How Anglo-Israelism Entered Seventh-day Churches of God
by Ralph G. Orr
Revised April 1999
Christians insist that the Bible is an authoritative witness in matters of faith, doctrine and ethics. However, this high view of Scripture has not produced doctrinal unity, and Christian interpretation of Scripture continues to be far from inerrant. Consequently, Christians hold a plethora of views over exactly what the Bible says.
Such diversity is largely a hermeneutical problem. How does one and how should one read the biblical text? Can one know what that text said to its first audience? Is that relevant to what the text should say to people today? Does a text ever say more than its author(s) intended? Can or should a text apply beyond its authorial intention? These are not simply the concerns of theologians, but of all for whom texts are a vital part of life.
The Christian church has produced many insightful interpreters of Scripture. It has also had its share of dilettantes whose nonsensical interpretations have sometimes caused great harm. Probably, the same has been true for all text-oriented professions. Notice the modern debates about the original meaning and present significance of the United States Constitution.
Of all the Bibles varied literature, perhaps the most likely to be misinterpreted are its prophetic and apocalyptic passages. In America, most everyone has heard of people who claimed that the Bible predicted Jesus would return on a specific date. Such prophets assured everyone they were teaching the truths of Scripture.
Why do many Christians fall into this trap? Why have many confidently believed that they understood the Bibles prophecies better than anyone else that they alone figured out the day of the Lords return? Why also are many Christians drawn to the siren call of date-setting when the Bible sets no dates?
Christians long to be with Jesus and have the world set right. Such hope is sewn up with the return of the Lord. Such hope is good, yet needs to be tempered with wisdom.
Christian apologetics and evangelism can also head in wrong directions. Because Christians believe biblical prophecy points to the divine inspiration of Scripture, the prophetic books of the Bible are often used in their apologetics and evangelism. Yet some Christians, in their zeal to "prove" the Bible, misread the Bible. Such mishandling may bring more shame than converts.
Biblical understanding is corrupted further when its interpreters do not consider the multifaceted nature of biblical literature. While it is not difficult to grasp the moral messages of the biblical prophets, understanding many other facets of their messages requires a better-than-casual approach to each text. Exegesis benefits from an appreciation of the intricacies of the biblical languages and modes of expression. It requires consideration of the prophets literary genres, and it demands an awareness of a texts original circumstances. Wise interpreters pay close attention to linguistic, literary, historical, cultural and canonical contexts. Unfortunately, too many Christians have read the Bible according to the literary and cultural standards of their own day, without considering that the Bible at its core is a collection of ancient Semitic and Greco-Roman texts. In some circles, people have a quickness to reject and ridicule informed scholarship that should have otherwise tempered their opinions.
Christians clergy and laity alike commonly share the fears, prejudices and political leanings prevalent in their social circles. Therefore, wise Christians consider that they may unconsciously read these attitudes into the Bible, especially into its prophecies. When this happens, instead of seeing the biblically prophesied future, Christians only see distorted reflections of themselves.
Unfortunately, the history of Christian interpretation of the Bibles prophetic books is not encouraging. Misinterpretation has been rampant. Disappointment from failed prophetic doctrines all too common.
The Worldwide Church of God arose in such an environment. Highly influenced by both Adventist and Dispensationalist views of prophecy, it was quick to make specific pronouncements about nations it believed were mentioned in biblical prophecy. Date-setting was endemic. That it was founded during the Great Depression, at the time of the Dust Bowl, the rise of Fascism and Communism, Japanese expansionism and the modernist-fundamentalist controversies of the 1930s did not help. The end-times surely seemed to be here. Overarching all of this was Anglo-Israelism, the belief that the Anglo-Saxon peoples are descendants of the "lost" tribes of Israel. How all this came to be is the subject of this paper. As such, it provides a case study in how a variety of factors, unchecked by sound scholarship and reason, can create interpretive errors on a grand scale affecting many lives. It also illustrates how current events can seem to support such interpretive errors, especially when such errors appear to explain social and political trends. Believers thus ignore contrary evidence. Finally, it provides a cautionary story for all Christians who may naively assume that they cannot fall for such tall tales. This history suggests otherwise.
The story of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) cannot be told without Herbert W. Armstrong, its apostle and prophet-like founder. For whatever reasons individuals aligned themselves with the WCG, its story up until 1986 is primarily the story of one man. Armstrong held absolute sway in the church. He determined all doctrine and any administrative matter with which he wanted to be concerned. Because Anglo-Israelism was an intimate part of his being, it was an important plank of the church.
Today the WCG no longer teaches Anglo-Israelism. Surprisingly, it has renounced Armstrongs unique blend of teachings. What once was a sect, even a cult, on the fringes of Christianity, is now officially orthodox. However drastic the changes, a few in the WCG continue to respect Armstrong as the man through whom God brought them to salvation in Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, as this paper will show, that was not how Armstrong viewed his primary work.
The revolution of official WCG teachings occurred because its leaders believed Armstrongs writings to be no less subject to investigation than mine or yours. They believed the church should ask of his teachings the same searching questions it should ask of anyones teachings. With that approach it was perhaps inevitable that they should ask, What aspects of Armstrongs prophetic teachings were sound and what were unsound? Did culture and personal prejudice ever influence his teachings more than the Bible influenced them.
Armstrong wrote so much on biblical prophecy that this paper cannot cover it all. This study focuses, therefore, on the doctrine that shaped his entire thinking and ministry more than any other Anglo-Israelism. How did that doctrine enter the WCG?
Herbert Armstrong Tests the Church of God (Seventh Day)
According to his autobiography, early in his conversion Armstrong believed that the Church of God (Seventh Day), a small Adventist sect, understood the Bible better than any other group. Therefore, in his mind it was the primary candidate for being Gods one true church. Yet how could such a weak minuscule group be Gods one and only church?
Gods church, he reasoned, should be willing to confess error and change. While Armstrong did not expect to find Gods church perfect in knowledge, he did expect to find it willing to grow in knowledge. Consequently, before he would become a member of the Church of God (Seventh Day), he decided to test its willingness to change.
As this paper will show, the above story is both idealized and sanitized. In his earliest years, Armstrong was quite open to accepting a wide range of Protestants as true servants of God. Only later did his concept of the church narrow down to those who kept the seventh-day Sabbath and had the name Church of God. His later recollections of these early events were shaped by these later conclusions.
His test of the Church of God (Seventh Day) assumed three things. First, that doctrine and a willingness to accept "new truth" were signposts of Gods work. Second, that a test of a churchs leader would be a sufficient test of the entire church. Third, that after less than two years as a Christian he understood the Bible well enough to administer such a test. Apparently it never occurred to him to ask the Church of God to test him. It was the Church of God (Seventh Day), not he, that was on trial.
His first test dealt with a minor difference over how to understand Matthew 28:1, one of Jesus resurrection appearances. The second test was greater. It dealt with biblical prophecies Armstrong thought were for the end-time House of Israel.
Prophecy had played an important role in converting Armstrong. When his wife, through the influence of members of the Church of God (Seventh Day), began to observe Saturday as the Sabbath, Armstrong became incensed. He plunged into a religious study that produced a temporary faith crisis. As he struggled over his faith he "realized that the place to start was to prove whether God exists and whether the Holy Bible is his revelation." But how to do this? Though he studied several subjects, it was ultimately his investigation of Bible prophecy that led him to believe in the divine inspiration of the Scriptures.
He concluded that "in every instance (except in prophecies about a time yet future), [biblical prophecy] had come to pass precisely as written!" (The Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong [Pasadena, California: Worldwide Church of God, 1986], vol. 1, 2967). It is no surprise, then, that prophecy continued to play an important role in his thinking and in his test of the Church of God (Seventh Day).
Like many fundamentalist Christians, the Church of God (Seventh Day) believed that numerous Old Testament prophecies about Israel had yet to be fulfilled. Their general Adventist perspective taught that God would eventually fulfill these prophecies among the Jews.
Armstrong thought otherwise. He believed Anglo-Israelism the doctrine that the Anglo-Saxons of the United States and Britain were the true descendants of the House of Israel, while the Jews descended from Israels other division, the House of Judah provided the key to understanding the Prophets. He concluded that instead of applying the House of Israel prophecies to the Jews, one should apply them to the United States and the British Commonwealth.
As we will prove later, Armstrongs second test of the Church of God was a detailed presentation of his Anglo-Israelite views and by implication the special role Armstrong believed God had given him to be a prophet to the world. If the Church of God (Seventh Day) accepted what he had to say, Armstrong believed that would prove they were who they said they were, the Church of God. They would also become the first group to recognize his prophetic calling.
