"Daughter Of Babylon,
The True History of
The Worldwide Church of God"
by Bruce Renehan
The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail Against It
Chapter 6 "The Church They Couldn't Destroy".
As I have shown, the three original doctrinal premises of Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God were as follows: There is only one true church; Moses' Law is eternal; and the Roman Catholic Church is "BABYLON THE GREAT". These three premises were the very foundation of the Worldwide Church of God tree of spiritual knowledge for more than 40 years.
Once original believers had adopted these three basic constructs of what Christianity was built upon, they viewed the whole world quite differently than their general religious community.
Imagine if every other "Christian" that you came into contact with were perceived as a deceived counterfeit version of yourself. If this were your perception, you too might feel a bit like a character in a science fiction story. You might feel as though the world were full of alien life forms that posed a threat to the survival of civilization. (This reminds me of the old science fiction movie: Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In that story, alien pods were capable of cloning evil replicants of a town's inhabitants as they systematically destroyed their real human images. The story's hero was unable to convince the townspeople of the danger that they were in and eventually had to flee to save his own life.)
If either one or all of the three great premises were actually false, though, you would be the deceived one. Your perception of truth might result in an antichristian attitude. Therefore, you would become the alien by alienating yourself from your community. You may have forgotten that there are scriptures in the New Testament that warn Christians against thinking they are right while displaying no compassion toward others. And this would create a paradox.
This is how members of the Worldwide Church of God came to see their world. Constant prodding from their ministers reinforced within them the illusion that only they had sound minds in a deceived world.
One oversight in the creation in Armstrong's paradigm is that he cited secular authorities in trying to prove that his church could trace its lineage back to first century Christianity. If the reported history of the Worldwide Church of God was different from secular history then we are left to question Armstrong's ability as a historian as well as his motive.
Aside from secular sources, Armstrong claimed that he was divinely inspired:
"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). ( This Is the Worldwide Church of God, p. 17. 1979)
It becomes awkward and even appears sinister to challenge someone's claim to divine inspiration.
According to Herbert Armstrong, God had personally revealed the "essential truths" of the Worldwide Church of God to him. He assured his followers that he received nothing from the teachings of men. He claimed that God had ordained his ministry and revealed everything to him. Because he claimed that his doctrines were inspired by God they should have been considered as holy as the Bible itself.
But, divine insight has been claimed by others. In the eighteenth century, John Wesley, the founder of the modern Methodist movement, claimed to have a religious experience. In the nineteenth century, Joseph Smith claimed that the angel Moroni delivered to him a history of great civilizations in the Americas and that Jesus had appeared to the Native American Indians after his resurrection. Ellen G. White claimed to be a prophetess in the post-Civil War era and added that salvation had been sealed up for all of mankind during her lifetime. In this century, Charles Taze Russell, Oral Roberts, A. A. Allen, Jim Jones, Benny Hinn, and David Koresh have been among many modern ministers claiming to have received messages from God. Were these claims real or delusional? They certainly were incongruent with one another.
If someone goes so far as to claim that secular history verifies their story, then this actually makes it easier for us to prove or disprove their claim. We simply study their sources and look for substantiating evidence.
Armstrong wrote that historical figures, like himself, were granted divine commissions. These men were separated from each other by centuries of time. Yet Armstrong claimed they were links in a lineage from the New Testament apostles to himself. Their names were Polycarp, Polycrates, Peter Waldo, Walter Lollard and Stephen Mumford. According to Armstrong, their job was to hold fast to the faith once delivered. According to Herbert Armstrong and his successor, Joseph Tkach, they held the high church office of "apostle." The divine purpose was to deliver the true gospel to God's one true church and the lost tribes of Israel. And this is how Armstrong established a link to his own apostleship.
By espousing the "apostolic succession" and the "God's one true church" doctrines, Armstrong appeared larger than life. By examining the writings of the Worldwide Church of God authors we will see the proofs and sources that they gave for this unbroken lineage of alleged Churches of God. Then it is simply up to us to verify if the authors have told their story accurately.
