As we move in our article, History of the Church of God, throughout history into the 17th century, we find that religious freedom in England was hardly more than an aspiration. In spite of the Magna Carta, freedom is as elusive in the year 1660 as it had been 400 years before.
In part three of the History of the Church of God, we saw the death and mutilation of John James strike terror in the hearts of those who were keeping the 7th day Sabbath in England. At that same time, laws were enacted making it illegal to hold religious gatherings on the 7th day.
For some Sabbatarians there was only one option. They would have to leave England to continue in the truth that had become their hallmark – the 7th day Sabbath. But where could they go? Where could they find religious tolerance in the world of the 17th century?
The newly established colonies of America would provide safety at last for freedom-seeking religious groups from the Old World.
In The Seventh Day Baptist Memorial, Vol. 1. 1852, we read the following: “The Colony of Rhode Island was first settled by Englishmen, in the year 1636. Roger Williams – ‘the first person in modern Christendom to maintain the doctrine of religious liberty and unlimited toleration’ – having been, as he says ‘unkindly and unchristianly driven from his house,’ called by the Indians Mooshausick, and by him named Providence” (p. 22).
In 1643 Williams sailed to England to obtain a charter for a new colony. On May 19, 1647, “a General Assembly established a body of very good and wholesome laws, agreeable to the English statute book” (ibid.)
In An Account of the Churches in Rhode-Island, dated 1854, Henry Jackson wrote about the uniqueness of Roger Williams and what he did in Rhode Island: “I write of Roger Williams, the first missionary to the natives of our soil and the ‘first legislator in the world,’ (at least in its latter ages), ‘who fully and effectually provided for and established a full, free, and absolute liberty of conscience.’ “
The first charter for the colony was a remarkable document. It provided, for the first time, freedom of religion. Thus, Rhode Island became the first colony in America to provide a safe haven for those of differing beliefs. Here is an excerpt from the charter which is on display at the Rhode Island state house:
“No person shall hereafter be molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any difference in opinion in matters of religion, who do not disturb the civil peace.”
As a result of this important document, Rhode Island attracted two of the most persecuted groups: Quakers and Baptists. In the surrounding colonies, they were treated with the intolerance they had sought to escape from in England – floggings, imprisonment and even hangings. The stage was now set for the Sabbatarians to arrive in the New World.
Sometime around 1660 in England there were two new converts to the 7th day Sabbath, Stephen and Ann Mumford. They lived in the town of Tewkesbury, where they were members of the Baptist Church. Though the Baptists of the 17th century shared numerous beliefs with the Sabbatarians, a notable difference was the Sabbath. Baptists maintained the more commonly accepted practice of worshiping on the first day of the week. According to James McGeachy in his paper titled, “The Times of Stephen Mumford,” published in 1964 by the Seventh-Day Baptist Historical Society, Stephen Mumford had become a member of the Bell Lane Sabbatarian Church until he left for America. Based on the available evidence, the Mumfords were the first Christian Sabbath-keepers to arrive in America. They landed in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1665.
Stephen Mumford became a successful businessman and, according to the Newport Historical Society, built on Rhode Island one of the most impressive homes of that day. His house still stands in Newport and is today called the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard house.
There were two established churches in the town at that time: the Quaker Church on Farewell Street and the First Baptist Church which overlooked Newport harbor.
Having been involved with the Baptist Church most of their lives, the Mumfords began fellowshipping with the Baptists in Newport. But they continued to observe the 7th day Sabbath in their home. Within a few years, nine members of the Baptist Church had begun to observe the Sabbath.
As one might imagine, this upset the Baptist ministers, who preached that Sabbath-keepers “had gone back to Moses.” Four of the nine Sabbath-keepers were persuaded to return to Sunday worship.
This created a dilemma for the fledgling group of Sabbath-keepers. They withdrew from fellowship with the Baptist Church. The small group was faced with a difficult decision.
Several letters were written to the Bell Lane Church in England for advice. The Sabbatarians had no problem fellowshipping with those who had never acknowledged the 7th day Sabbath. But to fellowship with those who had rejected this truth was not acceptable.
