Although Sardis proved to be dead spiritually, God the Father and Christ planned to rejuvenate and fully refresh the Work. John records, “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name” (Revelation 3:7-8). Jesus promised the Philadelphia era of God’s Church an open door to do the Work.
After a.d. 70, the Church was widely scattered. Harried by intense persecution for over 18 centuries, the Church was no longer the well-organized, compacted body it had been at its inception. From the close of the first century until modern times, the Church could not reach the world with the gospel—“they all slumbered and slept” (Matthew 25:5). But during the Philadelphia era, Christ changed that.
Christ’s plan to renew His Work began with one man: Herbert W. Armstrong. The Sardis era had fallen into deadly decline, but Christ fulfilled His promise to never let the Church be snuffed out. Mr. Armstrong’s contact with the Sardis people of God is more than just the history of a man: It is the inspiring record of how God works through men. This knowledge is sadly lacking in most religious circles today.
All men will eventually learn that when God the Father and Christ begin a work, they operate through one man and begin in a small and humble way. Look at Bible history. When God first created human beings, He began with one man: Adam. When He began the nation of Israel, He worked through one man: Abraham. When He led the children of Israel out of Egypt, He worked through one man: Moses. These men and what God accomplished through them represent just a few examples of this important principle of God’s government.
God the Father and Christ also educate and prepare those they work through. Mr. Armstrong was educated and prepared as no other religious leader in this end time.
The Early Years
Herbert Armstrong was born in Des Moines, Iowa, on July 31, 1892. He was born into a prosperous, relatively peaceful world that would change very rapidly during the tumultuous 20th century.
Young Herbert grew up like most young boys of his time—carefree, and then gradually taking on jobs of greater responsibility in his early teen years. During the summer that he was 16 years old, he got his first real job away from home, waiting tables at a semi-resort hotel. The hotel owner was impressed by his work ethic. The man encouraged him to develop his talents and to work to fulfill his potential for success in life.
This man’s confidence in him sparked his ambition for the first time. Now this teenager had “the desire to climb the ladder of success—to become an important somebody,” Mr. Armstrong wrote in his autobiography. Guided by the hotel owner, he knew he would need to study, work hard and be diligent in his goal, not caving in to short-term whims and desires that would take him off track. While he had no clear goal to work toward other than success in general, that ambition and will to succeed guided his life. “This was the turning point of my life,” Mr. Armstrong later wrote.
At age 18, he discovered a book in the public library titled Choosing a Vocation. Using this book, he put himself through an intensive self-analysis. The results indicated he was best suited for a job in journalism or advertising. He went on to develop a successful career in the advertising business, guided by his uncle, Frank Armstrong. Mr. Armstrong also decided to complete a self-study of journalism and advertising rather than go to college.
Many experiences of Mr. Armstrong’s early years, his willingness to complete self-study and his career in advertising all prepared him for an important life’s work yet to come.
Mr. Armstrong did not become interested in religion by choice. “I was born of stable and upright parents with an ancestry in the Quaker faith that had emigrated from England to Pennsylvania with William Penn, a hundred years before the United States became a nation,” he wrote. “At age 18 I dropped all but the most passive interest in religion” (Good News, Nov. 20, 1978). For years, he was increasingly absorbed in his successful business life.
But by 1926, Mr. Armstrong had suffered several business reversals. In his autobiography, he referred to his Chicago business failure as a nightmare. Around this time, he moved his family from the Midwest to Oregon.
Then Mr. Armstrong’s wife of nine years, Loma, began keeping the seventh-day Sabbath. Although he wasn’t interested in religion, Mr. Armstrong felt seventh-day Sabbath-keeping was “religious fanaticism.” Dreading the ridicule this would bring from business associates and friends, he tried to talk her out of it. She remained firm, however, and told him her belief was based on the Bible. He argued that the Bible taught, “Thou shalt observe Sunday”—after all, all the churches kept Sundays. She agreed that if he could show her the Bible’s command for Sunday observance, she would return to it. Believing his marriage depended on it, Mr. Armstrong took the challenge.
Around the same time, his college-educated sister-in-law derided him for not believing in the theory of evolution. She claimed he was ignorant and said that every educated person knows human life came from evolution.
