|Against the Gates of Hell
IT WAS late afternoon in the desert city. I had been up since dawn despite a late arrival the night before. Beyond the desert, the jagged mountains shimmered in the heat. The mercury had soared into the high nineties for another in a series of scorching days.
Shortly after 5:00 P.M., I drove along the mesquite-bordered roads to Herbert Armstrong's home on the outskirts of Tucson. On that day, September 27, 1979, my Pastor General ordained me as an evangelist of the Worldwide Church of God.
It was perhaps the most momentous day of my life. Riding home after the ceremony, I looked at the saguaros towering over the dry landscape. Those spectacular cacti, whose waxy white blossoms are the state flowers of Arizona, have always awed me by their raw beauty, but on that early evening they held a new meaning. I asked the driver of my car to stop and I looked with moist eyes at a giant specimen close to the road. For the first time, I noticed that its arms stretched heavenward.
I realized as I looked that I had come full circle in my own life.
When my association with Herbert Armstrong had begun twenty-two years earlier, I never intended to embrace the religious philosophy and the system of ideals and values for which the Church stood. Becoming a member, believing in the doctrines, were not conditions of my being an aide to Mr. Armstrong, and never were throughout all our years together. Had I been told that I would be called on to do more than respect the beliefs of Herbert Armstrong and the members of the Church, it would have been impossible for me to begin, much less continue, my association. What professional man of any integrity would agree to represent anyone or any organization on condition that he or she become a member of a particular congregation?
By 1975, I had come a long way toward conversion. Working day in and day out with Mr. Armstrong — preaching the gospel as he did to leaders of this world and to people of other lands, other faiths, and other races, I had been pondering the question of my own baptism. Mr. Armstrong never directly pushed me in this direction, but it was a subject we did not hesitate to talk about. Doctrine — as well as Church affairs, such as problems in the ministry — was a topic we discussed at every opportunity.
Earlier, I had thought that I would never be baptized because I felt I did not measure up to the apparent spirituality of others. But by then I had reached the point where I did not want to be baptized because I saw too much hypocrisy in some elements of the hierarchy and too much of this world in the Church. Mr. Armstrong pointed out the error of my analysis: baptism is something between God and the individual; it has nothing to do with others. I finally saw how right he was and, in March 1975, in Hong Kong, he baptized me himself.
Typically, there had been no sudden spiritual awakening in me; I underwent no miraculous born-again experience in a single moment of time. It was a realization, a conviction reached by slow stages, that I wanted a place in the world over which Jesus was coming to rule.
There were times during this period of dawning awareness when I drew back, also not untypical. Some who feel as I did counsel with a Church minister to ask questions, unburden themselves of their doubts, and make certain in their own souls that they wish to make the commitment. I had the great good fortune to counsel with the Pastor General himself.
That is the way things work in the Worldwide Church of God. Just as there are no warnings to join, no badgering, no efforts at conversion, neither can one remove the impediments to belief by oneself. The choice is not ours to make. No man and no woman can see the truth unless he or she is called by the Father and drawn to Him. The Bible says it plainly and in almost those words: "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:44.)
Membership brought me a new inner peace. My position with Herbert Armstrong and the Church continued on a personal and professional basis, but not on an ecclesiastical level.
So it went until that September day in 1979.
I had returned to this country from China and gone directly to Tucson. I had not seen Mr. Armstrong in two months. On Wednesday, he told me he had arrived at a major decision. I could best serve the Church and the Living God, he said, from within the ranks of the ordained rather than from the outside. As a man ordained, I would be one with the body of the Church, working for its greater good. The inspiration, he said, had come from God during the time I was away, and he had prayed for the successful conclusion of our legal problems and an end to the vicious assaults on our integrity.
It was a vote of confidence in me, cast by Mr. Armstrong in the strongest way he could. He was, in effect, telling the attorney general and other critics that despite the charges leveled against me, despite the flood of vilification poured out by a small but vocal band of dissidents, he wanted to label me in quite another way, as a committed servant of God.