Here is an excerpt from a letter addressed to the group from Edward Stennet, a Sabbatarian in England. It is dated March 6, 1670:
“My dear friends, - as for those that have drawn back from the Sabbath to profaneness, after light and establishment therein, yourselves must not take pleasure in them, but must withdraw yourselves from them as sinful and disorderly persons; and if the church will hold communion with those apostates from the truth, you ought then to desire to fairly dismiss from the church; which, if the church refuse, you ought to withdraw yourselves, and not be partakers of other men’s sins, but keep yourselves pure, with all humility, meekness, and brokenness of heart.” (This can be found in The History of the Baptists by Isaac Backus and the The Seventh Day Baptist Memorial, Vol. I pp. 27-28).
The ministers of the First Baptist Church of Newport understandably went on the offensive against the Sabbath-keepers.
In several fiery sermons, various ministers, including John Clarke, founding member of Rhode Island and a close friend of Roger Williams, attacked the necessity of the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath-keepers who had remained in fellowship with the Baptists, realized that something had to be done. A hearing in 1671 was called with the leading ministers and the Sabbath-keepers.
This dramatic confrontation is recorded in The Seventh Day Baptist Memorial. All five were given an opportunity to speak, but the first one to speak up was Tacy Hubbard. She is recorded as being the first colonist to convert to the seventh-day Sabbath.
The ministers from these meetings are preserved in the archives of the First Baptist Church in Newport. The blow-by-blow description gives insight into those willing to be ostracized from their peers because of staunch belief in keeping all ten of the commandments.
In December of 1671, seven people entered into a covenant to form a new Church in America. A plaque, in the old Sabbatarian meeting house in Newport honoring this event, says, in part:
“To the memory of Wm. Hiscox, Stephen Mumford, Samuel Hubbard, Roger Baster, Sister Hubbard, Sister Mumford, Sister Rachel Langworthy who for greater freedom in the exercise of religious faith in the observance of God’s Holy Sabbath, the Seventh Day of the week – reluctantly severed their connection with the parent church, the First Baptist Church of Newport, and entered into a church covenant The 23rd day of Dec., 1671.”
William Hiscox became the first minister of the new Church. They chose not to adopt an official name, because, to them, that would mean state recognition, which they felt was unnecessary.
William Lewis Burdick in Bi-Centennial Celebration, written in 1908 for the 200th anniversary of the Hopkinton Church says: “The Church had neither official name nor articles of faith other than the Bible. As to name, we find in the first minutes in the first record book extant, the Church is referred to as ‘The Church of Rhode and Westerly.’ By ‘Rhode Island’ they meant the island, not the whole colony, and by ‘Westerly’ the towns of Westerly Hopkinton, Charlestown, and Richmond. Sometimes it was spoken of as the ‘Church,’ at other times the ‘Congregation,’ but it had no official name” (p. 31).
There are several references in the old minutes to the name “Church of God.” They were most commonly called “The Church of Jesus Christ Keeping the Commandments.”
They maintained a strong belief in water baptism for adults and did not baptize children. They accepted the doctrine of the “laying on of hands” – a matter on which the Baptist of Rhode Island were divided.
Henry Clarke, in A History of the Sabbatarians or Seventh Day Baptists in America (1811), claims they were strictly nontrinitarian, rejecting the popular viewpoint of that day: “I conclude they all believe in one God, the Father and Maker of all things, sin excepted, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, or that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and also in the Holy Ghost, as the operative power or spirit of God. But there are few if any, of this denomination, as I conceive, who believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are three absolute distinct persons, coequal, coessential, and coeternal Gods, and yet but one God; as such an idea would be in the face of scripture, and repugnant to right reason” (p. 62).
Other characteristics Clarke lists concerning the beliefs of these people are “water-baptism, by way of immersion, and, generally, in the laying on of hands, as also the resurrection of the dead and the eternal judgment; likewise in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Some sections of several of those churches, believe in the washing (of) one another’s feet, at appointed times” (pp. 63-64).
We also find that they refused to use the title “reverend” for their ministers, since they observed that the Scriptures show only God is reverend.
