April 18, 2004
Cult Experience: The Worldwide Church of God
Part 1: Why Did I Get Involved?
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):
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:
The article includes remarks by the president, Pastor Cecil Perry:
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:
Here is a statement arguing for the traditional doctrine of hell using biblical imagery:
The focus of the article is defending the standard notion of hell against the inroads of annihilationism in evangelicalism:
I agree with the quote by John Stott against the traditional idea of hell:
And I also like the quote from annihilationist Clark Pinnock:
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
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
 Quoted from KJV version of Bible at
The Internet Sacred Text Archive
 For reference to Armstrong's teaching, see:
 His web site is www.equip.org
Adventist News Network bulletin, April 18, 2000
"Basic Christian Doctrine" page
Revised: May 2/04