The events of 1959 were the last that Herbert W. Armstrong wrote for his autobiography. These appeared in the Plain Truth magazine in 1968. This afterword summarizes the remaining 27 years of Mr. Armstrong’s life based on his public letters and editorials.
In June 1959, Mr. Armstrong announced the providential purchase of “one of England’s fine, spacious country estates.” The 10-acre estate included landscaped lawns, rose gardens, stables, accommodations and a stately 33-room mansion for classroom space, offices, mailing rooms and student housing for a new campus: Ambassador College–Bricket Wood.
As he oversaw the myriad decisions leading up to opening the new campus, Mr. Armstrong continued to direct the expanding Work of the Church. Soon after the college opened, he took his first trip around the world to Sydney, Australia, to book 39 additional radio stations, giving the World Tomorrow broadcast coverage of about 98 percent of the Australian population.
In February 1961, Mr. Armstrong wrote co-workers that a string of new, major metropolitan American radio stations had agreed to air The World Tomorrow seven nights a week. Station managers had been skeptical about clearing time for a religious program but changed their minds when they learned that The World Tomorrow did not solicit donations—and that in cities like Denver and Nashville, it was the most listened-to radio program on the air. After describing several improbable strings of events that led to the securing of one 50,000-watt station after another, Mr. Armstrong wrote: “Co-workers, does this give you a little clearer idea why I need to ask you continually to pray for this Work? Without divine intervention, we would not be able to get on any of the really major superpower stations. I know that hundreds—maybe thousands—of you co-workers were praying earnestly for this Work the past two weeks. That is why all these miracles happened so suddenly all at once!! Never has anything like this happened before!!”
In March 1963, Mr. Armstrong began “our austere year.” Although The World Tomorrow continued to add stations, it did so at a slower rate, and it cut lower-performing stations. Necessary construction and the growth of the student body continued at the two Ambassador College campuses, but opening the third campus in Big Sandy, Texas, was postponed a year. Maintenance of the campuses continued, but beautification projects were postponed. And still the Work of God continued to grow, staffed by hundreds of trained men and women and now reaching an estimated 22 million people or more around the world.
The growth continued and the year of austerity ended: Ambassador College–Big Sandy, Texas, came on line in the fall of 1964.
In 1965, a phenomenon caught Mr. Armstrong’s attention, to which he devoted his August Plain Truth “Personal.” It was the fact that Ambassador College—with its three campuses each starting humbly with nothing but small groups of people and faith in God—was now attracting students, graduates and post-graduates from more than 160 other colleges, including Oxford, Yale, Harvard and other famous universities across the United States and in Canada, Mexico, England, Australia, New Zealand and beyond. They came from prestigious universities to Ambassador College, as undergraduates, to receive an education they could obtain nowhere else on Earth.
The year 1966 brought Mr. Armstrong on another around-the-world trip to Australia, this time accompanied by his wife. Over the previous 5½ years, hundreds of Australians had come into God’s Church, and the Church’s message on radio and in print was continuing to reach thousands and even millions of Australians.
In February 1967, Mrs. Armstrong was stricken with a serious intestinal condition. What seemed to be an attack of appendicitis proved to be something more critical. With advice from a member with a medical background, Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong did everything they could without putting their faith in doctors. But then, Mr. Armstrong wrote, “The time had come to stand still, and commit it into God’s hands.”
A month and a half later, Mr. Armstrong wrote with sorrow: “[M]y wife’s critical illness has ended in the manner least expected—in her death just after midnight Saturday morning, April 15. In the next second of her consciousness she will awake in the resurrection, completely healed—and, far more than we beseeched God in our earnest prayers, not in the corruptible body of this mortal flesh and blood, but in an immortal spirit body, in glory in God’s eternal Kingdom!”
Even after the death of Loma D. Armstrong, the woman through whom Mr. Armstrong himself learned about the truth, who helped him build God’s Work, and to whom he was married for nearly 50 years, the Work continued to soar. In June, Plain Truth circulation hit 1 million.
