Herbert W. Armstrong began his career as a traveling salesman. While doing this work, he happened to come in contact with a splinter group of the Seventh-day Adventists. For a while he spoke as an Adventist evangelist, and demonstrated great success. However, he came to believe some things that caused him to split with the Adventists and form his own organization.
Armstrong saw himself as specifically called of God to restore the true church to the earth, which had been lost for 1900 years. His background in sales served him well as a self-proclaimed prophet. He began to broadcast his beliefs on radio, once again with great success. He attracted thousands of followers in the western United States. Working through his radio ministry, correspondence Bible courses, and a slick magazine called The Plain Truth, Armstrong’s movement grew. He formed his own church, initially called the Radio Church of God. Later this was changed to the Worldwide Church of God (WCOG).
Early in his ministry his wife had made a great discovery—in order to be saved a person had to observe all of the commandments of God. This included not only the Ten Commandments, but observance of the Sabbath, Levitical dietary laws, and commemoration of the Jewish festivals. Armstrong accepted his wife’s discovery as a revelation from God. He also developed a very distinctive theology. He rejected the Trinity, as well as the personality and divinity of the Holy Spirit. In place of belief in the Trinity, he developed a unique view of God. In the Hebrew Bible God is most often referred to as Elohim, a plural term for the Deity. Christian theologians generally believe that the plural nature of this word points to the Trinity. Armstrong rejected this. Instead, he asserted that it refers to the fact that there are multiple persons in the Godhead. That God is actually a divine family. Right now there are only two persons in the God Family, the Father and the Son. However, all true Christians (read: Those who follow Armstrong) will be born again as members of the God Family. This occurs after death, in the bodily resurrection. So eventually the Godhead (Elohim) will have a multitude of family members.
Salvation for the followers of Armstrong consists of membership in his church, and following the commandments of God as taught by the church. This included not only the injunctions of the Mosaic law, but attendance at WCOG festivals, supporting the Church financially, and obedience to the prophet of God—H.W. Armstrong. Believers must also fully obey the commands of the New Testament; for example, one must be baptized to be saved. Since the new birth only occurs at the resurrection of the righteous, then no one is assured of salvation until after this life. Right now, you must obey and follow God and the true church. However, there is still some hope for those outside the church. They will be given a chance after the general resurrection to choose to obey and follow God’s commandments.
For Armstrong the greatest example of obedience to God’s law was Jesus Christ. Jesus was the Word of God who came to earth in human flesh, including a sinful nature. However, from birth Jesus fully obeyed the laws and commands of God. He set us an example that we too can truly obey God’s laws. Armstrong taught that when Jesus rose from the dead he was resurrected as a born-again Son of God. Jesus is actually the only person who is truly saved at this time.
Armstrong also believed in British-Israelism. This is an odd teaching that the lost ten tribes of Israel are not really lost. They were exiled from Palestine and wandered the earth. Eventually they settled in Europe as the Anglo-Saxon people. Proof of this is supposedly found in linguistics. For example, the Saxons are actually “Isaac’s Sons.” According to Armstrong, the ruler of the U.K. now sits on the throne of David. Also, England corresponds to the biblical tribe of Ephraim, while the U.S.A. is Manasseh. Of course, this means that if you are of English descent then you are part of the chosen race of God.
Armstrong died in 1986. After his death one of the most amazing occurrences in church history happened. Joseph W. Tkach, the new leader of the WCOG, announced that the Church was rejecting the doctrines of H. W. Armstrong that were inconsistent with orthodox Christianity. Under his leadership this pseudo-Christian cult literally transformed itself into an evangelical church. However, this was not without controversy. There were quite a few members of the church who saw Tkach’s actions as heretical. They broke away from the WCOG and formed a number of church organizations dedicated to preserving the original teachings of Armstrong. These groups include the Philadelphia Church of God, the United Church of God, the Intercontinental Church of God, the Living Church of God, the Restored Church of God, and others. Through television, magazines and correspondence courses the false gospel of Armstrong is still being promoted.
Summary of Beliefs
God: There is one God, who exists as a divine family. True Christians can become part of this God family. The Holy Spirit is not a person. The idea of the Trinity is pagan.
Jesus: They believe that Jesus is the second Person of the God Family. He was born again and saved through perfect obedience to the Law and by his resurrection from the dead.
Salvation: They believe in salvation through grace, but this grace is only available to those who obey all of the commands of God. Salvation is a process that is completed only with the new birth at the resurrection of the just.
Human nature: There is no immortal soul. When we die, we cease to exist.
Afterlife: At death, the soul “sleeps.” At the resurrection, true believers are born again as spiritual members of the God family. Unbelievers will be annihilated.
Scripture: The Bible is authoritative, but only as interpreted by Herbert W. Armstrong, or one of the leaders of the various Armstrong churches..
Truth: Absolute and Bible-based, but as interpreted by the church.