Early Evangelistic Campaigns -- the Trials and Tests
THE ACTIVITY that was destined to expand steadily into worldwide power and scope was now fast getting under way. No activity could have started smaller. None could have had a more humble and unpromising beginning.
But, with an insignificant $1.35 per week pledge for the radio broadcast, and what appeared then as a monumental additional $1.15 per week to be received purely on faith, The Radio Church of God had started on the air the first Sunday in 1934. It was the very bottom of the great depression.
Faith was rewarded, however, and the other $1.15 per week always came, sometimes only a half hour before broadcast time.
I had devoted some years to experience on newspapers and national publications. Now, at last, my dreams of a "magazine of understanding" making PLAIN the revealed TRUTH of the Bible -- to be made available to all who requested it without price to them -- had become a reality. Promptly on February 1, 1934, Volume I and Number 1 of The Plain Truth was published, or should I say "published"?
No publication ever made a more humble entrance before the public.
After the first issue had been mimeographed, through courtesy of the local A. B. Dick Company dealer on one of his mimeographs, we had managed to purchase -- for $10, I believe -- an old second-hand "Neostyle" -- ancestor of the mimeograph. It was entirely hand-operated, hand-cranked, hand-fed. Surely it was the most humble of printing presses! For the next few years The Plain Truth was to be run off on this ancient Neostyle, before we could afford a secondhand mimeograph -- and then some time longer before we could afford to have it printed.
The "Three-Point Campaign" had at last gotten fully under way with the downtown Eugene evangelistic meetings. These meetings had continued five and one-half months until mid-September.
Now, mid-September, plans were under way for another campaign.
Some 12 to 15 miles northwest of Eugene was a little community of Alvadore. It was not even a village. There was probably only one full general store. But there was a two-story school house. The Alvadore school consisted of two classrooms on the ground floor, and an assembly hall upstairs.
Mr. Elmer Fisher and I felt this was the site for the next campaign. We were able to engage the use of the assembly hall -- practically without cost.
I do not now remember whether these meetings were conducted over a period of six, or eight, weeks. The only record now immediately available to me affirms that the campaign started in November, 1934, and ended in January, 1935. Probably we started in late November and finished in early or mid-January.
At any rate we had learned the sober lesson about holding services three times a week. In Alvadore we were back on the six-nights-a-week schedule.
Attendance was good. Interest was very good. By this time I was gaining in speaking ability due to the experience of speaking virtually six to eight times a week since July, 1933.
Learning to Speak Publicly
One learns to speak before the public by speaking. I remember how one asked Elbert Hubbard how he learned to write. He replied that he learned to write by writing. A pianist learns to play the piano by playing the piano eight hours a day, if one is to become a concert pianist.
If there was anything I had never expected to become, it was a preacher or an evangelist. I have explained early in this autobiography how at age 18 I had put myself through a self-analysis with the book titled "Choosing a Vocation". This self-conducted test indicated that I had an analytical mind, an intellectual curiosity, a desire to UNDERSTAND, and some natural aptitude for writing. The test pointed to the advertising profession. Those years of experience in advertising and news-gathering, editorial writing, and the writing of magazine articles, had prepared me for the calling to God's ministry.
But it was two or three years after conversion before I realized I was called to preach. I have just come across a carbon copy of a letter that I had written, dated July 11, 1928 -- even before our first son was born -- to Mr. A. N. Dugger, at that time principal leader of the Church of God, at Stanberry, Missouri. It shows that at that time a little more than a year after my conversion, I did apparently realize that God was calling me for some definite mission, for which I was being prepared. I did not know what it was to be. I realized I was not yet ready. And I supposed, at that time, that it would be in the field of writing, not speaking. I feel that many who are reading this life history may find a few excerpts from that letter interesting.
Elder Dugger had invited me to join their church. I have explained previously that I never did formally join it. Here are portions of that letter:
"I appreciate your kind invitation to affiliate actively with the Church of God organization. Elder Stith approached me on the subject, also ....
