One of the accusations against Mr. Armstrong is that he was a false prophet who made predictions about the future that failed.
But Mr. Armstrong could not have been a false prophet because he was never a prophet at all, and he never claimed to be.
Mr. Armstrong taught, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible, believe God."
God gives examples in the Bible of how He communicated with His prophets. God spoke to Samuel with an audible voice, and the first time this happened, Samuel thought he was hearing the voice of a man calling him (1 Samuel 3:1-19). Christ spoke to Moses face to face (Exodus 33:11). Others experienced dreams or visions in which God spoke to them (Genesis 28:10-15, Ezekiel 1:1-3, 2:1-5, Daniel 10:1-14). Perhaps others received direct revelation from God in other ways.
But these things did not happen to Mr. Armstrong. He didn't learn the truth from God in this way. Instead, he learned the truth from the Bible, just as we should do.
Mr. Armstrong learned the doctrines he taught from the Bible, not by direct revelation from God as the prophets did. He was not a prophet.
Did God open his mind to understand the Bible? Yes. But God also opens our minds to understand the Bible. We learn the truth from the Bible as he did, by studying the Bible and being willing to believe what God says in the Bible. We should learn the truth that way and put our faith in God and His word, not Mr. Armstrong.
Did God teach us the truth through Mr. Armstrong or the Bible? The answer is, both.
For anyone to receive the truth in this age, God must open his or her mind to understand spiritual truth, or Satan will deceive that person. Only those called by God, drawn by God to Christ, can truly come to Him.
"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44). "And the disciples came and said to Him, 'Why do You speak to them in parables?' He answered and said to them, 'Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand' " (Matthew 13:10-13).
"But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).
The rest of the world is blinded by Satan and cannot truly receive the truth and be converted at this time. "So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (Revelation 12:9). "But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them" (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
God opens our minds, those of us called by God, to be able to understand the Bible. That does not make us prophets. God also opened Mr. Armstrong's mind to understand the Bible. What is the difference between how God opened Mr. Armstrong's mind to understand and how He opens our minds? The difference is degree, not kind. God gave Mr. Armstrong spiritual gifts for the work he was to do. God gave him wisdom and understanding in learning new doctrines in the Bible without a man to guide him. I do not have that gift to the same degree and neither do most of you, I would think. I would not have learned the true doctrines just by studying the Bible alone without the teaching of Mr. Armstrong to help me find the scriptures that apply to each doctrine.
But God does give us enough help to understand the scriptures for each doctrine as we study the Bible so we can prove the doctrines Mr. Armstrong taught.
So when I was studying whether or not man has an immortal soul, I read what Mr. Armstrong taught about it, and that is how I found the scriptures about that subject. I studied the scriptures, plus other scriptures I found, and God opened my mind to understand those scriptures, and I made the choice to believe God. In that way I was able to prove from the Bible that man does not have an immortal soul.
But opening our minds to understand the Bible does not make me, or you, or Mr. Armstrong a prophet.
Mr. Armstrong stated that he was not a prophet in the sense that God communicated truth to him directly and separately from the Bible. Whatever he taught from the Bible, we could see for ourselves in our own Bibles.
Mr. Armstrong never claimed to be a prophet in the sense of one to whom God speaks specially and directly, revealing personally a future event to happen or new truth, or new and special instruction direct from God, separate from and apart from what is contained in the Bible.
An account of Nathan the prophet can illustrate the difference between a man of God speaking his own opinion and a man of God delivering a prophetic message from God in his office as a prophet. Study the account in 1 Chronicles 17:1-15.
When Mr. Armstrong speaks of his own opinion, even if he makes a dogmatic statement about doctrine or about future events, he is like Nathan telling David to go ahead and build the temple. But if Mr. Armstrong was a prophet, God would give him direct messages as he gave to Nathan when he told him that David was not to build the temple. Has God ever given Mr. Armstrong such a direct message about doctrine or prophetic events? No. Therefore Mr. Armstrong was never a prophet. Did Mr. Armstrong ever claim that he received a special message from God by a vision, a dream, a voice, or a face-to-face meeting with God? No. Therefore he never claimed to be a prophet.
Mr. Armstrong sometimes made mistakes when he estimated how soon prophetic events would occur. But he never claimed to receive any message from God setting dates. Otherwise, why would he say he is not a prophet if he thought or claimed that God was giving him messages? Why would he say, don't believe me, believe your Bible?
