Herbert W. Armstrong & Church GovernmentStudy No. 141
Review: "Did Christ Re-organize His Church?" by Herbert W. Armstrong. The Good News Magazine, Eugene, Oregon, February-April, 1939.
Known by many as "The 1939 Article," this famous piece of Worldwide Church of God historical literature was never published with a copyright, so it has always been in the public domain. I am reviewing it at this time because I feel it has a message for us today. The 1939 article has been misunderstood and mis-interpreted by many, yet it has an important lesson for us today.
The 1933 Division of the Church of God, Seventh Day
In order to understand Herbert Armstrongís article, we must start with a basic understanding of 20th Century Church of God, Seventh Day history. The Church of God, Seventh Day, emerged from the 19th Century as an association of locally independent churches, with headquarters of the Bible Advocate magazine at Stanberry, Missouri. The "big push" evangelistic outreach in the early 1920ís resulted in substantial church growth. However, political infighting and an attempt at more centralized control resulted in a great split of the church into two roughly equal groups, in late 1933. The result was competing organizations centered at Stanberry, Missouri, and Salem, West Virginia.
Whereas Stanberry remained as a loose confederation of local churches across the country, Salem mandated a so-called "Bible Government," based on 12 apostles, 70 evangelistic ministers, and 7 financial stewards. These were chosen by lot at a special meeting in Salem, WV in November, 1933. Andrew N. Dugger and C.O. Dodd were chosen among the 7, and Herbert W. Armstrong was chosen as #40 of the 70. It was voted that world headquarters was being transferred to Jerusalem, Israel. Further historical details are given in my book, History of the Seventh Day Church of God, Volume I, chapter X, and History of the True Religion, by A.N. Dugger and C.O. Dodd, chapter XX, section on "The Re-Organization." Both are available from Giving & Sharing.
The Salem "re-organization" was not what it was advertised to be. Headquarters was not really at Jerusalem at all. Ministerial licenses were issued at Salem, and sent to a man in Jerusalem, who then forwarded them to the recipient. Many of the "70" never served in their capacity. It was pure politics. Herbert W. Armstrong lost his ministerial credentials from Salem in 1937, because of his teaching in favor of Holy Days and Anglo-Israel.
This is the background for the article, "Did Christ Reorganize the Church?"
Summary of Armstrongís 1939 Article
The contents of Armstrongís 1939 article are diametrically opposite to the later teachings of Armstrong, and the Worldwide Church of God. Here is a summary of this famous article:
Definition of the Church: The church is not a specific organization, but a spiritual organism, composed of those saints whose names are written in Heaven, and who have, and are led by, the Holy Spirit.
Definition of a Christian: The true Christian has Godís Spirit, and must be willing at all times to be corrected and chastened, and must continually seek to grow in Godís knowledge as revealed in the Bible, never trusting any man or group of men.
Origin and Rebellion of the Church: The Church began at Mount Sinai, when God set up Israel as a nation, or holy kingdom, having organization and church government, with church and state inseparable. At first, God was their head and king, but soon they wanted a man to be their king, to be like the Gentile nations around them. Israel was married to the Lord in the Old Covenant ceremony, and it was the marriage that formed Godís people into an organization with church government. Because of disobedience, God turned the government, the organization, from His people Israel, over to the Gentiles (Exodus 19:5-6; Leviticus 26:14-28; Jeremiah 3:8). He divorced Israel, and gave the kingdom first to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and then on through Persia, Greece and Rome, Daniel 2:31-37. Because of the sins of Israel, Gentile world-ruling kingdoms were given the authority to rule over Godís people.
Jesus did not establish Church Government in the New Testament Church. Christ did not restore the kingdom to Israel, Acts 1:6. He did not bring the government, the organization, the authority to rule, back from the Gentiles to His people. He never set up an organization with boards of men, with authority to govern over spiritual affairs, or financial affairs, of the Church.
The twelve disciples were given power and authority, not to govern and rule the Church, but over demons and to cure diseases, to preach the good news of the coming Kingdom of God, Luke 9:1-2. An apostle does not mean one IN authority, but one UNDER the authority of Christ. Apostles were sent by Christ, not to rule, but to preach, not to bear authority, but to minister and serve. There is no hint in Scripture that the twelve constituted a church board, with power to rule or decide what doctrine the other disciples must believe. The apostles did not continue on as a group of twelve at all. Paul and a few others were called apostles (e.g. see Acts 14:14). The purpose of the original twelve was to be a witness of Christís resurrection, Acts 1:21-22.
The seventy Disciples did not constitute a church board. The only place in the New Testament where "the seventy" are mentioned is Luke 10. Instead of assembling as a church board, they separated two by two, to heal, cast out demons, and preach the gospel in preparation for Jesusí message. They ended their work before Jesus was crucified.
The "Seven" were never a financial board for the church. The seven, mentioned in Acts 6, were not appointed to receive and handle the tithes of the whole world-wide church. They never supervised the financial affairs of the ministry, hiring and firing ministers, and paying them their salaries. Their "business" was not financial control, but waiting on tables, feeding and serving the material needs of the widows and orphans.
