In my last two posts on this subject, I discussed the problem of people being offended with Mr. Armstrong or of their faith in God's truth being shaken because of mistakes they think he made or accusations against him that they hear.
In this post, I want to talk about the other ditch: making an idol out of Mr. Armstrong and viewing his writings as infallible, like the Bible.
Those whose faith in the truth is shaken by mistakes Mr. Armstrong has made or accusations they have heard against him and those who make an idol out of Mr. Armstrong and his writings, basing their beliefs and faith on his teaching, have this in common: both are failing to base their beliefs on faith in God's word, the Bible.
If they have been able to spend the time with the Bible to read the whole Bible and to become familiar with its teachings, and if they really believed the Bible, they will be able to know that servants of God, like Mr. Armstrong, can make mistakes in teaching, because that is what the Bible teaches. Of course, for those new in the truth, this can take some time as they study the Bible and grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18).
Some say that the Church today cannot change Mr. Armstrong's doctrines or learn new knowledge from the Bible because, they say, only an apostle can put doctrine into the Church, and since, they say, we have no living apostle today, no one has the authority to put new doctrine into the Church.
This is wrong logic on several counts.
True doctrine does come from apostles and prophets who wrote the Bible (Ephesians 2:19-22, 3:1-5). Peter, Paul, John, James, etc. have the authority to correct us in our doctrinal beliefs and teach us new doctrinal knowledge through their writings in the Bible.
But even if one says we need a living apostle to put new doctrine into the Church, it is wrong to say we have no living apostle today.
It is God who decides who is an apostle, not man.
One leader of a Church of God fellowship may claim the title, "apostle", and another may not. Yet it is God who decides. One man may claim to be an apostle, and God may not count him as an apostle. Another man may not claim the title, only saying he is an evangelist, yet in God's eyes he may be an apostle.
And since it is God who decides who is an apostle, how can we know we have no living apostles in the Church on earth today? God may count some man as an apostle that we do not yet think of as an apostle. God can even count a man as an apostle who does not know himself that he is an apostle.
I think Mr. Armstrong was an apostle and doing the work of an apostle from 1934 on, or maybe starting earlier. Yet, he apparently did not think of himself as an apostle till much later, maybe the early 1950s.
I heard from an evangelist who knew Mr. Armstrong well that the suggestion that Mr. Armstrong was an apostle first came from Dr. Herman Hoeh, and that Mr. Armstrong was at first not sure. This would place Mr. Armstrong thinking he was an apostle after the starting of Ambassador College, because Dr. Hoeh was not on the scene before then. So from at least 1934 to the late 1940s or early 1950s, about 15 years at least, Mr. Armstrong was an apostle doing the work of an apostle, yet without knowing he was an apostle, nor did those who heard him know he was an apostle. But that did not stop God from using him because those who heard him looked up the scriptures Mr. Armstrong used to prove the truth of what he taught, and they believed the Bible.
How many apostles did the Church of God have who were alive from 1934 to 1986? Some would say one, but we had at least two living apostles during that time, and one of them is still alive and acting as an apostle today, and that apostle has the authority to put new doctrine into the Church of God today and to correct existing doctrines.
As Mr. Armstrong taught doctrine to evangelists who worked for him, who in turn taught pastors who taught the brethren in congregations, so God's living apostle today can put new doctrine into the Church of God by teaching it to evangelists who in turn teach it to pastors who teach it to brethren.
Who is that living apostle in the Church of God today? Whether or not we have other living apostles (there are times in the history of the Church when the Church had more than one apostle, for example, the first century), there is one apostle who always lives. That is the living apostle I am talking about - Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is an apostle (Hebrews 3:1, Ephesians 2:19-20), and as an apostle he has the authority to put doctrine into the Church of God, through evangelists and pastors, just as Mr. Armstrong did. Thus, Jesus Christ has the authority to put new doctrine into the Church through Roderick Meredith, David Hulme, or any evangelist Christ might choose.
Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, as an apostle, never had more authority to put doctrine into the Church, using men like Mr. Meredith to write articles to explain doctrine, than Christ, as an apostle, has today. As Mr. Armstrong had authority to put doctrine into the Church and have Mr. Meredith explain that doctrine in sermons and articles, so Christ today has authority to put doctrine into the Church and have Mr. Meredith (or any man God may choose) explain it in sermons and articles, because Christ is every bit as much an apostle as Mr. Armstrong was, even more.
As Mr. Armstrong, as apostle, had the authority to correct his own mistakes in doctrine or change his own judgments, so Jesus Christ today, as the chief apostle, has the authority to correct Mr. Armstrong's doctrines or change his judgments. And just as Mr. Armstrong was able to teach new doctrines or judgments to the Church through evangelists, so Christ is able to teach new doctrines or judgments to the Church through the evangelists who lead organizations and Church of God fellowships.
An apostle can correct an apostle's doctrines. We know an apostle can correct an apostle's doctrine because Mr. Armstrong (an apostle) corrected Mr. Armstrong (an apostle). He corrected and changed his own doctrines, on Pentecost being a Sunday or Monday, on divorce and remarriage, and other things. If he can correct his own doctrines, then another apostle, an apostle living today, can correct Mr. Armstrong's doctrines.
Jesus Christ is our living apostle today, as always. Jesus Christ has the authority to correct Mr. Armstrong's doctrines.
How does Christ communicate such correction in doctrine to the Church? There is one difference between Mr. Armstrong's apostleship and Christ's apostleship as far as the way they communicate. Mr. Armstrong spoke (and wrote) to the Church verbally. We could hear his voice when he spoke to the Church in person or on recorded audio or video tape.
Jesus Christ does not communicate to the Church in words we can hear with the ear directly from Christ's mouth. But Christ communicates to the Church, in writing, through the Bible. He also communicates with us, as Mr. Armstrong did with the Church, through evangelists and pastors. Mr. Armstrong, for example, taught evangelists and pastors at Ambassador College so they would have the true doctrines to communicate to the Church. Likewise, Christ is able to teach evangelists and pastors today to give true doctrine to the Church. How? The same way He communicates with the membership, through the Bible and through the Holy Spirit which helps us understand the Bible.
So if Mr. Armstrong was wrong about a doctrine, Christ, as an apostle, has the authority to correct Mr. Armstrong's doctrine by communicating that correction to evangelists in the Church today by inspiring those evangelists to understand the Bible where the Bible shows that Mr. Armstrong was wrong.
So in matters of doctrine, what is the key? Suppose an evangelist says that a doctrine Mr. Armstrong taught is wrong and needs to be changed. Is the evangelist right or wrong? Obviously, if the doctrine Mr. Armstrong taught is true, then the evangelist is wrong and he should not contradict Mr. Armstrong about that doctrine. But if Mr. Armstrong did make a mistake and the doctrine he taught was wrong, then the evangelist is right to change it. If it is wrong and if Christ is inspiring the evangelist to understand, from the Bible, that it is wrong, then the evangelist HAS to obey Christ and correct the doctrine. And when I say evangelist, I am talking about men who lead Church of God fellowships today, like Mr. Meredith and Mr. Hulme, just using those men as examples, for there are probably many evangelists who lead Church of God fellowships I am not mentioning (I cannot try to name them all).
Think about this: If the authority for a servant of God on earth to put new doctrine into the Church depended on that servant holding the title of "apostle", wouldn't God put more exact criteria in the Bible for defining an "apostle"? But the Bible doesn't give an exact definition of the term. We see from examples in the Bible who is called an apostle and who is not called an apostle (Luke 6:12-13, Acts 14:14), but we do not see an exact definition we can apply today to know if a Church leader is an apostle in God's sight or not. Why? Because WE DON'T NEED TO KNOW. Christ is our living apostle, and he can put doctrine into the Church through evangelists in the Church.
So it doesn't matter if the administrative leader of a Church of God fellowship is, in God's eyes, an apostle, a prophet, a pastor general, a presiding evangelist, or just plain "pastor". If that man sees in the Bible that a doctrinal correction needs to be made, he should make the correction, teaching the membership new knowledge, and when he does that, assuming he is teaching accurately, it is God and Christ who are putting new knowledge into that fellowship because God inspired the Bible and through the Holy Spirit opened that leader's mind to see the new truth in the Bible. (I am talking about leaders of fellowships or organizations, leaders who report directly to Christ, not pastors serving congregations under the supervision of a human leader in a larger organization.)
