THE MINISTRY OF HERBERT W. ARMSTRONG
The following is a study by Richard Nickels (founder of Giving
and Sharing). It's probably one of the best objective and
balanced history studies on the work of Herbert W. Armstrong -
Herbert W. Armstrong: 1892-1986
The purpose of "Giving and Sharing" is to preserve Biblical
truths taught by Herbert W. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of
God. These truths are different in many respects from the
teachings of mainstream Christianity. Since 1961, I have been
intimately involved with this work, and was a member of the
Worldwide Church of God from 1969 to 1975.
A Controversial Man
With the death of Herbert W. Armstrong on January 16, 1986,
many questions arise which need to be answered. His impact was so
great among Twentieth Century Sabbath keepers that we must
discuss his passing. By doing so, we are not judging him
spiritually, but telling what we know and have researched. I
loved the man, and his teachings based on the Bible. He has led
thousands into a better understanding of Bible truths. Yet I
detest, I deplore many of his actions. Both sides must be frankly
discussed, without rancor or emotion.
As the author of "A History of the Seventh Day Church of
God," I have in the process of researching Church of God Seventh
Day history done a great deal of research into the early years of
the life and ministry of Herbert W. Armstrong. In fact, for
twenty years I have had a rough draft of over one hundred pages
on the early years of the ministry of Mr.Armstrong. At the
outset, I decided not to publish my findings, some of which are
unsettling, until after his death. Aside from a few items, there
is little that I have that casts a severely unfavorable light on
his life. My historical notes fill in some of the interesting
details, of which most members of the Worldwide Church of God,
even many old time ministers, have no knowledge.
Many details of Armstrong's early years are shocking and
surprising, revealing spiritual lessons. They are not all bad. It
amazes me that Armstrong, who never tired of telling some of the
stories about the early years that put himself in a favorable
light, either forgot about or failed to relate some facts about
his past which show his good character traits. On the other hand,
some of his worst detractors have missed entirely some true
episodes which show the dark side of his character.
With Mr.Armstrong's death, I will proceed, God willing and
as time allows, to prepare for publication my findings. If I were
a huckster, I could do it for profit.
If I were bitter, I could write about HWA from a hostile
point of view. But as I did in the "History of the Seventh Day
Church of God," I will record my historical research, showing
both sides to controversial issues.
When completed, the Armstrong history will be issued to
interested parties at or below cost of production. Until then,
this article is a brief preview.
(I'm not sure if Richard Nickels ever got it all written, but the
reader can find out from the Giving and Sharing Website -
www.giveshare.org - Keith Hunt)
I have a responsibility to record for history "the rest of
the story." During the early 1970's, I had the unique opportunity
to interview many elderly COG7 members. In addition, I sought out
and spoke with a number of pioneer members of Mr. Armstrong's
church, and carefully recorded their recollections of his early
ministry. The opportunity to do this again is gone. Mr. Armstrong
outlived most of his initial associates and converts. Those who
succeed him either know nothing of the past, or will perhaps
attempt to distort it.
Although I never sat down and had a conversation with HWA, I
feel that I knew him in a unique way. Much of the Bible study
relating to my conversion took place in the Portland, Oregon
Multnomah County Public Library, with the same books and possibly
at the same desks that HWA poured over during his famous "six
month study" attempting to prove that his wife Loma's "new
religion", was wrong. I tried to disprove Armstrong in the
1960's. I couldn't do it. Like him, my study in an attempt to
refute led to my conversion.
Armstrong's Church of God compatriots such as Helms, Ellis,
Walker, Barnes and Kiesz are men that I know. They have told me
what HWA was like and what he did. I am familiar with Andrew N.
Dugger, COG7 leader who helped Armstrong in the early years.
Pioneer members of Armstrong's church, such as the Fishers,
Courts, Eva Bodenhamer, Amy Larson, the Henions and many others
told me about Armstrong and the church of the 1920's, 1930's and
1940's. Yet with all this data, there are many nagging unanswered
questions. Herbert Armstrong is a "man nobody knows."
There are few religious leaders of the Twentieth Century
that have had greater impact than HWA. The February 1986 issue of
the "Plain Truth" magazine (published before his death) showed an
English language circulation of 8,075,000. At the same time, the
more religiously oriented "Good News" magazine had a listed
circulation of 754,000. The "PT" began in 1934, and is now
distributed in French, Spanish, German, Italian and other
(For brevity sake, and not out of disrespect, the abbreviations
HWA for Herbert W. Armstrong, GTA for Garner Ted Armstrong, WCG
for Worldwide Church of God, COG7 for Church of God, Seventh Day
and PT for the Plain Truth magazine, will be frequently used in
Tidbits of History
What was HWA like? His Autobiography has been termed "about
two-thirds fiction" by his son Garner Ted. I would not agree with
this, based upon historical research I did. The Autobiography is
largely "true," but it leaves out so much that it gives a
distorted image of the man.
