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This is inextricably intertwined with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a fact to stagger the mind of the reader that the gospel of Jesus Christ was not proclaimed to the world from about A.D. 50 until the year 1953. The apostle Paul foretold this when he said,
"But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them" (II Cor. 4:3-4).Millions have read over this passage without grasping its real meaning.
The Church, founded by Jesus Christ, has an all-important meaning to every human life that ever lived. Yet almost no one has ever known that meaning.
Even within the Christian world, apostasy, division and changing times have blotted out the true original meaning and purpose that now is indeed a mystery.
The word church is an English-language word translated from the original Greek ekklesia. Ekklesia means called-out-ones. Old Testament Israel was usually called by the term "congregation." In some respects the word congregation is synonymous with the word church. Yet there is a distinct difference between the terms church and congregation. The congregation of Israel was separate, as a separate nation. But they were not called-out-ones spiritually in the same sense that characterizes the New Testament Church.
What has been hidden from even the professing Christian world is the real purpose of the Church--the real reason why Jesus Christ, the second Adam, founded the Church.
On the contrary, he "called-out"--drafted--twelve disciples. The word disciple means student. These twelve were students being taught by Jesus the true gospel of the kingdom of God. This involved the entire purpose of God in creating the human race on this earth. That meaning had been rejected, lost, by the first created man, Adam.
At this point let us recapitulate. God is the Creator and Supreme Ruler over his entire creation. He had placed the archangel Lucifer on earth's throne to administer the government of God. God's government is based on God's law. God's law is a way of life- -the way of outgoing love.
God's government was repudiated by Lucifer, who became Satan, and Satan ruled with the opposite way of life--rebellion, self- centeredness and conflict.
Adam, the first created human being, was given opportunity to receive eternal God-life with obedience to God and total submission to the law of God and God's government. He could have replaced Satan on earth's throne. He rejected the government and way of God. Thus Satan was left on the throne where he still rules as of this day. Adam and the human family were kidnapped, deceived into living the self-centered hostile way of Satan. Thereupon God closed off the tree of life and the Holy Spirit of God, until Jesus Christ, the second Adam, should conquer and replace Satan on earth's throne. At his First Coming, appearing on earth as the human Jesus, Christ came, not to seize the throne, but to conquer Satan, qualify to replace him on the throne, and to ransom the kidnapped world with his shed blood.
Now, why the Church? Christ came also to call out selected and chosen ones from Satan's world to turn from Satan's way into the way of God's law and to qualify to reign with Christ when he comes to replace Satan on the throne of the earth. Those called into the Church were called not merely for salvation and eternal life, but to learn the way of God's government and develop the divine character during this mortal life in the Church age.
Seven annual festivals were given to Old Testament Israel and were ordained forever. Their true meaning had long remained a hidden mystery. They picture God's plan of redemption--the divine plan by which God is reproducing himself. The Passover pictures the death of Christ in payment for the penalty of human sin repented of. The seven days of the Festival of Unleavened Bread picture the Church coming out if sin, even as Israel came out of Egypt. The Day of Pentecost, originally called Feast of Firstfruits, pictures the Church as the first to be begotten and born as children of God during the Church age. The Feast of Trumpets pictures the Second Coming of Christ to take over earth's throne and to rule all nations. The Day of Atonement pictures the putting away of Satan. The Feast of Tabernacles pictures the thousand-year reign under the rule of Christ and the born children of God. The Final Great Day pictured the final judgment which will be covered in Chapter 7. Let's return now to the subject of this chapter, the Church.
WHY the institution of the Church in the world?--WHY was it started, and for what purpose?
If you ask people in the non-Christian world where other religions are accepted they would probably have no answer. They know little about the Church. Those in the more modernist and liberal areas of traditional Christianity would probably say the Church exists merely as an emotional lift, having a psychological influence on those who have not embraced the evolutionary theory as accepted in modern higher education.
If you ask those who follow one of the evangelical Christian denominations they would probably say that the Church is God's instrument in his effort to save the world from an eternal hell fire. It has been assumed by those people that the Church is a sort of soul-saving station to get people "saved." If the Church came into existence as an instrumentality for "getting people saved," then, I ask, by what means did God try to save people prior to Christ's founding of the Church? Jesus did not appear until 4,000 years after Adam and the original sin. If God is and has been trying to convert the world, what means did he use during that 4,000 years between Adam and Christ? As we have seen in Chapter 3, God closed the tree of life at the foundation of the world. The Holy Spirit and salvation were shut off from the world during all these years.
But in view of the facts revealed by God Almighty in his Word, covered in the preceding chapters, all these suppositions are wrong. They only give vociferous testimony to the fact expressed in Revelation 12:9 that the whole world has been deceived by Satan the devil. Their minds have been blinded to the truth about God's purpose for humanity as stated in II Corinthians 4:3-4.
The existence of the Church, then, does indeed become a mystery to nearly everyone on the face of this earth.
News concerning some church appears frequently in newspapers and on newscasts. People think of a church on some near corner, or perhaps of some denomination in the news, but the fact of its existence would not occur to the mind to be a mystery. But when we ask, why do churches exist, how did the Church as an institution come into being?--what is its reason or purpose for its existence?- -does it make any difference whether, or to which church you belong?--then, indeed, it becomes a mystery. The average person has no answer.
The facts of the Church's origin and its purpose are revealed in that book of mystery--the Holy Bible. To make clear that mystery may well require more pages in this book than any other subject.
I never went through the experience in those years of being "converted." As I grew into the teens, I was told that I had a birthright membership in the church. I was led to take it for granted that I was an immortal soul and that when I died I would not really die, but rather pass away into heaven where I would have no responsibilities but only a life of idleness and ease in sublime glory forever and ever. But I was not religiously or doctrinally interested. I simply took churchgoing and a religious phase of life for granted. But I had no special or deep religious or spiritual interest, and by age 18 I started in the advertising business, lost all interest in religion or the things of God and gave up regular church attendance. I still believed in God--that is to say, I took the existence of God for granted since I had been taught of God's existence from earliest memory.
Then at age 25 I had met and married that one and only particular young woman. She was more seriously interested in the things of God. We began to feel that we should join a church. My wife's ancestry had been part Quaker and part Methodist. There was no Quaker church in the neighborhood where we lived in a Chicago suburb. We joined a Methodist church because it was located within walking distance, we liked the personality of the minister, and we liked the membership socially. I think our experience was typical of millions of others. But it never occurred to me to ask or even wonder why we ought to go to church, or why the institution of the church had ever come into being. Like millions of others I assumed that the "good people" went to church and so ought we.
Most think of the CHURCH as a building with a sharply sloping roof, a steeple pointing heavenward atop and a cross on its face. Indeed Webster defines the word church as a building. It was something altogether different when originally founded.
People suppose a church is a building to which people--some of them--flock on Sunday morning for "worship." They think people go to the church. As founded in the New Testament, the Church went to a building, at first a private home. And the Church assembled on a Saturday, not Sunday.
The churches of today have changed drastically from Christ's pattern! This fact, also, is cloaked in mystery, understood by virtually no one. But for WHAT PURPOSE did Christ found the Church? What has happened to it since?
Some may know Christ started the Church. But who and what is Christ? And if he was the founder of the Church, for what purpose did he start it? But Jesus founded only one Church. Yet in the Western world today there are many different churches--Catholic, Protestant, independents. And within them many denominations, sects and divisions or congregations, each with its differing beliefs, teachings, rituals and programs.
The Church started out as one Church. As it is recorded in I Corinthians 12 the Church consisted of many members, but only the one body--the one Church--of which Jesus Christ was the Head.
At the outset of this chapter we are primarily concerned with four basic questions that constitute a mystery that needs to be revealed with understanding.
"Do you know of any pulpit vacancies in Lane County?" he asked. "I want to support my wife, and she wants to remain here in Lane County."
"Well, yes," I replied. "I do know of one vacancy, but that wouldn't help you because that is a Christian church, and you are a Methodist with different beliefs and practices."
"Oh, that won't make any difference," he assured me. "I'll preach whatever doctrines they want me to preach."
But does it really make any difference what we believe? Let the Word of God answer that question.
The Church seems to be something concerned with worshiping with others. Supposedly it refers to the worship of God.
But if GOD is related to the Church, what is his relationship? How did the Church start? All this is a mystery to today's world.
Back in the early part of 1927 when my intense Bible study was bringing me toward conversion, I asked myself such questions. I supposed questions of that sort never enter the average mind.
In the New Testament Greek, the Church is called the ekklesia, a Greek word meaning called-out-ones--an assembly, a congregation, a gathering, a group. There is no sanctity to the word ekklesia. The name of the Church, however, used 12 times in the New Testament, is "Church of God," which denotes that it is GOD'S Church--which NAME attaches sanctity. The Old Testament Church was the " Congregation of Israel," a human man.
So this we know. Whatever the Church is, it belongs to GOD and its name is the CHURCH OF GOD. Jesus Christ is its founder, and he its living HEAD.
But if it is GOD'S Church--if Jesus Christ founded it and today heads it--it is something IMPORTANT TO GOD, and therefore VITAL THAT WE COME TO UNDERSTAND! We must bear in mind what went before--what led up to it--to understand WHY the living Christ created it--WHAT it is, and where it fits into the divine PURPOSE being worked out here below.
However, as we shall see, the Church of the New Testament is entirely different and has an entirely different purpose than the Old Testament "Congregation of Israel." Almost no one has understood that the gospel could not be proclaimed to the world, nor could God's called congregation of people have the Holy Spirit UNTIL Jesus a) had qualified by overcoming Satan, and b) had been glorified after ascension to heaven (John 7:37-39).
