Monday, 7 March 2016

"The Most Significant Book of this Century"

British Israelism is surreal in and of itself, but the hard sell, the 'talking up' that accompanies it is, well, just bizarre. Former ad man Herbert Armstrong pulled out all the stops. He took an almost forgotten 60-year-old book and essentially rewrote it, without a word of credit, republishing it as his own. What he added were a series of over-the-top claims and predictions. Those claims were meant seriously and were taken seriously by his followers. It's incredible that some people even now still think he was essentially right.

This article was written several years ago but has not appeared here before.


It seemed every time Herbert Armstrong wrote a book, he lauded it as the most important ever written. The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy, issued in 1967 and later retitled The United States and Britain in Prophecy, ran true to form. Plagiarized from a turn of the century British-Israel classic, J.H.Allen's Judah's Sceptre and Joseph's Birthright, this volume contained some brash predictions.

To put it in its context, in 1967 Armstrong was anticipating the "Great Tribulation" just around the corner. 1972 was to be the beginning of the end. 1975 was the anticipated year of Christ's return. This little bit of date setting was the result of, among other things, his teaching on something he called "19-year time cycles". Simply put, he was convinced God had given him two 19 year periods to preach a warning message before history came crashing to a close. This was a distinctive Armstrong doctrine, unlike the tortured logic he used to "prove" that the United States was actually the tribe of Manasseh and Britain the tribe of Ephraim (he simply lifted those elements straight out of Allen's book). But 19-year time cycles? That was a uniquely Armstrong flourish.

Herbert Armstrong would later attempt to dig his way out of accountability for his "prediction addiction", claiming he never set dates and was just overly enthusiastic. But the embarrassing statements in the 1967 edition were there for all to see. Needless to say, the offending bits were laundered out of subsequent editions.

Here then are some choice bits from the introductory sections of that volume.

From the introductory blurb.

Events of the next five years may prove this to be the most significant book of this century.

People of the Western World would be STUNNED! - DUMBFOUNDED! - if they knew!

The governments of the United States, Britain, Canada, Australasia, South Africa, would immediately institute drastic changes in foreign Policy - would set in motion gigantic crash programs - IF THEY KNEW!


From the introduction.

A STAGGERING TURN in world events is due to erupt in the next four to seven years. It will involve violently the United States, Britain, Western Europe, the Middle East...

But the next five to seven years will see astounding events explode in a manner very different than the nations plan!

Through His inspired Prophets, the Great God caused to be written, some 2,500 years ago, and preserved in writing to our time, prophecies filling approximately a third of the whole Bible... In every instance, the prophecies CAME TO PASS!


The events prophesied to strike the American and British peoples in the next four to seven years are SURE!

That is why events of the next four to seven years may prove this to be the most significant book of this century.

These colossal world events, shrinking the first two world wars into insignificance, WILL COME, on schedule, but not until the WARNING has been made AVAILABLE for those whose eyes are willing to see.

Herbert Armstrong got it badly wrong. Four to seven years passed without nuclear conflagration, the church was not taken "on eagle's wings" to the promised "Place of Safety", and Christ did not return. These "colossal world events" did not come on schedule, despite assurances that that they were sure.
Armstrong laid it down thickly in the closing chapter.

God will use Nazi-Fascist Europe to punish Britain-America. Then He will use the Communist hordes to wipe out the Roman Europe. Right now GOD'S WARNING MESSAGE of this terrifying greatest trouble of history is being THUNDERED over The WORLD TOMORROW program into ALL PARTS OF THE WORLD - as a witness!

We know full well that the real HARVEST of our labors in GOD'S WORK, preparing the way for Christ's coming, is NOT NOW! But, when everything these peoples have has been taken from them - when they are slaves in foreign lands - when they are cruelly treated, beaten, unmercifully even martyred and put to death - THEN millions of those who remain alive WILL cry out to God - WILL repent - WILL turn to live GOD'S WAY.

Millions, then, will remember they heard Christ's TRUE Message over The WORLD TOMORROW - read it in The PLAIN TRUTH!

The pitiful, pitiful tragedy of it! This realization will come TOO LATE to save the many from this repeated sevenfold punishment!


And the British government has NO POWER whatsoever to prevent the manyfold INTENSITY of corrective PUNISHMENT a loving GOD is going to cause to strike!


AS GOD LIVES, this punishment is soon to strike!

Those in the true Body of Christ shall be taken to a place of SAFETY, until this Tribulation be over...

By God's direction and authority, I have laid the TRUTH before you! To neglect it will be tragic beyond imagination! To heed it will bring blessings, happiness and GLORY beyond description!
The decision is now YOURS!

Strong language, full of assurance. And 100% bogus. Too bad for the people who, believing his teaching, decided their best retirement policy was to put their life savings into "The Work" or, in view of the closeness of the end of the Age, that everything from medical treatment to higher education for their children was a waste of time.

Three years after Armstrong's magnum opus was published Bryan Wilson wrote Religious Sects: A Sociological Study (1970). In it he commented on Herbert Armstrong's movement.

Even sects that are not to be classified as manipulationist have come to pick up these preoccupations: thus the Radio Church of God (now called the Worldwide Church of God) founded and run by Herbert Armstrong, and broadcasting widely to America, Britain, Australia and Germany, has couched its essentially millennialist message in terms that emphasise these problems. More recently, their magazine, Plain Truth, has concentrated on modern social and psychological problems (such as "Hippies" and marital relations). At one time their Bible-based prophecies about the future time of doom depicted particularly horrific scenes of war and atomic devastation, although this aspect has now been "phased out".

