Herbert W. Armstrong, Fallible or Infallible?
For several years I have said the key to coming out of the mass confusion that grips God's people today is to understand who Herbert W. Armstrong was. His legitimacy as a bona fide servant of God has a bearing on our own legitimacy as Christians, since it is irrefutable that God called us through the writings and sermons of this man.
Today it seems, Mr. Armstrong is viewed either as too flawed and therefore lacking in Godly inspiration, or conversely as infallible and incapable of error.
Neither of these views is correct. Mr. Armstrong was a true servant of God, but like everyone of God's servants, he was fallible and he did make mistakes!
The Bible frequently recounts the sins and weaknesses of its heroes and their doctrinal misapprehensions at certain points in their lives. Should we consider the apostle Paul as no servant of God, as uninspired, because he thought and taught that Christ would return in his lifetime? Peter was similarly confused on this point. How should we view Peter who was openly criticized by Paul for being hypocritical in his dealings with the Gentiles when Jews of the Pharisee sect were present? Peter was wrong, yet Christ promised that after His Second Coming, Peter would rule one of the tribes of Israel. Consider David. He will rule over all twelve tribes in the millennium, and although described as a man after God's own heart, he had some serious lapses involving adultery and murder. Obviously, both Peter and David repented of their sins and are to rule with Christ. Nevertheless, while human, both at times displayed serious short comings.
Why is it that we can read and believe these Biblical accounts of indiscretions perpetrated by well-known servants of God, but can't accept such possibilities in people we have come in contact with, such as Herbert Armstrong? Isn't this unrealistic?
Perhaps those who regard Mr. Armstrong as flawed use this as an excuse to turn their backs on teachings they at one time should have proved to be Biblical, but now find inconvenient! Tithing is an example of this, so is refusing to be shepherded by an ordained ministry. Remember, Paul a minister of Jesus Christ said, “Prove all things” and “Follow me as I follow Christ.”
Conversely, those who unrealistically view Mr. Armstrong as infallible ignore the Biblical reality that “there is none righteous, no, not one!” Even after conversion we all sin. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:8-9). Perhaps their viewpoint is based on insecurity? Are they afraid that if they admit Mr. Armstrong made mistakes, they won't be able to rely on anything he said? Such doubts and fears essentially mean that rather than actually proving the doctrines for themselves, they instead put their reliance on Mr. Armstrong, even though he frequently said, “Don't believe me, believe your Bible.”
So how should we regard Herbert Armstrong? When I first came in contact with God's Church, back in the winter of 1966, I thought Sunday was the correct Christian day of worship. I believed that I'd either go to heaven or hell when I died. I was told that God's law no longer applied to Christians. I didn't know about the Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, or the other holy days. I didn't know why I was born. I didn't understand the importance of tithing, or what the true gospel of Jesus Christ was. I had no idea that Christ's government was to be established on this earth, and was to last one thousand years. I was totally ignorant of these things and so were most of you! I didn't know I was called to qualify for rulership with Christ. Did you?
We all learned these truths through the teaching of Herbert W. Armstrong, so God had to reveal them to him first. Certainly no other minister on this planet was teaching them. On this foundation of truth, Mr. Armstrong was able to take (in the latter part of the twentieth century) the good news of Christ's coming kingdom to the whole world.
This was the work of the Philadelphia era of God's Church. This was the commission God gave to Mr. Armstrong and he completed his commission. According to Matthew 24:14, only after the True Gospel has gone to the world can the end come.
Friends, the Philadelphia era is now over and we are living in the final lukewarm Laodicean era, the era to which Christ comes. He is knocking at the door. Are you ready? The confused won't be. They will be taken by surprise when the tribulation strikes. You need to ask yourself, “Do I realize the time I'm living in?” Do I really understand time is running out fast? Am I ready?
I have absolutely no problem admitting that Mr. Armstrong was a man who made mistakes. In my view, this in no way diminishes him as a true servant of God. Why? Because he did not make mistakes that undermined the specific commission God gave to him. Lost truths were restored; the true gospel was correctly defined and was proclaimed throughout the entire world as a witness, not as an agent for converting the world as some seem to be saying today!
Mr. Armstrong made the usual interpersonal errors that all human beings make, for which he had to repent. He also made mistakes when he projected beyond what God had revealed specifically for the Philadelphia era; for example, when he stated just before his death that the 144,000 of Revelation 7 were the members of the “. . . Worldwide Church of God and their unbaptized children.” God only reveals knowledge to His servants on a need to know basis. Today we understand that the 144,000 pictured in Revelation 7, are a repentant remnant of physical Israel and the 144,000 of Revelation 14, are the entire Firstfruits, called over the last six thousand years to rule with Christ. (For a fuller explanation of these two diverse groups please write to the address below).
You see, to properly appraise Herbert W. Armstrong, you have to view him within the confines of his commission. A commission he successfully completed. When evaluating Mr. Armstrong we must ask, did he fulfill what God says in the Bible was required of the leader of the Philadelphia era? I believe the answer is yes. What do you think?
Those who regard him as uninspired and those who view him as infallible are living in a time warp (c. 1986). Neither faction can grow beyond what Mr. Armstrong taught up to his death in that year. Sadly, many have already lost or turned their backs on what they were supposed to have proved from their Bibles.
Mr. Armstrong has been dead since 1986, and as should be expected, those few who have honored him as God's servant, have grown in understanding of end-time events. This is critically important today. Christians must know the era and times they are living in.
Those who would debase Herbert Armstrong, slandering the dead, must bear the consequences of diminishing a true servant of Jesus Christ! Remember, what Christ said in John 12:26, “. . . if any man serve me, him will my father honor.” It would be very foolish to dishonor those God honors, don't you think?
Have you truly evaluated who Mr. Armstrong was, and based on your evaluation, are you prepared to stand before the judgment seat of Christ?
Robert J. Elliott
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