Tamar Davis in her book A General History of the Sabbatarian Churches has this to say about some of the doctrines of this early Church: “The Sabbatarians have repeatedly taken action in their ecclesiastical bodies, against war, intemperance, slavery, secret societies, and the like, and in favor of the great moral reforms and benevolent enterprises of the age” (p. 140).
We are indebted to the Newport Historical Society’s old church record books, which the society has stored in the vault, for most of our information about these people. The records have the minutes of the Church from its inception. The earliest records still available begin in the year 1692.By that time, the Sabbatarian Church in Newport had 40 members. There were also a few members in western Rhode Island where the Sabbatarians experienced their most impressive growth over the next 100 years.
The Church in Hopkinton, considered a part of the Newport congregation until 1707, grew to become one of the largest in America with almost 1,000 members by 1816.
Stephen Mumford exerted considerable influence over the fledging congregation of Sabbath-keepers in Rhode Island until his death in 1707. He and his wife, Ann, made a trip to England in 1675 to influence others to come to America. He was successful in securing the services of a Sabbatarian minister to replace the aging William Hiscox.
So now the chain was complete between the Church in England and the one in America with the arrival of William Gibson who became the second pastor of the Rhode Island churches after the death of William Hiscox in 1704. There is no record of Stephen Mumford’s ordination as a minister of the Church, but some records refer to him as “minister” or a “missionary.”
Stephen and Ann Mumford are buried in the Old Colonial Cemetery in Newport, Rhode Island. There is no record of their children accepting the religious beliefs that obviously meant so much to them. But Stephen and Ann’s faith and endurance provide an outstanding example for all to follow. In the face of many obstacles they held firm to their convictions.
The life of the early Sabbatarian Church in America was exciting. Much growth occurred during these formative years. Virtually every family in Rhode Island was touched by the Church and some of the most influential colonial men and women came out of the Sabbatarian Church of Newport and Hopkinton.
Landmarks in the western part of the state of Rhode Island still attest to the influence of these dedicated Sabbath-keepers. Such names as “Boom Bridge” and “The Sabbath Path” date back to the day of the Sabbatarians.
Boom Bridge is a narrow bridge that crosses the Pawcatuck River from Connecticut into Rhode Island. Its name comes from the days when the more enterprising Sabbatarians in Connecticut created a shortcut by felling a large oak tree and placing it across the stump like a boom and then swinging individually across the river to attend Sabbath services. Needless to say, it is recorded that on several occasions people came to services soaking wet! The Sabbath Path was the safer route from Connecticut into Rhode Island for services. It is no longer visible today, but many of the old deeds still make reference to “the Sabbath Path.”
Many may not have realized that Sabbath-keepers in Colonial New England were an important part of the history of early America. We will see how they moved westward with pioneering zeal.
The 18th century was a time of vigorous growth for the Sabbath-keepers of New England. The fledging group that began in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1671, soon expanded.
Several interesting personalities appeared among the Sabbatarians in this exciting period of history. Samuel Hubbard and his wife, Tacy, were among the earliest settlers in Rhode Island. Tacy Hubbard is regarded as the first native-born American to convert to Sabbath-keeping.
Samuel Hubbard was one of 15 founding members of the First Baptist Church in Newport in the year 1644. A few years later he became a Sabbath-keeper. In his journal, Samuel goes to great lengths to record the dates his family began observing the Sabbath. He was influential in the community and a close friend of Roger Williams, the colony’s founder.
Another family influential in the early history of Rhode Island during the 18th century was the Wards. Their ties with the Sabbatarian Churches in Newport and Westerly ran deep. Thomas Ward came to Newport from England shortly after the death of Oliver Cromwell, and his name appears on the list of freemen in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, in 1655, and on the roll of Newport that same year. He died in 1689, survived by his second wife and an only child, Richard.
Richard later served as Secretary of State for the colony and then as governor (1741-1742).Richard and his wife, Mary, are buried in the Colonial Cemetery on Farewell Street in Newport. Their headstone mentions their membership in the Sabbatarian Church of Newport. Mary was a member for 55 years, but Richard was not baptized until 1753, after retiring from public office.
