This month’s letter will be used to continue the historical summary of Mr. Herbert
Armstrong’s life and work in the twentieth century as recounted from the Autobiography of
Herbert W. Armstrong. This is now the sixth installment and brings us to the earliest days of
Ambassador College and its opening that first year in 1947. Many of you have read the
Autobiography in past years, but few of you have read it in the context of today’s events within
God’s church and identified key elements that portended the destruction of the Worldwide
Church of God. Even while that Work was growing and thriving over the first forty years, the
seeds of its own destruction were likewise being planted along the way. It is this aspect of the
history that we want to highlight for you because it matters very much regarding future tests that
God’s true Church will certainly face before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Against all odds, Ambassador College did indeed open its doors in the fall of 1947, but
only with four inaugural students. Some of the greatest tests were yet to come, because it is one
thing to open for business, but quite another to keep the doors open. Not only was the financial
“wolf” continually at the door, threatening to devour the new little enterprise, but likewise other
pressures emerged to put the entire program at risk.
The main problem with hiring secular professors as college faculty was that their own
religious views could not help but manifest in the course of performing their duties. Whether
it was Far Eastern occultism, atheism, or Protestant Christian leanings, Mr. Armstrong became
challenged to maintain control and prevent his vision of “God’s College” from being hijacked
in spirit before barely getting underway. This is how he described it:
I was determined that the AMBASSADOR POLICY was going to be
inculcated thoroughly in faculty and students alike. Ambassador was to be
GOD’S college—not another rubber stamp of the educational institutions of this
world! But, with a faculty trained in this world’s scholarship, I found that it
required determined dominance on my part, plus vigilance, to assure it (The Plain
Truth, September 1963, Autobiography, p. 18).
Ironically, this would be the very same circumstance that would present itself in the
1970s, when worldly scholars attempted to take Mr. Armstrong’s work in a divergent direction.
However, his lack of “dominance plus vigilance” in those particular years (as he later admitted)
would result in a very different outcome.
Because of becoming grossly overextended financially in taking on the overhead of the
new college project in 1947, the Armstrongs fell behind in paying their bills for some of the
major national radio contracts. They were forced to drop the six-night-per-week broadcast on
station XEG through most of 1948. There was still significant national presence, but nowhere
comparable to that which they had achieved previously. The cumulative effect of these
pressures left Mr. Armstrong near despair:
Other bills were pressing. I was being hounded on every side for money
by creditors. Many around me continued to harp about “when this thing folds
up.” But I was determined it was not going to fold up!
Two or three times, through those harassing months, I did give up and
quit—at night after going to bed, trying to push the nightmare out of mind and
relax into sleep. But always the next morning was another day—and I bounded
back with renewed determination to win through to success! (p. 22)
In spite of the discouraging setback of having to scale back the World Tomorrow
broadcasts—which Mr. Armstrong described as being “thrown off the air”—the established
loyalty of existing radio listeners around the country held firm, even without those nightly
programs in many areas. Tithes and offerings continued to pour in at near previous levels,
proving that Mr. Armstrong’s base of listeners included more than just fair-weather acolytes (p.
22). This truly was something the religious media world had never seen before.
These perpetual financial crises also required Mr. Armstrong to cut in half the
Ambassador College second-year curriculum. Half of his eight professors did not return for the
second year, and classes were offered only three days a week. This action would make it
impossible to complete a four-year program on schedule without additional efforts by the
students (p. 45).
Several more financial crises arose from 1947-48, any one of which could have destroyed
the college. Many times, the future of that college looked very bleak. Yet, time and again,
income would dramatically appear just when needed, or else circumstances would open up to
provide another temporary reprieve. It was not until January 1949 that the major financial crises
ended and a little relief was finally realized (The Plain Truth, October 1963, Autobiography,
Even so, during 1949, there were only three issues of The Plain Truth published, and Mr.
Armstrong was still writing all of the articles himself (The Plain Truth, November 1963,
Autobiography, p. 13).
Having finally weathered years of financial and personnel problems and having achieved
a tiny moment of reprieve in early 1949, one would think it a chance to embrace the status quo
for just a bit and seek to retrench. Not so with Herbert Armstrong.
