"Daughter Of Babylon,
The True History of
The Worldwide Church of God"
by Bruce Renehan
Chapter 2 Where Is The True Church?
At the time of his death in 1986, Herbert Armstrong had become a figure of prominence to his followers. Many had assigned spiritual titles to him. He was the embodiment of Elijah the prophet or John the Baptist. He had maintained a prophetically based ministry for 50 years. One thing remained clear among his people: they were specially hand picked by God to support Armstrong's ministry.
His church had become well known in the public eye. The news media found it difficult to interview Armstrong or his ministers. "Don't all churches believe that they are the only true Christian church?" rhetorically shouted a reporter once as he rushed to interview a Worldwide Church of God tele-evangelist departing for a flight. The evangelist turned in his cavalier manner and answered, "Oh yes, but they can't all be the one true church now can they?"
The team spirit created by believing that they were the good guys was raised to a crescendo of heightened awareness that only the Worldwide Church of God was the one true church. Through repeated kudos toward the organization the ministry was determined to reinforce this belief system in its follower's minds. As I have mentioned in the last chapter, this illusion was created by encouraging shortcuts in reasoning like believing something is true simply because it is labeled so or because an unqualified authority says it is so.
The first fundamental premise established in Armstrong's ministry was that God has a plan that he is working out with a special group of people, God's true church. The church is governed by God's special form of government, government from the top down.
Armstrong taught this doctrine by starting with a very old exegesis of Matthew 16:13-20. (An exegesis is how one draws out a meaning from a scripture.) This passage is the basis for what came to be called the "Petrine doctrine." There are many ways to draw out a meaning from Matthew 16. The Roman Catholic church is the actual originator of the "Petrine doctrine." The Worldwide Church of God has viewed this passage in a similar way as the Roman Catholic church has. One might consider this view as a variation of the same theme. Herbert Armstrong originally taught that Christ was the Rock and Peter was a pebble by semantic manipulation of the Greek word petros used in the text that the King James Bible was translated from. Apostolic succession was, therefore, granted from Christ through a lineage of apostles. And this is the very basis for the belief in a singular church that the gates of hell could not prevail against. But there is a problem with this particular viewpoint:
"The most obvious of these is reading one's personal theology in the text...Protestants must ask themselves if the "you are Peter" passage (Matt. 16:13-20) would find interpreters scrambling to identify the rock not with Peter but with his confession, his faith, or his Lord, if there had not been many centuries of papal claims falsely based on that passage. Our presuppositions, called up by an error on the other side, do not easily give way to modification by biblical text. The problem becomes even more acute when it is not the interpreter's personal theology--perhaps even a published point!" (Carson, 136)
The problem is that the "Petrine doctrine" neither fits into scriptural context, nor has it withstood the test of time. How does the Bible Commentary by Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown explain this biblical passage?
"Whatever this means, it was soon expressly extended to all the apostles (ch. 18:18); so that the claim of supreme authority in the Church, made for Peter by the Church of Rome, and then arrogated to themselves by the popes as the legitimate successors of St. Peter is baseless and impudent. As first in confessing Christ, Peter got this commission before the rest; and with these "keys," on the day of Pentecost, he first "opened the door of faith" to the Jews, and then, in the person of Cornelius, he was honored to do the same to the Gentiles. Hence, in the lists of the apostles, Peter is always first named. See on ch. 18:18. One thing is clear, that not in all the New Testament is there the vestige of any authority either claimed or exercised by Peter, or conceded to him, above the rest of the apostles--a thing conclusive against the Romish claims in behalf of that apostle."
The basis for the belief in the one true church lies within the "Petrine doctrine." Was Peter the authority of the Church after the death of Jesus? Or was the confession of faith in Jesus the foundation for conversion? The difference between these two possible interpretations is pivotal. Some theologians would argue that one points to a man as the earthly authority of the church and the other points toward Jesus as the Messiah. Now, follow along as this basis for belief begins to grow into an entire belief system.
Let's explore this teaching in a step-by-step fashion by studying Worldwide Church of God literature. How did the Worldwide Church of God itself view the teaching that there is only one true church?
Armstrong taught that Matthew 16:13 established apostolic authority and that the apostle holding authority could govern the one true church. The choosing of an earthly representative by Jesus, in the form of an apostle, granted this man a special calling. This calling was then assumed to be the power to change truth through the "binding and loosing," of doctrinal understanding. (A loose reference to the same Matthew 16 passage.) Here is how Armstrong put it all together:He also said the Chruch would never die. The rains would fall (Matt. 7:24-27), the floods would come, the hurricanes would blow, but this NEW house built on the solid rock foundation would ALWAYS STAND!