Samuel Ward, grandson of Thomas Ward, was born May 27, 1725. He was an energetic young man, and although primarily self-educated, he eventually served as governor of the Colony for three terms during the years before the Revolutionary War. He was a member of the Continental Congress at his death in 1776.
He was also a founder of Rhode Island College, established in 1764 (now Brown University). Of the college’s original seven trustees, four were Sabbatarian Church members. And the first president, James Manning, was also a Sabbatarian.
In 1765, during Ward’s term as governor, the English Parliament passed the Stamp Act. Governor Ward was the only governor in the colonies who refused to take the supporting oath. In 1769 Samuel Ward wrote a letter to the Sabbatarian Church requesting baptism. It provides insight into his personal beliefs and those of the Church he was asking to baptize him.
Samuel Ward counted among his personal friends such famous Americans as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry.
In the early 18th century the Hopkinton congregation outgrew the mother church at Newport to become what may have been the largest single Sabbatarian Church congregation in the New World. The records of these earliest Sabbatarian congregations mention the name “Church of God.” Although fire destroyed the original records of the Newport church, a copy reads:
“Under the former dispensation there was a church and a world as there is now; and as it is the duty of the world not to repent and believe in the Gospel, so it was the duty of the world to be proselyted and joined to the then Church of God (Seventh-day Baptist memorial, vol. 1, p. 36).
In questioning a candidate for the ministry, elders asked: “Have you entire freedom to administer the ordinances of God among them as a Church of God, to pray with them and for them, and endeavor to build them up in the faith?” (ibid., vol. 2, no. 4, p. 160).
In 1705, a new congregation was established in Piscataway, New Jersey. The first statement in the old church record book, after the Articles of Faith, is this: “The Church of God keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus Christ, living in Piscataway, and Hopewell, in the Province of New Jersey” (ibid., vol. 2, no. 3, p. 121).
In the founding of a church in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, in 1745, the pastor received the following instruction: “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, that thou take the charge of the Church of God dwelling at Shrewsbury” (ibid., p. 160).
By the latter part of the 18th century other Churches of God were founded throughout New Jersey, Connecticut and New York. Further expansion occurred when, in 1780, some members of the Hopkinton church migrated to Rensselaer County, New York, to found a Sabbatarian church in the community of Berlin.
In the early part of the 18th century, the Sabbatarian doctrine spread in some unusual ways. In one instance, a Baptist named Edmund Dunham was challenged about the 7th day on his way to church one Sunday. Eventually he and 17 other members of his church decided to form their own fellowship at Piscataway, New Jersey. Dunham, acknowledging the authority of the Hopkinton church, traveled there to be ordained. He was succeeded by his son, Jonathan, who pastored the church during the devastating days of the Revolutionary War.
In another case, a split in the ranks of the Quakers led to Sabbath-keeping churches in the Philadelphia area. A few of this faith came to believe they needed more than the “inner light” the Quakers taught – that the need to obey the commandments of God was an important key to Christian growth.
Abel Noble, one of their number, became persuaded by a traveling Baptist minister that baptism should be my immersion. Having also become convinced that he should observe the 7th day Sabbath, Noble led these former Quakers in forming a new congregation in Newtown, Pennsylvania. From this beginning churches at Nottingham and Pennepeck were also established in southeastern Pennsylvania.
One author stated that by the end of the 18th century, there were 1,769 members in all these Sabbatarian churches in the above mentioned states. He estimated that, when all those attending, including children, were counted, the number was more than 7,000 (A History of the Sabbatarians or Seventh Day Baptist (in) America, by Henry Clarke, p. 59).
Although this was a time of growth, the Revolutionary War soon proved to be a heartache for these congregations.