To this end, Armstrong shipped to A.N. Dugger, a leading reformist in the sect and the editor of the churchs paper, his thick Anglo-Israelite manuscript. After reading it, Dugger appeared to accept its teachings. Yet he was unwilling to proclaim it. He wrote to Armstrong:
Dugger's response deeply disappointed Armstrong.
Armstrong could not understand why Dugger treated Anglo-Israelism casually. In Armstrongs eyes, Anglo-Israelism powerfully improved the preaching of the gospel.
Armstrongs bewilderment was compounded further by his already-formed deep conviction that God had commissioned only him to shout an Anglo-Israelite warning to the world. He saw himself as an end-time prophet preparing the way for the Lord. (How he came to this conviction, we will examine later). Though not directly expressed in his Autobiography, Armstrong believed as early as January 1929 that the rejection of Anglo-Israelism was tantamount to rejecting him as Gods special messenger.
But was Anglo-Israelism "new truth" or had the Church of God heard it before?
The Origins of Anglo-Israelism
Anglo-Israelism did not originate with Armstrong. Some claim John Sadler as its father, who in 1649 speculated in Rights to the Kingdom that the English were descendants of Israels lost tribes.
In 1723 a Dr. Abade allegedly wrote, "Unless the ten tribes have flown into the air . . . they must be sought for in the north and west, and in the British Isles."2 Another version of this story calls him Dean Abbadie of Kilaloe, Ireland. The quotation in this version of the story is also different: "Unless the ten lost tribes of Israel are flown into the air . . . they must be those ten Gothic tribes, that entered Europe in the fifth century . . . and founded the ten nations of modern Europe." The quotation is supposed to have been published in his book Triomphe de la Religion.3
A.B. Grimaldi is the source of the second of these two stories. An unabashed turn-of-the-century Anglo-Israelite, he made no attempt to distinguish between various Anglo-Israelite speculations. He uncritically classified anyone who identified Britain as Israel with teaching that we know today as Anglo-Israelism. Yet modern Anglo-Israelism can differ significantly with other views that seem on the surface to be the same.
Grimaldi claimed I.H. Frere as an early Anglo-Israelite. His book The Prophecies of David, Esdras, and John was said to have been published in 1815. In 1816, Reverend B. Murphy is said to have published Proofs That Israelites Came From Egypt Into Ireland. Murphys second book, Advocate of Israel and the Isle of Erin was published in 1817. However, despite these early-19th-century works, Grimaldi identified the first author to advocate modern Anglo-Israelism as Ralph Wedgwood. His The Book of Remembrance was published in 1841. Grimaldi said it was a two-volume work, the only copy of which was alleged to be in the British Library.4
Other scholars believe Anglo-Israelism began with Richard Brothers, a Canadian madman. Around 1800 Brothers both amused and irritated the upper echelons of English society. Troubled by visions, Brothers claimed to be Gods prophet called to warn London of its impending doom. Armageddon was coming. Of all the centers of evil and corruption, Parliament was singled out for Gods special wrath. He identified it as the beast of Revelation to which God gave the number 666.
Brothers increased his comic infamy by claiming direct descent from King David, through the apostle James, the brother of Jesus. God told him, Brothers said, that he was the "nephew of the Almighty." As prophet, Brothers claimed to have received a revelation that the English people were racially Israelites.
Brothers reasoned that since he was a descendant of King David and the English were Israelites, only he had the right to be king of England. George III disagreed. He had Brothers convicted of treason and sent to an asylum.
Brothers used Scripture to justify his claims. Yet ultimately the "revelation" that England was Israel did not come from the Bible. It came from his madness.
Brothers died insane in 1824. Before his death, his caretakers released him, thinking him to be harmless. From his release until his death, a handful of his disciples provided for his needs. They continued publishing his ideas until 1850, 26 years after his death.5
In the waning years of Brothers cult, modern Anglo-Israelism became popularized through the writings of John Wilson. This is where the story really begins. Wilson based his theories on his interpretation of Scripture, not on a madmans dreams. While there are similarities between what Wilson and Brothers taught, there are many significant differences. To date, no one has produced a single passage from Wilson that was clearly influenced by Brothers, this despite the fact that Brothers cult and Wilsons writings overlapped. In fact, if Grimaldis research is correct, it suggests that people other than Brothers are the more likely candidates for having influenced Wilson. Did these earlier writers actually exist? If they did, did they have ties either to Brothers or to Wilson? At the present we cannot say. In any case, though Wilson may not be the originator of modern Anglo-Israelism, he should be remembered for popularizing the belief.6
Wilson published his exposition of Anglo-Israelism, titled Our Israelitish Origin, in 1840. The publics demand for copies resulted in several editions, in both England and America. The American edition came out in 1850. According to a handwritten note in a copy of this edition, the then widely-known George Storrs read and recommended it.7 If this notation is correct, Storrs is one of the earliest American Anglo-Israelites.
To understand the significance of Storrs to our story, we need to quickly review the history of the Millerite movement and the origins of the Seventh-day Adventist church. As students of American church history know, Millerism, the parent of Adventism, was like Anglo-Israelism in that both grew out of a fascination with biblical prophecy. Because both arose at about the same time, it was inevitable that students of both movements would read the works of each other.
Millerites believed that Jesus would return sometime in the period of 1843-45. Believers should warn others and prepare themselves for the coming Judgment. The movement began with William Miller, a poor and reluctant Baptist preacher from rural New York state. Millers message was almost ignored by the public until Joshua Himes accepted it. Himes used his extensive advertising and publishing skills to spread the word.
Millerites first proclaimed the autumn of 1843, then the spring and later the autumn of 1844, as Gods appointed time. When their predictions failed, their humiliation became known as the Great Disappointment.
Millerism had penetrated Great Britain by 1840, the same year Our Israelitish Origin was published. There the Disappointment delayed a year because many British Millerites thought 1845, not 1844, was the expected year. In Britain, converts to Millerism usually came from smaller, prophetically-oriented churches on the fringes of British Christianity. These believers generally took a literalistic approach to Scripture. Often their prophetic views were bookish, lacking any social impact. By 1845, British Millerism had attracted offshoots of the Anglo-Israelite movement.8
In America, Miller encouraged his followers to read British books on biblical prophecy. It seems there was some communication between American Millerites and various British prophecy buffs. Thus, Millerism helped set the stage for the introduction of Anglo-Israelism into the United States. That would explain how George Storrs, a former Millerite, came to recommend Our Israelitish Origins. It may also be one reason why the book sold so well in this country.
Before Anglo-Israelism reached Americas shores, the Great Disappointment had led to the collapse of Millerism and the discrediting of its leaders. Most Millerites returned to their former churches. Those who did not, because they continued preaching Jesus imminent second advent, became known as Adventists. At first, their numbers included only a handful of seventh-day Sabbatarians.
After the Great Disappointment, George Storrs continued working for the Adventist cause. Storrs most important contribution to Adventism came the day he started teaching that the dead were unconscious. Storrs believed the dead are not in heaven, nor are they in hell. They are asleep in their graves. People, he said, do not have immortal souls. They must be given eternal life through Jesus Christ at the resurrection of the saints.
Storrs discovered this doctrine while riding in a railroad car. He literally picked it up off the floor, where he had found a tract on the subject written by an independent Sunday-keeping preacher. Storrs popularized the teaching among Adventists. "Soul-sleep" thus became an identifying tenet of most Adventist sects.
Although many Adventists opposed sect-formation on the grounds that churches immediately became Babylonian when formally organized most Adventists came to see organization as better than no organization. Thus, groups began to coalesce around sets of doctrines that distinguished them from other groups. Their differences often revolved around the Sabbath, the nature of the millennium, the state of the dead, church government and the prophetess Ellen G. White. Her teachings led directly to the founding of the largest of these new groups, the Seventh-day Adventist church.
Coalescence among Adventists continued until the 1920s, a period of about 80 years. In this century the tendency has been to divide rather than to coalescence. Since the First World War, dozens of offshoots have sprung from these parent groups.
Storrs was a part of the coalescence. In 1863 he helped found the smallest of the Adventist bodies, the Sunday-observing Life and Advent Union. In 1964 the Life and Advent Union merged with the larger Advent Christian Church. Although the Life and Advent Union represented an extremely small branch of Adventism, Storrs' influence far exceeded its meager numbers. Every branch of Adventism, including the Seventh-day Adventists, the Church of God (Seventh Day), Jehovah's Witnesses and the Worldwide Church of God owe their doctrines of conditional immortality to him.9
Because of Storrs' widespread influence, a recommendation by him of Our Israelitish Origins would have spread Anglo-Israelism among American Adventists. One can be reasonably certain that if George Storrs recommended a book, then others would have read it.
