The Mystery of The MYSTERY OF THE AGES
OR Which Apostle Is Telling The Truth?
By Jim Baldwin
Since the death of Herbert W. Armstrong in 1986, the leadership of the Worldwide Church of God has been busily dismantling teachings he held to be "the faith once delivered". Because of these massive doctrinal changes many members have been defecting. Some high-ranking ministers have also defected to organize spin-off churches to continue the "old ways" of Mr. Armstrong.
According to Mr. Joseph Tkach, Jr., the source of these many changes was none other than Mr. Armstrong himself. Notice what Mr. Tkach, Jr. wrote to a disfellowshipped member in Florida on November 12, 1991:
"On his deathbed, Mr. Armstrong himself commissioned my father to look into the very changes we have made. Therefore, we are following the wishes of Mr. Armstrong and. more importantly, God."
So members of the Worldwide Church of God are supposed to believe that as Mr. Armstrong lay dying, actually "on his deathbed", he told Mr. Tkach to change the commission to the Church, change the healing doctrine, seek accreditation for the college, reverse the makeup decision, discontinue his major books, cease teaching the British and United States identity, preach a gospel around Jesus, allow interracial marriage, adopt the Protestant "born again" doctrine, and teach that Christ could not sin. And for kickers, Mr. Armstrong told Mr. Tkach to start teaching the doctrine of the Trinity. Whew! That is quite alot for a dying man to instruct, isn't it? After over 50 years of teaching, Mr. Armstrong was now ready to abandon his teachings? Can you really believe this?
Recently Mr. Tkach made some rather strange statements regarding Mr. Armstrong's instructions to him.
In November, 1992 Mr. Tkach sent out a video to be played before all Worldwide Church of God congregations. Notice what Mr. Tkach said referring to this "private meeting" he had with Mr. Armstrong:
"A number of these [changes], whether you want to believe it or not that's immaterial, I can't lose any sleep over that; I know what transpired with Mr. Armstrong. When we were talking about a number of these issues, I said to Mr. Armstrong, 'what you're bringing up here is really heavy, heavy information. It's a shame we can't record this and preserve it for prosperity.' And he said, 'well, okay.' No, first he asked me why. I said, 'well, I know my limitations. I won't remember everything we're talking about.' And I said, 'secondly, even more important, the people won't believe me!' And so he acquiesced for a second and said, 'go ahead, get a tape recorder.' So I went around into the kitchen and as I was dialing for the radio studio or TV, I don't remember, to ask someone to bring a tape recorder down, I heard his faint voice calling me back."
"So I went back and said, 'Yes, sir.' He said, 'On second thought, let's not do it.' I said, 'Well, may I ask you why?' He said, 'Yes, I'll give you two reasons.' And so he said, 'The people-God's people-His precious chosen people are going to have to take it on faith if they are truly converted."
It's interesting that Mr. Tkach began the quote by wondering if some might not believe him. Many do not. Should we just simply take Mr. Tkach's word for it? Remember, it was a meeting between Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Tkach only. How can we be sure what was said? Can we prove whether Mr. Tkach is telling the truth or not?
To deal with the question of changes in teachings since Mr. Armstrong's death would be beyond the scope of this study. What we are going to examine is the controversy concerning Mr. Armstrong's last and most important book. Mystery of the Ages. Notice what Mr. Tkach said in the video being quoted about the book;
"The same thing with Mystery of the Ages. We do have that on tape. Where he [Mr. Armstrong] admitted that it was 'RIDDLED WITH ERRORS'. We have it on tape where he began to extol the book and everything else when he was offering it to the student body as their textbook. And he told them that unfortunately the thing went to the printer before it could be properly edited and remove a lot of our misunderstandings in it. And it got printed. However, he told the students that the faculty members will know which points are in error and you will make the corrections in the margin of your book."
Who believes that? Mr. Armstrong said his book, "the most important book since the Bible", was "riddled with errors"? Why then didn't Mr. Tkach just play the recording of Mr. Armstrong making that statement? That would have really supported his whole argument for the doctrinal changes. The truth is he couldn't play any such recording because it simply does not exist.
