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The History Of The Beginning And Growth Of The Worldwide Church Of God
The Good News – August 1980
Chapter Four:
The History Of The Beginning And Growth Of The Worldwide Church Of God

by Herbert W. Armstrong

UP TO THIS point I have covered events preparatory to the actual beginning of this “Philadelphia era” of God’s Church, The WORLDWIDE CHURCH OF GOD.

The time was August, 1933. Elmer E. Fisher of Eugene, Ore., was brought into the Church through a Bible study I had with him and his wife one stormy evening during the tent campaign held in Eugene. He was chairman of the school board of the Firbutte school, a one-room 36-seat school eight miles west of Eugene.

Sven “Sam” A. Oberg and A.J. Ray started a campaign at the same time in the 150-seat church in Harrisburg, Ore.

All connected with the start of the present Church era began from smallest beginnings, in the midst of the worst economic depression of our time. During this campaign I stayed at the Fisher home, my family remaining in Salem, Ore.

I found a rock atop a hill close by the Fisher farm, which made a prayer rock before which I knelt in prayer every day of the meetings. Average attendance for the six weeks was about 40.

I first typed out on a borrowed typewriter an outline of subjects to be covered in the meetings, with many carbon copies. These I carried in person afoot over the sparsely settled area. The roads were graveled. I walked over these rough graveled roads with shoes that had “holy soles.” Part of the time Elmer Fisher let me take his Chevy car.

We had in attendance the Fishers, the elder Mr. and Mrs. Alva Ellis, their son Claude and wife, who had been members of Sardis in Southern California.

About a week before the conclusion of the meetings, I found Ernest Fisher, brother of Elmer, ready for baptism, and I baptized him.

Meanwhile Sam Oberg was having a smaller attendance in his 150-seat Harrisburg church than I in my 36-seat schoolhouse. This intensified jealousy. Mr. Oberg was producing no “fruit” whatsoever. Messrs. Oberg and Ray induced Mike Helms to call a “business meeting” at the Harrisburg church on the Sunday prior to the last week of the campaigns. It was an “inquisition.” Through the morning and part of the afternoon, each of them orated about an hour and a half against me, accusing me of improperly baptizing Ernest Fisher. I spoke 15 minutes in my defense, reading from Matthew 28:19-20 that he who taught was to baptize those taught, after which by laying on of hands they would receive the Holy Spirit, then teaching them the way of the Christian life.

At that point, as I finished, Elmer Fisher drove up to take me back to the Firbutte school for the Sunday night service.

I asked Messrs. Oberg and Ray if they would take no action until I could be present at another meeting. They promised.

Half or more of the brethren went with me outside to see me off. While they were out, Oberg and Ray pulled a double cross, breaking their promise before all, and steamrollered through the few left inside a resolution condemning me for baptizing according to Jesus’ specific command.

On hearing this I immediately wrote to Mike Helms, then president, rejecting any further receiving of the $3 per week “salary,” saying that henceforth I would rely on God for support, not the brethren.

Anyway, the meetings closed at the end of that week, and afterward I organized the 19 we had, including the Fishers and Ellises, into the parent church of the present Worldwide Church of God.

This was the “Philadelphia” succession of the CHURCH OF GOD founded the day of Pentecost, A.D. 31, by Jesus Christ. It was founded entirely through living FAITH in Jesus Christ. It was founded in poverty in the midst of the worst economic depression within the memory of man. And it was founded amid political persecution from the ministers Sven Oberg and A.J. Ray. It was founded after I had severed my connection with the Oregon Conference. And I had never been a member of the “Sardis” succession of God’s Church, nor of the Dugger offshoot started 1932 in Salem, W.Va.

However, my friendship and brotherhood with the Oregon Conference brethren continued. Often many of them began driving down to Eugene to attend services with the fledgling new “Philadelphia” succession of God’s Church. Always the brethren of all “Sardis” people had been more than friendly to me – they really did love me and my wife. It was their jealous ministers, who were fruitless in the work, who persecuted me.

The new Church resulting from the Firbutte school meetings began meeting three times a week, including Sabbath afternoons, at the Jeans schoolhouse, some four miles on west of the Firbutte school.

Meetings were held by the new church Sabbath, Tuesday and Thursday nights.

Soon I began holding meetings in the old Masonic Temple building in downtown Eugene. These meetings were held on Sunday, Monday and Thursday nights, beside the three meetings weekly held by the new church at Jeans school.

There was a new Masonic Temple in Eugene. The old Masonic Temple auditorium was on the second floor, with store rooms (retail) below.

Also, for $10-a-month rent, I was given a small room on the second floor adjoining the hall as an office. That was the first office of the newly raised up Church of God.

These three-times-a-week meetings in Eugene continued into the winter, but I learned that meetings three times a week will not draw an audience like meetings six nights a week. Nevertheless, we had a good attendance of some 50 or 60 per service.

Oregon Conference brethren go with Dugger

Soon the brethren who had operated as the Oregon Conference decided to join up with the Andrew N. Dugger offshoot headquartered at Salem, W.Va.