With time on his hands due to business failures, Mr. Armstrong took on this dual challenge on the Sabbath and evolution. He spent most days at the Portland Public Library until closing time, then continued his studies at home long into the night. After six months of this intensive study, he finally proved the answers to these challenges in the spring of 1927.
While unsuccessfully trying to prove that Sunday observance was biblical, he came to realize that many traditional “Christian” beliefs were not based on the Bible. With this understanding came the puzzling question: If none of these churches base their beliefs on the Bible, where is the Church that Christ founded?
Mr. Armstrong later came to realize the great purpose in his business failures and his move to the Northwest. God was preparing him to take on a more important business. God used this six-month, night-and-day study to force him to prove the truth, replacing assumptions and beliefs passed down through generations.
Mr. Armstrong had to admit that his wife was right. This came on the heels of multiple business failures that crushed his ego. Finally seeing his “inadequacy” and “nothingness,” Mr. Armstrong was led by God to true repentance and an enthusiasm for Bible study. “What I once hated I now loved,” he wrote. “I found the greatest and most absorbing joy of my life in continuing to dig out those gold nuggets of truth from God’s Word” (ibid).
God revealed one truth at a time to Mr. Armstrong. The first truth was the knowledge of the Sabbath. Slowly, more truths were added. Understanding each truth took diligent Bible study, work and effort.
As we look back on this history, we can see that one of the most significant prophecies in the New Testament was being fulfilled. “And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias [Elijah] must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias [Elijah] truly shall first come, and restore all things” (Matthew 17:10-11). The subject of this chapter in Matthew is the return of Jesus Christ. Jesus prophesied that just before His Second Coming, a man in the spirit and power of Elijah would “restore all things.” Through Mr. Armstrong, Christ restored the truths lost to the Church over the centuries.
But where was the true Church? The answer to this question led Herbert Armstrong on a God-inspired adventure.
Herbert W. Armstrong and Sardis
After his conversion, Mr. Armstrong began to search for the true Church through the process of elimination. The true Church had to keep the Ten Commandments—as revealed in Revelation 12:17 (and many other scriptures). He understood that observing the seventh-day Sabbath was one of the Ten Commandments. All Sunday-keeping churches were immediately scratched from the list. He narrowed his search down to three church groups.
He fully reviewed and proved wrong the teachings of the Seventh-Day Adventists and Seventh-Day Baptists. But there was one other church that did meet certain elements of proof. Mr. Armstrong wrote: “But of these three churches to which the search had been narrowed, only one had the right name for the true Church. This was the small, little-heard-of Church of God whose headquarters was at Stanberry, Missouri.
“Twelve times in the New Testament, I found the name of the Church which Christ established plainly stated as ‘the Church of God.’ …
“The only church I had so far found which ‘kept the commandments of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ,’ and at the same time bore the name of the original true Church, was this almost unknown little Church of God with its small publishing house in Stanberry, Missouri.
“But this left me quite confused. For this was a little church, especially compared to the Roman Catholic, the Methodist, the Baptist, the Presbyterian, the Lutheran or other large churches numbering millions of members. Then I saw where Jesus called His Church the ‘little flock’ [Luke 12:32].
“But still I was not completely satisfied. I was deeply concerned. I prayed a great deal over it. For here was a church, which, compared to the large-scale activities of the Catholic and big Protestant bodies, was ineffective. I could see that it was imperfect. It wielded no great power. … Here was a little church, with scattered members probably numbering less than 2,000—mostly in rural areas. Apparently, as nearly as I could learn, it had only a very limited number of local churches, none as large as 100 members.
“As I began to come in contact with some of its leaders, they seemed to be men of little education—no college degrees—its ministry could hardly be described as an educated ministry. Their preaching had a certain fire, yet seemed totally to lack the power that attracts sizable audiences, that moves people, stirs hearts and changes lives. I could see no visible results.
“Could this be God’s one and only true Church on Earth? The very question seemed preposterous! …
“Meanwhile, what was I to do? I was not at all convinced this was the one and only true Church. Yet, if it was not, which one was? This one came closer to the Bible qualifications than any I knew. Therefore, I began to fellowship with their scattered and few members in Oregon, while at the same time refraining from acknowledging membership” (Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong).