"However, for the immediate present, until further developments, I do not feel led to join any organization, and feel that I should not take matters into my own hands, or rush, or hurry. I believe the Lord is dealing with me, preparing me for a very active and definite calling and mission, and that until matters have developed further I should do as Jesus commanded the Apostles -- tarrying until I have received full preparation and power ....I feel it is absolutely necessary that we should permit ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, and not try to launch into something half prepared, by taking matters into our own hands before we are sure it is the will of the Lord. I do not know exactly, yet, what my mission or calling is to be, or what the method of carrying it out is to be. Unquestionably it will require organized effort, rather than attempting to carry out the mission alone and unaided.
Writing -- Not Speaking
"I can say this much -- I feel that it is along the line of writing rather than oral speaking or preaching.
"I believe the Lord bestows gifts and callings upon men mightily according to their natural talents and experience, giving spiritual gifts along these same lines ....
"My whole business experience has been along the lines of investigating, analyzing, and gaining an understanding of business problems and rectifying the situations, and in writing. Whatever natural talent I have is along those lines. I know something about public speaking, for I have studied textbooks on it, had contacts with professors of public speaking at the Universities of Illinois and Michigan, who are authors of the texts used in most colleges, and coached a brother-in-law into winning a big oratorical contest .... But he had the voice, and other necessary personal attributes for public speaking.
"If I am being given any of the gifts, it is that of UNDERSTANDING of the truth of scripture .... But I am not fully prepared as yet."
Little did I realize then that God could, and would, use my voice to reach worldwide audiences of multiple millions every week. But I did "sense," somehow, that God was preparing me for some definite mission and He had given me sufficient insight to realize that I did not yet know what it was and that I was not yet prepared or ready, and that I should not rush in until it became certain that GOD was leading the way. I knew I must not take things into my own hands.
Actually, my first "sermon," Mrs. Armstrong has assured me, was not preaching -- but just a kind of talk. It did meet enthusiastic response, not because of any speaking ability, for there was none -- but because I did have something vital to say. It was three years after the above letter was written before I was ordained a minister.
Even then I did not speak with any "drive" or "fire" or power. I still more or less just "talked." But there was, always, a vital message. After all, the MESSAGE, which comes from God, is the thing! Not the speaker or even oratory. I remember that it was either during, or shortly after, the first Firbutte campaign in late 1933, that the message began to pour forth with some power. It was during one of those all-day meetings held about once a month at the little church house in Harrisburg, Oregon (long since torn down). I was probably more surprised than the congregation that day. I did have a burning message -- and I did feel it intensely -- and suddenly the message began to pour forth in power. I did not "put it on" -- rather I had to try to hold it in check. They told me afterward that for the first time I gestured with my hands and arms. I didn't realize it. My mind was on the audience and the message I knew they sorely needed.
Today I try to teach young future ministers to be natural -- to quit thinking of themselves, their gesturing, their oratory or speaking ability. I tell them never to try to turn on the power -- but wait until after the experience when dynamic power is there naturally.
In this Alvadore neighborhood were three or four families of Seventh Day Adventists. They attended the meetings. I soon learned that one of them was coming for the sole purpose of learning what I was preaching, so he could visit the others in the daytime and try to refute everything I was saying. He didn't seem to be succeeding very well. The others continued to come with increasing interest.
Then there was Elder Day of the Christian Church and his wife and two late teen-age children. Elder Day was then about 84. He was a quiet, soft-spoken, rather scholarly gentleman. After two or three nights, he smiled as he shook hands with me at the door, and said, "Well, I have learned something new tonight."
This continued through the rest of the meetings. My heart surely went out to elderly Brother Day. When a man well advanced into his 80's is "learning something NEW" every night, he is a rare and precious individual, indeed. Always his face lighted up happily in this new knowledge!
But as we came into the final two weeks of the meeting, the one Seventh Day Adventist finally became vocal. I was just beginning the sermon one evening, speaking on the truth that Jesus was three days and three nights, exactly as He said, in the tomb after crucifixion -- and then, therefore, the crucifixion was not on "Good Friday" and the resurrection was not on Sunday morning!
