C. Wayne Cole, Raymond's younger brother, replaced his brother as pastor
shortly thereafter. Wayne Cole was a 1954 graduate of Ambassador, and the
South Texas church was his first pastorate. The younger Mr. Cole is now
an unpaid minister of the United Church of God living in Tyler, Texas.
The 1950s--especially the first half--were a time of little formality in
the local churches. The Cole brothers and their wives were all in their
20s. I was 9 in 1954, and, like the other boys and girls in the church,
we and our parents called the ministers and their wives by their first names.
It was Raymond and Myra this and Wayne and Doris that.
But in the 1950s ministers began to instruct members to begin having members
refer to them as Mr.
Both Wayne Cole and Roderick C. Meredith, an early student who is now presiding
evangelist for the Global Church of God, said recently that Mr. Armstrong
set that policy.
Mr. Cole said it was while he was pastoring in south Texas that he talked
to a member, Bill Seelig, who was within two years of his age, and told
him Mr. Armstrong wanted the ministers to be called Mr.
To show respect for the ministry, brethren were not only to address all
ministers as Mr., but were also to call their wives Mrs.
The brethren, in an attempt to respond to the example of their leadership,
began calling each other by Mr. and Mrs., and a few wives actually claimed
to address their husbands as Mr., even in the privacy of their homes.
But in the early '50s the protocol of the day was relaxed. Laymen wore sport
shirts or even more-casual dress to services. But brethren by the mid-'50s
were encourage to dress more formally.
Dr. Meredith said recently what motivated Mr. Armstrong to stress more formally
was his desire to raise overall standards of the growing organization, which
had only recently come out of rural Oregon.
Clearly the culture he created had an up side, in that many people learned
to dress and improve themselves economically.
But, to a young boy growing up in the casual atmosphere of the church in
the first half of the '50s, these and other changes that were beginning
to take place at church headquarters and subsequently ripple out to the
congregations I did not come to understand until years later.
Amateur WCG historian
Off and on for decades I've been an amateur WCG historian. I have a considerable
church-literature library, and I have been fortunate enough to talk to dozens
of former Ambassador College students of the 1950s about the early days.
I have also been able to process that information against the backdrop of
45 years of WCG attendance, including 16 years of full-time WCG employment.
As a result, I've come to appreciate the impact of the many watershed events
of the 1950s and their resulting effect on the WCG.
I understand that some will not share my perspective, but I invite them
to write In Transition and share with our readers how they saw it.
More democratic style
We learn from Mr. Armstrong's early writings that he began his work with
a largely democratic approach.
Nowhere is this made more plain than in a 6,000-plus-word article he wrote
in 1939 titled "Did Christ Reorganize the Church?" The item appeared
in a publication called Good News of the Kingdom, an apparent antecedent
of of The Good News magazine that was published regularly beginning
While it's not exactly correct to call this a Good News article,
this piece is a valuable historical reference to Mr. Armstrong's approach
to government at the time. In it he thoroughly condemns centralized, hierarchical
church government, and he supports the autonomy of congregations.
Dr. Meredith points out that Mr. Armstrong wrote this early in his ministry.
He says Mr. Armstrong told him that the article was written in haste as
a rebuttal against church leaders of his day who were imposing their will
on the church.
Regardless of the perspective, Mr. Armstrong wrote (the emphasis here is
Mr. Armstrong's): "An apostle does not mean one in authority, but one
under authority--one sent by the authority of another! The only power and
authority Jesus ever gave even to his original twelve was to heal the sick,
and cast out demons. And he sent them, not to rule, but to preach--not to
bear authority, but to minister, to serve!"
Later in the same article Mr. Armstrong addressed the New Testament form
of church government under the subhead "Jesus' Teaching on Church Government":
"There is not one single hint in the New Testament of any Church board
with authority to rule, to govern, to decide doctrine, or to handle tithes
and church finances (the whole church). In a later number we shall devote
an article to explaining Acts 15, which certainly sets no such example.
"Jesus never organized, or re-organized his Church! There is no scripture
"All authority and power to rule is limited solely to each local congregation.
But there is no Bible authority for any super-government, or organization
with authority over the local congregations!