And that is something not even the theologians and church leaders of our day understand. It is, indeed, a mystery, which needs to be revealed and understood. Now let us understand clearly who and what is Christ.
We have already seen in chapter 1 that Christ, in the eternity before the world came into being, was the "Logos" who also was God, and as Jesus, was born as the Son of God. Now as the Son of God just what was Jesus? He was called the second Adam (I Cor. 15:45). Why should he be called the second Adam? The first Adam had the opportunity of taking of the tree of life, which meant God-life-- obeying God and thereby replacing Satan on the throne of the earth. Jesus came to do just that, to qualify to replace Satan on that throne and to start the government of God on the earth through those called out from Satan's world. He came also with a message from God called the gospel. The word gospel means good news. And actually, his gospel--the message sent by him from God--was the good news of the kingdom of God. And the kingdom of God, as we shall see, is to be the restoration of the government of God over the earth and the ousting of Satan from that throne.
Jesus came also to build the Church. And he came to pay the ransom price for a kidnapped world and by that price--his death--to pay the penalty incurred by all humans for their sins.
On trial for his life before Pilate, Jesus was asked, "Art thou a king then?" And Jesus answered: "Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world..." (John 18:37). Jesus also said (verse 36), "My kingdom is not of this world...[else] would my servants fight"--showing that this is Satan's world. Jesus came to call people out of this world to be prepared to teach and rule under him when he becomes King and takes over the throne of the earth.
Prior to the begettal and birth of Jesus, God had said to his mother-to-be, Mary, by his angel:
"And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his KINGDOM there shall be no end" (Luke 1:31-33).His gospel was the good news of that kingdom--the kingdom of God.
It is vital that we understand, at this point, that Jesus, during his human life, was both God and man. In Isaiah 7:14, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was prophesied as the virgin who was going to bear a son. That Son's name, in this prophecy, was to be called Immanuel, which means "God with us." In other words, Jesus was God as well as human man. He had no human father. God Almighty was his father who begat him by means of the Holy Spirit. But though Jesus was actually "God with us," he was also human like all other humans. He was subject to being tempted just as all other humans are tempted. Although he was actually God in the human flesh, yet in his ministry he functioned as a human. Remember, he was the second Adam. It was necessary for him that he, as a human, reject the "forbidden tree" and accept the tree of life. It was necessary that he, as the first Adam might have done, choose to rely completely on God the Father. In fact, God was actually in Christ and Jesus obeyed the Father completely. He qualified to wrest the throne of the earth from Satan.
In no other way could the Creator God have redeemed a vast humanity condemned to the penalty of death.
He was a strong, vigorous, young man of about 33 years of age, in the peak of health. Because he had never broken even a law of health, he suffered the process of dying as no other human ever did. He had been up all night without sleep during the trial before Pilate. Pilate, later that morning, delivered him to be scourged before being put to death.
Scourging consisted of being stripped to the waist, bound over in a bent position, tied to a post. He was beaten by whips made of leather thongs weighted down by pieces of lead, broken shards of bone and sharp jagged pieces of metal attached at intervals of four to five inches, along the leather thongs. They were designed to imbed themselves deeply into the flesh as the thongs wrapped themselves around the body. He was whipped until his flesh was torn open and even his ribs appeared. Scourging was intended to weaken the victims so they would die quickly on the stake of crucifixion. As foretold in Isaiah 52:14: "His visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men."
This indescribable scourging was endured that believers might be healed from physical transgression, sicknesses or disease (Isa. 53:5; I Pet. 2:24). What a terrible price our own very Maker paid that we might, by believing, be healed. Yet nearly all professing believers totally ignore what their Savior provided for them, and instead of relying on him, put their faith in human doctors, drugs, medicines and knives.
Jesus was so weakened by this terrible chastisement that he was unable to carry his cross, as he was required to do, but for a short distance. Another was appointed to carry it for him.
More than that, because at that moment he had taken on himself our sins, in order to pay the penalty in our stead, he was forsaken by even his Father, God. As he hung on the cross, helpless, a soldier stabbed him with a spear, he screamed in pain (Matt. 27:50, Moffatt) and then died. He did this because you and I have transgressed the law of God. He paid the supreme possible sacrifice for you and for me.
One more supremely vital truth. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was that of a human being and the only one that could make possible the resurrection of humans, once dead, to immortal life.
Now another vital prophecy. In Isaiah 9:6-7:
"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this."Notice the government would be on his shoulder. Jesus is going to be King over all the earth. And one of the purposes of his coming was to announce that kingdom. Jesus' gospel was not only good news--it was an announcement, or good news proclamation of the coming kingdom of God. What a tragedy that a "traditional Christianity" has forsaken and lost that vital and glorious gospel message and substituted their own gospel about the person of Christ.
Jesus was born as a human, to become a KING, ultimately to establish the KINGDOM OF GOD, ruling the whole earth with the GOVERNMENT OF GOD! But that RULE required more than the individual JESUS. The king, president, prime minister or ruler over every nation governs with and through a more or less vast organization of others who rule various phases and departments under him. Likewise, Christ must have an organized government with numerous others trained and qualified to rule under him. Jesus said, "I will build my church" (Matt. 16:18). The Church was to consist of many to be called out of Satan's world to be taught and trained for numerous governmental positions under Christ when he comes to rule over all the nations.
Remember, the tree of life, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, had been cut off from mankind at the foundation of the world after the sin of Adam. What the world does not understand is that the Spirit of God was cut off from humanity as a whole UNTIL the second Adam actually removes Satan and restores the government of God on the earth.
As for humanity as a whole, it was appointed at the time of Adam's sin for humans once to die and after death, by resurrection, shall come the judgment (Heb. 9:27).
The Holy Spirit was not given to the people of ancient Israel. Since God called and raised up prophets for a specific purpose preparatory to the salvation of humanity, it was necessary, in order for them to perform their called function, that an exception be made and they be empowered by the Holy Spirit.
In the same manner since God through Jesus was now calling out his Church for a specific function preparatory to the establishment of his kingdom and government over all nations, it was now necessary that the same exception be made for the Church and that they be empowered by the Holy Spirit.
God emphatically did not empower the prophets with his Spirit merely for the purpose of giving them salvation. Likewise, God did not call saints out of this world merely for their salvation and entrance into his kingdom. Otherwise God would be a respecter of persons to have called the few of his Church at this time, while refusing to call others to salvation.
If God is opening salvation to the few in his Church only to give them salvation, while he excluded the preponderance of the world as a whole until later, then God certainly would be a respecter of persons, discriminating against the world as a whole. Jesus said plainly no man can come unto him except God the Father draws him (John 6:44). A professed Christianity believes precisely the opposite. This false Christianity teaches that God is calling and trying to save everybody in this present time. If that were so, then Satan is certainly winning a great victory over God. For the overwhelming majority of mankind know little or nothing about Christ or salvation through him.
Those called out of the world and into the Church at this time are called for a specific purpose and a specific work. This specific work was to make possible the spiritual training to aid in the conversion of humanity as a whole. They are called at a time when they are persecuted and fought against by Satan and by the rest of the world. The rest of the world will be called at a time when Satan is removed and they are aided and helped by Christ and the saints then made immortal in the kingdom of God.
Satan has blinded the minds of the unbelieving world and the professing traditional "Christianity" to this fact (II Cor. 4:4). Satan has deceived the entire world, including a professing traditional "Christianity" (Rev. 12:9).
Neither professing Christians nor their scholarly theologian leaders today comprehend the major PURPOSES for which Jesus Christ came!
His human birth was the arrival of the "second Adam." He had come 1) to qualify, where the first Adam failed, to replace the former archangel Lucifer on the THRONE OF THE EARTH, ruling with the GOVERNMENT OF GOD. He had come 2) to announce the future establishment of the KINGDOM OF GOD and teach that prophetic good news (gospel) to his chosen future apostles. He had come 3) to take on himself, as our direct Creator, the penalty for our sins by his death on the cross--that we might share in that world. And he had come 4) to be resurrected from the dead by God, making possible ETERNAL GOD-LIFE for the people of God and after his Second Coming for all who are willing, of all humanity, who have ever lived on this earth. And he had come 5) to establish GOD'S CHURCH, to be trained to rule under him.
Immediately after the birth of the Christ-child, Satan sought, through the Roman-appointed King Herod, to physically slay the future KING (Matt. 2:13-15). But God warned Joseph and Mary to flee with the Christ-child into Egypt until King Herod was dead.
When Jesus was about age 30, he was ready to begin choosing his apostles, and proclaiming and teaching them his message from God to man--his gospel. But first, it was imperative that he QUALIFY to replace Satan and set up the KINGDOM OF GOD, by overcoming the devil.
This perhaps was the most important, momentous, decisive confrontation and battle ever fought in all time in the universe. It is described in detail in Matthew, chapter 4.
Satan struck his first blow at what he regarded as the most vulnerable points both physically and spiritually. Surely a man without food or water for 40 full days would be weakened to yield to almost any temptation for food. And the most vulnerable spiritual weakness is VANITY!
"If," sneered Satan tantalizing--he used that effective little word IF--"IF thou be the Son of God"--a normal human would have been insulted, indignant. He would have defiantly hurled back: "What do you mean, IF I be the Son of God? I'll show you that I am the Son of God!"
But Satan in this first attack, said, "IF thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread." In other words, "The Son of God can produce miracles. PROVE to me you are the Son of God! You are desperately hungry. Perform a miracle. Feed yourself by a miracle!"
But Jesus only answered by quoting and obeying the Word of God: "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."
