Herbert W. Armstrong (31 July 1892 – 16 January 1986) founded the Radio Church of God which was incorporated 21 October 1933 and was renamed Worldwide Church of God 1 June 1968, as well as starting Ambassador College (later Ambassador University) 8 October 1947. He was an early pioneer of radio and tele-evangelism, originally first officially taking to the airwaves on 7 January 1934 from the 100-watt station KORE Eugene, Oregon. Armstrong preached the comprehensive combination of doctrines in the entire Bible, in the light of the New Covenant scriptures, which he maintained came directly from the Bible.[3] These theological doctrines and teachings have been mistakenly referred to as Armstrongism. His teachings included the interpretation of biblical prophecy in light of British Israelism,[4] and required observance of parts of the covenant Law including seventh-day Sabbath, dietary prohibitions, and the covenant law "Holy Days".

....In late 1951, Dr. Herman Hoeh (a then recent graduate of Ambassador College) said, with conviction, that Mr. Armstrong was "an apostle", one sent forth with the same commission as the early disciples were given, to preach the good news message. Mr. Armstrong oftentimes said that, like John the Baptist (Elijah), he was a voice preaching in a spiritual wilderness of religious confusion. For this reason he was considered to be both an "Apostle" and end-time "Elijah" proclaiming the Gospel of God's Kingdom to the World[5] before the return of Jesus Christ. He also founded the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation, which promoted the arts, humanities, and humanitarian projects.[6] Through his role with the foundation, Armstrong and his advisers met with heads of governments in various nations, for which he described himself as an "ambassador without portfolio for world peace."[7]

Early life[edit]

Herbert Armstrong was born in Des Moines, Iowa, on July 31, 1892, into a Quaker family. He regularly attended the services and the Sunday school of First Friends Church in Des Moines.[1] At age 18, on the advice of an uncle, he decided to take a job in the want-ad department of a Des Moines newspaper, the Daily Capital.[8] His early career in the print advertising industry which followed had a strong impact on his future ministry and would shape his communication style.[9]

On a trip back home in 1917, he met Loma Dillon, a school teacher and distant cousin from nearby Motor, Iowa.[10] They married on his 25th birthday, July 31, 1917, and returned to live in Chicago.[11] On May 9, 1918, they had their first child, Beverly Lucile, and on July 7, 1920, a second daughter, Dorothy Jane. In 1924, after several business setbacks, Armstrong and family moved to Eugene, Oregon where his parents lived at the time. While living in Oregon, they had two sons, Richard David (born October 13, 1928) and Garner Ted (born February 9, 1930). Armstrong continued in the advertising business despite the setbacks.[12]

Beginnings of ministry[edit]

During their stay in Oregon, his wife, Loma, became acquainted with a member of the Church of God (Seventh Day), Emma Runcorn. Emma and her husband O.J. were lay leaders in the Oregon conference of the Church of God, Seventh Day, a seventh-day-keeping Adventist group that rejected the authority of Ellen White and her teachings. Loma became persuaded the Bible taught Sabbath observance on Saturday, the seventh day, one of the beliefs of that church.[12] Her assertion of this to her husband was met with dismay and appeared to him to be "religious fanaticism."[13] She challenged him to find biblical support for Sunday observance. As his business was struggling against larger competitors, Armstrong had the time to take up this challenge. He began what would become a lifelong habit of intensive, lengthy Bible study sessions. He soon felt God was inspiring this, opening his mind to truths that historical Christian churches had not found or accepted. Shortly after, as related in his autobiography, Armstrong would take up a similar study on the topic of evolution of the species after a conflict with his sister-in-law.[14] His studies on Sabbath and evolution convinced him that his wife was right, and that the theory of evolution was false.

