Question: "What is Armstrongism? Is the Worldwide Church of God a cult?"
Answer: Armstongism refers to the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong, which became the teaching of the Worldwide Church of God. These teachings were often at odds with traditional Christian beliefs and at times were explicitly in contradiction to the Bible. The most well-known of Armstrong’s teachings is that of Anglo-Israelism. This is the belief that modern-day Jews are not the true physical descendants of Israel. Armstrong believed the lost tribes of Israel had migrated to Western Europe and that the present-day British and Americans were actually the heirs to God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Armstrong believed that this knowledge was the key factor in understanding the prophetic passages of Scripture and that it was his mission to proclaim this message in preparation for the end times.
These beliefs of the Worldwide Church of God were not new and were rooted in a misinterpretation of Scripture. The Bible is clear that God has not replaced Israel with any other nation and that His plans for Israel are right on schedule and will come to pass after “the fullness of the Gentiles” have come into the Kingdom (Romans 11:25). We can be sure that all God has said is true and will take place, because of His character and consistency (Romans 3:3–4). To attempt to revise God’s plans for both Israel and the Church is to call into question His nature, His sovereignty, His omniscience, and His faithfulness.
In addition, Armstrong taught that at death one is in a sleep-like state until Jesus returns to earth. There would then be three resurrections. The first would be of the faithful Christians. Second would be the bulk of the population who would have a second chance to accept the gospel and be saved, despite the clear teaching of Scripture that there is no “second chance” for salvation after death (Hebrews 9:27). Third would be those that had acted in such a way as to be ineligible for the second chance. They, along with the group from the second resurrection that rejected the gospel, would then be punished. The Worldwide Church of God did not believe in eternal punishment in hell, but rather a complete destruction through fire, i.e., annihilationism. The Bible, however, is clear that there are two resurrections, one to eternal life in heaven for believers and one to eternal damnation for unbelievers (Revelation 20:4–14). Here again, the theories of Armstrongism and the Worldwide Church of God directly contradicted the Word of God.
Armstrong also taught that followers of Christ should remain true to all of the teachings in the Old Testament. Thus, he held the Sabbath to be holy, and in Jewish tradition the Sabbath was observed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. He further believed that the Old Testament festivals such as Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles must be celebrated. The Worldwide Church of God taught that modern Christians should follow the dietary laws and tithe (up to 30 percent). Armstrongism was only one of many salvation-by-works philosophies that look to the keeping of the Old Testament laws as a means of salvation. But the Bible is clear that the opposite is true. Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, because the Law saves no one. “A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16). Clearly, the philosophies of Armstrongism and the Worldwide Church of God were just that—worldly philosophies that seek to deny the only means of salvation, the exchange at the cross of our sin for the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), and replace it with the Old Testament Law, which Jesus came to fulfill because we could not.
After the death of Hebert W. Armstrong, the Worldwide Church of God began to embrace a more orthodox understanding of the Christian faith. Armstrong’s successors, Joseph Tkach, Sr., and Joseph Tkach, Jr., have led the Worldwide Church of God in a more orthodox direction, rejecting British Israelism, accepting the Trinity, etc. The organization/denomination now refers to itself as Grace Communion International. A brief history of the transition from Armstrongism to Grace Communion can be found at www.gci.org/aboutus/history. Although Grace Communion has come a long way toward biblical doctrine, there are still some serious errors in their theology, such as the teaching that God gives “opportunity for unbelievers to become believers, even dead unbelievers” (from “God: Predestination: Does God Choose Your Fate?” on their official website).
Not every Worldwide Church of God congregation became a part of Grace Communion International. Those who chose to remain more faithful to Armstrong's teachings formed the United Church of God (UCG). In 2010, another group, the Church of God, a Worldwide Association (COGWA), split off from the UCG. Both groups retain Armstrong's original denial of the Trinity.