Copyright © Philadelphia Church of God
The year 1931 dawned for Mrs. Armstrong and me, like those preceding, with dark and overcast skies. It was one more of the economically lean years. It was an exceedingly high-point year in my life. It was the year in which I was ordained as a minister of Christ’s gospel, plunged full-time into the ministry. Yet this very ordination was to foment multiplied opposition and persecution from the Stanberry ministers.
God did not induct me into His service as an imposing figure impressing others as a man of importance, wisdom and distinction.
Rather, the Eternal put me into His ministry a good deal like the Apostle Paul, who wrote: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom …. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:1-3).
I was no vip entering the ministry. There was no red-carpet welcome—no pomp and ceremony—no spectacular acclaim. It would not have been God’s doing had it started out auspiciously. Everything God does through human instruments must start with a humble beginning, the very smallest. God brings down low and to naught the proud and the lofty. The Eternal is able to exalt in His own due time those He first humbles.
Every person has his idol. God cannot receive and convert a human life until his idol has been smashed or torn from him. My idol had been an egotistical sense of self-importance—a cocky self-assurance—a passion to become successful—to attain status—in the eyes of the material world. God is creating in those He calls a righteous character which can be developed only through experience; and experience requires time. God has a lot of time—He is Eternal—He has always existed—He always will.
It took time to eradicate from my heart the love of the praise of men. God gave me, instead, the false accusations, the unwarranted oppositions, the scheming persecutions of jealous, competitive-minded ministers. It required time to bring me to a place where I no longer set my heart on material possessions and the finer things of this material world.
This process required not one or two years—not seven—but four sevens! For 28 financially lean and humiliating years out of the very prime of life, God continued to root out of my life and character this vain idolatry!
From the first, and for some time, I was treated by the ministers as the greenhorn tailender among them. They used every practice and device constantly to humiliate me and belittle me in the eyes of the brethren. I needed this—and I knew God knew I needed it! Aware of my need of humility, I felt, myself, that I was the “least of the ministers.” However, the brethren loved me and continued looking to me for leadership. The only “fruit” being borne resulted from my efforts. This, naturally, was the very reason for the opposition and persecution.
And so the year 1931 dawned.
The first evangelistic campaign was over. It was just a short 11-night campaign in the little rented church building in Harrisburg, Oregon. Attendance had been good for such a small town—around 100. I had not known better than to follow the Protestant evangelical method of giving “altar calls” for repentant sinners accepting Christ to come up to the altar and kneel. Four had come and been baptized.
The pastor of one of the churches in the neighboring larger town, Junction City, asked me to hold a campaign in his church. I do not remember which church, but I believe it was the Baptist.
I was still dependent on my job with the Wear Ever Aluminum Co., giving dinner “dems” with health lectures and selling their “new method” heavy aluminum utensils. It was necessary that I attend the annual convention of their Pacific Northwest sales force in Seattle, beginning at or after the first week in January.
This prevented any extended campaign at the church in Junction City. However, it was arranged that I should hold three special services there—on Saturday night, and on Sunday afternoon, and Sunday night—with the pastor himself holding his usual Sunday morning service.
I shall never forget the thrill of accomplishment and thankfulness I experienced as I rode with the Runcorns back to Salem after the Harrisburg meetings. It was a deeper and far more intense sensation than I had ever experienced at a football game.
The Wear Ever district convention was held at the New Richmond Hotel in Seattle. There I met all of the top-ranking salesmen of the district—some of whom were of the high-pressure type and extremely successful, earning large incomes.
However, this convention was somewhat disillusioning. Actual appointments in homes, with a husband and wife who ostensibly were attending a “dem” lecture, were acted out. The entire district sales force saw these top-ranking salesmen in simulated action. I came to realize that these men who were in the big money used high-pressure methods which I, as a Christian, could not employ. It became apparent that I could never get into the big-money bracket on this kind of a job. I was not making enough to meet the actual needs of my family—just enough to keep us from starving.
