Mr. Armstrong had come to a crucial crossroads. He knew that he had to preach the truth God’s way—not the way men wanted it done. If he chose to bend to the will of the people, God could not use him. Mr. Armstrong had known of preachers who held back from preaching the truth of the Bible, because they knew it would upset some people, perhaps even causing some to stop supporting their ministry. Fear of losing financial support caused such men to be more concerned with preaching what people wanted to hear instead of what they needed to hear.
But Mr. Armstrong was different. Like Paul and other faithful servants of God, he was driven to preach what God wanted him to preach (I Cor. 9:16). To serve God, Mr. Armstrong knew that he would have to rely solely on Him for support, not people. So he rejected his $3 per week salary, choosing to trust God instead to provide for his every need (Phil. 4:19).
Even after severing direct ties with the Oregon Conference brethren, Mr. Armstrong continued to be friendly and cooperate with them. And many of them often attended the services he conducted at the Firbutte schoolhouse. The Sardis membership had, for the most part, always been friendly toward Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong. It was their ministers who attacked and persecuted them. They were jealous at his success in attracting followers, while their campaigns were fruitless. They did everything they could to attack his ministry and stop God’s Work.
“Bible Form of Organization”
Andrew Dugger, the leading minister of the Church of God, Seventh-Day, had a falling out with his organization, and started his own church group in 1932, headquartered at Salem, West Virginia. Mr. Dugger and his new offshoot claimed that their form of government came directly from the Bible—“12 apostles, 70 elders” and a board of seven. In turn, this new group accused the organization it had splintered from of having an unbiblical form of Church government.
This puzzled and confused all the brethren as to what was actually the right form of Church government. Even Mr. Armstrong was uncertain:
“But in my days of trying to work with them, between 1927 and somewhere around 1941 to 1947, there was so much controversy over what constituted God’s church government that I, myself, became completely confused on that point. I could see that their systems were so wrong that I assumed that God’s Church is a spiritual organism, and not a church organization. I did not want to assume any rule or authority that I ought not, and consequently when troublemakers and wrong attitudes came into our little Church in Eugene, Oregon, I wielded no authority whatsoever, and the result was a church split in two” (“Personal,” The Good News, August 1969).
Since God had not yet revealed to him what kind of government should function in the true Church, Mr. Armstrong went along with what the brethren were practicing at the time—-a form of democracy, or congregationalism.
The Sardis brethren in the Willamette Valley were divided. One faction remained loyal to Stanberry, while the Oregon Conference was attracted to Mr. Dugger’s group and its “Bible form of organization.” Elders Ray and Oberg tried to steer the Conference into joining Mr. Dugger’s offshoot.
But Mr. Armstrong and those under him decided to leave it up to God to show them what to do. For about three years, they fellowshipped and cooperated with the Salem, West Virginia group—regularly sending minister’s reports, for example—but neither officially joined its membership nor came under its authority. Neither did Mr. Armstrong accept a salary or expense money from them. He was not fully convinced that Mr. Dugger had the “Bible form of organization,” as he had claimed. However, Mr. Dugger listed him as one of the “70 elders,” despite the fact that Mr. Armstrong had never joined them or worked for them.
Physically Poor—but Spiritually Rich
In these early years of the Great Depression, Mr. Armstrong and his family struggled to stay afloat in the turbulent financial waters of the times. Mrs. Armstrong wore hand-me-downs from her younger sister. Mr. Armstrong often had to walk or hitchhike to Church services, eight miles away. He owned only one pair of shoes—and they had holes in them. He only possessed one suit, which he wore virtually every day of the week as he conducted Church services and Bible studies, and counseled with people. The brethren were moved to take up a collection, and bought him a new suit.
But what Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong lacked in material possessions, they made up for with growing faith and increasing trust in God. Time and again, they learned through firsthand experience—through numerous miraculous answers to fervent prayer—that God provides for those who put His will and interests first.
Rejecting the Truth
With the exception of two or three families, none of the Sardis brethren would accept the truth God had revealed to Mr. Armstrong early in his calling: the observance of God’s annual feasts and holy days, the identity of the Anglo-Saxon peoples of the United States and Britain as descendants of the ten “lost” tribes of Israel, and other biblical teachings. The people of Sardis were content with the small number of doctrines they possessed and were not willing to change.
Mr. Armstrong had even tested Stanberry headquarters with biblical proof that they were teaching error. Privately, they admitted that he was right, yet they refused to correct their errors. They were too afraid of upsetting tithepayers, fearing that they might leave. Even the top leader privately admitted that new Bible truth had been revealed to Mr. Armstrong—but that minister, like the others, publicly rejected the truth, and even attacked Mr. Armstrong for preaching it.
And so, Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong kept the Feast of Tabernacles and the other annual festivals and Sabbaths of God by themselves. Seven years would pass before God revealed to them the true meaning and significance of His days. But, like the patriarch Abraham, Mr. Armstrong did not wait for an explanation before following God’s commands. Whenever God revealed His will to him, Mr. Armstrong obeyed without question.
A Door Is Opened
Immediately after Mr. Armstrong rejected his salary from the Oregon Conference, God opened a door to preach the gospel to a wider audience.
In October 1933, Mr. Armstrong learned that KORE, a local 100-watt radio station, offered 15 minutes of free daily broadcasting as a public service. This was an opportunity to instantly reach several hundred listeners at once! Mr. Armstrong immediately went down to the station, and was given free airtime the following week.
Looking back years later, he was amazed that “The ministers of the churches in Eugene had not considered the opportunity to get a Gospel message on the air of sufficient importance to rise early enough to be at the radio station at 7:45 weekday mornings. But to me, it was the most important opportunity to proclaim God’s truth that had so far come to me” (“The History of the Beginning and Growth of the Worldwide Church of God, Chapter Four,” The Good News, August 1980).
