There is a tendency out there amongst some that I find very frustrating, but I’m learning to be more balanced about it. It’s the tendency of those who wish to go their own way in the COGiverse to abuse the dead in their own cause.
Energetic, unstoppable zombies have become all the rage in movies and literature these days, but the classic zombie was supposed to be something quite different: The body of someone who had died but which is reanimated by a practitioner of some “dark arts” to serve as a sort of lumbering, mindless slave to support the dark one’s evil purposes. The convenient dictionary.com entry on zombie reads: “the body of a dead person given the semblance of life, but mute and will-less, by a supernatural force, usually for some evil purpose.”
That is what some have done to well-respected ministers now that they have died. There is a good number of them. Mr. John Ogwyn is one. I saw someone a few weeks ago try to recruit him from the dead to support their own ideas. Mr. Carl McNair is another. I know of some who regularly use old video sermons from those men to create their own “church”—installing them as “virtual ministers”—something that those men, were they alive, would find appalling and would never condone.
And like the perfect zombie, these “virtual ministers” do nothing but their animator’s bidding. In the videos chosen, they “preach” only the messages that their “congregants” want to hear, never having the opportunity to consider, identify, and address their hearers’ actual needs.
Having been blessed with the humbling task of pastoring churches for a while, now, I can say that such a circumstance s a farce. As a pastor, you don’t just preach on topics, you preach to people. You seek to know your flock (cf. Prov. 27:23) and to serve them—and specifically them—with your messages, as best you can. Some who hear me give the same sermon in different locations tell me that the message often differs from place to place, and I do pray that God is willing to vary my messages according to who is hearing it and according to their needs. Even DVDs from our Headquarters are given by men who know the state of the Church and their sermons are given with that awareness in mind. Yet these good men I mentioned above are pressed in this way after their deaths into service by a “congregation” they have never truly known and into circumstances they cannot adapt to. What they would really say to those sitting in front of their DVD players or listening to their CDs is withheld, awaiting a day when they truly will see life again, and when they will be made aware of what was done in their name and how their credibility was stolen to lend credence to the choices of those with whom they would very likely greatly and passionately disagree.
But of all the ministers in the modern era of the Church who have died before us and whose names are misused and abused without their permission, none in the Church of God is so abused as is Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong.
How many are there in this world who use Mr. Armstrong’s name to support their own personal causes and to inflate their own sense of self-approval, self-importance, and pride?
I have been accosted by a few people over the years on my blog and on Facebook (people who, I should add, would disagree with each other to the bitter end) who take me to task for not fitting into their own personal “vision” based on their own personal version of Mr. Armstrong—often because of, frankly, stupid reasons. Yet, what used to amaze me (it used to amaze me much, now only a little) how they, themselves, fail to see how they, in every case, have come to differ so much more powerfully from the teachings of Mr. Armstrong even compared to their own misguided accusations of me. Many of them have thrown out his teachings about government, about the Work, about the purpose of the Church, about being “independent Christians,” about one of the major signs of the true Church of God, about how to understand prophecy, about (believe it or not) birth control, about his own teachings and writings—about a countless host of things. Yet, somehow, the Church I love is apostate because it doesn’t teach that make up is always a sin. Or because we’ve come to see something in prophecy based on how history has developed. Or because of, well, whatever. As an ex-Marine friend of mine once told me, when you want your way any excuse will do. And what is very clear about these fellows from the outset is they want their way above all.
Of course, it isn’t Herbert Armstrong they are supporting. It is their version of Herbert Armstrong: A version that says only the things they want him to say but none of the things they don’t want him to say. A version whose words can be interpreted in the way they like, because he isn’t around to tell anyone any different. They never have to compare themselves to the things he said and wrote that they don’t like or to defend how they apply what he said (and how they discard many things he said), because he’s dead and now he only “says” what they want him to. They have made him a zombie minister—dutifully “saying” whatever they need him to in order for them to feel empowered, emboldened, and, frankly, better than everyone else.
In my experience, if you confront them with something that Mr. Armstrong said that contradicts their own personal teaching and practice (which they would never quote themselves), they bob and weave—huff and puff—and then change the subject. Oddly, when I confront them with the Bible—always my first choice—they generally don’t answer back with the Bible. In fact, some have adamantly refused to discuss the Bible with me. Weird. What a dishonor to Mr. Armstrong.