Ordained to Christ’s Ministry
While in association with this tiny group of people, God began to prepare Mr. Armstrong for the ministry. Earlier in his life, he proved he had the drive, ambition and self-discipline to educate himself. Now Christ used that same attitude and ability to educate Mr. Armstrong for the ministry. Mr. Armstrong wrote, “And so it was, in this detached fellowship, that Mrs. Armstrong and I continued the first 3½ years of my ceaseless night-and-day study of the Bible—of history, especially as connected with biblical history and prophecy—and of pertinent allied subjects.
“These, too, were years of much and earnest prayer. Much of the Bible study done at home was done on my knees, combining study with prayer. Much time was spent during these years, as it had been that first six months, at the public library” (ibid).
Mr. Armstrong wrote up many of those studies into article form for his own personal benefit. At the suggestion of his wife and other Church of God ladies who knew the Armstrongs, Mr. Armstrong sent in these articles to the Bible Advocate in Stanberry, Missouri. The editor of the magazine and leader of the Church at that time was Andrew Nugget Dugger.
Mr. Armstrong had some important interactions with Mr. Dugger. One of Mr. Armstrong’s studies revealed how the Church had been mistaken on a minor point of doctrine. So he sent a 16-page manuscript to Stanberry to see if the Church would rectify the error. In his Autobiography, he tells how he got a reply from Mr. Dugger admitting Mr. Armstrong was right but explaining that the membership would not react favorably to such a change. Later, he sent a 300-page manuscript to Stanberry, showing the location of the lost 10 tribes of Israel. Mr. Dugger wrote Mr. Armstrong back about six months later, agreeing with him but yet saying he didn’t know how the truth was relevant to the Church’s commission.
God was sending a message directly to the physical leader of Sardis at the time, and he refused to be corrected!
In November 1930, Mr. Armstrong was invited to attend a business meeting of the Church of God in Oregon. The meeting soon developed into a heated discussion concerning whether the Oregon membership would remain associated with Stanberry. Members in Oregon did not like Mr. Dugger or some of the “politics” rumored to be happening in Stanberry. The Oregon membership wanted to organize its own state conference and keep God’s tithes in Oregon. Using public prayer, Mr. Armstrong was instrumental in calming the meeting down. The result of the meeting was the foundation of the Oregon Conference.
In 1931, the Oregon Conference wanted to stimulate growth in the church. They decided to conduct evangelistic campaigns using Herbert Armstrong. This required that he be ordained into the ministry. Mr. Armstrong wrote: “Being ordained and entering the ministry full time meant a complete change in my life. In former years the idea of becoming a minister was the very last thing I should have wanted to do. But by June 1931, I had been preaching a great deal for 3½ years. By this time my whole heart was in it. …
“I shall never forget that moment of my ordination.
“The meeting was being held outdoors. I do not remember where—except it was in the general rural area of Jefferson. … But I do remember the ordination itself. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences like being married and being baptized. Only this seemed to me to be the most momentous event of my entire life.
“All the brethren—as many as could get their hands through to my head—laid their hands on me—on my head, my shoulders, my chest and my back [like Acts 13:1-3].
“I am sure it was the weight of the experience, from a spiritual and emotional standpoint, rather than the physical weight of hands and arms—but it seemed I was entirely weighted down with the heaviest load I had ever stood up under.
“To me this was symbolic of the tremendous responsibility that now came down on my head and shoulders” (ibid).
His experience should enlighten and inspire every single one of us! Please pay close attention to his words.
Mr. Armstrong conducted many evangelistic campaigns, several over multiple nights for weeks at a time. All of the energy and drive he once devoted to the advertising business was now poured into the Work of God. Almost immediately the Oregon membership began to experience growth. Fruit was being produced.
Eventually, however, there was a separation between Sardis and Philadelphia. Once God ordained Mr. Armstrong, the efforts of the Stanberry work (and that later reorganized in Salem, West Virginia) stopped bearing fruit. The Autobiography details how, whenever a “Sardis” minister went with Mr. Armstrong on an evangelistic campaign, there were no positive results. But when Mr. Armstrong went by himself, there were conversions!