The special area in which I will henceforth work will not change, but now ecclesiastical responsibilities have been added to secular, professional ones. I am no longer a lawyer acting as a lawyer, but an ecclesiastical person dealing with legal problems. I am no longer a financial man working on financial problems but an ecclesiastical person dealing with the financial matters that concern my Church.
Thus, while my primary functions will not change, I will now be advising Mr. Armstrong and traveling to the nations of the world in the service of the Work, not as a member of the congregation but as a person with an ecclesiastical rank one step below Mr. Armstrong's own. The Church hierarchy consists of the Apostle, the evangelists, of whom there were about fifteen at the time of my ordination; pastors, preacher elders, local elders, and deacons and deaconnesses.
Ordination was a simple rite. In the presence of his wife, Ramona, and two other witnesses he placed one hand on my forehead, another on my shoulder, and prayed for several minutes, asking God to help me and guide me in the great Work ahead. Afterward, he also elevated to evangelist rank Ellis La-Ravia and Joseph Tkach, both ministers who had played prominent roles in the sit-in that barred the receiver from entering our headquarters. Young Kevin Dean was ordained a minister; his brother Aaron, who was not present that day, was ordained the following week.
Although the ceremony lasted a short time, I could borrow the historic phrase from another Armstrong, the astronaut Neil, who was the first man to walk upon the moon: the ordination was one small step in terms of time, but a giant one in my life.
I am aware that Mr. Armstrong's action in elevating me to evangelist may give fuel to those who ascribe certain motives to me. So be it. There will always be those who, for whatever reason, will find evil lurking anywhere. I will point no fingers, make no accusations. The course of true religion never runs smoothly and enemies will arise along its path. I offer them compassion and the hope that whatever is boiling in their breasts will simmer and cool, and that they will ultimately see, with their eyes and with their hearts, that the sole "ambition" we in the Church have is to perform, fully and completely, ardently and reverently, the Work we have been commanded to do.
To those persons, friendly and unfriendly, who may still harbor the notion that one Stanley Rader seeks to be named successor to Herbert Armstrong, let me speak plainly.
Before that eventful September day, I had a disability that effectively barred me from consideration: I was not a member of the Church hierarchy. Now that disability has been removed. It may be that God wished it that way. However, this must be underscored at the close of this book as it was in the opening pages:
The Pastor General will probably be able to complete the great Work he began, and there will be no more need for a "successor." Jesus himself will be here. But if it isn't God's will that Herbert Armstrong finish the Work, then God will bring forward a person who will. It is crucial to understand that Mr. Armstrong makes no choices and surely I make none either.
God alone chooses.
No appointment of a "successor" will ever be made in the Worldwide Church of God. There is never a "president-elect," as in the American Bar Association and other organizations! We have a Church and we have a mission.
That is all we know and all we need to know. If ever the time comes when a leader must be selected, God will send a signal and a leader will be found.
I will dwell no longer upon my own position in the Church. I can only add that Herbert Armstrong is the direct servant of the Living God, and I serve Herbert Armstrong.
If I have "ambitions," their outer limits are to help this man whom I honor and admire so profoundly and respectfully, to fulfill the Great Commission.
The one issue of overriding importance is to keep the Church alive. It has been wounded but it has not expired — not now, not ever. It is battling back with all the strength it can muster against a state that has decided it wants to go where the mighty minds of the founders of the republic decided it cannot and must not step.
In the brief time since the invasion of our Church, the conscience of the country has been stirred. More and more religious leaders are expressing condemnation of the attorney general's actions, and are urging all who cherish freedom to speak up in our behalf, whether they agree with our doctrines or not.
The stakes are enormous for all religions. As for the Church, we will not be cowed, we will never be destroyed.
We will prevail, because we are on the side of God and He is on ours.