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The History of the Beginning and Growth of the Worldwide Church of God
By Herbert W. Armstrong
THE BEGINNING AND growth of this era of the true Church of God is the story of a beginning amid the very depth of the worst economic depression within the memory of man today. Its beginning was humble and small beyond compare. Its growth unmatched among institutions and organizations of our day. Its methods unique in a modern world.
This entire Work has belied human experience. It has reversed accepted procedures. Yet I must hasten to add, none of these were of my devising.
In a word, it is the story of what the living CHRIST can do - has done, and is doing - through a very average human instrument, whom He had brought to humble submission and whose eyes He opened to amazing TRUTHS!
Chapter 1 showed how God always has done whatever He has done with and through mankind by and through ONE MAN at a time. Chapter 1 explained how the living Christ prepared His chosen apostle of this time.
The time was the autumn of 1926 to spring of 1927. My conversion and baptism was in the spring of 1927. But the parent church of the present Worldwide Church of God was not established until autumn, 1933 - in the very depth of the worst depression of the century.
In my business as a publishers' representative in Chicago, IL., I had made, while still in my 20s, an annual income equal to $175,000 based on the 1980 value of the dollar.
He had been preparing me. Now He proceeded in further preparation. I had been vigorous, aggressive, successful. But this had made me self-confident, cocky, conceited. God had to reduce that to humility, and self-confidence had to be supplanted by FAITH in Christ.
So, in the flash depression of 1920, He took away my business - all but a most meager income. Customers such as the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Moline Plow Works, Avery Co., Dalton Adding Machine Co. - others - all went into receivership. All my larger advertising contracts were canceled.
I held on for two more years, then went to Iowa, where I put on surveys of local business conditions for daily newspapers.
In 1924 we moved to Oregon. There I developed a successful advertising service for laundries. Every leading laundry from .Eugene, Ore., to Seattle and Everett, Wash., and also in Wenatchee, Spokane, and Walla Walla, Wash., had become clients. The laundry industry was llth largest in. the nation, yet the most backward.
My service, combined with internal efficiency-management service, was doubling and tripling the business volume of clients. Then a cooperative national advertising campaign inaugurated by the Laundryowners' National Association took my business by forces totally beyond my knowledge or control. I came to know later that, in fact, it was God taking away my business, reducing me to poverty and even hunger, preparing me for the dual challenges and intensive biblical studies that resulted in my conversion.
It was while we were visiting my parents in Salem that a neighbor lady, Mrs. Ora J. Runcorn, opened my wife's eyes to the truth of God's Sabbath. I had no love for that neighbor lady at first.
But, once my in-depth study had proved to me that I was wrong, I was converted and baptized, my dislike for that lady turned to an affectionate warmth in which my wife and I looked on her and her husband as almost our "parents-in-the-Lord."
I was so filled with these new biblical truths - and thrilled - that immediately I began writing in article form various truths I had found.
The Runcorns - our "spiritual parents" - were members of the Church of God, Seventh Day, with headquarters at Stanberry, Mo. I had studied completely their Bible Home Instructor, and I began submitting some of my articles for publication in their church weekly, The Bible Advocate. My articles began to appear, beginning on the front cover.
Through the Runcorns we met other Church of God brethren in Salem and farther south in the Willamette River valley.
However, I did not join with them. They were so small, so uneducated, except for their limited amount of "Sabbath-keeping" Bible knowledge - and their work, as I found, so ineffective and unproductive, I could not believe they could be God's one and only true Church, I had learned in my biblical studies, how Jesus said the gates of the grave would never prevail against His true Church.
I knew that Church had to exist - but WHERE? I had learned it had to be a Sabbath-keeping Church. That limited it to this Stanberry headquartered Church, the Seventh-day Adventists and the Seventh-day Baptists. But also I had seen the NAME of the true Church 12 times in the New Testament, as the CHURCH OF GOD. And Jesus said He had kept His disciples in the Father's name and prayed the Church would be held together by that name.
