AR34 January, 1986
Herbert Armstrong's Sinking Ship
Herbert Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God (WCG) and Ambassador College are in trouble - BIG trouble. The last four months have been one of the most traumatic periods in the WCG's fifty-two year history. Here are the latest developments.
- Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA), the WCG's founder and its self-appointed Apostle, is acknowledged to be in rapidly failing health. The 93-year-old preacher has not been seen in public since late September. And while there is every indication that HWA is lucid and coherent, it appears from his writings that he is forced to run his organization from his sickbed. The WCG's 1985 fall festival was the first such festival since the church's founding at which HWA was unable to personally address his flock. In his Nov. 25 letter to his "brethren and coworkers" HWA admitted: "I have been confined to my home, with a doctor, who seldom makes house calls, coming to see me every day - sometimes twice a day."
- Church officials claim the WCG's income is down significantly (Worldwide News, Sept. 17). While such claims have often been made over the years to stimulate contributors to greater generosity, other WCG announcements indicate that this time the problem may be real.
Just how desperate the WCG is for money is perhaps best revealed by a recent directive from church headquarters. WCG members already pay first tithe; second tithe, third tithe every three years, feast day offerings (seven as opposed to the three of the Old Testament), special offerings, etc. They also donate generously of their time. But in today's WCG that is obviously not enough! Quite a number of current WCG members have written us of how they have been perturbed by a recent headquarters directive ordering local WCG congregations to turn over what little funds they have in their activity accounts. Those are the funds each congregation saves for church socials, outings, and other fellowship activities. HWA wrote in his Nov. 25 letter, "we must prepare to tighten our belts and reduce our living standards!" He really meant it.
- The church's Plain Truth magazine, long suspected of inflated circulation figures anyway, is soon to be trimmed in both circulation and issue size (by one full signature, or 12-16 pages, according to HWA's Nov. 25 letter). And some recent editions of the Plain Truth have been printed on paper of noticeably inferior quality with more black and white and less color.
- All across the U.S. local ministers have been admitting that the Plain Truth's newsstand program is being cut back severely. WCG finances are one factor. But the big reason? Complaints from the public! While we cannot verify just how big the cutbacks have been nationwide, we suspect that the Buffalo, New York area is typical. There, according to one WCG minister, the newsstand program has been cut back a full 50% due to public pressure. Yet, that minister had the nerve to tell his listeners this has been their "best year ever."
- In his Nov. 25 letter HWA wrote: "We are pruning our less effective stations on television...." What he didn't tell his readers, however, is that a large and growing number of stations no longer want his "World Tomorrow" program. They frankly state that as a broadcaster HWA is way over the hill. Carrying the HWA program can hurt a station's ratings.
While keeping the members in the dark, HWA has been auditioning top WCG ministers in an attempt (at least, ostensibly) to find a new voice for the "World Tomorrow." But so far, HWA claims, there has been no one up to the task. We've heard that Garner Ted Armstrong (GTA), HWA's ostracized broadcaster son, told one WCG official he'd be happy to audition. So far, however, HWA does not appear interested in his son's offer.
- In his December 9 letter to church members, HWA announced that Ambassador College's Big Sandy campus will close permanently at the end of the current school year. Excuses given for the move included the church's financial problems, the state of Texas' requirement that colleges pursue accreditation, and the "needs of the ministry" - HWA's absurd claim that the WCG is growing so rapidly that all available college personnel are needed in "the field." However, in an address to Pasadena church members Dr. Donald Ward, an administrator at the Big Sandy campus, bluntly told his audience that the WCG would not be able to find employment for most of those being terminated and that many dedicated College employees would have to endure a prolonged period of unemployment.
The announcement that Ambassador's Big Sandy campus will soon close its doors has shocked many members who have long believed HWA's claim that the Ambassador campuses represented an important arm of "God's Work." Many, too, cannot understand why Ambassador is being cut at a time when many Christian colleges in the U.S. (for instance, Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist College in Virginia) are experiencing phenomenal growth.
Besides the closing of Big Sandy, many in Pasadena believe that Ambassador's oldest and last remaining campus will be closed, too, if HWA lives another year. The lead article in the Dec. 30 Worldwide News was entitled "Education: What does God expect?" In it, HWA, through aide Aaron Dean, instructs the youth of the church on how to go about getting an education outside of Ambassador. (Key points: don't live on campus, and avoid subjects such as psychology, sociology, theology and law - in other words, avoid those subjects that deal with the heart and core of what the Bible is all about because you might discover points of view more intelligent and more sane than that taught by "the Great Apostle.") Some see this article as the handwriting on the wall for Ambassador College.
