What Is True?
April 18, 2004


Cult Experience: The Worldwide Church of God

Part 1: Why Did I Get Involved?

Chapter 4     Section 1    Ch1  Ch2   Ch3  Letters  Ch5 

Doctrinal Pull - Death Without Torture - Hell, Mortality and Resurrection

This is my belief about death now (not so much the part about life after death but the part about rest):

Job 3:17-20

"There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.
There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor.
The small and great are there; and the servant is free from his master.
Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul;
Which long for death, but it cometh not; and dig for it more than for hid treasures;
Which rejoice exceedingly, and are glad, when they can find the grave? (1)"


Herbert W. Armstrong's life-after-death doctrines were very important early on in leading me into his belief system. As a teenager interested in the Bible, a critical issue to me was the horror of the traditional Christian idea of hell. Armstrong offered an annihilationist vision of hell that appeared to be more just. (2)

Nowadays, Armstrong's view of hell still seems more just to me, but not any more true than the orthodox version. In this section I am going to concentrate on criticizing the traditional idea of hell in order to contrast it later with Armstrong's idea. I studied the arguments presented by the Worldwide Church of God concerning hell when I first started reading Armstrong's literature. But years later, towards the end of my time in the Church, I had to deal with it all over again when the Church leadership tried to introduce the traditional Christian doctrine.

In my view, both Armstrong's doctrine and traditional Christian doctrine can be argued back and forth based on the Bible. Now, as a deist, I prefer Job's statement about death as a rest quoted above, which also happens to be in the Bible of course. The point I would like to make is that biblical arguments are not going to settle the issue, except to cast doubt on the Bible - and that doubt needs to be acknowledged. So any biblical arguments I present in favor of Armstrong's view are not going to be completely satisfying; they are only to show that his views on hell are valid - actually in the Bible - not that they are true.

Already, you can see a biblical annihilationist argument in Job's statement, which seems to say that death is an escape from suffering rather than the beginning of greater suffering. Death brings relief for when we have had enough and our time has come. The point by the way is not to bring up the subject of suicide, since suicide should be discouraged and prevented. Suffering is part of life, but there are other ways to relieve much suffering. Life has more value than death, and we live with obligations to those who love us.

I would never claim to know there is not some type of punishment after death for some. I don't know. I also have doubts about the immortality of the soul or the continuation of consciousness after death, or the resurrection. But I don't claim to know the unknowable - like those who insist on the traditional doctrine of hell. I know it's unjust. And I know the probability is high that is was constructed by people to control other people.

The bottom line is that ultimately I must use my own reason to judge every idea, especially its justice or injustice. I know - I can sense and feel and reason - that there is an objective truth regarding justice, and I will not allow manipulators - Armstrong or other Christian teachers - to control me with any unjust doctrine.

All claims about punishment after death must be evaluated thoroughly and harshly. If I don't question what is being taught and by what kind of person - Armstrong or otherwise - if I believe everything I am told because someone has claimed special status, I risk becoming a slave to that person's religion. Slave means giving time, money, energy, devotion and unquestioning obedience.

Four Views on Hell

For Christian readers who are troubled by the subject of hell, I recommend Four Views on Hell, edited by William Crockett (3).  I read this book after most of Armstrong's doctrines had been overturned by his successors. I hope this book has the same effect on others that it had on me, and helps them see how the Bible and Christianity are truly confused about hell, an idea based on human imagination.

Four Views on Hell includes arguments for the "literal", "metaphorical", "purgatorial" and "conditional"  ("annihilationist") views. The first two views are what I associate with the traditional teaching and both involve intense eternal suffering. An example of an evangelical who presents the traditional view of hell on his radio program is the Bible Answer Man, Hank Hannegraaf.(4)

In Four Views on Hell, Clark H. Pinnock presents the conditional view of hell, which is also called "annihilationist" and is very similar to Armstrong's teaching on hell. As in Armstrong's teaching, the wicked are destroyed, and immortality is only granted conditionally rather than something we have naturally as "immortal souls". The annihilationist view is shared by a few Protestant evangelicals in addition to Armstrongites and Seventh Day Adventists.

Seventh Day Adventists

As for Seventh Day Adventist beliefs, see:


"A report from evangelical churches in the United Kingdom calling for "greater emphasis on the teaching of hell" has brought a swift response from the president of Britain's Seventh-day Adventist Church..."