How can a member, such as you or I, know if the correction is right or wrong? From the Bible. There is no other way. There are no shortcuts to Bible study. If an evangelist changes Mr. Armstrong's doctrine, he should give his biblical reasons for it. Then you and I can study the issue and determine the truth according to the Bible.
So the Bible is the key. Not Mystery of the Ages or anything Mr. Armstrong wrote. It can certainly be beneficial to study Mr. Armstrong's writings on any major issue as we have opportunity, but the real KEY, the PROOF, one way or another, is what the Bible says. Only the Bible has authority over what we believe.
To try to PROVE doctrine by what a MAN writes rather than the Bible, whether that man is Mr. Armstrong, Dr. Meredith, or any human being, is a subtle form of idolatry. Only the Bible has the authority to serve as proof of doctrine. God used Mr. Armstrong to help us find the answers in the Bible, but the authority over belief came from the Bible alone, not from Mr. Armstrong. That is why Mr. Armstrong said, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible."
We should not make an idol out of Mr. Armstrong or his writings. If we have something to say about doctrine, we should prove it from the Bible. Sometimes his writings can help explain something from the Bible, because he was a gifted teacher and was able to make the truth plain, but the PROOF must come from the Bible, and if it can't be proved from the Bible, then we cannot prove it by what Mr. Armstrong said or wrote either.
What about matters of judgment, such as the order of Church services, broadcasting on TV, and other things that are not directly taught by the Bible?
Christ has authority also to change these judgments, and it is even more likely He may change Mr. Armstrong's judgments if those judgments are based on changing conditions, and just as with doctrine, Christ can communicate His judgments to leading evangelists like Dr. Meredith by inspiring them, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to see the need to make the change.
I don't say every judgment of Dr. Meredith or any other evangelist is always inspired by Christ - all men can make mistakes. But such judgment changes can be inspired by Christ. Not every change in Mr. Armstrong's judgments is wrong just because it is a change.
How does Christ teach new doctrinal knowledge to the Church through leaders of fellowships? By the Bible and by the Holy Spirit to help them understand the Bible.
Just as Christ taught Mr. Armstrong doctrine through the Bible, so Christ teaches the Church today, through the Bible. God and Christ teach the Church, and taught Mr. Armstrong, by opening our understanding of the Bible and of spiritual principles by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Some say that Mr. Armstrong's doctrines cannot be changed because he was the Elijah to come, and these same people often say that it is vitally important to know that Mr. Armstrong was the Elijah to come.
Yet the Bible does not teach that it is important to know who the Elijah to come is. Mr. Armstrong never directly said (as far as I know) that he was the Elijah to come and may not have felt sure one way or another even to the end of his life.
Not knowing he was the Elijah to restore all things did not prevent Mr. Armstrong from doing the work of restoring lost knowledge that God gave him because it was only after he had restored much knowledge that he even considered that he might be the prophesied Elijah to restore all things.
What is important is that God knows who the Elijah to come is, and God will make sure he does the work He wants him to do. We don't have to know.
As I explain in my book, Preaching the Gospel, the context of statements in the New Testament show that knowing who the Elijah to come is was never something Christ said was important for the Church. The statements made by Christ and John the Baptist about the Elijah to come were made only in response to questions that generally arose from the scribes and Pharisees, who seemed obsessed with titles.
Personally, I think Mr. Armstrong was probably the Elijah to come. That is my opinion - I can't prove it from the Bible. But one of the things he restored was the way of life of letting the Bible correct us and teach us new knowledge. So even if he was the Elijah to come, we still should believe the Bible and let it teach us new knowledge and correct our mistakes.
Mr. Armstrong never taught that he was infallible or that his writings should have the same authority as scripture, and anyone who teaches that today is contradicting Mr. Armstrong and trying to change his teaching, the very thing they deny. They are also contradicting the Bible. They are doing what false churches and false ministers do today - they pretend to exalt the person of the messenger while rejecting his message. As false churches exalt the person of Christ but deny His message, so those who say Mr. Armstrong's doctrines cannot be changed exalt the person of Mr. Armstrong, but deny his message.
