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Where is the Original True Church?
By Herbert W. Armstrong
I have written about the ecumenical movement to unite the churches - by compromise of doctrines and practices.
So now I would like to ask and answer: What about this whole church question - as it concerns YOU? WHERE is the original true Church that Jesus Christ founded - the one the living Jesus Christ STILL HEADS today?
That is the question that haunted me, back in 1926 and early 1927.
I had been reared, like many of our readers, in one of the respected and older Protestant denominations. From infancy I was taken to Sunday school and church. I was told that I was "saved" because I had a "birthright membership" in the church. I didn't know much about what my church believed - but I don't remember worrying about that.
But by age 18 I lost interest, and seldom attended after that. On leaving school I entered the advertising profession. I was ambitious. I craved STATUS. So I worked hard, studied continually to improve my abilities, drove myself relentlessly toward that goal of STATUS!
Then, after nationwide occurrences totally beyond my control had twice taken businesses I had started, I was angered into an intensive study of the Bible for the first time in my life. So far as the Bible was concerned, I had always said, "I just can't UNDERSTAND the Bible."
Strange - I had always craved understanding, but about other things. The Bible seemed to me a dry, dull, dead book that NOBODY could understand. I assumed, of course, that the churches had received all their beliefs, teachings and customs from the Bible - but then, I just had no interest in religion.
But finally, early fall of 1926, I was challenged! I was doubly challenged! My wife had taken up with "religious fanaticism" - that is, it seemed fanaticism to me! She claimed she found it IN THE BIBLE - but I knew good and well that was impossible, because it was a belief and practice utterly CONTRARY to the churches.
"All these churches can't be wrong," I said. "They get their teaching from the Bible, and this fanaticism of yours is contrary to what they teach."
"Well, maybe they teach contrary to the Bible, then," my wife insisted, "because I got THIS out of the BIBLE!"
Argument was no use. She said if I'd show her where the Bible taught differently, she'd give it up, but not otherwise.
At the same time a sister-in-law challenged me in regard to the theory of evolution. I had never happened to study evolution in school or college. She said I was just plain IGNORANT if I didn't believe in evolution! This stung my pride! Me IGNORANT? What an INSULT!
"All right," I answered, "I'll study into the evolutionary theory thoroughly, and if you're wrong, as I know you are, I'll PROVE IT to you, and make you eat those words!"
I had always believed in GOD - though I knew little about Him, and just was not concerned about "religion". Of course I had never researched the question deeply and thoroughly, to PROVE whether God exists, or whether evolution is true. Few ever have. I just took God for granted, and supposed evolution was a false theory. Nearly all who believe either in God or evolution have assumed their belief WITHOUT PROOF!
But no longer for ME! Now I had to KNOW!
It became an almost night-and-day study of the Bible, and of in-depth research in books on evolution, geology, paleontology, biology, physics. I did research into radioactivity. That proved there had been no past eternity of matter, but CREATION! I studied the creation account in Genesis.
It was a six months' intensive research, often studying until 1 or 2 a.m. But in the end I PROVED the existence of GOD and the infallible inspiration of the Bible; I disproved the evolutionary theory and did make the sister-in-law "eat those words!"
But in the argument with my wife, I LOST! She was right. I was wrong. It was by far the bitterest pill to swallow that had ever confronted me.
You see, it meant not only confessing I was wrong. That is hard enough for the carnal mind. But I had now learned HOW wrong I was, not only what I had believed through assumption, but what I had done and what I was. I had thought I was pretty good! Human nature always thinks that. I had learned it is just plain BAD and EVIL.
I thought immediately, IF I accept Bible teaching and begin to LIVE by it - IF I give in to accept Christ, become converted, live a Christian life - what will all my former business associates and friends say?
In my mind, it meant GIVING THEM ALL, UP - for good! It meant conversion! And that is something I don't believe happens really, and fully, without an inner struggle. It certainly didn't in my case. It meant GIVING UP! It meant giving up everything my heart had been set on - my life goal. It meant forsaking my way of life - a total about-face! Actually it meant giving up my IDOL, though I didn't see it that way, then.
It meant UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER to God. It meant giving up MY LIFE, actually, and GIVING IT TO GOD!
In the end, I did it!
But now I faced a NEW CHALLENGE! In this intensive study, I had found that "all these churches" CAN BE wrong! I found that, so far as I knew of what the church I was reared in believed, it was diametrically contrary to the Bible.
Now the question came, WHERE is the TRUE Church - the one Jesus Christ founded - the one He HEADS today - the one that carries out His MISSION - the one He said He would never leave or forsake?
I had been shockingly disillusioned! It had been virtually a traumatic six months.
When I read Romans 6:23, I stared at that verse in my Bible in shocked, incredulous disbelief! It said, "For the wages of sin is DEATH; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Authorized Version). I had always believed the wages we earn for SIN was just the opposite of DEATH. I had been taught that what we get paid for SIN was ETERNAL LIFE - in hell fire! This verse says eternal life is something we can only receive AS A GIFT from GOD.
But NO! Surely no! We already have eternal life - so I supposed - we are immortal souls!