Satan's first and most effective strike was parried. But Satan never gives up. He took Jesus into Jerusalem and sat him on a high pinnacle of the Temple. He continued to QUESTION that Jesus was the Son of God.
"IF thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone." Now Satan quoted Scripture. But he misapplied it, twisted its contextual meaning, just as Satan so frequently influences scholars to do.
Jesus came back to him, "It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." This is quoted from Deuteronomy 6:16 and refers to tempting YHWH (Hebrew), who became Christ.
But still Satan did not give up.
Next he took Jesus atop a high mountain, showing him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me."
Jesus did not deny that Satan was now over the nations of this world. This was a temptation for gaining immediate power. Satan well knew Jesus would inherit all these kingdoms more than 1,900 years later. But he tempted Jesus to take Satan's word that he would turn them over and give Christ world power IMMEDIATELY. But Jesus decided it was time to END this titanic battle for the rulership over the earth.
Jesus now snapped out an ORDER--a COMMAND showing that he was MASTER over Satan!
"Get thee hence, Satan!" he commanded with supreme AUTHORITY! Satan slunk away defeated. But Satan did not give up. Nor has he given up yet. He battles against God's CHURCH still today!
Jesus came, among other purposes, to call out of the world his CHURCH. Those called out had been in--and OF--this world. Each had brought on himself by sin the supreme DEATH PENALTY. But God had created ALL THINGS by the WORD who became Jesus Christ. Therefore, Jesus' life was greater in value than that of all humanity collectively!
Picture a human son of the wealthiest, most powerful man on earth. The tycoon's son is his heir--to inherit his immense wealth. He has been allocated a sizable portion of it already while an heir. This young man feels deep affection for another young man. His friend has committed a crime, plunged into debt for millions of dollars, which he cannot pay. He is deeply repentant but unable to save himself from imprisonment for the theft. In compassion for his friend, the son pays the multimillion-dollar debt out of his own money. His guilty friend's debt is PAID IN FULL. His guilt--his tremendous obligation--no longer hangs over him--he is freed from that obligation and its heavy penalties!
All humanity had followed father Adam--had brought over it the supreme DEATH PENALTY. Before Jesus (the "WORD"), now the Son of GOD, could found his CHURCH, those called out of the world into that CHURCH must be freed from the supreme DEATH PENALTY, so that they might inherit ETERNAL LIFE!
One of the purposes for which Jesus came as a human to earth was to PAY THAT PENALTY--that supreme DEATH PENALTY--for those called into his Church not only, but ultimately to free ALL HUMANITY each in his due time!
But since that DEATH PENALTY he would pay for sinning humanity would END his human life, paying it was reserved as his final human act after all other purposes of his human life had been finished.
Nevertheless this gives the reader a grasp of HOW GREAT is the Jesus who came to found the CHURCH OF GOD! Continually bear in mind that, although his earthly ministry began when he was barely 30 years old (in his HUMAN life) yet he was the EVER-LIVING--the ETERNAL--who had ALWAYS existed. How GREAT was that 30-year-old human life!
And this Jesus, who had grown up in the town of Nazareth, had since human birth resisted and overcome SATAN--had rejected Satan's self-centered way of "GET," and in the final titanic confrontation had QUALIFIED to RESTORE the GOVERNMENT OF GOD and to establish on earth the KINGDOM OF GOD, to rule that government! Where the first Adam had failed to do this, Jesus the second Adam succeeded.
Jesus looked on Simon, and said to him, "Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas [in Greek, PETER]," meaning a stone (John 1:42).
In Mark 3:14, 16, we read: "And he [Jesus] ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach....And Simon he surnamed Peter." A surname is, according to Webster, "an added name derived from occupation."
The surname Peter had for centuries been a surname or TITLE, designating a religious LEADER, HEAD or HEADQUARTERS. Peter was the first and chief apostle. An apostle is "one sent forth to proclaim or preach."
So, at the very beginning of his earthly ministry, preparing the FOUNDATION for the Church, Jesus Christ chose his chief human apostle and the other original 11. They, with the prophets whose writings were preserved from the days of God's first chosen Congregation (and NATION), Israel, were to form the very FOUNDATION of God's CHURCH. Jesus himself was to be not only Founder but HEAD, and chief "corner stone" of the CHURCH (Eph. 2:19-21; 5:23).
But Jesus had himself chosen his apostles. He said to them later, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you" (John 15:16, 19).
Now Jesus began proclaiming the gospel MESSAGE God the Father had sent into the world by him as God's Messenger (Mal. 3:1). We read of it in Mark chapter 1:
"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God....Jesus came into Galilee, preaching [proclaiming, teaching] the gospel of the KINGDOM OF GOD, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:1, 14-15).And, from Matthew, "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (Matt. 4:23).
This prophetic message (gospel) of the KINGDOM OF GOD will be explained in detail in Chapter 7. It was the GOOD NEWS of the future establishment on earth of the GOVERNMENT OF GOD, restored and administered by the divine GOD FAMILY--the KINGDOM OF GOD, to replace the present evil world of Satan.
Jesus' proclaiming of this amazing future NEWS--combined with his miracles of healing, turning water into wine and others, caused great excitement. Immense crowds followed him and his disciples. He was teaching his disciples to become the future apostles, while he preached this message to the public.
Immediately they feared being accused of sedition and disloyalty, losing their jobs and probably being executed as subversives. So they opposed and denounced Jesus.
Traditional Christianity has really never understood this basic reason for Pharisaical opposition and persecution of Jesus. The Pharisees included unscrupulous politicians.
At the time of the first Passover to occur during Jesus' ministry, the spring of A.D. 28 (almost exactly 100 time cycles-- 1,900 years--before I kept my first Passover), Jesus went up to Jerusalem for the Passover.
While there, a notable Pharisee named Nicodemus came to see Jesus secretly by night. He feared having fellow Pharisees know he had talked personally with Jesus.
Nicodemus said, "Rabbi, we know [we Pharisees know] that thou art a teacher come from God."
The Pharisees KNEW JESUS WAS THE MESSIAH! They were familiar with Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6-7, Isaiah 53. The Pharisees KNEW Jesus was the prophesied Messiah. But they understood only one Messianic appearance. So they supposed he was planning to overthrow the Roman Empire then!
Of course Jesus knew what they were thinking. So he launched immediately into the fact that the KINGDOM OF GOD, ruling all nations, could not be set up UNTIL the time of the NEW SPIRIT BIRTH--the time of the RESURRECTION!
But Nicodemus did not understand this. He knew that being born was an actual BIRTH--parturition from the womb of the mother. Today's theologians do not know even that! They deny a real second birth as a spirit being. They spiritualize away the real truth by assuming that merely saying that one accepts Christ as his Savior constitutes being born again. In this, Satan had deceived them and in turn they have deceived millions of others.
Nicodemus said, "How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb and be born?"
Jesus now made the meaning PLAIN--but Nicodemus did not receive his PLAINNESS of speech, nor do theologians or religious leaders today.
"Verily, verily," replied Jesus, "...except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh IS FLESH; and that which is born of the Spirit IS SPIRIT" (emphasis mine--John 3:5-6).
The Pharisees knew about water baptism. They had used it for years in converting gentile proselytes to Judaism. They knew of John the Baptist's baptism--a baptism of repentance "for the remission of sins" (Mark 1:4). Jesus' meaning should have been PLAIN to Nicodemus--that water baptism was an initiatory rite preparatory to the start of being BORN of the Spirit.
Jesus made it doubly PLAIN when he said, "That which is born of the flesh IS flesh." That which is born of humans IS mortal HUMAN--composed of flesh and blood--composed of MATTER from the ground. "That which is born of the Spirit IS SPIRIT"--no longer human but composed of SPIRIT, immortal! No longer composed of matter or flesh.
Jesus explained even further. "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." Then he compared one born again to INVISIBLE WIND--invisible to human eyes. "The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8 RSV).
But Nicodemus did not understand such plainness of speech, nor do religious leaders today!
Our free booklet What Do You Mean--Born Again? should be read by every reader of this book.
To this representative of the Pharisees Jesus referred to the "salvation" or "spiritual" phase of the kingdom of God. That kingdom will NOT be composed of mortal humans! It is NOT composed of mortal flesh-and-blood persons who have "accepted Christ" and joined a church of their choice! Yet millions of church members are deceived about that today.
These millions of church members do not understand WHAT the Church IS, nor WHY--its PURPOSE--the REASON for it!
Compare Jesus' explanation to Nicodemus with the "resurrection chapter" of the Bible, I Corinthians 15:
"And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living [mortal] soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earth, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God..." (I Cor. 15:45-50).I repeat again and again, GOD IS REPRODUCING HIMSELF! The popular teaching in churches today is that THE CHURCH is the kingdom of God. But "flesh and blood [mortal humans] cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (I Cor. 15:50).
To many--and probably most--the Church plays no part in their lives. Indeed God plays no part in their lives. God is not consciously in their world. Just people, material things and interests. Of course, far back in the subconscious recesses of many minds may lie the dormant supposition that God exists. But he does not seem REAL to them.
That means also that the average person has no conception of what he is, why he is, or of any purpose or meaning for his being alive. Yet the CHURCH, too, does exist. But, again, WHY? WHAT is it, really? What PURPOSE does it serve?
We have seen that there is indeed a PURPOSE being worked out here below. Winston Churchill stated that before the United States Congress. There is a REASON for the presence of humanity on the earth. And for the working out of that PURPOSE there is a MASTER PLAN. The CHURCH is an important part of that plan.
Never lose sight of the setting that led up to the raising up of the Church. Keep in mind WHO and WHAT God is--the divine creating family, now reproducing himself in man.
