Prelude to Ministry
I HAVE related previously how my wife nearly died of toxemia eclampsia shortly before our second daughter was born. Three physicians had warned us that my wife could never have another child. We did not know the reason then. It was many years later that we learned we had the opposite RH blood factor -- she being negative, and I positive. This was unknown to the doctors who said Mrs. Armstrong could not bear another child. It probably was not the cause. This, however, was undoubtedly the cause of Ted having been born with yellow jaundice.
This, as nearly as we can remember now, was one of the reasons it was necessary to supplement the new baby's breast milk. Another reason was the fact that Mrs. Armstrong did not have enough to eat. She simply was not able to supply sufficient milk.
One day a few months after Ted was born -- probably early summer, 1930 -- I arrived home from the beauty shop rounds in midafternoon. The baby was crying lustily. "Hurry!" exclaimed my wife, "Go to the store and get a quart of milk. The baby has missed one feeding, and it's a whole hour past his second feeding, and I haven't a bit of milk for him."
Asking God for a Dime
"Well, I'm broke. Give me a dime," I said. Milk was then ten cents a quart -- think of that!
"But if I had a dime, I'd have sent Beverly after the milk long ago," she replied. "I've been waiting for you -- praying for God to hurry you home. I thought you'd have at least a dime."
The baby howled louder than ever. We had never established credit at any store.
"There's only one thing to do," I said. "We're helpless, of ourselves. There's no human to help us. We'll have to rely on God. He has promised to supply all our NEED -- and this is a need."
Jesus said we should enter into our closet, or small room, and pray to our Father in heaven in secret, and He will reward us openly. The only small room of absolute privacy in our home was the bathroom. I locked the bathroom door and knelt beside the bathtub. God had promised to supply our every need, "according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." I believed Him.
But we had to have the answer immediately. I had learned that sometimes God does not answer at once -- He sometimes tries our faith in order to develop patience in us. But right now it seemed that little Garner Ted needed his milk more urgently than I needed patience.
I felt there was not time -- or need -- of a long prayer. Instantly the 70th Psalm flashed into my mind. God by His Holy Spirit inspired David to record, as part of the very Word of God, David's prayer wherein he asked God to "Make haste, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord ... I am poor and needy: make haste unto me ... O Lord, make no tarrying." I knew that prayer would not be in God's Word unless it was God's will to ANSWER that same prayer for me. So I asked God boldly to MAKE HASTE!
I arose, unlocked the door, and walked back toward the kitchen. Before I even reached the kitchen, one of our girls cried out from the living-room window:
"Oh Mother, here comes the old rag and bottle man!"
"Well, quick! Beverly," called out my wife, "run and stop him! We have a lot of old things in the basement we can sell him!"
The only entrance to our basement, I remember, was from the outside at the rear of the house. In eager anticipation we led the rag and bottle man down the basement stairs. My wife showed him all kinds of things. We expected to get at least a dollar from him.
He only shook his head.
"No. Nothing here I want," he said, starting back up the stairs.
Our hearts sank. Halfway up the steps he stopped, glanced at a high stack of old magazines beside the stairs. Slowly he turned and retraced his steps, examining the stack of magazines.
"I'll give you a dime for these," he said. "This is all I want."
I had asked God to send to us a dime -- immediately -- in haste! When God sent it, within the very minute I asked, we tried to increase it to a dollar or more. But the immediate NEED was a dime for milk. God has not promised to supply our wants -- only our NEED. The need I had asked was a dime -- ten cents! That is what God sent -- immediately!
We had learned another lesson!
We gratefully gave God thanks, as I ran all the way to the store and then back with the milk.
Jesus said: "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and YE SHALL HAVE THEM!" I know that is true. DO YOU?
This incident has been made public before -- over the air and in The Plain Truth -- but it properly belongs here in the Autobiography, so I relate it again.
A New Job
A family by the name of Melson lived on 74th Street in Portland at this time. Their house and ours were opposite, back to back. Some years later this family became nationally famous. A feature article about them on "How America Lives" appeared in one of America's leading mass-circulation magazines. We can remember that they had three little girls, Anna Lou, Marilyn, and Joyce. Little Dickie, our older boy, called Anna Lou "Ah-woo."
One evening Mr. Melson came over and asked me if I would accept a job with the Wear-Ever Aluminum Company. He was a salesman with that company, selling to retail stores. The job open to me was selling the heavy "New Method" utensils direct to consumers.