Now it so happened that, since their Mrs. White had a dream or vision in which she claimed the resurrection did occur on Sunday morning, Seventh Day Adventist doctrine cannot accept anything contrary.
I had hardly begun the service when this ill-advised man arose and began to heckle.
"That passage in Matthew 12 verses 38 to 40 does not mean that Jesus was in the tomb," he said. "It means he was in the hands of the Roman soldiers three days and three nights. Besides, the Bible plainly says Jesus ROSE early in the morning on the first day of the week!"
I immediately accepted his challenge.
"You mean you think the expression 'in the heart of the earth' means 'in the hands of Roman soldiers?" I asked.
"Yes, it does!" he lashed back.
"And you say the Bible plainly states that Jesus actually ROSE early on Sunday morning?"
"Yes, it does," he affirmed.
"Well," I said. "Now I'll tell you what we'll do. You just be seated until the close of the sermon, and start hunting for that passage in your Bible. You won't need to listen to the sermon, because you won't believe a thing I say anyway, and you only listen in order to go around the neighborhood trying to confuse others and to refute everything I am preaching. Now I strongly advise you to utilize every single minute between now and the end of the sermon hunting that text -- because you are going to need a lot more time than that to find what simply isn't there. Then at the close of the sermon, I am going to call on you to stand up again and to read to us out of the Bible where it says that Christ actually ROSE on Sunday morning."
At the close of the sermon, I called on my heckler and bade him to rise, and to read his text. He arose, and began thumbing through the New Testament of his Bible.
I had become a little provoked by this man's persistent opposition and determined to make an example of him and end any influence he possibly might have once for all.
"Come, now!" I said. "I noticed you did not heed my advice to devote all the time of the sermon hunting for the text that is not there. You should have been searching, then you wouldn't keep us all waiting like this. Come, now! Read it! Read where the Bible says Christ ROSE on Sunday morning."
He merely stood there, confused, flushed in the face.
"We are waiting!" I prodded.
I let at least three minutes of dead silence elapse. It seemed more like an hour. I purposely let it become embarrassing, to let the truth of this scripture sink deep in the audience.
Finally, I said, "Well, while this man stands there and hunts for the scripture that isn't there, let's look now at what he said about 'in the heart of the earth' meaning 'in the hands of the Roman soldiers.' Notice, this scripture says: ...'for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.' Now see how Jonah was a type of Christ. In the great fish's belly, Jonah says (Jonah 2:2): 'I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell [margin, Heb., sheol -- the GRAVE] cried I.'
"Now, Jonah was in this GRAVE -- for had he not been vomited up, it was a grave of DEATH -- three days and three nights, after which he was supernaturally resurrected by being vomited up -- to become the human saviour from physical destruction of the city of Nineveh. Likewise, Christ was in a tomb hewn back into the heart of the earth, three days and three nights, after which He was resurrected to become the spiritual Saviour of all mankind. The analogy is plain. The meaning is plain and simple. Christ was resurrected from the TOMB in the heart of the earth -- He was not resurrected from the hands of the Roman soldiers!
"Now," I continued, "how many of you in the audience believe 'in the heart of the earth' means the TOMB from which Christ was resurrected? Let me see your hands!"
Every hand, except that of the very confused man standing, went up!
"Well," I said to him. "It sort of looks like we are all out of step but you. Have you found that scripture that isn't there, yet?"
He merely looked helplessly confused. Everyone was laughing at him. It was well-deserved and ought to have been profitable punishment.
"We can't wait longer," I said. "I do hope this will be a good lesson to you. You may sit down."
This was the only time I have ever made a laughing stock out of any man before others, to my knowledge. But this man had been spending weeks trying to discredit me and God's truth, and I felt it was the way to defend the truth for the good of all.
Meeting More Opposition
One family attending the Alvadore meetings regularly, and accepting the truths taught, was the W. E. Conns. Mr. Conn was a farmer in the neighborhood, doing quite a dairy business. One truth which seemed of tremendous importance to them was the fact the resurrection was on late Saturday afternoon, and not Sunday morning.