It is unscriptural for anyone to claim that the "Twelve," the "Seventy," and the "Seven" should continue as Church Boards today. Some say that "the principle" of the 12, 70 and 7 shows that church government today should follow this pattern. But Armstrong concludes:
There is not one single HINT in the New Testament of any Church BOARD with authority to rule, to govern, to decide doctrine, or to handle tithes and church finances ([for] the whole church). . . . Jesus never organized, or re-organized His Church! . . . All authority and power to rule is limited solely to each LOCAL congregation. But there is NO BIBLE AUTHORITY for any super-government, or organization with authority over the local congregations!
Jesus commanded His disciples NOT to exercise authority and lordship over the brethren, Mark 10:42-43. The authority, the government, the rulership, was turned over to the Gentiles for 2,520 years, until Christ restores the kingdom at His Second Coming.
Church Government Originated in Babylon. Roman Emperor Constantine, a beast ruler, summoned the Nicene Council, which decided against Ariusí anti-trinitarian doctrine, and enforced trinitarianism and Sunday-keeping. It was Constantine who injected and introduced into the (false) church the idea of a board to decide doctrine, and to rule. Constantine made doctrine, as decided by church rulers on a board, the basis of fellowship and unity in the Church. The first real Popish ruler was Leo I (440-461 A.D.), for whom "the plan of government of the Roman Empire was an obsession. He applied and adapted that form of government to the church, forming the Papacy," (Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. 7, page 529). Myersí Ancient History, says that the Church, under Leo I, set up "within the Roman Empire, an ecclesiastical state [government] which, in its constitution and its administrative system, was shaping itself upon the imperial model."
Church government is the image of the beast! The principle of church government is the image of the beast.
Those who are in, and members of, such an organized church government, submitting to doctrines declared by unscriptural boards as a fellowship test, are in Babylon, and actually worshippers of THE IMAGE OF THE BEAST! . . . Brethren, let us have the courage to accept the TRUTH, and to COME OUT!
The purpose of the Church is NOT to build an organization, but to help called- out individuals overcome, so as to be trained to be kings and priests in the Kingdom of God, after Christís Second Coming. God did not plant any super-organization, or establish any church government, or set men in authority over either spiritual or financial affairs, in the New Testament Church. Our fellowship is first with God and Christ, then with each other, in LOVE. Saints are to assemble for their mutual edification, and for this purpose, to keep things decent and in order, local elders and deacons are to be ordained in every local congregation. We should work together to unselfishly give the Gospel truth to the world.
There is to be no super-organization over and above the local congregations. All such organizations and governments are part of Babylon, and shall be rooted up, Matthew 15:13.
What has split and divided up the saints in the Church of God? Nothing but ORGANIZATION ó which has led to politics, ministers lusting for rule and for power ó striving against one another, lining up the brethren on THEIR side, against the other! It is SUCH PREACHERS who have split up and divided our brethren! . . . Organization and church GOVERN-MENT has brought us only strife, jealousies, divisions, bitterness! It is not of God, and it can bear no other fruit.
I agree wholeheartedly with Herbert W. Armstrongís eloquent 1939 Church Government article. In the additional articles of the February-April, 1939 Good News, Armstrong makes several powerful points:
God works powerfully to convert a single soul. God does not work through organizations. He uses men who respond to Him and are called by Him. The calling of the Ethiopian eunuch shows that God is in total control. He called a man, granted repentance to him, and sent a minister to serve and assist him. "In the wake of a God-called minister is a steady stream of conversions."
Love, not doctrine, is the basis for fellowship and unity. All honest and sincere brethren do not always see all points exactly alike.
LOVE, charity and tolerance for the brother with whom we do not altogether agree, is Godís basis for fellowship and unity.
. . . We want to work with, and co-operate with those Church of God ministers who may even see a few points a little differently than we ó but we cannot fellowship nor co-operate with deceit, pretense, hypocrisy, lust for power to rule.
The first tithe is the LORDíS. The New Testament does not instruct us to pay tithes to a central finance committee or a BOARD with authority to disburse tithes to various ministers. In the Old Testament, there were local storehouses, and tithes were turned over to the individual priest in each city. This is the way it should be done today.
Misunderstandings About 1939 Article
Some today, who are ignorant of the history and background of the 1939 Article, conclude that Herbert Armstrong was against local churches being incorporated. This is not true. At the time he wrote the 1939 Article, Armstrongís "Radio Church of God," was reaching 100,000 every week. The Eugene Church was incorporated about this time, with a board of trustees. Armstrong clearly presents the case in favor of local autonomy, as opposed to central, super-government organizations such as that of Salem, West Virginia, or Stanberry, Missouri. He was contending with ministers from these large organizations, and in 1937 had been put out of the ministry of the Salem organization. No, the question was not church incorporation. Armstrong was opposing central church government, and supporting local autonomy.
Proof is easy to find, to those who will read the record. On page 11 of the February-April, 1939, Good News, we find that Armstrong had raised up Sabbath Schools in Vancouver, Washington, and Cottage Grove, Oregon. Elder Bartschi officiated at the Lordís Supper at Cottage Grove, Brother Spires at Vancouver, and Elder Roy Dailey at Jefferson. Local autonomy was being practiced. Page 10 shows that tithes are to be paid locally. Page 11 shows that various ministers, who were co-operating with Armstrong, would be attending the 1939 Feast of Tabernacles, in Eugene, Oregon.