Henry Clarke provides this moving persona account: “Mr. Ebenezer David, who was converted in Providence College and took his first degree there in 1772, was admitted as a member of this church, to the improvement of his gift and he was ordained, May 31, 1775. He being a young man, and our churches then supplied with preachers, he accepted the place of chaplain in the American army: where he was much esteemed. He died in the army, near Philadelphia, March 19, 1778, in the bloom of his days. I was well acquainted with Mr. David; and may safely say, that few young men can be found more promising than he was. The church at Newport, about this time, experienced very heavy afflictions. After their pastor’s death a number of their principal members left the Island to be more secure from the British and moved into different parts of the country for refuge. None but those who have experienced the like, can sympathize with them”
The New Jersey churches underwent the same test. The Pennsylvania churches likewise were tried to the limit: “The close of the Revolutionary War found the several congregations of Seventh Day Baptist in Pennsylvania depleted in numbers. The tide of war had swept in its fury over the fertile fields of southeastern Pennsylvania. To comply with the enforced demands from friend and foe, brought ruin to many, while to all it proved a serious loss. Then again some of the younger scions took sides with one or the other of the conflicting parties, thereby estranging family and social ties; others who entered the military service, by strange and rude associations were alienated from the faith of their fathers; while the older generation, who, by age or for their faith or principle’s sake, refused to take an active part in the struggle for Independence, were looked upon with suspicion, as harboring sentiments favoring the enemy” (from A History of the Sabbatarians. 1,208).
Many sincere Christians, as throughout the history of Christianity, were forced to put their lives on the line for the principles they held dear. The consciences of many, based on Jesus Christ’s clear teaching that his kingdom was not of this world, did not permit them to take up arms. Others chose to take sides in the conflict and the congregations as a whole paid a terrible price.
In addition, a devastating yellow fever epidemic swept through Philadelphia in 1793, causing many to proclaim it a visitation of God’s wrath upon the people for their sins.
As a consequence, Sabbatarians, along with other clergy, supported a bill titled “Suppression of Vice and Immorality” before the Pennsylvania legislature. One of its provisions stated that it was “peculiarly necessary to make some effectual provision for the orderly and religious observance of the Lord’s-day: for the prevention and punishment of the profanation of the name of God, and every species of impious imprecations” (ibid., p. 1,214).
These churches of southeastern Pennsylvania comprehended too late the threat to 7th day observance. Over much protest even from some of other faiths, the “Blue Law of 1794” was set in motion.
Involvement in political affairs did not prove a rewarding experience to these churches. Restrictive blue laws constantly harassed Sabbath-keeping churches as they spread from the east. A noted constitutional scholar wrote: “Enforcing Sunday laws against those observing Saturday would seem clearly to be discriminatory and inconsistent with the American tradition of fair play.”
“Moreover, it seems as clearly to restrict the religious liberty of one whose conscience requires him to observe a day other than Sunday as holy time; and it is hardly a sufficient answer to say – as some courts have, that the law does not compel him to violate his conscience by working of Saturday. By requiring him to abstain from engaging in his trade or his business two days a week while his Sunday observing competitor need only abstain one day week, it obviously imposes on him a competitive disadvantage, and thus penalize him for adhering to his religious belief” (Church, State, and Freedom by Leo Pfeffer, p. 235).
In the early decades of the 19th century, a definite pattern of movement of Sabbath-keepers occurred with the advancing frontier.
Historian Ray Allen Billington succinctly explains the logic of migration: “Three factors contributed to every man’s decision to move to the frontier: conditions at home, the east with which he could reach the west, and the attractiveness of the region ahead”
Frederick Jackson Turner writes of the Trans-Appalachian route taken by many from the eastern seaboard to the Middle West: “The second generation was ready to seek new lands; and these the Erie Canal and lake navigation opened to them, and the Vermonters, and other venturous spirits of New England. It was this combined New York-New England stream that in the thirties poured in large volume into the zone north of the settlements which have been described. The newcomers filled in the southern counties of Michigan and Wisconsin, the northern counties of Illinois, and parts of the northern and center areas of Indiana” (from Frontiers in American History, pp. 79-80).
And as the magazine Sabbath Recorder reported, “The country south and west of the Great Lakes was then tempting people in the East to remove and seek homes in its fertile lands” (ibid., p. 80).
From this area a body to be known as the Church of God would arise in the decades before the Civil War. By the middle of the 19th century, this Church of God faced yet another test.