On December 10, 1968, Mr. Armstrong announced a dramatic open door of a new and different kind: Ambassador College had entered a joint archaeological project with Hebrew University of Jerusalem to excavate at the south side of the Temple Mount under Prof. Benjamin Mazar. Mr. Armstrong wrote that this several-acre project would lend prestige to Ambassador College, contribute to the known fund of knowledge, and prepare for Jesus Christ’s supernatural return to Jerusalem by cleaning up the filth and rubble in the original area of Jerusalem and the City of David.
In August 1969, Mr. Armstrong wrote that the Work, which had grown by an average of 27 to 30 percent year over year for 35 years, was now facing a significant financial shortfall. The reach of the Work had grown 65 percent over the previous year, he said, but the income had grown by 11 percent, less than half of what the Church had budgeted for. Mr. Armstrong was forced to cut print advertising in half and to cancel some of the stations the Church had worked hard to convince to accept The World Tomorrow. In response, radio station managers sent to The World Tomorrow piles of letters from listeners who pleaded for it to stay on the air.
Even with the financial dip, Mr. Armstrong was able to write at the end of 1969, “What a decade it has been! It has seen this great Work of God grow to more than 10 times the size and scope of January 1, 1960!” Since that date, circulation of the Plain Truth jumped from about 210,000 to more than 2.1 million. Its staff multiplied from 4 to 73. The World Tomorrow grew its total radio power from 9 million watts to more than 90 million watts, and its potential listeners from 10 million to more than 150 million. The Church also now published Tomorrow’s World (circulation: 350,000), and The World Tomorrow was on television. The Work of the Worldwide Church of God reached 1 in every 23 people on Earth.
“But most important of all,” Mr. Armstrong wrote, “the number converted by the Spirit of the living God, and baptized by the ministers of this Work of God, is also more than 10 times the number of 10 years ago! …
“And so, co-workers with Christ, let us take encouragement in the fact that God has used us of today in multiplying the harvest of His Work 10 times in 10 years!”
But storm clouds were on the horizon, and God’s Church was about to face much more serious trials in the new decade: the 1970s.
The 1970s brought a series of new, unexpected and massive open doors for Mr. Armstrong and the Work. In a 1971 co-worker letter, Mr. Armstrong revealed a turn of events that was more than providential; it was miraculous. The door had first begun to crack open in 1968.
“Coincidence” number one, Mr. Armstrong wrote, was that the wife of the Church’s office manager in West Germany happened to show an Ambassador College yearbook to a friend in Brussels. The friend was so impressed that he showed the yearbook to one of his other personal friends: Belgium’s King Leopold iii.
King Leopold was so intrigued by the quality of the photographs, and the qualities of the Ambassador students who were in them, that he asked to meet the founder of the college. This meeting grew into a cordial relationship and collaboration with the king’s Belgian Foundation.
“Coincidence” number two came in September 1968, when the college’s dean of faculties urged Mr. Armstrong to visit Israel and consider approving an Ambassador College archaeological excavation there. Mr. Armstrong was initially uninterested. But when they arrived, Mr. Armstrong was amazed by the scope of Prof. Benjamin Mazar’s work. This project became the “big dig” joint participation between Ambassador College and Hebrew University—a collaboration that Tourism Minister Moshe Kol said should become an “iron bridge” relationship. Upon committing to the agreement, Israeli President Zalman Shazar became the first head of state to receive Mr. Armstrong at the presidential palace.
“Coincidence” number three came as Mr. Armstrong left Jerusalem for Hong Kong and Tokyo to consult with advertising representatives from Reader’s Digest magazine. There, he discovered that Ambassador’s chairman of the Asian studies department was acquainted with Prince Mikasa and had shown him a copy of the 1966 Envoy. The prince, brother of Emperor Hirohito, asked to meet Mr. Armstrong. When Mr. Armstrong returned to Tokyo two years later, Prince Mikasa held a dinner in his honor, asking him to address 60 professors from Japanese universities.
