THE PROPHECY GAME
Everywhere we turn today it seems we are beset by self-proclaimed "prophets" trying to make a profit by predicting the future for us. We can read our daily horoscope in the local newspaper, consult a palm reader in our area, read what the ten leading psychics predict will befall Liz Taylor, or tune in to radio evangelists proclaiming what the Bible foretells for the future. Most of these prognosticators do well to have a prophetic batting average as high as .200. Looked at another way, these seers are wrong more than 80% of the time! It's no wonder these "prophets" fare so poorly, according to Roderick Meredith, for only one organization on earth today is being used by God and only that one fully understands prophecy:
"The popular, denominationally supported evangelists often make statements like this: 'I believe that God may use Russia to punish America for her sins.' Or, 'It now seems likely that World War III may come within five years.'... They use the words 'may,' 'could,' or 'might.'... The truth of the matter is that they dare not be specific about the future because they just do not know what the Bible says is going to happen! But on 'The World Tomorrow' broadcast and in this magazine we have dared to unlock the Bible prophecies and apply them to specific nations and events that are now being affected.
"There is no other church or work on the face of this earth that either understands or dares to proclaim these vital warnings!... This is the very Work of God!... You are now being warned!" (The Plain Truth, Roderick Meredith, Aug. 1957, p. 6.)
This is quite a claim and, in the interest of truth, bears further investigation. Is God speaking through Worldwide Church of God (WCG) ministers and its founder Herbert Armstrong? Do they understand Bible prophecy and what will occur in the future? The fairest way to find the answers to these questions is to examine some of their most significant predictions over the last 40 years. First, let's look at some of Herbert's earliest predictions (the excessive capitalization and italicization of words have been deleted in all quotes in this article to facilitate typesetting and readability):
"...the year 1936 will see the end of the Times of the Gentiles.... we may expect the present worldwide depression, time of trouble and fear of war to continue until the year 1936!... quickly after that time, we may expect to see the heavenly signs of the sun and moon becoming dark, the stars falling.... which shall be followed by the 'Day of the Lord."' (The Plain Truth, Herbert Armstrong, June-July 1934, p. 5.)
"Mussolini and the pope will hatch up an idea between [them] of setting up a world headquarters at Jerusalem-and so Mussolini's armies will enter into Palestine (Daniel 11:41), and eventually will capture just half of the city of Jerusalem! (Zechariah 14:2)." (The Plain Truth, Herbert Armstrong, March 1938, p. 8.)
"Mussolini will fight Christ!" (The Plain Truth, Herbert Armstrong, Jan. 1939, p. 4.)
"Once world war is resumed, it must continue on thru the great Tribulation, the heavenly signs, the plagues of the Day of the Lord, and to the Second Coming of Christ, at the last battle, at Armageddon!... But this you may know! This war will be ended by Christ's return! And war may start within six weeks! We are just that near Christ's coming!" (The Plain Truth, Herbert Armstrong, Aug. 1939, p. 6.)
"The Italians will capture both Palestine and Egypt." (The Plain Truth, Herbert Armstrong, Aug.-Sept. 1940.)
"God has decreed that Joseph-Great Britain and the United States-are to utterly consume and annihilate the Turks from off the earth!" (The Plain Truth, Herbert Armstrong, Nov.-Dec. 1940, p. 7.)
"It is part of God's prophesied plan that Britain shall be invaded and conquered ...." (The Plain Truth, Herbert Armstrong, Nov.-Dec. 1940.)
"Bible prophecy does indicate that Hitler must be the victor in his present Russian invasion!... Hitler will emerge from this Russian campaign stronger than ever, free to turn the entire might of his forces against Britain-and America!" (The Plain Truth, Herbert Armstrong, Sept.-Oct. 1941, p. 7.)
"But Hitler (or his successor if there is one), and the False Prophet shall fight against Christ!" (The Plain Truth, Herbert Armstrong, March-April 1943, p. 6.)