One who may have followed Storrs' alleged recommendation was the evangelist R.V. Lyon. As far as we can tell, Lyon never claimed that Anglo-Saxons were Israelites. Yet what he wrote about Israel in prophecy, and coming as they do after the popularity of Our Israelitish Origin, strongly suggest Anglo-Israelite influence.
Lyon has been misidentified as a Church of God (Seventh Day) minister.10 The confusion arises because Lyon, though not a Sabbathkeeper, had influence within the Church of God (Seventh Day). Ordained a Baptist preacher, Lyon left the Baptists to become a Millerite. After the Great Disappointment he settled in a group that later joined with other groups to form the Church of God (Abrahamic Faith). The denomination has since changed its name to the Church of God General Conference. Some of its congregations continue to use the older name.11 The church taught conditional immortality, an earthly kingdom of God and, most important for our discussion, Israels restoration to Palestine.
So strongly did this group emphasize their belief in Israels restoration, that they have also been known as the Restoration Church of God.12 While restorationism creates a receptive atmosphere for Anglo-Israelism, we know of no one from among the Church of God (Abrahamic Faith) who was Anglo-Israelite. Lyon came close. As we will see, it is but a short step from Lyons restorationism to classic Anglo-Israelism.
The shortness of the step is evident in Lyons conviction that the Jews do not represent all of end-time Israel. In his writings, Lyon emphasized the biblical story of how Israel divided into two nations, Judah and Israel. Each suffered its own captivity. Only Judah returned from its captivity. These are the Jews of today. The rest of Israel supposedly continued to exist separate from the Jews, but having lost their identity to all but God. Though mingled among the nations, God miraculously has preserved them as a distinct people. This premise is the classic basis of Anglo-Israelism and is what suggests that Lyon was influenced by such thought.
Lyon believed Ezekiel 37:1528 to be an important restorationist prophecy. It speaks of the reunification of Judah and Israel, and how they are again to be ruled by one king David. In interpreting this passage, Lyon applied both a literalist and a typological hermeneutic. He seemed unaware of his inconsistency. First we will review his typological explanation. In his booklet The Scattering and Restoration of Israel, Lyon explained that the "David" of Ezekiel 37 was actually Jesus.13 His explanation is in line with much Christian thought, for many Christians have long considered David a type of Jesus.
Consider Ezekiels broader message, wherein a primary theme is Israels violation of the old covenant (16:8, 5962; 17:1319). Ezekiel testified to their commandment breaking and defilement of the temple. Long before Ezekiels day, sin lay behind the northern tribes' rebellion against the Davidic monarchy and the subsequent bifurcation of the nation. Eventually, Babylon invaded Judah, taking away many captives. God called Ezekiel to proclaim to his fellow Israelite captives the final collapse of Judah, the destruction of the temple and the apparent end of Davidic rule.
Accompanying Ezekiels message of doom is one of hope. In chapter 20 Ezekiel proclaims God as Israels king (20:33). As savior, God will deliver them from their tribulation. He will bring them within the bond of the covenant (v. 37). The nation will revive within this renewed relationship (vv. 40-44). In chapter 37 Ezekiel prophesies that God will revive Israel, a people described as dead dry bones lying in an open field. God will place his spirit within them, giving them life (Ezekiel 37:134).
Ezekiel 37:1527 builds on and expands this theme. Ezekiel explains that their king and savior who in chapter 20 is God will dwell in their midst (v. 27). He will then make a new covenant with them (v. 26). Israel will again be Gods people (v. 27). Unlike the old covenant that they violated, the new covenant will be everlasting.
Other Old Testament prophets spoke of a David, and a son of David, who would lead Israel with righteousness (Isaiah 11:13; 9:67, 16:5; Jeremiah 23:5, 33:15). Christians saw this fulfilled in Jesus. In the New Testament Jesus is the new David/Solomon (Revelation 5:5; 22:16). Not only is Jesus a literal descendant of David (Matthew 1; John 7:42; 2 Timothy 2:8), but also in him are the Davidic promises fulfilled. He is the one to sit on Davids throne (Luke 1:32). His kingdom is the kingdom of David (Mark 11:10). With the founding of the church, God raises Davids tabernacle (Acts 15:1319). As the antitype of Solomon, Jesus is the Son of David (Matthew 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:3031; 21:19; 15). The Psalms, the church believes, point to David as the type and Jesus as the antitype (Acts 2:25, 34; 4:25; 13:33, 35). Hebrews applies scriptures to Jesus that originally referred to Solomon (Hebrews 1:5; 2 Samuel 7:1314). It is Jesus who fulfills Gods promise that David would never lack an heir (Acts 13:3436). The New Testament does not look to a resurrected David, for it has a resurrected Christ (Acts 2:2536; 13:3437).
As the Messianic type, the original David had reunited the tribes (2 Samuel 5:15). Thus, Ezekiel 37 looks typologically to a then-future "David" who will bring a greater reunity. "David" is to reign over Israel when God establishes his new covenant with them. The Christian belief that the new covenant is here suggests that in some sense "David" reigns.
Lyon, having started typologically, then applied a literalist hermeneutic to every other part of Ezekiel 37. So, although David was understood typologically, the reunification of Israel that David would bring about was thought to be literal. Lyon did not explain how he justified his inconsistency.
Lyon further reasoned that Ezekiel 37 would be fulfilled during the Millennium, a future time when Jesus would reign over the earth for 1000 years. Lyon thus rejected the idea that Israels reunification would occur typologically in new Israel, the church.
In his discussion, Lyon ignored the early chapters of Ezekiel, which speak of Israelites and Jews as already dwelling together (see Ezekiel chapters 3-4, 8-11). Missing also was Jesus claim that the Jews were "the lost sheep of the House of Israel" (Matthew 15:24). For Jesus, "House of Israel" and "Jews" were synonymous. Finally, Lyon did not discuss the New Testaments witness that God has already made the new covenant with spiritual Israel the church (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 8:6). Lyon argued that the church must look beyond the Jews to find Israel today. Yet to the question, Where is Israel today? Lyon offered no answer. Lyon cuddled up to Anglo-Israelism, but apparently did not embrace it.
So why mention him? Lyon is important because he had influence far beyond what became the Church of God (Abrahamic Faith). By the American Civil War, Lyon was evangelizing in widely separated areas of the Great Lakes region of both the United States and Canada. Additionally, for 30 years until his death in 1891, Lyon sent his free literature to anyone who requested it. He had readers throughout Northern America. Though not widely known among the general public, Lyon and his prophetic doctrines were known and welcomed among Adventists who later formed the Church of God (Seventh Day).
Throughout the latter 1800s and early 1900s, there were many contacts between restorationists such as R.V. Lyon and ministers of what became the Church of God (Seventh Day).14 While doctrines about the Sabbath were different, both groups had much in common, including a fascination with Israel. While it was not until 1874 that elements of the future Church of God (Seventh-Day) published Lyons prophetic viewpoints, his influence was indirectly felt earlier than that, through the person of R.W. Reed.
Reed was a member of the Sabbath-observing Church of Christ at Marion, Iowa.15 In those years, the congregations that later formed the Church of God (Seventh Day) acted independently of each other. In the mid-1860s members of the Marion congregation revived the defunct Hope of Israel, which later became The Bible Advocate. The paper was a local production supported by private contributions from around the country. Reed was instrumental in the papers revival.
Like Lyon, Reed believed there was more to national Israel than the Jews. In 1868 he wrote an article for The Hope of Israel explaining this position.16 A comparison between Reeds 1868 articles and Lyons earlier 1861 tract, The Scattering and Restoration of Israel, clearly shows the influence of Lyon on Reed. In every point Reed followed Lyons arguments. The influence is obvious. And just like Lyon, Reed left the question unanswered: If a non-Jewish Israel still exists, where is it?
In the following years, the Marion church paper failed financially two more times. Even changing its name to The Advent and Sabbath Advocate did not increase its appeal to Sabbatarian Adventists. Its salvation came in March 1874 when Jacob Brinkerhoff spent all his savings to keep it going.
Jacob Brinkerhoff Confronts Anglo-Israelism
Brinkerhoff assumed sole editorial responsibility for the paper, shortening its name to The Sabbath Advocate. He continued its previous policy of publishing opposing views on a variety of biblical subjects. Yet his openness had limits. He allowed nothing that questioned the observance of the Sabbath, an earthly kingdom of God or that supported the Seventh-day Adventist church and Ellen G. White. The Iowa brethren supported the paper and viewed it as a church rather than a private publication.