These “coincidences” led to more “coincidences,” which led to even more “coincidences.”
Mr. Armstrong did not initiate meetings with the king, the professor or the prince. Nor would he initiate meetings with the presidents, first ladies, kings, queens, prime ministers, legislators, judges, ambassadors, professors, educators and other leaders he would meet during the 1970s. Yet he visited more of them than perhaps any other man alive.
In the first half of the 1970s, Mr. Armstrong met a huge number of world leaders. In one six-month period, he took three around-the-world trips.
In the early 1970s, Mr. Armstrong met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir twice; leading German politician Franz Josef Strauss; Indian President V. V. Giri; Japanese Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Eisaku Sato; Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos; Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi; King Mahendra of Nepal; King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand; Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek; Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike; U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Keating; Japanese Diet members Bunsei Sato, Keiwas Okuda, Mitsuiro Ishii and Kazuo Shionoya; Japanese Minister of Commerce and Industry Kakuei Tanaka; Indonesian President Suharto; Indian International Court of Justice Judge Nagendra Singh; Thai Prime Minister Thanom Kittikachorn and Princess Sukhuma; Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer; Okinawa Gov. Chobyo Yara; Lebanese President Suleiman Franjieh; Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and President Aby Sabeed Choudhury; Israeli President Ephraim Katzir; Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie; Netherlands Prince Bernhard; King Hussein of Jordan; and numerous others.
Mr. Armstrong also met hundreds of other leaders in various offices: prime minister, foreign minister, governor general, minister of education, minister of social welfare, minister of the environment, high commissioner, crown prince, prince regent, adviser, ambassador, consul general, judge, university president, professor, chairman of university board of governors, and others—from Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Saigon, Nepal, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Cambodia, Israel, Lebanon, Indonesia, Romania, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Argentina, Peru and elsewhere. Some of these legislators, mayors, professors, princesses and kings accompanied Mr. Armstrong on the Church’s private jet to other world capitals and to the Ambassador College campus. Some of their children attended Ambassador College.
Dozens of heads of state and other leaders met Mr. Armstrong not just briefly on one occasion, but repeatedly and at length in their official offices or residences. Some of these were covered by national news media, and on some occasions Mr. Armstrong was treated like a diplomat. Many of these prominent leaders arranged banquets in Mr. Armstrong’s honor or asked him to speak to gatherings of dozens of ambassadors, legislators and other prominent men and women.
In 1972, a monumental two-year construction project began to alter the landscape of the Church and the skyline of Pasadena. Ambassador Auditorium opened its doors for its inaugural concert on April 7, 1974. For 20 years, the building would host more than 2,500 concerts and recitals in addition to other events, bringing thousands of visitors onto the Ambassador College campus to see Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, Claudio Arrau, Leontyne Price, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Victor Borge, Horacio Gutierrez, Alicia de Larrocha, Arthur Rubinstein, Andrés Segovia, Yo-Yo Ma, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis Jr., Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Emmylou Harris, Oscar Peterson, Marcel Marceau, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, Juilliard String Quartet, the Chieftains, and hundreds of other performers.
During this time frame, Mr. Armstrong also decided to begin public-speaking campaigns in major cities. These campaigns attracted tens of thousands of Plain Truth subscribers. The first was scheduled for Manila, the Philippines. But just as Mr. Armstrong arrived in the city, a major blow struck the Church.
A group of 35 ministers led a major rebellion, largely against the authority of Garner Ted Armstrong, but also against Mr. Armstrong. Garner Ted, Mr. Armstrong wrote, was making day-to-day decisions as executive vice president—and some major, unauthorized decisions that Mr. Armstrong discovered later. Misunderstandings about divorce and remarriage and other doctrines caused serious problems. Accusers also said Mr. Armstrong and others at headquarters were mishandling funds. The group and those who followed along rejected the belief that God was behind Mr. Armstrong.
Mr. Armstrong was forced to cancel the Manila campaign before it started and fly back to Pasadena.