Mr. Armstrong spent that week preparing extensive notes. For all he knew, this might have been a one-time opportunity. He was determined not to waste it.
Having never done a radio broadcast before, Mr. Armstrong worried that he would be struck by “mike-fright.” On the morning of the first broadcast, the program announcer did not arrive until 15 seconds before it was time to go on the air. Mr. Armstrong asked him for instructions, but all the man said was “Just stand up there in front of the mike, and start talking as soon as I announce you.”
During the brief announcement, Mr. Armstrong felt calm and secure. “Well,” he thought, “I don’t have any ‘mike-fright.’ I’m sure glad of that!”
He confidently spoke into the microphone: “Greetings, friends!”
And then he froze!
With all his might, Mr. Armstrong struggled to control his grasping for breath and fought to ignore the wild, heart-pounding fear that shot through his body. He forced himself to focus on his notes, and then he spoke carefully, deliberately, while trying to sound as calm and as natural as he could. After two or three minutes, his breathing was under control. Fear gave way to zeal—and for the rest of the program, he boldly preached the truth of the Bible, making it plain and easy to understand.
His 15-minute message struck at the heart of the gospel of the kingdom of God. Beginning with Genesis 12, Mr. Armstrong revealed that God had promised the entire earth to Abraham and his descendants for an everlasting possession—not heaven, as is commonly believed in the churches of traditional Christianity.
During the next morning’s broadcast, Mr. Armstrong knew that his case of “mike-fright” was a thing of the past. Throughout that week of radio broadcasts, he confidently preached about the world tomorrow and God’s soon-coming kingdom.
Birth of the Radio Broadcast
That Thursday after the morning broadcast, Frank Hill, the owner/manager of KORE, had some news for Mr. Armstrong—both good and bad.
First, the good news: The messages Mr. Armstrong had given were unlike anything radio listeners had ever heard before. They wanted to learn more—they made phone calls and sent in letters to the radio station, asking for literature, even though Mr. Armstrong did not offer any.
Next was the bad news: Mr. Armstrong’s listeners had confronted their pastors and asked them why they were preaching the opposite of what the Bible taught. Embarrassed, these local ministers got together, and informed Mr. Hill that they did not want Mr. Armstrong preaching on the air anymore. And to make certain of this, one of them would be at the station every morning thereafter and take up the free 15-minute airtime.
Mr. Hill could no longer give Mr. Armstrong free air time, but he liked the listener response, and he thought highly of Mr. Armstrong’s broadcasting voice. So he suggested to Mr. Armstrong that they work out a half-hour radio program, broadcasting it as a public service every Sunday. Mr. Hill offered to sell him a half-hour segment on Sunday mornings for less than half of what it would cost the station—$2.50 per half hour.
Mr. Armstrong sent a letter to a small mailing list of Church members and past contributors, asking them for pledges to finance the broadcasting of the radio program. Preaching the true gospel cost money, yet the brethren were not of the rich and famous, the “movers and shakers” of society. They were mostly farmers and country people, who scrimped and saved to regularly pay tithes and give offerings. In order to spread Christ’s gospel beyond the walls of Church services, the brethren had to sacrifice above and beyond their regular contributions—not an easy thing to do during the Great Depression. However, following Mr. Armstrong’s lead, they took up pledges and were able to raise half the amount to finance the weekly broadcast: $1.25 per week. Deciding to step out on faith and trust God to provide the other half, Mr. Armstrong arranged to begin broadcasting the radio program every Sunday, beginning January 1934. This was the birth of the Radio Church of God radio program—and the start of many amazing, awe-inspiring things to come.
The cost seems insignificant by today’s standards, but $2.50 per week during the Great Depression seemed like a huge obstacle—especially after Mr. Armstrong had rejected his $3 per week salary. But he knew that God had opened this door, and he was determined to walk through it. He decided to rely on God to provide the money, which had to be paid in advance of each broadcast.
And God did provide.
For instance, one Sunday morning when Mr. Armstrong did not have the money to pay for the broadcast, he and his wife fervently prayed for God to intervene. As they prayed, a man knocked on the door and handed them his tithe payment—which paid the radio time for that morning. On another Sunday morning in which Mr. Armstrong did not have the money, he started walking to the radio station, believing that God would intervene—and on the way, a stranger handed him the funds that were needed.
These and similar events increased Mr. Armstrong’s faith even more, and inspired him to be even more urgent in proclaiming the good news of Christ returning to bring world peace and universal happiness.
From Small Beginnings
By the end of Mr. Armstrong’s six-week nightly campaign at the Firbutte schoolhouse, a congregation of 19 had been established, including the Armstrongs, the Fishers and others. These early brethren were the pioneers of what became the Philadelphian Era.
The members were organized as The Church of God at Eugene, Oregon, and met at the Jeans schoolhouse, about four miles west of their former location and 12 miles west of Eugene. With Mr. Armstrong as pastor and Mr. Fisher as deacon, the Church met three times a week—Tuesday and Thursday nights, and afternoon services on the Sabbath. The average attendance was 22 people.
In addition to doing radio broadcasts, Mr. Armstrong began holding evangelistic campaign meetings three times a week at an old Masonic Temple building in downtown Eugene, which had an auditorium on the second floor, with retail stores on the first floor.
These meetings, held every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday night for almost six months, were Mr. Armstrong’s first attempt at holding campaigns three times a week. He advertised them through the radio program and mimeographed handbills. About 100 people attended per meeting, with only about 15 being baptized during this time period.
