In the course of documenting the history of the life of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong and the
Worldwide Church of God over the past few years, we have already summarized key events at
the end of the 1960s. In the June 2018 Monthly Letter, we covered the importance of Mrs.
Loma Armstrong in particular in the overall work and ministry of her husband. Very few today
recognize how critical he always claimed that she had been in the success of his ministry.
With that fact now well established, is it true that the church got stronger, not weaker,
after Mrs. Armstrong died in April 1967? Was there really no dangerous vacuum that ensued?
As Mr. Armstrong expected to occur, did her death become a “wake-up call” to the whole
church, marking a positive turning point for ministers and laity to finish God’s work with
renewed unity of purpose? Or did it become something else instead?
Our summary of the events of the 1960s and early 1970s from Mr. Armstrong’s
Autobiography (June 2016 Monthly Letter) cited key events that began to transpire in the late
1960s. But it is worth asking if perhaps the death of Loma Armstrong was a catalyst for some
of those key events which followed. Here is a restating of those events with that particular
question in mind.
One of the booklets written by Herbert Armstrong—first published as an article in 1956
and creating a real stir concerning expected catastrophic future events—was entitled 1975 in
Prophecy. It highlighted Bible prophecies of great tribulation to befall human beings before the
return of Jesus Christ, and it speculated upon the possibility that many of those events might
coalesce by the mid-1970s. Because of such writings, the eyes of most church members became
focused like laser beams upon the 1970s, waiting to see what God would do.
But what if the very most critical events affecting that church had already transpired
before the 1970s even began, occurring with little fanfare or recognition? What if the stage had
already been set (unknowingly) for prophesied tribulation within that church, and what if the
very seeds of that institution’s own destruction had already been planted? What if the truly most
decisive turning point occurred in 1968, not in 1975?
What were these key events, and what did they have to do with the death of Loma
Armstrong in early 1967?
Perhaps this is merely a superficial consideration with little real significance, but
changing the name of the Radio Church of God to the Worldwide Church of God in 1968 did
have relevance, even if only a symbolic one. Large corporations make changes to their names
for reason. In most cases, if they are not trying to communicate something important through
this action, they would not bother to do it. It is expensive and tedious for any large organization
to change its legal name. In many cases, a name change signals a desire to change the public
image of the enterprise.
One of the first observable changes that took place after Loma Armstrong’s death was
a change in the name of the church. Oddly, in this case, unlike the kind of fanfare that typically
accompanies such organizational rebranding, renaming the Radio Church of God to the
Worldwide Church of God was introduced to its members with very little hype. Is that because
this change was not being made with current members (customers) in mind, but perhaps in order
to affect the impression among outsiders?
As noted previously, a document entitled, 1968 Certificate of Amendment of Articles of
Incorporation of Radio Church of God, confirms that the name change was approved in a
meeting on January 5, 1968, and signed by Mr. Armstrong and corporate Secretary, Mr. Albert
J. Portune. Anecdotal accounts assert that Mr. Armstrong felt the church had outgrown the
original name. It was no longer just a “radio church.” The church needed a name that reflected
the fact that it was now “grown up” into a worldwide operation.
After that change, did the church still hold its same philosophy and mission, or did this
seemingly symbolic change actually portend more significant organizational shifts to come?
Recall that 1967/1968 was the time period when Herbert Armstrong was thrust
accidentally into personal contact with several world leaders for the first time.
The first was a meeting with King Hussein of Jordan in the summer of 1967, soon after
Mrs. Armstrong’s death (Co-Worker Letter, July 31, 1967). The second was a meeting with
King Leopold III of Belgium in February 1968, which would bloom into a long-standing
personal friendship. The third event occurred in September of 1968, with Mr. Armstrong’s
meeting with five high-ranking Israeli government and university officials in the Knesset (Co-Worker Letter, May 28, 1971).
How did he interpret these unexpected opportunities? Were they merely tangential
occurrences in the course of executing his long-standing strategy for spreading the Gospel? No,
these new interactions with renowned men caused Mr. Armstrong to conclude that God was
now opening “a new door” for his Work through visits with world rulers.
GIANT doors have been opening before me, one after another, with
invitations for personal conferences with heads of state — presidents, kings, prime
ministers — and many others in high offices of POWER, in many countries
around the world. The remarkable thing is that I did not seek or initiate these
meetings — not once! I was invited. . . .