Mr. Armstrong made mistakes in estimating how soon prophetic events would occur. He was wrong in many cases when he said in his writings that something would happen "in ten to fifteen years" or something like that. He made other mistakes too. As he has pointed out, he learned the doctrines of the Church little-by-little over a long period of time, and he had to correct his mistakes.
But you could always tell in reading his literature what he was teaching from the Bible and what was his human opinion and estimate. If you followed the FIRST PRINCIPLE of his teaching, don't believe me, believe the Bible, you would not be confused and could not be deceived.
When Mr. Armstrong taught, he gave his reasons, mostly from the scriptures, and if he said something that he did not prove from the Bible, then it is understood that it was his opinion, which could be mistaken. You could tell in his writings what was opinion and what was doctrine proved from scripture.
For example, I remember the front pages of Mr. Armstrong's book, The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy, saying something like this, "...events sure to happen in the next 10 to 15 years..." or something similar. I don't remember the exact number of years, but the copyright of the book was in the 1960s I think, or some date that made the statement turn out not to be true.
But those statements were not backed up with scripture in the rest of the book. That is how I knew they were Mr. Armstrong's opinion.
I remember that some of the dates the literature either stated or implied were wrong. But Mr. Armstrong never said that God gave him any message about exact dates. The literature proved the doctrines from the Bible. Anything not backed up by scripture was understood to be opinion. That is the way I understood it. So when I saw the front of the United States in prophecy book say these events were sure to happen in a certain number of years, all I had to do was read the book, look up all the scriptures, and remember that Mr. Armstrong said, don't believe me, believe the Bible. When I did that, I saw that no scripture set any exact date, nor did Mr. Armstrong say in the book that any scripture set any exact dates. From that, it was easy to see that the statement in the front of the book about x number of years was just opinion.
I had no trouble understanding from the literature I read what was doctrine from the Bible and what was human opinion.
Yet, Mr. Armstrong did make mistakes in his teaching, especially in estimating how long it would be until end-time events occurred. How should we react to that? How should we think about it? What lessons can we learn from his mistakes?
Should we judge Mr. Armstrong harshly because of these errors? Was Mr. Armstrong deliberately understating the time remaining till the tribulation? Or was he sincere? Was he careless in his conclusions?
Should Mr. Armstrong have been more careful? Yes, he should have been more careful. But the fact that he made these mistakes does not make him a false prophet.
Before we judge Mr. Armstrong for his errors, we should remind ourselves what Christ said about judging. "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you" (Matthew 7:1-2). None of us would like to be called a false teacher for the mistakes we make in the things we say or teach. And we all make mistakes.
If you see that Mr. Armstrong made a mistake, be merciful, as you want God to be merciful to you. Give him the benefit of the doubt. Cut him some slack, as they say. Just count it as an honest mistake that he made, and believe what the Bible really says.
Did God reject Nathan because he spoke incorrectly for God the first time when he told David it was all right for him to build the temple? No, because later God used him as a prophet to rebuke David for David's sin in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. And neither should we reject Mr. Armstrong as a teacher or lose respect for the office he held because he made human mistakes.
Even true prophets can make mistakes, even when they think they are speaking for God, if they speak from their own opinion rather than deliver a direct message from God, but we do not call them false teachers. When David spoke to Nathan the prophet about his desire to build a temple, he evidently wanted Nathan's view or he wanted God's view that Nathan, as a prophet, would give him. Nathan said, sure, go ahead, build a temple. Not maybe, but definitely, yes, do what is in your heart. That is pretty definite. Yet Nathan was wrong. It was not a message from God, but only Nathan's opinion. Evidently Nathan thought he knew God well enough to speak for him without a special message directly from God, but he was wrong, because that night God spoke DIRECTLY to Nathan and corrected him and gave him the message that David was NOT to build the temple (1 Chronicles 17:1-4, 2 Samuel 7:1-17).
Now, if Nathan, who really was God's prophet, could make an honest mistake speaking for God, trying to represent God, how much more can Mr. Armstrong, who never claimed to be a prophet, make honest mistakes? And as God did not rebuke or criticize Nathan for his mistake but merely corrected his mistake, neither should we criticize Mr. Armstrong or lose respect for him as a teacher because he made mistakes. And as I mentioned before, God later used Nathan to rebuke David in the matter of Uriah. So God did not reject him as prophet because he made a mistake, and neither should we reject Mr. Armstrong as a teacher, only we need to check up what he teaches in the Bible and put the Bible first.
