I was saved back in 1983, well before the age of the internet. In those days, the most popular information mediums were still print and television. There was an elderly man who used to appear on television every weekend by the name of Herbert W. Armstrong (1892-1986, photo left). Armstrong was the founder of a sect, The Worldwide Church of God, and his television show was called “The World Tomorrow.” I remember Armstrong being a very dour man who was constantly talking about the end times and the books of the Bible that included end times prophecy, like Revelation and Daniel.
I have a first cousin by the name of Jimmy Z., who was also working at Kodak’s Elmgrove Plant at the time I accepted Jesus as my Savior. I used to bump into Jimmy now and then in the hallways and the conversation would always flow from family news to religious topics. I quickly ascertained that Jimmy was a member of Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God. I would always try to guide the conversation back to salvation in Jesus Christ, while Jimmy, with passionate zealotry, kept returning to some very specific point about the end times.
I eventually discovered that Armstrong also taught “British-Israelism.” That was the belief that “‘the people of the British Isles are “genetically, racially, and linguistically the direct descendants” of the Ten Lost Tribes of ancient Israel'” (from Wiki). From this belief, Armstrong taught that the end times prophecies regarding Israel actually applied to Britain and the United States. He taught that the British royal line is the continuation of the throne of King David. To further acquaint myself with the wacky theories of British-Israelism, I ordered Armstrong’s definitive book, “The United States and Britain in Prophecy” (photo right), which was originally published in 1945. Armstrong gave the book away for free to anyone who requested it and there were actually quite a few copies floating around the United States in the early 1980s.
Armstrong spoke about “faith in Christ,” but taught that salvation was ultimately dependent on keeping the Law. He insisted that many of the Mosaic Laws were still in effect and required his adherents to follow them. A distinct teaching of the WCG was “second-chance salvation”; that those who die as unbelievers prior to the return of Christ, exist in a state of soul-sleep until after the Millennium, at the second resurrection, at which time they will be offered the choice to submit to God’s government (from Wiki).
After Armstrong died in 1986, the leaders of The Worldwide Church of God began to reevaluate many of his teachings. By 1995, the WCG had jettisoned all of Armstrong’s doctrines. In 2009, the church officially changed its name from “The Worldwide Church of God” to “Grace Communion International” and has become a nominal evangelical church belonging to the National Association of Evangelicals. As the church transitioned, members who were still loyal to Armstrong’s doctrines broke away resulting in several offshoot sects, most notably Gerald Flurry’s Philadelphia Church of God, established in 1989 and headquartered in Edmond, Oklahoma. Flurry buys television time throughout the U.S. each weekend and continues to propagate Armstrong’s false teachings. The membership of the PCG is small, estimated to be under 6000 fifteen years ago. I believe my cousin, Jimmy, is now a member of Flurry’s PCG.
At my father’s funeral in July, 2015, cousin Jimmy showed up to “pay his respects.” At the lunch reception that followed, Jimmy once again expounded on Armstrong’s end times teachings while I attempted to share the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Jimmy actually became quite angry with me when I ended the discussion.
Postscript 1: British-Israelism is no doubt a very wacky and far-fetched ideology, but also keep in mind that American Christians, beginning with the Pilgrims, have taught that America was the “new Israel,” in a privileged, covenant relationship with God. This idea of “Christian nationalism” has remained popular among some Christians in our country right up to the present time (see Jerry Falwell, Jr., Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress).
Postscript 2: Some Christian pastors dismiss studying cults and non-Christian religions, advising believers to study only the Bible. In conjunction, they usually reference the false canard about Secret Service agents only studying genuine currency in order to spot counterfeits. The Secret Service actually does study counterfeits and believers should have at least some knowledge of comparative theology otherwise they will be bamboozled by false religionists who can also quote the Bible and use the same religious terminology.