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Lay members chose and ordained Mr. Armstrong
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Lay members chose and ordained Mr. Armstrong

Harry Curly
By Harry Curly
Mr. Curley, a longtime Church of God member,
lives with his wife, Cindy, in Southern California.

ALTADENA, Calif.--According to the Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong, lay-member officers of the Oregon Conference of the Church of God, not the ministry, chose and ordained Mr. Armstrong. The following quotes are from the 1986 edition of the autobiography:

"Along in November of 1930 the Runcorns, neighbors of my parents, asked me to go with them to a business meeting of brethren of the Church of God, being held in the home of Mrs. Ira Curtis, near Jefferson, Oregon" (p. 409, Vol. 1).

Note that the church's business meetings were conducted by unordained brethren and not ministers.

"The state conference was agreed to and formed. The concept of church government seemed to be that lay members should be in the offices of authority. Ministers were to be employed and under orders from the lay members. This is essentially the concept of what we call democracy: government from the bottom up. Those being governed dictate who shall be their rulers and how their rulers shall rule them" (p. 411).

Lay members, not ministers, were officers of the conference. Ministers were under orders from lay members.

"I believe that elderly G.A. Hobbs of Oregon City, previously mentioned, was made the first president of this state Conference, and that O.J. Runcorn, with whom I had come to this meeting, was president the second year" (p. 412).

Neither president, G.A. Hobbs nor O.J. Runcorn, is addressed as a minister. They were both lay members.

"Soon I learned the reason. Probably the most influential member in the state at the time was elderly G.A. Hobbs, of Oregon City. He was past 80 years of age, but very alert, aggressive and active" (pp. 366- 367).

Here Mr. Armstrong tells us that Mr. Hobbs was a member but not a minister.

"It was decided by the officers of the Conference that on the next all-day meeting I was to be ordained" (pp. 426-427).

It was the lay-member officers of the conference who chose to ordain Mr. Armstrong, not the ministry.

"I shall never forget that moment of my ordination.

"The meeting was being held outdoors. I do not remember where--except it was in the general rural area of Jefferson. I do not remember other circumstances.

"But I do remember the ordination itself. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences like being married, and being baptized. Only this seemed to me to be the most momentous event of my entire life.

"All the brethren--as many as could get their hands through to my head--laid their hands on me--on my head, my shoulders, my chest and my back" (p. 427).

Ironically, Mr. Armstrong would later treat other members as second-class citizens in the church by not letting them participate in church government.

Quits over procedure

Mr. Armstrong quit the Oregon Conference over a procedural dispute with a Mr. Ray and a Mr. Oberg. They wanted Mr. Armstrong to teach new people about clean and unclean foods before he baptized them.

"At this meeting with Mr. Ray and Mr. Oberg, they strenuously objected to my baptizing new converts before I had preached to them against pork, and had evidence they had given it up" (p. 520). "They [Mr. Ray and Mr. Oberg] immediately offered a resolution that I be required, if I remained in the conference, to baptize people their way instead of the Scriptural way, and those remaining inside the church building were swayed into voting for it" (p. 524).

Mr. Armstrong considered unacceptable the requirement to teach new people about clean and unclean foods before baptism. Nowhere does the Bible indicate that this would be a wrong thing to do. But Mr. Armstrong, for his own reasons, believed he was being asked to baptize contrary to the Scriptures.

"After the experience of being ordered to baptize contrary to the Scriptures and the renouncing of the $3 weekly 'salary,' we were firm never again to be placed in a position where we might have to obey men rather than God" (p. 561).

Mr. Armstrong would never again allow himself to be in a place where he had to do what others ordered him to do. He later founded a church in which thousands would be taught God's way and God's plan for mankind. The irony is that he created a church government under which thousands would frequently be asked to obey men rather than God.

When it came to church government, Mr. Armstrong practiced a double standard. What was right for him was not right for his followers. Lay members could ordain him, but later he would not let lay members participate in church government.

Some try to justify the Armstrong model of church government with Exodus 18:15. There was no way Moses could have personally picked 100,000 arbitrators ("rulers") for every million of the vast multitude. Besides, that kind of arbitration was needed only when the vast multitude were crammed right next to each other in the desert, with only two sheets of canvas dividing them.

Both Deuteronomy 1:13 and Acts 6:3 clearly show the membership picked its leaders. Moses simply performed the inauguration, similar to the way the Supreme Court does not pick the president of the United States but makes him president.

For a man to try to place himself between other men and God is the sin of Korah (Numbers 16:7). Only the high priest can be there, and God has filled that position with His Son (1 Corinthians 11:3).

In Mr. Armstrong's defense

Mr. Armstrong changed the religious vocabulary of a nation, maybe even the world. Only a fraction of a million people would fully embrace his teachings, but millions had their religious understanding enhanced by his relentless work.

He touched a generation with his prophetic messages and warned a world of events yet to come.

Mr. Armstrong was a strong-willed, and sometimes strong-armed, man who was convinced that no one could do a better job of spreading the gospel than he could. Whether he felt the end justified the means or something else, he created an extrabiblical church government that would maximize his reach.

His worldly hierarchical government definitely let him reach to the far corners of the world with the gospel, albeit to the neglect of the lay membership.

His religious instructions brought good fruit. However, his church government brought good and bad fruit. No one can reasonably deny that a hierarchical government focuses more resources in one area than any other form of government. That definitely produced much good fruit.

On the other hand, the hierarchical form of government inhibited real spiritual growth in the membership by putting so much unaccountable power into the ministry.

It was no coincidence that God could not allow that form of government to continue. But the godly truths that Mr. Armstrong taught need to be remembered, embraced and put into action in our lives. His teachings provided a foundation of biblical truths and understanding that cannot be denied.

In summary

Mr. Armstrong brought his followers out of religious Babylon, but not out from under the Babylonian system of government. To Mr. Armstrong's credit, he brought them halfway out. It is up to his followers to continue all the way out of Babylon.

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