I learned that many theologians INTERPRET that verse - that is, they PUT A DIFFERENT MEANING INTO IT. They change the meaning of the words to make them conform to their belief instead of letting God's Word change their belief to conform with God's truth. They manufacture a new definition of the word death. They define death to mean "separation from God."
I looked at this verse again. On the one hand, for sin, we get DEATH. On the other hand, the opposite of that penalty is ETERNAL LIFE.
Now, it certainly was clear, if ETERNAL LIFE is the very opposite of DEATH, then DEATH cannot mean eternal life!
I was shocked to find that in many, if not most, teachings of Jesus and the New Testament, the churches now teach the very opposite, and follow opposite customs and practices!
I was confused! My head was swimming!
But there it was, in plain language. I read that SOULS can die! "The soul who sins shall die" (Ezek. 18:4, 20). It was important enough to be stated twice. Then my startled eyes read, in Revelation 16:3, AV, "And every living soul DIED in the sea." That said SOULS can DIE. Then I saw where Jesus said souls can be DESTROYED: "But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28)!
It began to look like the churches were wrong, after all!
But did not Jesus Christ found His CHURCH? He surely did, and I found where He said the gates of the grave would never prevail against it - IT COULD NOT BE DESTROYED! I found where Jesus Christ said He would never leave nor forsake it - where He would always be "in the midst" of it. I found where He was the living HEAD of it! Jesus Christ was resurrected from the grave. HE is STILL ALIVE!
So WHERE was the Church He was guiding, directing and using?
I was perplexed. But I kept searching. I continued studying.
I found where Jesus Christ came to DO THE WORK OF GOD. He came to bring mankind the GOSPEL, from GOD. Yet He said that of Himself, as a human, by His own human power, He could do nothing - He was utterly powerless, of Himself, for this divine spiritual MISSION. The Father that dwelt within Him - by the power of His Holy Spirit - did the work.
So it was really GOD doing it, by His Holy Spirit, using the individual human mind and body of Jesus as His instrument. GOD started His WORK of revealing His MESSAGE and building His Church through the individual human BODY of Jesus Christ.
I saw where God's true CHURCH is called "THE BODY OF CHRIST" (I Cor. 12:27, 13, Rom. 12:5). How could the Church be the BODY OF CHRIST? I searched. I studied. God's Word made the truth PLAIN.
God started His Gospel WORK - proclaiming the Gospel (good news) of His KINGDOM - through the individual human BODY of Jesus. But after His resurrection, Jesus sent the same HOLY SPIRIT on the day of Pentecost, A.D. 31, and thereafter, to enter into the COLLECTIVE BODY of those constituting GOD'S CHURCH.
The CHURCH, then, is the COLLECTIVE BODY Christ uses as His INSTRUMENT, empowered by God's Spirit, to carry on GOD'S WORK. Jesus Christ heads and directs it from heaven!
How does one become a member of this ONE BODY? By receiving God's Holy Spirit. "For by one Spirit we were all baptized [immersed] into ONE BODY" (I Cor. 12:13). The word baptize means to immerse - to plunge into. It is God's Holy Spirit that PUTS ONE INTO the only true Church!
But are there MANY CHURCHES? No, everywhere the New Testament speaks of the ONE Body - ONE CHURCH. "For in fact the BODY is not one member but many.... But now indeed there are many members, yet ONE BODY" (verses 14, 20). Christ is NOT divided (I Cor. 1:13). There is ONE true Church. All in it "speak the same thing" (I Cor. 1:10).
But WHAT is the divine MISSION of that Church? What is its PURPOSE? The answer is to do the WORK OF GOD, which Jesus started and now continues through His Church. And what did Jesus start DOING?
Mark tells us: 'The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1). Then, beginning verse 2, Mark records how John the Baptist prepared the way before Him. Coming, then, directly to the BEGINNING of the WORK Christ did, Mark says:
"Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee" - DOING WHAT? - "preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. REPENT, and BELIEVE the gospel" (verses 14-15).
Two things Jesus commanded His hearers to do: I) REPENT and 2) BELIEVE. But believe WHAT? Believe His GOSPEL! You have to believe that Gospel - that good news of the KINGDOM OF GOD - to be saved! JESUS SAID so!
The KINGDOM OF GOD is the GOVERNMENT of God. It is also the divine FAMILY of God, into which we may be born. It is the UNIVERSE-RULING Family! You repent of - WHAT? Your rebellion against that GOVERNMENT of God. God governs by His LAW, summed up by the Ten Commandments. Some will say, we must repent of SIN! Yes, SURELY! For sin IS the transgression of THE LAW (I John 3:4).
Repentance means unconditional SURRENDER to the GOVERNMENT of God - to yield to let God RULE your life, according to His laws - it means to live by EVERY WORD IN THE BlBLE (Matt. 4:4).
What is the divine MISSION of God's true CHURCH? It is to carry on THE WORK Jesus started. Jesus commissioned His Church, "Go into all the world and PREACH THE GOSPEL to every creature" (Mark 16:15). Not just any gospel. Not a gospel merely about the person of Christ, but His Gospel of the Kingdom of God - the Gospel He said we have to BELIEVE in order to be converted and saved!