And they are making an idol out of Mr. Armstrong, whether they realize it or not.
The Bible teaches that all men, even true servants of God, make mistakes.
David sinned (2 Samuel 11:1-27, 12:1-13). Moses made mistakes (Numbers 20:12). Abraham did not trust God to protect him at times and did not tell the full truth about his wife (Genesis 12:10-20). Solomon wrote parts of the Bible, yet did not remain faithful and loyal to God (1 Kings 11:1-13). Judas preached the gospel and healed the sick, yet betrayed Christ and hanged himself (Matthew 10:1-8, 27:3-5). Paul rebuked Peter for his faults (Galatians 2:11-16). Paul and Barnabas had contentions over Mark (Acts 15:37-40). Christ rebukes many in the Church, including leaders, in five messages to the Church in Revelation (Revelation 2:1-7, 12-29, 3:1-6, 14-22). Nathan gave David a wrong answer (1 Chronicles 17:1-4).
"Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength" (Jeremiah 17:5). "Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help" (Psalm 146:3).
Mr. Armstrong made mistakes in his teachings, even to the end of his life, and I can prove it.
Doctrine is teaching, and Mr. Armstrong made mistakes in his doctrine, that is, his teaching, even to the end of his life. AFTER publishing Mystery of the Ages, as one the the last things Mr. Armstrong taught, he taught the Church to follow Mr. Tkach if we want to be in the kingdom. I remember hearing that from Mr. Armstrong with my own ears. That was teaching, that was doctrine, and it was wrong.
Here is a quote from my book, Preaching the Gospel, that gives the details of Mr. Armstrong's statement about following Mr. Tkach. You can find the actual recording of that sermon on the Internet. Anyone in the Worldwide Church of God when Mr. Armstrong's sermon was played in all the congregations might remember it.
"Mr. Armstrong in the last months of his life reached a point when he knew he might die soon. He had time to make provision for the Church of God after his death. I remember hearing him give what may have been his last sermon. It was obvious that he knew he may die soon. He spoke of God providing a new pastor general to succeed him. This close to his death, it would have been a perfect opportunity for Mr. Armstrong to tell the Church, 'Don't let anyone change any of the doctrines I have taught you.' But he never said that. In fact, he implied just the opposite. He said, 'Your faith must not be in me, it must be in Jesus Christ. He's the head of the Church, I'm not. And if I were not here, there would be another who would become the pastor general. And if that should ever happen, if you want into get into God's Kingdom you will follow that pastor general. And you will remain united and you will remain one. And your eternity depends on that, every one of you, don't you forget it.' This was in the 1985 Day of Trumpets sermon."
This quote is from chapter 6 of my book, which you can find at http://www.ptgbook.org.
Christ ALLOWED Mr. Armstrong to make mistakes. Perhaps God allowed it to test us to see if we would believe the Bible more than Mr. Armstrong. I have already given the example of Mr. Armstrong teaching the Church to follow the pastor general who would come after him, who was Mr. Tkach. That was a mistake. Also, in Mystery of the Ages he taught that the prophesied end time events such as the Great Tribulation would come in twenty years. Twenty years have come and gone since Mystery of the Ages was published, and those events have not occurred. So Mr. Armstrong can and did make mistakes. Also, Mr. Armstrong corrected his own mistakes in doctrine more than once.
We should respect Mr. Armstrong and learn from him. God gave him gifts, not only in understanding Bible doctrine, but in teaching it and making the truth easy to understand. I still read his books and seek to learn from his writings.
But we must always believe the Bible first, and if we see from the Bible that he made a mistake, we should not hold his mistake against him, but we should correct the mistake, as he would if he were alive, following his example and teaching to let the Bible correct us and teach us new knowledge (2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 3:18).
"Don't believe me, believe your Bible, believe God."
Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:
CHAPTER 6 - OBTAINING GOD'S HELP -- PRACTICING WHAT WE PREACH