I cannot write a comprehensive biography of HWA. I can
relate historical tidbits which do indeed give us much insight
into his character.
I remember the only time I shook hands with HWA. It was at
Big Sandy, Texas. It struck me then how short he was, a little
man standing alone in front of the meeting hall. Most members
held him in too much awe to come up and speak with him. It was a
perfunctory handshake. He was not really interested in me or who
I was and he at once glanced toward other ministers and began
speaking to them. Perhaps it was different in the early years.
I worked in Pasadena for ten months in 1973 just a few feet down
the hall from Mr.Armstrong's office, and never saw him once. I
wrote an article especially for HWA using an ORATOR giant type
size so he could read it with his one weak eye. He quoted much of
it verbatim in a magazine article, without giving me any credit
for it. I wonder how much of the writing under his name was
really produced by him during the later years.
Such are my few personal experiences with the man. How did
his close associates during the early years feel about him?
The Early Years
Sitting in the home of Milas C. Helms, the man who HWA
admits got him into the ministry, one gets another viewpoint of
Mr.Armstrong. Helms' handsome son Mike is a big strapping man,
the very one Mr.Armstrong recorded the healing of in his
Autobiography. M.C.Helms pictures Armstrong as one of the
biggest dividers in the Church of God, Seventh Day. For Helms,
Armstrong was a "radical" who should have been put out of the
church and who was out to and was successful in making himself a
millionaire. His broadcasts have little Bible and appeal to
current issues to get people's interest.
The McGill family was another staunch COG7 family who were
intimately involved with Armstrong in the 1930's. The
Autobiography story of Mr.Armstrong chopping the tree up for
firewood to convince church members that he was not a loafer and
should be supported in the ministry has always been intriguing to
me. One of the McGill brothers told me "the rest of the story."
During the lean Depression years when the tree chopping incident
occurred, Mr.Armstrong was sighted in a restaurant spending money
freely, all the while claiming to be very hard up for cash. It
was at this point that the McGills lost respect for Armstrong.
The tree chopping incident and the hard times story seems to
be "protesting too much." HWA did indeed experience some lean
years before his work became prosperous, but those difficult
years should have taught him humility and concern for the poor.
In later years, the luxurious accommodations for himself
were anything but frugal usage of God's tithes.
The pork issue was extremely important in the first years of
Mr.Armstrong's ministry. He did not at that time believe that
eating pork was a sin, only that abstinence from unclean meats is
a good physical health law. Many of the COG7 ministry of the time
largely believed it was a BIG issue, and would not baptize
converts unless they first abstained from eating pork and kept
the Sabbath. Mr.Armstrong said that he would baptize converts
first, then afterwards teach them about unclean meats.
Mrs.Amy Larson of Portland, Oregon, a church member since
the late 1930's, relates that she once had HWA to dinner and
served him roast pork. He said nothing, but took a little. It was
only later that she found out he taught against eating pork. He
didn't wish to offend Mrs.Larson's husband, who was antagonistic
towards the church.
It is very surprising that Mr.Armstrong gave the impression
of being a "liberal" in regards to church doctrine during the
early years. Because of HWA's liberal and independent stance,
Elder Unzicker of the COG7 refused to baptize Armstrong. HWA
states that he had a Baptist minister in Portland baptize him,
about 1927. Who ordained HWA into the ministry of the COG7? That
remains somewhat of a mystery, although my historical deduction
is that Elder Arvin Stith of Idaho was the minister who performed
the ordination of HWA sometime in the summer of 1931. Stith's
relatives and associates maintain that Stith claimed he baptized
Armstrong. If this is true, then Armstrong was later re-baptized
after 1927. I have deduced that this is a slight memory lapse and
it was Stith who ordained rather than baptized Armstrong.
(According to COG7 member Orville Traver, Elder Ray Benight says
that he and Alice Henion were baptized in 1930 in the Dever
District in a creek six miles west of Jefferson, Oregon, by Elder
Stith. They were ages 16 and 14 respectively. Alice Henion
Benight says that Stith also baptized Herbert Armstrong, near
Renouncing Erroneous Teachings
It would be an understatement to say that in his later
years, the average layman had little chance to convince HWA that
he was teaching erroneous doctrines. The average layman could not
even gain access to Mr.Armstrong. If he did, any attempts to
correct "God's Apostle" would have produced thundering
denunciation. This is to say nothing of the furor that would have
developed if a woman tried to correct him!