- Sources in Texas say that the WCG's luxurious executive jet has been quietly put up for sale. Apparently HWA feels he will never again have need of it. There is also well-founded speculation that HWA has no intention that anyone else (including his son Garner Ted) ever have the use of that jet.
- The Dec. 20 issue of the Pastor General's Report (p. 5) has announced that Herbert Armstrong has ordered the reprinting of his Autobiography Volume I and the printing of a new Volume II. While considered by many WCG members as the equivalent of Holy Writ, HWA's Autobiography has been called "about two-thirds fiction" by Garner Ted Armstrong, HWA's son.
© 1986 Ambassador Report. Published quarterly, as finances allow, as a Christian service. ISSN 0882-2123
John Trechak, Editor & Publisher Mary E. Jones, Associate Editor
Founding Publishers: Robert Gerringer, Bill Hughes, Mary E. Jones, John Trechak, Len Zola, and Margaret Zola.
An Open Letter to Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong
Editor: Many readers will recall David Robinson's 1979 open letter to HWA reproving him for the great sorrows he has inflicted on his church and very own family. That powerful letter appeared in the appendix of Robinson's 1980 book Herbert Armstrong's Tangled Web. But Robinson's letter has not been the only one sent to HWA in condemnation of his lifestyle and mismanagement of the WCG. Over the last ten years we have read and heard of many letters written to HWA by former close associates who have implored him to finally begin practicing the way of life he himself has preached for decades.
This past fall we were sent a copy of another such letter - apparently sent anonymously to HWA. Considering how HWA has always turned his back on such counsel we think it highly unlikely such efforts will bear fruit. Nevertheless, the letter was obviously written after much prayerful reflection and we believe it may prove of interest to our readers.
Dear Mr. Armstrong:
For years now you have been granted power, wealth, and prestige, and in your realm, none could stand against your might. Your life, though, has reached a major crossroad, and soon you will be called on to give account to your Maker concerning how you have used your talents to further His priorities.
This letter will evaluate your lengthy reign over the organizations you call God's Church and God's College and reveal what you must do to ensure their success once you leave the scene.
Since your youth you have been given a rare and priceless gift - the power of persuasion. Though President Ronald Reagan is called the great communicator by the media, truly you have been the great communicator on the religious scene for over one half of a century, with few rivals. Your skill and success in marketing and selling your product (the message of the Worldwide Church of God) is one of the big success stories in modem advertising. None can deny the many triumphs you have had in the broadcasting and publishing areas. Due to your almost single-handed efforts your church-college has prospered where most other organizations of a similar nature have gone belly-up.
While your successes have been spectacular, you have had a dark side to your life that few have been aware of. Your reign over the church has paralleled the reigns of the kings of Judah and Israel who did evil in the sight of the Lord. As I said earlier, your life is at a crossroad. Either you can continue along the path you have been walking for the past 50 years and die in shame and dishonor, or you can follow the example of King Manasseh of Judah and repent and begin trying to right the wrongs you have perpetrated over your lifetime.
Perhaps you'll recall the story of Manasseh, which was recorded for all to read, just as your life will be. King Manasseh reigned in Jerusalem for 55 years and did evil in the sight of the Lord, practicing idolatry. But he was taken into captivity by the Assyrians for his sins. Like all the kings of Judah and Israel, he faced a crossroad in his life, but unlike most of the kings, he actually "entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers" (II Chronicles 33:12). The Lord heard his supplication and brought him again to Jerusalem, and this time Manasseh turned away from idolatry and began to serve the Lord. Will you follow King Manasseh's example?
You had all but died in 1977 with heart failure, but miraculously your life was allowed to continue, no doubt not only to let you reap what you have sown in your life, but also to make you aware of the hypocrisies and sins you have practiced during your ministry so you could repent. And sure enough your immorality, double-dealing, fornications, carousing, drunkenness, jealousy, selfishness, and anger (see Galatians 5:19-21) became headline news in the world's news media. What you practiced in the dark was published for all to see. As Luke wrote: "Nothing is hid that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light" (Luke 8:17).
Surprisingly you accurately divulged your true character, proclivities, and value system in your Autobiography. In a nutshell, you described yourself as an aggressive, manipulative, stubborn, power-hungry individual who would stop at nothing to satisfy your desires. You described how you yearned to hob-nob with the wealthy, powerful, and influential. You bragged how you pushed out all other Christians who were competing with you for leadership of the Church of God people with whom you were associated. You gloated over how you put yourself and your work first, even when it meant your family nearly starved or were deprived of the necessities of life. Mr. Armstrong, these are NOT things to be proud of!