He was eventually baptized, along with his brother Dwight L. Armstrong, in the summer of 1927 by Dr. Dean, the non-Sabbatarian pastor of Hinson Memorial Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon.[15] It is unknown, however, if he ever joined this denomination.[16] He would later recollect over four decades later that he believed, "On being baptized I knew God then and there gave me HIS HOLY SPIRIT!"[17] Despite his own unique teaching on baptism his own account is noteworthy for the absence of any mention of the process of laying on of hands or a special prayer in the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, which were considered fundamental for membership in the Worldwide Church of God and reason for many a new convert's rebaptism.[18]


In 1931 Armstrong became an ordained minister of the Oregon Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day).[15][19] The existence and history of this church became a significant factor in Armstrong's later beliefs.[20][21]

While a member of The Church of God (Seventh Day), Armstrong became acquainted with ministers John Kiesz and Israel Hager who began to suspect that Herbert was a little too arrogant and tended to go against church doctrine. They cited Armstrong's refusal to submit to the Church of God ministers to be baptized but went out to a local Baptist minister instead as a point. After his ordination, Armstrong allied himself with two other rogue ministers by the names of Andrew Dugger and C. O. Dodd, both of which had composed a book called A History of the True Religion, from 33 AD to Date, in which they claimed that the New Testament Church of the first century had secretly descended through history and eventually became the Sabbath-keeping Church of God (Seventh Day). Dugger also predicted that the apocalypse would occur in 1936. Eventually, this led to Dugger and Dodd's ouster and when they promised to make Armstrong an apostle in their new church, The Church of God (Seventh Day), he joined with them.[16]

After severing ties with the Church of God (Seventh Day) as the result of doctrinal disputes ..... His ministerial credentials with Dugger's church were revoked in 1938.[15] This, Armstrong believed, indicated God was now directing him in leading a revived work into the next "church era."[21]

Radio and publishing[edit]

In October 1933, a small 100-watt radio station in Eugene, Oregon, KORE, offered free time to Armstrong for a morning devotional, a 15-minute time slot shared by other local ministers.[23] After positive responses from listeners, the station owner let Armstrong start a new program of his own. On the first Sunday in 1934, the Radio Church of God first aired.[24] These broadcasts eventually became known as The World Tomorrow of the future Worldwide Church of God.[25] Shortly thereafter, in February, 1934, Armstrong began the publication of The Plain Truth, which started out as a church bulletin.[24] It was at this time that Armstrong began to make prophetic claims and among them were the claims that Hitler and Mussolini were the prophesied Beast and False Prophet of the Book of Revelation who would deceive the nations for a short time just before the return of Jesus Christ. This piqued the interest of his audience. The broadcast expanded to other cities, and in 1942 began to be broadcast nationwide from WHO of Des Moines Iowa, a 50,000-watt superstation.[25] Donations began to pour in, and although he claimed to be very poor at the time in his autobiography, other members of the Oregon Church of God later reported that they would often see Armstrong dining in Portland's finest restaurants as they passed by outside.[16].......

From his new contacts in Los Angeles, Armstrong began to realize the potential for reaching a much larger audience. He searched for a suitable location and chose Pasadena, California, as being ideal as it was a conservative residential community. During this time, Armstrong also reflected on starting a college to aid the growing church, by teaching and training young men and women. Hence, in 1946 Armstrong moved his headquarters from Eugene to Pasadena and on March 3, 1946, the Radio Church of God was officially incorporated within the state of California.[25] He purchased a lavish mansion on Millionaires Row just off of the Rose Parade route on Orange Grove Boulevard, quickly acquired his own printing plant, and was broadcasting internationally in prime-time radio time slots. On October 8, 1947, his new college, Ambassador College opened its doors with four students.[25]

International expansion[edit]

During the 1950s and 1960s, the church continued to expand and the radio program was broadcast in England, Australia, the Philippines, Latin America, and Africa. In 1953, The World Tomorrow began to air on Radio Luxembourg, making it possible to hear the program throughout much of Europe.[25] .......

The book The United States and Britain in Prophecy was published in 1954. It became the most well-known and requested church publication, with over six million copies distributed.[34] In this book, Armstrong makes the claim that the peoples of the United States, the British Commonwealth nations, and the nations of Northwestern Europe are descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.[35] This belief, called British Israelism, formed the central basis of the theology of the Worldwide Church of God.[36]

The volume of literature requests for material written by Armstrong continued to grow during the 1960s and 70s, and the literature was translated into several languages and distributed to a worldwide audience. They were distributed for free "as a public service." The Plain Truth magazine continued to be published and circulated, eventually reaching a monthly press run of eight million.