So far, as is obvious, Herbert Armstrong struck out every time he came up to bat in the 1930s and early 1940s, but his prophetic batting average for the 30s and 40s was not quite zero as he correctly predicted that Germany would "rise again," as did other news analysts. But Herbert's failures in the first 19 years of his ministry didn't bother Herman Hoeh who, like Herbert, felt that God had changed his mind about sending Christ back to earth in the 1940s, thus giving Herbert's church more time to warn the world:
"Yes, it seems that God is allowing us another 19-year cycle to complete the carrying of his gospel of the kingdom to this sick and dying world.... There is a tremendous job to be done in the very short period that lies ahead of us." (The Plain Truth, Herman Hoeh, June 1953, p. 13.)
In the 1950s Roderick Meredith, Herman Hoeh, and Garner Ted Armstrong began to assist Herbert in proclaiming his prophetic witness to the world. Believing the Great Tribulation would start in 1972, instead of around 1936 as Herbert had previously prophesied, they busied themselves with the task of writing new and terrifying doomsday prophecies based on Herbert's somewhat shaky understanding of Bible prophecy:
"God Almighty has spoken through His servants the prophets that He will punish our people for their sins. He will let our own lust cause such droughts, floods, pestilences and famines that we will be totally consumed and carried away captive to other nations as slaves within twenty years." (The Plain Truth, Herman Hoeh, Oct. 1955, p. 16.)
"Plagues are coming-and, according to this prophetic warning, in about two years from now! Our cattle have already suffered from the drought. Soon we shall find that the hoof-and-mouth disease will spread out of control! Rabid foxes, squirrels, muskrats will attack our children. For seven long and frightful years, we are going to suffer as never before-until we be left 'few in number.'...
"This seven years of national trouble takes us-if the dates which appear so definitely indicated by these prophecies are correct-from 1965 to 1972!" (The Plain Truth, Herman Hoeh, April 1956, p. 22.)
"Two years ago, Mr. Herman Hoeh showed in this magazine how God's word prophesied disease epidemics would strike the United States in two short years! Those epidemics are beginning now! And they will grow much worse! God prophesies that finally, within the next fifteen years, fully one third of our whole population will die of disease and famine!" (The Plain Truth, Garner Ted Armstrong, Dec. 1957, p. 23.)
"Germany's coming Führer-who will lead within probably 13 years from now a 10-nation union in Europe (Rev. 17:12-13)-is 'the king of the north.' He will 'stretch forth his hand upon the countries: and the land of Egypt shall not escape' (Dan. 11:42). There is going to be a falling out between Nasser and his German supporters. Nasser's Nazi advisers are yet to turn upon him. Germany will take over the Suez from Egypt. Germany will take over Syria's oil pipelines, now under Nasser's control." (The Plain Truth, Herman Hoeh, Oct. 1958, p. 4.)
In 1959, Rod Meredith once again humbly assured Plain Truth readers that his church alone was accurately predicting the future:
"We have been daring, as no other church on earth, to proclaim definite, specific prophetic events to occur-and they have been happening!... For the specific prophesied events which this Church alone proclaims will soon be demonstrated as a physical reality! There will be no reasoning or argument about this. You will see and feel these things happen!" (The Plain Truth, Rod Meredith, June 1959, p. 32.)
As the years ticked by, Herbert and his followers sensed Christ's return was nigh, and they redoubled their efforts to shout their prophetic message to the whole world with more power and conviction than ever:
"All of these internal troubles, combined with the rapid rise to power of a frightening huge combine in Europe, are going to spell out great disaster for the United States and Britain in the '60's.... It is going to happen! No amount of reasoning, 'spiritualizing away,' arguing, doubting, scoffing, or disbelieving is going to change it! Almighty God, in His inviolate Word, thunders from His great throne in the universe that these very prophecies are going to come to pass!" (The Plain Truth, Ted Armstrong, Mar. 1960, p. 10.)
"In Joel 1, in Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21 and John 13-in Revelation 6, and in other prophecies, a revolution in the weather-leading to unprecedented famine by around 1970-72 is prophesied. In its wake is prophesied frightful disease epidemics! A third of the people of the U.S. and British Commonwealth nations will die of this scourge." (The Plain Truth. Herbert Armstrong, Feb. 1962, pp. 5, 7.)
"The unification of Germany? Perhaps it will take place sooner than we expect! The unification of ten nations in Europe is certain to be brought about within a very few years." (The Plain Truth, Ron Kelly, Sept. 1964, p. 20.)