According to a number of sources, including your own daughter and son, you abused your daughter during the 1930s and 1940s when you were first building your "true" church. God was emphatically not speaking through you then, and as would be expected, all of your sweeping prophecies came to naught. Your mistreatment of your children has been like a curse on you and on them and on their children, and rather than honoring you as an apostle, you are despised for what you have done to them. Even now, your only surviving son, Garner Ted, would like to at least be on good speaking terms with his human father, but you have hardened your heart against him and refuse to even talk decently to him or his family. Yet, Mr. Armstrong, it was you who has preached for 50 years that you were a man of God whose mission was to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers.
How can a man claim to be an apostle of God - even a Christian - and not be on speaking terms with members of his own family? This is something you need to straighten out before your death. You need to publicly apologize for all the hurt you've brought to your own family and lies you've spread about them, and apologize from your heart to each of them personally. I pray that your heart will soften enough that you can see your great need to humble yourself before God and man. You need to make amends with many of the church officials whom you treacherously and uncompassionately kicked out of your organization after these people had given you the best years of their lives. You brag about being an ambassador for world peace, yet you persecute the church brethren who disagree with you with a viciousness uncharacteristic of a true Christian!
You have caused untold misery to thousands of people in your church with your poorly researched divorce and remarriage policy. You split apart thousands of marriages over this, wrecked happy families, and made mental cases out of many of these victims. Yet you sit there in a wealthy church surrounded with servants and the finest luxuries money can buy and do not lift a finger to relieve the burdens you have caused these people. You have even refused to apologize. Don't you remember Jesus' words: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy"? You are about to face your Creator. If you can't find it in your heart to apologize and make a good-faith attempt to right the heartaches and wrongs you have caused, how do you think your Creator will react to you? You spent millions of dollars on legal fees to humiliate the wife whom you said God gave to you - millions that could have better been spent helping members whose lives you have destroyed - yet you aren't even at peace with your wife Ramona whom you have put away in divorce, contrary to God's law and your own teachings. Do you think God is blind to this?
For 40 years you taught it was wrong to seek medical help. You insisted the sick should avoid doctors and medicine and instead pray for healing. This unbiblical teaching cost dozens of lives and much unnecessary trauma and damage to those who put their faith in you. You have done nothing to remunerate these people for their suffering at your hand, yet you avail yourself of the finest doctors and medical treatment church money can buy. For these actions, you need to publicly apologize to all the congregations of the church and repent before God.
But like the kings of Israel, your worst sin has been that of idolatry. But unlike these kings, you didn't set up idols of other gods. Instead you caused the church to idolize you, your works, and your words. You set yourself up as the sole authority over God's holy Word, and you absurdly claimed that even when you contradicted Scripture and taught error, God bound your error in heaven. And like the false minister Diotrephes, you kicked out of your church all who dared stand up to your heresies (III John 9-10). All along it was you, Mr. Armstrong, who was the leaven in the midst of the church - you and a handful of your cohorts were the fornicators that I Corinthians 5:1-2, 6, 11-13 commands the church to excommunicate and refuse to associate with.
Mr. Armstrong, God has a strong message for you: "Repent! Those whom I love I reprove and chasten. So be zealous and repent!" But you are probably thinking: "I am rich, prosperous, and highly successful. I'm God's Apostle!" But deep down you know that though you are highly adored and flattered by the sycophants who surround you like vultures, you haven't a true friend left. You are even afraid to mingle with the brethren after services. You have wronged so many that you are surrounded by bodyguards and have to preach and then run like a coward after church services. You are truly wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Before you breathe your last breath, you need to get right with God in heaven. Mr. Armstrong, remember the immortal words from your favorite oratorio, Mendelssohn's "Elijah": "If with all your hearts ye truly seek Me, ye shall ever surely find Me. Thus saith our God." You desperately need to take the Eternal up on his promise. Then go before all your congregations at the Feast of Tabernacles this year by videotape or satellite and divulge your sins before them, tell them how you betrayed them, and tell them how you've repented and that you are deeply sorry. You need to apologize to them for putting yourself in place of God and causing them to idolize you, and you need to explain why that was wrong. Then you need to promise and carry out big changes in the church - especially in the way you treat members, employees, and former members - and YOU need to provide for those whom you have ruined financially and healthwise.
If you repent, seek wise counsel, and make these big changes, you will have the power to turn many to righteousness, and as Daniel wrote: "They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that TURN MANY TO RIGHTEOUSNESS as the stars for ever and ever" (Dan. 12:3). But if you neglect this challenge, some day you may awake to shame and everlasting contempt.