This crisis in loyalty among a group of Church members sparked an interesting reaction among the world leaders who knew Mr. Armstrong well. Government officials sent messages of loyalty and support, including one group of Japanese legislators who signed their telegram: “Yours respectfully, Your eight Japanese sons, Bunsei Sato and other Members of Japanese Diet.”
The attempt to wrest control of the Church from God’s apostle, Mr. Armstrong, failed. But 35 ministers and about 2,000 members were gone. During this same year, troubles in England forced Mr. Armstrong to close the Bricket Wood campus after 14 years of operation.
Two months after he had been forced to cancel the Philippines campaign, Mr. Armstrong enthusiastically reported that it had been successfully rescheduled. In Manila, Mr. Armstrong was greeted by prominent members of the city and provided with a siren-blaring police escort for the duration of his nine-day stay. He spoke to hundreds of people, met the mayor at a press conference, appeared in newspapers and radio news, sat for several interviews, saw a Worldwide Church of God documentary aired on Philippine network television, received an honorary doctorate of humanities, dined with junior chamber of commerce leaders, and addressed an auditorium of university students and faculty at the largest university in the Philippines.
“But now we had come to the big event!” Mr. Armstrong wrote. After being introduced by the vice president of a major university (one of three Asian university presidents who had recently visited Ambassador College), Mr. Armstrong spoke in person to a largely filled, 24,000-seat coliseum on three consecutive nights. He would go on to deliver another major campaign in Kenya. “[T]his is the most important of the things God’s tithes, which you send in, are going for!” Mr. Armstrong wrote. “God has opened the doors. God has been in it—it has gone out in power! … It is now full steam ahead!”
In mid-1975, Mr. Armstrong established the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation, a non-profit organization to oversee the Church’s humanitarian projects that were being conducted in large part through Ambassador College extension programs: archaeological excavations in Jerusalem and Tel Zeror; the International Cultural Center for Youth in Jerusalem; anthropological explorations in New Guinea by King Leopold iii of Belgium; efforts to educate the mountain people of Nepal; an initiative to help Thailand hill tribes replace opium crops with vegetable crops; archaeological excavations in Iraq; cultural-educational activities with the shah of Iran; worldwide fund-raising for handicapped children; supporting the World Wildlife Association; aiding the blind, elderly, and crippled children in some American cities; the Ambassador Auditorium concert series; and many more projects.
“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,” Mr. Armstrong wrote to Church ministers on February 22, 1974. “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.”
The latter half of the 1970s brought more flights to world capitals and meetings with world leaders. During one trip to South Africa, Mr. Armstrong spoke to 30 groups, gave press conferences and radio and television interviews, met Prime Minister John Vorster and former President J. J. Fouche, met mayors and leaders from Port Elizabeth and Edenvale (most of whom had been reading the Plain Truth for years), and spoke to crowds of 750 or more Plain Truth subscribers at public appearance campaigns in Capetown, Durban and Johannesburg. Nine months later, he met and addressed about 80 delegates in Southwest Africa (now Namibia), including Windhoek Mayor Dries Yssel, as they drafted the country’s new constitution. The special session at the Turnhalle in Windhoek was held especially to hear Mr. Armstrong.
During this period, Mr. Armstrong met with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; Kuwait’s ruler, Sheikh Saba al Salem al-Sabah; Chilean President Salvador Allende; Thai Prime Minister Thanin Kraivichien; South African President Nicolaas Diederichs; Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta; and Swaziland King Sobhuza ii. He also addressed ministers, the legislative assembly and citizens of the Republic of Transkei (now dissolved) as it was being created; met with the mayor of Pretoria, South Africa, a keen Plain Truth reader; dined with the Israeli ambassador to Japan and other members of the Israeli embassy; delivered a keynote address in Tokyo to a banquet including several high-ranking Japanese officials and 13 ambassadors from 13 countries. The Diet members who called themselves Mr. Armstrong’s “Japanese sons” increased from eight to 15. Between the early 1970s and the end of his life, Mr. Armstrong met seven Japanese prime ministers: Eisaku Sato, Kakuei Tanaka, Takeo Miki, Takeo Fukuda, Masayoshi Ohira, Zenko Suzuki and Yasuhiro Nakasone. Mr. Armstrong even introduced Diet members to other government leaders they had not yet met.
