he had accomplished a great deal when Rader later accepted the invitation to become Armstrong's chief legal counsel and church treasurer. It was not until 1969 that Armstrong could hire Rader full time. Not being a baptized member would cast a shadow of suspicion on him for many years with a congregation trained to distrust outsiders.
Eventually Armstrong was able to bring his second son, Garner Ted, into the "Work." Ted was a little rebellious toward his dad's religion at first but soon became mesmerized by the organization and what it might offer him as heir apparent.
The strikingly handsome Ted had left home after high school and joined the Navy against his father's wishes. In late May of 1952 he returned home and eventually came under his father's control. He was talked into attending Ambassador College as a stipulation for working for his dad. He needed money for beer and cigarettes so he complied.
The college kids considered Ted a suave and sophisticated man of the world. With his dynamic baritone voice and gift of gab, he was soon made the glib commentator for both the church's radio and television programs entitled, "The World Tomorrow." Once granted his own private jet and free-flowing expense account, he became the second most powerful man in his father's organization. Rising as a celebrity, he was constantly hounded by press members, admirers and groupies. This adulation would contribute to Ted's downfall.
Next to personality aggrandizement, doctrine and unique Bible interpretations served to magnify the Armstrongs as men of inspiration. Early in their ministry, a doctrine was developed inside the Armstrong church which exposed the group's Millerite roots. Oddly, at the same time that the Jehovah's Witnesses began to predict the return of Jesus Christ to occur in 1975, the Radio Church of God writers and ministers began to do the same thing. And just like William Miller and his followers had done a century earlier, the date was set to the day--Feast of Trumpets--1975.
To add to this prediction, three and a half years of divine protection, in a "place of safety," was offered to loyal members of the church during the coming "great tribulation." Armstrong would cite Matthew 24:21 and warn that it was going to be a time so dreadful that the Nazi holocaust would pale into insignificance. Those who would not heed Armstrong's warnings were destined to be taken captive by Nazis who were secretly preparing to dominate the world. The "mark of the beast" would rest symbolically on the foreheads of those who were not in the Radio Church of God.
The tribulation and the time of divine protection in a "place of safety" was predicted to begin three and a half years before Christ was to return in the fall of 1975. It was therefore easy to calculate that the church would flee around the spring of 1972, or even as early as January. (Armstrong had even discovered where the church was to flee to--the rose red city of Petra in Jordan.)
Requests for membership began to skyrocket throughout the sixties in response to the dire predictions made in print and over the airwaves by the Armstrongs.
By accepting the church "era" theory, extrapolated from Revelation 3, and by examining parables and prophecies with their own peculiar bias, it was inferred that there were two types of Christians: those who were loyally following God's apostle and those who were not. Those who lived by Armstrong's inspired teachings were believed to be "Philadelphians"; that is, according to the Radio Church of God interpretation of Revelation 3, they would be accounted worthy to flee to safety during the approaching worldwide holocaust. Those who were unworthy to flee were fence-sitters--caught between zealousness to the church and carnal worldly passions. Between the rock and the hard place of God's wrath and the Devil's temptations, these "Laodiceans" would be tortured, thrown into gas chambers, or beheaded by Nazis.
Needless to say, church members neurotically wondered if they were loyal enough to their local ministers and Armstrong's teachings. Members obsessively wondered if God would save their earthly lives. This consequently gave church ministers the irresistable desire to exercise their unquestioned authority to judge and interfere in the affairs of their growing population of proselytes.
With such emphasis being placed upon the need for blind loyalty to church leaders being the pathway to God's approval, the whole church was soon caught in the momentum of authoritarianism. Ministers began to fall into the role of pushing loyalty to the limit by harshly ruling over the members. This produced a domino effect. Husbands domineered their wives. Parents would likewise treat their children sternly with strict discipline. They had seen this behavior from the leaders they had come to look to for guidance and felt justified.
When godliness was equated to being a good soldier who never questioned superiors, individuality became highly suspect. Everyone had to measure up to rigid church-imposed standards. Therefore, anyone in any position of authority imagined that if the standards for obedience were made more rigid, it only followed that the congregation would be more prepared to flee to a place of safety. The vortex was beginning to churn.
All types of "worldliness" and "paganism" were to be cautiously avoided. This included Christmas, Easter, Sunday church, certain types of education and books, the theory of evolution, philosophy, psychology, certain clothing styles and prints, certain hairstyles, and excessive association with the outside world. Ultra-conservative dress codes were enforced regularly by deacons and elders. Those who did not obediently conform were shamed and made examples of before the congregation.
New converts were often taught to cut off all relations with family members and others who disagreed with their new-found religion. These people were "worldly," owned by Satan himself. It was pointed out that they would find "God's way" weird and strange. God had not opened their minds to his "truth" and fraternizing with them could jeopardize one's chances of eligibility to flee.
As the rank and file membership of the Radio Church of God began to grow, incredulous former acquaintances were shocked at Armstrong's ability to turn those who were once familiar to them into distrusting strangers.
Strict legalism grew unchecked. Because church teachings on Mosaic laws and ordinances were stressed, a prudish holier-than-thou attitude could not be avoided among members who tried to outdo one another in their obedience to Old Testament mandates. Not only were Leviticus 11 dietary laws being called health laws, members became obsessed with diet in general. Many expanded food laws to include processed foods such as white flour and sugar. It then grew to be, by implication, that to eat a donut was somehow to sin.
Since this world was not God's world but belonged to Satan, all forms of politics were sinful, therefore members were told they should never vote. Birthdays, facial make-up, and medicine were also seen as evil, sensual, seductive or selfish. Self-denial was godly behavior for members.
Although his church had once operated on a shoe string budget and Armstrong had maintained his filing system in shoe boxes, it soon began to garner millions of dollars in donations only to be absorbed insatiably by the expanding dominion of Ambassador College and its many functions.