In Jesus' Name,
A Loyal Member
Gallup Ranks the TV Evangelists
For years audiences have heard Herbert W. Armstrong crow about having the number one religious telecast in the U.S. While his program may be number one as far as number of television stations' time purchased, he is by no means the most popular or influential TV evangelist, according to an April 1984 Gallup survey. When the Gallup Organization asked viewers: "Which religious television programs do you watch most often?" only 1% of viewers named HWA's program as their choice. Billy Graham headed the list with 16% of viewers indicating they watched him, followed by Jimmy Swaggart with 13% naming him, followed by Oral Roberts with 12%, Pat Robertson's 700 Club with 11%, Jim Bakker with 10%, Robert Schuller with 8%, Jerry Falwell with 6%, Rex Humbard with 5%, Baptist programs with 4%, Ernest Angely with 2% and, further down the list ranking 16th with only 1% was Herbert Armstrong.
When the Gallup Organization asked viewers to give the names of the religious programs or their sponsoring groups they had watched on TV over the past 7 days, 25% mentioned that they had watched Jimmy Swaggart, 20% had seen Oral Roberts, 18% had seen Pat Robertson, 16% had viewed Jim Bakker, 14% tuned in to Billy Graham, 13% watched Robert Schuller, and 12% heard Jerry Falwell. Ranking 14th on the list was, of all people, Garner Ted Armstrong, Herbert's son, followed by Catholic programs ranking 15th, and then by Herbert Armstrong himself in 16th place. It was indeed surprising to see Garner Ted, with his humble program on only a handful of stations compared to Herbert, so high on the list.
This Gallup survey says a lot about Herbert Armstrong's effectiveness as as TV evangelist. It also indicates that the Worldwide Church of God, which sponsors HWA's programs, isn't getting a very good return on the millions of dollars spent on Apostle Armstrong's shows. Of course, any objective viewer could have told the church that. HWA comes across as an absent-minded, senile old man who is in such poor health that he might give up the ghost right there before his viewers. Groping around for his magnifying glass and misreading simple Bible passages does nothing to dispel his feeble image. And one can't help but notice how his head bobs and rotates back and forth, round and round, almost as if it's in a shaky orbit and ready to come crashing down at any moment. If the church officials were smart, they'd either find another speaker to preach their message, or they would at least cancel the program. But they let Herbert make the decisions and he's so obsessed with his own infallibility and importance that he doesn't seem to know it's time to bow out gracefully.
Ambassador College Accredited
Herbert Armstrong may not want Ambassador College accredited, but, nevertheless, it has been - due to the efforts of Ambassador Report.
On March 21, 1985, the International Accrediting Association sent Herbert Armstrong the news:
Dear Chancellor Armstrong:
We take great pleasure in informing you that upon a careful evaluation of the current Ambassador College catalog, the International Accrediting Association has decided to grant Ambassador College full accreditation, effective immediately. Our Congratulations.
Robert E. Imbeau, Ph.D.
The International Accrediting Association is affiliated with Rev. Hensley's Universal Life Church of Modesto, California and is not one of the thirty or so accrediting associations formally recognized by the U.S. Dept. of Education. Nevertheless, it does have the legal right to accredit institutions and Ambassador College is now one of those institutions it has accredited.
Unfortunately, however, Ambassador College officials have yet to inform their students of this important news.
The December 6 issue of the WCG's Pastor General's Report announced that Keith Thomas, a long-time WCG minister, has been "removed from the ministry." The notice, typical of others we've seen in that publication, molified the news with "Mr. and Mrs. Thomas remain members of the Church" and carried the warning "Not to be announced."
Killer Harris Turns Preacher
On Oct. 14, Charles Evino Harris, the Seattle WCG member convicted of slaying two women and wounding two other people in a vicious shooting spree (see our last two issues), was sentenced to life plus 57 years. In imposing the prison sentence King County Superior Court Judge Terrence Carroll stated: "The court has to make certain Mr. Harris does not ever regain his freedom."
According to the Seattle Post Intelligencer (Oct. 15, p. A3), Harris appeared in court wearing a white suit and carrying a Bible. He read selections from the Bible to Judge Carroll and predicted that Christ would return to earth "in this generation," ending war and causing mankind to live in peace and joy. Judge Carroll suggested to Harris that he study other sections of the Bible - those dealing with harming and killing others. Harris' life sentence will allow him plenty of time to study those passages.
Buchner in America
In November, Ambassador Report had the pleasure of being paid a visit by John Buchner of Australia. Mr. Buchner, a former WCG member now in the Christian mainstream, is working on an advanced degree with the WCG the focus of a sociological study to become a thesis and book. Readers will recall that about a year ago Buchner did a survey of former WCG members that attempted to answer many fundamental questions as to why people join and leave the WCG.