Even though the time has come, in this great Commission, when it is
necessary for me to have these personal meetings, there is absolutely NO WAY
I could have taken it into my own hands and accomplished it. It had to come like
a continuous chain of MIRACULOUS occurrences. And it is having
TREMENDOUS SIGNIFICANCE to the finishing of this most important
Commission on earth in 1900 years!
Of course you’ve been reading, in The PLAIN TRUTH, of some of these
meetings with the world’s rulers. And many more such articles and reports are
coming in future issues. Then later, I will take you into my confidence and give
you the exciting facts of the incredible circumstances, and the surprising
providential manner in which these giant doors have opened before me, one after
the other in time order.
These very important meetings have suddenly catapulted the entire Work
up onto a new and higher plateau! The Work has moved suddenly into a
TOTALLY NEW PHASE! These providential new developments signal the
warning to YOU and to me that we do not have much time left to get done THE
MOST IMPORTANT JOB ON EARTH IN 1900 YEARS! We have now been
moved into the last and final phase of the Work for this Age! (Co-Worker Letter,
April 12, 1971)
This last and final phase—expected by him at that time to have led directly to the end
of the age spoken of by Jesus Christ—occurred more than fifty years ago as of this writing.
With that in mind, what do we conclude today—in hindsight—about Mr. Armstrong’s heartfelt
conviction that God was leading him to finish the final phase of God’s work through meeting
with world leaders? If the world did not end when he expected it to (in the 1970s), and it did
not even end in the 1980s before he died, and it still has not ended even today, something about
his conclusion back in 1968 could not have been correct!
The fact is, since the prophesied consummation of the age (end of the world) did not
occur, then whatever Mr. Armstrong was doing while meeting with heads of state from 1968
through the mid-1980s was not God’s final warning to the world! It simply cannot be. Yet there
are many former members and ministers of the Worldwide Church of God today who will not
face that fact. Herbert Armstrong believed sincerely that God would use him to “finish the
Work.” Certain ministers under him boldly proclaimed to the laity that if Herbert Armstrong
died before the return of Christ, it was never the true Church of God. Is it any wonder that so
many became disillusioned when these prophetic speculations failed? And many of those
prognostications were predicated upon the belief that Herbert Armstrong’s “open door to visit
kings” was testament to his commission at the very end of the age.
Perhaps “visiting kings” was still an endeavor ordained of God, but if so, it was not so
that Herbert Armstrong could fulfill an Elijah commission to prepare the way for the imminent
return of Jesus Christ. Even as John the Baptist performed his commission to prepare the way
for the first coming of Christ (Matthew 17:11–13; Luke 1:17)—and did so immediately
preceding and leading into the beginning of Christ’s first ministry on earth—the Bible shows
that a last-day Elijah will perform his commission by giving a warning just prior to and leading
into the Second Coming of Christ (Malachi 3:1; 4:5–6). What value is an urgent, “last-minute”
warning that comes more than fifty years before the prophesied event? That simply does not
add up. And all of these individuals out there today trying to “carry on” that particular
commission of Herbert Armstrong are fooling themselves.
Herbert Armstrong always pointed to “the fruits” of any endeavor to substantiate it as
having divine inspiration. When challenged by those who claimed he was a fraud, he would
point to “the fruits” of the Radio Church of God as evidence of God’s guiding hand. He would
point to the reach of his radio broadcast and print publications around the world, and he would
point to the growth of the church, year after year. In all of these “evidences,” he did indeed have
justification for claiming that he was a legitimate minister of Jesus Christ, called by God for a
commission to go to the world with power to proclaim the real Truth of God. Why and how did
he manifest legitimacy in this? Because he accomplished so much in that regard! The fruits of
that physical church were evident! Many still claimed he was just lucky, or diabolically clever,
but a great religious empire was built under him nonetheless. He claimed it was the divine
intervention of God that made all of that possible. And if that is not true, then some other
evidence would have to be brought forth to substantiate it. You certainly cannot “prove” he was
not legitimate by showing that he was an utter failure. He was not! The size and eventual reach
of that church was unmistakable. It did indeed bear fruit!
But what about this “new commission” that began in 1968? What about this brand new
attempt to fulfill God’s will by beginning to go to the rulers of this world?
As I mentioned in my previous letter a month ago, the Work of necessity
had to begin by reaching the grassroots — the masses of the common people — the
RULED. We now are reaching more than 150 MILLION of them. . . .