Armstrong had a particular method for financing his "work." It was an interpretation on tithing which had never existed before in history. By the time a member was baptized he would be taught that God required him to give as much as 30% of his gross income, plus generous offerings seven times per year, to church activities. The use of these funds was seldom accounted for but primarily ended up in the pockets of the Armstrongs, Rader (each salaried at approximately $300,000 per year) and the ministry. This unorthodox teaching was seasoned with threats upon members of being cursed by God if one did not comply and empty promises of gaining God's blessings if one did. Members were told that if they cheated on their tithes they were "stealing from God." This accusation was lobbed at members for nearly a decade after Armstrong's death.
The stories are countless of the many financial calamities to loyal members who persisted in trying to tithe the right way to gain God's favor and blessings. Many early converts were promised that the world would not be around long enough for them to pass on the family farm to their children and sadly signed the deed over to Armstrong.
The ministry was not required to live by the same standard though. Ministers were of the Melchisedek priesthood. The priesthood (Armstrong's "spiritual Levites") had been hand-picked by God to partake of the tithe. This gave ministers a lifestyle that was more comfortable and luxurious than the average member. Not only were they well-paid, they were provided new church-leased vehicles, church-financed homes and special expense accounts. Ministers were also only subject to one tithe; whereas members were required to give as many as three tithes of their gross income, as well as generous holyday offerings at the seven annual festivals, special offerings, participate in yard sales and bake sales, donate used clothing and canned goods, and contribute to the building funds in Pasadena, California and Big Sandy, Texas. They were often goaded by the ministry to "give until it really hurts" and be cheerful about it because "God loves a cheerful giver."
One of Armstrong's ex-ministers, Marion McNair, documented through several years of Armstrong's co-worker letters that Armstrong used a strong guilt tactic to always portray the church in financial calamity, just short of collapse, thus squeezing every last penny from his supporters. Members did not want God's wrath falling upon them for not supporting the one true church so they gave until it hurt and did so cheerfully as commanded.
By emphasizing Old Testament laws and statutes, Armstrong's doctrinal conclusions mimicked those of G. G. Rupert. Paganism was to be avoided; Judaism was to be performed as a Christian duty. All other forms of Christianity were viewed as counterfeits, originating out of ancient Roman Catholic paganism. Church steeples, for example, were obviously phallic in origin; they were the mark of an ancient Roman system of worship disguised as "Christian." Members might argue whether or not Christ really was nailed to a cross, since a cross was shaped like the pagan Egyptian ankh. They would ponder less often the Protestant view of the crucifixion. Members were more concerned with proving whether or not Jesus had long hair than understanding the impact of his mercy upon the thief on the cross or the woman caught in adultery.
One of the cruelest teachings enforced upon hundreds of families, during the first 20 years of the Radio Church of God, was what ministers referred to as D and R (short for divorce and remarriage). It was the rigid teaching that God could not forgive any form of "adultery" or previous marriage that members may have been involved in before baptism into the church. Ministers were under orders to break up any marriage that may have been suspect. The violators were then condemned to a life of celibacy. This left many hundreds of children broken-hearted to see their happy families demolished.
Finally, in desperation, one member barged into Armstrong's Pasadena office suite in 1972 and asked, "Mr. Armstrong, how could God forgive me for killing men in the Korean War and yet not forgive my divorce from my first wife?" In compliance to the D and R doctrine he had abandoned his second wife and children in Illinois for several years. Armstrong agreed to consider the matter. D and R was finally stopped in 1973 after a bitter struggle by conscientious ministers to convince Armstrong that legalistic wresting of scripture was destroying hundreds of happy church homes. A few years later Armstrong himself would marry a divorced woman, violating his own previously held hard line stance.
Legalism and Old Covenant dietary rules grew into fetishes among many members. On church feast days members would crowd into rented halls in major cities for all-day church services. Afterward they would converge on local restaurants. This often became a fiasco for waitresses and waiters. Besides pork and all pork derivatives (such as lard) being untouchable, some holydays required the complete abstinence from leavening (crackers, breads, donuts, baking powder, ice cream cones, tortillas, batter, pancakes and so on). Frustrated restaurant employees would be barraged with inquiries about bacon being in their split pea soup or lard being used on the grill. Savvy waiters and waitresses would ad lib answers to naive church families unfamiliar with the hustle and bustle in public kitchens.
On the day of Atonement members were required to perform a complete fast for 24 hours. For most, this was tolerable but it became a
supreme test of faith for diabetics, hypoglycemics, the elderly and some children.
Threats were often issued upon members for every imagined infraction of the Old Testament rules by vigilant ministers. And if a member being corrected for ambiguous sins could not be found guilty of anything specific, there was always the accusation of being in a "bad attitude." Authority conscious ministers claimed that the Holy Spirit gave them special powers. These ministers were often perceived of by members as having a Christ-like ability to read the hearts and minds of those they counseled.
When one became sick one was required to ask a minister for anointing and prayer rather than visit a doctor's office. If a member ended up in the hospital, he or she was judged to be weak in faith. Many hundreds died early in life ridden with the guilt that their faith in God and Armstrong was not sufficient to save them. There were even accounts of children who were refused medical attention by misguided parents. One church member, who had lost two children because of refusing medical attention for them, later realized what he had done and had to be talked out of murdering Armstrong by Ambassador College graduate John Trechak.
The practice of spiritual authoritarianism, just like any other abusiveness, made those who joined the church easy prey to those who wielded the authority. Ministers saw themselves as spiritual military officers. Some were known to show up unexpectedly at member's homes, put on white gloves, and inspect for dust above the cabinets. Personal boundaries were not allowed to members in those early years. Later everyone would acknowledge that the whole church had grown out of control. But the church's ministry would never really know who to blame for this behavior because they were not allowed to point accusations inward or upward in the organization.
More incredible was that many of the ministers who would eagerly lambaste members for their sins were frequently discovered to posses mistresses in the flock or be found to be chronic alcoholics. If these men were ever chastised by Armstrong, it is not common knowledge.