As part of his research, Buchner came to the United States to meet with leaders of various organizations having historical ties to the WCG. He was treated cordially by all, with one exception. While some WCG officials had at first agreed to talk to him, all meetings were cancelled, apparently on orders from WCG honcho Joe Tkach who didn't have the sense to see how Buchner's research could actually help the WCG, but instead wrote Buchner an insulting letter.
Nevertheless, Buchner feels his trip was a success. He wrote us the following report on his trip:
The Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the work of the Spirit, is entering the lives of many former Worldwide Church of God people. This assessment is seen through the eyes of faith. My mission to the United States last November and December involved a search for understanding the spiritual processes at work in the lives and ministries of former WCG leaders. Going to meet them as brothers has been an acknowledgment that God is at work in us all, and is for us all in the person of Jesus. Meetings with former WCG evangelists, workers and members were remarkably stimulating and provided rare insights into their contributions, as well as their struggles with the demands of the Gospel.
Meetings with the Church of God International in Tyler were positive, but I sensed a problem somewhat typical of many former WCG leaders - a growing sense of futility over their years in ministry. As age increases, so do the doubts about the value of past work. The stress involved in change was readily apparent, and one senses the presence of a troubled spirit, and the need for healing in these people. In time, the CGI could mature into a healthy evangelical church. The temptation to be reincorporated in a redundant theological and organizational structure is strong, however, and people of goodwill would do well to continue in prayer for Garner Ted Armstrong and Ronald Dart.
The Association for Christian Development in Seattle may be regarded as a healthy and growing part of the body of Christ. Ken Westby and Charles Dorothy understand the meaning of open ministry and prudence in Christian studies. A similar strong desire for fidelity to truth was evidenced in the Church of God, The Eternal and I was granted a rare interview with Raymond Cole. In this body, as with numerous smaller groups, scriptural truth is understood literally and an older tradition of interpretation is stood by. Many important questions are raised in this manner, and yet new categories of thought need to he explored to arrive at more satisfactory answers.
Many of these men and women are high in intellect and in their dedication to religious knowledge, but have not been through the discipline of higher education; they can bring fresh insights to their studies and, as dialog proceeds, acquire appropriate tools for dealing with questions of faith and practice. An inner reality has also been experienced and I had deep spiritual concourse with them. These are people of deep conviction, natural gifts, and energy desperately seeking authenticity in life and ministry, often having to struggle with the reality of their abiding weaknesses.
There are some within the WCG still struggling with their conscience. To protect themselves, some strenuously oppose the Gospel and any approach of good-will. A gracious response is hard to draw from a dry spiritual well, and I am saddened by the insulting reproaches of WCG leaders. Although the dean of students at Pasadena extended some courtesies, my appointments with WCG officials were cancelled because my research was "not congruous with the aims and purposes" of the WCG. Covert meetings with students at Ambassador College revealed a high degree of intellectual myopia.
My mission involved meetings with many former WCG people, as well as academics and clergy involved in cult-research. The most encouraging meetings were with friends at the Church of God (Seventh Day) in Denver. This church is growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ and has a desperate need for qualified Christians to share in its ministry. A small donation will provide you with their tape Reaching Out to WCG Brethren (P. O. Box 33677, Denver, CO 80233).
I hope that my forthcoming book will adequately present and explain something of the complex phenomenon that is Armstrongism. In the meantime, the preliminary results of my questionnaire are now available. You can obtain a copy for a donation that covers my costs - request Armstrongism in America (U. S. $15), Armstrongism in Australia (A $10), or Armstrongism in Britain (10 pounds). Airmail postage is included. Write to John Buchner, P.O. Box 108, Milperra NSW 2214 Australia.
Book Review by Brenda Denzler
Editor: Brenda Denzler is a former WCG member now majoring in religion at Wichita State University. She will be in the 1986 edition of Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges.
Beyond Fundamentalism, by James Barr
Westminster Press, 1984, 195 pp.
Eight years ago, Oxford biblical scholar James Barr published Fundamentalism (Westminster Press, 1978), in which he attempted to provide a critical analysis and description of the fundamentalist (Christian) point of view. His latest book Beyond Fundamentalism, is a more pastoral response to the issues and attitudes of that branch of the evangelical movement known as fundamentalism.
In the second line of his Preface, Barr states that he "does not seek to argue with fundamentalists and convince them that they are mistaken" (p. vii). Rather, his objective is to address those persons who have been in fundamentalist churches and are beginning to question some of the beliefs and attitudes they were taught. Barr says that such people often feel they have lost their bearings due to losing the certitude that seems to be one of the distinguishing motivations of the fundamentalist movement. For Barr, the tragedy is that former fundamentalists often endure "deep pain and personal suffering" in the process of their exiting fundamentalism, leading some to give up on religion altogether.