The Dugger church was claiming to have a “Bible organization.” They claimed 12 apostles, which included most of their ministers, 70 leading elders, of which they had only a few, and a financial board of seven.

This was a clever deception, used by Mr. Dugger to deceive the membership into thinking that he, only, had “the Bible form of organization.” He claimed the 12 original apostles were instituted as a permanent board to head the Church. They were not. They were 12 who had accompanied Jesus wherever He went during His 3 1/2-year earthly ministry, and the 40 days after His resurrection, to be personal WITNESSES of the divinity and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Actually, the opposition the Church met during its first five or 10 years was Jewish opposition, which rejected Jesus as the promised Messiah. The early preaching of the apostles was primarily eye-witness testimony of the miraculous ministry, death and resurrection of Christ. There is no indication whatever in the Bible that Jesus intended them to be a permanent board of 12 apostles – and in historic fact, they simply were not.

At one time in His ministry Jesus had appointed 70 followers to go on a special mission as advance men preparing the way in cities where Jesus was personally to visit soon after.

The seven were deacons appointed by Peter and the other apostles after the day of Pentecost, to minister to women and children and wait on tables to the group remaining in Jerusalem who had come from many other areas. The King James Version calls this waiting on tables “this business,” and Mr. Dugger twisted that to mean they handled the MONEY and the business transactions of the Church.

Mr. Dugger at the time was under fire from the Stanberry church, accused of making himself the head man. So he carefully kept himself off of the “Board of the Twelve Apostles,” who were ostensibly to rule the church. But he put himself in as chairman of the Board of Seven, to handle the money and the “business” affairs of the church.

One incident well illustrated how this worked in actual practice. A member of the “Twelve” (supposedly RULING the church) had made a statement against Mr. Dugger. Mr. Dugger immediately gave an order for the member of the “Twelve” to publicly disclaim and apologize or he would cut off his salary immediately. That proved who was the real “boss.”

Mr. Dugger’s claiming to have a “Bible form of organization,” and accusing Stanberry of having a non-biblical form, puzzled the whole church as to what, after all, was the real intended biblical form of church organization. I have to admit I became mixed up on this also. It is plain enough in the New Testament, but for the time we were all confused and blinded to it.

Actually, the Bible says the Church is built on the FOUNDATION of the APOSTLES and prophets (Old Testament), Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone. It says plainly that Christ gave different ones special spiritual gifts (I Cor. 12) for various administrations and operation in the Church’s Work, and that He set in the Church administration, first apostles (not a continuation of the original 12 as a “ruling board”), then prophets (of which there are none today), then evangelists, pastors and elders. Various other New Testament passages show that some elders were local elders, some preaching elders, others not preaching, but in a degree of leadership. Then for physical duties there were deacons and deaconesses. THAT IS HOW GOD’S CHURCH IS ORGANIZED TODAY. That is the TRUE Bible form of Church organization!

I cooperate, but do not join

When the Oregon Conference disbanded and joined in with the Dugger offshoot, I did give serious consideration to it. I was never really convinced of Mr. Dugger’s professed “Bible form of organization,” and I decided never to join them. We now had our own new local church in Eugene, though I did not yet at that time realize it was to develop into the Philadelphia succession or generation of the true Church of God.

I counseled with Elmer Fisher. We decided to wait and see how things developed.

Messrs. Oberg and Ray had joined the Salem, W.Va., offshoot. They, especially Mr. Ray, were making a whole religion out of the “clean and unclean” meats of Leviticus 11. I had been listed by Mr. Dugger as one of the “Seventy Leading Elders,” but had never accepted nor joined them.

Finally one of “The Twelve” came to my rather bare office room in the old Masonic Temple quarters. He had one question, What was my stand on the “clean and unclean”?

I stated my stand concisely and briefly. God had never intended the “unclean” animals to be food for humans. But it is a PHYSICAL, not a SPIRITUAL, matter. The Gospel is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not in meat or drink, but in spiritual matters (Rom. 14:17). Therefore I DO NOT preach abstinence from unclean meats in proclaiming the GOSPEL, but I DO teach all Church members for health reasons.

He had never heard it put that way, but said he felt I believed as they do, only had a different way of saying it, and I was acceptable.

I finally decided we would fellowship with them. I would work WITH them, but not FOR them and at my own expense, but would NOT JOIN them as a member. I did work with them for some three years.

But I am now ahead of my story.

I believe it was the spring of 1934 that I had finished the three-nights-a-week meetings in downtown Eugene, and engaged in a six-nights-a-week six-week campaign at the Alvadore schoolhouse, 15 miles north-west of Eugene. This was a two-room country school, with a second story hall covering the area of the two ground-floor schoolrooms.

We had a good attendance, and I had, or rather God gave me, 15 new baptized members.

Meanwhile I had been holding Sabbath services Sabbath mornings in my home in Eugene, attended by converts from the Eugene meetings, and Sabbath afternoon meetings at the Jeans school, 12 miles west of Eugene.