At these meetings, Mr. Armstrong had trouble dealing with “Pentecostal” types—people who were more concerned with getting emotional “highs” than with learning God’s truth. They were turned off by any sermon that taught obedience to God and His laws. Ironically, whenever these people needed a minister to pray for their healing, they rushed to Mr. Armstrong.
One “Pentecostal” church, which also broadcast a radio program on KORE, told its listeners that it was acceptable to visit any other churches—just as long as they stayed away from Mr. Armstrong’s campaign meetings.
The converts produced from Mr. Armstrong’s efforts were organized into a local congregation, meeting at his home for morning Sabbath services in Eugene.
Mr. Armstrong began another campaign—this time six nights per week for six weeks—at the two-room Alvadore schoolhouse, 15 miles northwest of Eugene. About three or four Seventh Day Adventist families attended, but one man among them came only to find out what Mr. Armstrong was preaching so that he could discredit him. Yet, the others would not listen to these attacks.
Desperate, the man heckled Mr. Armstrong during his sermon, which was about Christ being in the tomb three days and three nights, proving that the crucifixion was not on Friday, and that Christ was not resurrected on Sunday morning. The heckler tried to embarrass Mr. Armstrong—so Mr. Armstrong had no choice but to embarrass him. He told the young man to spend the rest of the sermon looking up biblical proof for his claims, and to be ready to read it aloud to the whole audience. When the sermon concluded, Mr. Armstrong called on his heckler to read aloud his proof—but the man could not answer. He fumbled through his Bible, looking for verses to refute what Mr. Armstrong had just proven from the scriptures. The heckler stood helpless and confused as people sitting around him began to laugh. Finally, Mr. Armstrong put the man out of his misery and told him to sit down. This was the only time Mr. Armstrong had ever done this, and he did so because, in that circumstance, he felt it was the best way to defend God’s truth and keep people from being deceived. (Notice Proverbs 26:5.)
These meetings also yielded 15 baptized members.
“A Magazine of Understanding”
As early as 1927, Mr. Armstrong had envisioned the creation of a magazine that would be like no other publication on Earth, without commercial advertising or a subscription price. In the spirit of Mark 13:10 and Matthew 24:14, he would publish and proclaim the gospel, or good news, of the kingdom of God. It would explain why man cannot solve the troubles, ills, evils and problems that continually plague him. It would reveal the true meaning of biblical prophecy, which had been concealed in the murky waters of false prophetic teachings. This unique magazine would be called The Plain Truth.
Relying on his extensive advertising training and experience, Mr. Armstrong created a mock-up version. He also had a professional letter-artist design its front cover. However, it was not God’s timing to publish The Plain Truth in 1927.
Now that God had opened the door for him to proclaim Christ’s gospel on the radio, Mr. Armstrong believed that the time was ripe to publish The Plain Truth magazine, which Mr. Armstrong decided should carry the subtitle of “a magazine of understanding.” He announced it to listeners of the Radio Church of God program, offering it free of charge. Mr. Armstrong knew that this Work had to be of God—that it could not be of men. He relied on God to inspire those who requested the magazine to contribute donations, tithes and offerings. Yet, Mr. Armstrong never asked the general public for contributions. He only asked this of regular contributors, whom he called “co-workers”—human instruments God had called to contribute to the spreading of the true gospel, the most important message in the history of mankind—people who voluntarily wanted to spread this message, who wanted to share with others the spiritual knowledge and understanding with which God had blessed them.
The first issue of The Plain Truth was published on February 1, 1934, and began with about 350 subscribers. Without extra funds to fall back on, Mr. Armstrong employed the fifth law of success—resourcefulness. He borrowed a typewriter and bought some mimeograph stencils and paper, and, having free, temporary access to a mimeograph machine, he produced and published the inaugural edition.
Afterward, the magazine was published on a used $10 Neostyle, which predated the mimeograph. It had to be operated by hand, with paper being fed into it one sheet at a time. Articles were created on a secondhand typewriter, which also cost $-10.
The Plain Truth was always intended to be written for the general public, and not exclusively for Church members or religious people. Its purpose was to take the gospel to non-religious people and make God’s truth plain to them.
Years later, Mr. Armstrong wrote, “It is doubtful whether any institution in human history started from as humble and small beginnings. When God starts something on His power alone, it is big from the beginning. For example, the creation of the universe—the creation of the earth. But when God starts something through humans, it usually, like the grain of mustard seed, starts the very smallest and most humble, and then grows as the spiritual character of the humans develops” (“Now It Must Be Revealed How the Worldwide Church of God Began,” The Good News, May 1979).
The Plain Truth was part of what Mr. Armstrong called a “Three-Point Campaign”: The radio broadcast brought in listeners—the magazine gave readers greater details of what the Bible actually teaches—and these were followed and reinforced by nightly evangelistic campaigns.
Radio Program Format
Mr. Hill suggested that the Radio Church of God program be like a Sunday morning church service in a 30-minute format. Mr. Armstrong agreed. The format involved: singers (at first, it was a duet of Claude and Velma Ellis; then it became a mixed quartette of Mrs. Armstrong singing alto, daughter Beverly soprano, Mr. Ellis tenor, Alfred Freeze bass, and Mrs. Ellis on piano) singing church hymns. Then Mr. Armstrong would give his message.
Over the years, the format was eventually changed in order to attract a much wider audience of both the religious and non-religious.
Since he had remained puzzled as to what form of government should function in God’s Church, Mr. Armstrong went along with the status quo—democratic government, in which the lay members had at least as much a voice in things as the ministry did. For example, when Mr. Armstrong was first offered radio time, he brought the decision before the Church, which unanimously approved.