In August 1976, Mr. Armstrong wrote Church members and co-workers with an update on the cultural foundation’s work in Jerusalem. Mr. Armstrong visited Israel numerous times; during one four-year period he returned to Jerusalem about 50 times.
“Our very important friends in Israel—from the president and prime minister of the country on down in the government—and from President Harmon and vice president [Bernard Cherrick] on down in the university, have been not only most friendly and cordial, but more—affectionate!”
Mr. Armstrong wrote that Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek led a tour of the Old City and showed Mr. Armstrong the site of the children’s playground at a city park that had been sponsored by the Ambassador Foundation.
Regarding his world travels, Mr. Armstrong wrote in May 1977, “Right now this is first on the priority list in God’s sight, because the first thing on God’s mind is restoring the government of God to this Earth, and this new phase of the Work—the open door operation worldwide is the present activity leading to it.”
In April 1977, Mr. Armstrong wrote a letter to the members announcing his marriage to a woman named Ramona Martin. He wrote about how he had been traveling constantly—in the previous year, 300 out of 365 days—and how “loneliness has reawakened me to the serious need God recognized when He said, ‘It is not good that a man should be alone.’” He said that God had provided him a wife, and that the two of them were married “in an informal and simple ceremony, attended only by our respective families on Sunday, April 17.”
In August of that year, Mr. Armstrong’s heart stopped. “[T]he nurse who was in charge has told me that she came in and saw that my face was ashen white, and immediately she took my pulse and there wasn’t any,” he told ministers at a March 1978 conference. “So the blood was not circulating, not to show even one point on the blood-pressure instrument. So then they started working over me, and I think Ted anointed me. My wife’s sister was there. This was because my wife, who feared something like this, had kept her there, because she was experienced in first aid and things of that kind. She and the nurse used mouth resuscitation and heart massage until they got me breathing.
“The nurse’s estimate from the time she had noticed this until I began taking the first breath was at least 30 seconds. …
“Shortly after they’d told me what had happened, I felt that if my work in God’s hands were finished and God didn’t have any further use for me in His Work, that I would rather have remained dead. Because if they hadn’t intervened, I would have been buried in two or three days.
“But I realize that God has shown me something by two miracles. No. 1, He restored my life when I was already past 85 years of age. … And, second, neither I nor my nurses had ever heard of anyone of like age being restored by that process after almost complete loss of mind, my brain virtually a vegetable. And I was restored with my mind just as intact as it ever was.”
In 1978, Mr. Armstrong finished “what I believe to be the most important book since the very first century! … Never in our time has any book or writing spoken as this new book will! Its title is The Incredible Human Potential. It is the message of the entire Bible—put together as never before ….” The book was made available in bookstores all over the United States and the English-speaking world, and was also distributed directly by the Church free of charge, like the Church’s other literature. Mr. Armstrong also updated “many of those vital booklets that built the Work” including The United States and Britain in Prophecy—”back to full length!”
By 1979, Herbert W. Armstrong was recognized in distant capitals as an unofficial ambassador for world peace. In December, he became the first Christian church leader to officially visit government leaders inside Communist China. What Mr. Armstrong said may be his “most important trip” to date included a meeting at the Great Hall of the People with Tan Zhenlin, vice chairman of the National People’s Congress and one of the top three leaders in China. The visit culminated in an address where Mr. Armstrong spoke about prophetic events that would unfold in Europe, the Middle East and Asia to elite Chinese leaders and diplomats representing 57 nations.
In mid-1978, Mr. Armstrong had taken on another huge responsibility: He began broadcasting again on The World Tomorrow and initiated a push to reacquire hundreds of radio and television stations to air the programs. This was because of what had happened with his son, Garner Ted.