The taped book presentation Mr. Tkach was referring to was a video tape made on September 9, 1985, a little over four months before Mr. Armstrong's death. The video, which was shown at the Feast of Tabernacles that year, showed Mr. Armstrong giving out the book to the sophomore class at Ambassador College. Mr. Armstrong was saying:
"I want to tell you how this book came to be written and give you the circumstances. It all started last December, less than a year ago, when I began to discuss the second year course, especially this Fundamentals of Theology course. Some of you, after this sophomore year, are going to end your college career. Some will go on for another two years. But those of you who do stop with the AA degree, I WANTED YOUR EDUCATION TO BE AS COMPLETE AS POSSIBLE. And I began to realize then, how important it is that this sophomore year give you sort of a completion of understanding, at least as far as we possibly could, in the fundamentals of not only theology, but of life. Now let me explain why Ambassador College was founded in the first place." [My emphasis].
Mr. Armstrong was offering this book to make their education COMPLETE. How depressing, when you think about it, to have your education completed with a book that was "riddled with errors."
At this point in the video, the scene shifted to narrator Art Gilmore as he began to explain Mr. Armstrong's purpose for Ambassador College. He said Mr. Armstrong considered Mystery of the Ages to be "his most significant work." Apparently we haven't got to the "riddled with errors" part yet.
Mr. Armstrong then came back on the video and he began to explain how some of the material in the book was from other books and booklets he had written while SOME MATERIAL WAS NEVER BEFORE USED. (I have emphasized this as here is another important contradiction to what Mr. Tkach said later after the book was withdrawn. Keep reading).
The video again shifted to Mr. Gilmore who explained how the book was printed with a special mixture of royal purple and had the title and Mr. Armstrong's signature embossed in gold lettering. I remember how proud I was in watching the video at the Feast that year. My tithes helped finance that. But I didn't know it was a book "riddled with errors."
Again Mr. Armstrong came back on continuing:
"When the Bible speaks, that is God speaking, not a man. Now it's true Moses wrote the first five books. But it wasn't really Moses writing it. God was having him write it. And it was God writing it. But that was really inspired. And then when we come to prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekial, and then when we come to the New Testament books. God inspired them. They are the infallible words of God. This book [Mystery of the Ages] is not. I don't make any such claim for this book whatsoever. But I think, in a way. God inspired it. But not in the sense that it is the word of God. It's as God inspired Herbert Armstrong. And I tried to yield myself to him. And I hope I was able to yield myself, if not 100 percent, 97, and 98, and 99 percent. The Bible is like a book that had been sort of cut up into about 2000 or 3000 pieces and you have to get them all put together in the right order or you can't understand them. THIS BOOK PUTS THEM TOGETHER. [My emphasis].
Still no mention of the "errors" yet. Not only that, it would seem ridiculous for Mr. Armstrong to claim this book puts the Bible together like a puzzle. How could a book "riddled with errors" contribute to a solving of the puzzle?
"And yet this book is only a synopsis. You could say it's the gist of the Bible. The synopsis. It doesn't cover all of it. But it covers the main thread of the Bible so you can understand the Bible and understand the other details when you read them in the Bible. It'll open up the Bible so you can understand it. That's what it is for; to make the bible plain and clear and understandable. God is such a great God when you come to "really" know Him and who and what He is and how real He is. And I want to say that you need to read every word and you need to go over it more than once. YOU AREN'T GOING TO GET THE FULL MEAT OF THIS BOOK IN ONE READING. This is a book that after you've read it you can read it A SECOND TIME and then later a THIRD TIME."
Read it a second and third time? For what? To more deeply learn of all the "errors" in it? Although he hasn't mentioned the "errors" yet, has he?
"I hope you will enjoy reading it more than any book you have ever read, except the Bible. And perhaps in sense this makes even the Bible more clear and plain and you will enjoy the Bible more from now on."
"Will you forgive me if I get a little bit of a thrill that this book is done; that this book is out now! Today is a pretty big day in my life when I can hand out copies of this book out to each of you."
At this point Mr. Armstrong was getting a little bit emotional. Now think this through logically. Here he is saying this book was to make their education complete and that it would put the Bible together like a puzzle and that it should be read two or three times and then on the verge of shedding a tear, he supposedly said, "Oh, by the way, I should tell the book is riddled with errors, but your class instructors can point them out to you so you can make corrections in the margins." That doesn't make sense! Which video did Mr. Tkach watch?