I did, however, learn things I had not known about health, nutrition and diet, causes of disease, etc. One thing I learned which seemed important—the reason why “one man’s meat is another man’s poison.”
Different individuals are of varying chemical types. One person would be classified as the potassium type. The element potassium is somewhat dominating in his physical constitution. These people are said to be the outdoor type, usually extroverts loving to be with other people.
The salesmen analyzed and classified one another as to chemical types. I gave the most “expert” among them considerable difficulty. I seemed to be a mixture of several types, but they finally agreed that calcium was the dominating chemical constituency in my makeup. This must be true, because I require more calcium than most people. Calcium is found in largest quantities in milk and milk products. I seem to crave and need a goodly amount of milk, cheese and butter.
We were still living, at this time, with my parents in Salem.
Shortly after returning to Salem from the convention in Seattle, a death occurred in the family of a young couple, Mr. and Mrs. Milas C. Helms, who lived near Jefferson. Parents of both of them were members of the Church of God. Their baby son, Richard Leon, born November 23, 1930, had died on Monday, January 12, 1931.
I was contacted and asked to conduct the funeral. This was a new and frightening experience for me. The dread and fear of it grew.
As the day of the funeral dawned, this dread had almost driven me berserk.
“I can’t do it!” I kept saying. “I just can’t go through with it! I won’t! I won’t do it!” I finally shouted.
Not many times in my life did my father’s powerful bass voice speak sharply and with authority to me. This was one of those few times.
“Herbert!” Dad’s voice cracked like a sudden thunderclap, in unmistakable authority. “Snap out of that instantly! Wake up! Come to your senses! Those people are stricken with grief! They are depending on you! You can’t let them down! You are going to sit right down and prepare this funeral sermon. Then you are going down there and fulfill this obligation!”
If I had been almost out of my senses, this brought me back instantly. It was like a sudden awakening from a nightmare.
“Yes, Dad,” I said. “Thanks for waking me up. I’ll ask God to help me, and I will do it.”
I had attended very few funerals. I did not know what customary funeral sermons were like. I did not want to know. I felt it would only be a pagan ceremony. I merely prayed and asked God to direct me through His Word. Soon I had a short sermon worked out from the Scriptures, reading certain basic scriptures on the subject of death and the resurrection, with a few brief comments expounding them.
It turned out that only a graveside service had been planned. When the moment came for me to officiate, my prayer for God’s help was answered, and I was calm, sympathetic and in sincere earnest.
That brief sermon from the Scriptures, together with the grief of losing their little son, deeply affected and moved Mike and Pearl Helms, and resulted in bringing them to repentance and conversion through Christ as their Savior.
It was the beginning of a very close friendship and Christian fellowship between us for several years to come. I have always had a very special warm spot in my heart for Mike Helms, and I feel sure it is mutual. We were to go through many rough experiences together in God’s Work—experiences which brought us together like two close brothers.
Mike was a vegetable gardener, and a very successful one. He was a natural leader. Inevitably, you will read quite a lot about him if you continue reading this story of my life, for he became closely connected with it and the many experiences I must relate from this point on.
Through the first half of the year 1931 the study and lectures on the causes of sickness and disease continued. Enough of the heavy aluminum was sold to keep the family alive—but no more.
Two or three cases during that time come back to memory. One man in Salem was troubled with chronic constipation and with rheumatism. After my first visit to his home he went on a 10-day fast, followed by a diet of natural vegetables and fruits, lean meats and whole grains—a diet free of starches, fats and white sugar. Both the rheumatism and the constipation disappeared. Another case was a man who had ulcers of the stomach. He could not even drink milk and hold it down. Yet a milk diet, with nothing else for many weeks, was his logical corrective. I squeezed a half lemon into a glass of milk, stirred it, and had him drink it. Of course it curdled slightly. He held it in his stomach, and was started on his milk diet. His stomach healed over naturally after several weeks.
Because I thoroughly believed in what I was doing, I held “dems” for the Church brethren in the Jefferson area. Most of them purchased the heavy aluminum, and began eating natural foods.