But we have reached the point where it has now become necessary that we
reach ALSO the RULERS — those in the very top echelons of POWER in the
world. Because, whether we have realized it or not, this Work is the
GREATEST, MOST EFFECTIVE activity on earth for WORLD PEACE! (Co-Worker Letter, May 28, 1971)
How was Herbert Armstrong’s Work to be a catalyst for world peace? Initially, it was
because he felt it was a new platform to warn national rulers about the eminent return of Jesus
Christ, with God’s Kingdom bringing peace finally to the world. But sadly, as it became evident
that Jesus Christ was not returning within months (or even years), rather than to reassess the
value of devoting so much time to meeting with heads of state to “warn them,” the concept of
“bringing world peace” quickly morphed into a program to join with nations and worldly
institutions to try to make this current world a better place. But that concept was a total
departure from the church doctrine that Herbert Armstrong had championed for over forty
years! Until 1968, the thrust of the message was a true warning:
Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their
transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins (Isaiah 58:1).
Herbert Armstrong thundered with authority that the whole world was suffering because
of sin—the rejection of God’s divine Law. But once it became possible for Mr. Armstrong to
spend significant amounts of his personal time in high-level, diplomatic settings around the
world, that fiery proclamation of the need to repent was replaced by a soft, appeasing message
about “an unseen hand” that was coming to solve the world’s problems.
What was the evidence—the fruits—that this kind of new commission was ever intended
by God? How would you measure it? If proof of having a divine commission to raise up a
church is given by producing a large, worldwide organization (which Herbert Armstrong
actually accomplished), what would be the proof that one was sent by God to speak to kings?
Is the very fact that you are permitted to speak to kings evidence that God is the One who
blessed it as a new commission?
No, Mr. Armstrong clearly stated the “why” of his wanting to meet with world rulers.
Mere opportunity to rub shoulders with powerful people is not a reason to do it, and certainly
it is not evidence of God’s involvement! The “why” was to complete a new commission (an
Elijah commission) to warn the world just prior to the appearance of Jesus Christ! If that was
the “why” of its being done, then what should we be able to observe retroactively as the fruits
of that endeavor? Was there ever any evidence that such a commission was given by God?
From 1968 to the mid-1980s, did those national leaders receive a bone-chilling warning
about the imminent return of Christ, with His new government soon to dethrone those current
kings, presidents, and prime ministers? Did Mr. Armstrong speak to them the way Elijah spoke
to King Ahab, and as John the Baptist spoke to King Herod? Was the entire world warned with
mighty signs and miracles about their national sins and the need for repentance? Has there even
yet been the kind of “witness” comparable to that which God prophesied will occur before the
arrival of His Son? No such warning message was ever proclaimed by Mr. Armstrong to kings,
and we have not even yet seen the fulfillment of that prophecy of a true warning Work. Instead,
with Mr. Armstrong’s visits to heads-of-state, diplomacy was the order of the day, including
expensive gifts to dignitaries, and only a very veiled message about Jesus Christ—often without
ever using His name! Is that really what we saw from Elijah and from John the Baptist? Is that
truly the way we think God is going to make final preparation for Christ’s return?
So again, in evaluating Mr. Armstrong’s very strong and sincere belief in 1968 that God
had tasked him with a brand new commission, what do the fruits actually show in hindsight?
The nations were not warned as God promised He will do, and Jesus Christ did not return
following the conclusion of years of those international state visits. According to Mr.
Armstrong’s own standard of proof, this aspect of his work does not pass muster.
Besides warning the world before Christ’s imminent return, visiting heads-of-state was
also expected to “open doors” to allow the Worldwide Church of God more access to preach the
Gospel to these leaders’ peoples. But God had already opened doors for radio broadcasts and
print publications in most of these areas, even without visiting their national leaders (like King
Leopold of Belgium). But what about the bonds he forged with leaders in countries like Japan,
especially? The hope was that this personal rapport with the Japanese Prime Minister and other
officials would “open the door” for eventual church congregations in Japan. But that never
happened! There were a whole lot of state banquets and formal meetings with dignitaries across
Asia, but those contacts never produced congregations! The one country in that region where
the church flourished was in the Philippines (a Catholic country), and that work had been
accomplished beginning in the early 1960s, long before visiting world leaders became a goal.
And in every other country where the church had been previously shut out from operating (like
most of the Buddhist nations), even after years of hob-knobbing with Buddhist dignitaries, the
church mostly was still shut out from forming congregations there! So once again, what were
the real fruits? The claim was made repeatedly that this activity would “open doors.” But the
Gospel of Jesus Christ was never really preached there, and the church did not gain any
significant foothold because of those meetings. No fruits!