Notice: “[S]till in my search for the one true Church, still questioning whether this could be that church, still not having found it elsewhere, I asked Mrs. Runcorn (whom Mrs. Armstrong and I looked upon as our ‘spiritual mother’) if she could point out a single real bona fide convert, brought in from the outside, resulting from the ministry of any of the preachers affiliated with ‘Stanberry.’ She thought seriously for quite a while. Then she slowly shook her head. She knew of none. I asked several others who had been in the church for years. Their answers were the same” (ibid). How shameful!
They had rejected truth as had been revealed by God through Mr. Armstrong. Even in the case of the summer of 1927, when a “man of God” anointed Loma Armstrong of multiple health afflictions, this man’s prayers ceased to be answered just a couple of weeks after he rejected truth Mr. Armstrong had shown him about when the resurrection of Jesus occurred. He stopped bearing fruit!
Then, later in his ministry (around May or June 1936), Mr. Armstrong borrowed a large 400-capacity tent from the Sardis brethren. Just as his campaigns began producing results, the Church members wanted it back. They gave him a 50-seater tent as a replacement. However, his campaigns overflowed in that smaller tent, while their 400-seater was filled with only two to four people each night! “This was just another of the many experiences trying to cooperate with these people,” Mr. Armstrong recalled (ibid).
In a November 6, 1978, Good News article, Mr. Armstrong wrote: “When one of their ministers held a small ‘evangelistic effort’ it was always fruitless. … But whenever I preached alone, there were conversions. I did not realize then, as I do now, that it is God who ‘adds to the Church.’ God was adding wherever I went.
“Then I discovered that they are described by Christ Himself in Revelation 3:1-6. They had been, a couple of generations or more before my time, a Church of more vitality and larger membership. But they had dwindled to the state of Revelation 3:1—still having the name of the true Church but spiritually dead. Apparently a generation or two before my time, they had not been so spiritually dead.”
The Greek word for “dead” in Revelation 3:1 is nekros.Thayer’s defines this word physically as “one that has breathed his last.” Defining this word spiritually, Thayer’s states, “destitute of a life that recognizes and is devoted to God, because given up to trespasses and sins; inactive as respects doing right.”
What caused this spiritual failure during the Sardis era?
The Bible discusses how one can be “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, 5). We can be dead while we live—if we live in the wrong kind of pleasure (1 Timothy 5:6). Ephesians 5:14 equates being spiritually dead with being spiritually asleep. No wonder Christ told Sardis to “Be watchful”—or as some translations render it, “Wake up!” (Revelation 3:2).
Mr. Armstrong’s Autobiography gives his firsthand account of this era: “[H]ere was the church which appeared to have more truth, and less error, than any other. It did ‘profess’ the commandments of God and have ‘the testimony of Jesus Christ.’ It did have the true name of the Church Christ built. Its members did love what truth they had and sacrificed for it! In spite of the fact this church did not appear to be dynamically alive spiritually—in spite of its little or no accomplishment—still it came closer to the biblical characteristics of Christ’s true Church than any I knew!” (emphasis mine).
In one of his Bible Advocate articles, Mr. Armstrong wrote how the people of God at that time were in a coma! “Folks, let’s come to life! Let’s awake from this state of coma. Let’s tear away from the inertia that holds us” (Oct. 16, 1928). He said they weren’t having the impact on the world they should be having.
Later, in the last evangelistic campaign he held in conjunction with “Sardis” ministers—held in Cabin City, where they tried to discredit and seduce people away from Mr. Armstrong—he stated this: “All of us at Eugene church, and half the members at Jefferson, severed all connection and effort at cooperation with those who had proved themselves willing to serve Satan and their own personal greed and to injure the very Work of God! I am going to end all comment about that group here, with the epitaph that—like a dead tree—they have since split and re-split into so many little tiny groups, all hating one another, that no one seems to know where all of them are.”
