Open Doors and Dramatic Growth

In 1946, God started positioning the Radio Church of God, and the Work being done through Mr. Armstrong, for dramatic growth. Faced with the pressures of daily radio broadcasting (for which Hollywood was well-equipped to provide technical support), and recognizing the need for a college to train an educated and faithful ministry, Mr. Armstrong looked into moving to Southern California. He located an appropriate property in Pasadena, and entered into negotiations to purchase it.

At this time, Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong took a trip to Europe to investigate the possibility of establishing a European branch of the college to prepare ministers for a worldwide Work. No one can accuse Mr. Armstrong of thinking small! Yet most people would have viewed his idea as totally unrealistic. After all, only 50 people attended the Feast of Tabernacles in Belknap Springs in 1946! There was not even an American college up and running—only great dreams and a run-down estate with two buildings that Mr. Armstrong was trying to purchase. Others, both within and without the Church of God, were talking about "when this thing folds up." However, vision and the ability to "think big" were qualities Mr. Armstrong demonstrated in far greater measure than any other Church of God leader of his day. Ambassador College opened its doors in the fall of 1947, with four students and eight instructors. Expansion, and a European branch college, would have to wait—for a little while.

In 1949, Ambassador College students conducted their first nationwide baptismal tour. Much of the fruit of those early, student-led baptismal tours was reflected in the jump in Feast attendance from 150 in 1951 to 450 in 1952. In December of 1952, Mr. Armstrong ordained the first evangelists of this phase of the Church of God: Richard Armstrong, Raymond Cole, Herman Hoeh, C. Paul Meredith and Roderick C. Meredith. In February 1953, Marion and Raymond McNair were ordained, bringing the total to seven. This began a period of rapid growth and development in the Work.

After the first two classes of Ambassador College students had graduated, a Graduate School of Theology was established. Mr. Armstrong used the Graduate School of Theology as a springboard to delve more deeply into a number of subjects, the most important of which involved the nature of God and the destiny of man.

The Church of God has, throughout its history, been non-Trinitarian, never accepting the formulations of the early Catholic councils as a valid guide for Christians. However, in modern times, it was not until the spring of 1953 that Mr. Armstrong and the other ministers began to develop a clear understanding of the biblical teaching that God is a divine Family into which converted human beings will be born at the resurrection. At first, they attempted to prove this understanding false, from the Bible. Instead, they found this vital truth reaffirmed throughout God's Word. Though this understanding was the clear implication of much that had previously been taught, Mr. Armstrong and the others found it challenging to accept this simple—yet profoundly important and overwhelming—truth. This key teaching of Scripture—that we can be born into the Family of God—is perhaps the single greatest truth that God restored, through Mr. Armstrong, to the Church of God.

Two giant leaps forward in the preaching of the Gospel occurred in 1953. The year began with the opening of one of the greatest single doors in the history of the Work. On January 1, Radio Luxembourg—at that time the most powerful radio station on earth—began broadcasting The World Tomorrow to Europe. Additionally, Mr. Armstrong obtained time for a daily broadcast carried over the entire ABC Radio Network.

In February 1953, Richard Armstrong (Mr. Armstrong's eldest son, who died in an automobile accident in 1958) opened a mailing office in London. In 1954, accompanied by his wife Loma, Richard Armstrong and Roderick C. Meredith, Mr. Armstrong conducted evangelistic campaigns in Britain. In 1956-57, Mr. Meredith returned for more campaigns. In 1958, back again in the U.S., he was appointed second vice president of the Church.

The June 1960 Plain Truth magazine carried a special announcement from Mr. Armstrong to the British readership, announcing a series of campaigns in Britain by Mr. Meredith. Mr. Armstrong wrote: "Mr. Meredith is fully consecrated, utterly sincere.. He is going to tell you things you can't hear from any other source, you'll be shocked, surprised—you'll hear more real truth in one night of these meetings than most people learn in years of the preaching of our day!" (Fletcher, p. 256). By October 1960, the second Ambassador College opened its doors in Bricket Wood, England and in 1964 a third campus opened in Big Sandy, Texas.

As the number of ministers available to conduct baptizing tours and pastor churches increased, so did the harvest that was being reaped by the Work. Feast attendance jumped from 750 in 1953 to more than 2,000 in 1957. By 1961, the numbers were almost 10,000 and, by 1967, more than 40,000. The Plain Truth's circulation topped the half-million mark in 1964, and hit one million by 1967. By the late 1960s, The World Tomorrow was broadcast daily and heard by tens of millions of people around the world. Amid this worldwide explosion of interest in God's Word, in 1967 the legally incorporated name of the organization was changed from "Radio Church of God" to "Worldwide Church of God."

Throughout the soaring 1960s, Garner Ted Armstrong (Mr. Armstrong's younger son) served as the main speaker on The World Tomorrow and as vice president of the Church. Dr. Roderick C. Meredith (who had in January 1966 received his Th.D. from the Ambassador College Graduate School of Theology) was named director of the U.S. ministry.

In 1967, Mrs. Loma Armstrong died at age 75. By the end of the 1960s, signs of future problems for the Work were already surfacing.

In January 1972, the Church was shaken by the removal of Garner Ted Armstrong from his responsibilities. Four months later he was reinstated. The 1970s saw in the Church, as in America as a whole, the emergence of an increasingly liberal, permissive spirit. A number of ministers and members left the Church in 1974; increasing doctrinal confusion, coupled with accusations of scandal, assaulted the Work. After beginning recovery from massive heart failure in 1977, Mr. Armstrong finally removed his son from his responsibilities in the spring of 1978 and disfellowshipped him in June.

In January 1979, the Church was temporarily hit by a receivership imposed by the State of California. Mr. Armstrong, from Tucson, Arizona (where he was still recovering from heart trouble), named Dr. Meredith to his old job as director of the ministry, seeking to restore stability to the Church and the ministry during this troubled time. At the same time, Mr. Armstrong sought to "set the Church back on track" doctrinally after the liberal, watered-down doctrinal approach of the 1970s. By the time of his death in January 1986, The Plain Truth had a circulation of more than eight million copies printed in seven languages. Attendance at the Feast of Tabernacles approached 150,000 worldwide.

When Joseph Tkach took the helm of the Worldwide Church of God upon the death of Mr. Armstrong in January 1986, the Church was a seemingly unified body. It appeared focused on the Work of God that lay ahead and committed to the Truth. There were problems beneath the surface, however. They became increasingly obvious, at first faintly and then more clearly.

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