I recently had some conversations concerning Armstrongism and the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) and here is some of the background concerning it.
The WCG was basically a cult up until the years following 1986 (after H.W. Armstrong died) when they began changing their doctrines to conform to more biblical doctrines and practices.
The modern WCG (now known as Grace Communion International) can no longer be considered a cult — at least according to their public doctrinal statements.
Things that are critical to Biblical Christianity involve a right understanding of the nature of God, the nature of Jesus, and soteriology (we are sinners, wages of sin is death, Jesus died in our place, we need to repent and receive what Jesus did for us).
A cult is a perversion of any of those critical doctrines and are typically centered around the exclusive teachings of a single man or organization. Another common trait goes back to Satan’s lie that we can become a god or be like God (Genesis 3:5).
Other issues are good topics for study and discussion, but disagreement on those issues does not make for a cult or a reason to break fellowship.
What made Armstrong’s WCG a cult was their unbiblical understanding of 1) the nature of God, 2) that man can become God, and 3) exalting the authority of a single man above scripture.
They believed that Armstrong was “The Apostle”, the second coming of Elijah and that the Bible and all other churches had been perverted over time and that ONLY Armstrong and ONLY the WCG knew the truth. Armstrong had the ultimate authority in the same way that the Pope is considered to have the ultimate authority over Catholicism.
They believed that man was completely mortal (do not possess an immortal soul).
They believed in the “Family of God”, that the Godhead started out as God the Father and God the Son and that men can be “born again” into this family after the resurrection and become part of God.
Some family members (including myself) were reading WCG materials back in the 80’s and we recently had some discussions about it.
One of the possible holdovers from the WCG that I did have a conversation about, was annihilation.
Annihilation is the belief that when unbelievers are thrown in the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:14-15) they cease to exist. It is something I believed for years, but repented of it when confronted with the truth in the Bible.
Annihilation, while not necessarily what I would call “heresy” or a “salvation issue”, it is not supported by the Bible.
Folks usually justify the belief by saying “God is so loving, He wouldn’t punish someone forever…”. There are many answers to this, here are two quickies: 1) God created hell for Satan and his angels (Matt 25:41); 2) Our offense is against and Eternal God
There are also many scriptures (including Jesus’ own words) that talk about an eternal hell (Matt 18:8; 2 Thess. 1:9; Jude 1:7, 12-13; Rev 19:3; Rev 20:10)
And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matt. 25:46)
(More info here: http://carm.org/hell-eternal)
In any case, my intention is to inform and motivate folks to do their own research. Don’t believe me, read the Bible and trust the Holy Spirit to lead and guide to truth.