In the spring of 1931 my father bought a small farm about 15 miles south of Oregon City, trading their home in Salem for the farm. Of course my brother Russell had been married several years and was living in Portland, and my sister also was married and living in Portland. My youngest brother, Dwight, went with the “folks” to the farm.
At that time we moved to a house on East State Street in Salem. A number of events were to happen to us in that house—among others, little Garner Ted being miraculously given his voice. When Ted had been about 6 months old he had fallen out of his crib, landing on his head on the floor. From that time he had been dumb, and he never learned to speak a word until he was past 2 years old. But that is getting ahead of our story. He was about 14 months when we first moved to the State Street house.
In early summer of that year a former Seventh-Day Adventist (sda) minister, a Robert L. Taylor, came to Oregon from California. It was practice among these Church of God people to hold all-day meetings about once a month. It was at one of these meetings that Mr. Taylor preached. We were all quite impressed.
“He’s a better preacher than any of the leading ministers from Stanberry,” seemed to be the common exclamation. Indeed we were all rather “swept off our feet” by his preaching.
After a few weeks, the brethren of this Oregon Conference, which had been formed the preceding November, wanted to team Elder Taylor with me to hold an evangelistic campaign. They were becoming anxious to see a little “life” in the work of the Church.
They found Elder Taylor very receptive to the idea. By this time a modest balance had accumulated in the new conference treasury. You will remember that the object in forming this state conference was to create a local state treasury and keep their tithes and offerings in the state, instead of being sent to Stanberry, Missouri. These were days of rapidly descending economic depression, but several of these brethren were vegetable gardeners. They were doing very well financially.
Elder Taylor said he would be glad to undertake this campaign with me, suggesting it be held in Eugene—for reasons I was to learn later. We decided to speak on alternate nights, the one not speaking to lead in the song service.
This made it necessary that the Oregon Conference ordain me to the ministry.
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 had come to see, at the Seattle salesmen’s convention, that this aluminum sales job was not permanently compatible with the Christian life. I was unable to adopt some of the high-pressure methods—in the interest of the salesman’s commission, but not in the customers’ interest—which the top-ranking salesmen employed. I knew I could never make more than a bare existence for my family. And anyway, by this time I think I recognized that God had called me to His ministry.
I had remained in this aluminum selling only because I realized I was acquiring valuable knowledge about food and diet, and the causes of sickness and disease. But now I had devoted a year to this study. There was no point in continuing.
The decision was not difficult. God had now brought me to the place where I really “heard” the voice of Christ as if He were saying, “Come, and follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men.”
It was decided by the officers of the conference that on the next all-day meeting I was to be ordained.
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. I do not remember other circumstances.
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.
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.
And let it be made plain here: I was ordained by, and under the authority of, the Oregon Conference of the Church of God, separately incorporated; not by the Stanberry, Missouri, headquarters.
This brings us to a series of almost incredible facts. Whether strange coincidence or planned acts of God, I cannot now say. But these are facts, nonetheless.
I never recognized these facts until just a few months before the writing of this present chapter. Certainly this strange chain of occurrences was not of my planning.
Here, then, are the actual facts:
First, Jesus Christ began His earthly ministry at about age 30. God took away my business, moved me from Chicago, started bringing me to repentance and conversion preparatory to inducting me into His ministry, when I was 30!
Second, Jesus began the actual teaching and training of His original disciples for carrying His gospel to the world in the year a.d. 27. Precisely 100 time-cycles later, in 1927, He began my intensive study and training for carrying His same gospel to all nations of today’s world.
It is important that we realize the significance of 100 time-cycles!
God set the Earth, sun and moon in their orbits to mark off divisions of time on the Earth. One revolution of the Earth is a day. One revolution of the moon around the Earth is a lunar month (according to God’s sacred calendar). One revolution of the Earth around the sun is a solar year. But the Earth, the sun and the moon come into almost exact conjunction only once in 19 years. Thus 19 years mark off one complete time-cycle!
Now consider further facts—whether strange coincidence or providential design.
