|Children Garner Ted Armstrong|
Name Herbert Armstrong
Siblings Dwight L. Armstrong
|Born July 31, 1892 (1892-07-31) Des Moines, Iowa, U.S.|
Cause of death Heart conditions, Anemia
Residence Pasadena, CA, Tucson, AZ
Education Attended North High School in Des Moines
Died January 16, 1986, Pasadena, California, United States
Spouse Ramona Martin (m. 1977–1984), Loma Dillon (m. 1917–1967)
Parents Eva Wright Armstrong, Horace Elon Armstrong
Books Mystery of the Ages, The United States and Britain in, The Missing Dimensio, The Incredible Human P, The Seven Laws of Success
Resting place Altadena, California
Popular The World Tomorrow & Herbert W. Armstrong videos
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, first taking to the airwaves on 7 January 1934 from the 100-watt station KORE Eugene, Oregon. Armstrong preached what he claimed was 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. These theological doctrines and teachings have been referred to as Armstrongism by non-adherents. His teachings included the interpretation of biblical prophecy in light of British Israelism, and required observance of parts of the Mosaic Law including seventh-day Sabbath, dietary prohibitions, and the covenant law "Holy Days".
- Popular The World Tomorrow & Herbert W. Armstrong videos
- Early life
- Beginnings of ministry
- Radio and publishing
- International expansion
- Worldwide Church of God
- Ambassador International Cultural Foundation
- Final years
- Theology and teachings
- Criticism and controversy
- Personality, personal conduct, and governance
- Teachings inferred from the Bible
Armstrong proclaimed during his lifespan that, behind world events, loomed various Biblical prophecies. 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 as God's representative the Gospel of God's Kingdom to the World before the return of Jesus Christ. He also founded the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation, which promoted the arts, humanities, and humanitarian projects. 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."
In the years after Armstrong's death in 1986, Worldwide Church of God leaders came to the conclusion that many of his doctrines were not biblical. These doctrines were subsequently rejected and the church is now in full agreement with the statement of faith of the National Association of Evangelicals. In light of these doctrinal changes, in April 2009, the denomination changed its name to Grace Communion International (GCI) to better reflect its New Testament, grace-centered teaching.
Herbert Armstrong was born on July 31, 1892 in Des Moines, Iowa, into a Quaker family, the son of Eva (Wright) and Horace Elon Armstrong. He regularly attended the services and the Sunday school of First Friends Church in Des Moines. 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. His early career in the print advertising industry which followed had a strong impact on his future ministry and would shape his communication style.
On a trip back home in 1917, he met Loma Dillon, a school teacher and distant cousin from nearby Motor, Iowa. They married on his 25th birthday, July 31, 1917, and returned to live in Chicago. 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.
Beginnings of ministry
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. Her assertion of this to her husband was met with dismay and appeared to him to be "religious fanaticism." 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. 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. It is unknown, however, if he ever joined this denomination. 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!" 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.
In 1931 Armstrong became an ordained minister of the Oregon Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day). The existence and history of this church became a significant factor in Armstrong's later beliefs.
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.
After severing ties with the Church of God (Seventh Day) as the result of doctrinal disputes, he began to teach a form of British Israelism, which would later make up his book The United States and Britain in Prophecy. His ministerial credentials with Dugger's church were revoked in 1938. This, Armstrong believed, indicated God was now directing him in leading a revived work into the next "church era."
Radio and publishing
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. 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. These broadcasts eventually became known as The World Tomorrow of the future Worldwide Church of God. Shortly thereafter, in February, 1934, Armstrong began the publication of The Plain Truth, which started out as a church bulletin. 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.
Critics point to statements in his early writings that proved to be inaccurate. For example, a statement from a lead article in the February 1939 edition of The Plain Truth, about a coming world war, said this:
By way of brief review of previous articles, and radio messages, notice, first, that this war will involve ALL nations. It will be the first real world war. Secondly, it will center around Jerusalem....And thirdly, this war will END with the Second Coming of Christ!
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. 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.
