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 (WCG)), Ambassador College, and The World Tomorrow radio and television programs. Armstrong began his ministry headquarters in Eugene, Oregon, and later moved to Pasadena, California.
The history of the magazine can be divided into two distinct eras: the years before the death of Armstrong in 1986 and the years following his death. Under Armstrong, the Plain Truth was a popular international magazine with an ever-increasing circulation. 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 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, 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.
The Plain Truth eventually evolved into a standard-sized, monthly publication which eventually gained the outside look and feel of a high-quality magazine which appeared similar to 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.
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 by Armstrong as publisher, but the features were usually written by graduates from one of the three Ambassador College campuses (one in California, another in Texas, and a third in England). Other content included a worldwide radio and later television log for Armstrong's The World Tomorrow program.
Central to the magazine's editorial approach were three main platforms. The first was British Israelism—a belief that the White, Anglo-Saxon peoples of the U.S., the U.K., 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 the seventh-day Sabbath, Passover, and the Feast of Tabernacles.
The main thrust of these prophetic claims, as described in Armstrong's book 1975 in Prophecy!, was that a timetable had been set in motion by God and it was the sole purpose of WCG to warn the world of what was going to happen, before time ran out. The timeline, divided into "time cycles" by the church, was first set in motion when the church began under Armstrong's leadership. 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 1972.
Unlike churches that believe in a Rapture event, WCG members believed they would go to a "place of safety", which was usually identified as being Petra in Jordan. This physical, worldwide 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 False Prophet, not Antichrist, as is commonly assumed) 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 captivity as slaves. 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.
The Plain Truth magazine's early days in the 1930s and 1940s covered topics related to World War II through the lens of Armstrong's views: biblical prophecy, including speculations as to whether Adolf Hitler was really dead, the identity of the Beast of Revelation, commentary on the rise of Communism, and several predictions about how the war would turn out, most of which did not come to pass.
This outline warning of the "end times" had been published before the end of World War II, from which Armstrong fully expected Hitler to emerge victorious. In the May/June edition of 1941, 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, 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.
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.
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Following the death of 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 headquarters moved from Pasadena to Glendora, California, after the final real estate transactions were completed. Previous broadcasting activities were terminated. The Plain Truth magazine was turned over to the newly formed Plain Truth Ministries whilst the U.K. edition became an entirely independent publication.
After the vast majority of beliefs that the Worldwide Church of God taught under the administration of 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 in the U.S., and the entirely separate U.K. edition is published by an independent charity. Neither has any 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 U.S. Plain Truth focuses 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. The U.K. Plain Truth is a member of the Evangelical Alliance.
- Billingsley, Alton B. "Herbert W. Armstrong - Apostle of God". herbertarmstrong.net. Church of God, Faithful Flock. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
- Armstrong, Herbert W. "Autobiography of HERBERT W. ARMSTRONG". The Church of God at Northeast Ohio. Worldwide Church of God. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
- Tangelder, Johan D. "The Empire Builders: Herbert W. and Garner Ted Armstrong". Reformed Reflections. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
- Ockerbloom, John Mark. "SERIAL ARCHIVE LISTINGS for The Plain Truth". University of Pennsylvania. University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
- "Philadelphia Church of God and the Place of Safety". Exit and Support Network. Exit and Support Network. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
- Armstrong, Herbert W. "1975 in Prophecy!". Worldwide Church of God. Worldwide Church of God. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
- Armstrong, Herbert W. "The Plain Truth Magazine 1940-1949". Herbert W. Armstrong Searchable Library. The Plain Truth. Retrieved 20 January 2012.
- "Herbert W. Armstrong's 209 False Prophecies". The Painful Truth. The Painful Truth. Retrieved 20 January 2012.
- Armstrong, Herbert W. "The Plain Truth". Herbert W. Armstrong Searchable Library. The Plain Truth. Retrieved 20 January 2012.
- Armstrong, Herbert W. "JEWS TAKE JERUSALEM". The Plain Truth - June 1967. Worldwide Church of God. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
- Pack, David C. "Why This Magazine!". The Real Truth Magazine. Restored Church of God. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
- Albrecht, Greg. "About PTM". ptm.org. Plain Truth Ministries. Retrieved 20 January 2012.