The actual ordination, or completing of the ordination and enduement of power for sending out the original disciples into the ministry occurred after 3½ years of intensive instruction and experience. It was on the day of Pentecost. And the year was a.d. 31.
Exactly 100 time-cycles later, after 3½ years of intensive study and training, Christ ordained me to preach this same gospel of the Kingdom in all the world as a witness to all nations (Matthew 24:14). This ordination took place at, or very near, the day of Pentecost 1931.
I do not remember the exact day of the month of this ordination. No special significance was attached to the date then. Most of those who participated are now dead. But the date was June 1931.
But that is not all! Consider further!
Christ started out His original apostles preaching the very gospel of the Kingdom which God had sent by Him, and which He had taught the apostles, in the year a.d. 31. For exactly one 19-year time-cycle this preaching was confined to the continent where it started—Asia. After precisely one 19-year time-cycle, a.d. 50, Christ opened a door for the Apostle Paul to carry the same gospel to Europe! This was a.d. 50. Before a.d. 70, Roman armies besieged Jerusalem. From that time the Roman government stamped out the organized mass spreading of the gospel of Christ. Soon a different gospel was being tolerated, later endorsed and then enforced by Roman government. It was Roman paganism now being palmed off under the new name “Christianity.”
For nearly 19 centuries the world has been rendered spiritually drunk on the wine of this counterfeit gospel! As prophecy foretold, all nations have been deceived. But looking into our time, just before the end of this age, Jesus foretold that His same original gospel of the Kingdom of God was to be preached and published (Mark 13:10) in all the world as a witness to all nations! (Matthew 24:14). This was to immediately precede His Second Coming
TODAY THIS IS BEING DONE! Now consider this amazing parallel!
God first opened a door—that of radio and the printing press—for the mass proclaiming of His original true gospel the first week in 1934! The exact date was January 7, 1934. Exactly one time-cycle later, January 7, 1953, God opened wide the massive door of the most powerful commercial radio station on Earth, and Radio Luxembourg began broadcasting Christ’s gospel to Europe and Britain!
What startling coincidences!—or are they mere coincidences?
My ordination ended the “dems” and selling of aluminum. The state conference employed Mr. Taylor and me as evangelists at salaries of $20 per week. Remember this was 1931. The country was undergoing rapid deflation.
Immediately Mr. Taylor and I went to Eugene. The conference owned a small tent. With a small platform across the front, we were able to set up 50 folding chairs—that is all—50!
This tent was pitched on a vacant lot in Eugene on West 10th Avenue. I rented a room with a small kitchenette on the second floor of a house across the street, within the same block. Mr. Taylor and his wife had moved to a small chicken ranch on the outskirts of Eugene. They had a car. I must have left mine in Salem. It probably died of old age at that time, or shortly later.
I do not remember about preliminary advertising, but we must have had some. I was entirely too advertising-conscious after my long years in that profession to have started without it.
I opened the first Sunday night’s meeting as MC and song leader. Elder Taylor preached. The tent was full—50 people.
On Monday night he opened the song service, and I preached. Thus we continued for the six weeks, alternating each night. Services were held six nights a week—none on Saturday nights.
In Portland I had gained some little experience with Pentecostal people. I had been somewhat overawed by their “speaking in tongues,” and their glib “testimony.” I had not yet at that time fully understood it. But I had noticed that most of these people refused to obey God’s commandments; almost none had any real sound understanding of the Bible; they customarily had a wide knowledge of certain scattered texts—verses or partial verses—which they usually misapplied, entirely out of context, putting only a meaning of pseudo-spirituality on them. They spoke in what was supposed to be spiritual-sounding language. They loved to show off—to brag, especially about their own spirituality which usually consisted of sentimentality and emotion.
The brethren in the Willamette Valley had been decidedly antagonistic toward “tongues” speaking and Pentecostalism in general. Elder Taylor had also appeared to be opposed to it.