In the 1960s, Garner Ted Armstrong had taken over much of the World Tomorrow broadcast responsibilities. As listeners and viewers tuned in throughout the decade, the man they heard and saw was Garner Ted. He was listened to by millions of people daily. “But by September 1971,” Mr. Armstrong later wrote, “his personal and emotional problems forced me to quietly and privately disfellowship him.” This event presaged a turbulent year for Garner Ted Armstrong and for the Work. The younger Armstrong convinced his father to let him return for the Feast of Tabernacles, but midway through the festival, “word reluctantly was given to me of totally improper behavior and excessive drinking at the Feast sites he had attended.” With other ministers, Mr. Armstrong made an overnight flight to intercept his son and bar him from further participation in the Feast.
Late in 1971, Garner Ted again convinced his father that he was repentant. “But early in January 1972, an event happened more serious than any before,” Mr. Armstrong wrote. Along with 10 or so evangelists, Mr. Armstrong met his son and officially disfellowshiped and marked him. In June, Garner Ted convinced Mr. Armstrong and three other high-ranking ministers that he had made the necessary change of mind and attitude. He rejoined the Work and within seven months was reinstated as executive vice president as the workload became too great for Mr. Armstrong’s current second- and third-highest-ranking Church executives.
Mr. Armstrong wrote later that he learned that his son was ignoring his instructions and was making major decisions, promoting officials he perceived to be more loyal to himself and demoting longtime officials he thought more loyal to his father—threatening to fire them if they told his father what he was doing.
Under Garner Ted’s guidance, Mr. Armstrong wrote, Ambassador College became increasingly secular and sought accreditation. Garner Ted even appointed a man his father did not even know as president of the college. The college had degenerated so badly that Mr. Armstrong was forced to close the Big Sandy campus in 1977, and then to close the Pasadena campus in 1978 and start over with a new freshman class.
Meanwhile, Mr. Armstrong said, Garner Ted spread the insinuation that his father was becoming too old, too mentally senile, to lead the Church.
“For a year those now in top administrative positions have implored me to step in and once again take over complete control under Christ as it was until some 10 years ago,” Mr. Armstrong wrote in a lengthy June 28, 1978, letter to Church members and co-workers. “I say this Church and its Work was built by the living Christ! It was His Spirit that inspired, motivated this entire Work, but He was being put out.”
Mr. Armstrong took action, ordering his son to take a compulsory leave of absence. His son refused, and engaged in verbal and letter exchanges with his father that were full of hostility. In a member and co-worker letter, Mr. Armstrong announced that he had taken the painful step of disfellowshiping his son, and repented for tolerating his actions in an attempt to show Christian love and to cover a multitude of sins.
The havoc surrounding Garner Ted’s actions did not end with his excommunication. The younger Armstrong went to the press with accusations and established his own church. He also took part in what turned out to be a major assault on God’s Church.
During the autumn of 1978, six disfellowshiped wcg members began to plot a class action lawsuit against the Church. Mr. Armstrong wrote in the June 24, 1985, Worldwide News, “This resulted in an ex parte order by a judge. Secretly without prior notice, deputies on order of the attorney general’s office swooped down on the Church on the morning of January 3, 1979.” This launched what became the single greatest attack against God’s 20th-century Church as a whole to that point.
The main accusation made by Garner Ted was against his father’s “lavish spending.” The charges (which were later thoroughly disproved) prompted the state attorney general to appoint retired Judge Steven Weisman as the receiver of the Church.
On the morning of January 3, Judge Weisman and his associates entered wcg headquarters in Pasadena and summarily “fired” Herbert Armstrong, or so they thought. At the time, Mr. Armstrong was residing in Tucson, Arizona, which left him somewhat protected from the state of California. Lawyers representing Weisman, followed by police officers, entered the Pasadena campus and demanded access to all documents—and full control of the Church.