Bear in mind further: In order for Christ to RESTORE God's government over the earth, he would need with and under him a qualified and organized personnel of GOD BEINGS--all having rejected Satan's false way and having proved their loyalty to the government and righteous ways of GOD!
God's CHURCH was designed in his supreme master plan to prepare that dedicated and organized personnel of GOD BEINGS. The Church, then, became God's instrumentality for aiding him in bringing about the salvation to humanity.
Remember God has set out a 7,000-year master plan for accomplishing his purpose. We have stated that his purpose is to reproduce himself. But actually reproducing himself means converting the world from sin into God's righteousness. It means instilling within God's potential children the perfect spiritual character of God. They would become finally born sons in the God family.
And just as God has not created all at once, but in successive stages, so he is bringing salvation to the world in successive stages. The Church is a necessary instrumentality preparatory to, and in order to, bring salvation to humanity. Therefore, once again, let it be emphasized that the purpose of the Church is not merely to give salvation to those called into the Church, but to teach and train those predestined and called into the Church as instruments God shall use in bringing the world to salvation.
The CHURCH was planned to be God's instrumentality for calling predestinated human beings out of this world to be trained for positions of leadership in the world tomorrow, when they shall teach and train others. That is why in the New Testament, the Church is called the firstfruits of God's salvation.
All this necessitated certain vital steps--one at a time--in the procedure of God's supreme master plan!
Now we remind the reader that the Holy Spirit was closed to humanity at the time of Adam's sin at the very foundation of the world. It was closed to humanity as a whole UNTIL Christ the second Adam should restore the government of God and unseat Satan from the throne of the earth. That fact is made clear by Jesus' statement in John 6:44, applying to this Church age, that no person could come to him except the Father that sent him draws them. That is why repeatedly in the New Testament those in the Church are referred to as having been called or chosen. That is why the Church is called a chosen generation. That is why predestination is mentioned twice in the New Testament--that the called were predestinated to be called. Indeed, they have been drafted. They are not volunteers.
That may come as an astonishing new truth, but the more you study the New Testament, and how this truth is constantly borne out throughout the New Testament, the more clear this will become to you.
No wonder the Church and its purpose has been a mystery. Satan has blinded the minds of a deceived and counterfeit Christianity.
Anyone who "joins the church of his choice" has not come into God's true Church. One cannot just "join" the TRUE Church of God. One is first selected and drawn by God the Father through his Spirit, brought to a complete heartrending repentance and changed in his total life-style, and has also not only believed in and accepted Jesus Christ as personal Savior, but also has believed Christ. Remember Christ is the Word of God. Jesus was the Word of God in Person. The Bible is the same Word of God in writing. To believe Christ is to believe what he says--in other words, to believe God's Word the Holy Bible.
So, once again, WHAT and WHY is the CHURCH? The Church is the called out (from this world) begotten children of God. It is the Body of Christ (I Cor. 12:27; Eph. 1:23). It is the spiritual organism that shall be the "Bride of Christ"--after its resurrection to immortality. Then it shall be married to Christ! It is the spiritual TEMPLE to which Christ shall come at his second appearing (Eph. 2:21).
The Church could not be actually founded UNTIL Jesus had ascended and been glorified (John 7:37-39). But in a sense God began calling out some to form the foundation of the Church with Abraham and the prophets of the Old Testament--even, perhaps, with Abel, Enoch and Noah (Eph. 2:20).
And Jesus, immediately after qualifying by overcoming Satan, began calling out his future apostles. They were to form, with the prophets, the very FOUNDATION of the Church, under Christ who himself is the real foundation and HEAD of the Church (I Cor. 3:11; Eph. 5:23).
The average person has no conception whatever of the tremendous, supreme supernatural achievement Almighty God has undertaken in REPRODUCING HIMSELF--ultimately into billions of spiritual GOD BEINGS! Or of the many-faceted stages of development necessitated in this pinnacle of all divine accomplishments!
Few UNDERSTAND this!
God put it in my mind and heart when I was a child only 5 years old to desire--to literally crave--UNDERSTANDING! Solomon desired wisdom and God gave him wisdom above all who ever lived.
What, then, is the necessary prerequisite to receiving UNDERSTANDING? A good understanding have all they that do his commandments" (Ps. 111:10). The one test commandment is the fourth- -keeping God's Sabbath. My conversion resulted from a struggle to resist that commandment! But when a merciful God conquered me-- brought me to surrender to him on that point--he revealed also the necessity of observing his ANNUAL Sabbaths and festivals. These picture the seven major spiritual steps in the great master plan. (This truth is explained in our free booklet Pagan Holidays or God's Holy Days--Which?) Through this and other revealed knowledge of the Holy Bible, God gave me UNDERSTANDING of the working out of his great PURPOSE! And also the necessary part of his CHURCH in fulfillment of that glorious purpose!
After Adam's rebellion, with Satan still on earth's throne, only God could have known how gradually, cautiously, a step at a time, must be the procedure.
Such righteous men as Abel, Enoch and Noah undoubtedly were used to play some part in the ultimate creation of the KINGDOM OF GOD. But the Eternal began laying the actual foundation of that ultimate GOD FAMILY through the patriarch Abraham. Isaac, Jacob and Joseph formed part of that prefoundation.
Then through Moses, God raised up the nation Israel--God's first Congregation or Church. That Old Covenant Church was given God's government, but NOT his Holy Spirit! Israelites were not begotten to become future GOD BEINGS. Yet ancient Israel fulfilled a necessary part in God's supreme program.
Nevertheless, during those years, God continued to call and prepare individual PROPHETS to become part of the FOUNDATION for his CHURCH.
Through the years from Abraham until Christ, God had called out of Satan's world begotten and prepared PROPHETS, as the preliminary co-foundation of God's CHURCH! Jesus himself is the main foundation.
During Jesus' 3 1/2 year earthly ministry, he called out, chose and trained, to begin with, the second co-foundation, his original 12 apostles.
During his human earthly ministry, Jesus announced publicly the future KINGDOM OF GOD. He taught and trained his apostles as he proceeded.
But he DID NOT CALL to salvation the public to whom he preached. he spoke to them frequently in parables. And WHY in parables? To cloud, to hide from them the meaning (Matt. 13:10-16) that was given to his chosen apostles to understand. There was an all important reason why God's plan, a step at a time, did not, as yet, call for saving the world. God first called out the Church to be converted and changed to become kings and priests (Rev. 5:10) under Jesus WHEN Jesus comes to save the world. Consequently, much of the truth was revealed to the Church, which was being trained to assist Christ in saving the world. But the time had not yet come to reveal these truths to the world. Yet this world's churches are teaching doctrines diametrically contrary to this truth.
Understand, however, Christ DID NOT take on himself Satan's primary share in all human sins. Satan will continue to pay his own penalty throughout all eternity!
The FOUNDATION for the Church of God had been laid. Christ himself is the Head and chief cornerstone--the main foundation. His apostles, with the prophets, formed the remainder of the foundation.
The apostles were chafing at the bit to GET STARTED--to go forth proclaiming the gospel message. But God has wisely used restraint, with patience, taking a proper step at a time. So Jesus cautioned his apostles to WAIT! "Tarry ye," he commanded (Luke 24:49), "in the city of Jerusalem, UNTIL ye be endued with power from on high."
Ten days later came the annual Day of Pentecost, originally named the Feast of Firstfruits (Num. 28:26).
On that day the Holy Spirit came! On that day THE CHURCH WAS FOUNDED!
That day symbolized the very firstfruits for God's kingdom. God's feast days picture God's spiritual harvest. The very first portion of God's spiritual harvest of humans finally to be born of God--made GOD BEINGS--is THE CHURCH! That's why even those who shall be born into the kingdom of God at Christ's return starting with ancient prophets are part of the CHURCH OF GOD. Even prophets of Old Testament times are part of the FOUNDATION OF THE CHURCH (Eph. 2:19-21).
All--prophets, apostles and Church brethren in whom resided the Holy Spirit--shall be resurrected and/or changed to immortality at Christ's coming in GLORY and POWER!
Thus the WHOLE CHURCH constitutes the very FIRST of all humans who shall be finally BORN AGAIN into the kingdom of GOD. They shall be GOD BEINGS!
HOW DECEIVED (Rev. 12:9) have been all those who think they already have been "born again." The reader should request our free booklet Just What Do You Mean--Born Again?
Unless or UNTIL a son of Adam could qualify where Adam failed- -could overcome and conquer SATAN--could pay the penalty of human sin and ransom the world from Satan--none could restore GOD'S GOVERNMENT--none could be given eternal GOD-life!
The supreme master plan for working out GOD'S PURPOSE-- reproducing himself--called for the self-existing "WORD" to be born of human flesh as a son of Adam. But ALSO that plan called for him to be born as the only begotten Son of GOD!
The Messiah, and he alone, would be able to overcome and conquer Satan--to QUALIFY to replace Satan ON THE THRONE OF THE EARTH! Only through him could the sons of Adam be reconciled to GOD, receive God's Spirit, become GOD'S sons--become the GOD BEINGS by whom God should have finally reproduced himself!
What a superb incredible master plan for such a SUPREME PURPOSE! HOW GREAT IS THE ETERNAL GOD WHO DESIGNED IT!
This wonderful plan of God therefore of necessity called for the sons of Adam in general to be NOT YET JUDGED! God left them to their own devices--knowing full well they would willingly and willfully follow automatically Satan's "GET" way.
But meanwhile they would not be finally judged, but "reaping what they sowed." They would live this sinful life, die, and God would RESURRECT them in a special resurrection to JUDGMENT in the end of the 7,000 years of the master plan. Christ already having atoned for their sins--Satan having been removed--Christ and the kingdom of God having restored the government of God over the earth--then they could be CALLED to repentance, to reconciliation to GOD, to becoming, on their then free choice, GOD BEINGS!