God did not reveal to him His true form of government until the winter of 1952-53—after many trials, tests and acts of persecution forced Mr. Armstrong to see that democracy never worked in God’s Church. In order to feed, protect and lead the flock most effectively, he would learn that God’s government must be administered from the top down by loyal, faithful ministers and leaders, beginning with one leader.
Government is just one of many truths that God revealed to Mr. Armstrong one step at a time.
Purchasing a Church Building
The Work of God started small and slowly grew—but grow it did! Mr. Armstrong knew that this was God’s Work, not his. He understood that he was only an instrument in God’s hands.
By the spring of 1935, morning Sabbath services were alternatively held at the Jeans and Alvadore schoolhouses, with afternoon services at Mr. Armstrong’s house in Eugene. The three groups needed to be combined into one local congregation. This reality led Mr. Armstrong and the brethren to buy a small church house (for $500, with a $100 down payment), which had been built by Elder Taylor four years earlier. The building was in much need of work, so Mr. Armstrong asked the membership to contribute to a special offering fund to supply lumber and paint. Then he and the other brethren made all the necessary repairs. When it was finished, the Church of God at Eugene, Oregon held its first Sabbath service there, on June 1st of that year.
Soon after, Mr. Armstrong held an evangelistic campaign at this location, attracting a sizeable audience every night. At the close of one service, a young woman spoke with Mrs. Armstrong. She said that she was an atheist, and had come with two other friends in order to laugh at how “ignorant” and “backward” ministers were. But this young lady was amazed by Mr. Armstrong’s explanation of the prophecy of Daniel 11, showing its biblical fulfillments through history. This woman—who was the secretary of the local Communist Party—continued attending the meetings, and eventually repented and was baptized! (Of course, she resigned from the Communist party.) Her example led her mother to be baptized also.
Establishing Headquarters Offices for God’s Work
Following the campaigns he held at the old Masonic Temple in downtown Eugene, Mr. Armstrong used one of its smaller rooms as an office, free of charge. But when the owner found a tenant for the entire building, Mr. Armstrong had to move. The owner offered him a room in the Hampton Building, which was across from the Post Office. This new office cost $5 per month. It had no windows, only a transom over the door to the hall, and one over the door leading to the Labor Union Hall. Mr. Armstrong and the other office staff could only work two hours at a time before having to retreat for about an hour due to stale tobacco smoke that drifted in from the Labor Union Hall.
A few months later, they were able to afford a small fan, which circulated the stale air. The office did have a skylight, but it was so filthy with dirt and grime that sunlight could barely filter through.
There were not enough funds to buy desks, so Mr. Armstrong used a table for his office desk, while other tables were used for printing, folding and mailing the magazine. Instead of filing cabinets, they acquired cardboard cartons from grocery stores, using them to store correspondence folders and records. The cartons had to be pasted with plain wrapping paper to cover up their whiskey labels.
Mr. Armstrong wrote articles on a used typewriter, and then cut the stencils for headlines. Mrs. Armstrong hand-cranked sheets of the magazine on the Neostyle, assembled the pages, folded them, and then addressed them in pen and ink. She also maintained The Plain Truth mailing list. Before carrying them across the street to the Post Office, Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong always knelt down, prayed and laid hands over the magazines, asking God to put His blessing on the copies and their readers.
Beverly Armstrong worked as office secretary. Many others volunteered their time in the office on various occasions, wherever there was a need.
For a time, Mrs. Helen Starkey worked as an unpaid secretary. She later received a salary of $5 per week. In 1937, Mrs. Starkey sent a letter to co-workers, without Mr. Armstrong’s prior knowledge, asking them to contribute to buying the Armstrongs a car. (Their previous car had just “given up the ghost.”) Without a reliable car, Mr. Armstrong could not make the weekly circuit to and from Portland—the radio program would die out. The co-workers responded by sending in enough money for Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong to buy, on monthly payments, a 1934 Graham.
A Test of Faith
In December 1934, Christ opened the door for the gospel to be preached, via radio hook-up, from KORE in Eugene to Portland’s KXL and Salem’s KSLM. Mr. Armstrong wrote a letter to co-workers, asking them to pledge enough money—$50 per month for both 100-watt stations—to finance this wonderful opportunity. Portland had the potential to expand the listening audience tenfold!
However, as before, only half of the amount needed could be guaranteed (at least, humanly). Unfortunately, like other servants of God before him, Mr. Armstrong wavered in faith and did not walk through the door Christ had opened to him. To teach His servant a lesson in faith, God withheld other opportunities to expand the Work for two years. Mr. Armstrong and the Radio Church of God program remained limited to one tiny 100-watt radio station.
In addition, The Plain Truth ceased to be published for 2½ years! After July 1935, not another issue of the magazine was published until January 1938. Mr. Armstrong knew that this was because he had walked by sight instead of by faith. After 2½ years of witnessing the Work being affected by that decision, Mr. Armstrong was determined to never again doubt where God was working.
Despite these two setbacks, Mr. Armstrong’s estimated listening audience grew to 8,000 every broadcast. And, by August, the radio audience grew to about 10,000 people.
In late 1936, Mr. Armstrong tried to get the program on Portland’s most powerful station—50 times more powerful than KORE—reaching throughout Oregon, Washington and Idaho. The cost was $110 per month, and the pledges fell short by more than half. It was obvious to him that this door was closed. Mr. Armstrong had to learn to wait on Christ to open each door according to His time schedule.
In the meantime, after being on the air for almost two years, the monthly income of the Work grew to about $40 to 45.
In November, the door was opened in Portland—but only on KXL, a tiny 100-watt station. Salem’s KSLM was added to this hook-up, creating the Work of God’s first radio network.