[Aside: Actually, in one case (which I believe I have mentioned before), I know of one self-appointed apostle who could not avoid what Mr. Armstrong said that destroys his position on the Gospel, because the quote is so damning of his own, personal interpretation. So he works hard to twist what Mr. Armstrong said by breaking up what he wrote and inserting his own commentary—in the end making Mr. Armstrong seem like one of the worst writers in history, who can’t even string even two sentences together sensibly. When you let Mr. Armstrong speak for himself, he does just fine. No help needed, Mr. Self-Appointed Apostle. Thanks anyway. Instead of twisting his words, try reading them. For any confused about where Mr. Armstrong stood on the Gospel, this post might be helpful: “Herbert W. Armstrong and the ‘Whole, Pure Gospel’.” It puts the lie to those who pervert what Mr. Armstrong said about the gospel and provides links to sources so that no one can claim that the quotes are out of context. The proof of the message of the Gospel is in the Bible, but those who zombify Mr. Armstrong to make him seem to disagree with the Bible and agree, instead, with their own personal heresies and “idea babies” will have a lot to answer for.]
Not only does virtually every little personal ministry out there claiming to carry Mr. Armstrong’s banner (odd, that, since Mr. Armstrong sought to carry Christ’s, not his own) twist or cherry-pick what Mr. Armstrong wrote for their own benefit, but even if they didn’t, it still would not be sufficient to demonstrate where Mr. Armstrong would be and what he would say today.
Mr. Armstrong died in 1986. My desire to know where Christ is, aside (though, of course, never actually aside, for it is the main thing!), where Mr. Armstrong would be in 2014—28 years later?
What would he have grown to see over those almost 30 years? In what ways would he have brought the Church even closer to God’s Word in those almost three decades? That was his pattern, that was his passion, and that was his practice: Closer and closer to God’s Word. It was Herbert Armstrong, himself, who stressed 2 Peter 3:18 was a matter of doctrine and self-correction, and he practiced what he preached—even declaring it a major sign of the true Church of God.
When you subtract the 1986-2014 difference of 28 years from 1986, you get 1958. How much did the Church grow in understanding between 1958 and 1986? While we shouldn’t expect that much growth in the last 28 years, at the same time is it even remotely reasonable that the Church now under those he personally trained would learn absolutely nothing at all in the 28 years after 1986? No growth in even the tiniest amount in the understanding of prophecy as time has moved on? No added wisdom in the application of even a single element of God’s beautiful way of life? I’m sorry, but that is not the biblical Church that Mr. Armstrong described and fought for, nor the one he worked so hard to invigorate—the one he poured his very life into.
I hope I don’t come across wrong. I am equally irritated by those who far too easily toss out those things Mr. Armstrong and the Church learned through hard work and sacrifice—not just doctrine, but tradition and practice. It is as if some have forgotten that there was ever an apostle in our midst. When Mr. Armstrong listed what he felt God had helped him to restore to the Church, those things continue to stand. They have been attacked and belittled, yet they mock those who assail them and they continue to stand the test of time. We continue to stand and build on the foundation Jesus Christ laid down in the Church through that man, and his work continues to be an incredible blessing to the Church. We continue to have people contact us after seeing us on television or the Internet, or after coming across one of our magazines, saying, “I remember when I heard Herbert Armstrong preaching those things!” While much time has passed and many who come with us have never heard of him and were born after his death, the work God did through him still impacts their lives through the work Christ is doing in His Church today.
But at the same time, it is also as if some have forgotten that Jesus Christ, to whom Mr. Armstrong passionately pointed all of us, is the living and active Head of the Church. Jesus Christ is still alive. And He is still in charge. And He is still active.
What I see in our leadership—in Mr. Meredith and in those who advise him in the Council of Elders—is exactly what I have always hoped I would see: a group of men who are striving to lead the Church as they believe Mr. Armstrong would have them lead it were he alive today. More importantly, what I see is what I’ve prayed for: Men striving to lead the Church wherever they see Jesus Christ leading it and who are passionately devoted to God’s Word as their guide.
And what a blessing it is to have the experience of men like the late Mr. Dibar Apartian and Mr. Roderick Meredith, who aren’t stuck with merely the printed words of Mr. Armstrong and a few recordings—who aren’t stuck crafting a zombie or Frankenstein’s monster out of the man, recrafting him in their own different, individual images. They had so much more than the writings. They had the man. They knew him. Like no one else alive today, they could speak with authority about what Mr. Armstrong actually would do if he were alive today.
None of the quote jugglers out there can come within miles of their credibility concerning what a living Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong would say today.
Truly, no one out there spouting their quotes of choice and linking to their favorite articles and boasting about their own imagined credentials as Mr. Armstrong’s supposed “successor” even matches a tenth of their credibility—let alone their faithfulness.
My every experience with Mr. Meredith and the Council of Elders is only additional confirmation of the fact. Thank God for Mr. Meredith. And I pray that those so obsessed with making zombies of dead ministers merely so they can support their own personal ministries or their own personal brand of rebellion eventually learn what it means to truly respect those men. After all, those men will one day live again. And they will have something to say about how their good names have been treated.