(A World Held Captive, 1984, Herbert W. Armstrong, p. 21)
Immediately after the decisive battle to overcome Satan, two of the disciples of John the Baptist saw, with John, Jesus. Jesus asked him to follow him to his home. One of these was Andrew, son of Jona. He called his brother, Simon bar-Jona.
Jesus looked on Simon, and said to him, "Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas [in Greek, PETER]," meaning a stone (John 1:42).
In Mark 3:14, 16, we read: "And he [Jesus] ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach...And Simon he surnamed Peter." A surname is, according to Webster, "an added name derived from occupation."
The surname Peter had for centuries been a surname or TITLE, designating a religious LEADER, HEAD or HEADQUARTERS. Peter was the first and chief apostle. An apostle is "one sent forth to proclaim or preach."
So, at the very beginning of his earthly ministry, preparing the FOUNDATION for the Church, Jesus Christ chose his chief human apostle and the other original 11. They, with the prophets whose writings were preserved from the days of God's first chosen Congregation (and NATION), Israel, were to form the very FOUNDATION of God's CHURCH (Eph. 2:19-21; 5:23). (Herbert W. Armstrong, Mystery Of The Ages, pp. 221-222).
Armstrong was not content to just claim that he had inherited Peter's authority over the church. He went on to draw a parallel between himself and the apostle Paul.
The experience of the apostle Paul seemed to parallel his own. Mr. Armstrong later wrote: "But I certify to you, brethren, that the gospel preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, nor was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ...But when it pleased God...to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him to the world, I conferred not with flesh and blood [humans], neither went I to any theological seminary, but, as the original apostles and Paul were taught by CHRIST IN PERSON, so was I taught by the SAME CHRIST, through HIS WRITTEN WORD." (cf. Gal. 1:11, 15-17) (1979, This Is the Worldwide Church of God, p. 17)
And then from Paul, Armstrong created a historical link by drawing the weak analogy that a "successful businessman" was somehow capable of keeping the one true church alive for the 1100 year period of history known as the Middle Ages. One of Armstrong's editors, Herman Hoeh, claimed that Armstrong was the last of the apostles because of his training as an advertising man.
Jesus chose Paul, who was highly educated, for spreading the gospel to the Gentiles. He later raised up Peter Waldo, a successful businessman, to keep His truth alive during the Middle Ages. In these last days WHEN THE GOSPEL MUST GO AROUND THE WORLD, Jesus chose a man amply trained in the advertising and business fields to shoulder the mission--HERBERT W. ARMSTRONG. (Herman Hoeh, A True History of the True Church, p. 26)
Herbert Armstrong had been presented to the Church as an archetypal figure. He was equal to biblical apostles like Paul and Peter. He was specially trained in the field of advertising. He was part of a lineage of apostles. I will have more to say about Peter Waldo later.
Now, let me insert a thought here. The Worldwide Church of God claimed that the true Christian church could always be identified in history because it observed the same three major doctrinal stances as the Worldwide Church of God. The Worldwide Church of God assumes that this way, the Worldwide Church of God way, was in complete harmony with the entire Bible, not just the New Testament. There was a general assumption made by Worldwide Church of God authorities that the Old Testament had been categorically denied by "professing Christianity," Protestants and Catholics.The teachings of God's true Church are simply those of "living by every word" of the Holy Bible.
The first man, Adam, chose to decide for himself right from wrong--to decide his own teachings, beliefs and ways of life. The world has followed that same course for 6,000 years. The Church is called out of the world to live the way God, through the Bible, teaches. (Herbert W. Armstrong, Mystery of the Ages, p. 224)
Followers were next led to conclude that salvation could not be found outside of the Worldwide Church of God.Now what about the "private," or "individual Christian," who says, "I don't want to be a part of the Church--I want to seek my salvation direct and alone with Christ...." The person who says "I will get my salvation alone, outside of the Church" is totally deceived. This is not the time when salvation is opened to those in Satan's world. Those called now, I repeat emphatically, are NOT CALLED just for salvation. They are called for a special training provided only in God's Church....The Church is ORGANIZED on God's pattern of mutual teamwork and cooperation to function perfectly together. They shall become the God FAMILY as it shall exist at the time of Christ's Second Coming. Remember God IS that divine family!
