Dr. Robert Sumner passed away in December 2016. The Biblical Evangelist newspaper is no longer being published and the ministry of Biblical Evangelism has ceased operation.

The remaining inventory of his books and gospel tracts was transferred to The Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles and may be ordered here.

Armstrongism: Alive and Still Sick!
Dr. Robert L. Sumner

A Book Review . . .


Alive & Still Sick!

By the Editor


RAISING THE RUINS by Stephen Flurry; Distributed by Midpoint Trade Books, Inc., New York, NY; Two Parts, 25 Chapters, 415 Pages; $19.95

At the outset of these comments, let it be known that we absolutely, positively, do not recommend this work. It would be a waste of money on the part of any Christian. We review it simply as part of our long, on-going exposé of the cult founded by Herbert W. Armstrong and his Worldwide Church of God (originally the Radio Church of God). In the language of evangelical Christianity, HWA (as he came to be known) was a cultist who denied the major, fundamental doctrines of the Word of God.

We were among the first to expose him (Roger Campbell published a warning slightly smaller than ours about the same time – which was actually first I cannot say; I didn’t know about his at the time and he probably didn’t know about mine). I wrote an article published by the late John R. Rice in his The Sword of the Lord in the February 24, 1961 edition, “Herbert W. Armstrong: A False Prophet.” Dr. Rice reprinted it and it circulated in well over a quarter of a million copies as a 10c pamphlet before we withdrew it because of our larger, more comprehensive work.

And, as far as we know, we were the first – or among the first – to publish a large, detailed, hardbound exposé of the movement in 1974 (ARMSTRONGISM: The “Worldwide Church of God” Examined in the Searching Light of Scripture, 16 chapters, 424 pages). One of the contributing editors of Christianity Today, Joseph M. Hopkins, released a book, The Armstrong Empire, at about the same time.

This book by Flurry, which was purchased and sent to me by Dr. Ron English, a longtime friend and former co-worker, details the efforts of one of the splinter groups from Armstrong, the Philadelphia Church of God (hereafter called PCG) to keep full blown Armstrongism alive through the republication and circulation of his writings. The Worldwide Church of God (called WCG hereafter) took them to court to repress the teachings of their founder.

As the court battles went on, first one side winning and then the other, both groups announced after its [temporary] victory, “This proves God is on our side!” We would like to offer a third possibility, one we think is much closer to the facts: Satan was pulling for both sides in this struggle! In fact, the one thing we enjoyed about this book was how both sides (WCG and PCG) called each other everything imaginable and both said the other was a bunch of liars, hypocrites, deceivers, frauds, fakes and false prophets. In our mind, they are both right. (It reminded us of political organizations – which they are, of course, religious politicians – by the way they knife each other in the back and cut each other up.)

To offer an example, here is one quote from the WCG side about its glorious founder, Herbert W. Armstrong (called HWA hereafter), whom PCG is defending and glorifying: “a self-absorbed, racially bigoted, religiously biased, uneducated hack who taught heretical doctrines and bizarre prophecies while wielding dictatorial control over the Worldwide Church of God.” And again, from the PCG side, “… we were supposedly a racially bigoted, misogynistic fringe group, led by a self-proclaimed dictator.” We couldn’t have said it better for both sides!

One of their arguments is over semantics. Did HAW say he was the biblical return of Elijah, personally fulfilling the role of Elijah (WCG claiming he did so several times and the PCG saying he only said his work was Elijah’s coming) – actually, not a whole lot of difference in the final analysis. Flurry said the WCG was saying this to make HWA “look like a wild-eyed, cult-leading fanatic.” We never felt he needed any help to look like that.

One thing is for sure: Armstrongism is Alive and Still Sick! (We first titled this article “Alive and Well,” then realized there is nothing “well” about it.) HWA may have died and passed off the scene; his successors may have claimed to have “converted” to mainstream evangelicalism; but the evil, heretical teachings of HWA are on the forefront of cultic religions at this hour. In fact, as the article we ran by James Kieferdorf (January-February, 2007) indicated, HWA’s imitators and worshipers have been on a host – and some still are, even as you read this – of evangelical radio and television stations. And they are on a myriad of secular stations as well. Beware, beware, beware!