Incidentally, I have never been a member of the Seventh-day Adventists - never even attended one of their regular Sabbath services. I mention this only because in the past the rumor had been spread that I formerly was an Adventist.
But my search for the one true Church was now narrowed to this one Church, the Church of God, Seventh Day, with a headquarters small publishing place in Stanberry, Mo. Yet I could not then reconcile myself to believing a church so small, so fruitless, with an uneducated ministry, could be God's one and only true Church. Of course, I was newly converted. I suppose I assumed the true Church would be a large and powerful Church. Yet I had noticed Jesus called His followers "the little flock," and I had seen two different churches depicted in the book of Revelation - one large, powerful, ruling governments and called a "great whore," and the other small and persecuted and having to flee for safety.
I later learned that this, in the late 1920s, was only the remnant of the formerly more effective Church of the "Sardis" era (Rev. 3:1-6).
I think it was in the autumn of 1927 the Runcorns invited us to go with them to, a meeting to be held in a schoolhouse south of Salem in the Willamette Valley.
We went with them to this meeting. Lunch was served under a large tree outdoors. I was asked to give the blessing on the food. It was the first time in my life I had ever prayed before others - but God helped me so they did not know it was a first prayer before others.
I had been asked previously to speak before these people, but had declined. Being a preacher was the last thing I wanted to be. But now I had discovered a special Sabbath covenant, binding for ever, in Exodus 31:12-18. I knew this, as a binding covenant, was unknown to them. I could not withhold from them what I had discovered, so I accepted their invitation this time.
It was the first "sermon" - if it could be called that - of my life. But it met great enthusiasm from those brethren, and I was invited to another meeting a month later.
This is when the persecution - from their ministers - got into red-hot action. Their brethren all loved me from the first. But not their preachers. This time their nearest minister, stationed in Idaho, was on hand to refute whatever I said. It was an all-day meeting. This minister managed for me to speak in the morning, so he could refute me in the afternoon.
In August that year, 1927, my wife had been suddenly and completely healed by prayer and anointing, of quinsy (a swelled lump in her throat so she could not swallow food or water), blood poisoning, a dog bite and one or two other things. A doctor had said she could not live another 24 hours. She had not had any sleep for 72 hours, or food or water. As a result, I had thoroughly studied what the Bible revealed about healing, and I had the subject well in hand.
At this second meeting with these "Sardis" people, I preached in the morning about God's promise to heal. But in the afternoon, the minister from Idaho vehemently attacked my sermon. He quoted the scripture saying many would come saying they had done many wonderful works in Jesus' name, but He would reply, "Depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matt. 7:23). Of course he twisted this scripture out of context.
My first encounter with a Stanberry minister had been in the spring of 1927 - the first of their ministers I had seen. He, too, had little or no education, but a dominant and argumentative personality. He was staying at the home of another member in Salem, a Mrs. Gross. That was when I was studying the question of baptism. I had completed the Sabbath study, had learned of the annual Holy Days, the preexistence of angels on earth, the presence of Satan as the former Lucifer, the identity of the United States and Britain as the birthright tribes of the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" and other BASIC truths the Stanberry-based church did not know.
But I had been raised in the Quaker church, which does not believe in water baptism. Therefore I was studying the question of baptism, for I was ready to be baptized. I had gone to a minister of the Friends' Church (Quaker), and, with my knowledge of the subject from my very recent study, had caused him to admit his church was teaching contrary to the Bible on the subject.
But now I wanted to talk to a minister of the Church of God about it. I went over to the Gross home and told this minister I was a candidate for baptism and would like to talk with him about it.
"I haven't any time to waste on an unbaptized man," he said, insultingly. "I will be giving a public lecture on baptism at the Seventh-day Adventist church tomorrow afternoon. If you want to know anything about baptism, come to the lecture." I was taken aback at his gruff, insulting manner.
"Why, you talk as if I were some kind of a heathen and not a Christian," I said.
