The late twenties and early thirties saw the Church of God become virtually paralyzed by political infighting and doctrinal strife. The Church's Conference in 1929 was marked by considerable confusion and dissension. Issues of controversy revolved around "born again," clean and unclean meats, the use of tobacco, the date of the Passover (Nisan 14 or 15), and the work of the Holy Spirit (Pentecostalism). The number of conversions dwindled and the Work of the Church was virtually at a standstill.
It was at this point, in the autumn of 1926, that the life of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong became intertwined with the story of the Church of God. Mr. Armstrong's ministry undoubtedly had greater impact on more people than any Church of God minister since the first century. Challenged by his wife regarding which day was the Christian Sabbath, as well as by a sister-in-law over the question of evolution, Mr. Armstrong began a six-month period of intensive study. By the spring of 1927, he had come to understand that much of what he had grown up believing was not biblical Truth. He learned that both the seventh-day Sabbath as well as God's annual Holy Days are to be kept by Christians today!
In the aftermath of this intensive study, Mr. Armstrong struggled with the question: "Where is the true Church?" He eventually entered the fellowship of Church of God brethren in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, because he saw them as retaining more Truth than any other group.
By 1928, Mr. Armstrong began submitting articles for publication in The Bible Advocate. As there was no minister in Oregon at that time, the brethren in Eugene frequently asked him to speak to the congregation. In June of 1931, Mr. Armstrong was ordained to the ministry by the Oregon Conference of the Church of God, thus beginning a ministry that lasted almost 55 years!
In the meantime, trouble was building for the Church of God as a whole. At the General Conference, held in August 1933, Andrew Dugger, the primary church leader for the past 20 years, lost his position by one vote. This precipitated a crisis that split the Church down the middle. "On the one side, Andrew N. Dugger and others held to 'reorganization' of church government, clean meats, no tobacco, and Passover on Nisan 14. On the other hand, Burt F. Marrs led a group of 'independents' who were pro-pork and tobacco, and felt Passover should be on Nisan 15. The issue of when to observe the Passover was debated for three days during the time of the division" (Nickels, p. 151). Andrew Dugger withdrew from the General Conference of the Church of God headquartered at Stanberry and held a meeting to reorganize the Church in Salem, West Virginia, in November 1933. A new organizational structure was instituted with "Twelve Apostles," "Seventy Elders" and "Seven" set over the finances.
Offices were chosen by lot rather than by vote. Mr. Armstrong, of Oregon, was chosen as one of "The Seventy." He and most of the Oregon brethren switched their affiliation from the Stanberry organization to the new organization headquartered in Salem. Though Mr. Armstrong did not receive a salary from Salem, he accepted their ministerial credentials and submitted monthly ministerial reports.
"The division of the Church of God (Seventh Day) caused the membership and leadership much grief. Many members and prospects were discouraged by the frequent attacks one church launched on the other. In some instances, ministers switched organizations, bewildering their membership. In other cases, the membership became pawns in the struggle between ministers who were vying for their loyalty and support. The membership growth of the 1920s was not realized or even approached in the decades of the 1930s and 1940s" (Coulter, p. 55). Actually, membership decreased during this period.
At the time all this was occurring, the foundation was being laid for a Work of God that would have unprecedented worldwide impact. Rather than waste his energies on political infighting within the Church, Mr. Armstrong began making a regular weekly radio broadcast aimed at preaching the Gospel to the world. The program was called "Radio Church of God," and first aired on KORE, a 100-watt station in Eugene. The radio program was launched on the first Sunday in January 1934 and, in February, Mr. Armstrong began publication of a mimeographed "magazine" entitled The Plain Truth which was sent to about 200 people. Little did he realize at the time that Christ was using him to raise up the sixth era of the Church, typified by the Church at Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13).
In addition to the weekly radio broadcast, Mr. Armstrong conducted evangelistic campaigns throughout the area. Though several churches were raised up as a result of his efforts, these new congregations usually fell apart or went astray because of a lack of faithful, dedicated ministers to shepherd the flock. During this period, Mr. Armstrong came into increasing conflict with the Church headquarters in Salem because of his teachings about the identity of Israel and the annual Sabbath days. Although Andrew Dugger had admitted in a private letter that Mr. Armstrong's teachings on the "lost Ten Tribes" were correct, Mr. Dugger refused to publish an article on the subject in The Bible Advocate.
Finally, the issue of the Holy Days came to a head in 1937. The following is quoted from the minutes of the business meeting held in Detroit, Michigan, May 5-10, 1937, by the Board of Twelve
Apostles of the Church of God (Seventh Day), Salem, West Virginia, Headquarters: "May 7, at 1:00 p.m. Reading of Elder Armstrong's letter to the Twelve. Reading in periods of 20 minutes each of Elder Armstrong's articles on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Passover, Pentecost, Feast of Tabernacles, etc., followed each time by discussion pro and con by the Elders.. A decision was made as given in the following resolution: 'Inasmuch as some have troubled the Churches, teaching them they should observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread and yearly Sabbaths. we reaffirm the teachings of the Church of God on this point. that we observe no such custom'" (John Kiesz, History of the Church of God, p. 180). According to the official records provided by Virginia Royer, bookkeeper of the Church of God Publishing House in Salem: "It was in 1938 that he [Mr. Armstrong] was asked to turn in his credentials for continuing to preach contrary to Church doctrine" (p. 180).
Although Mr. Armstrong no longer carried ministerial credentials from the Church of God (Seventh Day) after 1938, he continued to teach and preach more forcefully than ever. As reported in the April 1939 Good News, the weekly Radio Church of God broadcast was reaching 100,000 listeners in the Pacific Northwest. That also was the year that the first, full eight-day Feast of Tabernacles was held in Eugene, attended by 42 people. (From 1933 to 1938, services had been held only on the Holy Days.) In addition to Mr. Armstrong, other Church of God elders such as John Kiesz were guest speakers at the Feast until about 1945.
By mid-1942, the name of the radio program changed from "Radio Church of God" to The World Tomorrow, and there was an experimental period of daily broadcasts begun in the Los Angeles area. In the late summer of 1942, more than 1,700 people attended an evangelistic campaign Mr. Armstrong held at the Biltmore Theater in Los Angeles. The Work that God was accomplishing through Mr. Armstrong was growing and bearing fruit. In August 1942, The World Tomorrow went nationwide, with a Sunday broadcast from WHO in Des Moines and, in 1943, WOAI in San Antonio was added. By 1944, The Plain Truth's circulation reached 35,000.
As the impact of the Work God was doing through Mr. Armstrong grew, the Church of God (Seventh Day) continued to split and splinter with more and more independent churches and ministers. There were efforts toward unity that resulted in the merger of the Salem and the Stanberry groups in 1949. However, the merger itself spawned additional splits and, 20 years later in 1969, that Church's primary publication, The Bible Advocate, had a circulation of just over 2,000. The Church of God (Seventh Day) represented the final phase of what is described in Revelation 3 as the Church at Sardis. Remember, it is described as being spiritually dead, though there would be a few who walked with Christ in white.
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