Children were often forbidden inoculations for diseases. Medication was deemed destructive to faith. Doctors were claimed to have their ancient beginnings in pagan cultures. The serpent draped on the cross that came to symbolize the medical practice was the mark that a deceitful Satan had placed upon their profession. If one became sick, healing would come only upon those who were faithful to God and were anointed by the Worldwide Church of God ministry. Although many had claimed to be healed through faith, there were also many early deaths and years of suffering among many church members and their children.
Herbert Armstrong liked the control that his doctrines placed upon his followers. Fear was the common denominator for their beliefs. Why would parents abandon their children or refuse medical aid unless made to fear great imaginary consequences? Yet, over the years many saw Armstrong break every single one of these rules (or laws as he liked to call them). His daughter claimed that he took her out dancing on Friday nights; he was seen eating unclean meat by his staff; he was caught having coffee on the day of Atonement once; he maintained an on-call doctor or nurse and took medication; he was inoculated; he violated the tithe by maintaining an expensive private art collection, private jet, three luxurious mansions, private chauffeur and limousines; he observed the birthdays of his relatives; and was dogged by rumors of illicit sexual escapades--(rumors he admitted were true to close associates and in court testimony during his divorce to his second wife).
This was the behind-the-scenes reality of the institution that broadcast about a peace-filled "World Tomorrow" on both the radio and television in many countries. Armstrong's first objective was to get listeners on a mailing list for the Plain Truth magazine and literature that offered proof-texted biblical answers about every conceivable subject. For example, an article had been cleverly written by Herman Hoeh (circa 1950's) to explain how the American Indians were the ancient Canaanites; another article by Rod Meredith was unabashedly entitled "The Plain Truth About Queer Men"; another by Herbert Armstrong was entitled "Who Is The Beast?" and claimed to solve the ancient riddle of what the number 666 really meant. These titillating articles were designed to string the reader along until he was clued into the idea that he was required to donate to "the work." Later it would crystalize in his mind that there was a church behind "the work" and that it was God's only true church. This was perceived to be a grand revelation, a divine calling to participate.
For someone to have become a member of the Radio Church of God (later renamed the Worldwide Church of God) they had to figure out, on their own, the necessary protocol. There were no buildings in any towns that were strictly used for church services. Unmarked rented halls (usually Masonic temples) were used for their meetings. Phone books had no listed addresses or phone numbers of church pastors or church offices. This had to be because of their church administration's long-held fear of public ridicule and persecution. Pasadena was the only source for information about membership.
To become a member one had to write or phone Pasadena and solicit a visit from a minister. This would result in two well-dressed and neatly groomed men inviting themselves into the solicitor's home. A series of counseling sessions would then follow until these ministers
felt they were dealing with a good "PM" (prospective member). An invitation would then be granted.
In Pasadena the PM would be monitored by a highly sophisticated computer system. Confidential counseling sessions would be relayed to Pasadena to be entered into his personal file. Letters sent could be microfilmed with the originals passed on to his local ministry. This "spy" network was deemed necessary for the protection of "the church" and could be used against the PM, if necessary. Every penny of contribution would be recorded and if the contribution level dropped drastically, the donor's status would be tagged.
One of the designers of Armstrong's computerized spy system was Mike Hollman. Hollman had worked on the early space program for NASA and later abandoned his career to manage the Ambassador College data processing center. Hollman became disillusioned when he was personally asked by Armstrong to do a computer check on the contributions of some specific church members and then on the following Sabbath heard Armstrong tell the congregation that he had never practiced such tactics. Knowing first hand that his boss had been willing to lie to the membership, Hollman began to investigate the organization further which resulted in his resignation from his job and the church.
In the mid-sixties Armstrong realized that his church had become well established in several foreign countries so he changed the name of the Radio Church of God to the Worldwide Church of God.
As a prospective member began to be drawn into the organization, he was usually over-awed by the notion that he had been called by God to discover the descendant of the original New Testament church. This could only be compared to falling in love. When someone falls in love, reason is often abandoned in place of the desire for a new meaning and purpose to be found in life. In ignorance, it is easy to overlook that the question, "Why was I born?" has been pondered by every other human being on earth at some point in conscious awareness, and in particular every known philospher since Socrates (who claimed that the unexamined life is not worth living).
Armstrong offered two solutions for the survivalist mind. The first was the promise that spiritual conversion was only possible through baptism and membership in his organization. The second was that God offered physical protection from tribulation to those who were loyal to his one true church and its apostle.
When a prospective member was invited to attend, he discovered that church services were held in private rented halls, such as Masonic temples. Upon arriving at the hall the PM would notice that he was surrounded by people who had no physical appearance of being special. (In fact, many seemed to suffer from low self-esteem.) There seemed to be an uncanny fraternity among the people but they seldom spoke to each other about spiritual issues, deferring religious matters to the ministry. Vying for recognition, the men of the church preoccupied themselves with the cacophonous shuffling and meticulous aligning of metal folding chairs with all the scrupulousness of an archeological unearthing until told to take their seats for church services.
On his first visit, the PM would be approached several times by people who simply wanted to know why he was there. Of course these deacons had already been alerted that the PM was to arrive. They were just required to make sure that he was the one. No stranger was ever allowed to enter the building without prior invitation by the ministry and every church was required to have an outer guard of church-appointed "security men" and an inner guard of church deacons to protect the group from dissidents and outsiders.
John Kiesz told me that he and his wife once tried to fellowship on the Sabbath with the Worldwide Church of God brethren in St. Louis in the 60's. The elderly couple were immediately met at the door by several imposing deacons who wanted to know what their business was there. He introduced himself as a close personal friend of Herbert Armstrong's and a member of the Church of God, Seventh Day. He and his wife were barred entrance. Kiesz apologized for causing them any trouble and departed.
This is not the only Church of God, Seventh Day member who told me this type of story. Israel Hager told me of a similar experience that he had. Hager is also a prominent and well respected minister with the Church of God, Seventh Day.