In his 1978 Good News article regarding this period in Church history, Mr. Armstrong wrote, “But now, I knew that what God had led me into was, truly, God’s Work! It had vitality. It was bearing rich fruit. And after finding the identification in Revelation 3:1-6 and verses 7‑11, I finally came to realize where God’s true Church was! These people at Stanberry and Salem [West Virginia], originally, had been truly the Church of God—of the Sardis era. But their era was over, and by the fruits, looking at them, I came to realize God was raising up the Philadelphia era of His Church.
“And as we grew, God was showing me His Bible form of Church organization” (op cit).
For a time, Mr. Armstrong continued to cooperate with the Sardis members. However, certain ministers became jealous of the fruits of his ministry. Some said he did not properly baptize new converts because he did not require that the doctrine concerning unclean meats be taught prior to baptism. Studying Acts 2, Mr. Armstrong knew the Bible required no such thing.
At a special meeting of the Oregon Conference, he was brought before the people and charged with wrongdoing. Two sermons, morning and afternoon, were given by two ministers, outlining his wrongs. Mr. Armstrong asked permission to defend himself. At first, the accusing ministers protested. But Mr. Armstrong read a prepared statement that only took 15 minutes. Over half of the members in attendance supported Mr. Armstrong.
An evening evangelistic meeting required Mr. Armstrong to leave what he called “the all-day wrangle.” He asked that no resolution be made until another meeting could be called. All agreed. But as soon as Mr. Armstrong left the meeting, a resolution was passed requiring Mr. Armstrong to teach about unclean meats prior to baptism or resign from the conference. Mr. Armstrong refused to follow the resolution. He also did not resign from the conference, though he did refuse to accept the $3-a-week salary supplied by the conference. Just after this event, the Philadelphia work burst forward.
World Tomorrow Broadcast
Huge doors began opening to the tiny membership that accepted what God revealed through Mr. Armstrong. “In September —very soon after rejecting a salary and being controlled and muzzled by men, the living Christ began opening doors for the mass-proclaiming of His gospel,” he wrote in his Autobiography. “It was then that someone brought to my attention the fact that the local radio station at Eugene, kore, then the very smallest minimum-power of 100 watts, had a morning devotional program scheduled, but that they were having difficulty getting local ministers to conduct the program. It was free time, carried by the station as a public service sustaining program of 15 minutes, 7:45 to 8 a.m.
“Immediately I went to the radio station. A woman secretary told me she felt sure they would be glad to have me take the program for a week. I was to call back later for the exact date.
“On my second call I was assigned the week of October 9.
“October 9 was surely a great big day in my life—the day of my very first experience before a microphone, on the air!
“I took this opportunity very seriously. It was an opportunity to speak to several hundred people at once! I had never spoken to that many before.
“I spent the preceding week preparing rather extensive notes and script. I might never again have such an opportunity, so I decided to strike directly at the very heart of the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Since the Kingdom of God is based on the promises made to Abraham, I began, on Monday morning’s program, with the promises made to Abraham ….
“It must have been about Thursday morning that the announcer told me the station owner, Mr. Frank Hill, wanted to see me in his office later in the morning.
“He had received several letters and telephone calls from listeners, requesting copies of my talks. I had offered no literature of any kind. I had invited no mail response.
“‘This is rather surprising,’ said Mr. Hill. ‘We never had any response of any kind, before, from this morning devotional program. They told me you had not invited any. Yet it has been coming. I listened in on you this morning to see what was causing it. You have an excellent radio voice, and a way of delivering your message that arouses interest and holds an audience.’
“‘Now, Mr. Armstrong,’ he continued, ‘I want to suggest that you work out a regular Sunday morning church service, condensed into a half hour. I’d like to put that on as a regular sustaining program—free time—but I can’t do that without offering equal time to every church in town. However, I will sell you the time at less than bare cost of operation, $2.50 per half hour.’
“And that suggestion from Mr. Frank Hill is what put the idea of the World Tomorrow program in my mind! …
“God had opened the door of mass evangelism! I knew He wanted us to walk through that door. I knew He would somehow supply that $2.50 every week. I knew also that we had to do our part, not lie down, do nothing, and expect God to do it without any effort from us.”
Mr. Armstrong scheduled the new half-hour program to begin in January 1934. But he also realized that literature would be necessary to support the new radio program. A new magazine, nearly seven years in the planning stage, now needed to be published.