The sale of the clay to beauty shops was not providing a living. This aluminum job was the straw a drowning man would grab. We were in such down-and-out financial circumstances we were grateful for anything that promised enough food to eat.
I went to their office. I found this company had developed a type of salesmanship with which I was not experienced -- and they had reduced it to a virtual science. They sold this particular line of utensils, not through stores, but direct to consumers by a system of "demonstration dinners," which they called "dems." First, to see what it was like, I attended one.
A woman was offered a valuable utensil prize if she would invite a number of married couples to a dinner in her home. The prize was in accordance with the number who came. They had to be couples -- husbands and wives. The salesman supplied all the food and ingredients and cooked the dinner. It had to be the most delicious dinner the guests had ever eaten, and of natural foods -- no concoctions.
After the dinner, he gave a lecture on health, and the causes of sickness and disease. I observed that the salesman giving this "dem" seemed to know more about the causes of sickness and disease than the physician who was a guest with his wife -- and he kept quoting nationally known physicians and surgeons for his statements, and then asking the local guest physician if he agreed. Of course he did -- for the statements were all medically correct, and the guest doctor would be disagreeing with outstanding national or international authorities unless he endorsed everything the salesman said.
Before he was through, the guests were impressed that this salesman-lecturer knew more about the minor ailments in their families than their family doctor. Enough of these common ailments had been mentioned -- colds, fevers, constipation, rheumatism, tooth troubles, stomach troubles, digestive disturbances, etc., etc., that every family present was sure to be affected. Then the salesman made appointments to call at each home at a time when both husband and wife would be present, in order to give private and confidential counsel about how to prevent these ailments by proper diet and method of preparing food.
Every couple present willingly made the appointment. I could see that most of them were actually eager to make it. They had never heard a lecture of this type before. It had been sparkling with interest, and had opened up facts about common ailments they never knew before.
I was intrigued. I saw that this job offered me the opportunity to make an intensive study of the causes of sickness and disease, and of nutrition and the part diet plays in health or illness. I had already been doing enough preaching to have had some little experience in giving these lectures. Also, the lectures would provide experience for more effective preaching.
One thing that appealed to me was the fact that a salesman, in this rather unique work, could be doing a great deal of good. I learned, during the following years, that many of these salesmen were conscientious and used their work only for the good of the customer.
Lecturing on Health
My first "dem" was a very large cooperative one, held in a public hall in Oregon City. Several of the men out of the Portland district headquarters participated, a more experienced one delivering the lecture. Actual participation gave me initial experience.
The district supervisor, a Mr. Peach, gave me a list of several books, whose authors were nationally famous physicians and surgeons, on the subject of diet, causes of common ailments, sickness and disease.
At the library and bookstores I searched out other books beside these he recommended. I plunged into an intensive study in this fascinating field. Mr. Peach also gave me mimeographed material, data, and facts which his office had condensed from many qualified authorities -- including many shocking figures and statistics on existing national health conditions. The office also supplied me with large charts, illustrated, showing many of these little-known facts. The charts were used in the lectures.
I obtained pamphlets from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, showing results of scientific government tests made, I believe, at the University of Wisconsin. These tests showed the percentage of mineral elements and vitamins lost from various kinds of foods by cooking at or over the boiling temperature. These figures were astounding. They showed that excessive temperatures, in cooking, rob foods of from 23% to 78% of these vital health elements.
I learned of what the human body is constituted -- primarily 16 elements of matter, 12 of which are alkaline-reacting mineral elements, and 4 of which are acid-reacting carbohydrates. I learned that, while the human body requires for health that the diet be composed of a large majority of the alkaline mineral elements, the average American meal is in fact a dietetic horror -- consisting of an overwhelming preponderance of the starches, sugars, and greases -- the carbohydrate acid-reacting elements which cause numerous ailments and diseases.
Most natural foods are rendered harmful by sauces, gravies and dressings. I learned that leading physicians -- that is, the very few who have studied foods, or the causes of sickness and disease -- estimate variously that from 85% to 95% of all sickness and disease which is not of mental origin is caused by faulty diet, and the small remaining percent from all other causes combined.
Soon I had an eye-opening, interest-compelling lecture outlined. Of course the study was continued intensively -- along with continued Bible study for the next year, and the lecture progressively altered and supplemented.
The details are now dim in memory -- this is being written almost 30 years later -- but it seems that I teamed with another more experienced man in the next one or two "dems."