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. The beginning of the European broadcast provides the context of a booklet published in 1956 called 1975 in Prophecy! In this book Armstrong put forward a controversial vision of what the world could look like by 1975—featuring illustrations of mass burials and tidal waves destroying cities. Overall he thought that World War III and Christ's glorious return were at the doorstep and that world peace and utopia would follow. Armstrong believed that God had exciting plans for mankind that would see the end of such wars—though the message went far beyond an earthly utopia.
Several books and booklets focused on the key events that would signal the imminence of Christ's return, and taught of a specific end-time prophecy to be fulfilled, manifested in the form of European peacekeeping forces surrounding Jerusalem, at which time God's Church would be taken to a place of protection, or "place of safety"—possibly Petra in Jordan. World War III was predicted to be triggered by a "United States of Europe" led by Germany which would destroy both the United States and the United Kingdom. From the place of safety they would continue the work and prepare to help Christ establish Utopia upon His return.
In 1952 Armstrong published Does God Heal Today? which provided the details on his doctrine on healing and his ban on doctors. Among his tenets were that only God heals and that medical science is of pagan origin and is ineffective. He believed that most illnesses were caused by faulty diet and that doctors should prescribe proper diet rather than medicine. He taught that members are not to go to doctors for healing but must trust in divine healing alone. This was his teaching despite his father's death in 1933 after "an all-night vigil of prayer." This teaching has been the cause of much controversy as individuals influenced by such teachings came to die.
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. 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. This belief, called British Israelism, formed the central basis of the theology of the Worldwide Church of God.
Franz Josef Strauss, a major politician in post-WWII Germany, became the target of the broadcasting and publishing media blitz that Armstrong unleashed upon Europe through the daily offshore pirate radio station broadcasts by his son Garner Ted Armstrong, The Plain Truth, and the Ambassador College campus at Bricket Wood in Hertfordshire, England. Strauss was portrayed as being the coming Führer who would lead a United States of Europe into a prophetic World War III against the U.S. and U.K. at some time between 1972 and 1975, and emerge victorious. In 1971, Strauss played along with the prophetic interest shown in him, as Herbert W. Armstrong recalled in a 1983 letter: "I entertained him at dinner in my home in Pasadena, and he spoke to the faculty and students of Ambassador College. I have maintained contact with him." Strauss also appeared in an interview on The World Tomorrow television program.
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. Before she died he sent a co-worker letter that has often been criticized for its harsh tone to "failing" members and for its calls for more money.
Worldwide Church of God
On January 5, 1968, the Radio Church of God was renamed the Worldwide Church of God. Shortly before, the church began to broadcast a television version of The World Tomorrow. 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. 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. 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.
Ambassador International Cultural Foundation
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. 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. 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.
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. 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. During pre-trial proceedings in the divorce case, Armstrong's lawyers had sought to limit evidence of "prior incestuous conduct with his daughter for many years," but his wife's attorneys said "it was crucial since the church leader alleged Mrs. Armstrong had breached an agreement of love and fidelity."
In his latter years, Armstrong stated that he did not know whether or not Christ would return in his lifetime but did know, based on the sequence of events in the Bible, that the Lord's return was approaching. He had long written of his belief that the primary sign to look for would be some sort of dissolving of the Eastern Bloc alliance under Soviet control, followed by those nations' subsequent incorporation into an eastern leg of a United States of Europe. 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" 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, which included the notion that God deliberately coded the bible "so that it would not be understood until our modern time".
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, yet Armstrong reportedly worried about the ramifications if certain individuals were selected, such as his son Garner Ted or evangelist Roderick Meredith. Finally, Armstrong opted to select the next Pastor General personally. Armstrong told the Church's Advisory Council of Elders of his decision to appoint evangelist-rank minister Joseph W. Tkach on January 7, 1986. 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. 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.
Theology and teachings
Criticism and controversy
Armstrong’s teachings and the church he created have been the subject of much criticism and controversy. Armstrong's theology and teachings are defended by his followers, but face criticism from ex-followers and the greater Christian community. Common points of criticism and controversy include:
Personality, personal conduct, and governance
Armstrong was often criticized for having lived in extravagant wealth in comparison to a few church members. Personal luxuries enjoyed by Armstrong included a personal jet, the finest clothing, furniture and other conveniences.
Teachings inferred from the Bible
Armstrong taught the observance of principles that he believed could be inferred from biblical intent. Examples of these teachings include: