Why Did Armstrong’s View On Governance Change?

“Think of these things, whence you came, where you are going, and to whom you must account.”

~ Benjamin Franklin

We saw yesterday that Herbert W Armstrong (HWA) started out his ministry as one of the more “liberal” ministers. His view on church governance was originally more towards a “loose” organization of churches rather than a strong centralized one. Over time, of course, that view changed. Why?

One thing I want to state at the outset is that I have no special powers of mind reading, let alone the ability to get inside of the mind of a dead person. However, I do believe that there are certain clues readily available that can be pieced together to come up with a partial picture.

One of the most striking things that perhaps you might have picked up on yesterday is how easily the churches seemed to align and realign or split off from each other. I guess it just goes to show that some things never change.

It seems apparent that these splits, often led by ministers, was one of the motivations for creating Ambassador College. Another was that new converts were often left without a ministry.

I held other six-nights-a-week evangelistic campaigns in other towns in Oregon. Always Christ the HEAD of the Church gave me “fruit” for my labors in new converts whom I baptized. But I had no ministers to leave with them to feed these little new flocks Christ was raising up through my preaching.

By 1946 it became evident we simply had to have a COLLEGE to educate and train ministers to pastor these new little churches being raised up by my own efforts.

~ HWA. (30 June 1980). Just What Is the Work? Good News. Retrieved from http://www.getbackontrack.org/content/gn/gn80Jun30justWhatIsTheWork.htm.

In the Work of God carried on by the Church it became necessary to establish GOD’S OWN COLLEGE, for training personnel for various operations and administrations of the Work (I Cor. 12:5-6). It of necessity had to be GOD’S college.

But where, back in 1947, was Christ’s human leader to go for teachers – for faculty? We had no members in the Church capable of teaching at a level higher than high school. It was a dilemma. God led me in the only way then possible – to employ professors and faculty members trained in THIS WORLD’S higher education – BUT TO TEACH ALL BIBLICAL AND THEOLOGICAL COURSES MYSELF. I had to go further! I enforced a one-hour weekly FORUM, attended by students and faculty alike, at which I myself, with CHRIST’S HELP, taught the true BASIC FOUNDATION of education – the REVEALED knowledge of GOD!

Faculty members, already indoctrinated with this world’s “higher education,” didn’t like my forums in which I constantly taught that MISSING DIMENSION of knowledge – the REVEALED basic knowledge from God’s Word! In fact, they resented it – they chafed under it – but to receive salaries had to sweat it out.

Of course my purpose was NOT to convert or reeducate that original faculty. The purpose was to COUNTERACT any false teaching from them finding lodging in student minds! Meanwhile I, myself, had to keep student minds open to the BASIC knowledge of GOD. I had to see that students were PROTECTED FROM this world’s false knowledge – but made aware of that MISSING DIMENSION from the knowledge of this world’s “higher education.”

~ HWA. (n.d.). How Christ Chose and Educated His Apostle. Retrieved from http://dawson55.u102.swhdns.com/dawson/armstrong/BA/HowChristChoseandEducatedHisApostle.html.

So, we begin to see around the same time that HWA decided that a “tighter” organization would be needed that he founded Ambassador College. We also see that HWA had a genuine concern to “protect” his students. Undoubtedly, he viewed it as a type of benevolent control that was eventually also extended to the church as a whole. Some may read sinister intents into this, but HWA walked a long hard road, in which others thought foolhardy and would have given up long before, all because he believed in what he was doing. Few would walk such a rough road purely for personal gain.

However, that still doesn’t completely explain where he got the model. Obviously, he had in mind tighter organization, but where did the model for that organization come from?

In his autobiography, HWA wrote about interviewing some prominent businessmen, including Henry Ford. He then goes on to interweave some of his experiences with the Seven Laws of Success.

When you read through even the Seven Laws of Success, you are struck with his seeming fascination with the businessmen of his time. Could it be that the power they had over their corporations is what led him to believe in a model for a “corporate church” in order to maintain the same amount of control?

A source I know explained to me just how fascinated HWA was with the world’s rich and powerful. They wielded power over their organizations and maintained a control over their product that few really consider. However, if someone is interested in “success”, then you would consider it.

Don’t get me wrong, though. Organization and even power have their uses. Certainly, Jesus Christ is going to exercise a lot of power when He returns. However, HWA was not Jesus Christ. Rather, he was very human, and human beings have a tendency to become blinded and even corrupted through power. It’s almost inevitable.

And, as to the control of the product, who more than the COG organizations weave such a heavy control over “evangelism”? To someone who constantly dealt with “liberals” or who had to “combat false education”, whether or not you agree with his viewpoint, wouldn’t such control over the end product look very attractive?

To add fuel to the fire, HWA was also gearing up his radio, 1934, and later TV, 1950s, ministries. In fact, he is acknowledged as a pioneer in evangelistic media, particularly TV. However, much of what he did was overshadowed by Oral Roberts who was transforming the somewhat new media about the same time.

If you look at the world of radio and television broadcasting, there is no denying that these are businesses. Large corporations have long ago taken over most of the stations in the US, including cable channels.

It is not illogical, then, to recognize that in order to produce and distribute episodes to these corporations requires at some level that the producer act like a business. The machinery behind Pat Robertson, Robert Schuller, Billy Graham, Joel Osteen, Jerry Falwell, their successors and others is a business.

The downside to running a church like a business are many. We can explore a few of them tomorrow.

Comments are closed.