In early 1937, mail response indicated that the program’s audience had leaped to 40,000-50,000 listeners, and by spring, 60,000. In November, this mushroomed to 100,000 weekly listeners! (And yet, the Philadelphian Era of God’s Church only had a membership of a relatively small number of people, with a few co-workers. Just like today, God was using a tiny flock to reach an audience many, many times its size.)
In September 1937, the radio program left KXL to step up to 500-watt station KWJJ, also in Portland. Along with an increase in broadcasting power, this meant an increase in travel. Mr. Armstrong would broadcast live from KORE each Sunday at 10 a.m., simultaneously broadcasting over KSLM. Then he would drive north to Portland for the 4 p.m. broadcast—a roundtrip of 200-plus miles every week. Combine this with conducting two Sabbath services, weekly Bible studies, magazine writing and publishing, answering letters, running an office, holding evangelistic campaigns, visiting and counseling with the brethren, raising a family—Mr. Armstrong was a very busy man!
He decided to launch a few short campaigns—a two-week campaign at the Clear Lake schoolhouse, between Eugene and Alvadore, and at another schoolhouse near Globe, Oregon, about 40 miles north of Eugene. There was also a three-week campaign held at the Eldreage schoolhouse, 12 miles north of Salem. It maintained a nightly turnout of 50 to 70 people.
Back in Operation
Finally, The Plain Truth magazine was back in operation, beginning January 1, 1938, with a mailing list of 1,050 subscribers. With that many copies to make, the magazine was becoming too large to mimeograph. The Plain Truth had to be reduced to only three pages per issue—and only seven could be sent out that year.
By early 1939, the old, worn-out Neostyle was ready to be “put out to pasture.” A new mimeograph had to be obtained or the magazine would cease to exist. The Plain Truth was being read by several thousand people, and the Radio Church of God program was being heard by 100,000 people—yet only a few took the next step and contributed to God’s Work. (Remember, at no time did Mr. Armstrong ever ask for money from the general public, only from those who gave regular contributions.)
By this time, Mr. Armstrong was driving 600 miles a week in order to get out Christ’s true gospel—a message that had not been preached to the world at large since the apostle Paul’s ministry!
The February-March 1939 issue of The Plain Truth featured an article about the coming final resurrection of the Roman Empire under a unified European government. It also warned that God would use that resurrected government as His instrument of punishment against the modern-day descendants of the “lost tribes” of the house of Israel—largely the American and British peoples.
The following month, about 1,000 extra subscription requests came in for the magazine.
Not long after the article was published, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini emerged on the world scene, with Hitler, culminating the prophesied sixth “head” of the beast of Revelation (Rev. 17:9-10).
By March 1940, the magazine, though still mimeographed, reached a circulation of 2,000.
Struggling With Persecution and Attacks
In between holding evangelistic campaigns, writing and publishing The Plain Truth magazine, broadcasting the radio program, and leading the Church at Eugene, Mr. Armstrong somehow made time for visiting new converts and prospective members. However, lacking local ministers to feed, protect and lead the flock—to counsel with them about their personal problems, and keep them from being deceived by “grievous wolves…speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30)—many brethren gave up. Only a tiny few kept themselves from being conquered by man’s three deadly spiritual enemies: the world, the god of this world (II Cor. 4:4), and the self.
In May 1937, the three-station radio program, in association with high schools across Oregon and southwestern Washington, targeted high school students. This led to a youth camp meeting held in cooperation with the Salem, West Virginia Church of God group.
The son of one of the “twelve apostles” of that group told Mr. Armstrong that the Salem leaders were plotting against him. They planned to discredit him at the camp meeting and thus destroy the Radio Church of God program.
Mr. Armstrong boldly told his attackers that there would be no camp meeting. When one of the “apostles” protested, Mr. Armstrong reminded him that he had rented the campgrounds in his name, and that he also controlled the mailing list. And the vast majority of the attendees were of the congregations he pastored in Eugene and Jefferson. They would follow his lead. “On next Sunday, I shall announce to the radio audience that the camp meeting, to start that night, has been cancelled. nobody will come! Now tell me, please—how are you going to stop me from stopping the camp meeting, and saving the broadcast?”
Though he was reluctant, the man gave his personal guarantee that Mr. Armstrong would not be attacked at the camp meeting. And yet, whenever Mr. Armstrong preached at the meetings, the preacher speaking after him would do everything in his sermon to distort, undermine and rip apart whatever Mr. Armstrong had talked about.
Then came a ministers’ meeting, in which Mr. Armstrong was craftily betrayed by a man he thought was a friend. Speaking before everyone, this “friend” sadly announced that, since Mr. Armstrong was so overworked, the ministry was going to “help” him by relieving him of some of his “burdensome” duties and appoint one of their elders—one who happened to be hostile to Mr. Armstrong—to take over as pastor of the Jefferson congregation.
That was the last straw! Every member of the Eugene church and half the members of the Jefferson congregation, including the local elder and deacon, severed all ties with the Salem, West Virginia group. All cooperation with that organization came to a halt.
Over the many years, that group and its ministers dwindled into numerous, tiny splintering groups. “Then they split and re-split,” Mr. Armstrong later wrote, “until I lost all knowledge of how many splintering groups there are” (“Personal,” The Good News, August 1969).
Sacrificing for the Work
The Armstrong family was under continual scrutiny by some in the Church. Though the Armstrongs were poor, reduced to wearing hand-me-downs, some actually criticized how they used their income, which came from the tithes and offerings of the lay members, as the Bible instructs.