At this point in the video, the narrator then explained how Mr. Armstrong wanted to see as many people receive this book as possible. Hardback copies were sent to the members. Copies were also sent to co-workers and regular donors to the Work. A paperback edition was offered to readers of the "Plain Truth" and viewers of the "World Tomorrow" telecast. Recordings were made for the visually impaired. The book was to be run serially in the "Plain Truth" in English, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, and Norwegian. Seven different languages-all presumably carrying their own translation of the many "errors".
Mystery of the Ages was also sold in book stores. In his video of November, 1992, Mr. Tkach said the only reason Mr. Armstrong handed out the book to the students was that their instructors would be able to point out the "errors" to them! But what about all the co-workers and donors? Who would point out the "errors" to them? What about those who purchased the book in book stores? How would they know where the "errors" were? But the larger question is: WHAT ABOUT THE MINISTERS AND MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH? Who would point out the many "errors" to them? Prior to the issuance of the Spokesman Club graduate manual, some ministers even used the book for one season assigning a chapter to each speaker. And NO CORRECTIONS WERE EVEN MENTIONED OR MADE.! I know firsthand as I sat in on a class in my area. If Mr. Armstrong had mentioned that his book was "riddled with errors", I certainly would have wanted to know where they were so I could make the corrections as Mr. Armstrong instructed.
More mystery is added to the Mystery of the Ages in that in 1986 and 1987 there were a great many literature revisions given in the "Pastor General's Report". Not once was the Mystery of the Ages mentioned. Why not for a book "riddled with errors"?
There was also a $400,000 ad campaign TO ADVERTISE THE BOOK! Advertisements were placed in trade journals, magazines and newspapers. Press releases were sent to 4000 suburban newspapers in all parts of the United States. Full page ads were run in the "Wall Street Journal". Mr. Gilmore, the narrator, said, "every effort is being made to make Mystery of the Ages available to the widest possible audience." Why the widest possible audience? So Mr. Armstrong could expose his mistakes before millions of readers?
Mr. Armstrong had said his book, "may prove to be one of the most important books of our day." One of the most important books which was "riddled with errors"? Again, keep in mind that it was Mr. Tkach who is the one claiming Mr. Armstrong is the one who said it was "riddled with errors". WHERE IS THE QUOTE? And how could that possibly be harmonious with all the other quotes we read? The fact is SOMEBODY IS LYING.
We have read what Mr. Armstrong said the students a short time before his death. Let's read now what he said. about the book on three other occasions.
1. On June 24, 1985, Mr. Armstrong issued a special edition of the "Worldwide News" concerning recent history of the Worldwide Church of God. (If you still have your copy you should get it out and read it again to see that most of the things the "liberals" wanted changed during the troublesome 1970's HAVE NOW BEEN CHANGED. But that is another story). Concerning his new book, Mr. Armstrong said;
"God has revealed MUCH VITALLY IMPORTANT NEW biblical truth. Many of the IMPORTANT NEW biblical truths will be covered in the new book Mystery of the Ages. [My emphasis].
And yet after it was withdrawn three years later, Mr. Tkach said, "His purpose [in writing the book] was to put the basis of the truth under one cover, NOT TO COME UP WITH STARTLING NEW REVELATIONS." [My emphasis]. Again, which Apostle is telling the truth?
2. Just before the Feast in September, Mr. Armstrong sent out his usual monthly letter to the Brethren and co-workers introducing his new book. The letter was written some three days after he had presented the book to the students so he made many similar comments to the Brethren. In addition he wrote:
"I candidly feel it may be the most important book since the Bible. I am now in my 94th year and I feel that the book IS THE MOST VALUABLE GIFT I COULD POSSIBLY GIVE YOU". [My emphasis].
How could he ever say that knowing it was "riddled with errors"? And why not mention in this letter that not only are there errors but our pastors would point them out to us so we could make the corrections in our gift copies?