Two and a half weeks later, Church members began to take action. They took time off work and school and came to Pasadena headquarters. A slow trickle of people soon became a flood that converged on the Hall of Administration. Thousands of members arrived, many bringing food and bedding to stay in the Church’s buildings and protest the receivership. Mr. Armstrong did not organize the event. None of the Church leaders anticipated it. It was a spontaneous reaction of faith and courage. When threatened with imprisonment, several members responded that they were scared of jail, but they were still going to stand up for what they believed in.
Church officials organized an actual church service in the Hall of Administration where the receiver wanted to set up an office and take control of the Church. By this time, the news of the attempted overthrow was national and was being covered by major news networks and newspapers.
Mr. Armstrong responded from Tucson in a telephone call to the members in Pasadena: “The people of God have always been willing to suffer whatever they have to do for the living God! And I tell you, this has drawn us together.” He advised the members to “be subject to the law, but obey God rather than man!” He said, “If we have to begin to suffer the persecution of being thrown in prison, I will be the first to go. … God is fighting this battle for us, and God is stronger than man!” That evening, the headline for the late edition of the Los Angeles Times blared, “Ready for Jail—Armstrong.”
While fighting against an unconstitutional attack that sought to establish state power over churches, the wcg received the support of dozens of other churches that recognized the danger of such an attack—support from churches with different doctrines, but all clinging to one common belief: freedom of religion.
On October 14, 1980, after siphoning off hundreds of thousands of dollars or more from Church funds to pay for the unjust and illegal receivership, the state of California dropped the case against the Church when the legislature passed a law barring the attorney general from investigating religious organizations the way they had accosted the Worldwide Church of God.
After the initial attack and the response by the Church and its membership, the litigation receded into the background as the Church entered a new decade. Meanwhile the Church continued its Work. At this point, the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation was supporting 42 projects in 26 countries, and Mr. Armstrong had visited every country in Europe, the Middle East, northern and southern Africa, much of Asia, and every country in Central and South America.
Mr. Armstrong traveled as much as 300 days per year, putting thousands of hours on the Church’s private jet, a tool that enabled him to walk through more open doors of world leaders than would otherwise be possible. While in the air, Mr. Armstrong wrote Church members and co-workers about these advances in the Work and typed out articles for the Plain Truth and other publications.
In the first half of the 1980s, even more doors to world leaders would open to Mr. Armstrong. He traveled to Auckland, New Zealand; Melbourne and Perth, Australia; Malaysia; Thailand; Sri Lanka; Hong Kong; Beijing and Shanghai, China; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Vancouver, Canada; Kathmandu, Nepal; and beyond. He addressed a large banquet of prominent leaders in Egyptian higher education and government; spoke at a banquet hosted by Mayor Kollek in Jerusalem, and visited areas for youth that had been named after him; sat for a televised meeting with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat; spoke at a banquet of Japanese leaders in Tokyo; gave speeches, press conferences and public campaigns attracting thousands of people in the Philippines; met European politician Otto von Habsburg, King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya of Nepal, and King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit of Thailand.
At the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations, Mr. Armstrong was invited to sit at the speakers’ tables, and received an offer by an ambassador to visit the Soviet Union.
On July 30, 1982, Mr. Armstrong met British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at her official residence, No. 10 Downing Street. On May 17, 1984, he went to the White House and met United States First Lady Nancy Reagan, who thanked him for the cultural foundation’s support of the Shanghai, China, Little Ambassadors group. On August 13, 1984, Mr. Armstrong hosted Chinese Ambassador Zhang Wenjin at Ambassador College in Pasadena. On November 7, 1984, he met with Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping in the Great Hall of the People. Mr. Armstrong’s visit was televised throughout China and in Hong Kong and appeared on front pages of national newspapers with a circulation of 200 million.
Mr. Armstrong continued to fight resistance and disloyalty to the end of his life. The betrayal reached all the way to his marriage, when his second wife, Ramona, proved unwilling to stay by his side in Pasadena or in travel. It appeared “that there are other agents bearing influence in this matter,” Mr. Armstrong wrote; he was forced to file for divorce in 1982.