Ken Lawson is one of three brothers who are Church of God, Seventh Day ministers. Their fourth brother, Don, is a minister in the Worldwide. Ken told me, "Years ago my brothers and I could not even visit Don unless he got permission from his superiors in advance."
Such was the closed-door policy of the group always on guard against non-members. Even if they did have spiritual truth, they were not willing to suffer persecution for it and so they remained guarded and fearful of outsiders who might discover the real church behind "The World Tomorrow" radio broadcast and the Plain Truth magazine. Both were facades used to lure outsiders. Both never revealed the extent of the Old Covenant restrictions required of the group. Instead, church literature offered prophetic proclamations and "keys to success." It became evident to a small number of people, lured into the church, that they were misled by an old advertising ploy known as "bait and switch."
Occasionally Worldwide Church of God members and ministers would reflect upon their past extreme behavior, yet justify such actions based upon their belief that they were the one and only true church--the end would justify the means. This is the vortex reasoning that I mentioned earlier in the book. If church leaders were caught in sin, Bibles could be cracked open to reveal that king David and other patriarchs had sinned also. Ministers could shut their Bibles at that point; nothing more had to be said.
One might wonder why the Worldwide Church of God had developed such a collective persecution complex. Had they absorbed the guilt of their founder?
The Armstrongs built the church into a powerful worldwide religious empire, eventually controlling three liberal arts colleges in Pasadena, California; Big Sandy, Texas; and Bricket Wood, England. Congregations began to be established all over the earth.
Despite Armstrong's success in building his empire, years of proclaiming that physical ailments were the direct result of sinning set the church up for another disappointment. In 1967 Herbert's first wife Loma became ill. She had refused medical attention when diagnosed with an intestinal impaction. The church fasted and prayed for God's intervention and healing. However, her condition did not improve and she soon passed away; perhaps Herbert's conscience may have passed away with her.
Inside what Kiesz called Armstrong's "own organization," anti-Armstrong views began crystallizing as early as 1962, with men such as Earnest Martin attempting to explain serious doctrinal errors to Armstrong. Martin was then the head of the Ambassador College theology department in Bricket Wood, England.
Although he desired to be loyal, Martin clearly displayed a keener ability toward scriptural exegesis. He tried respectfully to point out to Armstrong that he had made a semantic misinterpretation of the English words "from the morrow" in Leviticus 23:15 and this resulted in a calculation error in the way the church was determining the date for the Feast of Pentecost. In short, Herbert Armstrong had been clumsy with the very doctrines that he had claimed gave him the spiritual edge over the Church of God, Seventh Day. The best source for the interpretation of the Old Testament canon should have been obvious. The chief Rabbis had preserved the scriptures in Hebrew for centuries; they had also authoritatively calculated the holy days. Armstrong read the King James translation and arrogantly felt that his interpretations were the most authoritative.
The paranoid Armstrong soon perceived his subordinate as a threat. Maybe the ghosts of his past were now coming back to haunt him. Armstrong chose to ignore Martin. After 10 years of persisting and being ignored, Dr. Martin resigned his position in 1972. This sent shock waves through the church and the ministry. Seeds of discord were now sown among Armstrong's ministers who were well aware of Martin's credibility and Armstrong's stubbornness.
As the 70's approached, Armstrong's weakness for making prophetic blunders were also about to come crashing in upon him. He had earlier gone so far as to pinpoint the exact date for the return of Christ in booklets such as, The Wonderful World Tomorrow, What It Will Be Like and 1975 In Prophecy. The latter booklet had been prolifically illustrated, by ex-Mad Magazine artist (and church member) Basil Wolverton, with displays of eyeless corpses rotting in the debris of bombed buildings, tidal waves larger than skyscrapers, and emaciated starvation victims trying to grub for food. The vast majority of Armstrong's tithe-paying membership had become members as a result of being scared by such predictions.
But now that it appeared that such prophecies might fail, a new thrust needed to be emphasized. In 1969 this happened when the German office of the Plain Truth magazine was contacted by the throneless king of Belgium--Leopold III. Leopold had abdicated his throne after World War II because he had been a Nazi sympathizer. He had a love for nature photography and was contacting magazines that might want to use some of his safari photos.
Armstrong was ecstatic. He sought the opportunity to use the king as a liaison to arrange meetings for him with other heads of state. One thing led to another until Armstrong was portrayed to the church as the modern apostle Paul who was travelling the globe "preaching the gospel" to royalty about the soon-coming millennium.
He lectured men like Anwar Sadat, saying patronizingly, "Allah's way was a way of giving." Sadat was cordial and accepted expensive gifts, such as Steuben crystal, from Armstrong. Armstrong was happy because he got to associate with royalty and be seen as a man of destiny to his followers.
When he addressed the Rotary Club in Athens, Greece, he proclaimed, as he had done on other occasions, that a great European combine of 10 nations was about to unite and dominate the world. Was this Armstrong's primordial fear of Adolph Hitler rising up again? Or was it the same misguided self-confidence that had led William Miller, Ellen G. White, G. G. Rupert, and Andrew Dugger?
His preaching and prophesying to heads of state can be seen as his third attempt to make himself a biblical prophet. The first was during his predictions of World War II and his claiming that it was the great tribulation of the book of Revelation. And his second attempt was in trying to predict the return of Christ by 1975.
To add to his other woes in 1972, there was the slipping credibility of his son Garner Ted, who was now being accused by the ministry of being involved in immoral conduct. 1972 was hoped to be the year that the church was to flee into hiding in Petra, Jordan just before the great tribulation. Instead it was the beginning of the unraveling of the Armstrong organization.
1972 came and went without incident, but like the Millerites, Herbert's followers looked for a deeper meaning to their beliefs. This was basically transferred to the idea that the church itself was not yet ready and that God had postponed the tribulation until the "bride" could become without spot and wrinkle. Now the church had to work harder.
But in reality, it was not the church that had been spotted and wrinkled, it was the Armstrongs and their ministry. Recognizing this culpability led many to walk out of the Worldwide Church of God door for good at this time. The following is an excerpt from Paul Benware's Ambassadors of Armstrongism describing the events of this time. Of course, the members were kept in the dark about why turmoil was occurring in 1975 and had to rely on their apostle's explanation of events.
