God’s Peculiar Treasure Pt. XXIV: A Synopsis of the Life and Work of H.W.A, Pt. XIII

June 2018

 

Dear Brethren:


          Although it may not be evident from reading individual issues alone, many of
the Monthly Letters that you have received from this author over the last eight years
are part of a larger, comprehensive project to document the history and informed
interpretation
of events that occurred in the life of Mr. Herbert Armstrong and the
Worldwide Church of God in the twentieth century. Each element is a piece that adds
to the picture as a whole, and provides an analysis of real facts that other authors
outside of this remnant body have never recognized or been willing to admit. There
is nothing in this project that has not, in some way, been documented already in
various articles and letters published by Church of God, The Eternal over the past
forty years. But this project in particular is an attempt to structure that historical
account to show succinctly the fabric of a complete picture for future reference. With
God’s help, that project will be completed one day.


          Here is another important piece of that story:


          As documented already in the summary timeline of the history of Mr. Herbert
Armstrong’s work from his own words, the 1960s and 70s showcased a number of
dramatic events which affected the Worldwide Church of God and its ultimate “fate”
as an organization. Yet every other author who has written retrospectively about
these events seems to miss the real crux of that story. Depending upon the bias of the
author, much emphasis is laid either upon glorifying Mr. Armstrong as a last-day
Elijah who could do no wrong, or else vilifying him and his work as being evil and
deceptive from the inception. There is little perspective apart from these two
extremes.


          Therefore, analyses by these authors often highlight critical events from either
the 1930s through the 50s, or else the 1970s through the 90s, especially by those who
believe the most serious threats to the church occurred in the decade just before or
just after Mr. Armstrong’s death. Somehow, the 1960s seem to fall through the
historical cracks. More importantly, the role of Mrs. Loma Armstrong seems to have
been forgotten altogether.




The Forgotten Matriarch


          Recall that Mrs. Armstrong died in early 1967 after an unexpected illness
lasting just a few weeks. It was a shock both to Mr. Armstrong and to the whole
church. How important had she been in the work of her husband and the operation
of the church? Her influence was far greater than most people today remotely realize.
Yet Mr. Armstrong himself highlighted his wife’s importance consistently over many
decades. Here are just a few examples:


A minister’s wife is PART OF HER HUSBAND’S MINISTRY. Mrs.
Armstrong has always been a very definite PART of this ministry, from
the first. It was thru her God called me in the first place. If she had not
had just the right personality, just the right abilities, the depth of
character, the insight and understanding, the judgment, the complete
yieldedness to God and His Spirit and His leading to hold up her part of
this work, so that we could work together as a perfect harmonious team.
MY part of the work could never have been accomplished. We have
been instruments, TOGETHER, in the hands of God these many years
(Co-Worker Letter, February 21, 1952).


Do you realize that, actually, God started His Church of this
“Philadelphia era” through Mrs. Armstrong? First, He opened her mind
to His Law and His TRUTH. Then, through her, He brought me to Him
and to His TRUTH. Then He used us together as a TEAM.


God says it is not good that a man should be alone. He made a
help for Adam. He gave Mrs. Armstrong to me for my help. After He
used her for the first starting of His great Work — now becoming
powerful and worldwide — and for starting His Church for this era, He
has used her ever since as my loyal, faithful, loving, and very helpful
PARTNER. Our ministry has been as a TEAM — together. She is a
vital HALF of that team! Most of our members know that! (Co-Worker
Letter
, March 2, 1967)


Perhaps I might be permitted to say that this amazing growth, as
I now look back on it from the beginning, is very gratifying indeed to
me personally. From the beginning my wife shared the responsibilities,
the concerns, the problems, and the triumphs with me until her death in
April, 1967 — just 3 1/2 months before our golden wedding anniversary
(The Plain Truth, Personal from the Editor, October 1968).


          Perhaps the members at that time knew all of this to be true. If so, it seems her
significance to Mr. Armstrong’s success was soon forgotten by later generations.
Current authors seem to be silent on her role in that church’s history. But right after
she died, Mr. Armstrong wrote a special memorial to her in his church letter of May
1967. Here are some excerpts:


Through the wife God gave me, He called me — and us together
— into His service. He chose us as a husband-and-wife TEAM.
Through us He built His end-time WORK, proclaiming to the whole
world the GOOD NEWS of His coming world-ruling Kingdom, as a
witness to all nations.