On April 15, 1967, Armstrong's wife Loma died, three and a half months before their 50th anniversary......

Worldwide Church of God[edit]

Main article: Worldwide Church of God

On January 5, 1968, the Radio Church of God was renamed the Worldwide Church of God.[38] Shortly before, the church began to broadcast a television version of The World Tomorrow.[25] The program would eventually expand to 382 U.S. television stations, and 36 television outlets internationally, dwarfing televangelists Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Oral Roberts, and Jim Bakker.[39] By this time, Garner Ted Armstrong, the son of Herbert W. Armstrong, was the voice and face of the program. It was speculated that with his charisma and personality, he was the logical successor to Armstrong, but doctrinal disagreements and widespread reports of extramarital sex led to his suspension in 1972.[15][40] After initially changing his behavior he returned, but these issues resurfaced, coupled with his challenging his father's authority as Pastor General, resulting in him being permanently "disfellowshipped" (the church's term for excommunication) in 1978.[41]

Ambassador International Cultural Foundation[edit]

With the assistance of church accountant and adviser Stanley Rader, Armstrong created the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation in 1975. The foundation was funded by the church.[15] The foundation's efforts reached into several continents, providing staffing and funds to fight illiteracy, to create schools for the disabled, to set up mobile schools, and for several archaeological digs of biblically significant sites.[42] These humanitarian projects led to Armstrong receiving a series of invitations to meet with prominent heads of state, including (among others) Margaret Thatcher, Emperor Hirohito of Japan, King Hussein of Jordan, and Indira Gandhi. Armstrong was also internationally recognized as Ambassador for World Peace.[42][43]


Final years[edit]

In 1977, Armstrong, then in his 80s, married Ramona Martin, then 38, a long-time member and church secretary who had a 15-year old son from a previous marriage.[49] The controversial marriage would last for only a few years. The Armstrongs separated in 1982, with Herbert Armstrong returning to live in Pasadena full-time, and the marriage finally ended in divorce in 1984.[50] .......

In August 1985, Armstrong's final work, Mystery of the Ages, was published. He wrote that "time may prove this to be the most important book written in almost 1,900 years"[52] and called it a "synopsis of the Bible in the most plain and understandable language." It was more or less a compendium of theological concepts, as articulated by Armstrong.....

In September 1985, with his failing health widely known, Armstrong delivered his final sermon on the Feast of Trumpets in the Ambassador Auditorium. He spent his final days confined at his home on the college campus in Pasadena, California, on South Orange Grove Boulevard.

Almost until his final days, there was uncertainty about who would succeed Armstrong in the event of his death. The church's Advisory Council of Elders, acting on a clause in church by-laws added in 1981, was to select a successor after his death,[54] yet Armstrong reportedly worried about the ramifications if certain individuals were selected, such as his son Garner Ted or evangelist Roderick Meredith.[55][56] Finally, Armstrong opted to select the next Pastor General personally.[55] Armstrong told the Church's Advisory Council of Elders of his decision to appoint evangelist-rank minister Joseph W. Tkach on January 7, 1986.[57] Tkach had worked closely with former church executive Stanley R. Rader prior to Rader's retirement from active service with the Church, and had been ordained to the ministerial rank of evangelist along with Rader and Ellis LaRavia in 1979.

Armstrong died shortly before 6:00 a.m. on January 16, 1986, only nine days after naming Tkach as his successor. He was 93.[58] Approximately 4,000 people attended his funeral, including a number of political figures from other countries. He was buried in Altadena's Mountain View Cemetery between Loma and his mother, Eva Wright Armstrong. Evangelist Herman L. Hoeh, a long-time church member and one of the first graduates of Ambassador College, officiated at the graveside service, and Tkach gave the closing prayer.



Keith Hunt