Should we be concerned about Mr. Armstrong's alleged personal faults in his life that enemies of the Church of God accuse him of?
This is a continuation of my December 12, 2012 post, "Let's Not Focus on Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong - Part 1".
From time to time, hostile critics of the Church of God and its doctrines make personal accusations against Mr. Armstrong. They do not necessarily attack and refute the doctrines he taught from the Bible. Instead, they accuse Mr. Armstrong personally. They say he sinned by violating biblical principles in one way or another.
Sometimes I receive emails from Church of God members who have heard or read of these accusations and are worried about them.
I did not know Mr. Armstrong personally, and I have no first hand information about any evidence that any of these accusations are true. I am not an eye witness to anything Mr. Armstrong did, except that I have read his writings and listened to his speaking.
I sense enough of a hostile attitude on the part of Mr. Armstrong's accusers that I am inclined to regard anything they say about him as totally untrustworthy and unreliable.
But in any case, should I care if Mr. Armstrong did anything wrong? Is it any of my business? Should I take time to investigate?
If I followed Mr. Armstrong's advice, don't believe me - believe the Bible, then I have already proved the doctrines I believe from the Bible. If that is the case (it is), why should I care now if Mr. Armstrong did something wrong?
What would be my motive for wanting to know? Morbid curiosity? It won't affect my faith in God, or the Bible, or the doctrines I have proved from the Bible, so why would I be interested? For the sake of gossip? To feed my vanity, to feel superior to Mr. Armstrong in some way, or to distract myself from my own sins?
Did not God inspire Paul to warn against comparing ourselves with ourselves (2 Corinthians 10:12)? Did not Christ warn against judging others (Matthew 7:1-5)?
If I wanted to learn about Mr. Armstrong's supposed sins, I could not rely on hearsay evidence or gossip, especially from those biased against Mr. Armstrong. Even the courts of this world have enough common sense not to allow hearsay evidence in a trial. In order to know if Mr. Armstrong did something wrong, I would want some strong, firsthand, solid evidence and verification. I could not rely on gossip, or "somebody told me that somebody told him that he read on the Internet that a minister who knew Mr. Armstrong said he saw Mr. Armstrong do such-and-such, so I know it is a fact...". I would have to seek out and interview reliable witnesses first hand. I would have to see original documents, if they related to the charge, not copies or descriptions of documents. I would have to hold a proper court. I would have to make careful and diligent inquiry (Deuteronomy 19:15-18, Deuteronomy 17:6).
But do I have any business judging Mr. Armstrong? Where does it say in the Bible that I have been given that job? Would I serve on a jury if I was assigned jury duty? Would I not ask for exemption based on my religious beliefs that Christ said, "judge not" (Matthew 7:1-5)? What a hypocrite I would be if I refused jury duty, yet set myself up to judge if Mr. Armstrong was guilty in one thing or another that his accusers charge him with! What he did or did not do is absolutely none of my business. Christ will judge him. I only need to check up his doctrines in the Bible and believe the Bible. And I need to respect the office he has held and obey the biblical command, "esteem them highly", referring to the ministry (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). That's kind of hard to do if I am looking for his faults.
Someone took an inheritance issue to Christ to resolve, but Jesus said, "who made me a judge over you?" (Luke 12:13-14). Should I not follow Christ's example? Who made me a judge of Mr. Armstrong? I will judge his doctrines, because I have to, but I don't have to judge the man himself. Christ will do that.
I know from Mr. Armstrong's teachings and from the history of the Church that God has used him in a VERY powerful way. Mr. Armstrong has borne a lot of good fruit that far outweighs anything bad he might have done (Matthew 7:15-20). Even if he were an unrighteous sinner, I am a witness that he taught the Bible more accurately and preached the true gospel more effectively than anyone else in his time. And I do not believe he was an unrighteous sinner.
Of course he was not perfect. I don't know his faults, but God does. But the Bible shows that many servants of God had serious faults, and yet that did not prevent God from using them for His work.
Did Mr. Armstrong ever commit adultery with another man's wife, then have that man killed to cover it up, then marry his widow? I don't think so, but David did. Did he frequent whore houses? I don't think so, but Samson did, and Samson is listed in the faith chapter of Hebrews. Did he ever tell someone his wife was his sister because he didn't trust God to protect him from those who might want his wife? Abraham did that, and Isaac too.
How many times did David, a man after God's heart, tell a lie? I already mentioned the half-truth Abraham told about Sarah being his sister instead of his wife. But look at David. When he first fled from Saul, he told the priest, "I am on the king's business", but he wasn't. The priest gave him food and a sword, then later Saul killed the priest for it. David later admitted he caused the death of God's priest (1 Samuel 20:28-42, 21:1-9, 22:6-22). Then David fled and lived with the Philistines for a while. His men and he would go out raiding various cities and villages, some of which may have been allied with the Philistines, killing all the men and women so no one would be alive to tell on him, then go back to the Philistine ruler and say, "we went raiding the cities of Judah today", or something like that (1 Samuel 27:1-12).