And THAT'S WHY God has kept the world as a whole CUT OFF from him, even as their progenitor Adam had cut off himself and his human family.
"For," continues Paul, "as ye [Christians] in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. For GOD hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy UPON ALL"!
And at this point Paul shouted out in writing: "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (Rom. 11:25, 30-32).
True, the apostle wrote the above concerning ISRAEL, and I have applied it to all uncalled humanity--but it is truly applicable.
God called and prepared the Old Testament prophets. He has called and still calls and prepares the CHURCH to overcome Satan-- whereas those now blinded, uncalled and cut off from God have NOT had to overcome Satan. WHY?
WHY the CHURCH?
That we may QUALIFY to rule WITH and UNDER CHRIST in the kingdom of God--that we may prepare the way for the ULTIMATE CALL AND SALVATION OF THE WORLD!
At this point let me quote two passages from the direct word of Jesus, which apply ONLY to the CHURCH:
To the CHURCH of this twentieth century Jesus says, "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne" (Rev. 3:21).
Then again to the CHURCH Jesus says, "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).
In that passage of Scripture Jesus showed plainly why some are called out of this world into the Church at this present time. Not because he is trying to save the world, and we are part of the world. Not just that we may be saved and make it into his kingdom, but, as Jesus also said in Revelation 5:10, to be kings and priests and reign with and under Christ when he sets his hand to bring salvation to the world.
I cannot make this truth too plain. I fear many, even in the Church, do not fully comprehend just what is a real conversion.
Conversion takes place in the mind, and that faculty of mind we call the heart. This could never be fully understood without an understanding of the actual makeup of the human mind, as explained in Chapter 3 of this work. It could never be understood, until the knowledge was revealed through the Bible, of the human spirit in man and the actual composition of the human mind.
As the human mind differs from the animal brain by the addition of the human spirit, so the converted person differs from the unconverted person by the addition of the Holy Spirit.
How much greater is the capacity and output of the human mind than that of the animal brain? The realization of that difference should make clear to us the vast difference between a converted mind being led by the Holy Spirit, and mind of the unconverted.
One does not receive the Holy Spirit until he has first of all repented. God grants repentance (Acts 11:18). The second condition to receiving the Holy Spirit is faith. That means not only believing in God and in Christ, but since Christ is the Word or Spokesman of the God family, it means believing what he says.
Repentance means a change of mind. Godly sorrow is a much deeper sorrow than remorse. And godly sorrow leads to repentance. It involves not only heartfelt sorrow for past sins, but a total change of attitude, of mind and direction and purpose of life. Actually, repentance is more concerned with future conduct than the past. The blood of Christ has atoned for the past. Repentance is not penance. Nothing you can do can make up for past guilt. The blood of Christ has paid the price of past guilt. It has washed the slate clean.
A converted person is a person with a totally changed, or converted mind. A converted mind in which the very mind of God is joined with the human mind. As God says through the apostle Paul, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5). The Holy Spirit is the spirit of a sound mind, which is a completely changed mind. It has made an about-face in its desires, purposes and intentions.
In ancient Israel God gave them knowledge of his law, but not his Spirit. Their minds were not converted or changed. They were still carnal. And the natural mind is hostile against God (Rom. 8:7). There was no conversion in ancient Israel--no salvation. The 37th chapter of Ezekiel reveals how those of ancient Israel will receive the Spirit of God, if willing, in the Great White Throne Judgment.
One receiving and led by the Holy Spirit is a changed person. He has undergone a renewing of the mind. Until the knowledge of the human spirit in man was revealed, and that God's Spirit can unite with human spirit, true salvation could not be fully understood. A Christian must grow and develop in grace, spiritual knowledge and godly character.
Jesus Christ is the first of the firstfruits. He is the firstborn of many brethren (I Cor. 15:23; Rom. 8:29). The Church is being called to be changed, developed in character, and finally born at Christ's Second Coming as God Beings, to be kings and priests under Christ when he will set his hand to save the world.
In a sense, then, the Church shall become co-saviors with Christ. Two things basically were required of Christ to save the world. First it was necessary for him, who was the Maker of us all, to die for all, thus paying the death penalty in our stead. No one could do this but Jesus Christ alone.
But many have not realized that we are not saved by the blood of Christ. You will read in Romans 5:10 that we are reconciled to God the Father by the death of Christ, but we shall be saved by his life--by the resurrection. I am writing this particular passage on what the world calls "Easter Sunday." Today, the churches and the evangelists have said much about the resurrection of Christ, but virtually nothing about the resurrection of all who shall be saved, and of the resurrection by which people may be saved.
Jesus alone could make the sacrifice in payment of our past sins. But the world must look for salvation through his life after his resurrection. The Church is the affianced Bride of Christ to be married to the Son of God on his return, after the resurrection of those in the Church. After we have attained to the resurrection of the dead, as the wife of the Son of God, and members of the God family, we shall be not only heirs and co-heirs with Christ, but in a sense, co-saviors.
The family of God will grow. As kings and priests, the Church in the resurrection will be co-rulers under Christ in restoring the government of God over all nations. But we shall also be, as priests, co-saviors with him in saving the world.
Before Jesus could qualify to become our Savior and future King, it was necessary for him, as the second Adam, to do what the first Adam failed to do--to overcome Satan and to choose the mind and government of God instead. If the Church is to rule with and under him--if the Church is to be priests as well as kings, aiding, under Christ in saving the world, it was also necessary that those in the Church must also qualify by resisting and overcoming Satan.
That will not be required of the overwhelming majority of others when salvation comes to them. Salvation will not come to them until after Satan has been put away. So, you see, it was far from discriminating against the rest of the world, when Jesus said, "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him" (John 6:44). It was necessary that the Church be called at a time when each member had to turn from, resist and overcome Satan. Otherwise we of the Church could not qualify for the wonderful position of becoming kings and priests in the kingdom of God during the 1,000 years.
This explains the WHY of the Church--its great PURPOSE.
When I came among the brethren of the Church of God, there were questions among the leaders respecting the nature of Church organization. At that time, 1927, the Church was organized on the pattern of a biannual general conference. Each local congregation could send one member to the biannual general conference and thus had one vote in election of officers, questions of Church doctrine and Church policy. A local congregation could consist of as few as five members.
But division over Church organization and government began about 1930. By 1933 the Church was divided right down the middle. Two leaders organized a new Church, departing from its headquarters at Stanberry, Missouri, setting up its new headquarters at Salem, West Virginia. They adopted a system of organization that they erroneously called "Bible organization."
This new organization consisted of twelve men named as apostles--designated as "the twelve." Seven men were appointed to the office of deacon, the chairman of whom was the treasurer handling the money. Then there were "the seventy"--or seventy leading elders. This was copied from the ancient Sanhedrin in Judaism. However, there were not enough ordained ministers within the church to make up more than half of "the seventy."
The Roman Catholic Church is organized on the hierarchical system with the pope in supreme authority, a college of cardinals next in authority, a curia at headquarters in the Vatican with archbishops, bishops and priests.
The Presbyterian Church is organized with the presbyters or ministers in control. The Congregational Church delegates top authority to the congregation--"government by the consent of the governed."
And so it goes. The churches of this world of Satan are organized according to humanly devised patterns. But the Bible gives explicit directions in regard to Church government. Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. God's form of government is, indeed, hierarchical. God the Father is head over Christ--the sole Lawgiver and supreme authority.
God explains in I Corinthians 12 functions, offices, administrations and their officers as GOD set them in his Church.
"Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant....Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all....But all these worketh that one and selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, ARE ONE BODY: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we [in the Church] be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free..." (I Cor. 12:1, 4-6, 11-13).
So notice, too, the Church conducts VARIOUS OPERATIONS. For these in the ONE Church there are also various ADMINISTRATIONS or executive departments, with an executive manager over each department or operation (verses 4-6). Remember, an executive administrator DOES NOT SET POLICY OR PROCEDURES OR DOCTRINES. He administers--he carries out and directs--what has been already set from above.
Even in this world, in the United States the President does NOT MAKE THE LAWS. He administers the policies as functions authorized by Congress-enforces the laws made by Congress. Administrators are set in the Church merely to supervise, direct, execute the policies, procedures, doctrines assigned to them from above.
The ONE Church, undivided, is emphasized again in verse 20: "But now are they many members, yet BUT ONE BODY"--ONE UNDIVIDED CHURCH! Even GOD is composed of more than one Personage, yet but the ONE GOD! GOD, remember, is the divine GOD FAMILY. Those in the Church are already begotten sons--begotten members of that GOD FAMILY. But not yet BORN as GOD BEINGS!
Notice verse 25: "That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another."
To administer these many operations, God--not a vote of the members--"hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers." Or, as stated in more detail in Ephesians 4:11 (RSV): "And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers."
An apostle is "one sent forth" with Christ's gospel message, including the supervision of proclaiming that message to the world by means and persons other than himself. Also an apostle was given supervision over all the local congregations or churches (I Cor. 16:1). The apostle Paul had oversight over the churches of the Gentile world (II Cor. 11:28).
The prophets set in the foundation of the Church are those of the Old Testament, whose writings were used to form a considerable part of New Testament and gospel teaching and functioning. No prophets are mentioned as having either administrative, executive or preaching functions in the New Testament Church.