In the early years, it was much different. The Coons and
Bobbie Fisher cite a 1940's incident that they vividly recall.
Mr.Armstrong had at first thought that all would be resurrected
during the Millennium. A woman named Belle Rogers set him
straight when she pointed out the Scripture in Revelation 20
about the resurrection after the Millennium. In his early years,
HWA was certainly more humble and teachable than from the 1950's
on. He was willing to listen to anyone and upon being given
Scriptural proof, would renounce erroneous teachings.
Early Elders and Ministers
There are quite a few early ministers HWA ordained that most
people today know nothing about. In addition, the COG7 ministers
that HWA associated with during the early years are totally
unknown by most Worldwide Church of God members today. It has
been correctly observed that Mr.Armstrong could never work
closely with other ministers. His experiences prove this.
Jeremiah Day was possibly the first minister ordained by
Armstrong. An old man who came in during the famous Alvadore
meetings of 1934. Day was highly respected by Armstrong. Day
never preached. He did the Scripture reading before Armstrong
preached. Another possibility for the first elder is Claude
Ellis, who sung on Armstrong's radio broadcast and gave short
sermonettes. Ellis moved to Idaho and stayed with the COG7.
Dr.Doug Blake, a chiropractic instructor from Everett,
Washington, headed a little group there, which included many of
his students. Another minister Armstrong later ordained at
Everett was a Mr.Neff, a gray haired "smooth talker." He took
tithes for himself, deceiving Mr.Armstrong, and when Neff died,
the church there became scattered. Blake left the church when he
divorced and remarried.
Emil Heibel was trained as a minister and ordained by HWA to
assist him in the Eugene church. Heibel took charge of the Eugene
church when HWA moved to Pasadena. Along with Oscar Spires,
Heibel espoused a Sunday Pentecost and led a number of the
original church to form a group separate from Armstrong.
Pete Bartschi and others were sent to Cottage Grove, Oregon
by Armstrong to preach. As happened in Everett, and Eugene,
opposition arose and local ministers appointed by HWA
incorporated separately and kept tithes locally rather than
Close Ties With Church of God, Seventh Day
Armstrong paints the picture that his ties with the COG7
ended in 1934 with the start of his radio broadcast. This is far
from the truth. Until his ministerial credentials were revoked by
the Salem, West Virginia COG7 in 1937, Armstrong was considered a
minister in good standing with the group he later termed
"Sardis." At the 1937 Oregon "Campmeeting" Armstrong said that he
and his wife had vowed on their knees to God that never again
would they be subservient to any man or organization. Obviously
they were reacting to the type of strong lay member control which
characterizes some, but far from all, COG7 churches.
As late as the 1940's, Armstrong was considered just another
independent COG7 minister. He frequently asked COG7 ministers to
speak at the Eugene church, and/or the Feast of Tabernacles.
These included Frank Walker, Andrew N. Dugger, Ed Severson and
John Kiesz. Kiesz remains in the COG7 Denver Group but still
keeps the Holy Days. (Kiesz has died since Richard wrote this
paper - Keith Hunt). Armstrong spoke at the Scravel Hill and
Junction City, Oregon Seventh Day Churches of God. The Marion,
Oregon church was one that didn't invite Armstrong to preach. It
was headed by J.J.McGill, who said, "As long as I live, I'll run
the Marion and Harrisburg churches." And this he did! His son
Yancy McGill, referring to a minister, O.D.Grimm who was allowed
to speak there, said "He can preach what we want him to preach."
With the McGills against Armstrong, it is very surprising that
the other powerful farming family there, the Helms, took such a
liking to Armstrong in the early days. As related, Helms later
rejected Armstrong. The attitude of some of the Oregon COG7
farmers is summed up in this quote:
"I'm a farmer, we pay the minister to study and find things out."
Today, some 50 years later, the McGills and Helms continue
to exert a powerful influence on the Marion and Harrisburg
Other churches, such as nearby Scravel Hill (nicknamed
"Squabble Hill" because of its many doctrinal disputes) were wide
open with many opposing viewpoints. Some were pro-pork and others
were anti-pork. The attitude of this camp is summed up in this
"I've got a Bible; no man can tell me what to preach."
Another "free thinking" church was the one in Jefferson,
Oregon, where the Cole's moved to when they left Oklahoma.