The Plain Truth
Mr. Armstrong realized that the radio program represented an incredible opportunity to preach and disseminate the truth of God. He developed a three-point program to do the Work. In addition to the new radio program, he planned to continue the personal public meetings he had been conducting for over five years. But he also planned to publish the Plain Truth. In time, the Plain Truth would prove to be unique in the magazine and publishing world.
His excitement and enthusiasm about this magazine is vividly apparent in the Autobiography. He wrote: “Not only did I set out with a will to produce the radio program, but I realized there must be follow-up (and I do not mean a money-soliciting follow-up) if this new effort were to be resultful.
“Immediately the idea came of realizing, at last, the dream I had cherished since 1927—the publication of a magazine, to be called the Plain Truth. Back in 1927 I had made up an entire ‘dummy’ of this proposed magazine. I had even written articles for it. I even had a professional letter artist design a front cover idea in 1927—and I had tried designing one myself. But we had never had the ‘wherewithal’ to start publishing a magazine.
“This ambition to publish the Plain Truth was the natural outgrowth of earlier business experience. Much of my 20 years of advertising experience had been spent in the class magazine field.
“Now, at last, I realized that this magazine was a ‘must’ as a follow-up for the radio broadcast. Yet we were no more able, financially, than we had been in 1927.
“Necessity is the mother of invention. If we could not afford to publish a high-quality, professional-appearing magazine, I would simply convert the mimeographed Bulletin I had been issuing for our scattered Church brethren in the Willamette Valley into the Plain Truth.
“My idea for this magazine, from the start, had been to publish a magazine, not for Church members, but for the general public—the unconverted and unchurched—an evangelistic-type publication to bring to the world God’s truth—making it plain!
“So now, even if it had to start with about 250 copies done by hand on a mimeograph, I would start it! Like the grain of mustard seed, it started, very possibly, the smallest of magazines. But it has grown into a professional-appearing 32-page magazine of over 8 million circulation.”
The Plain Truth could not have had a humbler beginning. But it was God’s magazine. It was destined to grow. So was the World Tomorrow broadcast. It went on radio the first Sunday in 1934 and aired every week, without missing a single week until some years after Mr. Armstrong’s death. The World Tomorrow television program was added later in 1955. Both the broadcast and the Plain Truth were instrumental in changing multiple thousands of lives.
But the Work Mr. Armstrong was called to do did not stop with radio and a magazine. The Church of God was raised up and strengthened to support Mr. Armstrong in preaching the gospel.
Worldwide Church of God
The first radio programs produced good fruit. The original broadcast was more like a church service. In that sense, originally, the program only attracted a “churchgoing”-type audience.
Growth in membership warranted that the organization Mr. Armstrong was overseeing be incorporated—as the Radio Church of God. Over the years, the program was changed to target more of the non-churchgoing public. But the Radio Church of God still grew. Eventually, as the gospel message went around the world, the name Radio Church of God was changed to Worldwide Church of God (wcg).
Mr. Armstrong came to recognize the importance of the Church in doing the Work. He wrote, “It was in August 1933 that the present Worldwide Church of God was formed in Eugene, Oregon. It resulted from an evangelistic campaign of six days a week for six weeks, which I held just outside of Eugene. God had called me as pastor—a fact never questioned. As proved ‘by the fruits’ of the past 45 years, God had committed to me the great commission—to take Christ’s gospel message of the Kingdom of God to all the world.
“But though God had called and chosen me as His apostle, I was nevertheless human, and, as I said above, I did not learn all of God’s truth at once. I had, before this, come to understand the basic ‘roots and trunk of the tree’ of truth, but God has continued, through the years, to reveal more of His truth, even up to the present. …
“As to Church organization and government, I appointed, in Eugene, Oregon, under me, an elder and two deacons; this was strictly according to God’s biblical form.
“The Work of God, which the Church had been added to back up and assist, was started by myself, with only my wife as full-time assistant. I started the radio broadcasting program in January 1934, and the Plain Truth in February 1934. The Good News, as the organ for our members, had started earlier in 1933.