But a couple families of Pentecostal people began attending our tent meetings in Eugene. Soon I noticed that Mr. Taylor was especially friendly to them. He welcomed and gradually began to encourage their loud “amens” and “hallelujahs” and “praise the Lord” expressions during his preaching.
But for the first few weeks I thought little of it.
This was my first ministerial experience teaming with another man. Jesus sent His disciples out two and two together. The teaming of two ministers together certainly has biblical precedence and approval. But if God refuses to use either member of the team, no spiritual results can be produced by the team. This lesson I was to learn.
I was surprised, somewhat incredulous, somewhat discouraged, as our meetings wore on, to notice that no “fruit” was being borne. I could not understand it.
Then one night the lone exception occurred.
It was an exceedingly stormy night. Mr. Taylor and I went over to our tent to loosen slightly the ropes, so the shrinkage from soaking would not up-stake them, and also to drive down the stakes more securely. It was a nasty night. We did not expect anyone to come. While we were there, one couple who had attended regularly drove up in the storm. I had noticed this couple. I had felt sorry for them. I supposed they were very poor people—why, I didn’t know, except that he was as far from being handsome as Abraham Lincoln had been, and she had no “beauty” of the worldly sort. Later I was to be much surprised to find that they were very successful and prosperous, though thrifty, farmers—leaders in their community.
I had not, up to this stormy evening, become acquainted with them further than shaking hands with them at the tent entrance.
No one else came that night. No service could have been held in the tent.
“It would simply be a dirty shame for you to have come all the way into town on such a terrible night, and then be deprived of a service,” I said sympathetically. “Why not come on over to my room, and we can at least have a Bible study together?”
“That would be splendid,” smiled Mrs. Fisher. I had never known their names before.
“Well count me out,” answered Mr. Taylor. “It’s too stormy to stay around here. I’m going home.”
This was my first shock of disappointment in Mr. Taylor. He had been my “ideal” as a minister. But one incident like this could not cause me to lose confidence in him.
Over in my room, Mrs. Fisher said, “I wonder if you would mind giving us a Bible study on the question of which day is the Sabbath of the New Testament. My husband believes the only Bible Sabbath is Saturday. But it never seemed possible to me that all these churches could be wrong. I’d like to have you explain just what the Word of God says.”
“Why,” I replied in some surprise, “that is exactly the way I felt when my wife began keeping the Sabbath. That is the very thing that started me studying the Bible—to prove that ‘all these churches can’t be wrong.’ I’ll be very happy to open the Bible and show you what I was forced to see for myself. This is the very question that resulted in my conversion.”
After my opening up the Scriptures, and having Mrs. Fisher read them for herself—and after answering her rather sharp questions later, and explaining some vague passages she brought up, she smiled and said, “I thank you, Brudder Armstrong”—she was Swedish, and talked just a trifle brokenly, “it is all clear now. My husband and I will keep the Sabbath together from now on.”
And that was the sum total of the tangible results produced by this entire six-week campaign!
But God was to use Mr. Elmer Fisher and Mrs. Margaret Fisher in a most important way in raising up this very Work which now thunders the true gospel of Christ worldwide into every continent on Earth! You will read much of them later!
As our tent campaign progressed, a few little incidents began more and more to disturb me in regard to “Brother Taylor.”
I began to notice that he was becoming much more “chummy” with the two Pentecostal families than others who were attending. Finally he asked me to attend an all-night “tarry meeting” they were going to have out at his place following our evening meeting.
“You need a deeper spiritual experience,” he said to me. “You need to pray, and agonize, and ‘tarry’ until you receive your ‘baptism of the Holy Ghost,’” he said.
“Brother Taylor,” I answered, “I know I need a deeper spiritual experience. I do want a still closer fellowship and contact with God. But I prefer to seek it the way Jesus attained it—by going out to a solitary place—perhaps up on a mountain—or, at least as Jesus commanded, to enter into ‘a closet’ or small room, alone with God, and pray.”
I shall never forget his astonishing answer.
“You’ll never get your ‘baptism’ that way, brother!” he said sharply, with emphasis.
I was shocked—and disappointed.