The article includes remarks by the president, Pastor Cecil Perry:

""[The report] also admits that a significant minority of evangelical Christians believe in eventual annihilation of people condemned to hell," Perry observes. "The Seventh-day Adventist Church agrees with the Biblical view on the nature of hell as the final disposition of sin and sinners. It does not endorse the historical, traditionalist view of hell as a place of eternal punishment or anguish..."" (5)

Traditional Hell

For a defense of the traditional idea of hell, and for a look at the ins and outs of annihilationist doctrine from the other side, read the following Christian Research Institute article entitled Evangelicals and the Annihilation of Hell at :


The author states that:

"Christians through the centuries have affirmed that those who do not accept God's offer of salvation in Christ will suffer conscious, everlasting torment...." (6)

Here is a statement arguing for the traditional doctrine of hell using biblical imagery:

"A lake of fire burns but is never quenched...undying worms...chains of darkness...weeping and gnashing of teeth. Such is the powerful imagery for the horrible fate that awaits those who persist in their rejection of God and of His Christ. What else do these awesome figures force upon our imagination but a picture of unutterable suffering, fueled by the hopelessness of unceasing duration?" (6)

The focus of the article is defending the standard notion of hell against the inroads of annihilationism in evangelicalism:

"...Today, individuals who have been regarded as solidly within the evangelical camp are abandoning the doctrine of conscious, eternal punishment in favor of various "annihilation" scenarios. Probably the most prominent evangelical to go over to the annihilationist position is Anglican John R. W. Stott, Rector of All Soul's church in London..." (6)

I agree with the quote by John Stott against the traditional idea of hell:

"...emotionally, I find the concept intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the strain." (6)

And I also like the quote from annihilationist Clark Pinnock:

"How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary moral standards, and by the gospel itself" (6)

The traditional doctrine - at least the Protestant version - is worse than people may realize. The traditional notion of hell as a punishment is unjust even for the worst crime. But as many Christians see it, it's not only reserved for the worst sinners - it's also for every non-Christian.

Now, I agree with Christians that human nature is imperfect and the world is full of sin and crime, but I do not agree that all sinners are deserving of divine punishment or that all wrongs are equal. Strict Christians do not only teach that those who commit terrible crimes are the ones who suffer forever in hell. They teach that everyone is automatically deserving of hell unless they accept Christ and become Christians. This means that all who are "unsaved" - no matter how much good they do - if they are not Christian, they go to hell to suffer for ever after death - according to this doctrine.

For example, see Points 28-31 on the "Basic Christian Doctrine" page http://www.carm.org/doctrine/basicdoc.htm at "Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry":

" Those who reject Jesus will go to Hell - Rev. 20:11-15
Hell is a place of fiery punishment - Matt. 25:41; Rev. 19:20
Hell is eternal - Matt. 25:46
The unsaved go to hell forever - Rev. 21:8 " (7)

This is what they teach. Here is a Christian ministry presenting biblical verses as arguments in favor of the traditional doctrine. But how do we reconcile the quote from the book of Job? Ultimately the Bible is contradictory. Armstrong interpreted the same verses and used other verses in order to argue against the traditional idea of hell - and I'll discuss his beliefs in more detail later. Again, that is more evidence that the Bible is contradictory.

Ultimately, I have to rely on my own instincts and reasoning concerning the highest human standards of justice and morality. I am convinced just by arguments like those of Stott and Pinnock that the traditional teaching is wrong.

Are human standards of justice and morality - against "cruel and unusual punishment" for example - against Christian-only favoritism - higher than those of the traditional Christian God? That's the way it looks to me when I consider the hell-doctrine of traditional Christianity. And basically that's the way it looked to me years ago when I signed up with Armstrong.

Next: Chapter 5


[1] Quoted from KJV version of Bible at The Internet Sacred Text Archive

[2] For reference to Armstrong's teaching, see:
The Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course
Lesson 6
What is "HELL"?
Source home page is http://home.sprynet.com/~pabco/index.htm

[3] Four Views on Hell, General Editor: William Crockett, ZondervanPublishingHouse, 1996

  • Literal: John F. Walvoord
    We are burned, boiled and tortured repeatedly forever.

  • Metaphorical: William V. Crockett
    We are emotionally and mentally tortured forever.

  • Purgatorial: Zachary J. Hayes
    We suffer temporarily in order to be perfected. The Roman Catholic teaching concerning punishment after death includes the idea of purgatory for many - in addition to the traditional hell. When I studied this book after my Armstrong phase, I was intrigued by this doctrine. It was second best of the four views.

  • Conditional (Annihilationist): Clark H. Pinnock
    We are burned up once and consciousness ceases - and that's it. My preference - during and after my years in Armstrongism.

[4] His web site is www.equip.org
Christian Research Institute

[5] Adventist News Network bulletin, April 18, 2000
Source home page: http://www.wfn.org/
"Worldwide Faith News"

[6] http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/cri/cri-home.html
Christian Research Institute
Evangelicals and the Annihilation of Hell
Part One
Alan W. Gomes
from the Christian Research Journal, Spring 1991, page 14. Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute, P.O. Box 7000, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688-7000

[7] "Basic Christian Doctrine" page
"Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry":

Revised: May 2/04