Some have accused Mr. Armstrong of deliberately making false statements. But we cannot read his mind to know if he was sincere or not. Only God can do that.
When Mr. Armstrong wrote that certain prophetic events would happen in x number of years, and they didn't happen, he was wrong. But why did he say it? What was he thinking? That is something you or I can't answer. Did he believe himself these things would happen in x number of years? If he did, he was just making a mistake, but he was sincere. But if he did not believe it himself, then he was not telling the truth. Which is it? I do not know. Christ does, and it is none of my business anyway.
Have some people been deceived by the dates Mr. Armstrong implied or stated for end time events to occur? Not if they did what Mr. Armstrong said, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible." Not if they believed and obeyed what God said in the Bible to "prove all things" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
It is impossible for Mr. Armstrong to deceive someone about doctrine or prophecy if that person proves what he believes from the Bible.
If Mr. Armstrong taught in a book or booklet from the Bible that certain events were prophesied to occur, and if he seemed to set dates in the cover or text, anyone could look up the scriptures and see he was not saying, from scripture, that these things would happen by a particular date. Anyone who practiced what Mr. Armstrong said, "Don't believe me, believe the Bible", could see that, yes, the Bible shows that these things will happen, but the Bible does not say they will happened by a particular date. Anyone could see that such dates were the human estimates of Mr. Armstrong not proved by scripture.
The only ones who would be deceived by Mr. Armstrong saying that such-and-such event would happen by a certain date would be those who did not do what he said when he said, "Don't believe me, believe what you see in your Bible." I looked up the scriptures, I saw that Mr. Armstrong's dates were just his human estimates, so I was not deceived, nor was I offended when events showed that his estimates were wrong.
I suspect that many people who believed these dates and were later offended with Mr. Armstrong when things didn't happen by these dates, and then claimed to be deceived by him, were never checking their Bibles and believing their Bibles in the first place.
The key is to do what Mr. Armstrong said, don't believe him but believe the Bible, don't believe doctrine because he taught it, but check up in the Bible and believe whatever the Bible says. If he teaches from the Bible, look up every verse as well as other verses you can find, and if the Bible supports Mr. Armstrong's doctrine, then you know the doctrine is true, but if the Bible shows that Mr. Armstrong's doctrine, on any point, is wrong, then believe the Bible, not Mr. Armstrong. And if he adds statements about dates that he does not prove from scripture, you can know those dates are just his estimates. No one who follows that process can be deceived by Mr. Armstrong, or anyone else for that matter.
Truth is truth, no matter what the character is of the person who teaches it.
I am glad I took the time to prove doctrine from the Bible and did not assume that Mr. Armstrong was teaching the truth. I liked Mr. Armstrong, but I forced myself to be skeptical. I did not trust his word without proving it from the Bible, and when I proved things I really crossed every "T" and dotted every "I".
I am a witness, for what it is worth. I checked up. His doctrines generally are true, and if any major doctrine he taught is false, I haven't found it yet, though I have looked.
These are some of the truths I have proved for myself from the Bible, trusting and believing only the Bible, not Mr. Armstrong:
1) The Bible is God speaking.
2) The United States and other English-speaking nations are part of Israel, of the tribes of Joseph, and the coming tribulation will fall upon us.
3) God is not a trinity. The Holy Spirit is the power of God, not a person.
4) Man does not have an immortal soul, but the dead are asleep and unconscious in the grave, and the wicked will be destroyed in the lake of fire and will cease to exist forever.
5) God is calling and saving only a few now.
6) Christ will return soon to set up the Kingdom of God ruling the nations on the earth.
7) Baptism is by immersion in water after we are grown up and have repented.
8) God's Sabbath is the seventh day, from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, and is still in force for the Church.
9) The annual feast and holy days should be kept and help to teach the plan of God.
And many other doctrines.
Prove the truth from the Bible, if you have not done so. Use Mr. Armstrong's writings or the writings of the Church of God fellowship you attend as a help, but put your trust and faith in the Bible alone, and believe what God tells you in the Bible.
Then nothing any man does or says will be able to shake your faith in the truth.
Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:
Why this Subject Is Important, Chapter 1
Proving that God Exists, Chapter 1
How I Researched these Truths, Chapter 1
Our Attitude and Approach Towards God's Word, Chapter 1
How to Understand the Bible, Chapter 1