Does God have his Church somewhere on earth today doing his Work? Are there identifying signs by which you may recognize that Work?
WHY SHOULD there be a Church? What is its commission — its work? How would you recognize its mission?
A Divided Christianity
Today, many denominations make up the Christian world. Some practice baptism by immersion in water. Others just "sprinkle" or pour water on the head of baptismal candidates. Some churches keep what they call the "Lord's Supper" every Sunday morning. Others observe this custom once a month, some quarterly or only once a year. They all vary in their forms of church government. They are divided over the questions of creation and theistic evolution. Most churches observe Sunday as their day of worship. A few observe the Sabbath from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. Churches, too, are called by various kinds of names. More important, the various churches of this world have different concepts of God. God, to some, is a fierce autocrat who punishes sinners in an ever-burning hell fire. Others think of God as simply the "divine spark" that somehow started all life but has little to do with everyday events and could care less about our lifestyles. Yet these differing churches all call themselves "Christian" use the name of Christ. Is Christ the author of this chaos of denominations?
The Church Jesus Built
Jesus asked his disciples, "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?" Some said John the Baptist, others Elijah or one of the prophets (see Matthew 16:13-14). But Peter answered, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Thereafter Jesus stated: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (verse 18). Jesus here said plainly that he would build a church — which simply meant in the Greek language a called-out group or crowd of people. Jesus called it "my" Church — not just any group or crowd or church. Throughout the New Testament, God clearly indicates — over and over — that his people, his Church, would be small in number during this age and often persecuted. He said, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you .... If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you" (John 15:16, 18-19). Wherever they are, it is obvious that God's true people do NOT fit into this world and its politics. For Jesus continued, "If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you ..." (verse 20). And Jesus called his people the "little flock" (Luke 12:32). Again, Jesus said, "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matt. 7:13-14). Remember, then, only a FEW go in the strait or narrow gate — only a FEW truly understand now and are part of God's Church today. And again, "Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21). So Jesus plainly stated that his people are to be obedient to the Father's will. They DO what God the Father commands.
I. Often Small and Persecuted
All through the New Testament, the term woman is used as a symbol of a church. In II Corinthians 11:1-2, the Church is pictured as the affianced bride of Christ. Nearly all scholars acknowledge that in Revelation 12, the true Church is pictured. She is being persecuted by the "dragon" — described in verse 9 as Satan the devil. In verse 17 the devil goes to make war with the "remnant" — the last generation — of the true Church — "which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." In Revelation 14:12, God describes these same faithful people: "Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." Jesus said he would build his Church. We have found that the Bible describes it as a small, often persecuted Church — one that is certainly not part of this world's politics. It is a Church that does the WILL of God the Father — one that obeys him. And it KEEPS the Ten Commandments given as a basic way of life by Almighty God. Obviously, many differing denominations are small; some are persecuted. Some are persecuted because they seem to deliberately provoke others and so bring undue persecution upon themselves — NOT because of a biblical message, but because of thoughtlessly, arrogantly trying to "cram their religion" down the throats of other people. A few small groups sincerely feel they are not "part of this world." Perhaps they wear distinctive clothing from another age to prove this to themselves and others. So what other evidences are there?
II. The Church Has God's Name
It sounds almost too simple. You'd think people would know. But God names things what they are! Before Satan rebelled, he was called by a name that means "light-bringer" (Lucifer in Latin). After he tried to dethrone the living God, his name was changed to Satan. This means "enemy" or "adversary" — exactly what this great fallen cherub had become. The name Jacob means "usurper" or "one who supplants another." After the patriarch wrestled with God's Messenger and began to ask God for help, then God changed his name to Israel. This means "overcomer" or prevailer" with God. All through the Bible you see this principle. Names are important to God. And God names things what they are! Many years ago, in 1517, a young priest in the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation became upset at the selling of indulgences. He nailed to a church door 95 theses expressing why he viewed as wrong the practice of selling of indulgences. Thus, Martin Luther unwittingly started what became the Protestant Reformation. Later, after an ecclesiastical break, his followers were called "Lutheran" after this reformer. Their formal name now is the Lutheran Church. Years later in England, John Wesley, receiving a feeling of "inner warmth" and peace after a certain religious meeting, set out preaching about a different approach to God and religion. Eventually, his followers came to view their church as Wesleyan. But, although the term Wesleyan is still widely used, they formally named their church after Wesley's habit of being organized and methodical in everything he did. So they named their denomination the Methodist Church. Presbyterians are named after their form of church government by — the elders, or presbyters. Baptists are named after a distinctive doctrine, baptism. And so on. But, does GOD give any indication in the Bible what his Church should be called? Surprisingly, perhaps to some, he does.