Evangelists were leading ministers, proclaiming the gospel to the public, even raising up local churches and having supervision over some churches under the apostle. Therefore an evangelist may hold executive functions under the apostle in the Church headquarters or work today. An evangelist is not necessarily stationary. Pastors are stationary pastors over a local church or contingent group of local churches. Then there were placed in the Church teachers--not necessarily preachers. Yet all ministers and teachers are called elders in other New Testament texts. Therefore, in God's Church today there are both preaching and nonpreaching elders. Preaching elders pastor local churches. Then some elders, not preaching, are called local elders in the Church today.
The CHURCH is the spiritual Body of Christ--not a secular or worldly organization, club or institution. Yet it is HIGHLY ORGANIZED.
Notice how thoroughly organized: "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God." Notice the Church is a FAMILY, even as GOD is a divine FAMILY--"the household of God." Continue:
"And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building"--the Church is a building "fitly framed together" (WELL ORGANIZED--all parts joined and functioning together in harmony and teamwork)--"groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph. 2:19-22).This scripture plainly reveals the temple to which the glorified world-ruling Christ shall come at his soon Second Coming. There is no scripture foretelling the construction of a material temple in Jerusalem before Christ's appearing. The 40th chapter of Ezekiel, however, describes the building of a temple after the return of Christ.
The Church, then, is to grow into a HOLY TEMPLE--the spiritual TEMPLE to which Christ shall come--even as he came to a material temple of stone and metals and wood the first time.
Notice further: "...the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together"--ORGANIZED--"and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body..." (Eph. 4:15-16). Compacted means knit together, compressed together, as closely together as if welded together. This shows ORGANIZED UNITY, HARMONY! It is commanded that those in the Church be so united that they "all speak the same thing" (I Cor. 1:10).
Old Testament Israel, the Church of the Old Testament, was also a nation in the world--though not OF the world as God organized it. Its GOVERNMENT was HIERARCHICAL. It was theocratic government--government from the top down--the very opposite of "democracy."
The CHURCH is organized under theocratic government, hierarchical in form. The members do not set officials in the Church. God sets EVEN THE LAY MEMBERS in the Church (I Cor. 12:18).
Jesus said explicitly, "No MAN CAN come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him" (John 6:44). The world, except for the specially called, is CUT OFF from God!
We have just covered the truth that GOD set officials to serve on the human level under Christ, in the Church. Members do not elect them. Yet in the churches of this world some believe in government by the entire congregation--"democracy"--and call themselves "Congregational." Others have organized themselves into government by ministers or presbytery and call themselves "Presbyterian." Some follow Luther and call themselves "Lutheran." Some follow Wesley, who was strong on "method," and call themselves "Methodist." Some learned God's truth about baptizing and call their church after the name of that one doctrine, "Baptist." One wanted complete universal world dominion, and called itself "Catholic," which means "universal." What is the name of the Church Jesus founded?
"...Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be ONE, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name....And now come I to thee....I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not OF the world, even as I am not OF the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil [one]. They are not OF the world, even as I am not OF the world. Sanctify them through THY TRUTH: THY 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 five passages where the true NAME of the Church appears, the entire body of Christ--the Church as a whole--is indicated. Thus when speaking of the entire Church, including all its individual members on earth, the name is "The CHURCH OF GOD." Here are these five passages:
6) I Corinthians 1:2: "THE CHURCH OF GOD which is at Corinth."
7) II Corinthians 1:1: "THE CHURCH OF GOD which is at Corinth."
8) I Timothy 3:5: In speaking of a local elder in a local congregation, Paul wrote Timothy: "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of THE CHURCH OF GOD?"
9) I Timothy 3:15: "...behave thyself in the house of God, which is THE CHURCH OF THE LIVING GOD." Here it is the Church of the living God.
In speaking of the local congregation collectively, not as one general body, but as the total of all local congregations, the Bible name is "The CHURCHES OF GOD." Here are the final three verses of the 12 which name the Church:
10) I Corinthians 11:16: "...We have no such custom, neither THE CHURCHES OF GOD."
11) I Thessalonians 2:14: "For ye, brethren, became followers of THE CHURCHES OF GOD which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus."
12) II Thessalonians 1:4: "So that we ourselves glory in you in THE CHURCHES OF GOD."
Yet none is truly the Church OF GOD, unless it is GOD'S CHURCH, continuing in doctrine, practice, organization, in all ways on the original biblical pattern, headed by Jesus Christ, yet belonging to God the Father, empowered by the Holy Spirit, having GOD'S TRUTH, fulfilling Christ's commission of proclaiming his GOOD NEWS of the KINGDOM OF GOD to the world as a whole.
And there is only ONE such Church! And it CANNOT BE DIVIDED. It remains ONE.
In I Corinthians 1, the apostle Paul was inspired to command that all in the Church "SPEAK THE SAME THING." There must be no division in what is believed, taught or preached.
Are they, then, evil? Not consciously or knowingly, necessarily. The world of humanity has been CUT OFF from God. Satan is still on earth's throne, next in power to GOD himself! And the whole world is DECEIVED by Satan (Rev. 12:9). Those deceived are not aware that they are deceived. If so they would not be deceived! They may be ever so sincere in believing they are right!
Are they condemned? By no means! They are simply NOT YET JUDGED--neither "condemned" nor "saved." Few indeed realize the magnitude of Satan's power and the extent of his DECEPTION!
It is SATAN who is evil and diabolical. But he is an INVISIBLE being and force--unseen and unrecognized by mortal humans.
Satan is a great COUNTERFEITER! He appears as "an angel of light" (II Cor. 11:13-15). And he has his counterfeit CHURCHES! His ministers are deceived by him into believing they are "ministers of righteousness" and of Christ (II Cor. 11:15; Matt. 24:5).
"But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him....For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works" (II Cor. 11:3-4, 13- 15).Notice these deceived but false churches believe they are the true church, and their ministers "are transformed as the ministers of righteousness"--in other words, appear to be the true ministers of Jesus Christ. And indeed, many of them may be entirely sincere, being themselves deceived. Yet they have neither known nor preached Jesus' true Gospel of THE KINGDOM OF GOD (Matt. 24:14). Nor do they comprehend what is written in this book about the CHURCH OF GOD!
But these run afoul on pivotal truths. Usually they do not have the proper name, The Church of God. Neither do they know or proclaim the kingdom of God or what it is--that is to say, they do not have or proclaim the true gospel of Christ. They do not have God's government headed by Jesus Christ, with apostles, evangelists, pastors and other elders. They do not know what salvation is. They do not understand God's purpose or plan.
One original Church, much persecuted and opposed, but still in existence, has these evidences proving it to be the original true Church. And even this Church, until after the year of 1933, had lost many of these vital truths. At least 18 basic and essential truths have been restored to the true Church since that year.
And WHY NOT? People naturally and normally think only of and about physical and material things. People do not realize it, but they have been CUT OFF from God! The human mind, unless and until it receives the Holy Spirit of GOD, cannot think spiritually--cannot know spiritual knowledge--cannot understand human problems, troubles, evils or purposed of human existence.
But the CHURCH is GOD'S Church. And the things of GOD are a mystery--not understandable to the natural carnal mind. So people may have some kind of human idea of what and why the Church is, but it is not GOD'S concept.
God has communicated to man in our day through his printed Word, the Holy Bible. But the real central meaning in the Bible is spiritual. And natural minds without God's Spirit cannot think spiritually or comprehend spiritual knowledge. To make it still more a MYSTERY, I repeat once again, the Bible is like a jigsaw puzzle, made up of thousands of parts that, for understanding must be put together "precept upon precept; line upon line...here a little, and there a little" (Isa. 28:9-10, 13). And it requires the addition of the Holy Spirit to the human mind to put this spiritual "jigsaw puzzle" properly together. Even then it requires time, diligence, patience. I have not been able to give this "what and why" of the Church to the reader all at once briefly. I want fully to reveal the MYSTERY!
WHAT then, IS THE CHURCH?
The New Testament passage that incorrectly reads "Now is the day of salvation" (II Cor. 6:2) is quoted from Isaiah 49:8 where it is "a day of salvation," not the day of salvation. The Greek text also does not have the word the. It was inserted by translators who were deceived into believing this is the only day of salvation for everyone.
The very truth that the Church is not called merely and only for salvation--not merely to "make it into the kingdom" as so many have expressed it--is plainly affirmed in the parables of the pounds and of the talents.
The parable of the talents (Matt. 25) emphasizes the same truth.
That means according to fruit borne. And fruit borne means more than regular Bible reading, prayer, church attendance or volunteer church duties. It means "the fruits of the Spirit" as explained in Galatians 5:22-23--showing more love or outgoing concern toward others, growing in joy, which is happiness running over, in peace with your own family, with neighbors, with all others. Growing in patience, being more kind and gentle toward others, goodness and faith, as well as meekness and temperance.
The CHURCH, then, is that body called out from Satan's world being prepared to restore, with and under Christ, the GOVERNMENT of God. That shall be a time when Satan shall have been REMOVED. It shall be a time when all living shall be called to repentance and salvation with eternal life through the Holy Spirit of GOD! The CHURCH, immortal, shall be RULING with Christ--replacing the present rule of Satan!
The CHURCH, then, is that body of called-out-ones, who at the resurrection shall form the FIRSTFRUITS of God's harvest. That harvest is the reaping of physical flesh-and-blood, matter-composed humans converted into divine immortal GOD BEINGS--those in whom God actually has reproduced himself!
After all these years of sinning, human life CUT OFF from God, even with God's own Holy Spirit given to those changed by initial conversion, those in the Church are initially "babes in Christ"-- still far more carnal than spiritual.
The CHURCH, as initially called in this life, is NOT YET capable of RULING the earth--of sitting with Christ in the THRONE where God originally placed Lucifer--of administering THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD.