A neighboring, dilapidated mansion adjoining the college property became available in
May, and Mr. Armstrong could not pass up the opportunity to secure it. That very month, the
28-room Tudor-style building named “Mayfair” was added to the college campus. By the fall
of 1949, it would become the first on-campus student dormitory. With this expansion, Mr.
Armstrong felt that the college was finally beginning to come into its own (p. 13).
Seven students participated in the second-year program during 1948-49, and then
enrollment in the fall of 1949 rose to twelve. The 1950-51 school year was the first one with
a full, four-year program. That year saw a student body of twenty-two, including six women.
Ambassador College was finally showing signs of “growing up.”
An additional adjacent property was purchased in November 1950, and slowly the
campus of Ambassador College began to take shape.
Recall that the fundamental intent of Ambassador College was to train men who could
be commissioned to help care for the brethren who were flocking into the Radio Church of God
as a result of the successful radio broadcasts. Up until this time, Mr. Armstrong would lay the
foundation for a local congregation, only to have that group decimated after he turned it over
to a local representative. Suitable leaders needed to be trained to think and to behave as Mr.
Armstrong would do if he were doing the job himself.
But the first college graduation could not possibly occur until the spring of 1951. If the
degree was considered absolutely essential, this would be the first time that any one of the first
students might possibly be deployed as a minister. But Mr. Armstrong could not wait that long.
By early 1951, the churches in Oregon were once again embroiled in problems as a result of
poor local leadership. Waiting even a few more months probably would have seen the
destruction of those congregations. The solution was to pull one of the men out early and send
him out to take control. Speaking of that particular school year, Mr. Armstrong said:
That school year Raymond Cole, one of the four pioneer students, was
student-body president. However, the local churches I had left up in Oregon, at
Eugene and Portland, these years without a Pastor, were in serious need of
leadership. And so in February, 1951, we sent Mr. Cole to Oregon to pastor and
revive the flock. This was the very first beginning of a ministry produced by
Ambassador College. After three and a half years at Ambassador College, Mr.
Cole was able to repair the situation in Oregon, and start building up again (The
Plain Truth, November 1963, Autobiography, p. 15).
Although Raymond Cole was “pulled green” for this assignment, the success of his half-year shepherding of the Oregon churches became the very first fulfillment of Mr. Armstrong’s
long-range dream to cultivate a competent and devoted ministry to support his work. The
experiment was paying off.
The first graduation took place in the spring of 1951:
Since we had operated on half-schedule in the 1948-49 year, it had been
made virtually impossible for students to graduate in four years. Mr. Cole
returned to Pasadena in August, 1951, and graduated in 1952, along with our son
Dick. However, by taking a heavier-than-normal load the last two years, both
Herman Hoeh and Betty Bates graduated in June, 1951—completing their college
work in four years (p. 15).
In addition to local pastors, Mr. Armstrong also needed help in producing the magazines:
A one-man ministry could not maintain several local churches, an
expanding broadcasting work, editing and writing all the articles for a fast-growing magazine, teach four college classes, and act as executive head of a
growing college, without something slipping backward somewhere.
But 1951 was the year that produced the first “fruits” of the new college.
In April of that year we began the first activity toward an enlarged PLAIN
TRUTH. I was still unwilling to publish in The PLAIN TRUTH, articles written
by students. Yet something had to be done. . . .
Twelve years before I had started a second magazine, called The GOOD
NEWS. It was to have been a church membership organ, edited exclusively for
baptized church members. The PLAIN TRUTH was to continue as the general
magazine for as many of the general public as would request it. But at that
time—February, 1939—I had been unable to continue publication of The GOOD
NEWS beyond the first issue! The reason? Same reason—lack of funds, and
inability of ONE MAN to do so much.
But now, twelve years later, I decided to bring The GOOD NEWS back to
life. . . .
Consequently, in April, 1951, The GOOD NEWS was re-born!