He used us to prepare the way for Christ’s coming in supreme
POWER and GLORY to rule all peoples, and to bring to earth PEACE,
prosperity, happiness and joy. He used us in bringing many thousands
to CHRIST, to be begotten as God’s own children, to be BORN into His
divine Family! . . .

So now I can only be exceedingly GRATEFUL to the Great God
of all creation for having allowed me a half century of her loving
companionship and help. After our marriage in 1917, and before my
conversion in 1927, the one unselfish thing I can remember putting into
my prayers was always to THANK GOD for the lovely wife He gave
me. Of course I only prayed, in those years, for two reasons — because
my parents had brought me up to believe in God and to pray, and
because I wanted to GET something from God. Yet, somehow, even
then I KNEW God had selected my wife and given her to me. I don’t
know how I knew — it was just in my mind to know it (The Plain Truth,
Personal from the Editor, May, 1967).


          Concerning her moral character and positive influence upon others, Mr.
Armstrong would often laud his wife and highlight evidence of her valuable personal
example and tireless service. Toward the end of that same memorial letter, he stated:


Mrs. Armstrong was Guidance Counsellor to the young women
students on all three Ambassador College campuses. She, herself,
marvelled at the wisdom that just came spontaneously from God as she
counselled with these many girls about their many problems.

She set them a splendid example in so many ways. In her was no
guile — no hypocrisy — no pretense.

She was born in a small town in Iowa, had taught school before
we were married. She had come from plain, simple, yet solid and
substantial stock, well above average in success and accomplishment in
the world. Her father owned a retail store. Two of her uncles were
doctors — one reputed to have been a “millionaire” — one an attorney,
one owned a drugstore, one a successful farmer, another prominent in
politics. Her great grandfather on her mother’s side had emigrated to
Iowa from England, established a linen mill, and built a whole town.

But they were not pretenders. My wife had no patience with
flattery or pretense. She was just down-to-earth common clay — just
what she was — she put on no airs, or veneer of affected sophistication,
yet she was every whit a QUEEN (as a Queen SHOULD be). She had
a sound and understanding mind of great depth. She was my main
counsellor in all problems, and plans.

God blessed me with just the wife needed for HIS WORK — a
true HELP such as God intended a woman to be. Always I held her, not
only in my own mind and thoughts, but before all others, in the very
highest esteem, admiration, and honor (The Plain Truth, Personal from
the Editor, May, 1967).


          So Mr. Armstrong was never shy about giving praise to his wife as an instrument God had used powerfully—in partnership with him—to raise up the Radio
Church of God. In writing his Autobiography, he gave much credit to her—without
jealousy—as an instrument God used actively to inspire them both with wisdom.
That is the reason this particular historical rendering gives credit both to Herbert and
Loma Armstrong, as sharing in that very lasting legacy. Regardless of whether you
are one who hates that church or loves that church, it is a legacy still exerting an
impact upon many today, regardless of what became eventually of the corporate
enterprise. Loma Armstrong’s role in that endeavor should not be dismissed.




A Reaction for Every Action


          But what evidence is there that the death of Loma Armstrong was actually a critical turning point for the Radio Church of God?


          If it is true that Loma Armstrong had been such a critical and trusted partner
in the conduct of her husband’s work—and key to his success over a thirty-five year
period—is it likely that her death would produce no threatening tremor or ensuing
vacuum
within the church? Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion states, “For every
action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Was there really no equal and
opposite reaction to the death of Loma Armstrong?


          Mr. Armstrong never seemed to acknowledge that there was ever any let-down
in power, wisdom, or direction from God after Loma’s death in early 1967. Whereas
he had always given her credit for being a very key partner in that Work, now,
without her, the impression was given that God was filling that void by inspiring him
unilaterally. The question is, even if he really believed that to be true, was it true in
reality?


          Was it really true that the sudden illness and death of Loma became a “wake-up
call” to the whole church, spurring ministers and laymembers alike to redouble their
efforts to grow close to God and to invest in their spiritual futures for “the home
stretch”? That was the claim.


The thousands of God’s people backing and helping in this great
Work of God needed an EXTRA spiritual rejuvenation for this final
supreme effort coming “on the home stretch.”