Here are some of the Armstrong cult successors on evangelical stations: Ronald L. Dart, Born to Win; Church of God EIM, The Wonderful World Tomorrow; Church of God International, Armor of God; Roderick C. Meredith, Living Church of God, Tomorrow's World; and, United Church of God, Beyond Today. If you know any of these on an evangelical station in your area, radio or television, call the manager and protest, pointing out, among other things, they are strongly anti-Trinitarian – and that is just for starters.

Note the font type we choose for the title of this article. It is known in the trade as Braggadocio, a word the dictionary defines as “empty boasting” and we felt it would be most appropriate for commenting on Flurry’s book. Actually, the author is the son of the founder of the Philadelphia Church of God, admittedly launched to preserve the teachings of Armstrong. On one of the many webs checked doing research for this article, was this comment about the father: “Mr. Flurry may currently be seen expounding Mr. Armstrong's doctrines and adding a few of his own on his TV program called ‘The Key of David.’ His enormous ego will be evident to all” (emphasis added). So braggadocio it is. And it fits right in with HWA’s reputation.

But here is a strange twist about the author of Raising the Ruins: although he joined his dad’s fight to preserve Armstrong’s teachings and he was literally raised in the movement (educated in its schools, including Ambassador College), evidently he was not convinced of its truth – at least he never “converted,” he was never “baptized” and joined the church (Armstrongism’s equivalent of conversion) – until he was a grown man; after Armstrong was dead and buried, in fact.

His dad, Gerald Flurry, is the hero of this book. “Fired” – a matter that apparently grates on the author of this book greatly, since he kept mentioning it in the first half) – by HWA’s successors, Joseph W. Tkach, Sr., and Joseph W. Tkach, Jr. (the current head of the WCG), he led one of the many revolutions after the Tkachs gained control and founded one of the many, many splinter groups that bounced off the WCG. You will be glad to know that the PCG insists that while HWA personally chose Tkach as his successor, he gave him all his titles except apostle, meaning the only apostle since New Testament times remains HWA – if you can swallow that without choking or gasping.

Divided into two main, nearly equal parts, “Betrayal” and “Our Christian Duty,” the first is really background for the latter, which highlights the various court battles over who would control the writings of HWA. Believe it or not, the group HWA founded wanted to control them in order to keep them out of circulation!

We found it amusing the way Flurry would find a phrase of Scripture and apply it to his dad’s ministry. For example, does a prophetic passage like Amos 9:11 (“In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old”) say ruined Israel will rise from the ashes? Of course! Yet according to Flurry it means the Philadelphia Church of God will rise from the ashes of the ruined (by the Tkaches) Worldwide Church of God! Never mind the context saying it will “possess the remnant of Edom” (Vs.12), never mind anything – it is a glorious prophecy about PCG! I guess you have to have a cult mentality to swallow something like that. Still, the PCG sees it as a prophecy something like the mythical Phoenix rising from the ashes, a miracle describing its victory over WCG.

I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised, since the WCG did and PCG does think they are Israel! In fact, they are the tribe of Manassah (Britain is Ephraim). This is based on HWA’s silly book, The United States And The British Commonwealth In Prophecy (one of the titles the PCG fought the WCG to take over), an idea which HWA, in turn, stole from Richard Brothers (1757-1824), “a half-pay officer of eccentric habits in the English navy.” Brothers was eventually confined to an institution for the mentally unbalanced and we think those who adopt his idea are good candidates for rooms at the same hospital.

As we noted in our big book, Armstrongism, in the chapter “The Armstrong Teaching About Israel”:

How “Ephraimites” leaving England for the New World landed in America as “Manassites” is not explained. (They must have experienced something more potent than the usual seasickness on that voyage!)

Another example of hermeneutical devastation is the misuse of Revelation 10:7, 11, which says, “But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets ... And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.” To Flurry and the PCG (just as it was to HWA and the WCG earlier), that is a clear-cut statement as to their ministry in these last days. Does it have anything to do with them? Not in the slightest!

The “mystery,” in the eyes of the PCG, refers to HWA’s book, Mystery of the Ages. The “again” in the passage, according to Flurry, Sr., is the PCG publishing it “again” after the WCG took it out of print and destroyed all 120,000 copies it still had in stock. Using the same kind of colluded biblical interpretation, I could prove that I will rise from the dead in 2025 and take over Israel, sitting on King David’s throne in Jerusalem. But they are, as you know, cultists and I guess we are supposed to give them some slack as they misinterpret and twist the Bible. (Never!)