One woman stopped tithing because she did not want “her” tithes (which actually belong to God—Mal. 3:8-10) to be used to buy silk stockings for Beverly and Dorothy Armstrong. The woman thought that cotton stockings were good enough. (Nylon stockings were not yet invented.) The Armstrong girls were in high school at the time, an awkward age for most who were growing into adulthood. To wear cotton stockings to school at that stage in their young lives would have made them social misfits, dooming them to all kinds of cruel taunts and ridicule. Mrs. Armstrong was determined to keep this from happening, so she humbly accepted worn silk stockings from other women, sewing up the runs in them.
In his autobiography, Mr. Armstrong wrote, “It was incidents like this that soured and prejudiced our children against God’s truth. Through the years most of the members of the church in Eugene lived better, economically, than we.”
In an April 1940 letter, Mr. Armstrong had to inform co-workers that funds were becoming so scarce that he had to take money intended for his family’s needs and use it for God’s Work. They were on the verge of losing their home. One of the Armstrong girls had to quit school. For quite some time, they had gone without much-needed clothing. He wrote, “I could tell you more, but do not want to talk about ourselves—our heavenly Father knows. We are willing and glad to make any sacrifice. but the point is, we have now come to the END, unless substantial help comes at once. The work cannot be held up by this method of personal sacrifice any longer. As long as it was only us who suffered, I said nothing. But now the Lord’s work will stop unless substantial help comes quickly. For the work’s sake I must appeal to our helpers. I would starve, before I would ask one cent as charity for myself. But I’m willing to humiliate myself in any way for the gospel’s sake.”
When he first began the radio program, he only envisioned taking the gospel throughout the Willamette Valley and maybe Portland. After getting on the air in Portland, he set his sights on Seattle, and then the Pacific Northwest. But it was in May 1940 that he began to think in terms of a national—even worldwide—-Work.
The heart-rending sacrifice of one particular married couple, listeners of the KWJJ broadcast, led to the Work being able to afford to broadcast from Seattle. Their offering was followed by three separate offerings of $100 each—the largest sums the Work had ever received. Besides these, three $50 contributions were sent, along with other offerings. The radio program came on the air Sunday, September 15, 1940, at Seattle’s KRSC, a 1,000-watt station. By November, more than 500 subscription requests came from the Seattle market, and overall mail response indicated a listening audience of 150,000, while the magazine had 3,000 subscribers. It took several days of volunteering from the brethren to write or type each mailing address.
THE EARLY YEARS
During the early years of proclaiming the gospel through the Radio Church of God program, Mr. Armstrong drove a tiring weekend circuit he called “a grind”—traveling all night from Eugene to Seattle, then back to Portland, returning to Eugene.
With radio stations in Eugene, Salem, Portland and Seattle, copies of The Plain Truth reached 4,000, with letters from housewives, laborers, farmers, office workers, businessmen, professionals—people from all walks of life.
As the leader of the Work, Mr. Armstrong sacrificed his time and energy to labor under a grueling routine: Leaving Eugene Saturday afternoon, he would travel 320 miles all night to Seattle. That morning, he would go to his hotel and sleep for a few hours. He would be awakened at 5 a.m., shower, shave and dress, and then go to the corner drugstore and buy a newspaper, where he would browse for prophetic news events, while drinking orange juice and coffee. He would finish a 30-minute radio script and make two copies (one for himself, the other for the station owner). Then he would check out of the hotel, and drive to KRSC, scan for last-minute news bulletins, clip them and write out comments, and then go on the air promptly at 8:30 a.m. At nine, he would rush back to his car and drive to Portland, stopping off for breakfast and lunch. He would arrive at Portland by 3 p.m., giving him one hour to check again for last-minute news. Then he would be on the air at 4 p.m., and afterward head for Eugene, arriving at 7:30 p.m. That evening, he would hold a campaign meeting, preaching a sermon every night of the week. During the day, Mr. Armstrong would work in the office answering letters and writing magazine articles, or he would go out and counsel with people, speak with prospective members, etc. On the Sabbath, he would conduct morning and afternoon services, and so the routine started all over again.
Watchman Warning the House of Israel
By mid-May 1941, The Plain Truth reached 5,000 subscribers, and with the August-September issue, it went from being mimeographed sheets of paper to a 16-page printed magazine, published every two months.
For the last seven years, the Work had to be produced from a smoky, windowless, one-room office—and without desks or mailing equipment. Then God opened another door for the Work: an office with large windows, plus the ability to afford a desk, which Mr. Armstrong used in God’s service for many years. They were also able to buy a used, foot-operated addressing machine and Mr. Armstrong’s first filing cabinet. “If anyone doubts that this work started the very smallest, let him realize we had to wait seven years for this cardboard file cabinet—and then we could afford only the one.”
It was around this time that the significance of the Ezekiel Warning (Ezek. 33:1-19; 3:17-21) was impressed on Mr. Armstrong’s mind:
“So now I saw Ezekiel was set a watchman—to watch international conditions as well as God’s prophecies—and when this invasion is preparing, and near, shortly prior to Christ’s coming to rule the world, the watchman is to WARN the people who had migrated, in Ezekiel’s day, to northwestern Europe and the British Isles! But Ezekiel never carried that warning! It was not for his time! He was used merely to write it! It now became plain to me that God was to use a modern 20th-century ‘Ezekiel’ to shout this warning.”
America was on the verge of being pulled into World War II, which had been raging across Europe for almost two years. Mr. Armstrong wondered: Could this be the prophetic “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7), the divine punishment of military invasion, famine, pestilence and slavery that God would unleash and use to chastise the modern descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh? If so, then they had to be warned! Mr. Armstrong did not see himself as a modern-day “Ezekiel” chosen by God to cry out and boldly tell the American and British peoples of their sins—on the other hand, he saw that no other man was taking this strong warning to Israel.
“…I did see, plainly, that God said: ‘IF the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned’ that God would require the blood of the people—and now whole peoples—at the watchman’s hand!