The first booklet that the Worldwide Church of God issued about its link to ancient history was written in 1959 by Herman L. Hoeh, Ph.D. Hoeh was one of the first four students to enter Herbert Armstrong's Ambassador College in 1947. He was the only one of the original four students who remains a member of the church at this writing. Today, Herman Hoeh (pronounced "hay") is one of the highest ranking ministers in the Worldwide Church of God. His only academic exposure, though, was within the confines of Ambassador College alone. It was there that Herbert Armstrong, a high school dropout, granted him his doctorate degree.
It seems appropriate to start our analysis of church history by giving a brief synopsis of Hoeh's story, A TRUE HISTORY of the TRUE CHURCH. This was his definition of who the true Christians were:Is Christ divided? There are more than 250 major denominations in America alone--and other hundreds of little groups and sects. WHY? When did this confusion originate?
How much do you really know about the TRUE CHURCH? Where has it been? Have you supposed it was re-established at the Protestant Reformation? IT WAS NOT! You will be ASTONISHED to see the true history of GOD'S Church. This true history, authentically documented, is breathtaking.
Here, then, are the astounding facts! This surprising truth is bound up in the real meaning of the SEVEN CHURCHES IN REVELATION! (Introductory Page)
...Every thinking person--every denomination--realizes that, at some time in history, there has been a great apostasy or falling away from original TRUTH.
...Jesus Christ did not found many denominations! Christ said, "I will build my Church." He did build it! ONE Church, commissioned to preach and publish His Gospel--the very Message He brought from God--to all the world!
..Christ's instruction to His Church, through the New Testament, was NOT to participate in this world's politics and affairs in an effort to make this world a better world.
...despised, persecuted, scattered BY the world--separate FROM the world!
...Shocking though it is, the overwhelming majority have been deceived by ministers who come in the name of Jesus Christ, proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ, but who teach a different Gospel and a different faith!
...The true Church is the collective body of individuals, called out from the ways of this present world, who have totally surrendered themselves to the rule of God, and who, through the Holy Spirit, become the begotten sons of God (Rom. 8:9)
...God makes you a member of His Church--if you surrender your life to Him--even if you have no local church with which to fellowship.
...The true Christians, who alone comprised the true Church, were being put out of the visible, organized congregations. They were the SCATTERED ones of whom John said: "Therefore the world knoweth us not" (I John 3:1)
...Everyone, it seems, has supposed that, following the apostolic Church, these seven churches picture the course of history in the Greek and Roman Catholic and the Protestant churches--the churches of the god of this world!
This is not true!
...THE TRUE CHURCH OF GOD...was scattered, persecuted, unorganized.
We were told of division and apostasy occurring in the New Testament church. Again it was important that the basis of truth was that Catholicism was a deliberate plot against the one true church, which was both scattered and unorganized. Moses' law has not yet been introduced to us to be the factor making the true church what it was. Let's continue with Hoeh's history:...And remember the TRUE Church has not been politically organized, powerful and recognized by the world--but scattered, persecuted, seldom noticed by the world, and even then regarded as heretics.
Now let's UNDERSTAND who they are, one by one...Jerusalem remained the headquarters church during the entire apostolic period. When the church moved to Pella, it continued as a headquarters church for the "Ephesian Era". Rome was never the parent or headquarters church.
...the Encyclopedia Britannica says... "Nazarenes, an obscure Jewish-Christian sect...they dated their settlement in Pella from the time of the flight of the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, immediately before the siege in AD 70"...Jerome ( Ep. 79, to Augustine) says that they believed in Christ the Son of God,...'desiring to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither the one nor the other"...while adhering as far as possible to the Mosaic economy as regarded circumcision, Sabbaths, foods and the like, they did not refuse to recognize the apostolicity of Paul or the rights of heathen Christians."
Among the Gentiles the churches in Asia remained the most faithful to the word of God. We pick up the story of the true Church in the lives of such men as Polycarp and Polycrates. They were called "Quartodecimani" because they kept the true passover celebration...
Once Hoeh had found a church "adhering as far as possible to the Mosaic economy" it was assumed to be the true church, which also seemed no longer to be scattered. It seems to be overlooked, in the above quotation about these Jewish-Christians, that the issue of circumcision had been settled by the entire church and the apostles in Jerusalem many years earlier. This is recorded in Acts 15:22-25. There is also no reference to this Jewish-Christian sect bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit or of being able to speak in tongues.
