For more extensive coverage of Armstrong's life and ministry, see the profile on
the Field Guide site:
History and Overview of the Ministry of Herbert Armstrong
In a Nutshell
Herbert W Armstrong (1892-
The Rest of the Story
Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA) was born in 1892. He married his first wife, Loma, in 1917.
Loma became interested in the doctrine of the seventh day Sabbath in the early 1920s through a member of a small Sabbatarian denomination called the Church of God, Seventh Day (CG7). Loma's conviction that she needed to begin keeping the seventh day Sabbath spurred HWA to study into this doctrine. He also became convinced that the seventh day Sabbath was to be kept, and for a time during the late 1920s and early 1930s cooperated with the CG7 in a ministerial role.
In 1933 he launched his own personal evangelistic ministry with public meetings in Oregon and broadcasts on a small Oregon radio station.
In 1934 he began publishing a magazine he called the Plain Truth to send to listeners who responded to the program. The radio program was originally called "The Radio Church of God." In 1941 the name was changed to The World Tomorrow (likely inspired by the theme of the 1939/1940 New York World's Fair, "The World of Tomorrow.") By this time the program was broadcast over several stations in Oregon, Washington, and California. And in 1942 it began to reach all 48 states via the 50,000 watt Des Moines, Iowa, radio station WHO.
Although he did address a variety of doctrines and topics in both the magazine and radio program, the main emphasis of both throughout most of his life was linking Bible prophecy to contemporary world events. The bombastic announcer introducing everyWorld Tomorrow program intoned that Armstrong was going to be speaking about "The Plain Truth about today's world news, and the prophecies of the World Tomorrow."
As early as the first issue of the Plain Truth magazine, he began predicting a specific time frame for the “Second Coming of Christ.” That time frame kept shifting as the years went by and previous predictions failed. Yet although he never declared one specific calendar date for the Return, he often dogmatically used terms such as "within the next five to seven years."
Financing the Ministry
By the mid-
Building a Church Organization
Because Armstrong's doctrinal package was in many ways at odds with standard Protestant theology, those who became convicted that he had "The Truth" soon found themselves uncomfortable attending the worship services of the churches in their hometown. Thus HWA realized during the 1940s that he would need to begin building a network of church congregations throughout the country which followed his doctrines.
He first dubbed this the "Radio Church of God (RCG)," later changing it in 1968 to
the "Worldwide Church of God (WCG)." Although accurate membership records are not
available, it appears from some of his comments in passing in old Co-
In order to develop a ministry to serve this fledgling denomination, he solicited from his supporters funds to begin a college in the late 1940s. The first such "Ambassador College" campus was founded in Pasadena, California. Campuses were later added in Bricket Wood, England, and Big Sandy, Texas. Although designated "Liberal Arts" institutions rather than "seminaries," for many years Ambassador College functioned primarily to provide ministers ... and ministers' wives ... for the growing number of congregations around the U.S. and eventually around the world.
Building a Dynasty
HWA's eldest son, Richard David Armstrong, was one of the pioneers of the fledgling
ministry. He was no doubt slated to take an ever-
HWA had authored a collection of basic booklets up through the 1960s that formed the basis of the doctrinal teaching of the RCG. After the death of Loma Armstrong in 1967, he seldom contributed any new writing (other than letters and editorials) but rather turned his attention to a series of trips around the world to meet governmental leaders in foreign countries. Ambassador College had provided a growing staff of writers and administrative personnel to run the ministry and all of its media outreaches and denominational duties.
Although in the early years of his ministry he had professed belief in a very "democratic"
style of church organization, by the 1950s HWA had adopted an almost totally authoritarian,
dictatorial style of leadership for his own role. And he had put in place a hierarchical
system of church leadership under him that eventually micro-
The 1960s were the hey-
The January 1969 Plain Truth magazine Radio Log shows 39 super-
A downward spiral started in the early 1970s. HWA and his associates had strongly hinted for many years that the Church would be taken to a "Place of Safety" in 1972 prior to the beginning of the "Great Tribulation" prophesied in the Book of Revelation. When the date came and went without any miraculous fulfillment, disillusionment set in for many church members as well as those in leadership positions.
Questions about doctrine and procedures and ethics in the ministry that had been festering quietly for a number of years came to the fore and led to turmoil at the organization's headquarters. Rumors about sexual scandals involving Garner Ted Armstrong, and eventually Herbert Armstrong himself, added fuel to the fire.
Waves of disruption and defections came throughout the 1970s. A number of small split-
Herbert Armstrong remarried in 1977 at age 85. Church doctrine for decades had forbidden
a church member to remarry after a divorce until the death of the former spouse.
If a prospective member was married to someone who had a living previous spouse,
no matter how long ago the previous divorce had been, and no matter if the current
marriage had small children, baptism was denied unless the prospective member ended
the current marriage. Church policy had also highly frowned on any sort of inter-
Shortly after the marriage, HWA had a serious heart attack and was not expected to live. Garner Ted Armstrong took over most of the administrative rule of the organization, and put in place many reforms to doctrines and procedures. By early 1978, however, HWA's health improved. He returned to leadership of the organization, removed GTA from all responsibilities and later that year disfellowshipped him from the Church. He rescinded the changes made by GTA and came down more firmly than ever with an authoritarian hand.
His marriage to Ramona failed shortly after that, and ended in a scandalous divorce case in the early 1980s.
Garner Ted Armstrong started his own church organization, the Church of God, International (CGI) , in 1978 and was joined by several hundred members and a few ministers from the WCG. Leery of GTA's reputation, many other ministers and members left the WCG around the same time, but did not affiliate with him.
A number of former WCG members brought a class-
End of an Era
Herbert Armstrong died in 1986, leaving no clear leadership in place to continue
his policies and vision. Although he did name a successor to his role as "Pastor
General" of the Church, Joseph Tkach, Sr., Tkach had not been a long-
Tkach and his son, Joseph Tkach, Jr., continued to make changes to the WCG until
a point in 1995 when it was obvious that their ultimate intent was to turn the organization
into just another Protestant denomination. They downplayed or dropped almost all
of the distinctive doctrines of the Church, including eventually the seventh day
Sabbath. Thus in 1995 there was a major split in the denomination, and thousands
left to form the largest split-
As the new millennium started, the WCG was a shadow of its former self, and had no connection at all with the beliefs and vision of its founder. All of the college campuses were gone, the church headquarters in Pasadena was in the process of being sold. Income was only a fraction of the amount coming in when HWA was alive. And most of its congregations had either switched to meeting on Sundays or were considering doing so in the near future.
And at the same time, many of those who had left the organization because they still believed much of the teachings of HWA were squabbling among themselves over who had inherited the "mantle" of HWA to carry on his Work. The number of small groups which trace their roots to the disintegration of the WCG now number into the many hundreds.
For a much more comprehensive look at the inner-
For a fascinating look inside the mind of Herbert Armstrong, through excerpts from
the collection of his bombastic Co-
Herbert W Armstrong in his own words: The Myth & The Man…
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is © 2001-
Careful effort has been made to give credit as clearly as possible to any specific material quoted or ideas extensively adapted from any one resource. Corrections and clarifications regarding citations for any source material are welcome, and will be promptly added to any sections which are found to be inadequately documented as to source.
Brief Biographical Sketch of
Herbert W. Armstrong