Then I must have been transferred to the territory around Salem, Oregon. Also it seems this move was influenced by the fact that I had not yet gotten sufficiently established in this aluminum selling to have been able to pay our house rent, and my father was having to pay it for us. Apparently he felt it would be less burden on him for us to move back into the parental home in Salem.
Our First Automobile
About the time I was getting started in this new work, we acquired the first automobile we ever owned. I had learned to drive a car when I was Assistant Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce at South Bend, Indiana, when I was 23. I had driven cars a great deal. Often I had borrowed my brother Russell's car, and also my brother Dwight's. But it was impossible to hold these "dems" without a car.
So an arrangement had been made with my father whereby I received his car -- a two-door Ford sedan -- and he acquired a better car. Just what the three-cornered deal was is too cloudy in mind to recall.
So, along about October, 1930, we left the house on 75th Street in Portland, and once again moved in with my parents on Highland Avenue in Salem.
The religious interest did not diminish. Rather, this new study of the causes of ill health and disease, and these "dems" with their health lectures, only supplemented my continued study of the Bible.
I learned quite a little about fasting as a means of eliminating toxins and poisons from the body. Always the people I visited after a "dem," had in the family some of these common ailments or diseases. Never before had most of them heard any explanation of why they had these sicknesses.
Most people seemed to suppose it is natural for our bodies to get sick. But sickness is not natural. Sickness comes only from broken physical laws within our bodies. Most of the time it comes from excess of carbohydrates. Part of the time from malnutrition -- a lack of essential elements. Under fasting the body naturally eliminates stored up toxins and poisons.
Many on whom I called were, by fasting followed by right diet, relieved of rheumatism, constipation, colds, and many other chronic ailments or diseases.
Of course most doctors do not recommend fasting. Many M.D.'s refer to fasting as a "starvation diet." At that time some doctors seemed to feel that if a patient missed a single meal or two he or she would starve. No matter what the sickness or disease, if one were admitted to a hospital, one very probably was fed, even if intravenously.
Actually, if people would fast more, as animals do by instinct when sick, and eat more carefully, it might just be that the doctors would starve, not the patients!
But those doctors wanted to stay in business. They did not often recommend fasting.
On the other hand, one should not fast for more than three to five days unless he is under the care of a physician who does understand and believe in fasting, or someone equally experienced. And one kind of fasting is required to rid one of constipation, and another kind is indicated for other situations.
It is regrettable that medical "science" was so narrow that it tried to make a cure-all of one thing -- medicine; or, in some cases, of surgery. One doctor confided to his elderly mother that if all drugs were dumped into the ocean, it would be so much better for humanity, and so much worse for the fish. But such was the "science" of man that all too often it is, as the Word of God says plainly, "science falsely so called." The day will come when the whole world will wake up to that sad fact!
I never did, on these calls, ask people if I could pray for their healing. God's instruction is, "Is any sick among you; let him call for the elders of the church" (James 5:14-15). They are told to ASK FOR IT. And I was not then an elder. I was not then ordained.
However, when the subject of God's truth did come up -- as it frequently did -- if I found the people I was visiting were believers, and they asked me to pray for their healing, I always did. This happened a number of times, and several were healed. But I had learned never to force religion on any one, and the approach to the subject had to come from them. This is God's way.
What I learned during this year of study and lecturing on sickness and disease was actually an important part of the preparation God was taking me through for His ministry.
The Near Fight at a Meeting
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.
Although I was a guest -- I had never become a member of this church, whose headquarters was at Stanberry, Missouri -- they asked me to act as secretary and take down the minutes of the meeting. I learned that the meeting was called for the purpose of organizing these Oregon members into an Oregon Conference.
I sensed immediately there was a feeling of division among them. Elder A. N. Dugger was the real leader of the church at Stanberry. He was editor of the church's weekly paper sent to members. He either was, or had been, president of their General Conference. I learned that they were organized as a General Conference, with elections of officers held biannually. Most of the Oregon members lived in the Willamette Valley in the vicinity of Jefferson. Most of them were in attendance at this business meeting.
About half of them were opposed to Elder Dugger. They wanted to organize a State Conference. Some of the other states had state conferences. The purpose of this Oregon State Conference was to hold the tithes and church funds contributed by Oregon members in Oregon.
