By Irvin Himmel
One error leads to another. The theology of Herbert W. Armstrong is a network of error. His peculiar view of the new birth is an outgrowth of denying that the kingdom of God now exists. He insists that the kingdom is to be a literal reign of the divine government over the nations of the world. His strange doctrine of placing the new birth in the future connects also with his concept that man is now wholly mortal in nature.
According to Armstrong and his comrades, no one is born again until the resurrection. Man ceases to exist, they say, between death and the resurrection, so it is when the faithful in Christ are raised and glorified that they are born anew.
Armstrong's theology has it that when one dies his soul (physical life) ends and the body returns to the earth as it was. The spirit returns to God. The spirit functions like a computer tape or disk, containing millions of bits of information, but is inactive and silent. "This spirit is kept by God and serves as a kind of blueprint by which God will one day resurrect each individual even though that person's body may long have disintegrated and returned to dust" ("Why Christ Arose From the Dead" by Clayton Steep, Plain Truth, March, 1983, p. 43).
It is asserted that Jesus ceased to exist at death. His resurrection therefore made Him the "first fruits" of them that slept (1 Cor. 15:20), or the "firstborn" from the dead (Col. 1:18). Jesus is now very God at the right hand of the Father in heaven.
Armstrongism maintains that true Christians are only "begotten" of God while humans, but "we shall be born of God in the resurrection" ("Why the Resurrection?" by Roderick C. Meredith, Plain Truth, March, 1983, p. 14). Armstrong says God is "reproducing Himself after His own kind" (Why Were You Born? p. 29). When a person is impregnated with the Holy Spirit he is begotten of God. This is conversion (Just What Do You Mean . . . Conversion? p. 8).
In a booklet entitled What Do You Mean . . . Born Again? Armstrong sets forth a detailed explanation of his theory of the new birth. He argues that the kingdom of God (the Government of God - the God Family - saints converted into divine spirit persons) is something that can be seen, but not during the physical lifetime! It is for the next age. Therefore since Jesus told Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3), the new birth is the change (resurrection) that brings one into the succeeding age as a spirit being.
Pressing the idea that the new birth is for the next age, Armstrong says that according to Jesus, "when one is born of the Spirit HE WILL BE SPIRIT! Look at it! Read it in your own Bible" (p. 14). Well, I have read my own Bible and that is not what Jesus said. Jesus said, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). Jesus did not say that which is born of the Spirit "will be" spirit. Jesus is showing that the spirit is what is changed in the new birth. In this life man is both flesh and spirit. The flesh is not changed in the new birth; it is the spiritual part of man that is born anew. Jesus did not say that the new birth is a change of flesh into spirit, or transformation of man from a fleshly being to a spirit being.
Armstrongism makes the new birth a literal birth. "There will be no blood in the body of one `born of the Spirit.' He will not have to breathe air to exist. He will be literally COMPOSED OF SPIRIT . . . . The new birth is not an emotional experience, but a literal birth!" (Ambassador College Correspondence Course, Lesson 8).
Now we are told that the born again person will be invisible like the wind. The God Family (divine spirit persons) cannot be seen during the physical lifetime. It is contended that Jesus was the "firstborn" of such beings. The correspondence lesson quoted above states on p. 15 that Jesus in His resurrected body "looked the same as He had before in the flesh, except He now was composed of spirit instead of flesh and blood."
That does not square with Scripture at all! After His resurrection Jesus was visible and touchable to men living in the flesh. He affirmed that He was there in the flesh. He challenged them in these words: "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have" (Lk. 24:39). Which do you believe, Jesus Christ or Armstrong?
There are five kingdoms, says Armstrong: (I) vegetable; (2) animal; (3) human; (4) angel; and, (5) God. The God Kingdom is future but the Church is present, therefore it must be human. Yet he calls the Church "the spiritual Mother." He reasons that just as one is delivered from his mother's womb into this world when born, he will be "delivered from the CHURCH of God (physical)" into the Kingdom of Spirit Beings when born again. So the "spiritual Mother" is "physical." (If that sounds confusing, I agree!)
Here is a chart showing Armstrong's analogy of things:
|HOLY SPIRIT||SPIRITUAL SPERM|
|HUMAN MIND||SPIRITUAL OVUM|
|TRUE CHRISTIANS||BEGOTTEN CHILDREN
(Heirs, not Inheritors)
|PRESENT AGE||GESTATION PERIOD|
(Delivered from Mother)
(Divine as God)
(Eternal Life Inherent)
"When begotten by God the Father by receiving His Holy Spirit, we are put into the Church, which during this gestation period is our MOTHER" (What Do You Mean . . . Born Again? p. 19). Is the Church a spiritual Mother dwelling in the flesh? If so, why may not spiritual children be born while dwelling in the flesh.