Shortly after taking over the paper, Brinkerhoff reprinted Lyons tract about Israel. Though the question, Where are the lost tribes? remained unanswered, it was not long before some Sabbatarian Adventists thought they knew the answer. In 1884 the paper reported that a Brother Ellsworth believed in Anglo-Israelism and had converted several to it. This is the earliest known statement unambiguously showing that some Sabbatarian Adventists had accepted Anglo-Israelism, though as we pointed out earlier, the belief had entered the Millerite movement in England before 1845.
Brinkerhoff became concerned with this report. He wrote an article in response that ridiculed Anglo-Israelism.17 Six months later he published a second, more lengthy refutation.18 However, the issue would not die. Just two issues after this refutation, in early 1885, Brinkerhoff reprinted an article from the otherwise unknown Bible Banner.19 Though not relevant to the articles main theme, it nevertheless casually commented that England was Israel. Brinkerhoff responded by remarking that the idea lacked any supporting evidence.20
We do not hear of Anglo-Israelism in any Church of God (Seventh Day) publication for several decades. One should not assume, however, that the idea was purged from the group. Christians often hold beliefs different from those held by church hierarchies, and it is always difficult to trace the history of such beliefs when they never reach publication. We can only note when they occasionally pop up.
Considering that the prophetic future of Israel remained a hot topic within the Church of God (Seventh Day), it would not be surprising to see Anglo-Israelism appearing once again. And so it was. According to later testimony, Merritt Dickinson accepted the doctrine in 1900. The Dickinson family had spent three years in Jerusalem, after which they settled in Oklahoma. It was while in Oklahoma that Dickinson became an Anglo-Israelite.
Dickinson and Dugger Discuss Anglo-Israelism
A Dickinson family tradition says that in 1912 Merritt Dickinson and Andrew Dugger discussed Anglo-Israelism. (This is the same Dugger that later corresponded with Armstrong.) Dugger allegedly commented, "You can preach about that [Anglo-Israelism] if you want to, and there may be some truth to it; but you cant get anywhere with the people."21
Andrews father had been an Advent Christian minister before accepting the Sabbath. Afterwards, the older A.F. Dugger helped to create the first General Conference of the Church of God (Adventist). The sect was now organized on a national level. It is this group that later became the Church of God (Seventh Day). In 1884, Duggers father was elected to become the General Conferences first vice-president and in that position established the sects first Sabbath school department. He was also a contributing editor to the churchs paper, which had been purchased from Brinkerhoff. In 1905 the conference elected the elder Dugger to be the papers managing editor.22
In 1906 Andrew Dugger became an elder. Although he had not completed college, he was a school teacher, and allegedly he was the most educated Church of God (Seventh Day) minister of his day. Eight years later he assumed the editorship of the church paper, a position he held for two eventful decades. By now the paper was known as The Bible Advocate.
The Seven-Times Theory
World War I began the year A.N. Dugger became editor of The Bible Advocate. Years before, Duggers father had believed that a great war would break out sometime between 1912 and 1914. Dugger later explained that his fathers belief sprung from his interpretation of Leviticus 26:278.23 In the King James Version that prophecy reads "And if ye will...walk contrary unto me [the Lord]; Then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins" (Leviticus 26:2728).
As modern translations make clear, the words seven times mean sevenfold. In other words, the prophesied curses on ancient Israel would be in intensity seven times more than their sins. A.F. Dugger misunderstood seven times as seven periods of time.
How did the older Dugger apply this misunderstanding about "times" to arrive at the remarkably accurate conclusion that a great war would break out between 1912 and 1914? The process he followed is complicated. First, he followed a common Adventist assumption that one prophetic "time" equals one year. Thus seven "times" are said to equal seven years. Making another assumption that a prophetic year has 360 days, A.F. Dugger then multiplied seven years by 360. The result was 2,520 days. He then applied the assumption that each day represented one year. In effect, he had turned the years into days, then back into years again. The seven times became seven years, then 2,520 days, then 2,520 years. After all this math, the older Dugger concluded he had discovered how long God was cursing the Jews.
Even if one accepts that all these numeric gymnastics are valid, for Christians this line of reasoning has another significant problem. Leviticus 26 says God imposed the curses for violation of the old covenant (Leviticus 26:2, 9, 15, 25). It adds that the covenant relationship would be reestablished on national repentance, not upon the passing of a certain time span (verses 4042). Such was also the message of the Prophets (e.g., Isaiah 24:45; Jeremiah 11:10; 22:89; Ezekiel 16:8, 5962, Daniel 11:30, 32; Hosea 8:1).
Further, for Leviticus 26 to have any modern application requires the continued validity of the old covenant. That God prophesied the end of the old covenant and the establishment of a new an event fulfilled in Christ seems not to have affected A.F. Duggers prophetic teaching (cf. Zechariah 11:10; Hosea 2:1820; Jeremiah 31:3134; Matthew 26:28; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 7:22, 8:613). Hebrews 8:13 says that the old covenant was obsolete, was growing old, and was about to disappear. Yet fundamental to A.F. Duggers exegesis, is the imposition of the old covenant blessings and cursings on modern peoples.
A.F. Dugger did understand that Leviticus curses began to climax with Nebuchadnezzars first siege of Jerusalem. He went wrong in attempting to figure out when and why they would end. To begin solving this nonpuzzle, A.F. Dugger incorrectly dated Nebuchadnezzars first siege of Jerusalem to 606 b.c. He next calculated 2,520 years forward and came to a.d. 1914. He thus concluded that in 1914, God would remove the ancient curse that had long blocked the restoration of the Jewish state. Further, A.F. Dugger believed that the coming of the Jewish state would end what Jesus called the "times of the Gentiles." In Lukes version of the Olivet prophesy, Jesus said "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:24, KJV). With their passing, Dugger believed Jesus return could not be far behind.
Although the First World War began in 1914 and produced the Balfour Declaration that led to a Jewish state, it is no confirmation that A.F. Dugger was right. He misinterpreted Leviticus 26, misdated the first siege of Jerusalem and miscalculated by two years the end of the nonexistent 2,520-year curse.24
Misinterpretations of Scripture, no matter how many events are claimed in their support, are misinterpretations still. To rely on such misinterpretations is to set oneself up for a spiritual crisis. No mathematical scheme, no historic or current event, can make them correct.
A.F. Dugger did not originate the seven-times theory. The now forgotten but once popular British evangelical H. Grattan Guinness may have been the first to propose it.25 Guinness first book, The Approaching End of the Age, was originally published in 1878. Extremely popular, it went through 13 editions between 1878 and 1897. After his death, E.H. Horne produced in 1918 a revised and abridged edition of this most popular of Guinness books. People were still buying his books into the 1930s.
Of the 2,520 years, Guinness wrote, "This is inferred from Scripture rather than distinctly stated in it."26 Having admitted this, however, Guinness proceeded to detail an elaborately complex prophetic scheme. Though once popular, his date-setting probably doomed him to obscurity. It was Guinness who interpreted the 2,520 years as "the times of the Gentiles." In his second book, Light for the Last Days, Guinness elaborated. He dedicated four chapters to the seven "times" idea.27 Amazingly, Guinness proposed not one time span of 2,520 years, but many. These spans ended in 1884, 1889, 1893, 1898, 1906, 1915, 1917, 1923 and 19334.28 Of all these, 1917 was the most important.
In Britain, Guinness was a much sought-after evangelical speaker on biblical prophecy.29 His fame spread to America, where many read his books. Apparently A.F. Dugger was among them, for Richard Nickels reports that in the 1890s Dugger published some of Guinness prophetic ideas in the Advocate.30 The trail of the 2,520-year-curse theory begins with the evangelical Guinness, goes through the Adventist Dugger, to become an important part of early 20th-century Church of God teaching.
There may have also been another influence. An independent Sunday-observing Adventist named Jonas Wendell had claimed Jesus would return in 1874. After that date passed, Wendell replaced it with 1914.31 He too calculated 2,520 years to get there. Wendells scheme came before Guinness and was based not on Leviticus but on Daniel.32
The King James Version of Daniel 4 says that Nebuchadnezzar would be insane for seven "times." Wendell saw this as a type of the "time of the Gentiles." In other words, Nebuchadnezzars seven times of insanity, thought to be 2,520 days long, was assumed to be a typological prediction of the 2,520 years divinely allotted for the "time of the Gentiles."
One of Wendells personal converts, Charles Taze Russell, soon started his own movement. The Russelites, as they were known by their detractors, have since evolved into the Jehovah's Witnesses. As did the older Dugger, they count the "time of the Gentiles" from Nebuchadnezzars first siege of Jerusalem. Like the older Dugger, they also incorrectly date that siege, but unlike him date it at 607 b.c. From this erroneous date, they calculate to 1914. Just as World War I confirmed to the Church of God (Seventh Day) that it properly understood prophecy, so it does for many Jehovah's Witnesses.
