Did Armstrong’s View on Church Governance Change?

“Herbert W Armstrong said…” How many times have you heard this?

The problem, of course, is that HWA, like everyone else, changed his views as he learned more. People often talk about his views as though they were static, but most people, if they are truly learning and growing, change their views over time.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people change in the right way or the right direction. Example: David was a righteous king, but then he committed adultery with another man’s wife. He had changed, but in the wrong direction. Not only that, but he dug in deeper by trying to deceive the man and then even committing murder. Hardly moving in the right direction. He finally repented, but it an example that shows that not all changes are positive even in Godly men.

So, it is hardly enough to quote a man when it comes to determining God’s will in something. That’s why it helps to have a multitude of council. Most importantly, it needs to be reconciled with the Bible.

So, when people talk about church governance and what HWA said about it, we need to ask, “When?” Because, as some of you are aware, it changed over time.

First, did Christ ever set up an ORGANIZATION, with its boards of HEAD MEN, with authority to GOVERN over the “spiritual affairs,” or the “FINANCIAL AFFAIRS” of the Church

Let us see if we can find such boards, or Scriptures giving them such authority.

True, Jesus did call out TWELVE disciples, who afterward were called “apostles.” But WHERE in the Scripture are they called “THE BOARD OF THE TWELVE” — a term we hear freely used today, under claim of having “the BIBLE form of organization.”

WHERE do we read of one of them being appointed as the “CHAIRMAN OF THE TWELVE” or another as the “SECRETARY OF THE TWELVE?” Is THIS Biblical and Scriptural? If so, where is the text?

The word “apostle” means “one sent.” The definition in Cruden’s Concordance is “one sent forth. Used as referring (1) chiefly to one of the 12 disciples of Christ; or (2) to any of various other followers of Christ who did evangelistic work.”

An apostle does not mean one IN authority, but one UNDER authority — one SENT by the authority of another! The only power and authority Jesus ever gave even His original twelve was to heal the sick, and cast out demons. And He SENT them, not to rule, but to PREACH — not to BEAR authority, but to MINISTER, to serve!

Nowhere in the Scripture do we find the slightest hint that the twelve constituted a higher-up church board, and nowhere were they even given power to rule, or govern, or decide what doctrines the other disciples must believe.

~ Armstrong, Herbert W. (n.d.). Did Christ Reorganize the Church? Retrieved from http://home.sprynet.com/~pabco/reorgch.htm.

Oddly enough, that same booklet goes on to say that the idea of church government came through the church at Rome from Babylon!

But, as anyone who has read Mystery of the Ages (MOA) knows, his views certainly changed.

In a paper supposedly written by Richard Nickels (does anyone know where a copy of the original is?), we read:

Frank Walker, a COG7 evangelist in Oregon in the 1940’s, met HWA at a 1940 COG7 campmeeting. Armstrong had already broken with the COG organization, but he and his people were fellowshipping with others. Armstrong told Walker that he agreed with the Stanberry organization 90%, but wanted to keep his own radio work, so thought he had to work alone. The opposing Salem, West Virginia group had wanted to take over his radio work. Armstrong told Walker, “I don’t want a tight organization, but I can see it coming.” Armstrong sincerely wanted to work with the COG7 people, and said the Holy Days didn’t make any difference in them working together. Heibel later told Walker that Walker was almost chosen to pastor the Eugene church when Armstrong went to California.

After the Everett, Eugene, and Cottage Grove local ministers carried this local autonomy so far as to break with him, Armstrong in the early 1950’s did an about face and instituted a strong centralized church government. All ministers were paid from headquarters and were under headquarters control. This is what he himself had refused to do with regard to the Salem and Stanberry COG7 organizations.

The recollections of surviving Eugene church members paint a chilling picture of young Raymond C. Cole being sent from Ambassador College as one of the first graduates to institute “law and order” in the rebellious Eugene church. It almost sounds like Cole was a tough sheriff cleaning up a town of lawlessness.

~ Nickels, Richard. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.keithhunt.com/Hwa3.html.

What many, including myself, did not really realize was how much a “liberal” HWA was during those early years.

It is ironic that during the early years, HWA flourished in the “local autonomy” and “liberal” group rather than the strong lay member church government group. His 1939 article on “Church Government,” widely circulated today among ex-WWC members, shows his disdain for a centralized church government at that time.

And later, talking about COG7 minister John Kiesz, Nickels said regarding a list of differences between HWA (at least in later years) and Kiesz:

(2) Kiesz states that Armstrong used to invite interested people, regardless of belief, to his services, but later allowed only those already in the fold or prospects given special invitations to attend. “Truth has nothing to fear,” says Kiesz.

(3) Kiesz knew Armstrong when he used to teach strongly against church organization, “but now he is so strongly organized that many of his followers actually fear him. It appears now that he is to his followers what the Pope of Rome is to the Catholic Church.”

~ ibid.

What many people either do not seem to know or easily forget is that HWA was willing to experiment and try many different things in the beginning. It’s easy to forget because, for better or for worse, in later years he had become a lot more inflexible in his approach. Another quote from Nickels while interviewing Kiesz:

Cryptically, Kiesz relates, “Something happened at that meeting [at the FOT in 1945]which caused Herbert to drop me like a ‘hot potato.’ He was by then getting away from some of the ways in which we used to worship.” This may refer to altar calls, which Armstrong used to believe in and later stopped doing.

A source I talked with personally related how the format we now know and love (7 parts: opening service, sermonette, praise session, announcements, special music, sermon and closing services) in the COGs wasn’t always the format used. HWA experimented with various formats of services, including some very interactive ones. The reason for pointing this out is that HWA was a lot more open to new ideas early in his ministry than later on.

The same source also offers some insight into why HWA may have gravitated towards having stronger central control in the church organization. It is an insight that I want to share with you next time.

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