Armstrong in his typically dogmatic style asserts that Christians are children of God only in the unborn stage. A child may be aborted but cannot be delivered or born until the resurrection. "When Jesus was talking with Nicodemus, He was referring to the TIME when we may see, enter into, the kingdom of God. And that is the TIME of the final BIRTH" (p. 34).
Armstrong misses the point completely. Jesus was not discussing- a "time element." He was referring to the spiritual nature of the new birth in contrast to the physical nature of the old birth. When Jesus did discuss the "time element" pertaining for the kingdom, He placed its coming in the life span of some to whom He spoke (Mk. 9:1). And Paul taught that Christians are in the kingdom (Col. 1:13). Armstrong cannot envision any kind of kingdom as belonging to Christ except a Government over the Nations of the World.
The Greek word gennao refers to the production process. It is translated "brought forth" in Luke 1:57; "delivered" in John 16:21; "begotten" in 1 John 5:18; and it is "born" in John 3:3-8; Matthew 1:16 and other passages. The context would determine how it should be rendered in English.
Armstrong arrogantly asserts that in every case where gennao refers to Spirit-begotten Christians, it should be rendered "begotten" (p. 36). Why? Because to translate it otherwise would not harmonize with his view of the new birth!
The Greek word anagennao is used in 1 Peter 1:3, 23. Armstrong insists that anagennao should be translated "begotten." It does not bother him in the least to dismiss scholarly renditions that might disagree with his views. He is wiser than all the scholars whose translations do not teach his 1-iar concepts. Here is a list of fifteen translations of #wo passages using anagennao:
1 Peter 1:3
King James Version: "hath begotten us again"
American Standard Version: "begat us again"
New American Standard Bible: "has caused us to be born again"
Revised Standard Version: "have been born anew"
New English Bible: "gave us a new birth"
Jerusalem Bible: "has given us a new birth"
Beck: "has . . . given us a new birth"
Today's English Version: "gave us new life"
New King James Version: "has begotten us again"
New International Version: "has given us a new birth"
Moffatt: "have been born anew"
Living Oracles: "has regenerated us"
Knox: "has begotten us anew"
Amplified: "have been born again"
Montgomery: "have been born anew"
1 Peter 1:23
King James Version: "Being born again"
American Standard Version: "having been begotten again "
New American Standard Version: "have been born again "
Revised Standard Version: "have been born anew"
New English Bible: "have been born anew"
Jerusalem Bible: "your new birth was"
Beck: "You were born again"
Today's English Version: "have been born again"
New King James Version: "having been born again"
New International Version: "have been born again"
Moffatt: "are born again"
Living Oracles: "having been regenerated"
Knox: "have all been born anew"
Amplified: "have been regenerated - born again"
Montgomery: "have been born anew"
Peter tells Christians that as newborn babes 'we are to desire the pure milk of the word that we may grow thereby (1 Pet. 2:1-2). Although Armstrong repeatedly urges that Christians are unborn children - in a gestation state, he says Peter compares this gestation period to the growth of a newborn human "because it would be awkward indeed to compare it to a physical embryo or fetus." Why would it be so awkward for Peter but not for Armstrong? Could it be that Peter understood that Christians have been born again, therefore the growth of Christians is compared to newborn babes rather than unborn babes? Here it is well to note that the Bible never refers to a Christian as a fetus or embryo!
Does the Bible say, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the unborn sons of God?" Better read Romans 8:14. And note that the Bible does not say that God "hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in spiritual ova in Christ." Better read Ephesians 2:6. And the Bible never refers to this present age as "the gestation period. "
Armstrong teaches that there are only two conditions for being saved - repentance and faith. Baptism is regarded as an ordinance symbolizing faith. "Now water baptism is a required CONDITION to receiving the Holy Spirit" (All About Water Baptism, p. 18). He says the Holy Spirit must be received for one to be begotten, but conversion is not the new birth - only the begetting.
Hence according to Armstrong, through repentance and faith (symbolized in baptism) one is begotten by the Spirit. The whole life of the Christian is but the gestation period for the unborn child. Strangely, the Bible represents this child as walking (2 Cor. 5:7), speaking and ministering (1 Pet. 4:11), running (Heb. 12:1), bearing burdens (Gal. 6:2), fighting (1 Tim. 6:12), being persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12), behaving like a man (1 Cor. 16:13), working and laboring (1 Thess. 1:3), pulling down strong holds (2 Cor. 10:4), and many other things; notwithstanding, the little fellow is still in his mother's womb; he is only an unborn fetus. He must remain an embryo until the resurrection!
That, patient reader, is Armstrong's doctrine of the new birth!
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 11, pp. 336-338
June 2, 1983