One of the most dynamic half-centuries of the modern era in the Western world was 1775 to 1825. The American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars set the stage for the development of the modern world. By 1800 London had become the international center of finance. In 1803 the greatest land deal in history took place- the Louisiana Purchase.
For a paltry three cents an acre the United States purchased about 530,000,000 acres of land from France. That opened the door for the United States to begin its ascent to greatness.
The Industrial revolution, already a half-century old, would change the world with steamships and locomotives, mining and manufacturing. In 1831 there stepped into this expanding, modernizing world a prosperous retired farmer from New York named William Miller. His study of the Scriptures led him to believe that Jesus Christ had promised to return.
Armed with a small amount of prophetic knowledge, Miller vigorously preached from the books of Daniel and Revelation the “soon-coming Second Advent.” He thought it would happen in 1843-44. This spell-binding orator influenced thousands to come out of various denominations and to believe the “end was near.” But many among those who listened to Miller and believe in the premillennial return of Jesus Christ became Sabbatarians after 1845. They descried themselves as the “Church of God.”
Those who would continue to use this designation realized that Miller’s date setting had been a mistake and held that 1844 had no prophetic meaning.
In the meantime, a young woman named Ellen G (Harmon) White began to receive visions. A large number of Miller’s followers accepted her visions as inspiration from God. Thus began Seventh day Adventism. A minority calling themselves the Church of God refused to believe that these visions were divine revelations.
In one of these visions, Mrs. White finally asserted that the name Church of God was no longer to be used: “No name which we can take will be appropriate but that which accords with our profession, and expresses our faith, and marks us as a peculiar people. “The name Seventh-Day Adventist carries the true features of our faith in front, and will convict the inquiring mind” (Testimonies of the Church by Ellen G. White, pp. 223-224).
In response to this line of reasoning, Waterman Phelps, an advocate of the name Church of God, was quoted in the pages of The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald:
“I think it not difficult to determine what name they will have, when we consult (Rev. 14:1, ‘Having his father’s name in their foreheads.’ Chapter 3:12: ‘I will write upon them the name of my God.’ And with this agrees the apostle in all his epistles. They are addressed to the Church of God. Acts 20:28; I Cor. 1:2; 10:32; 11:22. Now if we have the right to depart from the simplicity of the gospel in one instance, have we not in another?” (A History of the Church of God (Seventh Day) by John Kiesz, pp. 13-14).
Other groups came out of William Miller’s teachings, maintaining a belief in the return of Christ, but having differing theological viewpoints. They continued to observe Sunday as a day of worship.
The controversy among the Sabbath-keeping believers resulted in a conference at Battle Creek Michigan, Sept. 26 to October 1, 1860. A large part of the group chose the name Seventh-day Adventist over the Church of God. This decision marked the beginning of what were to become two separate organizations proclaiming significantly different messages. Two years later the Church of God established headquarters in Stanberry, Missouri.
Those Sabbatarians who rejected the visions of Mrs. White began to coalesce around a publication named The Hope of Israel. It was founded in Michigan by churches led by Gilbert Cranmer, a foundational leader of what was to become the Church of God.
The first issue of The Hope of Israel, dated August 10, 1863, ran the following letter from a Samuel Davison: “The account you give of the churches of God in Michigan looking for the appearing of the Lord is to us very grateful information. We have often felt like Elijah when he made complaint against Israel, saying, ‘I, even I only am left; and they seek my life to take it away.’ We hope that it may prove now as then, that the Lord hath reserved unto himself seven thousand in Israel; names that have not bowed the knee to Baal, and every mouth which has not kissed his image.
“It is very encouraging for us to find, that unknown to each other, there are now found to be bands of brethren and sisters, and many individuals, isolated from each other, in several different states, who have believed the same things, taken the same position, set out to seek the same objects, by the same means, and, so far as now appears, filled with the same spirit, and having the same hope of inheriting the kingdom of God; looking for it as nigh at hand” (History of the Church of God (Seventh-Day), pp. 25-26).
The Hope was backed by groups calling themselves variously “Church of God” (as in Iowa and Wisconsin) or “Church of Christ” (as in Michigan) or “Church of the Firstborn” (as on the East Coast).