Those who use the 1939 Article to support their argument against religious organizations being incorporated, are twisting what it plainly says. I recently have become acquainted with a minister who leads a group of people who left another organization. He refuses to incorporate, because he feels that incorporating a church is becoming part of Babylon. Yet, he has demonstrated an authoritarian, high-handed church rulership, attempting to enforce doctrine. He refuses to work with, or allow me to attend, even though our differences "from a distance" are really quite small. In letter and spirit, he is at variance with the 1939 Article, yet he claims to believe in it, and cites it as support for his actions. Let us hope and pray that this individual changes his views. I have learned by this interaction, that one can have a Babylonish church government without even being incorporated! Incorporation has little, if anything, to do with how a group functions and operates.
Dramatic Changes Since 1939 Article
Today, the Worldwide Church of God definitely does NOT believe in the 1939 Article! In the early 1950ís, Herbert Armstrong did a dramatic, almost unbelievable, about-face in his belief and understanding of church government. He established an authoritarian, one-man ruling, central church government, that received tithes centrally, paid ministersí salaries from a central headquarters, enforced strict doctrinal conformity, fired ministers at will, disfellowshipped members for daring to question the rule of church leaders, refused to work with others, and claimed to be the only organization through whom God was working. Through a gradual process, the church took on a totally different personality. Before his death in 1986, Armstrong claimed that the "Primacy of Peter" doctrine was valid after all, and that he, as The Apostle, had absolute rule in the Church. The "Babylon" of what his organization became, was far more devastating than the Salem and Stanberry organizations of the Church of God, Seventh Day.
Here are some of the stark contrasts between 1939 and later practice:
The Church is a Spiritual Organism.
A Christian is one who has, and is being led, by the Holy Spirit.
Church leaders do not have authority to enforce doctrine. Doctrine is not to be determined by church boards.
Apostles do not have power to decide what doctrines other disciples must believe.
There is no Bible authority for any super-government in the Church. Local congregations are to handle matters, and co-operate with other churches.
Tithes are to be paid and used locally.
We should work with, and co-operate with, even attend the Feast of Tabernacles with, other Church of God ministers and brethren, even if we differ on a few points of doctrine.
Later Worldwide Church Practice
The Church is an Organization, the Worldwide Church of God (WCG).
A Christian is one who is a member of the WCG organization.
Church leaders must enforce doctrine, as determined by the headquarters
There is only one Apostle, the current church leader (Armstrong, replaced by Tkach). He has all power to rule the Church.
Local autonomy is of the devil. Headquarters is the ruler in all church matters.
Tithes are to be paid centrally, and are under the sole jurisdiction of headquarters.
There is no room for differences. God has only one organization, the WCG.
Lessons From the 1939 Article
It should be noted that the current views of the Worldwide Church of God are vastly different than the 1939 article and later practice. One has to "read the newspaper" to keep up with their current, constantly changing, views.
This Review, and the 1939 Article itself, steps on some toes. We have been so steeped in Babylonish governmental systems, Gentile forms of government on our jobs, our schools, our political, judicial, religious and commercial systems, that we can easily become offended when someone says the whole environment has become rotten to the core.
Some may say that Herbert Armstrong would never have amounted to much, had he not switched from local autonomy to authoritarian church government. To hold such a position is to deny the power of God. Armstrong was reaching 100,000 every week with wide radio coverage in 1939, when he was practicing local autonomy. He showed how God works to save a single soul, as the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch demon-
strates. God does not need any of us to do His work. The Creator will use whom He chooses, when the time is right. And we must never forget that God alone is the one who calls sinners to repentance. We must never run ahead of God, nor usurp His role in government over the Church.
The lesson of the 1939 Article is that we must have patience, love and respect of others. We must have the zeal to share Godís Truth with others. The minister we mentioned previously, claims to believe in the 1939 Article, yet is acting contrary to it. In 1939, Herbert Armstrong had the love and zeal to share Godís Truth with others in a wicked and perverse, crime-ridden generation of bootleggers and criminal mobs. But in our day, this minister, and so many others, do not care enough about others to make the Truth of God available. They wield a doctrinal litmus test over little, picky points. They squabble and fight against other ministers and brethren. Shame on those who practice this wasteful activity!
Let us learn from history. Babylonish church government produces ruin. Let us come out of Babylon! W
NOTE: For additional information on the early years of Herbert W. Armstrong, and how he changed his teaching on church government from local autonomy to authoritarian, central church government, see our article, "Herbert W. Armstrong: 1892-1986," available for a suggested donation of $2.00 from Giving & Sharing.
Also available from Giving & Sharing: History of the Seventh Day Church of God, Volume I, by Richard C. Nickels, $9.50 suggested donation, and History of the True Religion, by A.N. Dugger and C.O. Dodd, $7.50 suggested donation. These items will be sent free or on loan if you cannot afford to send a donation.