And GOD USED MRS. ARMSTRONG’S
TWO-MONTHS-LONG CRITICAL ILLNESS FOR THIS VERY
PURPOSE. Nothing like it had ever happened before. There was an
unprecedented SHAKING UP — hundreds — THOUSANDS — were
brought to their knees in tears, realizing their own shortcomings — their
urgent NEED of a closer contact with the living CHRIST — of a greater
filling of HIS SPIRIT!

It started with me — but also at almost the same time with the
ministers at Pasadena Headquarters holding the top responsibilities in
this Work. From there it spread rapidly to our ministers stationed in all
parts of the world — and also like a shock-wave to Co-Workers by
thousands around the world. There was intensive heart-searching never
before experienced by these thousands who have this Work at heart (The
Plain Truth
, Personal from the Editor, May, 1967).


          By this account, Mr. Armstrong, all the ministers under him, and the entire laity
were now poised to move forward with more power and enthusiasm than ever before!
Loma’s death was the wake-up call that would jump start the church toward
unprecedented achievements!


          Is that what actually resulted? What did those key events transpiring in the
immediate aftermath of her death demonstrate historically? Did that church really
move forward, or did it begin to veer onto a path of a slow but steady unraveling of
all that Herbert and Loma had worked for together? You will be the judge.




Vanity Was His Natural Weakness


          One of the very critical, but subtle, benefits that Loma Armstrong had offered
her husband was a check upon his natural tendency to crave worldly acclaim. Recall
his own admission of this weakness from his youth—to “become somebody” in this
world. As quoted from his Autobiography, he gave credit to his down-to-earth and
most unpretentious wife as the balancing force which helped him to become so
successful.


In those days I had developed a very excessive case of swelled
head. I was snappy, confident, conceited—yet sincere, and intending to
be completely honest (The Plain Truth, November 1957, Autobiography
p. 4).


My wife gone into religious fanaticism! I was horrified, outraged!
What would my friends — my business associates say?

I had been humiliated, my ego punctured, by unpreventable
business reverses. But this was the greatest humiliation of all. This
seemed more than my vanity and conceit could take. It was a mortifying
blow.

“You can’t tell me that all these Churches have been wrong all
these years and centuries! They all teach that SUNDAY is the day to
keep and hold church services, all but one strange, queer, fanatical sect.”

My wife was broken up, too, when for the first time in our married
life I threatened divorce. She was sobbing.

“But I can’t help it,” she sobbed. “I have seen with my own eyes
in the Bible that God made holy the hours between Friday sunset and
Saturday sunset. I would be disobeying GOD if I gave it up now — I
would be LOST!”

I was boiling with indignation and anger (pp. 286, 288).


It was humiliating to have to admit my wife had been right, and
I had been wrong, in the most serious argument that ever came between
us.

It was shocking, disillusioning, to learn, after intensive study of
the Bible for the first time, that what I had been taught from a child in
Sunday School was, in so many basic points, the very opposite of what
the Bible plainly states! . . .

The opening of my eyes to the TRUTH brought me to the
crossroads of my life. To accept it meant to throw in my lot with a class
of humble and unpretentious people I had always looked upon as
inferior. It meant being cut off from the high and the mighty and the
wealthy of this world, to which I had aspired. It meant the final crushing
of VANITY. It meant a total change of life! (pp. 298–299)

Every person has his IDOL. God cannot receive and convert a
human life until his idol has been smashed or torn from him. My idol
had been an egotistical sense of self-importance — a cocky self-assurance — a passion to become successful in the eyes of the material
world. God is creating in those He calls a righteous character which can
be developed only through experience; and experience requires TIME.
God has a lot of time — He is Eternal — He has always existed — He
always will.

It took time to eradicate from my heart the love of the praise of
men. God gave me, instead, the false accusations, the unwarranted
oppositions, the scheming persecutions of people. It required time to
bring me to a place where I no longer set my heart on material
possessions and the finer things of this material world.

This process required not one or two years — not seven — but
four sevens! For 28 financially lean and humiliating years out of the
very prime of life
, God continued to root out of my life and character this
vain idolatry!

From the first and for many years I was the least of the ministers.
I was the greenhorn tail-ender among the ministers of the Church of God
(world headquarters then Stanberry, Missouri). And I was never
permitted to forget that fact! God knew I needed this (pp. 392–393).