And THAT IS WHY God has placed HIS GOVERNMENT in his Church. That is WHY God's Church government is theocratic instead of democratic. That is why God has set ranks of government in his Church, apostles, evangelists, pastors, elders, both preaching and nonpreaching, "till we [in the Church] all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). It is not a matter of having "made it into the kingdom" upon being baptized, but a matter of spiritual growth and development in knowledge and in righteous character. That is WHY it is hierarchical in form--government from GOD at the top on down, not from the bottom up. Otherwise those at the bottom would be ruling GOD!
It is the SAME government by which Christ shall rule all nations beginning with the millennium!
And that is WHY Satan has subtilely influenced dissidents in God's Church to become resentful and bitter over God's government-- why some have gone out of the Church!
The churches of the world--"traditional Christianity"--DO NOT speak of the government of GOD. They do not picture Jesus as coming world RULER. They do not preach Jesus as coming KING--but only as Savior. They overlook--reject--scriptures speaking of Christ as King and coming Ruler, and government rule in the kingdom of God. And that is to say, they deliberately REJECT and OMIT the gospel MESSAGE of Christ in their teaching and preaching! They teach that one is already saved on "receiving" (GETTING) Christ!
I repeat, the individual whom God calls and adds to his Church is not, at initial conversion, remotely capable of being given POWER of rule over nations!
He is called a "babe in Christ." He has, if repentant and really converted in this preliminary human state, actually received a portion of the Holy Spirit of God. Indeed in Romans 8:16 we read: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God."
But we need to grow spiritually before we are qualified to rule over cities and nations and teach those being converted.
As the apostle Paul said to those in the first century Church who were not growing spiritually:
"That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he swore by himself, saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee" (Heb. 6:12-14).We are already, though yet unborn, the begotten children of God. By direct comparison the impregnated embryo or fetus in a mother-to-be's womb is already the child of its parents, though not yet born. Therefore I remark, in passing, abortion is MURDER!
But this brings us to a most important PURPOSE and FUNCTION of the Church!
Beginning verse 22 of Galatians 4 is an allegory about the two covenants--the Covenant made with national Israel at Mount Sinai and the New Covenant to be made at Christ's return. However, ministers in the Church are "able ministers of the new testament" (II Cor. 3:6).
The CHURCH is a part of, and preliminary to the final making of, the NEW TESTAMENT.
In this allegory of the two covenants, the Church is called "THE MOTHER OF US ALL"--that is, of those in the Church. So notice the direct comparison. God is reproducing himself through humans. He endowed us with power to reproduce ourselves. And human reproduction is the exact type of God's SPIRITUAL REPRODUCTION!
All human life comes from a tiny egg, called an ovum. It is produced inside the human mother. This ovum is about the size of a pin point. Inside it, when highly magnified, can be seen a small nucleus. But this ovum has a very limited life, of itself! Some doctors and scientists believe it has a life of only some 24 hours, unless fertilized by a sperm from a male.
But human life may be imparted to it by a sperm cell, produced in the body of the human father. The sperm cell is the smallest cell in the human body--about one fiftieth the size of the ovum. The sperm--technically named a spermatozoon (plural, spermatozoa)-- on entering an ovum, finds its way to and joins with the nucleus. This imparts life--physical human life--to the ovum.
But it is not yet a born human being. Human life has merely been begotten. For the first four months it is called an embryo. After that, until birth it is called a fetus. This human life starts very small--the size of a tiny pin point--and the sperm that generates it is the smallest cell in a human body!
Once begotten, it must be fed and nourished by physical food from the ground, through the mother. From this physical nourishment it must grow, and grow and GROW--until physically large enough to be born--after nine months. As it grows, the physical organs and characteristics gradually are formed. Soon a spinal column forms. A heart forms and begins to beat. Other internal organs form. Then, gradually, a body, a head, legs, arms. Finally hair begins to grow on the head, fingernails and toenails develop--facial features gradually shape up. By nine months the average normal fetus has grown to a weight of approximately six to nine pounds, and is ready to be born.
A human has to be BEGOTTEN by his human father. To be born again of the Spirit--of GOD--one must first be begotten by the SPIRITUAL FATHER--Almighty God.
Each adult human is, spiritually, an "egg" or "ovum." In this spiritual ovum is a nucleus, the human mind with its human spirit. This spiritual "ovum" has a very limited life span, of itself-- compared to ETERNAL LIFE--an average of some 70 years. But spiritual, divine immortal life may be imparted to it by the entrance into it of the HOLY SPIRIT, which comes from the very Person of GOD the Father. This divine Spirit of GOD joins with the nucleus of the human ovum, which is the human spirit and mind, and imparts to us also the divine nature (II Pet. 1:4). Heretofore we have had only human, fleshly or carnal nature.
As the human sperm cell is the very smallest of all human cells, even so, many newly begotten Christians start out with a very small measure of God's Holy Spirit and character. Many may still be, at first, about 99.44 percent carnal! Apparently those in the Church of God at Corinth were (I Cor. 3:1-3). The apostle Paul said he still had to feed them on the spiritual milk--not yet adult spiritual "food." They certainly were not yet "BORN AGAIN."
Now, as the physical male sperm finds its way to, and unites with the nucleus in the ovum, so God's Spirit enters and combines with the human spirit and MIND! There is, as explained before, a spirit IN man. This human spirit has combined with the brain to form human MIND. God's Spirit unites with, and witnesses with our spirit that we are, now, the children of GOD (Rom. 8:16). And God's Holy Spirit, now combined with our human spirit in our MIND, imparts to our mind power to comprehend SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE (I Cor. 2:11)--which the carnal mind cannot grasp.
Now we have the presence of ETERNAL LIFE--God-life--through God's Spirit. In like manner the human embryo was an actual human life as yet undeveloped. But we are not yet immortal spirit beings- -not yet BORN of GOD--just as the human ovum was not yet born of its human parents--not yet inheritors, and possessors, but physical HEIRS (Rom. 8:17). But IF God's Holy Spirit dwells in us, God will, at the resurrection, "quicken" to immortality our mortal bodies BY his Spirit that "dwelleth in us" (Rom. 8:11; I Cor. 15:49-53).
Now we see how the astonishing analogy continues! As yet we are not born divine beings. We are not yet composed of spirit, but of physical matter. The divine life has merely been begotten. This divine CHARACTER starts so very small it is doubtful if much of it is in evidence--except for the glow of that ecstasy of spiritual "romance" that we may radiate in that "first love" of conversion--spiritually speaking. But so far as spiritual KNOWLEDGE and developed spiritual CHARACTER goes, there is not much, as yet.
Now the physical embryo and fetus is fed physically through the mother. God's CHURCH is called Jerusalem above "which is the MOTHER OF US ALL" (Gal. 4:26).
Notice the exact parallel! The CHURCH is the spiritual MOTHER OF ITS MEMBERS. God has set his called and chosen ministers in his Church to FEED THE FLOCK--"for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body [CHURCH] of Christ: TILL WE all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:11-13).
It is the duty of Christ's TRUE ministers (and how scarce today) to PROTECT the begotten but yet unborn saints from false doctrines, from false ministers.
The HUMAN mother carries her unborn baby in that part of her body where she can best PROTECT it from physical harm; and that protection is part of her function, as well as to nourish the unborn child! Even so, the CHURCH, through Christ's ministers, instructs, teaches, counsels with, advises, and PROTECTS from spiritual harm the unborn members! What a WONDERFUL picture is human reproduction of spiritual SALVATION!
Continue further! As the physical fetus must grow physically large enough to be born, so the begotten Christian must grow in grace, and in the knowledge of Christ (II Pet. 3:18)--must overcome, must develop in spiritual CHARACTER during this life, in order to be BORN into the kingdom of GOD!
And as the physical fetus gradually, one by one, develops the physical organs, features and characteristics, even so the begotten Christian must gradually, continually, develop the SPIRITUAL character--love, faith, patience, gentleness, temperance. He (or she) must live by, and be a DOER of the Word of God. He must develop the divine CHARACTER!
HOW WONDERFUL is the TRUTH OF GOD!
Yet, by his dastardly deceptions Satan has DECEIVED THE WORLD- -has blinded humanity to the fact that God IS this KINGDOM Jesus proclaimed--and that WE may be born as spiritual individuals--as part of that divine FAMILY--as part of the GOD KINGDOM!
How precious is GOD'S TRUTH! God designed reproduction to picture his truth in physical manner and to KEEP US CONSTANTLY IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF HIS WONDERFUL PLAN OF SALVATION!
It is the function of the CHURCH--as the spiritual MOTHER of Christians in it--to develop holy, righteous and perfect godly CHARACTER in those God has called--those God has added to the Church.
Remember, none CAN COME to Christ, except called and drawn by God the Father (John 6:44). Newly converted members are not brought to spiritual conversion by "salesmanship" of human evangelists--are not "talked into" being "converted"--are not emotionally high pressured by high-powered evangelistic oratory or fervor--or by emotion-packed "altar calls" in evangelistic crusades to the moanful strains of a choir singing, "Just as I am, I come, I come."
You cannot find that sort of MODERN "Old-Fashioned Gospel" crusading either taught or used to set us an example in the New Testament! Yet people today suppose falsely that is the way Christ intended--the way Jesus initiated.
Jesus DID NOT come on a "soul-saving crusade!" to try to save at that time all those in SATAN'S world. He came to call out of Satan's world a people predestinated and specially called and drawn by God. Jesus said it was impossible for others of SATAN'S WORLD to come to him for salvation unless specially called by God to become kings and teachers when God's WORLD TOMORROW has replaced SATAN'S WORLD. NEVER did Jesus beg or plead with anyone to "give one's heart to him." At Jacob's well in Samaria Jesus spoke to a woman about the Holy Spirit in terms of "living water."