"The plain teaching of Jesus is just the contrary! Listen! 'Jesus called
them unto him, and saith unto them, "Ye know that they which are accounted
to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones
exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you" (Mark
Mr. Armstrong in the 1939 article asked: Where did church government originate?
Calls church government the image of the Beast
He said it came out of spiritual Babylon, which he identified as Rome. He
wrote that Constantine through the Council of Nicea introduced the concept
of church government.
"Thus Thus [sic] it was Constantine--the 'beast'--who injected and
introduced into the Church the idea of a board to decide doctrine, and to
"Thus it was that Constantine made doctrine, as decided by a higher-up
board, the basis of fellowship and unity in the Church! . . .
"Thus was church government introduced into the Western world a century
after Constantine (the 'Beast') injected the idea of church boards to decide
what doctrines the rest of the church must believe. And thus the very principle
of church government becomes the image of the beast!"
Although Mr. Armstrong's perspective on church government would eventually
shift a full 180 degrees from what he had expressed in 1939, it would do
so in gradual but snowballing steps over the next four decades.
Readers interested in learning more about the early ministry of Mr. Armstrong
may find helpful a book titled Early Writings of Herbert W. Armstrong, a
248-page, 812-by-11-inch volume published by Richard Nickels (In Transition,
May 27). This carefully prepared work contains about 30 of Mr. Armstrong's
writings, including the 1939 article on church government quoted in this
article. It's available from Giving
& Sharing for $9 by calling (888) 687-5191. In an appendix Mr. Nickels
takes a hard, but in my opinion fair, look at Mr. Armstrong and the organization
Mr. Armstrong had limited success building an organization for the first
two decades of his work. He was effective in getting people's attention
through his radio broadcasts and evangelistic campaigns. He could also start
congregations, but brethren would begin to leave once he had moved on to
the next area or the next project.
Much of his early ministry was driven by predictions of the end of the age.
As the storm gathered over Europe that would become World War II, Mr. Armstrong
told brethren to forget about the prophetic significance of Adolf Hitler.
Instead, he admonished readers and listeners to concentrate on Italy's fascist
premier, Benito Mussolini. Mr. Armstrong taught and preached that Mr. Mussolini,
not the German fuehrer, would be the Beast prophesied in the book of Revelation.
Later, as events unfolded, Mr. Armstrong turned his attention to Hitler
and kept the spotlight on him well into the 1960s. He strongly speculated
that Hitler was alive and probably living in South America, preparing to
return to lead a reunified Germany, which would be the head of a unified
European Beast power.
However, by the end of World War II it was clear that World War II was not
an immediate precursor to the end of the age as he had taught.
Moving to California and building a team
The Radio Church of God was for the first 15 years essentially a one-man
work. Better said, it was a one-man and one-woman work. The first Mrs. Armstrong,
Loma, who died in 1967, was an integral part of Mr. Armstrong's ministry,
and some early insiders credit her with being a profoundly stabilizing influence
on her husband.
Shortly after the war Mr. Armstrong decided to move to Southern California
and start a college. He said one of the attractions of that geographical
area was the rich resources in electronic media in and around Hollywood.
He wrote of his plans to supporters and even included in one coworker letter
a survey asking coworkers' opinions about which of two sites he was considering.
In 1947 Mr. Armstrong founded Ambassador College with four students: Mr.
Armstrong's older of two sons, Richard David, who died in 1958 as a result
of injuries sustained in an automobile accident; Herman Louie Hoeh; Betty
Bates; and Raymond Cole. The college struggled financially and otherwise
but kept operating.
Enrollment increased with early students such as Norman A. Smith, Mr. Meredith,
Bob Seelig, Herbert Burk McNair and his wife-to-be, Billie Sue Sanders.
The first graduation was June 15, 1951, in which Miss Bates and Mr. Hoeh
graduated. Although growth was slow at first, Ambassador began training
and graduating laborers for Mr. Armstrong's ministry.
Students in their late teens and early 20s began preaching, serving as interim
pastors and participating in nationwide baptizing tours. Mr. Hoeh was listed
as a faculty member in the fall of 1951, after graduating in June.