Yet the Work moved forward. In 1985, Mr. Armstrong reported, “Never before has God given us such a leap forward in television coverage and Plain Truth circulation as in these past six months.” During this period, Mr. Armstrong also recorded new television and radio programs for The World Tomorrow and took an even keener interest in young people. He established Youth ‘81 magazine, reopened the Big Sandy campus as a junior college for Ambassador, devoted funds to the Summer Educational Program summer camps, and oversaw the Youth Opportunities United program for teenagers and Youth Educational Services program for children. He underlined his mission: to “turn the hearts of the children to the parents, and the parents back to the children” (Malachi 4:6).
Meanwhile, he was working on yet another book—his last and best work. “Since last December I have been working diligently on the largest and most important book of my life,” he wrote on September 23, 1985. “In real fact I feel I myself did not write it. Rather, I believe God used me in writing it. I candidly feel it may be the most important book since the Bible. It is named Mystery of the Ages.” This book would summarize the doctrines, prophecies and other truths that God had revealed to him from the Bible throughout his long life.
In late 1985, Mr. Armstrong wrote that his physical health had been deteriorating over the previous five months. He had been unable to leave his home or to dress in more than bedclothes and robes for several weeks. “I am now in my 94th year,” he wrote. “God may grant that I may continue in this very limited manner to direct the Work for some time, but the occasional severe heart pains that I have endured have made me feel the necessity of letting the entire membership know of the condition as it is.” In the letter, Mr. Armstrong instructed that the college in Big Sandy be closed and its resources used elsewhere in the Work. “I thank you, beyond words to express,” he concluded, “for your loving concern and for the many thousands of cards and well wishes that have been coming in from great numbers of you from all over the world.”
“This is my first letter to you in 1986, and could very well be my last,” Mr. Armstrong wrote on January 10. “Now in my 94th year I am in a very physically weakened state enduring severe pain and with virtually no strength whatsoever. I briefly described my condition in last month’s co-worker letter to you, and now it has worsened. It may be that the Work God has given me to do is complete, but not the Work of God’s Church, which will be faithfully doing God’s Work till Christ, the true Head of this Church, returns. …
“Each of you must commit yourself to support God’s Work, to fast and pray. God’s Work must push ahead this coming year as never before. God is opening new doors in television and in the Plain Truth distribution. Help us walk through them. Praise and thank God, and pray for His Work. Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart for your prayers for me personally.”
Between the late 1970s and the year Mr. Armstrong died, the Plain Truth circulation went from 1 million to more than 8 million, World Tomorrow television stations jumped from 50 to nearly 400. The Church’s annual budget leaped from $75 million to $200 million. In 1986, the number of calls received by the Church’s call center in the United States was just under 2 million, with about 90,000 additional responses to The World Tomorrow from the Church’s regional offices. In the U.S. alone, the number of publications mailed reached 96 million.
On January 16, 1986, Herbert W. Armstrong died. He left behind a massive body of work in leading God’s Church into a new era and restoring lost biblical doctrines to the Church. Millions had heard his voice, and 120,000 to 140,000 had committed to become members of God’s Church attending Sabbath services. News media, world leaders and the everyday people around the world recognized Mr. Armstrong and the Work he led as something unique—and special.
Condolences flooded in from world leaders: the king of Nepal, the secretary general of the United Nations, consul generals of China and Japan, the king of Thailand, ambassadors from Thailand and Israel, mayors, members of parliament and others, including United States President Ronald Reagan, who wrote, “To the congregation, Worldwide Church of God: Nancy and I join all those mourning the loss of Herbert W. Armstrong. As founder and leader of the Worldwide Church of God, Mr. Armstrong contributed to sharing the word of the Lord with his community and with people throughout the nation. You can take pride in his legacy. Our prayers are with you. God bless you.”
But the lives he affected the most, and those he cared about the most, were those whom God had called through him: the members of God’s Church.
To learn about what happened to the Church after Mr. Armstrong’s death, request a free copy of our book Raising the Ruins.