          But once he had learned this vital lesson of humility, was the natural impulse
truly eradicated for all time? One of Mr. Armstrong’s key teachings to the whole
church asserted that our carnal natures are always there—even until we
die—requiring our vigilant efforts, using God’s Spirit, to vanquish those impulses and
to dominate them with the mind of Jesus Christ. If that is so, was not then Mr.
Armstrong required continually to “ride herd” upon his own natural weakness, even
for his whole life?


       Did Loma Armstrong continue to play a key part in helping him to maintain this
humility in the face of every new temptation? Notice this account of one such
temptation that came his way in the mid-1940s:


About that time a certain advertising agent in Los Angeles asked
me to have lunch with him. I believe it was at the Jonathan Club. He
was the advertising agent for a religious broadcast that was then
spending two million dollars a year buying radio time. This agent urged
me to give up the ministry.


“Listen, Mr. Armstrong,” he said. “All you’ll have ahead in your
religious ministry is problems, troubles, and headaches. I know. That’s
all Dr. Blank (not his real name) has. He is terribly harassed getting in
that $2 million a year to pay radio bills. He gets practically nothing out
of it but headaches. I’m the one who gets the money out of it. As his
Agency, the radio stations pay me 15% of that $2 million a year — I
make $300,000 a year. You have ability as a news analyst. With World
War II going full blast right now, I can get you a sponsor for a
15-minute news analysis 5 days a week — Mondays through Fridays —
at a fee of at least $100,000 a year to start. I think in a year I can have
you making $200,000 a year — and NO HEADACHES! You can even
bring in a small amount of Biblical prophecy once in a while — though
of course not like you do now — for it must not sound religious, of
course.”


Was I tempted? Not at all, though I think Satan thought I would
be.


That “temptation” came at a time when the income for the Work
had been cut in HALF! The income for the whole Work was probably
about $35,000 a year by then. And Satan tried to tempt me with an offer
between $100,000 and $200,000! And ALL FOR MYSELF! Most of
that $35,000 had to go for radio bills — and I was beginning to have a
small number of secretaries on the payroll.


In all this, Mrs. Armstrong was my faithful partner and helper.
She even “scolded” me (she wasn’t really serious) for telling her of that
offer. SO — we continued that year, as before, RELYING ON GOD —
and that year, despite HALF our income being withdrawn, the income
for God’s Work increased 30% as usual! (Co-Worker Letter, September
1, 1968)


          So Mr. Armstrong claims that he was not tempted by the offer to make a lot of
money as a radio personality without the hassle of the religious side of things. It is
more likely that he simply squashed that temptation quickly, even though it very
likely tickled his fancy for a moment. The very fact that he referred to Mrs.
Armstrong’s involvement at all speaks loudly of a subtle but forceful “help” behind
him to remind him of his true priorities. Is that not exactly the kind of credit he
always attributed to Mrs. Armstrong as his partner in God’s service? There is
absolutely no shame in this.


          But if that is true, once again, is it certain that he would become as strong in
defeating every new such similar temptation without Loma’s support? Would he now
manifest a new level of solitary power to keep himself from falling into that old trap
of vanity, in absence of her down-to-earth and unpretentious influence? Time would
tell.


          The death of Loma Armstrong would present Herbert Armstrong and the entire
church with a brand new challenge that would test the very foundations of that Work.


Mrs. Armstrong suffered through 28 long years of poverty with
me, getting God’s Work going — and GROWING! We learned what
REAL joyous HAPPINESS is, in poverty. We had God’s Holy Spirit to
lead us. We were constantly learning NEW TRUTHS in God’s Word —
a FAR GREATER THRILL AND JOY THAN MATERIAL THINGS!
. . .


Brethren, Mrs. Armstrong struggled with me, at sacrifice greater
than you can know, for a WHOLE GENERATION, that YOU might
have the JOY to have part in this glorious WORK OF GOD, now. I no
longer have my dear wife at my side. I have to carry on without her (Co-Worker Letter, September 1, 1968).


          Dear friends of the common faith, in the next installment, you will receive a
summary of the key events that transpired within the first two years of Mrs.
Armstrong’s death—events that will prove that her loss in 1967 did indeed become
one of the most critical turning points in the entire history of the Radio Church of
God.

With special love and affection to all, in Christ’s name,
Jon W. Brisby signature
Jon W. Brisby


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