Barr believes that fundamentalism is an interpretational system in which the Bible is less at the center than is a "peculiar picture" of what the rest of the world is like, and that those exiting fundamentalism must come to see that the Bible points in a different direction and that the "outside" world is of a different character than they have been taught to believe. The emerging fundamentalist must often reevaluate his or her beliefs about the nature of the "outside world." As regards the spirit, Beyond Fundamentalism provides the re-forming fundamentalist with a systematic response of mainstream Christianity to the attitudes and ideas about the nature of faith and the church which are commonly taught in fundamentalist circles.
Barr presents fundamentalism as a system of biblical interpretation (a subset of evangelicalism) that has five central propositions: (1) The nature of God is perfection and constancy, (2) All scripture is inspired by God. (3) All scripture, as the inspired word of God, is infallible. (4) The Bible may be understood without error only when allowed to interpret itself. (5) The Bible is the sole authority for understanding God and for guiding human life. In effect, Barr wants to show that those principles describe a closed circle of reasoning and that fundamentalism "jumped on" somewhere in that closed circle, bringing with it unacknowledged methods and views (interpretations) that work to deny the very propositions that fundamentalism claims to support.
In making this criticism, Barr meets fundamentalism on its own grounds - the question of what the text of the Bible really does say. He insists on stripping away all excuses and smokescreens used to hide what he sees as fundamentalism's repeated unacknowledged breaches of its most important principle: letting the Bible interpret itself. In so doing, Barr investigates fundamentalism's doctrines of the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture, the form and extent of the canon, the uses of Scripture, Christology, the use of the prophetic paradigm, the nature of God, and justification by faith. On each of these topics, he shows that the usual fundamentalist position is at best only one of several possible directions that Scripture might point, and at worst, totally unsupported by Scripture.
In recognition of the fundamentalist-inspired importance of relying solely on the biblical text, Barr centers his discussions around the biblical witness. He avoids reliance upon arguments from tradition, scholarship, or historical criticism. While he also seems to avoid a recognition of the many controversies that exist within fundamentalism - controversies which take into account some of his critical points, he constructs his presentation based upon the experience and practice of fundamentalism by the lay member and the fundamentalist preacher, whose instruction in faith seldom appears broadened by any awareness (much less critical evaluation) of such controversies.
Barr begins his book by looking at the two main texts used to justify fundamentalism's understanding of biblical inspiration and infallibility. He points out that II Timothy 3:16-17 (i.e, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for... ") is the only passage that speaks in any definite way about the inspiration of Scripture and that, judging from the amount of biblical attention given to the issue of inspiration, it is not a priority item in the biblical message. The passage, he points out, raises questions about the nature of the Scripture which is to be considered inspired, the nature of inspiration itself, and the role of Scripture as the supreme (and sole) criterion for faith.
II Peter 1:20-21 ("...no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man..."), Barr claims, encourages a universal and general interpretation of Scripture within the overall Christian community - that mainstream Christianity which fundamentalism despises as Christianity-gone-bad. He points out that it is fundamentalism itself which seeks to privately interpret Scripture outside of (and to the exclusion of) the larger Christian community, thereby violating the very Scripture which it claims to follow. "One may reasonably ask for the meaning of the biblical text taken in itself; or for the meaning as perceived by scholarship; or for the meaning as perceived by the church as a whole. But if one says that one must [emphasis reviewer's] follow the evangelical interpretation, or the conservative interpretation, or some other partisan understanding, then one is likely to transgress the guidance of Il Peter 1:20-21" (p. 7). Barr also notes that, contrary to Peter's admonition, fundamentalism pays great attention to individual personalities within its circle.
One of the key presuppositions of fundamentalism is that God is both perfect and unchangeable in word and in deed. Barr shows that fundamentalism has ignored the large witness of Scripture which illustrates God's variability and relative disinterest in absolute perfection [editor: recall David] and has concentrated instead on a handful of verses that make statements about God's unchangeable nature. Barr shows that the Bible presents a creative tension between God-as-omniscient (and therefore unvarying) and God-as-changeable, whereas fundamentalism attempts to deny that any tension exists at all in the biblical portrait of God. Thus, Barr points out, fundamentalism, which is supposedly based solely on Scripture, proclaims a view of God that is contrary to the witness of Scripture, reading into the great historical and literary expanse of Scripture its own more recent ideas about the nature of God - a reading justified only by a few verses out of the entire biblical witness. Barr shows that the fundamentalist corsetting of the living God into a static nature is not the result of the overall portrait of God as presented in the Bible, but rather derives from reason and philosophy more evidently than from Scripture.