RCG publication efforts benefited greatly from Ambassador. Before Ambassador
students began helping with the production of church publications, issues
appeared sporadically. Sometimes there would be gaps in publishing of months
or even years.
By the early '50s, thanks to the fruit of Ambassador College, Mr. Armstrong's
work was picking up steam. Seemingly, his work had finally reached a critical
mass, and the church began to explode with significant growth in income
Although the RCG after 16 years had a total Feast of Tabernacles attendance
of fewer than 100, within the next five years it would enjoy a 15-fold increase.
And the greatest growth was yet to come.
But the growth spawned through the newly founded college also began to alter
the personality of the organization. Several streams of influence converged
in the early 1950s to change the tenor of Mr. Armstrong's work.
Mentor and spiritual guide
When Mr. Armstrong began Ambassador College in 1947, he was in his mid-50s.
Most of the first students were still teenagers when they arrived on campus.
As is the case today, and it was probably more so in the 1950s, young students
often seek mentors, and Mr. Armstrong for many Ambassador students became
not only a mentor but a spiritual guide.
Mr. Armstrong was eagerly embraced by young students. They saw him as a
man of God; they placed him on a pedestal. Many hung on his every word.
For example, some student leaders talked among themselves and agreed that
Mr. Armstrong, as a man of God, needed to be respected. Student leaders
decided that they and their fellow students should stand when Mr. Armstrong
walked into the classroom. This became a custom, which Mr. Armstrong permitted.
By the early 1950s some students began referring to him as an apostle.
Two of the most visible of those who especially esteemed Mr. Armstrong were
Mr. Hoeh and Mr. Meredith. Both men were prolific writers for the publications
and increasingly influential in the church.
In late 1952 and early 1953 Mr. Armstrong ordained the first Ambassador-trained
elders. Seven men were ordained, six of whom were in their 20s. Mr. Armstrong
would later conclude that these men had been ordained to the office of evangelist,
though at the time they were simply called elders.
On Dec. 20, 1952, Mr. Armstrong ordained Richard Armstrong, Raymond Cole,
Mr. Hoeh, Mr. Meredith, and Dr. C. Paul Meredith, an older student who was
the uncle of Roderick Meredith.
Sightly more than a month later, on Jan. 30, 1953, two other young men,
Marion Joel McNair and Raymond Franklin McNair, were also ordained, after
their midterm graduation from Ambassador.
During the time that Mr. Hoeh and Roderick Meredith were working closely
with Mr. Armstrong, his younger son, Garner Ted, was serving in the U.S.
Navy. Garner Ted would later characterized his joining the navy as an act
of rebellion against his father.
I remember seeing Ted for the first time at the Feast of Tabernacles in
Siegler Springs, Calif., in 1952. He was standing on the edge the swimming
pool, about to race two Ambassador students. As a 7-year-old boy I couldn't
help but notice his tattoos.
His father was clearly not pleased with his son's early choices and perhaps
Mr. Armstrong saw the Rod Merediths and Herman Hoehs of the college as surrogate
sons. Regardless, Mr. Armstrong's early disappointment with Ted, contrasted
with the adoration of the young college men, fostered a tension not only
between father and son, but between Garner Ted and some of the other early
Those feelings simmered under the surface for the next two decades and more.
This tension was further exacerbated in the early 1970s and finally brought
to a boil when Garner Ted Armstrong was disciplined by his father for alleged
No photos allowed
Those who knew him well had little doubt that Mr. Armstrong was probably
always by nature dictatorial and enjoyed the limelight. But, during the
first 20 years of his ministry, he seemed to have subordinated those natural
tendencies. Loma was no doubt a restraining influence. She was not one to
put on airs, and she did not support her husband when he did.
Whether it was Mrs. Armstrong's idea or not, Mr. Armstrong did not allow
photographs of himself or his family to be published for the first two decades
of his ministry, until 1951, just four years after Ambassador College began.
On page 7 of the November 1951 issue of The Good News (which by then
bore a positioning statement: "The National Magazine of Ambassador
College") were photos of Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong.