"Frankly, literally dozens of prophesied events indicate that this final revival of the Roman Empire in Europe-and its bestial persecution of multitudes of Bible-believing Christians-will take place within the next seven to ten years of your life!" (The Plain Truth, Rod Meredith, Feb. 1965, p. 48.)
"Bible prophecy indicates that the final attack on the U.S. and Britain by this coming 'Beast' power could easily be launched perhaps as early as the spring of 1972-or earlier ...." (The Plain Truth, Rod Meredith, May 1965, p. 45. )
"The 'Day of the Eternal'-a time foretold in more than thirty prophecies-is going to strike between 5 and 10 years from now!... I am not writing foolishly, but very soberly, on authority of the living Christ!" (The Plain Truth, Herbert Armstrong, Feb. 1967, p. 47.)
"It doesn't take an understanding of certain 'Bible doctrine,' or necessary agreement with it, to admit to yourself candidly that what Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong was faithfully proclaiming back before, during and right at the close of World War II, and what he and others who have since come to join him in this great work of God have been proclaiming day in and day out ever since-is actually happening before your very eyes!" (The Plain Truth, Ted Armstrong, Nov. 1962, p. 21.)
Everything in 1967 seemed to Herbert Armstrong to be on schedule, prophetically speaking, except that God hadn't allowed him to warn the nation of Israel. Suddenly that opportunity appeared:
"Right now, just prior by not more than five to seven years, to the coming terrible Day of the Lord, the living Christ has moved swiftly to open the all-important door that has been closed since the days of the original apostles!
"...Almighty God has opened to The World Tomorrow [broadcast], exclusively, the gigantic door of superpower radio from Jerusalem!... We have signed with the Hashemite Government of Jordan, a five year binding contract...." (Co-worker letter, Herbert Armstrong, April 17, 1967, pp. 3-4.)
To Herbert this was a sign from God that God was truly working through him and no other church:
"And when this time came, to whom did God open up these precious radio facilities? Not to Roman Catholics... nor the Protestants! Nor the Coptics.... No, He has opened it exclusively, by binding contract with the Government of Jordan, to His Work.... This proves which voice on earth today is God's own voice.... If you ever had any doubts whatever about where the real Work of God is, you ought to be sure now!" (Ibid., p. 6.)
Just as Herbert was making ready to do his first broadcast over Radio Jerusalem, the Six-Day War broke out and the Israelis captured the radio station, making Herbert's contract to broadcast on the station worthless. It seemed strange that the living Christ would lead his apostle to sign a contract with the Jordanian government to send his message out from Jerusalem, Jordan, when Christ knew that East Jerusalem would soon fall to the Israelis. But the WCG leaders were so busy preaching their prophetic message that they never paused to consider whether or not God had just delivered a stunning rebuke to their apostle. Soon afterward Garner Ted Armstrong was proclaiming over the airwaves that a temple would be built in the next few years in Jerusalem and Britain would not join the Common Market. The Plain Truth carried these predictions:
"There will very soon be a Temple in Jerusalem, with daily sacrifices once again being offered.... Jerusalem will be surrounded and captured...by the Fascist-Nazi armies of the European Empire, already starting to rise now out of the Common Market." (Herbert Armstrong, June 1967, p. 2.)
"Will Britain ever be admitted into the Common Market? Probably not!" (Raymond McNair, Feb. 1970, p. 27.)
Even though the casual observer may have felt the WCG's prophecies were little more than hot air, he couldn't pass final judgment on their accuracy until 1972 had come and gone-since most of the WCG's prophecies hinged around 1972. Well, 1972 was about five years ago, and now it's obvious to any who will look at the facts that Herbert and his church do not understand prophecy and never have been inspired by God to understand it. But has this fact caused Herbert to hang his head in disgrace and humbly apologize for misleading people in God's name? No it hasn't. Instead he feels he is above apology:
"We do not set dates!... Yet in our human zeal and enthusiasm for getting this greatest mission on earth done, we have a few times come close to it or appeared to-and that we deeply regret...if we...appear to set a date, I feel I do not need to apologize!" (Tomorrow's World, Herbert Armstrong, Feb. 1972, p. 31.)