However, as Samuel Davison attested, they held a common bond of beliefs. The Seventh-day Adventists held some similar beliefs – the Ten Commandments as being in force, rejection of the immortality of the soul, and belief in the second coming of Christ – but they differed in other significant ways.
The various Churches of God and Christ held that Jesus Christ would reign on earth, not heaven, for the 1,000-year period called the Millennium. The earth, rather than being desolate, would be restored to Edenic beauty. They held the “age-to-come” doctrine, that “probation would be open” during the 1,000 years of Christ’s rule over the nations. This meant that, contrary to the belief sanctioned by Mrs. White through her visions, all opportunity for salvation would not end with the second coming.
In the August 23, 1867 edition, The Hope of Israel mentioned rejection of the Trinity doctrine as magazine editorial policy (Ibid., p. 101). Also, during the Civil War years, there was an editorial consensus that it was wrong to kill one’s fellowman. The April 23, 1865, issue reflected such in its touching comment on the tragic death of President Abraham Lincoln: “We thank God that President Lincoln, kind and feeling as he was, and pious too, according to his idea of piety, did cause to be made such laws as would deliver God’s saints from participating in war. To this end let us pray for our future rulers, a law-abiding and devoted people, to the end that we may be able to live quiet and peaceable lives in his honor and glory” (History of the Church of God (Seventh Day), p. 84).
The Hope of Israel remained in Michigan until 1866 when it was moved to Marion, Iowa. Later, with greater membership growth, the center of the Church’s work shifted to Stanberry, Missouri. The magazine was moved there in 1888. By the turn of the 20th century, the name was changed to The Bible Advocate. It continues to be published by its present administration near Denver, Colorado.
As time passed, an increased sense of organizational unity developed. A General Conference of the Church of God was formed in 1884, mainly from the membership in Missouri, Iowa and Michigan. In its constitution, this body stated as its purpose: “To unite the different state conferences; to take general oversight over the wants of the cause, and supply the same; to secure unity of action and belief, so that we may be of one mind and one spirit.”
In 1899, in its annual meeting, the General Conference incorporated in the state of Missouri. As the story moved into the 20th century, state conferences were found as far afield as South Dakota, Oregon and Louisiana.
The unification process extended also to doctrine. The Bible Advocate of March 13, 1917, published what were said to be the official teachings of the Church of God, compiled under the authorship of Andrew N. Dugger, editor. With time, however, a growing dissatisfaction with Mr. Dugger’s leadership surfaced and divided the Church in 1931.The Oregon Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day), for example, became essentially autonomous. Meanwhile, a dramatic new development occurred in the history of the Church of God.
In 1924 a young advertising man, Herbert Armstrong, moved with his wife and family to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The Armstrongs were Quakers and Methodists by religious upbringing, but were not especially active in any faith or local church.
A neighbor woman in Salem introduced Mrs. Armstrong to a study of the seventh-day Sabbath. In turn, Loma Armstrong excitedly introduced this “new truth to her husband. Rather than receive it with joy, Mr. Armstrong was shocked and embarrassed. He thought his wife had become a religious fanatic, so he set out to convince her that all these churches that kept Sunday couldn’t be wrong.” “The Bible must state somewhere that Sunday is the Sabbath, not Saturday,” he said.
He began an extensive study of the Bible to prove his wife wrong. He spent days, then weeks, then months in the public library. First, Mr. Armstrong had to prove the existence of God. He, like so many, had simply taken God’s existence for granted.
Then he had to determine whether or not the Bible was the inspired word of God. After all, the Bible was the only real source of information about God, Jesus Christ, and this Sabbath question. Mr. Armstrong’s study was long and exciting. After months of study, he proved to himself there really is an Eternal God. He also proved to his satisfaction that the Bible was the inspired word of God.
To his amazement he found that the Sabbath of the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, is the seventh day of the week. He and his wife began to observe the Sabbath with a small group of believers, a congregation of the Oregon Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day).