Speaking of Mystery of the Ages – HWA’s final work released just before his death, his magnum opus in the eyes of Flurry and the members of PCG – we didn’t value it too highly when it was first published. In our computer file where we recorded books in our library and our observations about them, we had written about its theme: “Loaded with author's usual egomania; he is only one with Truth.” And our evaluation was: “Nothing not found in his other books: soul sleep, denial of Trinity, denial of personality of Holy Spirit, opportunity for salvation after death, eventually become God!”

Our review of the book appeared in our April 1, 1986 issue and we said there, “We consider Herbert W. Armstrong the closest thing to a Jim Jones – apart from the literal poison drinking – of anyone in the 20th century.” But with his usual modest humility (!) HWA said that history would prove Mystery “to be the most important book written in almost 1900 years,” the most important book since the Bible. In fact, he claimed “in a way God inspired it, but not in the sense” He did the Bible.

HWA went on, “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.” In other words, Mystery was almost like biblical inspiration, but not quite 100 percent (just somewhere between 97-99 percent verbally controlled by the Holy Spirit of God). Contrariwise, our review found it “wordy and boring” and noted anyone paying $12.95 for it would be overcharged $12.95.

Which brings up another matter. HAW said the gospel should go out free and if there was a charge for it, it wasn’t the true gospel! [As his chief letter writer, David G. Hunsberger, put it: “The Bible plainly says that priceless Gospel must go free of charge (I Cor. 9:18). When someone charges a nickel or a dime for their material, it isn’t the Gospel of Christ!” And HAW himself said in the June 1971 issue of Tomorrow’s World, “Remember it’s FREE, as Christ’s Gospel is free, of course.”] Incidentally, Ruins is offered “for sale” at the price of $19.95. Dr. English paid Amazon.com $16.56, including shipping and handling (Amazon had it a discounted price). Flurry and the PCG are putting out something that, in the words of their predecessors, “isn’t the Gospel of Christ!” We agree; it isn’t!

The hero worship (some would leave off “hero”) the Flurrys and PCG give HWA is seen in the fact that they first named the school on the campus of their offices in Edmond (OK) Imperial College, then changed it to “Herbert W. Armstrong College.” So far, it hasn’t made much impact on academia; its graduating class last year was thirteen. And the college name change may have been influenced also by the Imperial College of London screaming about the use of their name. (If you had a respected school, would you want some mindless cult calling its school by the same title?)

The author noted more than once that Ronald Reagan praised HWA on the latter’s death. What the uninitiated probably don’t understand is that Presidents do this all the time. All that is necessary, on someone’s passing, is to send a message to the President (which he usually doesn’t even see), telling how great the individual was, listing alleged achievements, and a message promptly comes from the White House, under the President’s printed signature, repeating some of the accolades the sender mailed him. It’s not that big a deal. If I’m not mistaken, someone sent in the death of a dog some years back (not mentioning it was a dog) and got the usual glowing reply commending the deceased.

This is a bad book about a bad man and two bad groups claiming to be the bad man’s successor. If this assessment of the situation warns someone, I have not wasted my time reading and reviewing it. If it doesn’t, perhaps I have. Only eternity will tell.

Yes, Armstrongism is still “alive” and still “sick.” Joseph Tkach, in his Transformed by Truth, allegedly telling how the WCG had become “evangelical,” gives a chart listing the ‘organizational splits’ from the “Mother Church” (WCG). If we counted correctly there have been at least 107 (I say “if we counted correctly”; this is really “higher math”) splits (including splits from splits), although not all are promoting the “apostle’s” (sic) full doctrines. Alas, most are; at least in some form. Each, of course, claims to have the “pure, unadulterated truth” of God. And Transformed was published over a decade ago, in the mid-1990s, less than a decade after Armstrong left Planet Earth – so who knows the full tally today? Armstrong’s followers are really into fussin’, fuedin’ and a-fightin’ aren’t they?

Some thought the need for the editor’s book, ARMSTRONGISM: The “Worldwide Church of God” Examined in the Searching Light of Scripture was history. Not so; it seems to be more needed now than ever. It is hardbound, 16 chapters, 424 pages, and available from us for $15.00, postage paid. We also give a free copy of the editor’s 22-page booklet, Is Armstrong’s Cult Now Orthodox? with every copy, while the supply lasts.

One of the sad things about falsehood, as some wag noted in another context, “Error goes around the world before Truth can get its boots on.” Tragically, it does.