Manipulative sums it up. As the deadline year of 1972 approached, and the full extent of Armstrong's mad prophecies began to dawn on the organization, a softer approach came forth. In 1972, the author of The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy was whistling a new tune.

I feel at present that the whole question of chronology is in confusion, and no one can be positively SURE of dates.
It has never been our intention to SET DATES! Time after time, I have said - Garner Ted Armstrong has stated - our literature has stated - "WE DO NOT SET DATES!"

Emphatically, if we - in our dedicated enthusiastic ZEAL to get God's WARNING of the end of mankind's world before this sick, sick world - DO, even though we intend not to, appear to set a date, I FEEL I DO NOT NEED TO APOLOGIZE! No one but the enemies of ALL GOOD will accuse!

Scores and scores of times we have said, "We do not set dates." Yet, in our zeal, we have used "possibilities" and "probabilities" and even appeared to set dates we really didn't intend to set.

During the past two or three years, the realization came upon us more and more that events were slowing - that the world-crisis would NOT be reached by January 1972. All this has happened SINCE the 1967 edition of the U.S. and British Commonwealth in Prophecy book came out: This book contained statements that seemed justified in 1967 - before this slowing down was noticeable...

In the latest edition of that book, ALL THESE STATEMENTS HAVE BEEN CORRECTED.

These same teachings, minus the specific date-setting, still form part of the core proclamation of a plethora of small churches that claim to continue Armstrong's legacy.

He was wrong then. They are wrong now.


Allen, J.H. Judah's Sceptre and Joseph's Birthright. Destiny Publishers, Merrimac, Massachusetts. 1902, 1917.

Armstrong, Herbert W. The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy. Ambassador College Press, Pasadena, California. 1967.

Armstrong, Herbert W. The 19-Year Time Cycles - What Happened January 7 - What My Commission Is!  Tomorrow's World, January 1972.

Wilson, Bryan. Religious Sects: A Sociological Perspective. Weidenfefd & Nicolson, London, 1970.


Miller Jones said...


Connie Schmidt said...

Be sure to write for the most important book of TWENTY FIRST CENTURY!! My "opus magnum" work...


Gavin R said...

Put me down for 20 copies!

Black Ops Mikey said...

Man of Destiny by Evangelist Victor A. Sackey should also be on your list.

You might be a little suspicious, though, when you read the introduction and find the author praising Herbert Armstrong and Gerald Flurry.

Could it be that the book is a bit... how should we say... derivative?

Put me down for zero copies.

Although, I wonder if I could interest you in my NEW book, "Tacoma in Prophesy"?

Sure to be a best seller. Has the mayor's endorsement (just kidding -- Wadsworth should be so lucky).

Anonymous said...

Herbert's British Israelism cannot be true on just common sense historical grounds alone.

Look what a melting pot the US is from the immigration of just 200+ years. Does it make any sense to claim that the US is a nation of people who can claim by any stretch of tortured imagination to be descended from a single patriarch, perhaps an ancient middle eastern "Manasseh" from 3800 years ago??? Not at all. It makes about as much sense as claiming Americans are the progeny of the coupling of Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty.

The case for Britain is even worse. We have some small inkling of who was living in ancient Europe from Greek and Roman historians such as Ptolemy, Cassius Dio, Plutarch, Tacitus, Pliny, Livy, and more, what sorts of languages they spoke, and how some of them moved around. Various texts recorded the presence of over 500 tribes. Nobody knows where they all came from. The Romans divided them into several general classifications for their own administrative purposes: Celtae, Germani, Belgae, and Aquitani, but these were not identities these tribes claimed for themselves. The Romans tell us the Angles and Saxons were living in and around the Danish peninsula, also the home of the Teutons, who would come to be thought of as quintessentially "German," and therefore, according Herbert, were Assyrians. We also know that some of the Angles and Saxons would later make incursions into the British Isles, pushing aside the existing "Celts" into Cornwall and Wales, and putting pressure on the northern Pictish tribes, and therefore, according to Herbert, were "Ephraim." Meanwhile, those Saxons who remained behind in what we now call Old Saxony, were "actually" just the "Assyrian" part of the tribe of Saxons? Seriously? And how did the ancient Assyrians all wind living in the middle of the middle of the "lost 10 tribes" of Israel? Anyway, then, of course, there were the Viking incursions beginning in 793, followed by the Norman Conquest in 1066, followed by the influx of immigrants that comes with having the largest empire in the world. The fact of the matter is, Britain, and Europe in general, has been a melting pot for nearly 10 times as long as the US.

Furthermore, American WASPs are, sort of by definition, um, more or less, Anglo-Saxons, aren't they? How do they get to be "Manasseh" while every other British extraction remains "Ephraim"? Canada, which is half Québécois BTW (and therefore, by equally tortured logic is supposed to be "Reuben") remains 100% "Ephraim"? Why are the Aussies and Kiwis "Ephraim" and not "Manasseh"? Oh, that's right, it's the line in there about the "company of nations" thing, and we need to find some countries who can be shoved into these molds. A more clear cut example of textbook confirmation bias I cannot imagine. Why are any of these peoples supposed to be pure extractions of descendants of some guys who probably never existed from 3800 years ago anyway? Even without the DNA evidence, it's already sheer lunacy, patently absurd on it's face.