With the 15 new members from Alvadore it became imperative that we buy back the church building (seating 100) that we had built in Eugene in 1931. You will remember that had been deeded in the name of elder Robert Taylor. Mr. Taylor had gotten rid of it. It was, in 1934, owned by a man who lived next door. There were no seats, no pulpit. It was unfinished, outside and inside. We now had enough members to buy it. With our own labor – more of mine than any others – we finished the outside siding, the inside plasterboard, seats, which I designed and largely built. We had a cabinet-making carpenter member from Alvadore who built a platform, pulpit and altar railing. But again I am ahead of the story.

Back now, to October, in 1933. It was in that month that we formally organized the church at Jeans, as “The Church of God at Eugene, Oregon.” Also in that month, I heard that the local radio station, KORE, with the smallest wattage of power allowed, 100 watts, had a weekday morning devotional service of 15 minutes open free to ministers in Eugene. I found most ministers did not want to get going at 7:45 mornings for the broadcast, and the time was seldom used.

I went to the station, and was given free time for the very next week. This was about Feast of Tabernacles time, but only myself and wife had been keeping the annual Sabbaths. However, the new members, beginning with those brought in from the Firbutte meetings, had begun keeping these annual Sabbaths with us. It had not yet been revealed to me to know the real MEANING of God’s seven annual festivals. Up until 1945 we observed the annual Holy Days. I did not know WHY – and therefore I could not teach the new converts who formed the beginning of the “Philadelphia” succession of God’s Church, which had existed since A.D. 31. I knew only that the annual Holy Days (High Sabbaths) were commanded by God and was willing to OBEY first and understand WHY later, whenever God would reveal the meaning. And how wonderful and vitally important is that meaning.

But now I was to go on the air for the first time in my life. The ministers of the churches in Eugene had not considered the opportunity to put a Gospel message on the air of sufficient importance to rise early enough to be at the radio studio 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.

During the days remaining before that first Monday morning on the air, I worked diligently and with inspired enthusiasm on the messages for the five weekday mornings.

Came the crucial Monday morning. I was well prepared. One minute before that zero hour I was nervous. I had never spoken through a microphone before.

“If I need any instruction, you’d better give it to me quickly,” I said to the announcer. “I’ve never been on the air before.”

“Just stand before that mike and begin talking when I give you the signal,” he said indifferently. That reassured me. I said to myself, Why, I’m not a bit nervous now.

The announcer announced me and gave the signal. Suddenly nerves gripped my whole body and mind! But somehow I began talking, and after 30 seconds or a minute the “mike-fright” was gone. My mind was absorbed with the subject. The GOOD NEWS of the Kingdom of God was ON THE AIR for the first time!

I began with God’s promises to Abraham. The whole true Gospel is based on those PROMISES to Abraham. Soon I was revealing to listeners that the promises were NOT heaven, but this EARTH as an everlasting possession, coupling other scriptures with God’s promises beginning in Genesis 12.

Through the week I carried on the theme of the WORLD TOMORROW – the KINGDOM OF GOD! That message had not gone out to the world publicly since about A.D. 53! But my heart was in it, and it began coming in POWER!

Almost 1,900 years had gone by – since A.D. 53, since that message had been proclaimed PUBLICLY! I did not realize, then, the significance of that moment!

On Thursday morning of that week, the announcer told me the station owner and manager wanted to see me.

“Mr. Armstrong,” he said, “never before have we received mail from listeners to this morning devotional period. But many letters are coming in to the station. Listeners are writing that they never heard what you are preaching before. So I listened in on you this morning. You have a good radio voice. You are evoking a good public response. I suggest you work out a half-hour program, and we’ll put it on as a public service every Sunday morning.”

The next morning, Friday, Frank Hill wanted to see me again.

“Mr. Armstrong, you’ve stirred up havoc among the ministers in Eugene. They held a meeting of their Ministerial Association yesterday and informed me they don’t want you on the air any more – and they will see to it that one of them is here for the morning devotional every week-day hereafter. It appears that members of their congregations are coming to them and bringing their Bibles, and pointing out what you’ve been preaching and embarrassing the ministers by asking why they are preaching the very opposite of what the Bible says.

“I can’t give you any more free time,” continued Mr. Hill, “but I’ll tell you what I can do. I’ll sell you a half hour Sunday mornings for less than half of what it costs the station to operate the time. I’ll open up a Sunday morning half hour for you at $2.50 per half hour.”

So that is how Christ’s true Gospel message came to go out regularly OVER THE AIR – and it has never ceased since it began the following Jan. 7, 1934! Actually station-owner Frank Hill prompted the start of The World Tomorrow program, by contributing more than half the actual cost of the radio time! Frank Hill is long since dead, but I’m glad to say this to his everlasting credit.

I worked diligently from that day in October, to start what we then called the “Radio Church of God,” the first Sunday in 1934! It was a significant date in the history of the Church of the living God!

(To be continued)