It has been the pattern in the past for a cult to experience some splinter movements at the death of its founder. History has shown that while one main body may remain, several other groups will form also. In the case of the Worldwide Church of God this fragmentation has begun before the death of its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA). Towards the end of 1973, dissension of major proportions exploded within this church. The shock waves will be felt for years, perhaps triggering further explosions.
The revolt against the Armstrongs by some of the leaders within the Worldwide Church came as a result of certain specific charges leveled against the two Armstrongs. First, it was charged that Garner Ted Armstrong (GTA) had been engaging in "profoundly immoral activities" over a period of years. The dissident leaders further accused HWA and other high ranking leaders of concealing and covering up the alleged adultery of GTA (Los Angeles Times, February 24, 1974). The alleged adulterous conduct of the younger Armstrong is said to be the main reason for disfellowshipping him early in 1972. GTA was later declared to be repentant and restored four months later to his former positions. HWA soon after appointed him as the "anointed heir." But it was claimed by some that GTA still had his "problem" (Chicago Sun Times, May 31, 1974)...
The open revolt against the Armstrongs was not a sudden thing. Internal strife had been present since early 1972. However, open division occurred in November, 1973 with the resignations of important Worldwide Church leaders. Six ministers had resigned by February of 1974. The defection of Alfred Carrozzo, once director of ministers for the western half of the United States, shook the movement. The revolt seemed ready to engulf the entire church as the six ministers prepared an angry twelve page letter for the information of the membership of the Worldwide Church of God. Sunday, February 24th, HWA cut short a visit to the Philippines and hurried home to stem the tide. Monday, the 25th, GTA announced the suspension of twenty ministers. He also announced that the sabbath services of March 2nd were cancelled and the day was set aside for fasting and prayer. The next sabbath (March 9th) was declared a day of solemn assembly. Tuesday, the 26th, David Antion, a church vice president, issued a statement that denied he was in harmony with the dissident ministers. However, he, also with another vice president, Albert Portune, submitted their resignations the next day and the revolt seemed to be spreading rapidly (they later retracted their resignations and took a two month leave of absence). On this same Wednesday, HWA spoke to some 2,000 members at Pasadena. Taking a hard line attitude, he called the defection a work of Satan. However, the next week (March 8, 1974) a new group was formed by thirty-five former ministers of the Worldwide Church. This splinter group took the name of Associated Churches of God. This group which was formed in Washington, D.C. was estimated to have between 2,000 and 2,500 former members of the Worldwide Church. These had obtained their goal of liberation from the Armstrongs. (Benware, 153-155)
Of course as time progressed Antion and Portune and many others in high-ranking positions did leave the Worldwide Church of God. John Kiesz's early perception was indeed happening. Kiesz had wondered how long it would take for Armstrong's followers to question his doctrines as Armstrong had questioned the leadership of the Church of God, Seventh Day. Armstrong was now being treated the way he had treated his superiors in the church he had rebelled against.
One such dissident evangelist was Richard Plache. Plache also was forced to resign because he began to see the light on doctrinal errors concerning the interpretation of the New Covenant. It appeared that a clearer understanding of the New Covenant destroyed the tenets of Armstrong's beliefs altogether. This enlightenment came to many as time went on; when they turned to show their understanding to the church, they were met with censorship and disfellowshiped. But, eventually several evangelists, protesting Armstrong's stubborn lack of grace began to put together a doctrinal package that they subversively enforced upon the lower ranking field ministry (and therefore the entire membership) without the apostle's approval. This coup was an attempt to lead the church away from its hard-line fundamentalist stance and was called the Systematic Theology Project--STP for short.
In 1975 a group of Ambassador College alumni decided to expose the inner corruption of the Worldwide Church of God. In 1976 they published the Ambassador Review magazine later becoming the Ambassador Report. Finally, one particular member of the group, John Trechak, would continue to monitor the activities of Armstrong's church. There has been so much controversy and scandal inside the organization that Trechak still publishes the Report to this day.
Trechak and his associates went deeply into debt with the optimistic belief that they could expose the sins of the Armstrong organization to an unwary membership. Later he would warn others not to follow in his footsteps. The church had teams of lawyers and millions of dollars to use to protect its first amendment right to freedom of religion. It was just too futile. (Those who would like to research the Worldwide Church of God in detail may purchase back issues of the Ambassador Report by writing to P. O. Box 60068, Pasadena, California 91106.)
Ted, having been restored to his evangelist status after returning from his 1972 disfelowshiping, proceeded to change his weekly telecast to a daily one in 1973. Requiring three contrary directors and an uncooperative committee of writers and producers who competed for Ted's attention resulted in a fiasco. Ted's focus was eventually drawn back to his playboy antics, excusing his frequent disappearances from the television studio to "deer hunting trips" in Colorado. The abandoned production crew in Pasadena callously joked, during his absence, that he was actually hunting the two-legged variety.
On April 17, 1977, the eighty four year old Herbert Armstrong married his second wife, Ramona Martin. Still in her thirties, Ramona had worked for Stanley Rader and later began to travel with the Armstrong party. This led to a romance between her and Herbert. The romance was viewed by many in Armstrong's staff, as well as Garner Ted, as a cunning power play by Rader and his ex-staff member Ramona. The love-struck Herbert would not listen to his subordinates. Reluctantly, Ted performed the marriage ceremony and the newlyweds soon took up residence in Tucson, Arizona.
Finally, Herbert Armstrong's veil began to wear thin as problems persisted between his heir apparent and conservative ministers. After dramatically ousting his son and other "liberals" from the church in 1978, Armstrong proclaimed that he was going to put the church "back on the track" once and for all and remove the "blemishes from the bride" to prepare it for the soon coming World Tomorrow. Old recordings of Herbet's were taken out of the archives and substituted for Ted's more professional broadcast. Not to be thwarted, it wasn't long before Ted was back on the air with the financial backing of Worldwide Church of God defectors and sympathizers to his cause. Ted began a competing church in Tyler, Texas dubbed the Church of God International.
