January 16, 1986–No Further Understanding or Change? (Part 2)


Since you believe that Mr Herbert W Armstrong had the ministerial rank of “apostle,” what is your response to those who believe that there is to be no further understanding or change after he died on January 16th 1986?

Our original Q&A on this subject, as quoted in the first part of this series, covered 1 Corinthians 11 v 1: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”   In some other translations “imitate” is translated as “follow” and so the words follow and imitate seem to be interchangeable – but are they?   Dictionary definitions are as follows:

Follow: go after as an admirer; strive after; aim at

Imitate: mimic; try and get as close to the real thing as possible; impersonators

“Mimetes” is the Greek word translated imitate (see Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries).   So we need to know – and be sure – what Scripture says and imitate any leader only according to revealed Scriptural instruction and not to add on any unnecessary, unwanted, unwarranted or personal opinions or baggage.

The Christian life, as revealed in the Bible, is one of overcoming and growing spiritually toward the goal of being spiritually mature like Christ.   God expects us, as Spirit-begotten Christians to be developing more and more of the very character of Christ as we learn to follow His Way of Life.

Imitate is to get as close to the original as possible, not just following which is a much looser term.   It indicates being skin-tight.   To follow is a much looser term and whilst it can be correct in many ways, the word imitate is much more all-encompassing.   Imitate is to do everything Christ did and wants us to do according to His perfect example.   So this is not striving after words but making sure that we fully understand the difference and take to heart the original meaning of “mimetes” which is to imitate.   And that is much more important than just following and so we can only follow those who faithfully and loyally preach and teach the way of God as revealed in His Word and as we have seen, some of the original apostles’ writings have been incorporated in the Word of God which cannot contradict itself.    Any apostles since then have not been unique as were the original ones and, therefore, we must not follow them as if their writings were holy writ.

One such proponent of “nothing can be changed after 16th January 1986” states the following:  “We see in chapter 4 (1 Corinthians 4:14-16) above, that Paul clearly instructed the Corinthian Church to follow him – as he was their apostle, sent to them by Christ. However, many people try to use another passage, also found within First Corinthians, to justify a position of not following the apostle sent to them and through whom they were enlightened. The passage is: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also [am] of Christ” (I Cor 11:1). Such people claim that this verse implies only following someone in so far as they follow Christ, and rejecting any aspect or teaching that does not comply.”

It would appear that this is written to emphasise the need to follow Mr Herbert Armstrong at this end-time.   However, we read in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 a section of Scripture that implies exactly the opposite.   It states: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.  I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?  For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?”   We can read from this passage that partiality was not to be countenanced and yet it appears that, as written above “that Paul clearly instructed the Corinthian Church to follow him – as he was their apostle” which would negate the instruction on non-partiality.   There appears to be somewhat of a contradiction here.

It is also worth noting that Mr Armstrong said just before his death that the church membership should follow the Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God after his death.   Mr Joseph W Tkach was appointed and, along with Mr Tkach’s son and some others, led the Church in a completely different direction.   That organisation, now called Grace Community International, is part of mainstream Christianity with just about every teaching understood during Mr Armstrong’s tenure of office being changed.   Mr Armstrong undoubtedly said this in good faith, but had his instruction been followed the true Church of God would have been destroyed.   However, Jesus said that He would guide His Church, be with it always, and that the grave would never prevail against it (Matt. 16:18; 28:20).   To have followed this instruction would have been an unmitigated disaster, but as this would have been Mr Armstrong’s instruction at his death, it could not have been changed according to those who feel that everything that was in place on 16th  January 1986 would have to have complied with that instruction to their great detriment.   Just this one issue shows what a disaster it would have been to adopt such a faulty instruction and reasoning even though it was given in good faith.

God will use His ministry as He sees fit and if there is greater understanding of a particular doctrine, then we should embrace that.   Being stuck in a time warp (whatever date that may be) can only stunt personal growth which we are charged to pursue.

Ephesians 4:11-15 is quite clear in delineating the offices that God has in His Church and how those so ordained have the responsibility to speak only the truth:

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ…”

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers opines on 2 Peter 3:18 as follows:  “The Apostle ends, as he began, by exhorting them to that sound knowledge which he sets forth as the sure basis of all Christian activity, whether the knowledge be full and mature, as in 2 Peter 1:2-3; 2 Peter 1:8; 2 Peter 2:20 or to be acquired and increased, as in 2 Peter 1:5…” (which is about fruitful growth in the faith”).

Some claim that nothing can be changed after the death of an apostle, and since Mr Armstrong was an apostle, nothing can be changed after his death in 1986.

Even though we need to realize that the Bible speaks about more apostles than just the original twelve apostles who followed Christ during His lifetime, we also need to observe important distinctions.

An apostle is someone who is being sent out to proclaim the gospel. In Matthew 10:1-5, the names of the original twelve apostles are given. Compare also Luke 6:12-16. The list includes Judas Iscariot who was later disqualified and replaced by Matthias–one of two candidates who had accompanied the other apostles “all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us” (Acts 1:21-26).

The Bible mentions additional apostles after the New Testament Church was founded–including Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:4 with Acts 13:50) and James, the half-brother of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:5-9).

As we stated before, we read that the Church was founded on the apostles and prophets, with Christ being the chief corner stone. But the apostles, mentioned therein, are foremost the original twelve apostles (with Matthias having replaced Judas), because we read that the Heavenly Jerusalem has “twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” The apostle Paul was later chosen to become the apostle to the uncircumcision, as Peter was the apostle to the circumcision. And he was used powerfully by God to write inspired and sacred texts which were included in the Bible, and which were recognised by Peter as inspired and holy writings.  But ultimately, it was one of the original apostles, John, who canonised the Bible, after the death of Paul and Peter, as we explain in our free booklet, “The Authority of the Bible.” 

We read in Acts 12:1-2 that one of the original twelve apostles, James, the brother of John, was killed by Herod. But later, in Acts 15 (AFTER the death of one of the original apostles), important changes were made in the Church, holding that physical circumcision was no longer necessary.  The discussion followed teachings by Paul and Peter regarding the need for circumcision, and it was James, the half-brother of Christ and the apostle over the Church in Jerusalem, who pronounced the final decision. The idea that no changes can be made in the Church after the death of an apostle (James, the brother of John) is therefore clearly wrong.

Some claim that Herbert W Armstrong was the end-time Elijah who restored all things and since everything was restored, nothing can be changed. This erroneous concept has been thoroughly disproved in our Q&A on “The Mission of the End-Time Elijah.” 

Some claim that Mr Armstrong’s book “Mystery of the Ages” deserves the status of an inspired writing equal to the Bible. This false claim has been disputed by Mr Armstrong himself who stated, when he passed out copies of his book to Ambassador College students, that his book was written to help with understanding the Bible better, but that it was in no way to be viewed as holy Scripture.

With this latest information and all of the previous material mentioned earlier in this Q&A (and all of the others), we feel that these cover this subject comprehensively and answers the views held, no doubt sincerely, by those who may feel otherwise.

Lead Writers: Brian Gale (United Kingdom) and Norbert Link

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