I often think of the account of Gideon. Gideon did a great work with a few people (though it was God who did the work through Gideon). After Gideon saved Israel, the people asked him to rule over them. Then Gideon said, I will not rule over you but the LORD will rule over you. That was the right thing to say. So far, so good.
But then Gideon asked the people to give him their gold and he made an idol, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his house (Judges 8:22-27). Yet Gideon apparently will be in the kingdom, if I read Hebrews right (Hebrews 11:32-34, 39-40).
How many times in the Old Testament did servants of God swear? Yet, Jesus taught us, do not swear at all (Matthew 5:33-37).
Need I continue?
The thing about David lying has bothered me. Doesn't God care if we lie? God doesn't even mention David's lies as a sin! I have faced embarrassment and have risked my job by refusing to lie. But I look at the example of Christ, and not once did Jesus lie, not even a little bit.
My conclusion? We are all imperfect, but God uses us and works with us anyway. Christ set the perfect example, and we must follow Him. Yes, David should not have lied, but God forgave him for it.
And I don't doubt the Psalms David wrote because David had faults.
It is a deadly trap for any one of us to compare ourselves with others in the Church or to judge others if we don't have to judge them to make a decision. We end up thinking too well of ourselves when we look at the faults of others in comparison. "...But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise" (2 Corinthians 10:12). Judging others is a sure recipe for becoming Laodicean.
If I am a business owner and I need to hire someone and a Church member comes to me for a job, should I judge him? Yes, because I have to judge if he will be a good worker. If I am single and I am considering marrying a woman in the Church, should I judge her? Yes. I have to make a decision, is she converted? Are we compatible? If I am trying to decide where I should send my tithes or what Church of God to attend Sabbath services with, should I judge which Churches of God and which leaders or ministers are doing a good job and following Christ? Yes, because I have to know what name to write on the check and where to go for services. God has given me certain responsibilities to make decisions, and sometimes I have to judge someone to make a decision. But if not, should I just judge someone when I don't have to? I better not. I have a full time job judging myself to see my sins.
Here is the problem. If I judge another person, I am sure to judge that person more unfavorably than I would judge myself, because that is human nature. If I focus on somebody else, I can't help but compare myself with that person. I tend not to understand the faults of others, while at the same time I tend to excuse my own faults more than I should. And I never have all the facts about someone else. I never know what it is like to be that person twenty-four hours a day. When I compare myself with someone else, I am using the wrong yardstick. I should compare myself with Christ. If I compare myself with Christ, I have a better chance of seeing my faults. But if I compare myself with another Church member, I won't look so bad. Which is a pretty good recipe for thinking I am spiritually "rich and increased with goods" and I won't know I am poor, blind, and naked (Revelation 3:17).
Do you or I have a reason to judge Mr. Armstrong? Only his doctrines, and I can judge that by studying my Bible. I don't have to judge his behavior, so I will try not to. Maybe I can look at the history of how he has administrated the Church during his life, and I might look at and evaluate his mistakes in the sense of understanding how Christ is working with the Church, or in the sense of learning lessons that can be applied today, but I do not want to judge him personally as far as how he "measures up". I will just give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he did the best he could and leave it at that.
Doctrine, that is, the good fruits of truth (by their fruits you will know them - Matthew 7:15-20, Isaiah 8:20), is the best way to judge among groups that have different doctrines (Church of God, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, etc.). But among groups that have the same doctrine, growth can be an indicator, not the only one, of which group God is working through most effectively. So first I judge by doctrine. The Church of God teaches the right doctrines from the Bible overall, not perfectly, but better than Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons or any other religion. Next, among the Churches of God, I still look at doctrine, because there are differences, but I also look at growth to see where God is working and who is doing the best job. But doctrine is more important than growth.
Now, in saying I have no right or good reason to judge Mr. Armstrong, I am not saying I think any of allegations against him have any truth in them. I am only saying that even if they might be true, I have no right or reason to try to investigate in order to judge Mr. Armstrong's personal character because it won't affect my doctrinal beliefs I have proved in the Bible. But in my opinion, Mr. Armstrong probably is not guilty of any of the sins of which he is accused.
I certainly do not trust the accounts of third parties about any accusations of wrong-doing against Mr. Armstrong, people who in many cases may have hated his guts, though they might not admit that. To me, their "testimony" is worthless, and worse than worthless.
We must not judge the truth of the Bible by the character of God's servants who preach that truth. We judge the truth by the Bible and by trusting God who inspired the Bible, that God is truthful and His word is true. We should never let the imperfections or the supposed imperfections of God's servants shake our faith in God Himself, or in His word, the Bible.