Therefore, if it is true that God was opening a new door in 1968 to allow Mr. Armstrong
access to many rulers of this world, then at a minimum, God’s purpose was not what he thought
it was. But if God was indeed involved, what might His purpose have been instead?
Might it have been a test, and not a commission at all? Might it have been a temptation
permitted by God, similar to the one documented previously (in the mid-1940s), when Mr.
Armstrong was offered a lot more money to give up religion and to become a secular radio
announcer instead? Recall what he wrote about Mrs. Loma Armstrong’s reaction to that offer?
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 (Co-Worker
Letter, September 1, 1968).
In like manner, what if it was never God’s will at all for Mr. Armstrong to begin seeking
meetings with world leaders? What if this was another temptation that threatened to sidetrack
him from his real commission in God’s service? What if this was just another way that his old
weakness of vanity was being tested?
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!
(The PLAIN TRUTH, April 1959, p. 6)
Yet, here, beginning in 1967/68, Herbert Armstrong was being offered a chance to move
into those very lofty circles of “the high and the mighty and the wealthy of this world” which
he had always craved! But this time, he would not have to abandon his service to God in order
to gain that prestige. By concluding that God was the One sending him, he could hence have
the very best of both worlds! However, when faced with temptation this time, he did not have
Loma Armstrong at his side to temper his natural attraction to a very tantalizing opportunity.
If this is not a credible assessment of what happened, then someone needs to show how
those world visits actually fulfilled any spiritual purpose of God!
The fruits hoped for were never realized from pursuing this “new commission” to visit
kings. But there were indeed other fruits borne. What were they?
Once Mr. Armstrong began devoting the majority of his personal time to state visits
around the world, it became impossible for him to “mind the store” back home. He was forced
to delegate much more to other men in running church operations. After the final expulsion of
his son, Garner Ted Armstrong, from the church in 1978, recall how Mr. Armstrong assessed
the reason for such serious problems through the 1970s:
For the past two years I have been laboring very hard to be Christ’s servant
and apostle in SETTING GOD’S CHURCH BACK ON THE TRACK. The entire
Church had been derailed. A LIBERAL spirit from Satan had been injected into
some in high positions under me at Headquarters in Pasadena. Instead of
wholeheartedly OBEYING Christ through HIS WORD, THE BIBLE, there was
creeping in, during years when I was in other parts of the world up to 300 out of
the 365 days in the year, a LIBERAL spirit of SATAN.
Those leaders to whom I had delegated the responsibility of
ADMINISTERING the POLICIES and DOCTRINES Christ had set in God’s
Church through His apostle, went way BEYOND the authority given them. They
started CHANGING POLICIES and watering down God’s TRUTH, changing
DOCTRINES, compromising — seeing HOW CLOSE they could go — and lead
the Brethren in going — to the ways of SATAN! They wanted to be more
LIBERAL — more like THIS WORLD OF SATAN. . . .
But for two years Jesus Christ has been using me and those loyally still
with and under me to SET BACK ON GOD’S TRACK God’s Church (Co-Worker
Letter, September 15, 1980).
Herbert Armstrong had been the one-and-only CEO of the Worldwide Church of God
through that entire time. If he was at the helm, how did that church go so far away from what
he deemed important? His answer, above, was that he was away from home for 300 out of 365
days a year. The inference is that had he not been away so much, he might have prevented this
liberal cancer from ever taking hold.
And why was he away so much of the year? Because since 1968, he had been fulfilling
that “new commission” to warn rulers of the imminent arrival of Jesus Christ.
So the very unintended consequences of latching onto this new commission in 1968 was
the implosion of his life’s work through the 1970s, as other men dismantled and restructured the
Worldwide Church of God in his absence.
And once again, what was the spiritual payoff for all of those meetings with world rulers
over the ensuing decade? Nothing! The only real fruit was a time of upheaval and tribulation
for members of the Worldwide Church of God.
For all of this, we still have not answered the question: If God was behind Herbert
Armstrong in the raising up of that church, why would He have allowed him to take such a
wrong turn in 1968? Herbert Armstrong was well-meaning. He loved God and wanted to fulfill
that calling in His service. So if that church was being led by God, why did God not prevent
such a devastating mistake?
The answer will provide the context to understand the real Work of God in the twentieth
century, and to confirm the truly enduring legacy of Herbert and Loma Armstrong. We will take
up that part of the story next time.
In the meantime, may all of you—who see the value of that glorious Truth which we
learned through Mr. Armstrong—hold fast and preserve it in your very own lives.