Barr describes justification by faith as the "religious core" of fundamentalism. He points out, however, that though the theological concept is central to the evangelical side of Christianity, it is by no means the only understanding with which the New Testament may be read, nor, perhaps, even the best. Even if justification by faith were at the core, however, Barr claims that there is some question whether fundamentalism really obeys and promotes the doctrine. He points out that fundamentalism's precious precept of the infallibility of Scripture serves more to set a pattern and tie the believer down to one set of ideas and approaches than to bring the freedom implied in justification by faith.
Barr closes his book with an explanation of and rationale for traditional Christianity. Though fundamentalism claims to be the most recent expression of a long but often thin line of "true" Christian thought, Barr claims that in point of fact it exhibits little knowledge or insight about church history or the history of doctrine, and certainly little training in the often complex theological positions taken by many of the early church fathers from whom it claims to descend. Fundamentalism, Barr points out, appeals to ancient orthodoxy in a highly selective way. He asks how it can claim to be the sole true heir of a history and a tradition that it accepts only in part. In particular, Barr emphasizes that the treasured fundamentalist appeal to Scripture as the sole source and guide for Christian belief and life (sola scriptura) is found nowhere in early Christian orthodoxy.
Barr addresses, as well, fundamentalism's claim to stand firmly within the Protestant tradition with their emphasis on sola scriptura. He asserts that fundamentalism embraces only a portion of the spirit of the Reformation, and that, even then, it does not do so as strongly as it embraces the post-Reformation orthodoxy and revivalism of several centuries later. While Barr agrees that there is some historical connection between fundamentalism (particularly the more mainstream evangelicalisin of which fundamentalism is a splinter-movement) and the Reformation, he shows that, just as evangelical fundamentalism is one legitimate expression of the spirit of the Reformation, there are many other equally legitimate (or better) expressions of the Reformation spirit as well. On the one hand, Barr calls for increased fundamentalist tolerance for nonfundamentalist Christian faith because of their common origins. But on the other hand, he realizes that for fundamentalism to confess itself to be just one among several good presentations of the faith of the Christian Reformation, would be for fundamentalism to deny its claim to be the only current of "true" Christianity in existence.
It is a recognition of the struggle between mutual respect and fundamentalist exclusivism which mark Barr's final chapters. In those chapters, he seeks to present orthodoxy as it sees itself within the stream of Christian life and history, and he seeks to present the former fundamentalist with a rationale end an interpretive method for holding on to evangelical Christianity. Fundamentalism and evangelicalism, he points out, do not have to be synonymous. To those who would defend the fundamentalist position of exclusivity in determining Christian faith and life, he admonishes: "...unless there is openness to all serious possibilities of interpretation, the Bible is no longer primary authority" (p. 177).
In attitude and effect, the doctrine and practice of the Worldwide Church of God is surprisingly similar to that of other fundamentalist groups, their protestations of uniqueness notwithstanding. Like other emerging fundamentalists, former members of the WCG often grope to find different approaches to faith and values in religious practice. Some, who need the certainty that a fundamentalist belief system tries to offer, become members of other fundamentalist sects. Others (re-) integrate themselves into one of Christianity's mainstream denominations. Still others, unwilling or unable to join a mainstream church and yet equally unable to sort out the contradictions they see in fundamentalism, become disenchanted with religion altogether. It is for this last group, in particular, that Barr has attempted to provide a constructive response to fundamentalist dogma by the larger Christian community of faith. His work deserves careful consideration by those former Worldwide members who are working through their own ideas about Christian faith and life.
McNair Lawsuit Update
The WCG is undoubtedly having financial difficulties. And one major reason is the astronomical sums it is paying out to lawyers for no better reason than to protect Herbert Armstrong's preposterously over-inflated ego. While the WCG is tied up in a number of lawsuits draining its coffers, the one Herbert's attorneys seem most preoccupied with is the Leona McNair v. Worldwide defamation suit we reported on in the fall of 1984.
Readers will recall that Mrs. McNair won a $1.26 million verdict. But 18 months later she has still to see even one penny of that money. The WCG's lawyers have posted the required bond (McNair's eventual award will include 10% per annum added on to the original award) and have appealed the verdict to every possible state and federal court. Their appeal of the judgment is currently before the U.S. Ninth Circuit. After losing there, they'll undoubtedly try to spend more WCG money before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Such extravagant pettifoggery comes at a price. Top lawyers today often bill at $250 to $300 per hour. Beverly Hills lawyer Allan Browne is reputed to have made millions off the WCG. And that figure is constantly rising.
Yet, for all the millions in legal fees, what have Armstrong's pettifoggers accomplished? They lost at trial, they lost every appeal, they've given the WCG some of the worst publicity it's had in years, and now they've allowed Herbert, himself, to be drawn into the fray.