Next Dr. Hoeh introduces us to the churches in Asia Minor under Polycarp and Polycrates. They were believed to be the "true church" because they were called "Quartodecimani," that is, they kept the Passover. What was the link between the Jewish-Christians in Pella and Polycarp? And who were these Jewish-Christians?
In lesson 50 of the original Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course the church writers Herman L. Hoeh and C. Paul Meredith, under the supervision of Herbert Armstrong, elaborated upon this question of "What Became of the Church Jesus Built?" Here is what they wrote:The Christian Church in Judaea fled to Pella in 69 A. D. From that date the organized proclaiming of Christ's true gospel ceased!
For the next hundred years, church history is virtually a blank. "Scanty and suspicious" are the records, says the historian Gibbon, which remain from this period (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire). But why?
The "Lost Century"It was the incredible "Lost Century" of church history!
And when again records commence with the earliest "church fathers" we behold a "Christian" church in most vital points of doctrine and custom the very antithesis of the Church of the original apostles.
Was this new and different church a continuation of that Church Jesus built? Emphatically not.
This was not, in fact, a different church entirely. It was a deliberate counterfeit of the True Church Jesus built! It stole the name of Christ, and called itself by His name!
The goal of this false church was to dominate the whole world by deception. Its leaders were out to subvert even Caesar. To that end it had established its headquarters in Rome.
Meanwhile, the True Church--after its first generation--became nearly invisible to the world. A few scattered individuals persecuted, living in poverty, obscurity and contempt were all that constituted the second age of God's Church. Enemies called them "Ebionites"(meaning "poor" or "poverty stricken")--though not all "Ebionites" were really Christians.
The lost century concept seemed to lead in well with the idea that a "deliberate counterfeit of the true church" appeared after the curtain was drawn back in the third century. The reader was deliberately led to make the assumption that the church of the Ebionites was an "era" that Hoeh craftily called Smyrna. Here was what the Worldwide writers went on to say in lesson 50:
The second age of the New Testament Church is portrayed in Revelation 2. It is typified by the local congregation of the Church in Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11).
Once the concept was established that God's one and only true church was "adhering as far as possible to the Mosaic economy," what would the reader be left to conclude? That religion is based primarily upon works and Jewish rituals? Yet, this is contrary to the teachings of the apostle Paul. Christianity, to Paul, was based upon something other than works of the Law (Gal. 5 and I Cor. 10). Christianity was based upon faith toward God and love toward fellow man. Because of being overly concerned with the covenant given at Sinai, Dr. Hoeh's line of reasoning had taken a detour from orthodox Christianity by looking at certain works of this Law to be the sign of God's true people. This detour led Worldwide authors to a filtering of history for supporting evidence in favor of rituals and non-orthodox practices.
The evidence for Judaizers being the true Christians is what the teachers and writers of the Worldwide Church of God tried to provide evidence for from the church's very founding until the middle of the 1990s. Now, the present leadership has taken a stance in defiance of decades of indoctrinating followers to believe that Judaizing was what made them a unique, in fact superior, organization.
The author D. A. Carson, who holds a Ph.D. from Cambridge University wrote the following about the first century Judaizers:
Certainly wherever Paul detected Judaizing he treated it as a heresy...Nor is Judaizing an apt term to describe the worship and attitude of countless thousands of Jews who truly trusted Jesus the Messiah but who did not give up the traditional observances of Judaism: most Jerusalem Christians fell into this category, and even in Antioch Paul does not object to the presence of a "circumcision group" that eats separately from other Christians. Judaizing refers to the pressure exerted by putative Jewish Christians on Gentile Christians to compel the latter to conform to the whole or to some part of the Mosaic law, as a necessary condition for salvation or Christian maturity (From Triumphalism to Maturity, 23).
Now let us continue with Hoeh's original story as he searched for evidence to prove his point. It was found in the notion that this one true church was called "Quartodecimani".Here is what the early Catholic historians admit about the true Church:
"But Polycarp also was not only instructed by the apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church of Smyrna...He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus"--bishop of Rome around 154 A. D.--"caused many to turn away from the heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles...While at Rome Polycarp discussed with the Roman bishop the matter of the introduction of the pagan Easter in place of the Passover.