Raymond C. Cole's father, Otis Cole remembered that Armstrong and
Roy Dailey were co-pastors of the Jefferson church, speaking on
alternate Sabbaths for a time. Eventually the issue of Feast Days
was debated about 1945 by Dailey and Armstrong. Cole remembered
that Dailey spoke first for 30 minutes, during which Armstrong
remained quiet. Then Armstrong spoke for 30 minutes, but was
constantly interrupted and contradicted by Dailey. They each had
rebuttals for 30 minutes each. That was the last time Armstrong
came to Jefferson to speak. Closed-mindedness and hostility was
the reason, but mainly the antagonism of Dailey.
It is ironic that during the early years, HWA flourished in
the "local autonomy" and "liberal" group rather than the strong
lay member church government group. His 1939 article on "Church
Government," widely circulated today among ex-WWC members, shows
his disdain for a centralized church government at that time. The
reason for this practice is clear, the loosely organized groups
were the only Sabbath keepers that would even listen to
Armstrong's teachings about the Holy Days. Helms and a few of the
other Oregon farmers for a time were leaning towards Armstrong
and the Holy Days. They seem to admit they might have kept the
Feasts for a short time. The pull of leaving the harvesting of
their crops in the fall for the Feast of Tabernacles was too
great, and they gave up all attempts to keep the Holy Days.
(Too bad they didn't have the correct understanding of HOW and
WHERE you can observe the Festivals. You'll find the answers on
this Website, when you read all the studies concerning the Feasts
of God - Keith Hunt)
During public evangelistic meetings such as a public Bible
Study held in Portland in the late 1930's, Armstrong said nothing
about the Sabbath until the last of the meeting series. Mrs.
Bodenhamer thought at the time, "has he been fooling us?" Most
dropped out when Armstrong brought up the Holy Days. One lady
said to Mrs.Bodenhamer, "Why should I burden myself with the Holy
Days. The Sabbath is enough." She dropped out. During a time of
economic hardship, it seemed folly to those enduring the Great
Depression to cease from work during the Feasts and Holy Days.
Frank Walker, a COG7 evangelist in Oregon in the 1940's, met
HWA at a 1940 COG7 campmeeting. Armstrong had already broken with
the COG organization, but he and his people were fellowshipping
with others. Armstrong told Walker that he agreed with the
Stanberry organization 90%, but wanted to keep his own radio
work, so thought he had to work alone. The opposing Salem, West
Virginia group had wanted to take over his radio work. Armstrong
told Walker, "I don't want a tight organization, but I can see it
coming." Armstrong sincerely wanted to work with the COG7 people,
and said the Holy Days didn't make any difference in them working
together. Heibel later told Walker that Walker was almost chosen
to pastor the Eugene church when Armstrong went to California.
After the Everett, Eugene, and Cottage Grove local ministers
carried this local autonomy so far as to break with him,
Armstrong in the early 1950's did an about face and instituted a
strong centralized church government. All ministers were paid
from headquarters and were under headquarters control. This is
what he himself had refused to do with regard to the Salem and
Stanberry COG7 organizations.
The recollections of surviving Eugene church members paint a
chilling picture of young Raymond C. Cole being sent from
Ambassador College as one of the first graduates to institute
"law and order" in the rebellious Eugene church. It almost sounds
like Cole was a tough sheriff cleaning up a town of lawlessness.
One of the early elders ordained by Armstrong and who
remained faithful until his death was Basil Wolverton. Baptized
by Armstrong in the icy waters of the Columbia River in 1940,
Wolverton was ordained an elder in 1942, and headed a little
group in Vancouver, Washington. Wolverton was not a strong leader
or powerful speaker, but he would give "sermonettes" the longest
being about 40 minutes or so. He later became a noted cartoonist
and artist. Wolverton wrote and illustrated "The Bible Story"
series for the church. He was one of my favorites because he had
such a great sense of humor, something severely lacking among
"religious" folk. He was a fascinating man to talk to.
Elder Garver Gray of Vancouver worked with Armstrong for a
time, but later pulled away a group that leaned toward the
Ed Blenis moved to Oregon in 1909 and probably led the first
organized COG7 effort in the Pacific Northwest in what he calls
the "cottage program" This is where small groups met in homes for
Sabbath Bible Studies. He became state secretary and collected
tithes and sent some to Stanberry. Blenis led the 1937 Harrisburg
meeting in which Herbert Armstrong was asked to leave the Oregon
Conference and work alone. This is revealing, because more than
any other COG7 leader I have spoken with, Blenis is the one most
opposed to rulership of the ministers in the church. He staunchly
supported democratic control of the lay members, and thought that
a lay member and not a minister should be Conference President.
