plain truth

The Plain Truth

The Plain Truth is a U.S.-based magazine founded by Herbert W. Armstrong who also founded the Radio Church of God (later renamed the Worldwide Church of God), Ambassador College and The World Tomorrow radio and television programs. Herbert W. Armstrong began his ministry headquarters in Eugene, Oregon and later moved to Pasadena, California. The history of the magazine can be divided into two distinctive eras: the years before the death of Herbert W. Armstrong in 1986 and the years following his death. In 1996 The Plain Truth ceased publication by the Worldwide Church of God and began publication by the non-denominational Plain Truth Ministries. The new Plain Truth has radically different editorial content, and mainstream Christian teaching, featuring a variety of Christian authors.

Herbert W. Armstrong

In the latter years of his life Herbert W. Armstrong was portrayed as "God's Apostle" on Earth. However, when he was first ordained in the 1930s as a minister by an existing church, he became an ordinary minister of that church. The changes in the life and ministry of Herbert W. Armstrong were first manifest through his own magazine which became known as The Plain Truth magazine.

As his ministry began to develop and as his own doctrines moved further away from the denomination which ordained him, Herbert W. Armstrong took to the airwaves under the name of the Radio Church of God. Later still he broke away entirely from his original denomination and moved from Oregon to California where he incorporated a church using the name of his radio program.

Publishing content

The Plain Truth magazine began to evolve into a standard size monthly publication which eventually gained the outside look and feel of a high-quality magazine which appeared similar to both TIME, Newsweek and US News and World Report. Eventually several million copies of this magazine were distributed free of charge each year in several languages by free subscription offers over the airwaves; by double page advertisements in such publications as Reader's Digest and from street corner racks.

Meanwhile the Radio Church of God broadcast changed its name to The World Tomorrow. The main speaker became Herbert Armstrong's son Garner Ted Armstrong who delivered a daily, thirty minute news/editorial format style of delivery in the manner of Paul Harvey. However, the editorial content of The Plain Truth magazine was anything but that of a mainstream news magazine, although its masthead proclaimed that it was "A magazine of understanding." The editorial was written under the name of Herbert W. Armstrong as publisher, but the features were usually written by graduates from one of the three Ambassador Colleges (one in California, another in Texas and a third in England.) Other contents included a world wide radio and later television log for The World Tomorrow program, which at its peak reflected the largest purchases of airtime on broadcasting and cable stations by any independent broadcasting organization anywhere in the world.

Editorial content

What made The Plain Truth magazine unique was its editorial content which reflected a number of ideas which individually might be found in other news and religious magazines, but when combined and refined composed a unique message that could not be read anywhere else but in the literature of the Worldwide Church of God. Because the church shunned mainstream Christian holy days and adopted a variation of holy days and dietary practices that were more familiar to Jews, analysts had a difficult time in trying to describe exactly where it belonged as a category.

Central to its editorial approach were three main platforms. The first was a belief that the White, Anglo-Saxon peoples of the USA, UK, Western Europe and lands to which those people had migrated were the peoples of the "Lost Ten Tribes of Israel". The second was the celebration of several holy days including (but not limited to) the seventh-day Sabbath (instead of Sunday); Passover (instead of Easter) and the Feast of Tabernacles (instead of Christmas).

The main thrust of these prophetic claims was that a timetable had been set in motion by God and it was the sole purpose of Herbert W. Armstrong and his entire church to warn the world of what was going to happen, before time ran out. The Worldwide Church of God did not seek new members but it did accept new members by a complicated recruiting process. The time frame (called time cycles by the church), was first set in motion when the church began under the leadership of Herbert W. Armstrong. The first time cycle expired in 1953 when the second time cycle began with the broadcast of The World Tomorrow program over Radio Luxembourg in Europe. This event was compared to the Apostle Paul taking the Christian message to the world for the first time. This second time cycle of 19 years was set to expire in February of 1972.

Jerusalem central to all teachings

Unlike churches who believe in a Rapture event, the Worldwide Church of God believed that they would go to a "place of safety" which was usually identified as being Petra in Jordan. This physical world wide migration would take place shortly before a United States of Europe led by a new European power (referred to biblically as The Beast) and dominated by the Pope of Rome (referred to biblically as the Antichrist), launched and won World War III. In this battle both the United States of America and the United Kingdom would be destroyed as nations and survivors would be taken into slave captivity. At the juncture when this new superpower attacked a combined USSR and China, then Jesus would return to Jerusalem and halt Armageddon by taking up rulership over a physical world for one thousand years. Within this final scenario members of the Worldwide Church of God would then come out of hiding and assume positions of world leadership under the Messiah from the new world headquarters of the church at Jerusalem.