“That was a stern warning to me. At least I was one of the watchmen who did see it coming! God had already placed the broadcasting facilities of three radio stations at my disposal. A quarter of a million people now heard my voice weekly. Possibly ten or fifteen thousand people read the 5,000 copies of The Plain Truth.
“Of course I had been sounding this warning all along—but only in the Pacific Northwest. Now I began to see that God intended to send it to ALL ISRAEL. And He had revealed to me that that meant, today, the United States, the British Commonwealth, and the nations of northwestern Europe. The idea of my being used, personally, in reaching Britain and these other countries did not yet take sharp focus in my mind. But I did now, for the first time, begin to think actively and definitely about this work expanding to the entire United States!”
Soon after Mr. Armstrong came to this conclusion, his sister-in-law and a friend decided to go on a road trip to Detroit. They asked Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong to go with them. The Armstrongs drove their car, their first “new” one (bought from a DeSoto dealer, whose wife had only used it for six weeks; it only had 1,700 miles on it).
But it was more than just a pleasurable road trip. Mr. Armstrong intended to get the radio program to air over WHO, in Des Moines, his hometown. This was a 50,000-watt radio station that transmitted not far from the middle of the United States, broadcasting across the nation.
As he had done decades ago, Mr. Armstrong sought the help of his uncle Frank, who used his influence to arrange a meeting with WHO’s general manager. Three Sundays a month were cleared for Mr. Armstrong for about $60 per half hour. It was definitely an incredible opportunity, but it was one the Work at that time could not afford.
On the way home to the West Coast, Mr. Armstrong headed for Los Angeles to look for potential radio stations there. Hollywood was America’s radio headquarters, producing most of the top programs. This meant that the Radio Church of God program could get quality recordings for its transcription disc. At that point in time, Mr. Armstrong had been limited to producing homemade transcriptions that lacked the tell-tale sign of professionalism. Having been in advertising for several years, Mr. Armstrong knew that the more professional a product was, the more that product would command respect and be taken seriously. The recordings he made back in Oregon would not be accepted at larger-watt stations.
Though Los Angeles had religious programs on the air, the stations there were beginning to turn away their business. Mr. Armstrong did speak with the station manager of KMTR, who seemed to be open to having his program on their airwaves. Though he was not ready to broadcast over their airwaves at that time, Mr. Armstrong would inquire about it later when the time was right.
A Memorable Plane Ride
Mr. Armstrong had worked virtually day and night nonstop for the past 7½ years—and he was in dire need of rest. So he, along with his family, rented a small cabin along the Oregon Coast, and fasted for 18 days. After being recharged, both physically and spiritually, Mr. Armstrong resumed his work back in Eugene, ready to spread the gospel further than before.
To cut down on the strain of driving all the way to Seattle and back every weekend, he decided to leave his car in Portland, and then take a train to Seattle. But the train was running late—too late to do the Seattle broadcast on time. Mr. Armstrong decided to ride the train to Tacoma, Washington, and then he caught a taxi to Seattle, arriving there on schedule. Not wanting to chance being late again, after the broadcast he caught a plane back to Portland so he would be on time for the 4 p.m. broadcast there.
For Mr. Armstrong, this plane ride was memorable for two reasons. First, it was the first time in his life that he had ever flown. Second, during the flight, the captain of the plane exited the cabin and spoke to each passenger, breaking bad news: That morning, December 7, 1941, the Japanese fleet had just attacked Pearl Harbor and other U.S. military bases and airfields in the region. Thousands of soldiers were killed, missing or wounded—hundreds of military aircraft were damaged or destroyed—eight battleships, three cruisers, three destroyers and several auxiliary vessels were either damaged or sunk. The United States Pacific Fleet was virtually destroyed.
America had been pulled into World War II!
The World Tomorrow Program
Mr. Armstrong’s 4 p.m. broadcast from Portland was driven by this devastating news. In it, he explained to his listeners the prophetic meaning behind these earth-shattering events. Mr. Armstrong’s future broadcasts came to analyze the war, combining his biblical knowledge and prophetic understanding with his business training in analyzing and processing the news. The listening audience grew. The radio station managers noticed the changes to the program and encouraged Mr. Armstrong to continue. For some time, they suggested that he drop the program’s church format altogether. Mr. Armstrong did not want to do this at first, but he had gradually reduced the live hymn singing. Finally, he changed the radio program to an all-talk format, examining world events in the light of Bible prophecy.
Another change was made: The Radio Church of God program took on a new name, becoming The World Tomorrow radio program. It still proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God, but in a way that appealed to the non-religious as well as churchgoers.
By the spring of 1942, Mr. Armstrong believed that the Work was ready to branch out in Southern California. He drove to Los Angeles and got The World Tomorrow program on the air at Hollywood’s KMTR. Though only a 1,000-watt station, its transmitter stood above an underground river—which, through a quirk of nature, produced a radio signal equivalent to 40,000 watts! Its programs could even be heard over the mountains in Bakersfield.
Two weeks after debuting on KMTR, Mr. Armstrong was offered a timeslot of 5:30 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays. Mr. Armstrong knew that Christ was opening this door, the biggest one to date. It was a tremendous opportunity to expand God’s Work even further—yet it cost six times more than what it cost to broadcast only once a week. There was no time to send out Co-Worker letters, asking for pledges. Mr. Armstrong had 24 hours to take the timeslot or turn it down.
Back in Portland, he had learned the lesson of not walking through the doors Christ opened to him—two years of being limited to a tiny 500-watt station and 2½ years of The Plain Truth shutting down for lack of funds. Mr. Armstrong did NOT want to repeat this! He telephoned his wife back in Eugene to find out the total balance of what they had in the bank—which happened to be exactly one week’s worth of radio airtime. Mr. Armstrong took every cent he had in the bank and committed to air six times a week on KMTR. He trusted in God to provide the rest.