But actually, it was born of opposition to and dissatisfaction with the Stanberry membership and state conference. The other half were just as verbal in their loyalty and support of Elder Dugger and the Stanberry regime.
The dispute over Stanberry politics and Elder Dugger's personal fitness and integrity waxed more and more heated. One tall man who weighed considerably over 200, and was a leader, spoke of "dirty politics" and called Elder Dugger a "ward-healer." An equally vociferous man on the other side of the dispute rose to defend the honor of Mr. Dugger. Words flamed hotter and hotter. Each side was sincere and in roused earnest. Under the tense pressure tempers were flaring. I became afraid it was going to be settled (or unsettled) by fists.
At that instant I rose, and in a loud but calm voice asked if I might say a word. Since I was a guest, they didn't refuse.
"Brethren," I said, "you all know how, as recorded in the first chapter of Job, when the sons of God came together, Satan came also. You also know how, in the 12th chapter of Revelation we are told that the people Satan is most angry with are those who keep the Commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. That means us. Satan is here. He is stirring up rage and anger in your hearts. I am going to drop to my knees right now, and ask God Almighty to cast Satan out of this house! All of you who wish may kneel with me and pray silently."
Without another word, I quickly dropped to my knees beside my chair, and began asking God to rebuke Satan and this controversial spirit that was rousing these men to anger, and to drive Satan from our presence, and to give us peace and love.
When I rose there were some wet eyes, but there were no angry voices. These people were sincere. They simply believed what they believed and had allowed themselves to be caught off guard, and roused to anger.
Asked to Conduct Campaign
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.
The most perplexing subject in all the Bible to me was this matter of church government. I never did come to clear understanding of the BIBLE teaching on the subject until after Ambassador College was formed and well on its way.
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. I have in my old files my Ministerial License Certificate, which is reproduced in this autobiography, dated March 2,1932, and signed by O. J. Runcorn as President, and Mrs. I. E. Curtis as Secretary. This was almost a year after I was ordained -- probably my second certificate.
At the close of this business meeting, the newly elected officers caused me great embarrassment.
They asked me if I would hold an evangelistic campaign for them in the church building they rented in Harrisburg. I had never preached before the public. Only before these brethren in the Willamette Valley and at Oregon City. As I have stated before, becoming a preacher was the very last thing I should ever have wanted to do. I had been literally drawn into what little preaching had been done before these few brethren. Most certainly I had never pushed myself in.
But to hold a public evangelistic campaign! Consternation seized me! By nature, I shrank from the idea. Yet here were these simple, Bible-loving people, looking to me for leadership. It was as if they were sheep needing a shepherd. They wanted to get the Gospel out. It seemed impossible to refuse. If I was severely embarrassed at the thought of doing it, it would be even more embarrassing to refuse. More and more I was being drawn into the ministry by some power greater than I.
Inexperienced though I still was in the Gospel area, I had come to realize that the success of any campaign depended more on the amount and earnestness of prayer behind such a campaign, than on the oratory or eloquence of the speaker. One thing I knew -- if GOD was in it -- if I were merely an instrument and GOD was really conducting the campaign, it was bound to bear fruit.
Embarrassment on the Other Foot
All these things flashed through my mind in a few seconds.
"Well, brethren," I replied, "I have never preached before a public audience in my life. All the revivals and evangelistic services I have attended have wound up in altar calls. I'll tell you the truth -- I simply could not do this without a lot of help from God. And I know that results will depend more on the PRAYER back of the meetings than on my preaching. In fact, the effectiveness of the preaching will depend on prayer and the extent to which I can allow God to speak through me. This would really be a very hard assignment for me. But I'll make you brethren a proposition. If every one of you here at this meeting will pledge yourselves right now to devote not less than one hour every day to earnest and believing and prevailing PRAYER for the success of these meetings -- for God to help me and speak through me -- for God to cause the ones He is calling and drawing to attend -- and for God to convict the ones He is calling -- and if you will solemnly pledge to keep up this hour or more a day of prayer, beginning now, and until the last night of the meetings -- then I will undertake this campaign. I could do it at the end of December. Our company does not work from December 20th until after New Year's day. I could start the campaign on Sunday night, December 21st, and eleven nights right up to the end of the year. The Wear Ever company has a convention in Seattle the first week in January and I must be there. But I will have these eleven nights free."