Dissension grew, yet Herbert Armstrong held on tightly to the reins of the church. Once he discovered that a coup had been under way to lead his church into the Protestant mainstream, he redubbed the STP the "Satanic Theology Project." He used the "Satan is attacking us" technique to close the ranks of his Christian soldiers. They had been drilled to respond to such a call from their leader from the beginning of his ministry. To them, this was the battle cry to prepare for flight to the place of safety. Like Perseus, who could not look upon the face of Medussa without being turned to stone, members sought to avoid the allure of Satan to question Armstrong's ministry and therefore miss out on their secret flight to Petra. Fear that they might fall prey to Satan's master deception (counterfeit Christianity) and lose out on their salvation, if they weren't loyal enough to Armstrong, was drawn from the subconscious level. Years of sermons laced with paranoid delusions served Armstrong's purposes very well. Few questions were dared asked by the members.
For about a decade Armstrong had stressed to his church that he was the end-time apostle being used by God to preach the final warning to the entire world. This he appeared to be accomplishing by pumping millions of dollars into the pockets of world leaders under the auspices of an organization that he and his unbaptized attorney/advisor Stanley Rader called the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation. As Armstrong himself admitted, he created the organization because he found it somewhat embarrassing to confront dignitaries as a minister of Christ and preferred to be seen as a great benefactor instead.
The church had been told that when Herbert Armstrong had witnessed to all world leaders, Christ would return and establish the Kingdom of God on earth. But what about the church itself? While the members were being pacified with references to the place of safety, they were otherwise being neglected.
Armstrong's closest companion for many years had been his shadowy "unconverted" legal counsel, Stanley Rader. Not only did this begin to look suspicious to many lay members, Armstrong's leading evangelists were now feeling that Rader had blocked every access to their boss. This they resented but felt unable to remedy. Worries about the aging Armstrong leaving the reins of the church in the hands of an unconverted Jewish accountant were more than they could bear. This led to yet another schism.
In 1975 Armstrong baptized Stanley Rader in the bathtub of a Hong Kong hotel room and proclaimed him a member. And in 1981 he was declared to be an evangelist of the church--although Rader had never once given a sermon and seemed very unfamiliar with church doctrines.
A member of the church in New Jersey by the name of John Tuit had gotten involved in serving in his local church and discovered that, although the annual income of the Worldwide Church of God was nearly 70 million dollars per year, no money was allotted to local congregations for the instruction of the children. This led him to question his superiors about church expenditures.
Later his personal investigation uncovered many questionable practices by Rader and Armstrong. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were being funnelled through Rader's pet investments such as Quest Magazine, his own travel agency, private trips to the orient, and many thousands of dollars were secretly passed to a man with possible criminal connections in Japan, Osamu Gotoh. Church income was also diverted to Rader's and Armstrong's private treasuries of fine wines, oil paintings, home furnishings, silver, gold, secret bank accounts and so on. It was also discovered that some extortion of funds had taken place by others in the organization and used to finance private business ventures.
Being a businessman, Tuit felt that the church should be above board and fully accountable to shareholders (tithe payers). Tuit's attorneys felt that they had so much evidence against Armstrong and Rader that they alerted the State Attorney General's office in California. This led them to take legal action which resulted in a widely publicized trial early in 1979.
In spite of the tremendous evidence against Armstrong and Rader of misuse of funds, the uphill battle proved too much for Tuit's attorneys and the State of California when it came to a church's Constitutional freedom.
They were pitted against the legal team of an extremely well-financed organization not willing to examine its own wrongdoings. If church members were not complaining of Armstrong's behavior, what could the Attorney General do? Shrewdly, Rader had managed to convince members that the church itself was being wrongfully persecuted and that their Constitutional rights were being violated. Angry members went to the forefront to protect their apostle and his loyal assistant.
How did the Worldwide ministry subtly control its membership? Gerald Waterhouse, in a typical 1979 sermon in Fresno, California exhibited the phobia implantation technique practiced on members for decades. This is a partial transcript of his sermon:
Now He says because we hold fast to what He set up through the apostle; verse 9, He's gonna make the rest of the world, starting with the so-called Christians come up and bow down and worship at our feet and acknowledge God loved us. So they learn from us.
Now to get us ready, He says in verse 10, we're gonna be taken to a place of safety; so the program Christ has raised up through us cannot be stopped. Otherwise, when the great tribulation comes that would stop God's work, His apostle and His people; except He says I'll protect because what I'm doing through you is toward the World Tomorrow so I have to get it there.
Consequently, I'm gonna protect you through the tribulation so you continue to live. And I pioneer you over into the World Tomorrow and through you introduce that to the nations that are brought into the land of Palestine and are ready to be taught.
Then verse 11, He says, "Behold I come quickly, better hold fast to what you have." Why? Because Christ is preparing through the messenger, the apostle, the Zerubbabel, the Elijah; the way through a team. And He says hold fast to what you have.
Christ is preparing through Mr. Armstrong, so you must hold fast to the messenger because its Christ preparing through him and you can only be right as long as your in step with Jesus Christ and His preparing through the messenger.
I don't care if...if anyone who's ever left this work has had ten billion excuses. God would never choose them over Jesus Christ. Any one who thinks God would choose them over Jesus Christ ought to be swinging from a limb down in Africa holding by his tail. If you think God would choose someone in preference to His Son; now His Son is preparing for His coming THROUGH A MESSENGER!...
And then later, in describing that those who rebel against the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong wouldn't get to go to the place of safety, he provided this prophetic carrot/stick scenario:
And then they can't argue and justify rebellion at all. Then they have to go in the tribulation and lose their heads on the guillotines the first two or three weeks: Because they either worship the Beast or lose salvation or lose their heads and testify against him. So when they can no longer argue; they're close to God, most of them I think will repent and say, "God forgive me and give me the help to testify to what your doing to Mr. Armstrong and the Philadelphian era."