The caption read: "You asked for it--10,000 of you [possibly an exaggeration]
have demanded Mr. Armstrong's picture. For the first time in the 18 years
of this work, he has finally consented. Here are four pages of pictures
of Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong, faculty and students, and the campus of Ambassador
Mr. Armstrong's earlier policy of not allowing published photos of himself
stands in stark contrast to his approach to photos in the final two decades
of his ministry.
Accepting apostleship--reluctantly at first
The first time Herbert Armstrong was called an apostle in public was in
a sermon in 1951 during the Feast of Tabernacles.
"The first proclamation before the church that God had filled the office
of apostle was made by Herman Hoeh in his sermon at the Feast of Tabernacles
at Belknap Springs, Oregon, in 1951," Mr. Armstrong wrote of the incident
a few years later in the February-March 1955 issue of The Good News.
Mr. Armstrong revealed that Mr. Hoeh had not consulted him about what he
was going to announce in his sermon. "I had no inkling of what he was
to say," Mr. Armstrong wrote.
"At that time his words hit my startled ears like an atomic bomb and
my first impulse was to deny and correct his statement immediately. Only
propriety restrained this impulse. I felt Mr. Hoeh was just a little young
and carried away with himself. Never in my life had I thought of occupying
such an office."
But, in the 1955 Good News article, he acknowledged his apostleship.
"But in the light of events the fact of how God has set up His church
today has become self-evident to all. It is God's doing. If one does find,
unexpectedly, that God has set him such an office, there is only one choice--he
must accept it with full humility realizing personal lack, and surrendering
the self totally to God as an instrument in His hands, relying wholly on
God for guidance and every power and need."
To Mr. Armstrong's credit, he did not dwell on his apostleship for the next
20 years. For most of the next two decades, he would rarely call himself
an apostle. He did, however, with increasing frequency over those years
call himself "the one you [the ministers and other brethren] call an
By the 1970s he was calling himself an apostle with growing frequency. In
his final decade of life, he often billed himself as the "sole apostle
of the 20th century."
God's complete government restored in church
What sparked the comments in the 1955 GN about his apostleship were reports
of recent ordinations.
Mr. Armstrong wrote in the lead story of this issue of The Good News,
in an article titled "Six More Ministers Now Ordained," that "for
the first time in 750 years God's complete government is restored to His
Drawing on not untypical hyperbole, he wrote that the Sabbath of Jan. 22,
1955, would go down in "the eternal history of God's Church and His
Kingdom" because on that day every administrative office of the church
had been recognized and filled. The ranks, in descending order, were apostle,
evangelist, pastor, minister-elder (preaching elder), deacon and deaconess.
Ordained that Sabbath were the first deaconess, Annie M. Mann, and a deacon,
Edward E. Eckert. Ordained as "preaching or minister-elders" were
Burk McNair and George A. Meeker. Dean C. Blackwell was raised in rank from
minister-elder to pastor. Garner Ted Armstrong, Wayne Cole and Mr. Smith
were ordained pastors.
In this article Mr. Armstrong said he was the first apostle since Peter
Waldo, who some historians say was not a Sabbath-keeper.
Calling the 12th-century French preacher an apostle and assuming a connection
between the Waldensians and the Radio Church of God, Mr. Armstrong said
some, but not all, of the proper offices had continued in the ensuing eight
centuries. He cited Mr. Hoeh's research on the history of the "true
Mr. Armstrong said the office of prophet carried no "administrative
power," and, since the Scriptures are now complete, "there seems
no need for prophets today."
Drawing from the perceived model of Waldo's organization, Mr. Armstrong
outlined the pyramid of offices in the church: Christ at the head, followed
by apostles, evangelists, pastors, minister-elders, nonpreaching elders,
deacons and deaconesses. These all ruled over the unordained brethren.
Primacy of James
In the next issue of The Good News, August 1953, Mr. Hoeh wrote an
article titled "Government in Our Church."
At least two points bear repeating: (1) He identifies James, the half brother
of Jesus, as the chief apostle in the account of the Jerusalem conference
in Acts 15, thus on a technicality rejecting the primacy-of-Peter doctrine
employed principally by Roman Catholics. This would remain the teaching
of the WCG for at least the next 20 years. Mr. Armstrong would in the late
1970s modify this teaching and embrace the primacy of Peter. (2) He again
identifies Mr. Armstrong as an apostle:
"How plain it is that God rules our church. The congregations are ruled
by the elders, who are ruled by the evangelists, and they are ruled by the
apostle who is ruled by Christ who is ruled by God. All offices are appointive,
by a superior office. It is government from God down to each individual
member of the church."