Again, Matthew records His great commission: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in [into] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have COMMANDED you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19-20). In proclaiming His GOSPEL, Jesus specifically said, "Teach them to OBEY God's COMMANDMENTS"!
Jesus gave a prophecy for our time - just before the END of this world. His disciples came to Him privately. They asked, "What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (Matt. 24:3).
Jesus warned against false ministers saying that Jesus is Christ - yet DECEIVING THE MANY. And answering their question as to what sign would show when He is to come, He said: "And this gospel of the KINGDOM [the same Gospel He taught the original apostles] will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, AND THEN the END will come" (Matt. 24:14).
That Gospel was not preached after A.D. 70 to all the world. In every generation it has been preached - to a FEW, but not TO ALL THE WORLD - On ALL CONTINENTS!
Wherever God's true Church is - the ONE Church that is CHRIST'S - it will be preaching THAT GOSPEL to the whole world - over all continents - today. For we are near the END! That is the Gospel of the living Christ! It is the GOOD NEWS of the coming KINGDOM OF GOD to RULE THE WORLD!
It is the Gospel of the divine GOVERNMENT. It teaches people to REPENT of rebellion against God's government - transgression of GOD'S LAWS. It teaches salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - the remission of sins through Jesus' shed blood and reconciliation to God by Christ's DEATH, and salvation through His LIFE.
It has NO PART in this world's governments - its members are AMBASSADORS, as in a strange land, of THE KINGDOM OF GOD, soon to destroy and replace all human governments of the nations today.
Jesus prayed for His Church: "Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be ONE as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name....
"But now come I to You ... I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not OF the world, just as I am not OF the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are. not OF the world, just as I am not OF the world. Sanctify them by Your TRUTH. Your WORD is TRUTH" (John 17:11-17).
Jesus said His true Church was to be KEPT in the name of the Father - GOD. Twelve times in the New Testament, the NAME of this one true Church is the Church of God! It is GOD'S Church, and Jesus Christ is its guiding, sustaining, directing HEAD!
In this world, churches are named after MEN, or after the SYSTEM men have devised, or the kind of church government MEN have thought out, CONTRARY to God's Word, or after a significant doctrine they emphasize, or what men hope to make it - all-encompassing, universal or catholic.
But wherever that ONE true Church is, it will be named the Church of God.
But that is not all. Many have appropriated God's name, but are not proclaiming the KINGDOM OF GOD, as the GOVERNMENT of God, which we must OBEY - teaching obedience to God's law (Ten Commandments) - teaching REPENTANCE of rebellion and transgressing God's holy LAW - teaching that we may be now BEGOTTEN into the KINGDOM (Family) of God, and may, by the resurrection, be BORN into the GOD FAMILY!
That true Church is preaching the imminency of the coming of CHRIST as King of kings and LORD of lords, to RULE all nations for a thousand years on earth. Not up in heaven, but ON THIS EARTH (Rev. 5:10).
There is only ONE such Church!
It is doing THE WORK OF GOD. It is, as Jesus said it would be, a "little flock," persecuted, despised by the world. But it does have dedicated, consecrated, converted, fully instructed and trained, ordained MINISTERS in all parts of the world - available to call on you, visit you in your home, answer your questions, explain the Bible to you - IF YOU REQUEST IT!
But none of them will EVER call on you, unless YOU of your own free will request it! Paul had visited the elders (ministers) at Ephesus from house to house - BUT, regarding the general public, Jesus said, "Do NOT GO from house to house" (Luke 10:7).
Neither Jesus, nor Peter, nor Paul, nor any of the original true apostles ever approached people and personally URGED conversion on them. God has made every human a FREE MORAL AGENT. God compels each to MAKE HIS OWN DECISION, and the true GOD will never force you to be converted.
But if you, of your own volition, want to know MORE about the very Church that Jesus Christ founded and heads today - if you'd like to ask questions about it - why not write your request for a personal visit to the editor? We may be able to have one of God's own ministers call on you quite soon.
And let me suggest that you JOT DOWN on paper the QUESTIONS you are going to want to ask. I've learned, personally, by more than 55 years experience, that you'll forget them unless you do.
Hundreds and hundreds - yes, thousands upon thousands - are being converted - their lives CHANGED - by this WORK OF GOD, through the World Tomorrow broadcast worldwide, through The Plain Truth, the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course, through this magazine, The Good News, and other vital free literature we send upon request.
Some, not realizing one of God's own called and consecrated ministers could call and explain, and answer questions, have JOINED one of the churches of this world.
You cannot JOIN the true Church of God - the almighty GOD puts you in.
But if you have questions about fellowship, doctrines or practice - or ANY questions about the Church or the Bible or the Christian LIFE, write me. I cannot call and visit with you personally anymore (as I used to do and wish I still could), but God has now given me many truly called and chosen men who CAN.
DON'T go to the churches of this world, or join any, UNTIL you hear the full truth and weigh carefully the FACTS, according to your own BIBLE. Then make your decision and take what steps GOD shows you.