In the late 1960s and early 1970s my dad and I liked to watch a television program named “The World Tomorrow” hosted by Garner Ted Armstrong. The show was a production of the Worldwide Church of God. This church was actually started in 1931 as The Radio Church of God by Herbert W. Armstrong, Garner Ted’s father. The show talked about the future of the world according to Biblical prophecy. In 1972, Garner Ted and his father had a falling out, and the latter took over the broadcasts.
After joining the Church of Christ in 1980, I found myself attempting to understand other denominations and their teachings. At some point, I began ordering pamphlets on different topics written by Herbert W. Armstrong. They were all very intriguing. Armstrong was very good at explaining his position on Biblical issues in a structured and understandable manner. I also subscribed to their magazine “The Plain Truth”. My main takeaway from Armstrong’s teachings was that unless the New Testament specifically did away with a commandment in the Old Testament, it was still in effect. Thus, the day of worship was still to be the seventh day, the Sabbath, old covenant festivals were to still be celebrated, and so on. Animal sacrifices were nixed when Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice of his own life.
One day I was telling a friend and coworker named Jim, a devout Church of Christ member, about reading all of Armstrong’s literature. He said, “You don’t need to be giving your money to that organization.”
I responded, “I haven’t given them any money. All of their materials are free.”
Jim countered, “Now that’s really sneaky. Offering everything for free to entice you away from the Church.”
I wondered exactly how Armstrong was supposed to distribute his materials if charging for them was wrong and giving them away was also.
Anyway, I became so intrigued with Armstrong’s literature that I decided I wanted to talk to someone in his church. Unknown to me at the time, there was a local congregation that met in members’ homes. When I called the church’s main number listed in their literature, I was able to speak to a representative who arranged a meeting at my apartment.
When the date and time arrived, two men came knocking. If memory serves, one was a traveling preacher and the other was a leader in the local congregation. We had a good conversation about Bible doctrine and such. As our time drew to a close, I told them that I would like to visit their local church. I was informed that it was a closed service; only members were allowed to attend. I asked why.
One of the men said, “The Bible tells us we should be careful not to let false doctrine into the church, so we are careful about whom we allow to attend our services.”
I said, “You mean like it says in 2 John?”
The man responded, “Exactly.”
Of course I was referring to 2 John 1:7-11 where it says, “I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.”
Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? But, of course, you can prove just about anything by reading just a few verses in isolation. I understood this even when I was still a Christian.
Well, anyway, I wasn’t willing to play by what I now call the Pelosi Rule. You know, where I had to join the church in order to find out what was in it. So, that was both my first and last contact with the Worldwide Church of God.
Many people considered the Worldwide Church of God to be a cult because of the strong influence Herbert W. Armstrong held over the church. Interestingly, after Herbert W. Armstrong’s death in 1986, succeeding church administrations began reversing much of the “radical” teachings of Armstrong until they became more in line with mainstream evangelical Christians. This caused the church to splinter into a number of different groups. The remaining group renamed itself to Grace Communion International in 2009.
However, there is one splinter group that claims to be the true church in the Armstrong tradition. They are known as the Restored Church of God.
Interestingly, I found a Web site with an archive of all the literature Herbert W. Armstrong produced during his ministry. It’s located at http://www.herbert-armstrong.org/ . If you want to see what I was so intrigued by, you can find it there.