World War I also seemed to support Anglo-Israelism. Anglo-Israelites would claim that Israel, represented by the British Empire, had liberated Jerusalem from the Muslim Turks. The "time of the Gentiles" had ended. Beginning with the Balfour Declaration, the English "Israelites" would give Jerusalem to their brothers, the Jews.
G.G. Ruperts Unique Anglo-Israelism
Besides the earlier mentioned Dickinson, another Oklahoma Sabbathkeeper who embraced his own unique form of Anglo-Israelism was G.G. Rupert. Rupert had been a Seventh-day Adventist missionary to South America and a regional conference leader in the United States. After leaving the Seventh-day Adventists, Rupert associated himself with the Church of God (Seventh Day).
Ruperts unique version of Anglo-Israelism rejected the racial descent theory and replaced it with one of spiritual descent. Spiritual Judah, he said, was the Greek Orthodox Church. He identified spiritual Israel as the Roman Catholic Church. The Protestant churches he labeled Ephraim, the leading tribe in Israel. America was also Ephraim because it was a Protestant stronghold. Rupert then ignored the contextual evidence that the book of Hosea was written to eighth-century b.c. Israel, and instead claimed its intended audience was Protestant America.
The Bible Advocate Publishes Anglo-Israelite Articles
In 1915, A.N. Dugger printed advertisements in The Bible Advocate for Ruperts most famous book, The Yellow Peril. Though Rupert advertised in The Bible Advocate, he apparently never joined the Church of God (Seventh Day). He had his own following that probably developed through the readership of his own newspaper, The Remnant of Israel. After his death in the early 1920s, his wife continued Ruperts work. She had to close the paper in 1929. Seventy years later, a small remnant of his disciples remain.33
Despite Ruperts contacts with the Church of God (Seventh Day), no firm evidence exists that proves Rupert to be the source for either Dickinsons or Armstrongs Anglo-Israelism. Ruperts Anglo-Israelism was not their Anglo-Israelism.
However, Armstrong did become familiar with Ruperts work. Copies of Ruperts publications were alleged to be seen among Armstrongs possessions after his death. Similarities exist between festivals inspired by the Old Testament that Rupert observed and those kept by Armstrong. Yet an examination of Armstrongs correspondence for the late 1920s proves that his Anglo-Israelite beliefs came from another direction.
Judah's Sceptre and Joseph's Birthright.
In 1917 A.A. Beauchamp issued his first edition of the Anglo-Israelite classic, J.H. Allens Judah's Sceptre and Joseph's Birthright. Though not of the Church of God, Allen greatly affected that sect. As we have mentioned, Merritt Dickinson was the first Church of God (Seventh Day) minister to preach Anglo-Israelism. He claimed that he accepted the doctrine around the year 1900, and that he discussed it with A.N. Dugger in 1912. A few years after that, Dickinson read Judahs Sceptre and Josephs Birthright.34
Dickinsons Anglo-Israelism received a favorable hearing. In 1919, he advocated his views in several articles published in The Bible Advocate. The Church of God even distributed one of them "The Final Gathering of the Children of Israel" as a booklet. So we have proof that Dugger was familiar with Anglo-Israelism at least ten years before Armstrong sent Dugger his manuscript.
The Great Pyramid
Through the years, bizarre beliefs have sometimes become attached to Anglo-Israelism. Among the oddest has been pyramidology. Pyramidologists claim that if one correctly interprets the measurements of the inner tunnels of the Great Pyramid of Giza one can know the future. Since both allegedly foretold the future, pyramidologists believed that one could use the Great Pyramid to help interpret Bible prophecies. More specifically, the Great Pyramid allegedly provided a key for the dating of when certain events would occur. Sadly, this quackery found its way into the Church of God (Seventh Day). (Martin Gardners Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science provides an excellent critique of this belief.)
In spring 1927 The Bible Advocate published two articles that advocated pyramidology. The articles claimed that the Great Pyramid proved that the Great Tribulation would start on May 29, 1928.35 Here too, we find a tie-in with the Jehovah's Witnesses. Their founder, Charles Taze Russell, believed in pyramidology. He used it to supplement the Scriptures in predicting Christs return. After Russells death, Judge Rutherford took over their organization. Rutherford did not care for pyramidology and moved the main body of Witnesses to reject it. This led to splits within their church.
Armstrong and the Great Pyramid
The pyramidology article in the Bible Advocate did not go unnoticed. Herbert Armstrong was captivated by its claims. To learn more, he wrote to its author in care of The Bible Advocate. The Advocate forwarded his letter to Reverend Lincoln McConnell, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Saint Petersburg, Florida. Reverend McConnell responded to Armstrongs inquiry on June 3, 1927. His letter set in motion a chain of events more momentous than either Armstrong or Reverend McConnell could imagine.
To emphasize his point, McConnell added,
Armstrong took the challenge. As was his custom whenever studying a biblical subject, he went to Portland, Oregons public library. The librarys collection held several Anglo-Israel titles, including W.H. Pooles Anglo-Israel or the Saxon Race, Samuel Albert Browns The House of Israel or the Anglo-Saxon, and the 1917 edition of J.H. Allens Judah's Sceptre and Joseph's Birthright.36
When Armstrong began his studies, the Pacific Northwest was already an Anglo-Israelite stronghold, which explains why the library held so many Anglo-Israelite titles. Perhaps Portlands most prominent advocate of Anglo-Israelism was Reuben H. Sawyer, the pastor of Portlands East Side Christian Church. An accomplished speaker and published Anglo-Israelite writer, Sawyers Anglo-Israelite activities became so demanding that to meet them he left the pastorate in 1921. For the next 16 years he lectured throughout the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada. Largely through Sawyers efforts, Portlands Anglo-Israel Research Society met twice monthly, had a lecture bureau and a bookstore.37 Before Armstrong ever went on the radio, Oregon already had a successful Anglo-Israelite preacher who traveled internationally.
Not surprisingly, the rise of Anglo-Israelite beliefs in Oregon paralleled the revival of the Ku Klux Klan. Here too, Sawyer was deeply involved.
Sawyers embrace of the Klan helped to lay the seeds of what later became an anti-Semitic branch of Anglo-Israelism known as Christian Identity. We are reminded that not all Anglo-Israelites have taken this path by the fact that the centers of Klan activity, Portland and Eugene, also became fruitful soil for Armstrongs seemingly pro-Semitic Anglo-Israelism. That there were overlapping influences between the groups seems likely.
When Armstrong began his Anglo-Israelite studies in the Portland library, he took some time to familiarize himself with its and other Anglo-Israelite works. Then, taking the advice of McConnell, he wrote to Beauchamp asking for more information on both Anglo-Israelism and on the Great Pyramid.
Armstrongs letter reveals a familiarity with the more famous pyramidology works. He has read Seiss The Miracle in Stone and seen the works of Charles Piazzi Smyth. Of these, Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid by Smyth has historically been the most influential pyramidology book.
Equally popular, if not as influential, was Miracle in Stone. It underwent 14 editions. Armstrong had read them both. As we have seen, Armstrong did not write Beauchamp merely to ask about pyramidology. He also asked for an opinion about Judahs Sceptre and Josephs Birthright, which by then he had read. Armstrong seemed unaware that Beauchamp was the publisher of Judahs Sceptre and Josephs Birthright. For him to ask Beauchamp for an opinion as to its validity is like asking the pope if one should be Catholic.
In reply, Beauchamp commented about both pyramidology and Anglo-Israelism. As to "Discipulus" pyramidology book, he said it was
Then he added,
Beauchamp, publisher of Judahs Sceptre and Josephs Birthright, enclosed with his letter a 12-page catalogue of all his publications. It would be fascinating to know what was in that catalogue and if Armstrong ordered anything from it. It might be particularly insightful to know if Armstrong subscribed to Beauchamps magazine The New Watchman, (1922?), originally called The Watchman of Israel, (1918-1922). As we will see, the idea of being an end-time watchman to modern Israel became an important part of Armstrongs ministry. Did he pick up this theme from Beauchamp?38
Beauchamp was an interesting character. Before his correspondence with Armstrong he had converted to a now-defunct offshoot of Christian Science called the Church of Integration. His publishing house became the principal means by which the Church of Integration grew. Through his influence, Anglo-Israelism became the central perspective of the sect, while its prophetess, Annie C. Bill, became increasingly fascinated with pyramidology.39
By the time Armstrong wrote to Beauchamp, he had already corresponded about Anglo-Israelism with his friends the Runcorns. In a lengthy letter to them he mentioned that he and his wife were nearly convinced of Anglo-Israelisms truthfulness, but they had yet to make a final decision. Nevertheless, he felt confident enough to speculate that God never intended the Sabbath to be for Gentiles, but for one race only Israel. "In that case, the Sabbath, not being intended for the rest of the world, was not part of the Gospel of Christ, nor of the Apostles." He also wondered if modern racial Israel, to inherit their Abrahamic blessings again, must become Sabbatarian besides becoming Christian. "But, unless they accept, also the Sabbath, they are not recognized in the sight of God as of Israel, subject to those special and higher blessings higher than salvation an additional reward."40
The union of Anglo-Israelism with Sabbatarianism later became an important part of Armstrongs preaching on these subjects. The union he created between these two doctrines explains much of his future work. He commented,
Shortly after writing this letter, Armstrong was convinced. In spring 1928 he wrote to Dugger, telling him of his plans to write several manuscripts about both Anglo-Israelism and evolution. Dugger replied, "Your manuscripts...will be read with pleasure" (Dugger to Armstrong, 20 April 1928, HWAP, #871). The door was now open for Armstrong to advocate Anglo-Israelism within the Church of God.