“I’m sorry,” I replied firmly, “but if this ‘baptism’ is something I can’t get the way Jesus taught and commanded—if it is something I have to get from men and cannot receive from God while alone with Him, then it is something I do not want!”
Prior to this, Mr. Taylor had come to me and said, “Brother Armstrong, our people”—referring to the brethren of the Oregon Conference—“are not spiritual enough. We need to seek a closer walk with God.” To this I had agreed.
Now it began to dawn on me that Mr. Taylor was, little by little, attempting to lead the Church into the very thing he had told them, in his sermons, he was “against”—this “wild-fire Pentecostalism.” When he had first heard that the brethren were against it, he assured them he was also against it. But now, by careful and adroit methods, he was gradually beginning to try to introduce this very thing.
Was he, himself, just beginning to believe he had been wrong? Had he been honest and sincere? Was he now honest in claiming God was opening his eyes to see that we were not “spiritual” enough?
“Why, didn’t you know?” later exclaimed a man who had known Mr. Taylor much longer than we had, “Taylor has always been Pentecostal. He just pretended he wasn’t in order to get in with the Church.”
But from the moment I turned down his “tarry meeting” invitation, his attitude toward me became coldly courteous, and I sensed repressed hostility.
During this tent campaign in Eugene, we attended Sabbath services with brethren at the church building in Harrisburg. One elderly “brother” whose name was “Rough” as nearly as I remember (pronounced “Row”) had been, in his deep sincerity and zeal for a certain contention, stirring up a “row” at nearly every service.
He lived out east of Eugene on the Mackenzie Highway.
He contended the Church was in error on one scripture. He could shout his antagonism like a lion’s roar. The brethren wanted Mr. Taylor and me to visit him and see if we could not change his mind or at least quiet him.
I had just read, sometime previous, an article in the old American Magazine on “how to win an argument.” The idea was to make your opponent first state his case fully. Ask him questions. Make him state every detail. Exhaust him, till he has nothing more to say. Just listen—do not reply to any of his arguments—until you have made him state them all. Then summarize his entire position briefly, showing you fully understand his argument. State it even more clearly than he did, if possible.
Then agree with him on those points where you find you actually are in agreement. Then, finally, tear apart his remaining arguments, disproving them—leaving him without anything to come back with.
We decided to use this method. In our morning session, before noon dinner, we just listened to his reasons. We asked questions, but gave no answers. We drew him out exhaustively.
Mrs. Rough had prepared a delicious chicken dinner. I think this was my first experience with the custom of serving chicken when the minister is the guest. I never understood the reason for it. But I was to eat a great deal of chicken from that time on.
After dinner, we questioned old Brother Rough some more, until he simply had to drift into silence for want of anything more to say.
Then we summarized his arguments, and got him to agree we thoroughly understood his reasons—which he had always claimed the Church was not willing to understand. Next we agreed on certain points.
But, finally, we riddled his whole conclusion by scriptures he had not considered, which totally reversed his whole argument. It left him without any answer or comeback. The “lion’s roar” had been reduced to “a kitten’s meow.” There were no more explosive eruptions from that time on to disturb “Sabbath school” or Church services—and he remained friendly.
As our campaign neared its close, Mr. Taylor was promoting with the Church brethren the idea of building a church building in Eugene. Actually, there were no members in Eugene. Some lived a few miles north, but most of them lived north of Junction City or Harrisburg—although two families lived out east of Eugene on the Mackenzie Highway.
The Eugene campaign added only the Fishers and, I believe, one other man who continued only for a while.
It was planned that I was to leave Eugene and put on a campaign up in St. Helens, Oregon, 25 miles north of Portland, with a minister by the name of Roy Dailey, who had just returned from Stanberry or points in the Midwest. The conference had just employed him. There were now three of us on the payroll at $20 per week. At this rate the conference treasury was soon going to be empty.
But Elder Taylor was to remain at Eugene, superintending the new building. Many events were to take place in that little church building.Continue Reading: Chapter 25: Evangelistic Campaigns in Full Swing