Mr. Armstrong was not disappointed, for not only did a huge mail response result from this, more tithes and offerings came in, too! Week after week, just enough money was sent in to Eugene headquarters to purchase a week’s worth of airtime. Mr. Armstrong recognized that God was providing for their every need. And the size, span and power of the Work were doubling.
From 1942 to 1947, Mr. Armstrong used several different men as the radio program’s announcer. But the one who was to hold the job for many decades was Art Gilmore. His voice was well-known as the announcer for popular national radio shows of the day, like Amos ‘n’ Andy, Red Ryder, Dr. Christian, Stars Over Hollywood, and Murder & Mr. Malone.
In June 1942, Mr. Armstrong invited his listeners to attend a campaign meeting he was holding at the Biltmore Theater, the largest theater in downtown Los Angeles. At the meeting, Mr. Armstrong addressed 1,750 people, and talked about events in the war, tying in biblical prophecy. At the close of the service, instead of passing collection plates and asking for donations like most preachers did, Mr. Armstrong merely mentioned that there were two offering boxes at the rear of the lobby for those who wanted to leave a contribution. And many of the attendees did leave offerings. In fact, there was exactly—to the penny—enough money to pay for the theater, the janitor, the electrician, the lobby signs and other expenses.
Mr. Armstrong’s stay in Los Angeles lasted for months. Before heading back home to Eugene, he was able to get the radio program over the air at San Diego’s KFMB, whose signal could be picked up more than 100 miles away.
Next, Mr. Armstrong traveled back to Des Moines and, now being able to afford it, bought daily airtime on WHO. He first broadcast from there at the end of August 1942. The World Tomorrow program had finally gone nationwide!
However, that following January, WHO gave Mr. Armstrong notice that the program would be cancelled. Mr. Armstrong moved into action. He contacted the listeners of the WHO broadcasts, who listened from every state in the continent. This led to 2,200 letters flooding the radio station. The sales manager was not pleased. However, he and Mr. Armstrong worked it out so that the radio program could stay on the air until their contract was up.
Mr. Armstrong then arranged to have The World Tomorrow air at WOAI, in San Antonio, Texas. It, too, was a 50,000-watt station. In this way, he could establish a large audience with WOAI before going off the air at WHO 6½ months later.
Time to Move?
From 1941 to 1943, Mr. Armstrong had been holding evangelistic meetings in downtown Seattle and in Everett, Washington, resulting in a local congregation. The tithes and offerings of this small church led to going on the air at 5,000-watt station KVI, in Tacoma. Its signal was enhanced to about 25,000 watts, due to the station’s transmitter being sent from an island in Puget Sound. Meanwhile, the program continued to be broadcast from Seattle’s KRSC.
As more radio stations were added in 1943, the program’s audience grew to hundreds of thousands of listeners and The Plain Truth went to 35,000 copies, reaching every American state and every English-speaking province in Canada.
Mr. Armstrong made several trips to Hollywood, broadcasting from there several weeks at a time, while continuing to hold campaign meetings in Los Angeles. The baptisms resulting from this led Mr. Armstrong to form a small congregation of 23 people. This happened in the fall of 1943. Mr. Armstrong also decided to set over them a former minister, a man whom he had become acquainted with during his visits to Southern California. This man appeared to be friendly, had a good personality and seemed liked by all. Mr. Armstrong even had this minister visit Eugene, paid for by the Work, to help him in holding the Feast of Tabernacles there.
But one year later, Mr. Armstrong discovered that the little flock in Los Angeles had been destroyed. Of those he was able to contact, Mr. Armstrong learned that this minister was not so well liked after all.
At the next Feast of Tabernacles, in 1944, the man attended the Eugene services, and then gained the affection of the brethren from the Seattle/Everett congregation. He soon became their local pastor.
It turned out that this “minister” did not believe the truths of God’s Word, as he had proclaimed to Mr. Armstrong so many times previously. As soon as he made a following for himself out of the Seattle/Everett brethren, he preached against tithing. The brethren under him stopped sending in tithes to Eugene headquarters—and about 25 percent of the Work’s income was suddenly taken away!
Then, their new pastor proclaimed that tithing was okay after all. So the brethren resumed paying tithes—only now the money went directly to him.
This man’s treachery was a huge setback to the Work.
Due to low funds, the 1944 January-February issue of The Plain Truth was cancelled. Ten thousand requests for one of the earlier versions of Mr. Armstrong’s United States and Britain in Prophecy booklet went unfulfilled. The Work was getting behind in paying its broadcasting bills, and the radio program was in danger of being taken off the air. Co-workers did not send in enough money to avert this financial emergency. So Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong went the extra mile, selling their home to put the money back into God’s Work.
The March-April Plain Truth was published, as were extra copies of the booklet. The program continued broadcasting. The Work continued forward.
But Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong’s sacrifice meant putting their furniture in storage, and moving from motel room to motel room every three days, and sometimes living in motor courts up to a week or two at a time. It meant being refused by motel owners, who reserved their rooms for out-of-towners only. It meant eating out at restaurants every night, which was both costly and unhealthy, while struggling to raise two teenaged boys (the girls had since married and moved out). And it meant, months later, finally being able to at least rent two rooms in a boarding house, while still having to share a bathroom with other renters.
Meanwhile, The Plain Truth had grown too large for the local printing company to continue publishing it. Since Mr. Armstrong visited Hollywood to use its quality recording facilities as often as he could, he began to investigate potential large-scale printing operations in Los Angeles. The idea of permanently moving to Southern California was taking shape.