When the apostle Paul was instructing the elders of the church in Ephesus, he stated, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy [Spirit] hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God ..." (Acts 20:28). Feed what? "Feed the church of God." Does it seem too obvious that God's Church would be called just that, the Church of God? Notice I Corinthians 1:1-2. In the official address to the Church, Paul wrote, "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth...." Later in the letter, he tells them, "Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God" (I Cor. 10:32). In I Corinthians 11:16, Paul speaks of the churches collectively as "the churches of God." In verse 22 of this chapter, Paul again refers to them as "the church of God." And in I Corinthians 15:9, he states, "For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." II Corinthians begins with the same official address: "... unto the church of God which is at Corinth." And in I Thessalonians 2:14, Paul refers to the original Christians as "the churches of God which in Judæa are in Christ Jesus." The introductions to both of Paul's letters to the Thessalonians refer to "the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father," for they were his churches and must be in union with him. And in I Timothy 3:5, the evangelist is instructed that if an elder does not know how to rule his house, "how shall he take care of the church of God?" Finally, in I Timothy 3:15, Paul tells Timothy that he is writing to tell him how to conduct himself in "the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." Throughout the New Testament, in 12 distinct passages, the true Church is called "the church of God," "the churches of God," "the church of the Thessalonians in God," and, at pagan Ephesus where stood the idol to the goddess Diana, "the church of the living God." Always, God's name is attached. And as Christ is God (John 1:1), so in one or two passages the appellation "church of Christ" is also applied. Often, in business or industry, the founder's or owner's name is given to an enterprise as an identification of ownership or control: The Bank of Morgan, Lever Brothers, for example. One of the absolute prerequisite identifying SIGNS of the true Church is that it must bear God's name! The name alone is not absolute proof of identity. There are always those who would seek to use the same name. But, taken together with the other identifying signs that we are now discussing, it is a vital designation. For God names things what they are. In fact, just before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed for his followers, "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are" (John 17:11).
III. Willing to Acknowledge Error
The apostle Paul wrote of another evidence of the true Church of God: "Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Rom. 8:9). And again, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (verse 14). So to be truly Christian and an heir of God, one must be filled with and led by the Holy Spirit. Now notice how the Holy Spirit works! Jesus said, "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come" (John 16:13). Note that the Spirit guides the Church of God into all truth and helps its members understand prophecy — "things to come." It is a process of growing and changing. A process of becoming more and more like God in character, thoughts and habits. Perhaps the apostle Peter expressed it most clearly: "But GROW in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (II Pet. 3:18). The Church of God is made up of converted people who are certainly being changed by the power of God's Holy Spirit. As each individual must grow in grace and in
Which Church truly grasps why humans were born and put on this earth? What is the incredible human potential?