Then they go in the tribulation and they testify against the devil, the Pope, the Beast, and the United States of Europe. And God makes sure He gets His message in there. He couldn't get it in there by radio waves because the Beast and the False Prophet, until a little bit later, the Beast and False Prophet will control propaganda and only let the Europeans hear what they want them to hear.
So God's gonna have this set up to bring others to repentance so when we leave, then they go into captivity they've got the power of God's spirit and they stand up and say, "We don't believe in your Pope. We don't believe in your Beast. And we don't believe in your United States of Europe. And we don't believe that this is of God it's of the devil!
On the other hand we believe that the true Jesus Christ is witnessing through Mr. Herbert Armstrong in Jerusalem and he has a team under him that believe in the word of God and He's going to bring peace about through that system in the World Tomorrow and it has not begun in Europe as you claim.
Then when they go to the guillotine and die on the guillotine that will prove they believe in what they're saying. 'Cause you can't prove anymore substantially, that you believe in something, then if you give your head for it. You ever notice; your head is the last thing you can give. So don't wait to try to give something to God after you lost your head. You must always keep your head. Always remember that. If you expect to do something, keep your head until you've done it. So God makes them give their heads to prove they really mean business and that sets up a counter witness to the Devil through the Pope.
By this time the world had been made keenly aware of religious cults. (In 1978 Jim Jones had inspired more than 900 of his followers to kill themselves after murdering U. S. representative Leo J. Ryan of California in a "place of safety" called Jonestown in Guyana. This was the worst display of cult mind control ever witnessed in modern Christianity.) By tolerating sermons like the one above, cult-like behavior was clearly being displayed by Worldwiders who felt that no matter what the evidence was against Armstrong, the end justified his means.
For many years writers and theologians, such as the late Walter Martin of the Christian Research Institute, had been trying to warn society against the potential hazards of religious cults. One of Martin's chief targets was the Worldwide Church of God in his book Kingdom of the Cults.
Knowing that his church was referred to as a cult, Armstrong was still undaunted. "Brainwashing...Yes! God's people are brainwashed. Their brains are washed clean of Satan's world!" he bellowed.
A long questionable history was now beginning to stack up against Herbert Armstrong himself. But the great majority of church members still hid their eyes because of induced fears.
The final attack came on the now elderly and ailing Armstrong, during his divorce from wife Ramona in 1982. Evidence came forth from the trial that should have destroyed Armstrong's reputation permanently.
Years earlier Herbert had justified the disfellowshipping of his son, Garner Ted, to the congregation by claiming that Ted had stood over his father in a rage and shouted, "I could destroy you, Dad!" The members were led to believe that Ted's confidence in his popularity with the church had led him to make this arrogant threat against his father.
In the trial the truth came out. Armstrong had only partially quoted his son's statement to his congregation. For years Stanley Rader had been driving a wedge between Herbert Armstrong and his son, Ted.
By the time Ted knew what had been happening it was too late. Because of Rader's manipulation, Herbert had grown frightened of his son's power in the church and had cut him off from the organization. In a bitter rage to convince his father that he was being manipulated by Stanley Rader, Ted surprised his father by revealing something to him that Herbert must have felt Ted had no knowledge of. "I could destroy you, Dad!" he cried out. He revealed at that time to his father that he knew his dark secret. Ted's sister Dorothy confided in her brother that her father had forced her to have sexual intercourse with him for a ten year period until she left home and got married. This had been Armstrong's biggest and darkest secret.
Ted had been deeply hurt upon discovering what his father had done to his sister. Later Ted confided in fellow minister David Robinson who authored the book, Herbert Armstrong's Tangled Web. After hearing of the incest from Ted, Robinson confronted Herbert at his Tucson home about the issue. In the presence of Henry Cornwall, Stanley Rader and David Robinson, Armstrong admitted openly that he had committed the incest during ten of the early years that he had been founding his radio ministry. Although he was not ashamed to confess this before these three men, he did not want his wife Ramona to know about his dark secret. Robinson told me, later, that Herbert had strictly ordered his staff to prevent his wife from getting a copy of the book and learning of the incest. But in spite of his attempts, Ramona Armstrong was passed a copy by her sister and had already read it before Armstrong had received his own copy. Robinson and Garner Ted were personally disfellowshipped by Herbert.
After his divorce from Ramona, Armstrong moved back to Pasadena from Tucson, a broken man. He began to give the same cryptic sermon over and over again. No one had ever attempted to interpret it. He talked about the "original sin" of Adam and Eve and what that meant for mankind. He always centered the theme of the sermon on the two trees in Eden and their symbolic meaning.
He completed his last book, Mystery of the Ages, in 1985. He felt that Mystery of the Ages was his crowning achievement in life and would be his legacy of restored truths to the world.
Around the fall of 1985, Herbert Armstrong returned from one of his many travels complaining of flu-like symptoms. He had disbursed his final book Mystery of the Ages to all the membership at the Feast of Tabernacles. His ministers, of course, praised it as his greatest achievement in life, encapsulating all of his life's personal revelations from God.
On his death bed, Armstrong was still paranoid. Years prior to his death he had appointed a council of the church's leading elders. One of the council's main tasks was to choose a successor to Armstrong upon his death. As he lay slowly growing weaker, he decided that he would choose his own successor and force the council to approve.
One of the men that he thought of was church evangelist and treasurer, Leroy Neff.
Then he realized that the young minister Aaron Dean had been one of his most loyal and devoted assistants. Armstrong had chosen Dean as a traveling companion after ousting Stanley Rader. Dean had begged Armstrong to choose someone else for the job but Armstrong was never to be denied.
Armstrong could conjure up a horrific anger at a moment's notice. On occasion, Armstrong had been known to fly into fiery rages and lash out at Dean before the entire congregation. Knowing Armstrong's eccentricity, Dean shrugged the abuse off as part of his job. Maybe on his deathbed, Armstrong felt a twinge of remorse and decided to reward Dean.