In his later years, in 1971 when I met Blenis, he was as sharply
opposed as ever to centralized church control. Even that of his
own Denver organization. Did Blenis think that Armstrong wanted
his own centralized church government, and did this result in his
leading the effort to break all ties between the COG7 and
Robert A. Barnes was a powerful COG7 minister who preached
in Oregon at various times during the 1930's and 1940's. A man of
strong views, Barnes told me, "I'm dogmatic about what I
believe," and "I'll let no man or group tell me what to preach."
Barnes considered himself a personal friend of HWA, although he
differed with him on many points. He expresses a common COG7
doctrinal position that is totally against what HWA taught.
Barnes, along with most of Armstrong's COG7 peers, is very much
against alcoholic drinks. Any consumption of alcohol at all, even
for medicinal purposes, is as much a sin to Barnes as adultery
is. This belief like the Holy Days is a wall of division between
Armstrong and the COG7.
John Kiesz, "Dropped Like a Hot Potato"
Perhaps the most well-known and most respected COG7 minister
associated with HWA in the early years was John Kiesz. Elder
Kiesz is quite a man. The first time I heard him speak, I was
startled at how much he sounded like HWA. His topic was the
"Wonderful World Tomorrow," i.e. the Millennium.
In the early 1930's, Kiesz was editor of the COG7 magazine,
"Bible Advocate," and published several of Armstrong's articles
that he and Elder Taylor were sending out in the Oregon area.
With the 1933 Division in the COG7, Kiesz and Armstrong both went
with the Salem, West Virginia faction. Kiesz was chosen by lot on
November 4, 1933 at Salem, West Virginia to be one of the Twelve
Apostles. Armstrong was chosen at the same time to, be one the of
the Seventy Elders.
The Twelve had the responsibility of approving the
ministerial credentials (ministerial license to preach) of the
seventy. Kiesz was against giving Herbert credentials because of
some personal correspondence he had had with him. Armstrong
baptized people when they went through a "conversion" experience
and before they even kept the Sabbath. He said that eating pork
was only a physical sin. The rest of the board of Twelve
overruled Kiesz and gave Armstrong credentials. Kiesz relates,
"in his autobiography he maintained that he never was a member of
the Church of God (7th Day), which is incorrect for we did not
grant credentials without one being a member." Armstrong had
already commenced observing the Feast Days when he was taken into
the Salem organization in the fall of 1934, but it was not an
issue at that time.
Kiesz met Armstrong for the first time at Armstrong's church
in Eugene at an all day Sabbath meeting in June, 1935. Kiesz was
impressed with Armstrong's message and delivery. For the next ten
years they were to be close associates.
Kiesz relates that in 1937, the Twelve Apostles of the Salem
church voted to revoke Armstrong's ministerial credentials
ostensibly because he taught and kept the Feast Days. C.O.Dodd,
who went on to lead the beginning of the "Sacred Names Movement,"
was put out in the spring of 1937 for the same reason. "But the
real reason," Kiesz states, "seems to have been because of his
uncooperative attitude." Armstrong refused to file monthly
reports to Salem, and to take a monthly salary like the rest of
the ministers did. This was about $50 a month. Kiesz, who had
opposed Armstrong's credentials in 1934, was not in favor of
revoking them in 1937.
After the revocation, Kiesz and Armstrong continued to work
closely together. Kiesz himself turned in his credentials in the
summer of 1938. Kiesz spoke at least two Feast of Tabernacles
camp meetings in Eugene with Armstrong. The last time he spoke
being in 1945 at Belknap Springs, Oregon.
Cryptically, Kiesz relates, "Something happened at that
meeting which caused Herbert to drop me like a 'hot potato.' He
was by then getting away from some of the ways in which we used
to worship." This may refer to altar calls, which Armstrong used
to believe in and later stopped doing.
Kiesz details his differences with Armstrong:
(1) He disagrees with Armstrong's statement that Armstrong was
the first one to preach the true gospel for 1800 to 1900 years,
and that his teachings came directly from Jesus Christ. "The fact
is" Kiesz states, "that what truths he does preach he learned
from the Church of God (7th Day)."
(2) Kiesz states that Armstrong used to invite interested
people, regardless of belief, to his services, but later allowed
only those already in the fold or prospects given special
invitations to attend. "Truth has nothing to fear," says Kiesz.
(3) Kiesz knew Armstrong when he used to teach strongly against
church organization, "but now he is so strongly organized that
many of his followers actually fear him. It appears now that he
is to his followers what the Pope of Rome is to the Catholic
(4) Kiesz is against Armstrong's allowing and even encouraging
of drinking, mixed dancing, card-playing, movie attendance,
worldly music, excessive jewelry. "I consider his [Armstrong's]
church a worldly outfit."