"I know you are not a Christian!" he retorted angrily. "Anyone who has not been baptized is not a Christian!"
"Well," I said meekly, "maybe you're right, but I would never say such a thing about you or any other man, and I'm glad that you are not my judge."
I attended his lecture, but learned nothing new. I had no occasion to speak to the man at the meeting. The Adventists had given him permission to use their church house for a weekday meeting.
Late in 1927 a young minister came to Oregon from Stanberry. He called on me, since my articles had been appearing as lead cover articles in The Bible Advocate. He seemed friendly, yet there was a definite hostility underneath. Soon my articles were rejected at Stanberry.
Meanwhile I had learned of a small group of about 10 members that met together for Sabbath-school study each Sabbath in Oregon City. They were poor, uneducated, except for one man, elderly Mr. G.A. Hobbs, 82 years of age. He was 82, stern and peppery, strict for orderly procedures. Yet despite his peppery exterior, he had a heart of love and became very fond of me.
I had begun attending with this tiny group in Oregon City, and they had asked me to be their teacher. I did not preach, but just in ordinary conversation expounded the Scriptures to them.
When Mr. Hobbs heard The Bible Advocate had rejected my articles on recommendation of this young minister, he wrote them a scorching hot letter of protest, and my articles were reinstated.
However, this young minister, Roy Daily, and I did, over the next few years, especially in 1931, work together. He had become more friendly as we got to know each other.
Things continued about as I have described for the next three years.
Our firstborn son, Richard David "Dick," was born Oct. 13, 1928. That was the happiest day of my life. I had waited 12 years for a son, though God had given us two daughters.
Things were getting tougher for me and my family through 1927'and 1928 and 1929. God knew I needed much more humbling, and He did it economically. I had not realized it, but my false god, from 18 years on, had been to achieve SUCCESS in business. I did not crave money as such. I did want to be a SUCCESS - and this world measures "success" by what a man accumulates, as well as by accomplishment.
But meanwhile, my Bible study continued, and I was accumulating much more knowledge and Bible UNDERSTANDING. The year 1928 had been a year of great progress in my life SPIRITUALLY!
The year 1929 was a crucial year! It was a year of tremendous activity in WORLD EVENTS. On June 7, 1929, the papal state in Rome, extinct since 1870, was revived as a state or nation - the Vatican. The great stock market crash occurred Oct. 29. That was the start of the most severe economic depression the United States had ever experienced. It was a year of going actually HUNGRY for us. It was in late January of 1930 that I learned the lesson of FASTING and prayer, with such miraculous answers to prayer. I have published this before and will not take space for it here.
Our second son, and fourth child, was born Feb. 9. And to THINK! Garner Ted has now passed the HALF-CENTURY mark - past 50 years of age! Unbelievable! And today, as I write, is his 50th birthday. I pray very earnestly for him every day, and God is going to answer my prayers! He was born on a Sunday.
During these years, my FAITH had increased, the faith OF Jesus Christ, which God GAVE me through His Holy Spirit. There were many miraculous answers to prayer, especially just before Ted's birth, and his healing of being born dumb, by prayer and the laying on of my hands after he was past 2 years old.
It was in November, 1930, that the Runcorns asked my wife and me to accompany them to a business meeting of the Church down in the Willamette Valley, at the home of Mrs. Ira E. Curtis. The Church in Oregon was being divided. One group, in which were the Runcorns and Mr. Hobbs, were opposing Andrew N. Dugger, who had been the head minister at Stanberry.
At this meeting, they asked me to act as secretary and take down the minutes of the meeting, though I had never joined the Church.
At this meeting, the strife between the two divisions became heated. Tempers were flaring. It was rapidly moving into an angry fistfight.
Quickly I rose to my feet. In a loud but calm voice I asked if I might say a word. I was but a guest, but I said we were all Sabbath keepers and Satan was angry. I was going to drop to my knees and ask God to restrain Satan from our midst, and said they could kneel too, if they wished. I knelt immediately, and beseeched God to give us peace and rebuke Satan. When I rose, all the fight had gone out of them.