“The Work grew. God continued to add to His Church such as He called to back up the great commission, and to develop the godly, holy and righteous character to qualify them to be made kings and priests under Christ, after His return to Earth as King of kings at the beginning of the millennial rule.
“For 35 years the Work of God grew steadily at the rate of approximately 30 percent a year. I do not know of any organization, secular or of God, that has shown so remarkable growth, starting from nothing financially (though we started with something greater—faith in the living Christ, Head of the Church and the Work). This Work was built literally on faith. The living Christ blessed it richly, even though there was carnal opposition and persecution from the beginning” (Good News, June 5, 1978).
By the time of his death on January 16, 1986, the Worldwide Church of God had grown from 19 to some 140,000 members. Though still small by the world’s standards, that number reflects the largest number of Church members ever to function simultaneously together, and be centrally organized, in the history of the true Church.
Mr. Armstrong explained, “After calling, giving His apostle the initial teaching, having him ordained, God added 19 members that started His Church of this Philadelphia era. Then, as one ‘sent forth’ with the gospel message, Christ had opened before His apostle the means of mass communication of the printed word, radio and later television.
“With such vast mass communication facilities, one apostle could reach many times more people with the gospel message than the original 12, plus the Apostle Paul and others sent to Gentile nations. I soon saw the need, as God’s Word sets forth for the Church, of evangelists, pastors, other elders and teachers—as well as people trained in administrative responsibilities.
“So God raised up Ambassador College to provide training for the supportive functions behind the apostle, in the great commission. …
“The operation of the great commission, especially in this 20th century, requires, as the New Testament clearly states, organization.
“So God set His government in His Church. And God’s government is authority from the top down. God the Father is in supreme authority over all. Next in authority under Him is Jesus Christ, living Head of the Church. On the human and earthly level, next in authority under Christ is His chosen apostle. God organized ancient Israel, under Moses ….
“God’s Church is not a worldly organization—it is a spiritual organism, called out of this world and its ways by Christ. Yet it is well organized—must be to function. The Church consists of the begotten children of God—the divine Family to be!” (Good News, Dec. 4, 1978).
God used Mr. Armstrong not only to raise up the Church, but also to explain the purpose of the Church. Herbert Armstrong also fully understood and explained why the Church came to such heights in this end time. The government of God gave the Church its strength and allowed the Church to blossom in its collective talents, capability and power.
Ambassador for World Peace
The scriptures describing the Philadelphia era in Revelation 3:7-13 are some of the most positive in the Bible. It is clear that God the Father and Jesus Christ were pleased with this era. Jesus Christ said, “I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name” (verse 8). Christ provided an open door for this era to work. The “open door” spoken of by Christ was that of mass evangelism made possible by radio, printing and television. Mr. Armstrong and the Work under him fully utilized these media to promulgate the true gospel of Jesus Christ—the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
Mr. Armstrong walked through the doors Christ opened to him. As prophesied in Matthew 24:14, he successfully carried the gospel of the Kingdom to all the world.
Herbert W. Armstrong warned continually about the coming of the Holy Roman Empire, led by Germany and guided by the Catholic Church. He lived through World War ii and the sixth of seven prophesied resurrections of that empire. Then he warned that the Holy Roman Empire would start World War iii.
Mr. Armstrong always marveled at the unusual favor he received from world leaders. Here is what he wrote to the ministry on February 22, 1974: “The living God has moved these past four years to give me, as your fellow minister whom you call God’s apostle, and as God’s chosen servant for getting His true gospel into all the world, for a witness to all nations just before the end of this age, almost unbelievable prestige, favor and stature in the eyes of many kings, emperors, presidents, prime ministers and other high leaders of many nations. I am now, by God’s grace, received in many world capitals as an ambassador for world peace. I can assure, with authority and confidence, world leaders and heads of state that world peace not only is possible, but is definitely coming in our time. And this in spite of the fact that the efforts of world leaders for 6,000 years have brought no peace but repeated wars.”
While preaching the gospel, Mr. Armstrong became personal friends with many of the world leaders he visited. He met Menachem Begin, King Juan Carlos of Spain, Prince Charles of Britain, Indira Gandhi, King Hussein of Jordan, Leopold iii of Belgium, Golda Meir, Anwar Sadat and Margaret Thatcher, to name a few. Why would such powerful world leaders welcome a religious leader of a little church, let alone one from outside mainstream religion, for personal audiences? The only explanation is thatChristopened those doors.