(5) Kiesz points out many failed prophecies of Armstrong, which
have been fully documented elsewhere. "If he [Armstrong] is God's
true prophet for these times, he should never have made such
predictions as have miserably failed ... for the Almighty ...
does not reveal things to His servants which never came to pass."
(6) Kiesz reacts strongly to Armstrong's statement that only
Armstrong's church has been giving the message of the final
revival of the Holy Roman Empire in Europe just prior to the
return of the Messiah. Kiesz says that he and the COG7 have
taught this since at least the mid-1800's.
(7) Kiesz claims that true believers are "born again" when they
receive the Holy Spirit, not at the resurrection as Armstrong
teaches. This is another sore issue between the COG7 and
The Beginning, and the End
Born in 1892, Herbert Armstrong was baptized in 1927,
ordained to the ministry in 1931, began his radio broadcast in
1933 and the same year was chosen #40 of the Seventy Elders of
the Salem COG7 group. As previously related, his ministerial
credentials were revoked by Salem in 1937. The year 1945 was a
turning point as his ties with COG7 ministers were left behind.
In 1946-47 he moved his headquarters to Pasadena, California and
founded Ambassador College. His wife Loma died in 1967. I believe
it was 1968 that the name of the church, Radio Church of God, was
changed to Worldwide Church of God.
In 1972 he said the work of preaching the gospel to the
whole world was finished. His son Garner Ted Armstrong was put
out of the church for gross immorality. In 1973 his son was
brought back in and given the full reigns of power as church
leader. In 1974, Garner Ted and other ministers convinced Herbert
Armstrong to approve a number of doctrinal changes, among them a
total change in doctrinal teaching regarding divorce and
remarriage. This change allowed divorce and remarriage both in
and out of the church for a variety of reasons or for no reason
at all. Another major change was moving the date for the
observance of Pentecost from Monday to Sunday. During this same
time, many left the church to follow former WWC minister Dr.
Ernest Martin, who advocated basic Protestant teachings. These
included abrogation of the Sabbath and Holy Days and tithing.
Many other ministers and members left to form splinter groups
with varying doctrines more in harmony with WWC teachings.
In 1977, HWA "married" Mrs.Ramona Martin, a divorcee many
years his junior. After a bitter divorce lawsuit, an out of court
settlement was made in 1984.
In 1978 HWA banished his son for the last and final time.
GTA founded his own church out of Tyler, Texas, the Church of
In 1979, the Church had a major confrontation with the state
of California who had placed them into receivership on charges by
ex-members of corrupt use of church funds. Armstrong fled to
Tucson, Arizona. Armstrong and his cohorts successfully
resisted the state and regained total control with the passage of
a California state law exempting them from accountability.
In 1986 at the age of 93, HWA died in his sleep. A few days
previously, he had turned the reigns of church leadership over to
Armstrong's Ministerial License Certificate, issued March 2,
1932 by the Oregon State Conference of the Church of God,
certifies that "HW. Armstrong is a recognized licensed minister,
and apostle of the true primitive faith, that he has labored for
Jesus, and among this people for the required period before being
recognized in this capacity. He is a man of high Christian
character, able to defend the true doctrines set forth by Christ
and the apostles, qualified and commissioned to preach the
gospel, and administer the ordinance of baptism."
About the last issue of the Plain Truth with HWA's stamp was
the February 1986 issue printed prior to his death the previous
month. In the last paragraph of his "Personal" column are
Armstrong's parting words. He refers to Revelation 3:21 "To him
that overcometh, will I grant to sit with me in my throne."
Mr.Armstrong pointed out that Messiah is going to rule the entire
world, and we, if we qualify, are going to rule with Him as kings
Jesus is the firstborn of many brethren. We can be one of
those brethren, if we overcome.
Ironically, the lead article in that February 1986 Plain
Truth is about Halley's Comet. The article says that the comet is
not a sign or omen of anything. I am not dismayed at the signs of
the heavens, but is it only coincidental that the comet allegedly
portended the death of Antiochus Epiphanes in 164 B.C., the one
who desecrated the Temple? Or that the comet preceded the
destruction of Jerusalem by the comet's appearance in 66 A.D.,
the attack of the Huns in 373, and again in 451, the Norman
Conquest of England in 1066, Genghis Khan in 1222 and the English
colonization of America in 1607? Is this all coincidence?