Editorial impact

This outline warning of the "end times" had been published before the end of World War II when Herbert W. Armstrong fully expected Hitler to become victorious. In the May/June edition of 1941, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote (using emphasis shown) that:
Since the last issue many things have occurred, every one in accordance with prophecy! ... War events thunder on, rapidly approaching the prophesied climax!... Hitler now emerges as the "BEAST" of Revelation! Bible prophecy shows the Roman Axis forces will take Egypt, Suez, Palestine, — even Gibraltar. Britain will go down. And, unless we turn as a nation to God our beloved United States will have to go under ... we lack TOTAL Defense, without which we shall never win. We are at the END of the present order. ARMAGEDDON is now just a short way off.

According to Armstrong there was one key element that had to occur before the return of Jesus Christ as Messiah and that was the rebuilding of the Temple by the Jews. Since the location of the Temple had been in that part of Jerusalem which was a part of the modern day kingdom of Jordan, Armstrong believed that Israel would eventually retake that part of Jerusalem in order for construction to commence. On page 4 of the October 1958 edition, The Plain Truth magazine reported that:

A temple or sanctuary is yet to be built by the Jews in Jerusalem. It shall happen in less than 14 years from now (1972).

When Israel gained control of East Jerusalem in the Six Day War, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in a 1967 editorial in The Plain Truth that:

There will be a Jewish Temple built in Jerusalem, with animal sacrifices once again being offered -- probably within about four-and-one-half years. It is going to take some time to build such a Temple. And I don't see how they have another month to spare. ... There will very soon be a Temple in Jerusalem, with daily sacrifices once again being offered.

In Australia this editorial was read by Michael Dennis Rohan who decided to act upon this same information and cause the destruction of the Al Aqsa mosque which he believed was preventing the Temple from being rebuilt. The aftereffects of his attempted arson are still being experienced today in attacks upon Israel which are carried out to avenge this act. The cause of the arson was, of course, not the State of Israel, but a person's attempt to carry out his interpretation of the editorial policy of The Plain Truth magazine.

Worldwide distribution

At its height in the mid-1980s the Plain Truth had a monthly circulation of eight million in seven languages, including English, German from August 1961, French from June 1963, Spanish from 1968, Dutch from 1968, Italian from July 1982 and Norwegian from February 1984.

After 1986

Following the death of Herbert W. Armstrong a series of new leaders took over the church and began to close the remaining college campuses and embark upon selling all buildings and grounds. The church has recently announced its plans to move from Pasadena, California after the final real estate transactions are completed. Previous broadcasting activities were terminated. The Plain Truth magazine was turned over to the newly formed Plain Truth Ministries.

After the vast majority of beliefs that the Worldwide Church of God taught under the administration of Herbert W. Armstrong had also been repudiated and having lost the majority of its original membership, the Worldwide Church of God sought and was granted admission to several mainstream evangelical groups.


The Plain Truth magazine is now published by Plain Truth Ministries, which has no connection to Armstrongist teaching or the Worldwide Church of God. Plain Truth Ministries deliberately chose to maintain the name of the magazine, as it represents an acknowledgement of its history and its doctrinal reform. The new Plain Truth focusses on criticism of religious legalism. The organization is headed by Greg Albrecht, who conducts a weekly online church service titled Christianity Without the Religion. Albrecht is the author of two books, Bad News Religion and Revelation Revolution. Plain Truth Ministries is a member of the Evangelical Press Association and National Religious Broadcasters.

Various successor churches of Armstrongism continue to publish their messages in various magazines. The United Church of God publishes The Good News magazine, which as of March 2006 has a worldwide circulation of 412,000. The Philadelphia Church of God sees its publication The Philadelphia Trumpet as a successor to Armstrong's The Plain Truth, which is sometimes cited by the Trumpet. Also the Living Church of God publishes the Tomorrow's World magazine. While the Restored Church of God publishes The Real Truth Magazine.

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