Who Was Herbert W. Armstrong?

by Bruce A. Ritter

It was the summer of 1978. I was 14 years old and serious thoughts weighed heavily on my mind. “What’s the purpose of my life?” “What happens when I die?” “Will the horrific events described in Revelation occur in my lifetime—and if so, how can I escape them?”

Every Sunday I scanned television channels in search of a televangelist who might provide answers. Yet all I found was religious blather—that is, until I discovered The World Tomorrow television program, presented by Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong.

I was stunned by Mr. Armstrong’s silver-haired appearance. I had never seen anyone so advanced in age speak with such zeal, such authority, and with crystal clarity and meaning! As he analyzed the world’s troubles through the lens of God’s Word, I thought, “It’s as if he came from another time, a forgotten century.”

Being a typical teenaged “know-it-all,” I initially dismissed Mr. Armstrong as being “just another TV preacher.” But I quickly realized I was dead wrong, and that the aged Pastor General was like a fountain of knowledge and understanding. I concluded, I better learn from him while he’s still alive.

It was a life-changing decision I have never regretted. Others in The Restored Church of God baptized during Mr. Armstrong’s 52-year ministry can say the same.

But who was this great 20th-century servant of God?

An Advertising/Business Executive

  Source: RCG illustration

Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong was born July 31, 1892, in Des Moines, Iowa. As a little boy, he was inquisitive and craved understanding—he wanted to learn about the world around him.

Instead of attending college after graduating from high school, Mr. Armstrong entered the advertising profession, gaining a college-level education through on-the-job training and experience. He developed into a dynamic “idea man” who mastered the art of weaving eye-catching headlines and compelling text into effective advertisements and magazine articles. By the time he reached his late 20s, Mr. Armstrong ran his own downtown Chicago advertising business, earning an annual salary equivalent to hundreds of thousands of dollars in today’s currency.

Married to the love of his life and highly respected by his peers, Mr. Armstrong’s life was riding high—until God used a series of humbling business setbacks to grab his undivided attention.

Mr. Armstrong wholeheartedly responded to God’s calling, and grew in biblical knowledge and spiritual understanding. Combining these with his advertising, marketing and business expertise, he took the gospel—the good news of the soon-coming kingdom of God—to the world through The World Tomorrow radio (and later television) program and The Plain Truth magazine. (Today, The World to Come program, presented by Mr. David C. Pack, and The Real Truth magazine are their successors.)

An Educator

Unlike this world’s religious leaders, Mr. Armstrong possessed the unique ability to explain the truths of God in simple, easy-to-understand language. Time after time, he taught that there are opposite ways of life, symbolized by the two trees in the Garden of Eden: the way of give, of outgoing concern for others (the fruits of which are described in Galatians 5:22-23)—and the way of get, of selfishness, covetousness and greed (described in verses 19-21).

As an educator, Mr. Armstrong also founded Ambassador College, which provided young minds a sound education based on the right foundation.

Mr. Armstrong wrote, “Curricula, generally, have become wholly materialistic, putting the emphasis on the purely technical and intellectual, at sacrifice of spiritual, moral and cultural development; on curriculum rather than on character; on earning a living, at the neglect of learning how to live!

“The Ambassador policy is based upon the recognition that true education is not of the intellect alone, but of the whole personality—not alone of technologies, sciences and arts, but an understanding of the purpose of life, a knowledge of the spiritual laws which govern our lives, our God-relationship and human relationships.

“Ambassador College knows and teaches the purpose and true meaning of life—the true values that pay off—and the way to peace, happiness and abundant well-being. How do we know? We have it on authority. The Bible—God’s revealed Word—is that authority. It is the foundation of all knowledge, and the approach to acquirable knowledge” (“Founder’s Statement,” The Envoy, 1980).

  Emphasis on quality: The grand entrance of Ambassador Hall at the Pasadena, California, Ambassador College campus. Source: RCG

An Ambassador Without Portfolio

From 1970 until his death in 1986, Mr. Armstrong appeared before more than one-third of the world’s heads of state: India’s Indira Gandhi, Israeli prime ministers Golda Meir and Menachem Begin, the president of Indonesia, the president of the Philippines, King Hussein bin Talal of Jordan, Prince Mikasa of Japan, Egyptian presidents Anwar al-Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the king of Thailand, the king of Swaziland, and numerous other dignitaries.

Mr. Armstrong came to be viewed as “an ambassador without portfolio,” a representative of world peace. Instead of pleading for kings, presidents and prime ministers to “just accept Jesus,” Mr. Armstrong presented Christ’s gospel message in simple, practical terms. He taught the difference between the ways of give and get, explaining that the only way mankind will achieve universal peace, security, prosperity and happiness is through the way of giving, helping and cooperating with others.

A Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness

In November 1979, Mr. Armstrong began writing a book that was published serially in The Plain Truth. Originally titled A Voice Cries Out Amid Religious Confusion, he wrote that the world was in a “babylon of religious confusion”—and, “Out of this spiritual wilderness, a voice cries out in clarity and power, decrying this world confusion, with the reassuring truth of the world’s only and sure hope!”

Mr. Armstrong taught that John the Baptist was a voice crying out in the physical wilderness, preparing for the human physical Jesus’ First Coming to a material temple in Jerusalem. But John “was a type, or forerunner of a voice ‘lifted up’ (greatly amplified by modern printing, radio and TV), crying out in the midst of today’s spiritual wilderness of religious confusion, announcing the imminency of Christ’s second coming as the spiritually glorified Christ to His spiritual temple (the Church resurrected to Spirit-immortality).”

The Pastor General added, “He came, over 1900 years ago, to announce the future Kingdom of God. He’s coming this time to establish that Kingdom. That end-time last warning message is now going out worldwide in amplified power.

“It’s going before kings, emperors, presidents, prime ministers of nations—and to their peoples, on all continents of the earth!”

The book eventually developed into what became Mr. Armstrong’s final book, Mystery of the Ages, published in 1985, mere months before his death.

Mr. Armstrong understood God had commissioned him to “cry aloud” (Isa. 58:1) to physical Israel (the United States, Britain and other nations of the West) and “restore all things” (Matt. 17:11) to spiritual Israel, the Church (Acts 7:38). Part of this end-time commission was to “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Mal. 4:5-6). Mr. Armstrong did this by establishing special programs and publications for God’s youth: Y.O.U. sports, S.E.P. summer camp and other activities for teens, Youth 81, 82, 83, etc., magazines, and Y.E.S. lessons for preteens and young children.

His ministry of “turning the hearts”—reinforcing the bonds of the family unit and teaching the importance of recapturing true values—continues today through Ambassador Youth Camp, Ambassador Youth magazine, and through the vast library of literature, World to Come broadcasts, sermons, articles, reports, lessons, books and booklets produced by The Restored Church of God.

A Misunderstood Servant

Today, more than two decades since his death, the vast majority who once followed Mr. Armstrong greatly misunderstand and no longer appreciate his amazing life and ministry.

Nonetheless, a tiny few do properly remember this great end-time servant—whose life can ultimately be summed up as: He believed God. He feared God. He obeyed God.

Wish to learn more? Read our biography Herbert W. Armstrong – His Life in Proper Perspective.

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