About the same time he approached the Church of God (Seventh Day) about publishing his Anglo-Israelite and antievolution views, he was also approaching A.A. Beauchamp with the same idea. To Beauchamp he wrote,
For historians and literary critics, Armstrongs following comments are most enlightening.
Armstrong also told Beauchamp that he had an offer to publish his antievolution book (an apparent reference to his correspondence with A.N. Dugger). "But [I] am afraid the publishing house in question is not equipped to turn out as up-to-date and attractive a job as I feel will be necessary."
Beauchamps reply came quickly.
With this rebuff, Armstrongs only encouragement came from A.N. Dugger. As Armstrong prepared his manuscript, he continued to learn all he could about Anglo-Israelism. Elder A.H. Stith informed him that S.S. Davison of Fairview, Oklahoma, had some Anglo-Israelite tracts written by Alfuc Davison that Armstrong could obtain by writing to him.42 The Davisons had been Church of God ministers for several generations. (Alfuc is probably Alpheus Davison.)
Davisons Anglo-Israelite views were known within the Church of God (Seventh Day) and clearly came before Armstrongs. Whether Davison had influenced Merritt Dickinson or vice-versa is unknown. Davisons response to Armstrong, if any, has not survived.
By January 1929 Armstrong had begun writing his manuscript. He was getting ready to put the Church of God to the test. On January 1 he wrote Dugger to remind him of his project. In his letter Armstrong presented Anglo-Israelism with a new twist, a twist he hoped would make his book more attractive to Dugger. He claimed that Anglo-Israelism, as he presented it, shed new light on a longstanding Church of God doctrine, the Third Angels Message. Dugger replied that he would welcome any new information Armstrong could provide about the Message.43
The Third Angels Message
What is the Third Angels Message? The Third Angels Message is an old Adventist teaching based on a misunderstanding of Revelation 14. It has played an important role in shaping both Seventh-day Adventist and Church of God (Seventh Day) ideas of their mission. The passage in question reads
The Church of God (Seventh Day) believed these messages referred to their work. They explained Revelation 14 in this manner,
The Church of God (Seventh Day) taught that the commandments especially the Sabbath command were associated with that final warning.
The Adventist movement gave birth to the doctrine of the Third Angels Message following the Great Disappointment. It brought solace to Sabbatarian Adventists attempting to cope with their humiliation. The Third Angel of Revelation was delivering its message, they believed, and because of it, faithful Adventists had become Sabbathkeepers. When the Sabbatarian Adventist movement split into various camps, the doctrine of the Third Angels Message followed its divisions.44
In the 1920s the Church of God (Seventh Day) preached the Third Angels Message with vigor. Recent events convinced them that the Great Tribulation was about to come. In 1928, Armstrong also believed in the Third Angels Message. He wrote:
Later Armstrong would come to renounce the doctrine of the Third Angels Message, but in 1928 he united it with Anglo-Israelism. To understand why he united those ideas, realize that Armstrong took Anglo-Israelism to its logical conclusion. Previous Anglo-Israelites emphasized Gods blessings to Israel. Nobody said anything about the curses. Armstrong noticed the curses. He realized that to be consistent, an Anglo-Israelite needed to preach them as well. In Ezekiel, God foretold Israels defeat and enslavement.
Armstrong failed to see that Ezekiel was written to Israel in anticipation of Jerusalems fall in 587 b.c. Beginning from an Anglo-Israelite world view, he saw Ezekiels references to the House of Israel, not as evidence of an Israelite presence in Judah, but as proof that Ezekiel was for the lost tribes. Ezekiel was, he believed, not for the Jews but for Israel. Therefore, although Ezekiel clearly spoke of the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of its temple, Armstrong concluded that Ezekiels message was not about those historic events. He insisted on an Anglo-Israelite interpretation. From this faulty premise he reasoned that God intended Ezekiels book to be a warning to end-time Israel.
Because Armstrong believed the Anglo-Saxons to be the remnants of the House of Israel, he believed the message of Ezekiel was a warning for the United States and British Commonwealth.
Armstrong noticed something else as well. He noticed the reasons God cursed Israel. In Ezekiel, listed prominently among those reasons was Sabbath-breaking (Ezekiel 20 and 22). It was then a simple step for Armstrong to merge Anglo-Israelism with the Sabbatarianism of the Third Angels Message.
The manuscript Armstrong wrote was more than 260 pages long. He called it, What is the Third Angels Message? By February 1929 Dugger had received its first few chapters. We are fortunate in that most of the original manuscript has survived.45
Despite what Armstrong would claim, it is difficult to understand Armstrongs mailing the manuscript to Dugger just as a test of the Church of God (Seventh Day). This is because Burt Marrs, not Dugger, was then the president of the General Conference. If Armstrong were simply testing the church, he should have mailed his manuscript to Marrs. Perhaps they could have brought up the subject at the next conference meeting. But the mailing was more than a test. Armstrong was looking for a publisher, and Dugger was responsible for the churchs press.
A Special Calling
By the time he began mailing his Third Angels manuscript to Dugger, Armstrong had become convinced that God had given him a special calling. In a letter to G.A. Hobbs written in February 1929 he claimed "I was made to see clearly that I have been given a commission to get this warning message out with the loud shout to the world" (Armstrong to Brother Hobbs, 6 February 1929, HWAP, #850, emphasis mine).
How was Armstrong "made to see" that his God-given commission was to shout the Third Angels Message to the world? The answer is a "mysterious woman." Working almost full-time to complete What Is the Third Angels Message?, Armstrong became totally absorbed in his writing. Though his family was suffering severely from his lack of employment, nothing else mattered as much as completing that book. Though this was before the Great Depression, Armstrong described these months as a time of economic "desperation."
As his children went hungry, he spent most of his time writing. In his letter to Hobbs, he confesses, "I am writing for Bro. Dugger about the Third Angels Message.... I have spent all the time I had for writing on that."47 Spending time writing and studying did not put food on the table. In his desperation he prayed.
In writing to Hobbs about this incident, Armstrong commented,
As one can see from his letter, Armstrong believed that the manner in which God provided for his family also proved that in writing The Third Angels Message he was doing Gods will, even if his family had been going hungry. He saw the "mysterious woman" as a sign that God had commissioned him, above all other humans on earth, to proclaim that message worldwide. Not even the original apostles had been given such a task. "It never has been carried at all."48
Armstrong had seen no vision. He dreamt no dream. He heard no voice. There was only the woman at the door with an offer for him to stack wood. Yet, whose prayers had God answered? Armstrongs? His wifes? His childrens? All of the above? To those who were hungry it does not matter. That offer to chop wood kept the Armstrongs from starving and enabled Herbert Armstrong to continue to write. That was all it took to convince him that he had a unique calling a God-ordained commission to shout the Third Angels Message to the world.
This incident, above all others, defines the remaining 57 years of Armstrongs life. Uncertain how he would fulfill such a commission, he must have wondered if the Church of God (Seventh Day) would provide the means. Inadvertently, Dugger encouraged Armstrong in these opinions. After receiving the first few chapters of Armstrongs book, Dugger wrote,
Excited, Armstrong shared his self-image with others. To Lt. Col. Mackendrick (author of The Destiny of Britain and America), he wrote,
In this letter, Armstrong stated plainly that his understanding of Anglo-Israelism came not simply as a result of study, but of revelation. He felt this revelation "must be powerfully broadcasted [sic] to the whole world without delay." If this had been a divine revelation, then who could argue with it?
By 1929 the word broadcast had come to refer to radio. So, two years before his ordination, Armstrong already envisioned a worldwide radio ministry, the primary purpose of which was to preach not the gospel of salvation (the so-called First Angels Message), but an Anglo-Israelite message that Armstrong called the Third Angels Message. Later, as his ministry expanded, he saw its success as Gods affirmation that Herbert Armstrong was indeed Gods end-time prophet.