...Neither will God let one INTO his family at the resurrection who refused to be part of it now--in the CHURCH--in the spiritual "training season."(Herbert W. Armstrong, Mystery of the Ages, pp. 270 271)
Here is the KEY which proves who are in God's Church. It is composed only of those who are growing into truth as God reveals it. The moment anyone ceases to GROW, but wants to retain only what he had five or ten years ago, from that moment on the Holy Spirit ceases to live in him. ( Herman L. Hoeh, "How Would You Recognize the Church Jesus Founded?", 1968, p. 2)
Then the followers were led to draw another "obvious" conclusion. If Christ did build a Church that the gates of hell could not prevail against, then history must have some record of it. How would history buffs be able to find it? Certainly by looking for some historical groups that kept the same doctrines that the Worldwide Church of God keeps? This must be the identifying factor!
And so, the Worldwide teachers unveiled their historical view, revealing that the primitive church had never died out but continued through the ages until the calling of Herbert W. Armstrong--its "end-time apostle." Matthew 16 was the springboard that led followers to accept that the church of Armstrong was the same as the church of the apostles Peter and Paul, yet not entirely in its original form. Its members could no longer speak in tongues.
Synoptic History of the Church
Finally, we come to a brief history of the Church from its foundation in A.D. 31 to the present.
The Church started on the day of Firstfruits called Pentecost, in June of A.D. 31. The Holy Spirit came from heaven upon the 120 disciples assembled in Jerusalem with a miraculous display such as has never before nor since occurred.
The 120 were all of "one accord." Suddenly "there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind" (Acts 2:2). Have you ever been in a tornado or a hurricane? I have. Wind can make a very loud sound. This sound filled "all the house where they were sitting." Next there appeared unto them cloven tongues.....
Never has such a supernatural display occurred before or since. Yet the modern sects calling themselves "Pentecostal" claim to repeat this experience....(Herbert W. Armstrong, Mystery of the Ages, p. 275)
Jesus prophesied, "I will build my church."
That Church, foretold Jesus, would never be extinguished. "And the gates of hell [the grave] shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18). Christ's Church is to last through all ages!
It has. It is here today, doing the Work of God! (Good News magazine, December 1981, "The Church They Couldn't Destroy")
The fact that the New Testament church was able to speak in tongues raised the need to refine the identity of God's only true people. A problem also arose if one discovered that there was really no way to find churches in history that believed exactly the same doctrines that the Worldwide Church of God had been teaching. Some ancient texts could be made to present churches with similar beliefs, similar enough that they would appear to be like the Worldwide Church of God. So, this conflict was bridged by drawing out a new meaning from another scriptural passage. This modification was devised in the teaching of seven successive "eras" of the one true church, found in the seven letters to the churches of Revelation 2 and 3. Each of the assumed "eras" was believed to have various levels of spiritual understanding. It seemed plausible that if church eras did occur this would justify the belief that truth becomes variable and changeable within the one (relatively) true church of God. Of course, this begs the question of why a perfect God would allow such a sliding scale of truth for some Christians and not for others but we will continue to follow this line of reasoning to see how Armstrong builds a paradigm.The book of Revelation records seven messages to seven churches that existed in Asia Minor toward the end of the first century A.D.(Herbert W. Armstrong, Mystery of the Ages, p. 283)
They are a series of remarkable prophecies, by which the future of the true Church was foretold in outline form, from the day it began on Pentecost, A.D. 31, until the Second Coming of Christ.
The history of the Church would fall into seven distinct eras--each with its own strengths and weaknesses and its own special trials and problems.
Just as a message could pass along the mail route from Ephesus to Laodicea, so would the truth of God be passed from era to era. (ibid, p. 283)
Unless the "era" belief was further modified, it would also cause another inconsistency. This inconsistency appeared in the fact that the last "era", Laodicea, was not at all in favor with Christ. How could Herbert Armstrong have been God's end-time apostle, restoring lost truths, if the final "era" of God's true church was about to be spewed out of Christ's mouth for lukewarmness? This doctrine was modified by declaring that the sixth "era," Philadelphia, co-exists or is contemporary with the seventh "era", Laodicea.
Now that I have briefly shown how the Worldwide Church of God arrived at it's "one true church" doctrine, I would like to move on to the next fundamental belief that Armstrong taught. Once it was established that there was only one true church, Armstrong led followers to believe in yet another revelation, a need to understand that there was a unique identity for the British and American people. According to Armstrong, it was more than an identity; it was a sign. Just like the identity of his church, this sign would link these people to history as well as to the pages of the Bible.
Go to the "Painful Truth" page.