There was a time when I was a real “true believer” in the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong. So much of what he taught made sense. Of course it should have, since he took the Bible at face value to mean what it says it means. Sure, there are a hundred different ways to interpret the Bible, but reading it like it’s written seems pretty logical to me. A couple teachings really struck me as particularly, well, awesome. These teachings were, to me, emblematic of all the ways HWA was right and led by God, and how the rest of Christianity was clearly of Satan. These were the 7,000 Year Plan, and the re-creation of the earth.
The 7,000 Year Plan elegantly solved one of the biggest problems facing Christianity—the Problem of Evil. The problem is this: why is there evil in the world? God, as Christianity understands him, is all loving, all powerful, and all knowing…so evil shouldn’t exist. An all loving god would prevent it if he could, by definition. However, the 7K Plan solves that contradiction by saying that God cut mankind off from Him to live as they want in Satan’s world, and to learn the lesson that man cannot rule man without eventually resorting to injustice and evil. They need God, and the thousand years of peace and loveliness in the Millennium will prove that beyond a doubt. See? Elegant. Of course, it’s not the first explanation that says “God can prevent evil but doesn’t, not because he isn’t omnibenevolent, but because suffering is all part of the Master Plan.”
However, the other teaching, about the re-creation between Gen. 1:1 and 1:2, I really held to be inspired by God. Nobody else was close! Some went the cowardly way and said “well, God creates through evolution”. It’s cowardly because they see their religion is wrong in the face of evidence, but aren’t willing to either stick to their guns or else accept the evidence. Others have gone the other route (and setting a fine example of “noble stupidity”) and started “creation museums” that show dinosaurs and man in peaceful coexistence in the Garden of Eden. For them, it’s quite simple: the Bible says the earth is 6K yrs old, and yet there are dino bones. Well, obviously, at some point, dinos and people had to coexist! Right? I mean, it’s not like God is some omnipotent prankster who randomly puts “fake” bones in the ground to test our faith once we find them, or something (as was first put forward by the ministers and preachers when dinosaur fossils were first discovered).
No, those attempts to reconcile the Bible with science were just lame in the face of Herbert’s understanding of scripture. A prime place to find this teaching is MOA, in the chapter Mystery of Man. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the story, but just a refresher: normal Christianity treats Gen. 1:1 and 1:2 as one event—god created the earth and it was without form and void. Armstrong showed us (with his “the bible is a jigsaw puzzle” tack) that perhaps millions of years fell through the cracks of those two verses (for example, he uses Ps. 104:30 in MOA). Thus humans were only 6K years here, but the earth is obviously much older. Problem solved.
Except it isn’t.
You see, that lovely bit of “truth” wasn’t part of any godly revelation. I know, hard to believe isn’t it, especially after all the times we’ve heard him yell “and this is truth that nobody else on earth understands!” Admittedly, it was a pretty novel idea when we heard it, this theory about the gap between Gen. 1:1 and 1:2. But it wasn’t novel because it was, well, novel, but rather because we were ignorant of theology.
Remember tales of HWA’s “night and day study” in the library back in the late 20s and 30s? In all that time studying religion, I’m sure he would have run across this very old idea. Seems it was started, or at least popularized, by the divinity professor Thomas Chalmers back in 1814 (though the idea can be traced back to a fellow named Episcopius (1583-1643). We didn’t know it back when Mr. A first “revealed” it to us (or our parents for those “second generation Christians” out there), but even this so-called Gap Theory is part of Christian Apologetics. Chalmers spread this idea far and wide because science, specifically geology and paleontology, were proving the earth to be much older than the six thousand years religion taught. It was one of the first examples of the modern “god creates through evolution” school of having your cake and eating it too. For many, many years, even up until the late 1950s, it was the answer in the world of Old Earth Creationsim. Now, of course, in the age of Young Earth Creationists, it is heresy. They rightly see that once you start molding the bible to fit science then you have set foot upon a very slippery slope.
But there was a time when I, and I’m sure almost everyone else, was amazed at the wisdom of the argument. I mean, it was even in MOA—the most important book since the Bible, written by God’s End Time Elijah! It never entered my mind that this particular “revelation” could have actually been an old idea from a “worldly” Scottish preacher. It just goes to show that we should have listened to what Mr. Armstrong taught even more—about proving all things, that is. I still wouldn’t know the PLAIN TRUTH (yes, I know, a ghastly pun) about all this if I hadn’t really put into practice HWA’s admonition to really look at both sides of the subject.
So, even though it is a little hackneyed to say, remember to prove all things because the truth will set you free.