knowledge, so the united body of those individuals — the Church — must also grow. For instance, Daniel was given awesome visions and dreams involving events to take place on earth at the end of man's civilization. He asked, "0 my Lord, what shall be the end of these things?" And God's angel answered, "Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end" (Dan. 12:8-9). Now, with the capacity to destroy all life from the planet, we are certainly in the prophesied "time of the end" of man's civilization, a time when God must soon intervene in world affairs to save humanity from nuclear holocaust (Matt. 24:22). But, at this time, is there a Church that has such knowledge and understanding of the Bible prophecies? Do you know of any Church that has been willing to admit error and change and grow in to increasingly deeper understanding of the master plan God is working out here below? A Church that truly understands where we are headed? And why the United States and Britain are slowly but inexorably sliding from their pinnacle of greatness? And how and why a powerful union of nations restoring the ancient Roman Empire one last time will soon become the force to reckon with? Which Church truly grasps WHY humans were born and put on this earth? What is the incredible human potential? And WHY God has not been trying to "save" the world during these near 6,000 years when, as the Almighty God, he clearly has the POWER to do so if he wanted to? Do you know any Church that understands these matters and can give clear biblical answers to these most basic questions? And a Church that keeps on learning and growing in such vital knowledge and understanding? Well, there is such a Church! It just happens to be the Church that publishes this magazine. It is called by God's name. Remember, most Christian groups seldom if ever change or grow in knowledge. And when they do change, it is nearly always in the direction of secularism" watering down" what little bit of biblical truth they may once have had. But the true Church of God grows continually into a deeper and fuller understanding of the Bible, of the great PURPOSE being worked out here below and of the exciting fulfillments of biblical prophecy now under way on the world scene.
IV. Commissioned to Do the WORK of GOD
Jesus announced that one proof that his return would be imminent — his return to reign over this earth and restore the government of God — is this: "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matt. 24:14). Somewhere on earth, just before Jesus' Second Coming, his servants are going to be announcing with increasing power the message of the coming world-ruling kingdom of God! A kingdom is a government — and from one end of the Bible to the other the message of God is about his coming government that will replace the governments of this world and will rule forever (Dan. 2:44; Rev. 11:15, etc.). Jesus tells those in his Church, "He that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give POWER over the nations: and he shall RULE them with a rod of iron ..." (Rev. 2:26-27). Again, where spirit-being elders in heaven rejoice in song concerning the future role of Christians, they say, "And hast made them [Christians] unto our God kings and priests: and they shall REIGN on the earth" (Rev. 5:10, original Greek text). Notice that Christ and those in this age whom he has called to spiritual understanding will rule "on the earth" — NOT up in "heaven"! This vibrant message of God's soon-coming world ruling GOVERNMENT is NOT announced to convert everyone now, but as a witness so that men will understand when it does occur. And through his Church, God is training thousands of men and women in lessons of character and obedience so they may be ready to serve under the living Christ when he returns as King of kings. "Do ye not know that the saints shall JUDGE the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge ANGELS? how much more things that pertain to this life?" (I Cor. 6:2-3.) To rule others, one must first learn to rule oneself. God's government is based upon his spiritual law — the Ten Commandments. So that is why God says of the true saints, "Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the COMMANDMENTS of God, and the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12). The Church which God governs, which has his government, is proclaiming — worldwide and with increasing power — the coming government of God on earth through Jesus Christ and the resurrected saints, based on God's law and his Commandments. This Church is small and often persecuted. It has God's name. It is called simply the Church of God. To carry out its work it is legally incorporated as The Worldwide Church of God because a few others do have understanding of the correct name and each is required by human law to incorporate differently. This Church does GROW in grace and knowledge. It goes deeper and deeper into the Bible revelation of God's great PURPOSE that he is working out. It grasps why God is not calling the world to salvation now, when God will do that, and what the incredible potential for man really is. Finally, this Church does the WORK of proclaiming as a witness the coming government of God based on his law. With a college on two campuses, offices around the globe, hundreds of local congregations with resident ministers, worldwide radio and television and a massive publishing work, including this very magazine, that message is going out with increasing POWER. Perhaps it is merely helpful to you to consider these biblical evidences of where God is working where his Church is today. But if your interest goes beyond that — if we can serve you personally — don't hesitate to write. See inside the front cover for the address of our office nearest you. As world events move inexorably toward the END of this age, you owe it to yourself to be sure of where you are headed. Take the bull by the horns. Prove these things to yourself from the pages of your Bible. If God is opening your mind now, then act on this precious knowledge and begin to really prepare for your job in the soon-coming world tomorrow.