Now, for the first time, our students began to make active contributions to
the activities of this expanding Work! (The Plain Truth, January 1964,
Autobiography, pp. 9–10)
Students began by writing and editing articles in The Good News, but by August 1952,
Mr. Armstrong approved selected articles from other writers for The Plain Truth as well. Full
sixteen-page issues of either one or the other magazine were now able to go out every month,
and at the beginning of 1953 the number of radio stations carrying the World Tomorrow
program was also rebounding.
Mr. Armstrong had turned one room of the main college building into a recording studio
in 1948, and making their own master recordings for the broadcast began to save as much
money each month as the cost of the mortgage payment for the campus property. Students were
also enlisted to learn to run the recording equipment, and Richard (Dick) Armstrong became the
first radio studio operator (The Plain Truth, February 1964, Autobiography, p. 44). Over time,
this formula for providing part-time work for students in “the Work” while completing their
degrees on campus would become a reliable means to train future full-time workers for a
permanent, large-scale operation. In time, Mr. Armstrong would employ the very same
philosophy—investing large initial sums to build up front infrastructure in order to reduce long-range production costs—in other key areas, including publishing.
During this same period of time, the very first ordinations of new ministers were
performed by Mr. Armstrong. Even though his evangelical work had been carried out for more
than twenty years by this time, it was the first recorded instance of exercising his “authority” to
induct other new servants into the ministry of Jesus Christ:
On December 20, 1952, by authority of Jesus Christ, with fasting and
prayer and laying on of hands of God’s ministers, in congregation assembled in
Pasadena, California, upon recommendation of the Board of Trustees of The
Radio Church of God, five of our young ministers were fully ordained.
They are Richard David Armstrong, Raymond Clifford Cole, Herman
Louie Hoeh, Dr. C. Paul Meredith, and Roderick Carl Meredith—all graduates
of Ambassador College, except Dr. C. Paul Meredith who already held the
doctor’s degree from Iowa State College, but who had completed the entire four
years of Theological study at Ambassador College.
Upon recommendation of the Board of Trustees, two more of our young
ministers, Marion Joel McNair and Raymond Franklin McNair, will be fully
ordained following their graduation from the college January 30, 1953.
This ordination authorizes these ministers to perform all the duties and
exercise all the powers of the clergy, and clothes them with all the AUTHORITY
conferred by Jesus Christ upon His called and chosen ministers.
And so it is that God has sent to us here, caused to be thoroughly trained
by education, by experience, and thoroughly fitted by conversion, consecration,
and Holy Spirit-leading, SEVEN fine young ministers whom HE has called and
chosen. They have studied hard and diligently for years. They are all
experienced and competent. They have been tried and tested, and found faithful
and loyal (The Good News, February 1953, Seven Ministers Ordained, p. 2).
Note that this ceremony of formal ordination was not the very first time that these men
had begun to be used by Mr. Armstrong for official ministerial duties. We already have seen
that Raymond Cole was sent to pastor the churches in Oregon for several months in early 1951
before this ordination took place later in December. Yet he was already preaching, baptizing,
anointing for sickness, and officiating with many of those “powers of the clergy.” A number
of these men were also sent out on baptizing tours while still attending college, as well as
writing articles for the church, as we have already seen. Since this was all being done by
delegation, it appears Mr. Armstrong used the example of Jesus in sending out His disciples
with “power,” even while they were still in training, not even yet having received the Holy
Spirit, which would come only after Christ was resurrected (compare Luke 9:2–6 with Acts
This example becomes important later in the story in comparing how Mr. Armstrong
seemed to view the issue of ministerial authority early on, vs. how that view changed over time
as his ministry transitioned from a sole proprietorship to a more expansive, “corporate”
structure. Once these new men began to be deployed in that Work, it was finally able to begin
dealing more effectively with its growing pains and to serve a rapidly expanding membership.
At the very same time, the introduction of these new men would see their personal influences
begin to impact the doctrinal teachings more and more, as well as the “personality” of that
church. The work that for the first twenty years had reflected Mr. Armstrong’s “flavor” would
begin changing to reflect the orientation of other men.
In the next installment, we will continue with the key events of the 1950s and 60s that
would leave an indelible imprint upon the final legacy of Herbert Armstrong and his work.