3. Finally we come to the last time Mr. Armstrong makes mention of his book publicly. Now keep in mind that this was over two months after he supposedly said the book was "riddled with errors" when presenting it to the students. The date is November 25, 1985, just some six weeks before he died. He wrote to the Brethren and co-workers :
"With the writing of the new book Mystery of the Ages, God has helped me to do the best work of my 93 years of life!"
Here was an opportunity for Mr. Armstrong to clear up any questions regarding the book. No statements of "errors" here.
So we have read the many laudatory comments Mr. Armstrong made about his book. And praise continues after his death from Mr. Tkach, the new Apostle.
On January 16, 1986 Mr. Armstrong died and Mr. Tkach announced it officially to the membership of the Church. He also wrote:
"Even in the last year of his life, with declining strength, he completed, with God's help, his MOST POWERFUL AND EFFECTIVE BOOK Mystery of the ages. [MY emphasis].
"Effective"? Quite a statement for a book "riddled with errors".
Just three days later, Mr.Tkach wrote the monthly Brethren and co-worker letter and once again declared Mystery of the Ages Mr. Armstrong's
"...final and most important book."
The next notice is found in the Pastor General's Report of March 7, 1986. The ministerial edition of the "literature index" was updated TO INCLUDE the book both in hardbound and paper covers. This supposedly error-filled book remained on the literature index for the next four revisions up to October 30, 1988 when it was absent. In this PGR under discussion, Evangelist Richard Rice of Editorial Services wrote:
"We're pleased to report that over 1.2 million copies of Mr. Armstrong's final book, 'Mystery of Ages', have now been requested."
So, apparently Mr. Rice was happy the book "riddled with errors" which he knew about as being head of Editorial services was being wonderfully received.
In the PGR for July 8. 1986. Mr. Rice wrote:
"...'Mystery of the Ages' continues to be an effective tool in spreading the Gospel."
But wouldn't its effectiveness be curbed by the "errors"?
The fifth consecutive notice of praise for Mr. Armstrong's book appeared in the "Worldwide News" of August 25, 1986. One whole page was devoted to a list of the "18 Restored Truths" which God had put back into the Church through Mr. Armstrong. [Several of these have now been abandoned]. The question was stated: "How Thankful Are You For Them?" Along with a photo of Mr. Armstrong and his first wife Loma was a photo showing a number of Mr. Armstrong's books. The lead caption of the photo was, "A Life's Work" Next followed this:
"Though Mr. Armstrong didn't know it at the time God began to call him. God had a lifelong job for him; to restore to His Church truth the centuries had dimmed. In the last year of his life, Mr. Armstrong finished 'Mystery of the Ages', his final collection of these essential truths."
Now notice this. Here it is, nearly a year has passed since Mr. Armstrong gave out his book to the sophomore class while at the same time supposedly telling them it was "riddled with errors." And now, in a for-members-only publication, it is being described as a collection of "essential truths." How would anyone know the truths from the errors? Why is the leadership still praising it?
Little is heard about the book for about two and a half years until instructions to the ministry appeared in the PGR of January 31, 1989. Mr. Joseph Tkach,Jr. wrote:
"Please do not tell prospective members to request copies of the 'Mystery of the Ages', because WE DO NOT HAVE ANY IN STOCK." [My emphasis ] .
As members will recall, prospective members were assigned certain Church publications to read as part of their counseling prior to baptism. During its brief life the Mystery of the Ages was a major reading assignment. And at the same time no supposed "errors" were ever pointed out to the prospectives. What sense would it make to baptize a person who said they had read, fully understood, and believed a book "riddled with errors"? Think about this: Many of the members of the Worldwide Church of God are in because they did make that profession about the book. What a foundation! •
And so, a little over three years after the "most important book since the Bible" was released with great praise, fanfare, and hoopla, it was quietly pulled from further distribution by the successors to Mr. Armstrong.
The fact is Mr. Armstrong said his book would contain "important new biblical truth"; that it was written to make "education complete as possible"; that "God inspired it"; that it would make "the Bible plain and clear and understandable"; that it was "the most valuable gift I could give you" ; and that it was "the best work of my 93 years of life". Mr. Tkach would have everyone in the Church believe that Mr. Armstrong said and believed that the book was "riddled with errors". Again, which apostle is telling the truth? Think about it.
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