They asked me, before leaving, if I would conduct an evangelistic campaign for them in a church at Harrisburg, Ore. I told them I would have 11 nights free beginning Sunday night, Dec. 21. But I had never preached before the public. I said I would do it if they would agree to each spend ONE HOUR in solid prayer for these meetings, beginning then, until the meetings were over.
I don't think they had all spent that much time in prayer daily, but it was too embarrassing for them to refuse.
The ones who wanted to withdraw their tithes from Stanberry proceeded immediately to incorporate as the Oregon Conference. Mr. G.A. Hobbs was president and Mr. Runcorn vice president.
I held the 11-night campaign. The small church they hired for the 11 nights seated about 150, and we had about 100 in attendance. I designed a good-sized circular, had it printed, and brethren circulated it throughout a 5-mile radius of Harrisburg.
God gave me four new conversions in the 11 nights meetings.
But what would I do about baptizing them? I was not yet an ordained minister. Yet I knew Jesus had said, in the great commission, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them... "Those who did the teaching were to baptize. The young minister, Roy Daily, was at the time in a hospital. I conferred with him, and he agreed I should do the baptizing.
Good old peppery brother Hobbs scolded me real good for the baptizing, saying it should have been taken up "with the authorities." But my wife silenced him and we all laughed.
That was my first evangelistic effort, and first preaching to the public.
God did not induct me into His ministry as an imposing pompous figure of superior position in the ministry. Rather, I was a good deal like the apostle Paul, who wrote to the Corinthian church: "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom... and I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling" (I Cor. 2:1, 3). I was no VIP entering Christ's ministry.
From the very first, in my association with these Sardis brethren, I was treated by their ministers as the greenhorn tail-ender. The Sardis brethren all loved me. But their jealous ministers used every device constantly to humiliate me and persecute. God blessed my efforts to produce "fruit," but their efforts produced none! But all this was what God knew I needed. I did not come into the seat where God has now put me by playing politics or jerking the rug out from under one higher up than I. Yet I have seen this type of politics played in God's Work ever since my conversion, 53 years ago.
In the early summer of 1931 a former Seventh-day Adventist minister, Robert L. Taylor, moved to Oregon from Southern California. The brethren of the Oregon Conference were swept off their feet by him. They said he was a better speaker than any from Stanberry. The Oregon Conference brethren wanted to team Mr. Taylor and me together to hold a tent meeting in Eugene. Mr. Taylor welcomed the idea. 1 had now been preaching for 3 years and my whole heart was in it. Being ordained by the Oregon Conference was the most momentous occasion of my life.
I was ordained at an all-day meeting in June. I do not remember the date, but it could have been at or very near Pentecost.
This, as I wrote in the Autobiography, brings us to a series of almost incredible facts! Certainly this strange chain of circumstances was not of my planning.
First, Jesus Christ began His earthly ministry at about age 30. The year was A.D. 27. That was the time when He began calling and training His first apostles.
When I was 30 Christ began His call to me by taking away my business in Chicago. All my principal clients went into receivership. Christ was to put me into His service later, but He began taking my business life away, in preparation, when I was 30.
Second, Jesus began the actual teaching and training of the original apostles in that year, A.D. 27. Precisely 100 time cycles later, 1927, I was baptized and my intensive study, following baptism, for Christ's ministry, started.
Now what is significant about 100 time cycles? God set the earth, sun and moon in space, among other reasons, to mark out spaces of time! One revolution of the earth, measured by the sun, is a day. God counts a day as ending at sunset on the earth. One revolution of the moon around the earth is a lunar month, according to God's sacred calendar. One revolution of the earth around the sun is a solar year.
But the earth, moon and sun come into almost exact conjunction every 19 years.
Nineteen years marks off one complete time cycle, as God measures time!
The actual ordination, or endowment of power for the Gospel ministry of the original apostles, occurred after 3 1/2 years, at the time of Pentecost. A.D. 31.