Top-down government was enthusiastically and determinedly preached.
Even deacons, who were for a time assigned and wore armbands denoting their
rank during the Feast of Tabernacles, exercised considerable authority over
their unordained brethren. Many congregations also had head deacons.
Husbands ruled their wives, wives ruled their children, and, as kids growing
up in the RCG, we joked about how we children ruled our pets. To say we
were an authority-conscious group would be an understatement.
Prophecy-based teachings fuel top-down government
There came a series of doctrines developed in the 1950s that went arm in
arm with strong government. Although the focus of this article is government,
it is important to note that government became a means to an end. Mr. Armstrong
taught that the end was near and that the church had reached the "gun
lap." It was only through the church that the brethren could be assured
physical safety from the Great Tribulation and other end-time catastrophes.
As early as 1953 Mr. Armstrong set 1975 as the possible year for the return
of Jesus Christ to earth. In a sermon at the Feast of Tabernacles that year,
he talked about 19-year time cycles, one of which he said probably started
"We may have only 19 years before the Church is taken to a place of
safety," Mr. Armstrong said.
I was in the audience. To this day I remember using a pencil and sheet of
paper to add 19 years to my then age of 8. That meant I would be 27 years
old when the Great Tribulation started. Since someone 27 years old sounded
relatively ancient to me, I mentally shrugged and got on with my life.
Through the ensuing years this teaching took on greater significance.
Also during the 1950s the Radio Church of God developed the doctrine that
Revelation 2 and 3 depicted seven successive eras of the Church of God.
Among other highlights, the RCG taught that the Sardis "era" depicted
the Church of God (Seventh Day) that was "spiritually dead." The
Philadelphia era was the RCG, and the Laodician era would come out of the
In the 1950s RCG brethren first became obsessed with Petra.
Although there were almost always disclaimers in RCG church services about
how "we're not absolutely certain," most members believed and
talked about Petra as a prophesied literal place of safety.
In the lead article of the January 1958 GN, Mr. Hoeh wrote about
a trip he and Dr. Paul Meredith took to Petra. He wrote: "We do not
yet know absolutely where the prophesied place of escape may be. But the
recent trips to Petra have led to uncovering important new Bible evidence
strongly indicating Petra to be the probably place of safety! Petra is mentioned
more often in the Bible than any other city except Jerusalem, Samaria and
Doctrine of disfellowshipping
The CG7, out of which Mr. Armstrong's ministry sprang, did not take a hard-nosed
approach to those who disagreed with them. Most CG7 brethren had a live-and-let-live
The RCG in the 1950 began developing an increasingly aggressive approach
toward those who disagreed with church teachings. Ministers, as their power
and authority increased, held as a weapon the ability to excommunicate members.
Disfellowshipped members were shunned in a fashion then employed by the
Roman Catholic Church or in modern times by sects like the Amish.
The threat of being kicked out of the church was a terrifying prospect for
members. To the member, it was as though the minister held his eternal destiny
in his hands.
Church teaches exclusivity
Another watershed event of the 1950s was a movement to make the church exclusive,
As early as 1953, in the July issue of The Good News, the lead article,
"A New Good News," written by Mr. Armstrong announced that the
magazine would be sent "only to those recognized as members of the
one true Church of God.
"We ask you to help us keep The Good News exclusively a paper
for real members only. Do not give or loan a copy to anybody, whether friends
or relatives," Mr. Armstrong wrote.
Members were increasingly advised not to talk about what went on in services.
The time and location of services was carefully guarded information. Prospective
members were carefully screened by pastors and invited to services only
when they "were almost ready for baptism."
This approach further isolated members from family and friends and helped
build the RCG a reputation as a cult. Isolation from "the world"
led nonmember East Texans in the 1960s to speculate that storm drains carried
off the blood from animals sacrificed during church festivals in Big Sandy.