One would think after one gigantic prophetic failure after another during a span of over 40 years that Herbert Armstrong would throw in the towel and give up trying to foretell the future-or at least buy a new Steuben "crystal ball." Instead of that, he is doing the same thing he did in the late 1940s and early 1950s-moving his erroneous predictions forward two or more decades into the future and claiming they will occur at that time:
"During this generation-within 60 to 90 years or less-from 1927-Christ will come again ...." (Co-worker letter, Jan. 20, 1977, p. 4.)
A moving scene from one of Herbert Armstrong's testimonial dinners. These dinners are an integral part of Herbert's mission of warning world leaders of the prophesied, soon-coming holocaust. The above dinner, held in Thailand, obviously yielded "much fruit!"
So now Herbert would have us believe Christ will return between 1987 and 2017-since Christ didn't make it in the late 30s, in the early 40s, or in 1975, as Herbert had previously prophesied.
The WCG's prophetic blunders ought to generate certain questions in a perceptive mind: How could Herbert Armstrong and his ministers be God's only true ministers and yet be incorrect in their predictions more often than Jeane Dixon or other famous psychics? Why has almost everything that Herbert and his church have predicted since 1934 been way off base? A Plain Truth writer was inspired to record the answer over 20 years ago:
"But who today understands what the prophets foretold? Why, only the ministers today whose word comes to pass!-those who are appointed and guided by God to preach the truth! Those whose utterances do not come to pass have not spoken the prophecies truly. We give you here the record of what we have been proclaiming for the past 2 years-a message which no other voices, to our knowledge, have been proclaiming.... But what we have been warning you about is happening!-precisely as we have stated.... This is how you can know that our work is not of men but of God!" (Dec. 1956, p. 3.)
Looking at the Fruits. The leading WCG ministers attempt to rationalize their ridiculous prophecies with half-thought-out quips like "a few wrong predictions never hurt anybody" or "we were just trying to fulfill our commission in Matthew 24:14 to preach a witness to the world." (Evidently many have never realized Matthew 24:14 is a prophecy, not a commission to the church.) Speaking in a ministerial conference in January 1974, Ted Armstrong was also at first reluctant to admit that the church's false predictions had caused serious problems for anybody:
"[We prophesied in] fifteen years the U.S.A. will no longer be a nation, and 15 years has come and gone. Was that a mistake or not" ? Yes! But why get violently emotional about it? We were utterly sincere at the time it was said! We all believed it, and furthermore that kind of copy never caused anybody to lose out on salvation, or drop out of church, or make a wrong move in their personal lives, or to throw the word of God to the ground...."
Only moments later Ted all but contradicted himself by offering justifiable reasons for a person to "get violently emotional" about a prophecy that failed. He began to name a few of the "wrong moves" that had been made in personal lives:
"But '72 was the date that, you know, everything hinged on that. Nobody saved any money, nobody bought any property, nobody thought about laying up for his children's children.... We [thought we] were all going to flee or be taken away to a place of safety and everything would be left behind so [we thought]: "Why put any roots down?"
So even Ted begrudgingly admits false prophecies do cause harm in people's lives. Some WCG members, believing the "end of the world" was coming between 1972 and 1975-as the church had prophesied so often-postponed needed dental work. Others decided not to buy homes, while still others sold theirs and gave a portion of the cash they received to the church. Some young people decided not to go to college but took jobs instead to earn money for the church, hoping to thereby help Herbert fulfill the prophecy found in Matthew 24:14. Many gave their savings to the church and even borrowed money in response to Herbert's pleas to help his church avert another financial crisis-especially after being told Christ was coming soon and their money would be worthless then. Now some of these people are almost penniless, but the church says, "I never knew you."
To God, prophesying falsely is not a light matter. The Bible carries dozens of warnings from God for Christians to watch out for false prophets who "through covetousness" with "feigned words" shall "make merchandise" of them (II Peter 2:3, KJV). (The RSV renders it: "In their greed they will exploit you with false words.")
How could one recognize a false prophet? "You will know them by their fruits," Christ answers (Matt. 7:16, RSV). Continuing the analogy Christ explains, "A good tree is incapable of producing bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit" (Phillips translation). What do you think Christ would say about the WCG's false prophecies in view of Matthew 7? To those WCG ministers who remain unrepentant he will declare: "Depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matt. 7: 23, KJV).
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