Also, after 3 1/2 years of preliminary ministerial training, 100 time cycles later, A.D. 1931, Jesus Christ had me ordained and for the first time put full time into the Work of Christ's Gospel, at the very time of Pentecost, June, 1931.
One fact more.
God has said: "The LORD also shall save the tents of Judah first [in the latter days - now just ahead of us], that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem do not magnify themselves against Judah. In that day [now soon to come]... he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel [messenger] of the LORD before them.... And I will pour upon the house of David ... the spirit of grace" (Zech. 12:7-10).
Plainly the apostle (one sent forth - or messenger of God) God would use in these perilous last days would be of the HOUSE OF DAVID. The house of David is NOT one of the tribes - but those individuals descended from David.
I have mentioned that some years ago I was contacted by a foundation, formed for the purpose of maintaining the genealogy of a certain family. My great-grandfather Armstrong, who had a biblical name, father of my grandfather Nathan Armstrong, had married into this family. So the foundation has my genealogy back to the kings of France, and King Edward I of England. The genealogy of the royal family of Britain carries every generation back to King David of ancient Israel. THEREFORE GOD HAS PRESERVED MY ANCESTRY EVERY GENERATION FROM DAVID, AND I AM OF THE HOUSE OF DAVID!
Plainly, in THESE tumultuous last days, God would raise up one who would KNOW he is of THE HOUSE OF DAVID, as Christ's chosen apostle and messenger to the KINGS OF THE EARTH, to carry the TRUE MESSAGE of Christ's Gospel, which was suppressed from the world from mid-century 1 to the middle of the 20th century.
While I began proclaiming the true Gospel in 1931, it did not reach Europe and Britain until-1953, on Jan. 7.
SO, ONE MORE ASTOUNDING FACT - IT WAS PRECISELY 100 TIME CYCLES - A.D. 53 to A.D. 1953 that THE TRUE GOSPEL WAS SUPPRESSED!
But even that is not all!
In Haggai and Zechariah, Zerubbabel was governor and BUILDER of the second temple in Jerusalem to which Christ came at His first coming. But read again in chapters 2 and 3 of Haggai and the first four chapters of Zechariah! The real MESSAGE is about our TIME, NOW - the LAST DAYS! The time when God will "shake all nations," Haggai 2:7 and verse 9, "The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former" (Solomon's temple). The physical temple built by Zerubbabel was nowhere near as glorious as Solomon's temple. It is speaking of the TEMPLE to which Christ shall come at His SECOND COMING - soon now - the SPIRITUAL Temple, the CHURCH, which Christ shall marry at His coming, when the Church shall be made SPIRIT and IMMORTAL in GLORY!
John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus' first coming. He was the messenger in the PHYSICAL wilderness of the Jordan River, preparing for the HUMAN Jesus coming to the MATERIAL temple of stone and to the PHYSICAL people of Judah, ANNOUNCING that some 100 time cycles later, He would establish the immortal KINGDOM OF GOD on earth. But read, in Malachi 3, not only verse 1, referring to John the Baptist typically, but verses 1-5, speaking of His SECOND COMING. WHO is to be the messenger in the SPIRITUAL wilderness of the 20th century religious confusion - spiritual confusion - who was to prepare the SPIRITUAL temple, the Church, for the coming of the glorified SPIRITUAL Christ of all POWER AND GLORY - coming to His SPIRITUAL Temple - the Church of God - and not to announce, but to actually ESTABLISH on earth the spiritual KINGDOM OF GOD?
All these things shout a message to God's Church today!
There definitely IS a 19-year time cycle. It CANNOT be used to prognosticate or foretell future events, but it is a fact that has HAPPENED!
Read this over again. Think this over soberly! It gives you PROOF that we are the one and only true Church of God for these latter days!
More next month, as I continue with my experiences with the Sardis Church and the foundation of the WORLDWIDE CHURCH OF GOD!