Because members came to see that Mr. Armstrong had studied the Bible intensely, many came to him with questions about the Bible. Certainly Mr. Armstrong had no intent to become a minister, but his personality, zeal, voice and leadership began to propel him in that direction. He was asked to speak regularly to a small congregation of the Church of God and in June 1931, was ordained to the ministry.
These were the financially severe days of the Great Depression. In the midst of this trying time, a door opened – a door Mr. Armstrong soon saw would make it possible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to hundreds, even thousands of people at one time. The door was radio. On perhaps the smallest of radio stations, 110 watts of power, in Eugene, Oregon, Mr. Armstrong began to preach, on a regular basis, beginning the first Sunday in January 1934, People began to write in.
One month later, a dream he had had for seven years came true – the birth of The Plain Truth, “a magazine of understanding.”
Mr. Armstrong, with the backing of many Oregon brethren devised a three-point plan to preach the gospel. First, the radio broadcast, then known as The Radio Church of God. This was the beginning of what was then the World Tomorrow broadcast and telecast. The broadcast was then backed up by the magazine. Of The Plain Truth Mr. Armstrong wrote: “No publication could have had a more humble, or a smaller start. But it was a start. It grew. It was improved, as scanty funds permitted. It took years before we were able to have it printed on a printing press. But through the years it has been instrumental in making drastic changes in thousands of lives” (Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong, vol. I, p. 543).
The third part of this thrust was to be personal evangelistic campaigns. Held mainly in schoolhouses and small rented halls in northern Oregon, they brought vital supporters into the work. Although this minuscule beginning was to lead to a worldwide work, Mr. Armstrong felt compelled to record in his Autobiography: “But I most certainly did not sit down, in the fall of 1933, and lay out detailed plans in my human mind for a great powerful, earth-encircling program to reach and influence the millions in every nation.
“There was no thought then of a gigantic radio program, and a publishing enterprise, starting in Eugene Oregon, but soon expanding to every inhabited continent: there certainly was no thought of the massive television program of today” (p. 536).
In 1947 Mr. Armstrong moved the small office staff from Eugene to Southern California, where he purchased a small property in the beautiful city of Pasadena. In what had formerly been a private residence, he founded Ambassador College.
As the years went by, Ambassador College grew in numbers of students and in educational opportunities. In 1960 a second campus opened in Hertfordshire, England. And in 1964 a third campus opened in East Texas.
With the radio program and the magazine widely available, hundreds of families started writing for personal guidance. Many hoped for a church congregation near where they lived. The College began to provide the much-needed help. Ambassador College graduates became pastors, staffed offices, and raised up churches. Many wrote for the publications produced by the College staff. They became part of a growing organization.
In January 1986 Mr. Armstrong at age 93, after more than 55 years of faithful service to the Church of God, died. He had worked up to his last days, writing, editing and producing television programs. After Mister Armstrong’s death the Church divided into many smaller groups. Some of the groups have strayed from the original teachings of Mr. Armstrong while others strictly adhere to the faith once delivered.
As we have seen in this four part series, the history of the Church of God is a living study of trials and triumphs, difficulties and successes. We can only guess how, at different periods of time, a faithful few believers managed to survive. But when all hope seemed lost, we saw God send someone to rekindle the message of the Bible.
We started our history with the words of Jesus Christ: “I will build my church; and the gates of hell (the grave or dead) shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). The Church founded by Jesus Christ will not die – but will prevail against any and all odds.
Christ’s work through the Church started with the work of the apostles Jesus personally chose. And from the first century to our day, countless thousands have striven to follow the way and teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
What will the 21st century be like – no one knows for certain, for these are dynamic times. The world plunges ahead not knowing where it is headed. What we do know is that Jesus Christ promised to guide his Church and to come again – to bring this world the peace, happiness and prosperity everyone so desperately desires. That’s the good news of the New World to come. Until Christ comes, this Church (the Church of God New World Ministries) works to spread that good news around the world.
At this time, the Church of God New World Ministries has hundreds of articles and sermons posted on its website. Thousands have visited and read the articles and listened to the messages. The Church of God New World Ministries is still proclaiming the same message taught by the original apostles. The work of all those who lived before us who suffered persecution and even death continues to exist because of God’s unbreakable word, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!”