In addition, as Christ states in Revelation 3:8, Mr. Armstrong and the Church kept Christ’s word and did not deny His name. This is great praise. The Church that Christ established through him kept, obeyed and taught the message and doctrines that Christ taught.
But keeping Christ’s word did bring on a certain amount of persecution. After all, his teaching the truth through mass evangelism disproved the teaching of the majority of churches and other evangelists. Jesus Christ had warned the Church, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me” (John 15:19-21). Keeping Christ’s word was a difficult task from the day it was given. The same has been true in this end time. Naturally, there were those outside the Church who wanted to discredit Mr. Armstrong, the Church and the Work.
Nevertheless, Mr. Armstrong, the Church and the Work endured all persecution from without, never denying God’s name. While Mr. Armstrong led the Church, he never compromised. Jesus Christ praised the Philadelphia era for this.
By Their Fruits
Here is how Mr. Armstrong summarized the Philadelphia era in Mystery of the Ages: “This era of the Church was to produce fruit. To this era—or to its human leader—God had set before it an open door. It is recorded in 2 Corinthians 2:12 and also Acts 14:27 how Christ opened the door for Paul to go into other countries to preach the gospel. This Church and/or its leader had but little strength. Neither were of great and powerful stature in Satan’s world, but those of this era were faithful to the Word of God. Though much of the original gospel truth, imparted to the original apostles by Jesus in person, had been lost, it was restored through the Bible to this era of God’s Church who were faithful in keeping it.
“It is revealed in Malachi 3:1-5 and 4:5-6 that God would raise up one in the power and spirit of Elijah, shortly prior to the Second Coming of Christ. In Matthew 17:11 Jesus said, even after John the Baptist had completed his mission, that this prophesied Elijah ‘truly shall first come, and restore all things.’ Although it is plainly revealed that John the Baptist had come in the power and spirit of Elijah, he did not restore anything. The human leader to be raised up somewhat shortly prior to Christ’s Second Coming was to prepare the way—prepare the Church—for Christ’s coming, and restore the truth that had been lost through the preceding eras of the Church. Also a door was to be opened for this leader and/or the Philadelphia era of the Church to fulfill Matthew 24:14: ‘And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.’
“It was to be at a time when, for the first time in the history of mankind, the weapons of mass destruction were produced that could erase all humanity from the Earth (Matthew 24:21‑22). This also was to occur just before the Second Coming of Christ (verses 29-30).
“These prophecies have now definitely been fulfilled. The true gospel has been restored and has now gone in power into every nation on the face of the Earth.
“The Church has taken on a new Spirit-empowered life.”
Mr. Armstrong began his Autobiography by writing, “From beginnings humble and small without parallel, to the magnitude of today’s enterprises and worldwide impact is the story of growth unbelievable! It is the incredible story of something never done before—never done this way—a seemingly impossible achievement utterly unique in the world!”
He witnessed the world pass through incredible changes. In less than 100 years, he watched advances in education and science catapult human society from the horse-and-buggy age into the space age. In conjunction with the advances in education and science, he watched as the world plunged into appalling evils. He witnessed the immense devastation caused by two world wars. He saw the atomic age provide men with grotesque weapons that can destroy all life on this planet.
Herbert Armstrong recognized that world wars caused the foundation of human society to begin to crumble. Christianity degenerated into a ritual. Intellectuals claimed God was dead. The theory of evolution replaced God in higher education. Society as a whole began to reject the foundation of the family. He saw firsthand the rotten fruits of the sexual revolution. In the United States, he watched racial tension produce devastating race riots.
He was “the voice” speaking out amid all this confusion. He always sought to give God’s perspective to the people of the world. After receiving his call into the ministry, he faithfully discharged his duties to God, the Church and the people of this world. God used him to have a major impact on many world leaders.
But remarkably, even amid all that unparalleled spiritual success, there was a mysterious lawlessness building inside that Church era. It was an ominous sign of things to come.