Is it coincidence that 1910, the last appearance of Halley's
Comet, saw the death of COG7 pioneer leader A.F.Dugger (father
of A.N.Dugger), who predicted a soon coming Great World War
(World War I)? Again in 1986 is it significant that HWA died
during the appearance of Halley's Comet again? Halley's Comet is
just a bunch of dirty ice circling the sun every 76 years. The
divine Being who put it there in the first place controls the
affairs of mankind.
Strengthen The Things That Remain
Some will lose all faith at Armstrong's death because they
followed a man and expected their leader to live until the return
of the Messiah. Others will deify him more in death than they did
in life. Surely his teachings will be misinterpreted by some, as
occurred during Armstrong's ministry.
A powerful message for the Church today is found in
Revelation 3:2-3 in the message to the Church of Sardis:
"Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain that are
ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
Remember therefore how thou has received and heard, and hold
fast, and repent."
What is this talking about? Bible truths are in a dying
state, ready to die. We must strengthen them. We must remember
how we received and heard them, and hold fast, and repent of our
lukewarm and lazy attitude toward the Truth.
I have summarized the basic, root teachings of Herbert W.
Armstrong: Sabbath, Holy Days, Tithing, Health (Clean Meats),
Divine Healing, Sanctity of Marriage, and opposition to Divorce.
(It is human nature to swing the pendilum from the far right to
the far left - balance - in the middle - is often hard to find
and maintain. So it was in the WCG with "divorce and re-marriage"
- it swang to the other end, and soon many were getting divorced
and re-married for just about anything - Keith Hunt)
These essential doctrinal truths are ready to die, and need
to be strengthened.
Didn't HWA and his son GTA consistently teach and practice these
The Apostle Paul warned that after his departing grievous
wolves would destroy the flock that he built, drawing away
disciples after them, Acts 20:28-32. This has happened to a great
extent since the mid-1970's among those in the WWC and its many
offshoots. How much more now after Armstrong's death?
I vividly remember how it was that I was able to hear the
Truth proclaimed on the radio and in print. I will remember the
sacrifice of a man who drove himself to succeed in preaching the
gospel. I will remember the 20 quarts of oil he had to use one
Sunday morning during the 100 mile drive from Eugene to Portland,
Oregon to do the radio broadcast, because his old car was almost
worn out. I will remember the tithes and offerings of dedicated
believers freely given, often at great sacrifice, so that I could
listen, so that I could read, so that God could work with my mind
and call and convert me.
I well remember the first Worldwide Church of God home I
stayed in overnight. When I realized that these people actually
got up every morning and prayed a half hour to an hour on their
knees for more people like myself to repent and believe the
gospel, for the ministry to be given power to speak, counsel and
help nourish the church, I was broken up and amazed. Yes, I will
remember how it was that I received the truth, and heard it. I am
deeply thankful for Herbert W. Armstrong, however imperfect he
was, and thousands of others who helped me to come to repentance
and the Truth. I will, with the Spirit of the Almighty, hold
fast, even if the men who taught me the Truth fall away into
error. With every drop of my blood, actually entirely by the
power of the Creator's Spirit, I will strive to strengthen the
things that remain, until He comes, or until I die.
Hannah Danielson, sister of Mrs.Fisher, after a personal
struggle with the truth, finally was convicted during the early
evangelistic meetings of Herbert Armstrong. In her broken Swedish
accent, she said, "Veil, I guess we have to give up and keep the
Sabbat." Bless her, and the thousands of true believers like her,
scattered around the world.
The true church has never been one incorporated
organization. The gates of hades (the grave) will never prevail
against the true church. "God is no respecter of persons: But in
every nation He that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is
accepted with Him." Acts 10:34-35.
Exiled From His Own Church
Rather than idolize the man who founded the Worldwide Church
of God (as Flurry's Philadelphia Church of God offshoot does),
WWC leader Joseph Tkach has sought to bury Armstrong's teachings.
The Good News magazine is dead. Armstrong's "Mystery of the Ages"
book has been put out of print, his "United States and British
Commonwealth in Prophecy" booklet has been killed...
Herbert W. Armstrong would not be welcome back in the Worldwide
Church of God of today! In a real sense, Armstrong has been
exiled from his own church.
This should not surprise us. In the end time, the Savior
will be standing at the door, on the outside, knocking for
entrance into the hearts and minds of His own people, Revelation
3:19-21. But, this was true long before Armstrong died. In 1973,
Herman Hoeh told me candidly in his office: "Richard, this is the
laodicean Church," The legacy of Herbert W. Armstrong (and the
whole history of the Church since it was founded at Mt.Sinai and
refounded on Pentecost in 31 A.D.) is that God's people, even
with His Holy Spirit, have botched it time and time again. They
have watered down His Truth and have not kept it faithfully for
long. We need the return of the Messiah to make it right. We
cannot consistently do the right thing, even with His Holy
Spirit. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith
unto the churches" Revelation 3:22.