Prior to the 1984 trial, Judge Olson ruled that HWA should not be a defendant in the McNair suit. Tony Stuart, McNair's attorney, appealed that decision and after the trial was over won a reversal from a state appellate court. Thus Herbert Armstrong must now stand trial to determine what damages, if any, he must personally pay in addition to those already assessed against the other defendants. But the start of that trial has been delayed by Herbert's lawyers repeatedly claiming he is too ill to be deposed.
One superior court judge, Daniel Fletcher, suggested that an independent physician could examine HWA to determine if he really was too ill to be deposed. But Armstrong lawyer Ralph Helge, behaving like an overly energized Ambassador sophomore giving an "attack speech," yelled at the judge that that would not be acceptable because "We don't believe in doctors!!!" Herbert Armstrong's personal physician sat in the court room even as Helge spoke. Judge Fletcher quietly told Helge he was sorry his suggestion had made him so upset. To which Stuart quipped: "Your Honor, Mr. Helge always
behaves like this."
Helge's outlandish performance notwithstanding, the court ruled that HWA must submit to a deposition. But Herbert's lawyers are appealing - again.
Thank you for the recent AR. Years ago I would have been shocked that I would be reading a "dissident" paper with such relief, but there you are. May your readership grow and grow! Your discretion is much appreciated.
May I confirm what you reported on the Mystery of the Ages. It is being pushed on everyone, especially the children. Our minister says it will make "a nice addition to the Bible." Please go through this book and expose the errors to people. Among many incredible assertions, it states that HWA is the "angel to the Church at Philadelphia." How do they have the gall to put such things in print? At the Feast, members were admonished to read this publication three times!
Also, let me confirm another point you mentioned, Ken Westby of the ACD has been a real help to me. Any of his newsletters and tapes will be a balm to our people. And how we need that balm!
Moreover, I must tell you that the "great escape" is being mentioned often. "The Place of Final Training" is the euphemism they are using now. Much dangling over the lake of fire is threatened nearly every Sabbath. How can the WCG ministry make fun of the fundamentalists for preaching hellfire and brimstone when they do the same thing? Fear is such a good means of control.
Briefly, let me say what has helped me more than anything else. It is the growing conviction through personal Bible study that Jesus Christ is the Rock - not HWA, the "Church," the Sabbath, or anything else. If He is our foundation, we don't need to
have fear. But if our foundation is the slippery sand of the WCG doctrine, God help us!
To any souls who are in turmoil let me recommend reading Phillip Keller's book A Shepherd Looks at the Good Shepherd and His Sheep (Zondervan Publishing). The contrast between the false shepherds and the Savior is beautifully done.
Finally, to any who believe HWA's assertion that the WCG is the only true church, think about this: HWA admits that the Sardis era is still a Church of God. Supposedly, years ago, the three final church eras were taught as being co-existent in the end time.
It seems that WCG is using any excuse to put the old folks out of the church because they don't want to have to keep them. Some of my friends were put out when they thought they didn't have much money. They don't care that God commands them to look after the widows.
I believe Herbert Armstrong is going down fast. They showed a film of him in Tucson that was made Aug. 19. He looked pretty bad. He said he had a fever. Six weeks later, he was supposed to speak by satellite, but they said he still had a fever! I've also noticed that his TV shows are all reruns. Of course, the members wouldn't admit that anything is wrong.
I couldn't believe Herbert's Aug. 19 film. He kept telling the members, "I am your father, you are my children."... Everything [in church] is such a big secret. Your AR is the only WCG news source. Please don't stop.
-Spouse of WCG member
HWA Names Tkach Successor
Just as we are going to press, WCG attorney Ralph HeIge has announced (Jan. 14) that Herbert Armstrong has named evangelist Joseph K. Tkach, 59, to succeed him as church leader in the event of HWA's death. HWA was quoted as saying, "I am in a very physically weakened state, enduring severe pain and with virtually no strength whatsoever." HWA said he named Tkach to avoid "confusion and doubt in the mind of the church members and coworkers regarding the godly authority of his successor" and to ensure that none other than his personal choice attempted to lay claim to the position.
Our apologies that this issue is only half our usual size. But frankly, it's all we could afford to publish. Even as is, we are in the hole for about $3,000. So we hope that those who want to see the Report continue will keep us in mind. Our warmest thanks to those who did help to make this edition possible.
By the time you receive this issue you will probably have known the news for some time. But just in case you haven't heard - Herbert W. Armstrong died on January 16. Details of that and the big changes in the WCG will appear in our next issue.
- Ambassador Report
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