Another minister, Joseph Tkach, had grown in popularity over the years and appeared to be fanatically supportive of Armstrong's policies. He was a product of the church in every way. Among members he was virtually unknown. Armstrong was soon convinced that he would choose Joseph Tkach to succeed him. Tkach had been a low-ranking minister in Pasadena until 1979. It is said that he exposed a plot to Herbert Armstrong convincing him that Ramona, Armstrong's second wife, and his assistant Stanley Rader were making inroads to take over the control of the church. Armstrong was convinced that his two closest companions were traitors when a taped conversation was produced by Tkach of the two plotting behind Armstrong's back. This resulted in Armstrong's divorce from Ramona and the ousting of Rader. It is not clear what other reasons Armstrong would have had for bestowing his 200 million dollar per year empire upon Tkach. But it is also unclear why Rader was not disfellowshipped or defrocked from the Worldwide Church of God or how the shrewd Rader was seemingly outwitted by the likes of Joe Tkach.
In June 1985, as if he had had a premonition that his "commission" was near its end, Armstrong wrote a final documentation about church history in the Worldwide News (the church newspaper) entitled "RECENT HISTORY OF THE PHILADELPHIA ERA OF THE WORLDWIDE CHURCH OF GOD."
In his last article he still maintained all of his doctrines as truth delivered to him from God. He maintained that his church was God's one true church and sternly warned against the infiltration of, what he called, "Protestantism." Would his successor be true to his memory?
Strangely, Joseph Tkach will choose not to. At first this was accepted as a healthy move toward orthodoxy on his part. Tkach shelved many of Armstrong's publications, never to be circulated by the church again. Among them was Mystery of the Ages. What became even more curious was that Tkach chose later to confess to certain members of his ministry that Armstrong had plagiarized the doctrine of British-Israelism and that the church was no longer to teach it. Why he chose not to inform the membership added to the dissonance of the group. Although Armstrong founded the Worldwide Church of God and dubbed it the "Philadelphian era," his teachings would all begin to fall by the wayside with no accurate explanation being given to his followers.
What had Armstrong accomplished in his 50-year maverick ministry if his followers could so easily abandon his "truths?" Apparently little more than the creation of a fear-based religion that left many without answers after his death. The church soon became adrift and confused. Without Armstrong, like Humpty Dumpty sitting on the wall of his doctrines, all of his horses and all of his men might never be able to put his personal ministry back together again.
As I had stated earlier, by the time of Herbert Armstrong's death, many people had been influenced by the organization he founded. A variety of accounts are available in several books, television and radio reports, magazine articles and publications. None of them tell of abundant living, blessings and happiness being produced by acceptance of Armstrong's doctrines and the domination of his ministers. How could such a plethera of witnesses be ignored by those who still remained confident in Armstrong's authority? The Worldwide Church of God had never produced sufficient fruit to back up its promises, yet many members convinced of their need to display loyalty, in spite of the church's fraudulence, would cling on.
No one is exempt from the clutches of any cult. Many intelligent and capable people were led to believe that the Worldwide Church of God could show mankind the way to peace. (Among those caught in the vortex of Armstrong's logic and control were one movie star and one world class chess champion, both later resigning from the group.)
Among the many stories relayed to me by members and former members of the Worldwide Church of God, the following one is among the strangest. Whether it has any relevance or not I am not sure but I decided to leave it in for the novelty of it.
In January 1986 a Seventh-Day Adventist nurse was routinely doing her work at Martin Luther King General/Drew Medical Center hospital in Los Angeles. Attached to the main hospital is Augusta Hawkins Psychiatric Hospital. Many psychotic patients were admitted to these hospital wards during this time. On this day there was an unusually hysterical patient screaming in torment down the hallway from the nurse's station. One nurse there became so intimidated by the man's screaming that she avoided walking into the man's room, in spite of the fact that he had been restrained to his bed and drugged.
To his attending nurse he looked up and shouted, "I am going to go down under!" When the nurse asked him, "Where's down under?" he shouted back, "I am Herbert W. Armstrong and I am going to go to hell!" Two days later, the nurses discovered that Herbert W. Armstrong had indeed died in his Pasadena home. The nurse, who had been too intimidated to go into the man's room, had once been a member of the Worldwide Church of God.
Many doctrinal revisions have been made within the Worldwide Church of God since 1986. Most, Armstrong would never have approved of. Old-timers are aware of this, yet are unsure how they should react. Since Armstrong's death, definite moves have been made toward what he called "Protestantism." Members are aware that Armstrong taught against these things yet remain helpless to question the authority of the church. What does this all mean?
The effectiveness of a doctrine does not come from its meaning but from its certitude. No doctrine however profound and sublime will be effective unless it is presented as the embodiment of the one and only truth. It must be the one word from which all things are and all things speak. Crude absurdities, trivial nonsense and sublime truths are equally potent in readying people for self-sacrifice if they are accepted as the sole, eternal truth. (The True Believer, Eric Hoffer, p. 76)
The final analysis is that it doesn't matter what the church teaches as long as the members are convinced that they are in God's one true church. History does not bear out this claim to apostolic succession in any way for any organization.
As Steve Hassan pointed out in his book, Combatting Cult Mind Control, the fear of ever leaving the "true church" becomes so great that members of abusive religions are held captive against their own wills. Hassan refers to this as an implanted phobia that opens a person's mind up to brain washing and control.
After the death of its founder, the direction taken by Armstrong's successor would prove to be critical to the growth of the institution. Would it continue to maintain the spirit of Millerism or would it abandon its claim that the Roman Catholic Church is the Great Whore, Babylon of the book of Revelation.
If it chooses the latter, would it not become what it had always condemned, by its own definition, a harlot daughter of Babylon? Trapped by their fabled history and condemned by their predecessors, to correct their past paradigms, the leaders of the Worldwide Church of God turn to Protestants for help after their founder's death.
Go to the "Painful Truth" page.