Requiem for Truth?
Is the death of Herbert W. Armstrong the end of the
doctrines he taught? Definitely NOT!
The strength of the truth of the Almighty is not measured by
numbers of copies of magazines, tons of free literature, amount
of tithes contributed, church members, television stations. It is
shown in the power it has over people's lives.
The truth of God will not die out if we don't die
In 1969, a 21 year old man was baptized by two Worldwide
Church of God ministers. He had studied Armstrong's literature
for years and proven the Truth to himself out of the Bible. God
had called him to repentance through a life-threatening
experience in 1967.
This young man looked the two ministers in the eye and said
something like this: "Herbert Armstrong may be a crook, but even
if it is so, that has nothing to do with what I am doing today. I
am repenting of my sins and submitting myself unto God and the
That young man was me.
A very deep spiritual lesson is given in Mr.Armstrong's
Autobiography. During the Great Depression, the story goes, a
poor widow was praying in her basement with the window open, for
God to give her a loaf of bread. Some mischievous little boys
heard her pray and decided to play a trick on her. They got a
loaf of bread and tossed it through the window. The widow knelt
and gave God thanks. The boys jeered that God didn't throw in the
bread; they did. But the widow countered: "Maybe the devil
brought it, but just the same, God sent it!"
This story is true for us as well. Herbert Armstrong was a
very controversial man. I am not his judge. Even if you think he
was the worst possible scoundrel, the important thing is not
whether his life was good or bad. The important thing is whether
or not he taught the Truth. Even more, do you and I live by the
Live by the Truth, no matter where you get it. As it says on
the entrance to Ambassador College, "The Word of God is the
Foundation of Knowledge." Not a man, not an organization of men.
- written by Richard C. Nickels
This article was originally published as Bible Study No. 99.
Entered on this Website January 2008
I go back to the fall of 1961 with the then Radio Church of God.
There is no denying, that the voice of Herbert W. Armstrong on
the radio was the most POWERFUL voice around the world on
"Christian Religion" broadcasting. He spoke not only with POWER
but CONVICTION! He told people to SEARCH their Bibles, to blow
the dust off their Bibles, and to read it from cover to cover. He
told people they would then find that what MOST Christian
churches taught as truth was FALSE, and a Babylon Mystery
Whatever can be said and known about Herbert W. Armstrong, one
thing is the plain truth - he got tens of thousands around the
world to read and search their Bibles - I was one of them, a
young man of 19 in the fall of 1961, who had been reading the
Bible, but now with much more VIGOR and DRIVE and HUNGER!
Now, we are 22 years after (2008) the death of Herbert W.
Armstrong, and a NEW generation is here (much of the old one has
also died) and what is left of the old is getting old. A new
generation IS HERE THAT KNOWS NOTHING OR JUST ABOUT NOTHING of
Herbert W. Armstrong.
For all his faults, and for all his vanity, that mushroomed into
a wrong "church government" teaching and practice, leading those
who followed him into being "cult" organization, from the 1970s
and on to his death in 1986. One thing can never be taken from
this man, and that is, he did for many decades teach and preach
MUCH truth from the Bible. I said "much" - for truth ever marches
on. And so it will until the end of this age, until the "Elijah
to come" comes and "shall restore all things" (Mat.17:10-13).
So, I tell you, keep your nose in the Bible, keep searching the
Scriptures, keep hungering for truth and righteousness. I've
recently spent some time looking at the "religious stuff" and
"religious people" on the Internet, and as never before, it is
exactly as Jesus said it would be, before He returns, "many would
(even in His name) come and DECEIVE MANY!! Some of the religious
writings and the forever "date setting" (to the months and days,
because they figure they "understand this particular prophecy")
is MIND BLOWING - it is religious TRASH!! I will tell you the
MAJORITY do not know what they are talking about. They are the
BLIND leading the BLIND! And they will all fall into the ditch!
YOU, do not have to be among them. Jesus has promised that the
Spirit WILL LEAD you into ALL TRUTH. Maybe not all at once, but
as long as you WANT truth, hunger for it, CRY OUT to God for it
... and I really do mean lifting up your voice literally or in
your mind, asking the Almighty One, for truth and righteousness,
YOU WILL FIND IT! YES YOU WILL!
And our Savior said, "THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE!"