A few weeks after writing Mackendrick, Armstrong informed Dugger that he was sending him ten more chapters of What Is the Third Angels Message? He promised that four more would soon follow. Eventually, he produced 20 chapters.49 Subsequent letters show he planned to write even more. The manuscript in the Herbert W. Armstrong Papers collection contains most of this work. By July 1929 Dugger had finished reading most of Armstrongs chapters. It was then that he wrote, "You surely are right."50
What separates this doctrine from the others that Armstrong investigated is its extra-biblical nature. The Sabbath, baptism and creation are all biblical subjects he investigated early. These words are found in Scripture. But United States and Britain are words not in Scripture. Anglo-Israelism may appear biblical to some people, but it is actually unbiblical.
In studying Anglo-Israelism, Armstrongs methodology differed from what he had earlier applied to the subject of baptism. With baptism, he investigated many different opinions before reaching a decision. Yet where has he commented on how he studied Anglo-Israelism in the same manner? He said so little on how he came to this conviction that some have thought the doctrine originated with him. Because he often said that God revealed this truth to him, it is not difficult to see how someone might reach the conclusion that Anglo-Israelism originated with him. Placing this doctrine in the realm of divine revelation also made it more difficult for many of his followers to question it.
In arriving at his prophetic doctrines, Armstrong seems to have assumed an overall literalistic hermeneutic, influenced by Dispensationalist and Adventist perspectives. He never questioned whether these perspectives were valid, or if valid, whether they were always valid.51
As time went on, Armstrong eagerly waited for Duggers response. Would Dugger and the church acknowledge the truth acknowledge not only Anglo-Israelism, but that Armstrong was the one to whom God had revealed the truth? Would they recognize his commission to proclaim the Third Angels Message? Would they pass the test that Armstrong felt they had to pass?
As I showed earlier, Dugger promoted Anglo-Israelism a decade before he heard of Armstrong. What Armstrong uniquely did was link Anglo-Israelism with the Third Angels Message. Dugger must have found such a presentation enticing. No wonder he responded, "You surely are right." Yet in the end, Dugger decided that he would not include Anglo-Israelism in the churchs publications. Still, he encouraged Armstrong with the words,
Dugger knew that trouble was brewing in the church, so he may have hoped for a more convenient time to spread Armstrongs views. Yet Armstrong concluded that Dugger would preach only those truths he found convenient. Undeterred, Armstrong continued to write. By early 1930 he began circulating the text of his book among those expressing an interest.52 We will now take the time to highlight some points in his original manuscript that Armstrong did not include in his later work, The United States and Britain in Prophecy.53
What Is the Third Angels Message? Examined
The title of the original manuscript, What Is the Third Angels Message?, highlights the context in which Armstrong believed Anglo-Israelism should be presented. As he proceeded through his treatise, Armstrong discussed the development of the Abrahamic covenant as God renewed it among Abrahams descendants. This discussion eventually brought him to the blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh, the grandsons of Israel. He wrote,
The influence of J.H. Allen is evident in the general presentation of Armstrongs argument. Armstrong acknowledged that influence on pages 109 and 112, when he quoted Allen in support of the idea that Ephraim is in the British Isles.54
In chapter 12, Armstrong combined the Guinness/Dugger seven-times theory with the Jehovah's Witnesses seven-times theory. (See above for a discussion of these theories.) However, where Dugger and the Jehovah's Witnesses had claimed 1914 as the terminus of the "seven times," Armstrong followed Guinness in claiming 1917 as its end.55 Dugger saw the date as the time God would remove his curse from the Jews. Armstrong saw it as the time England would begin to repossess her rightful property. Armstrong viewed General Allenbys capture of Jerusalem as "clinching proof that Ephraim today resides in the British Isles."56 He confidently predicted that because Palestine belonged to Ephraim and not the Jews, "The Zionist movement is doomed to failure."57
Numerology also played an important role in his thinking, especially the number 19. He incorrectly noted a 19-year period from Nebuchadnezzars first siege of Jerusalem till its final fall. On that basis Armstrong then predicted a 19-year period from 1917 until 1936. It would be around 1936 that God would deliver
All of this was but a prelude to Armageddon.
A few pages later, Armstrong again introduced pyramidology. In explaining Matthew 21:4245 (where Jesus spoke of the stone that the builders rejected), Armstrong stated,
Of course, he offered no proof for this extraordinary claim. Somehow the distant similarity(?) between Jesus comments about a missing cornerstone and the reality of an uncapped pyramid was all the proof needed to show that Jesus had the Great Pyramid in mind.
He even said that the samurai, "or white Japanese" were Israelites (ibid., 138D). Again, he offered no proof. Was it their "whiteness," their aristocracy or both that made them Israelites?
Armstrong emphatically declared "Deny this and you deny Gods power to keep his word, or else you must deny the divine inspiration of the Bible altogether" (ibid., 140). When it came to Anglo-Israelism, there was no room for disagreement. In his mind, to deny his conclusions was to deny the Word of God.
Armstrongs transformation of Ezekiel into a warning for America is unique in all Anglo-Israelism. It may be the one significant addition he made to the belief. As such, it became an effective tool in calling people to repentance and to the Sabbath. Hence the connection with the Third Angels Message.
In making the Ezekiel connection, Armstrong repeated the error made by many prophecy expositors. He ignored Ezekiels plain words, which identified to whom he was writing and about when God would fulfill his prophecies. Training in proper hermeneutical tools would have been helpful. He again repeated the error with the Minor Prophets.
In Armstrongs version of the end-time cataclysm, communists and civil-right workers allied themselves with Satan against Israel.
Of course, beginning with the Russian Revolution of 1917, communism was an increasing threat to the West. Its international popularity grew because it promised the oppressed and poor utopian justice, through the collapse of capitalism and its replacement by a socialist state. Many conservative Christians, not just Armstrong, saw communism as the fulfillment of biblical prophecies. They read the present into the text.58
Having concluded that God intended Ezekiel for modern America, Armstrong in much of the remaining text of What Is the Third Angels Message? attempted to show that America should keep the Sabbath. Gods ancient judgment on Israel for breaking the covenant became transformed into a condemnation of America for breaking the Ten Commandments.
After dispensing with America, What Is the Third Angels Message? discussed the Millennium. During the Millennium, Armstrong believed, God would enforce the keeping of the Ten Commandments. For Armstrong, Christ was lawgiver, teacher and enforcer. Gods promised new covenant was for those who obey. In the midst of his lengthy discussion of Gods law and the Millennium, Armstrong gave faith and grace only six lines.59 So short, a reader could easily miss them.
Armstrong dedicated chapter 15 to the Sabbath. Here he focused on an important part of his Sabbatarian theology. He explained that Exodus 16 gave a separate Sabbath covenant as a sign between God and his people Israel. That Israel was Gods people he understood in terms of their race, not in terms of their having entered a covenant with God. He believed that even if God had abolished the old Mosaic covenant, the alleged Sabbath covenant remained. He failed to realize that the Sabbath was a sign of Israels sanctification and was, therefore, an intimate part of the old covenant. The end of the old covenant removed the basis of Israels sanctification and therefore eliminated the need for the Sabbath sign.
Starting from a faulty premise, Armstrong Christianized the Sabbath, making it a sign between God and obedient Christians, whether Jew or Gentile. He called it "the final test of obedience" (ibid., 176).
Much of the remainder of What Is the Third Angels Message continues along this line. In typical Adventist emphasis, the Third Angels Message focuses on the Fourth Commandment.
Why indeed, especially if the Sabbath, as Armstrong claimed, was "the final test of obedience?" The answer, he said, had to do with Israel.
Since we have already shown that Armstrong believed the Time of the Gentiles ended in 1917, it seems likely that he also believed 1917 was the year that the Sabbath became a "final test of obedience." That such a "final test" was unknown to Jesus and the New Testament church did not alter his conclusion. It might be interesting to know whether the coincidental 1917 publication of Allens Judahs Sceptre and Josephs Birthright fit into this thinking. However, we have no comments from Armstrong on this matter. Armstrong downplayed Allens work while emphasizing his own.
Before the conclusion of his manuscript, Armstrong told his readers that his Third Angels Message must be shouted to the world. "Any movement prior to 1917, therefore, was premature, and bound to be more or less in error, so far as proclaiming this truth is concerned" (ibid., 210). Keep in mind that he believed God had revealed only to him Anglo-Israelisms connection to the Third Angels Message. He believed that God had commissioned only him to broadcast this message worldwide this less than two years after his baptism. Through What Is the Third Angels Message?, articles in The Bible Advocate and personal correspondence, Armstrong was already preaching to whoever would listen, two years before his official ordination. Chapter 21 concludes,
Notice, Armstrong said that this manuscript was not simply his idea. He proclaimed it as Gods "final eleventh-hour warning." It was God, not Armstrong, who supposedly placed this warning in this manuscript.