Irenaeus continued: "For neither could Anicetus (bishop of Rome) persuade Polycarp not to observe it"--the Passover" because he had always observed it with John the disciple of our Lord, and the rest of the apostles, with whom he associated; and neither did Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it, who said that he was bound to follow the customs of the presbyters before him" (Quoted from Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, book V, chap. 24, in the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1).
In the next chapter I would like to offer my criticism of the one-sided way Worldwide Church historians have treated their presentation of Christianity. They often did this by simply not mentioning very pertinent issues which they should have been aware. The very sources that they often quoted from contradicted the conclusions they wanted their readers to draw.
In this chapter, I simply want to convey the way that they have told their version of church history.
So, on page 16 of TRUE HISTORY of the TRUE CHURCH, Dr. Hoeh went on to quote from Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History and leads up to a fourth century controversy between the Roman Emperor Constantine and the scattered and divided Christians. The controversy was about whether Christians ought to keep the Passover on the day that the Jews kept it, Nisan 14, or should they observe the pagan day, Easter Sunday. Hoeh's contention was that those who observed Easter became what Revelation 2:9 called, "the Synagogue of Satan:"
This synagogue of Satan is the great apostate church which developed after 80 A.D. and ultimately became recognized as the State Religion of the Roman Empire. That Church has had many Protestant daughters which are also Satan's churches (Rev. 17).
The history now skips ahead nearly 250 years and yet the main Passover issue still remained the same.After the Nicean Council closed, Emperor Constantine sent the following letter to all churches:
"At this meeting the question concerning...Easter was discussed...First of all, it appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this...feast we should follow the practice of the Jews...Let us then have nothing in common with the Jews...It has been determined by common judgment of all, that the...feast of Easter should be kept on one and the same day." The Council of Nicea decided, under his authority, that Easter must be celebrated on Sunday and that the Passover must be forbidden!
Without becoming polarized on these issues pro or con, concerning the early Christians, without joining in on these controversies, wouldn't it be more important for us to ask some fundamental questions? What did Christianity have to do with Passover or Easter if Judaizing was a heresy? Was the law of Moses an issue with Christians? Is the Catholic Church "Mystery Babylon"? Can we prove that there is only one organization that was the true Christian church?
Hoeh continued on in his book with his teaching of church "eras" by leaping over three hundred years of history that was not as noteworthy as his "lost century." At about 650 AD Hoeh claimed that the era of Pergamos was founded by Constantine of Mananali. Constantine was stoned to death in 684 AD and his followers were supposed to have allowed many false teachings to infect the church. In other words, there were some inconsistencies that Hoeh or his predecessors did not want to discuss. Again, their enemies were consumed with name calling.
The names given to these people of God by their enemies were "Athyngani"--meaning "those who understood prophecy"--and "Paulicians".
Herman Hoeh, and some of his predecessors, continued the lineage of true Christians through terse references to historical figures named Peter de Bruys, Arnold and Henri. Then in the twelfth century Hoeh introduced a more accessible historical figure. The Worldwide Church of God has often referred to him as an apostle. His name was Peter Waldo.
The next chapter will delve more deeply into the first three centuries of the Christian era in Europe. We will look again at these early Judaizing-Christians and examine why the Worldwide Church of God felt that these groups were the only true church.
Since the history of Christianity from the Waldensians onward is not as scanty (even by Herman Hoeh's standards), I would like to dedicate the remainder of my analysis of the one true church doctrine from this period to the present day. We will see that there is ample material about the remaining groups to adequately test the theory of the Worldwide Church of God.
The final five churches listed in the lineage of these Jewish-Christian churches are: the Waldensians; the Lollards; the Seventh-Day Baptists; The Church of God, Seventh Day; and the Worldwide Church of God. According to the belief, these five churches have all had their turn at being God's one true church. They all failed the test by losing vital doctrines. By Worldwide Church of God reasoning, they all had kept the Passover on Nisan 14, only referred to themselves as "The Church of God," and kept the seventh day as the Sabbath.
Go to the "Painful Truth" page.