The following Sunday after preaching on that subject, Mrs. Armstrong and I were invited to their home for dinner. After dinner two men called. One was a preacher -- apparently an independent, or of some small local sect, who had been serving as pastor to the Conns sometime before when they had lived in Salem, Oregon. The other was a man, also from Salem, who appeared to be associated with the preacher religiously. They had heard that the Conns had accepted the truth of God's Sabbath, being influenced primarily by the fact that the resurrection was not on Sunday. This knocked out from under Sunday observance the only prop which human tradition used to support it.
This preacher apparently came for a fight. He was angry. He was ready to get tough.
"The Bible says Christ rose from the dead on Sunday morning," he snapped, angrily.
I handed him a Bible.
"Read it to me," I said, simply.
He turned, as I knew he would, to Mark 16:9. But to my utter surprise, he did not read it as it is printed. He MIS-read:
"Now when Jesus rose early the first day of the week."
"My dear sir, you did not read that as it is written. Will you read it once again, and this time, read exactly what it says?" I demanded.
"Now when Jesus ROSE early the first day of the week," he repeated with heavy emphasis on the word "rose" which does not appear in the text.
I saw he was going to persist. I decided to maneuver this dishonest man, intent on deliberately deceiving, into a trap.
"The expression 'the first day of the week' is merely describing when Christ appeared first to Mary Magdalene," I said. "Punctuation was not inspired, but added by uninspired men long after the Bible was written. This was translated from the Greek. The comma belongs after the word 'risen,"' I said deliberately appearing to argue.
He took the bait, hook, line and sinker!
"Oh, no, you don't," he exclaimed angrily. "You can't go changing it."
"Do you mean we must accept the King James, or Authorized Version, just as it is, without changing a single comma, or any translation?" I inquired.
"I do!" he snapped. "You can't change a thing."
"Well, then, why don't you read it as it is, without changing it? Now I want you to read Matthew 28, verse 1."
He turned to read it. His face grew red with anger. It reads: "In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre."
"Yes, now read verses 5 and 6, and remember, this is in the end of or late on the Sabbath -- NOT SUNDAY MORNING."
"I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified," he read. "He is not here: for he is risen, as he said."
"Yes," I added, "while it was still late in the end of the Sabbath, which ended at sunset."
"Oh," he began to explain. "But that is a mistranslation. It doesn't mean in the end of the Sabbath, but dawn Sunday morning."
"Didn't you just say that you cannot change the King James translation? Didn't you just say that I have to take it as it is, without changing or retranslating a thing?"
He was beginning to lose face. He had no answer.
"Now," I said, "turn back to Mark 16:9, and let's see whether you are honest enough to read it honestly."
"Now when Jesus ROSE early the first day of the week," he shouted.
I turned to Mr. Conn.
"I dislike to do this," I said, "but I had to show you how dishonest this man is, and how he had been deliberately deceiving you these past few years as to what the Bible says. Now, Mr. Conn, this passage tells what state Jesus was in early the first day of the week. It tells whether He was rising, or whether He already was risen, because He had risen the evening before. I want you, Mr. Conn, to read this. Does it say Jesus ROSE -- or, early the first day of the week, that He already WAS RISEN?
I handed the Bible to Mr. Conn. His hands trembled until he could hardly hold it. He was extremely nervous.
He read, "Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week."
The preacher and his companion strode angrily from the room, picked up their coats and hats and went out the front door without a word. Mrs. Conn broke down weeping.
"I hope I was not too harsh with those men," I said apologetically.
"Oh, you were not," sobbed Mrs. Conn. "They were harsh with you. But I tell you it hurts, to have to completely lose confidence in men you have looked up to as almost holy, and representing God, all these years. To see them show that they are deliberately dishonest and trying to deceive us is a terrible blow."
Another New Church
The Alvadore campaign ended. Fifteen had come with us, including the Days and the Conns. A new local church was organized, to meet in the Alvadore school auditorium Sabbath mornings. I ordained Elder J. M. Day as Elder, and W. E. Conn as Deacon.
Now I was forced to alternate between Alvadore and Jeans, every other Sabbath morning at each one, and Sabbath afternoon at our home in Eugene.