And now, it was their turn to be embarrassed. Perhaps some had been spending an hour a day in prayer -- but I was sure most of them had not. Their tempers would not have boiled over into a near fist fight if they had. But, as I had been too embarrassed to refuse their offer, they were too embarrassed to refuse mine. To refuse to devote an hour a day on their knees would be very un-Christian! Yes, that would have been more embarrassing than to go through with it!
They agreed. They pledged themselves to this intensive prayer.
I agreed. I was brought one step closer to the ministry of Christ!
These brethren realized that the Stanberry church was not getting the Gospel to the world with power. In this area the church was virtually impotent. The Oregon brethren were anxious to "get the Work going." Although I had been greatly humbled by business reverses not of my making, and by conversion, they were aware of my past experience in the business world.
And actually, from the time of this business meeting, the brethren in Oregon looked to me for the leadership that would revitalize the work of the Gospel. There had been no minister of the church resident in Oregon. But from this time ministers were to be sent there to counteract the favor these Oregon brethren were showing toward me. Always I was to meet opposition from the ministers.
The First Public Preaching
You may be sure that I, too, practiced what I demanded of them. In fact, I was afraid not to. If ever I had needed the help of God it was now.
I designed a good-sized circular. This was the first time my 20 years of advertising experience was used in God's Work. I did not have the money to have the handbills printed, but the new conference officials agreed to pay all expenses for the meetings. I had the circular printed at the job printing department of the Salem Statesman. I do not remember how they were distributed, but I think church brethren living near Harrisburg must have volunteered to do it. The handbills were distributed to every house in Harrisburg and for some five miles around.
Even before conversion I had attended two or three evangelistic campaigns. A businessman, a prosperous and successful owner of a factory in southeastern Iowa, had conducted a big tent campaign in Indianola, Iowa, during the summer of 1923. At that time I was working with my brother-in-law, Walter Dillon, on his college oratory, and also conducting a merchandising survey for an Indianola weekly paper.
I had attended several of these meetings. The businessman was a vigorous speaker, somewhat of the Billy Sunday style. He had a very effective song leader and team -- much as Billy Graham was to do later on a much larger scale. Always there were altar calls -- the traditional "sawdust trail." Workers urged people of the audience to go forward.
In my inexperience, I took these traditional methods for granted. In these beginning years of my ministry I went along with many of these religious practices -- and even some doctrines -- commonly accepted by the evangelical denominations, and which I later had to UN-learn.
I had to learn one doctrine, and one truth, at a time.
The little church building in the little town of Harrisburg, then about 500 population, had seating capacity of perhaps 150. On the first Sunday night we had about 100 or more in attendance.
I think the attendance dropped a little after the first night, but it held up not far under a hundred. Our little group of church brethren assembled in the church about an hour and a half early each evening, and had their hour of prayer together in the church.
We did not have droves of hundreds or thousands "hitting the sawdust trail," but God did give us four who were converted in the meetings.
However, we knew that the greatest good done was the spiritual revival that took place in the church brethren as a result of that hour a day spent in solid prayer!
They were a changed people! They were happy. They were closer to God -- and this was evidenced by their manner, their conversation, their lives!
WHO Should Baptize?
The subject of water baptism had been the very first I had studied in the Bible, after my original surrender to Christ. Now I had four new converts to be baptized. One of those was my own brother, Dwight Armstrong.
But WHO was to baptize them? I was not an ordained minister.
A young minister of the Church of God who had been sent out from Stanberry, Missouri, headquarters, had been in an automobile accident in Harrisburg. He was confined to bed with a broken leg at the time. I consulted him. It was a problem neither of us had confronted before.
We looked at Matthew 28:19-20.
"Go ye," said Jesus in His Great Commission, "therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them ... " It appeared that whoever taught those who repented and accepted Christ was to do the baptizing. Nothing was said about being ordained.
We examined Acts 2:37-41 -- the initial New Testament experience on the day of Pentecost. Three thousand were baptized. It was evident that the twelve disciples of Jesus could hardly have baptized this vast number.
In Acts 8, Philip, a deacon, and apparently not yet at that time an ordained evangelist, baptized those to whom he preached at Samaria, and later the Ethiopian eunuch.
We decided that I had the authority of God to baptize those converted during my first public preaching.
I baptized them.
This brought stern criticism from "authorities" higher up in the church. There was criticism because the Conference paid expenses when I was not even a member. In fact, from this time I was to meet continued criticism, opposition, persecution, and political maneuvering by ministers. But the lay members looked more and more to me for leadership.