In the closing pages of the book, Armstrong again transformed the Third Angels Message. It had become a kingdom message.
While Armstrong would eventually drop the term Third Angels Message from his vocabulary, and de-emphasize Revelation 14, such changes were cosmetic. The underlying message remained the same. Furthermore, for Armstrong the gospel of Gods grace became of secondary importance. The important message for today, Armstrong felt, was that we obey Gods law.
Is this the New Testament perspective? Or does the New Testament view grace as always of primary importance? Armstrongs confession that grace was for the apostolic age shows us the clear answer. At this point in his ministry, he seemed to know that his message differed from that of the New Testament.
In 1931, the handful of people comprising the Oregon Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day) ordained Armstrong into the ministry. For the Oregon church, it was a time of increasing division and disenchantment with its national leadership. The world had entered the Great Depression, and nations were converting to the dark faiths of fascism and communism. People talked of another World War.
Armstrongs Developing Work
Two years later, in 1933, the Oregon Conference supported one of Armstrongs evangelistic campaigns near Eugene, Oregon. That campaign led to the establishing of the independent Eugene congregation. This congregation became the parent of the Worldwide Church of God.
As the Church of God (Seventh Day) General Conference split apart, Armstrong received an opportunity to begin a radio ministry. As we have seen, since at least 1929 he had believed that God had commissioned him specifically to broadcast the Third Angels/Anglo-Israel/kingdom message to the world. With the assistance of the Oregon members, his internationally known work began. An advertising man by background, he wanted to give his listeners more than a weekly radio program. For them, he created a magazine.
The magazine never mentioned the Third Angels Message by name. By this time, Armstrong may no longer have accepted Adventist views on this doctrine. Yet the teaching was there he just framed it in other terms. The emphasis, besides Anglo-Israelism, became the coming kingdom of God. Everything he said got back to the kingdom or Israel or the Ten Commandments. Everything he did, he understood in terms of his assumed commission.
Early issues of the magazine echoed these themes. "The Times of the Gentiles correspond with the Times of Judahs national punishment."60 These Times of the Gentiles, he explained, had begun to taper off since 1917, but would continue until 1936. He taught that 1936 marked the "End of the Age." Coming soon were the heavenly signs and the Day of the Lord. The Great Tribulation, he said, had already started! It began in 1928. He based that assumption, not on the Bible, but upon the Great Pyramid theory.
With the world in the midst of the Great Depression, many American Christian fundamentalists found it easy to believe the Great Tribulation had begun. Thus, Armstrong was certain that only the coming of Jesus would end the Depression. Before then, the world would plunge into its last war.
When Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, Armstrong cried, "He is marching to Armageddon!"61 At first, Armstrong thought Mussolini would destroy the United States. Then in 1940, he commented that he might have been wrong. He said that it now appeared that Hitler would do the United States in.62
Throughout the war, his message remained the same. Fascism would conquer America. Naturally, he continued to feel divinely commissioned to warn America. Toward that goal, in September 1942, he published the first edition of The United States and Britain in Prophecy. Missing was any mention of the seven-times theory as it related to the Jews. Armstrong probably still believed in the previous interpretation, but in the booklet he wrote that the "seven times" of punishment applied to the lost tribes of Israel. For them, he said the seven times spanned the period from 718 b.c. (the incorrect date of Samarias conquest) until a.d. 1803 (the date of the Louisiana Purchase). Still, the earlier interpretation continued to affect his thinking. He firmly believed that the Times of the Gentiles was over, and that the world was in the Great Tribulation.
Whenever the war news appeared favorable, Armstrong simply discounted it. He saw all news through the lens of his prophetic viewpoint and his belief in his own unique commission. In early 1944 he wrote to his contributors:
The success of his work further convinced Armstrong that his self-perceptions were correct and his work righteous. How else could one explain his success if God were not behind it? He felt that God backed his prophetic opinions and stood behind him. He believed that he spoke with the authority of God.
As the war drew to its obvious close, Armstrongs message changed. He dropped all insistence that the war would lead to Americas destruction. Gone was the cry that the Tribulation had already begun. Yet the substance of the message did not change. The Third Angel was present, only transformed.
Despite what our senses told us, the Allies had not defeated Germany. The Nazis had gone underground. Next time, Europe would unite under an evil fascist-papal alliance. It would conquer, subjugate and depopulate the United States. The church had to warn the Anglo-Saxon nations about Gods wrath. The church had to call them to repentance and urge them to keep Gods Sabbath and holy days. The church also must tell the world the good news beyond: God was sending Jesus Christ to set up his kingdom.
Following the war, Armstrong established Ambassador College to train ministers for the church. These young men went out, visited people on baptizing tours and established congregations. Through their influence, many lives changed for the better. Yet the prophetic speculations continued. The ministry created various blueprints in attempts to figure out the date of Jesus return. All prophetic schemata failed.
The Worldwide Church of God Today
In 1986 Armstrong died. Shortly before his death he published Mystery of the Ages, a book in which he summarized his major beliefs. In it he stated that the Bible was a coded book, "not intended to be understood until our day in this latter half of the twentieth century."63 God had used him, he claimed, to decode the Bible through Mystery of the Ages. In an unmistakable reference to himself, he declared that Isaiahs famous prophecy about "the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness [Isaiah 40:3]," was being fulfilled.64 John the Baptist only typified Malachis prophesied Elijah-to-come, he said. The more important fulfillment was the end-time messenger. Armstrong saw himself fulfilling that role.65
The idea that God had specially commissioned him to "shout" the Third Angels Message to the whole world had grown bigger through the years. Though the phrase "the Third Angels Message" had long since dropped from his vocabulary, the basic belief that God had given him a unique commission remained. That he continued to see his mission linked to Anglo-Israelism is evident from reading Mystery of the Ages.
In chapter five, Armstrong hearkened back to The United States and Britain in Prophecy, a book he said he wrote "more than 50 years ago."66 The chapter summarized much of what was in that book, quoting it extensively. In Mystery of the Ages, Armstrong continued claiming that unless the Anglo-Saxon peoples repented of their sins, Old Testament prophecies foretold their horrible conquest by a united Europe. After Americas conquest, he thought the next thing to happen would by the crushing of Europe by "communist hordes."67 Thus, Americas sins would soon usher in the Great Tribulation.
Before his death, Armstrong appointed Joseph W. Tkach as his successor. In June 1988 Tkach withdrew Mystery of the Ages from circulation. In early 1991 he informed the ministry of his plans to review and perhaps update The United States and Britain in Prophecy. He solicited their comments. All mention of Anglo-Israelism disappeared from Worldwide Church of God publications. Then, in July 1995, the church announced in the Pastor Generals Report that Anglo-Israelism lacked any credible evidence and that the church would no longer teach it. A study paper followed to the ministry, giving detailed reasons why this was so.
The church had come to realize that Anglo-Israelism had distracted it from the God-given commission to preach Jesus and the salvation that came through faith in him.
Armstrong always urged the ministry to be faithful to the Bible. He never claimed that he wrote infallible scripture. He never claimed that he understood all biblical truth. Yet he did claim to have a special understanding of Bible prophecies, and he did function as a prophet. Often he sounded more like an Old Testament prophet than a New Testament apostle. He called himself the watchman of Israel. He said he was the Elijah to come. How was that different from being a prophet? For those who still believe his claims, his failed predictions pose a dilemma.
Today we know that many varied influences shaped Armstrongs prophetic teachings. Despite what he believed, not everything he taught came from the Bible. Many things he taught were the products of his life and times. Are we any different today?
The ministry of the Jesus Christ, to be credible, must use the Scriptures correctly. If it does nothing more than show us how not to teach the Bible, a proper understanding of the sad history of Anglo-Israelism can help. To echo Paul, "Let God be true, and every man a liar.... So that you may be proved right in your words and prevail in your judging" (Romans 3:4, niv). All who think they have cornered biblical truth have not. They have fallen into error. To avoid this error, Christians need to subject their doctrines to informed critiques. So too, this history.
Copyright 1996, 1999
Unless noted otherwise, materials on this website are copyright © Worldwide Church of God. All rights reserved. You may download and print one copy for your own use. If you wish to print more, please contact us. If you would like to donate to help support this ministry, click here.
If you want to receive email notifications about new articles on this site, click here and we'll send a message once a week to let you know what has been added. Alphabetical list of articles on this website