I believe what I believe not because I trust Mr. Armstrong, that he was righteous, but because I trust God and the Bible and I have proved the major truths of the doctrines of the Church of God in the Bible. I have proved that the United States and Britain are part of Israel. I have proved that man does not have an immortal soul. I have proved that we must keep the weekly Sabbath and holy days. I have proved that God is not a trinity. I have proved that God is reproducing Himself in mankind. Etc., etc.
Here is something to think about.
Who is the worst man in the Bible, the worst example?
It has to be Judas. Or, maybe the beast and the false prophet. God says plainly that the beast and false prophet will go into the lake of fire. But of men who have lived and died in the past, Judas is the only one of whom God says, he would have been better off never born (as far as I have found in the Bible). Sounds like he won't be in the Kingdom.
Yet, Judas preached the truth. He, along with the eleven, preached the gospel, healed the sick, and cast out demons. He probably baptized. He didn't seem different than the other apostles. That is why the disciples had to ask Jesus who would betray Him (Matthew 26:20-25, Mark 14:17-21, John 13:21-26).
Now, imagine you were one of the 120 disciples on the Day of Pentecost, and you had learned the true gospel from Judas personally. Suppose Judas preached to you, helped you, taught you the truth, and patiently answered your questions about the kingdom of God. Maybe you were healed of a horrible disease by the laying on of hands by Judas (Matthew 10:1-8).
Maybe you were crippled in your feet and couldn't walk, and Judas laid hands on you and said, "In the name of Jesus Christ, be healed and walk," and you were healed, and with joy you jumped up on your feet and embraced Judas and thanked him, and with a warm smile on his face he said, "See what God has done for you in the name of Jesus Christ - give God the glory and thanks," and then he taught you about the good news of the Kingdom, and when you believed and repented, he baptized you in the name of Christ, by Christ's authority (John 4:1-3).
Then later you learned that Jesus said that Judas would be better off if he had never been born and that Judas killed himself.
Would you doubt the gospel? Would you seek to be re-baptized by someone else?
Well, if you reacted the correct way, you would not doubt the gospel, not seek to be re-baptized, but realize that God used an imperfect human instrument, a piece of clay so to speak, to teach you the gospel, which is the truth that saves you. Your gratitude and loyalty would be towards Christ, who commissioned Judas and gave him the power to do good works, not towards Judas himself. You might have sorrow about Judas and his fate, but your faith in God and in what God did through Judas would not be shaken.
God uses many people as instruments to do His work, and He empowered them to do His work effectively. But each individual God uses this way will be judged for his personal faith and obedience to God's law, not just how powerfully God has used him to do good works. Some won't make it. "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!' " (Matthew 7:22-23).
What about Solomon? He is not listed in the faith chapter in Hebrews. That doesn't mean he won't be saved, because Hebrews doesn't list everyone who will make it into the Kingdom, but when you read the account of Solomon's whole life, it does not seem to have a happy ending. Yet God inspired Solomon and used him to write Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and much or most of Proverbs, books of the Bible that are infallibly true, because God inspired them (2 Timothy 3:16-17, John 10:35). There is no guarantee Solomon will be in the Kingdom - he seriously sinned, as the Bible makes clear (1 Kings 11:1-13), but we don't doubt the books God inspired him to write.
Now, Mr. Armstrong's writings are not like Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. Mr. Armstrong's writings contain errors. God did not make him infallible. They are not the Bible. But my point is that the faults of a man do not nullify or invalidate the righteous works God does using that man as an instrument.
So I have the assurance that, regardless of any false accusations made against Mr. Armstrong by his enemies, I do not need to be discouraged or troubled about the doctrines I have proved from the Bible, the work God has done through Mr. Armstrong, or the work that must still be done by all of us in the Church today (God has put a heavy responsibility on our shoulders, to warn the world, and we are accountable to God for how we fulfill our responsibility).
If anything discourages me, it will more likely be my own personal faults, problems, and sins, which God knows about. That can discourage me, not anything Mr. Armstrong has done.
If you are one you has been troubled or confused by accusations against Mr. Armstrong, my suggestion is, don't put your trust in those who accuse Mr. Armstrong of anything. Read his literature, look up the scriptures, prove the doctrines for yourself one way or another, and don't believe Mr. Armstrong, believe the Bible, as he said, "don't believe me, believe your Bible, believe God."
If you have never proved the major doctrines of the Church in the Bible, I encourage you to do so. Once you have done that, your faith will be in God and His word, not in Mr. Armstrong or in any man. Then nothing bad you learn or hear about Mr. Armstrong or any other minister in the Church will shake your faith in the truth because your faith will be in God and the Bible, not in any minister or in the Church.
But love and respect the ministry and the Church, realizing we are all human and make mistakes, and we should have compassion and mercy on each other as we want God to have mercy on us.
To be continued...
Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:
When and How to Judge, Chapter 5
Why this Subject Is Important, Chapter 1
Our Attitude and Approach Towards God's Word, Chapter 1
How to Understand the Bible, Chapter 1
The Source of Our Beliefs, Chapter 6