The woman said to Jesus, "Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not." Here was a direct request from an unconverted woman for salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit. BUT JESUS ONLY TOLD HER OF HER SINS--OF WHAT SHE HAD TO REPENT OF! He did NOT say, "Come to me, just as you are, in your sins."
None CAN COME to Jesus except God the Father draws him! All have sinned. Sin is against GOD the Father. Sin must first be repented of--turned from! It is much more than remorse for guilt. It is a matter of being sufficiently SORRY to TURN FROM the sin, overcome the sin. This reconciles one to God on faith in Christ. It is GOD the Father who adds to the Church such as he calls to be saved (Acts 2:47). It is GOD who sets members in the Church (I Cor. 12:18)--not the emotional oratory of the evangelist in the emotional altar call!
God sets individual members in his Church in order that his holy, righteous perfect CHARACTER may be developed in them. And WHY? To prepare them to become GOD BEINGS in the KINGDOM (family) OF GOD, to GOVERN and RULE the whole earth with the government of God!
But HOW does the CHURCH as the spiritual MOTHER of its members DEVELOP THAT SPIRITUAL CHARACTER?
This brings us to the real PURPOSE of the Church. This brings us to an UNDERSTANDING of WHY one cannot be BORN AGAIN outside the CHURCH.
The CHURCH is God's spiritual ORGANISM, well organized, for feeding on spiritual food, training and developing in spiritual righteous CHARACTER the future GOD BEINGS--sons of God the Father!
For that training--that spiritual development of God's CHARACTER, God has given his Church a DUAL responsibility:
1) "Go ye into all the world" and proclaim the GOOD NEWS-- announcement--of the coming kingdom of God.
2) "Feed my sheep."
But in FEEDING the "sheep," developing in them God's spiritual CHARACTER, God has given them THEIR PART in supporting, backing up, the great commission: "Go ye into all the world."
This first and great commission was given to the apostles. To a lesser extent evangelists were used in carrying forth the message. Other leaders--ordained ministers--were stationary, yet even the local pastor of a church may hold evangelistic services in his area--not the "soul-saving crusade" type, but lectures ANNOUNCING and PROCLAIMING as a witness the coming KINGDOM OF GOD (the true gospel)!
This ENTIRE GREAT COMMISSION--proclaiming the GOOD NEWS of the coming kingdom, and "feeding the sheep"--is a COMBINED administration and function of the Church.
The individual lay member HAS HIS VITAL PART in proclaiming the GOOD NEWS (gospel) to the world. HOW? Not by going out and himself proclaiming Christ's message to the neighborhood or to the world. That is done primarily by the apostles, to some extent by evangelists, and to even a lesser extent in local areas by local pastors. (The chief responsibility of local pastors is supervision of and preaching to the local church.)
But the ENTIRE CHURCH OPERATION is one WHOLE, organized into various operations and administrations (I Cor. 12:5-6).
In the first century it was done by personal proclamation. Then WHAT PART did the individual lay member have in it?
MUCH! Without this larger body of lay members the apostle could do nothing!
Notice a scriptural example: Peter and John had been proclaiming the message at the Temple in Jerusalem. A miracle had been performed by Peter and a large crowd had gathered. As a result Peter and John were thrown in prison overnight, and severely threatened. Their lives were in danger. They were unnerved.
They went immediately upon release to the lay brethren (Acts 4:23). They needed the backing, support, encouragement of the brethren. They fervently PRAYED! Peter and John sorely NEEDED this loyalty, backing and the prayers of the lay members. THEY WERE ALL A TEAM TOGETHER!
Take a recent modern example.
The office of the attorney general of America's most populous state--California--had made a sudden, unexpected massive armed assault on the headquarters of the Worldwide Church of God at Pasadena, California. They claimed, in violation of the U.S. Constitution, that all church property and assets belong to the State, and a court had secretly appointed a receiver to TAKE OVER, RUN AND OPERATE the Church of the living GOD!
But when the receiver was about to enter with his staff and deputy sheriffs the Hall of Administration and other headquarters buildings, some 5,000 lay members, with children and babies, crowded these buildings in extended and continuous prayer services. The doors were locked. The armed officials did not quite dare to break down the doors and disturb these massive and orderly prayer services. After three days they gave up. The receiver, an ex-judge of a non-Christian faith, resigned. The civil lawsuit went on "the back burner." And the OPERATION OF THE CHURCH CONTINUED! The higher appellate court later ruled that this lawsuit was without foundation and never should have been started.
The author, Christ's apostle, can say emphatically that the apostles, evangelists, pastors and elders could not carry on the work of God without the loyal backing and continual encouragement of the lay members.
Neither can the individual lay member develop and build within him God's holy, righteous and perfect CHARACTER without the operations of the apostles, evangelists, pastors and elders. All these various members GOD HAS SET in his Church are interdependent- -mutually dependent on one another. They form a TEAM--an ORGANIZED SPIRITUAL ORGANISM--utterly different from any secular and worldly organization!
How, more specifically, does this mutual dependency operate?
Without the fervent and prevailing continual prayers of all members the work could not be accomplished. Without the continual ENCOURAGEMENT of lay members and those over them locally, those of us operating from headquarters could not bear up under the persecutions, oppositions, trials and frustrations.
Also in reverse, the lay members need just as urgently the encouragement, teaching, counseling and leadership from headquarters and local pastors.
An example of the former: I frequently receive large cards-- often beautifully illustrated or decorated--signed by the hundreds of local members of churches, giving encouragement and assurances of loyalty, backing and support. Lay members scattered over the world simply cannot conceive fully how much encouragement and inspiration this gives the one Christ has chosen to lead this tremendous worldwide activity, God's CHURCH! The assurance of the earnest PRAYERS crying out to God continually from these thousands from all parts of the earth inspire the confidence of FAITH to persevere in the direction and oversight in this great work!
Specifically, HOW is God's Church organized today--HOW does it operate in this modern late twentieth century?
Christ's gospel message--the kingdom of God--goes out worldwide in dynamic POWER by radio, by television, and by the mass-circulation magazine, The Plain Truth. (Now, over 10 years after Mr.Armstrong's death, it is called the World Ahead; available at http://www.worldahead.org/) This unique magazine of more than seven million copies monthly, in seven languages, is full color, effectively and interestingly carrying Christ's gospel. Then, sent free on request are millions of copies of attractive booklets and even full books. A campaign of dynamic full-page messages appeared as advertisements in leading newspapers, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and other daily newspapers. Large space has been used in the London Times.
Then to encourage local church members and the ministry, a 14- to-20-page mimeographed Pastor General's Report is mailed from headquarters weekly to all ministers. Twice monthly a tabloid newspaper The Worldwide News goes out to all members. Monthly a handsome full-color magazine The Good News is sent to all lay members, ministers and near-member co-workers. And finally, Christ's apostle sends out monthly a mimeographed Co-Worker letter to all members and co-workers reporting on progress in the work, current activities and needs.
And we must not overlook a very important department, the Bible Correspondence Course, sent free on enrollment to lay members, and the public, giving monthly lessons in-depth of basic subjects covered by the Bible.
The author's personal travels to all parts of the world, representing Christ's message personally before kings, emperors, presidents, prime ministers and leaders under them in numerous nations perhaps ought to be mentioned.
All this is a well-organized operation carrying out the PURPOSE of the Church, 1) proclaiming the coming kingdom of God to the world and 2) feeding the flock.
The "loner"--the "individual Christian," who wants to climb up into the kingdom some other way than by CHRIST and HIS WAY through his CHURCH--is not being trained in CHRIST'S MANNER OF TRAINING, to rule and reign with Christ in his kingdom!
The answer is this: God himself laid out the plan and the method by which humans may be, after begettal, trained and prepared to become part of the divine personnel of born GOD BEINGS that shall form the KINGDOM OF GOD!
The kingdom of God will be the GOD FAMILY--a superbly and highly trained and organized family of GOD BEINGS. The Church is God's special school for training those he has selected and called to be trained in his Church--to be kings and priests, to rule and to teach--for their part in that kingdom. Only those so trained in the Church will be kings and priests in the kingdom of God.
The person who says "I will get my salvation alone, outside of the Church" is totally deceived. This is not the time when salvation is opened to those in Satan's world. Those called now, I repeat emphatically, are NOT CALLED just for salvation. They are called for a special training provided only in God's Church.
Those in Satan's world cannot train themselves outside of the Church for the special calling of being rulers and teachers in God's kingdom when Satan is removed and the world has become God's world.
The Church is ORGANIZED on GOD'S pattern of mutual teamwork and cooperation to function perfectly together. They shall become the GOD FAMILY as it shall exist at the time of Christ's Second Coming. Remember God IS that divine FAMILY!
Take an analogy from Satan's world, A football player says: "I want to play in all of the games, but I'll train alone. I don't want to be part of the TEAM until the games start." Would the coach let him be part of the team in the games, without having learned TEAMWORK during practice season? Neither will God let one INTO his family at the resurrection who refused to be part of it now--in the CHURCH--in the spiritual "training season."
To those chosen to be apostles in the start of the CHURCH, Jesus said, speaking of the CHURCH:
"I am the vine, ye are the branches." Those not joined with others of the branches, all joined to the main vine, were NO PART OF THE CHURCH, and God the Father will cast them away as DEAD branches. The LIFE (spirit life impregnated now) is received along with all other "branches" from the main vine--Christ, the Head of the CHURCH!
What about one who has been IN Christ's "spiritual BODY"--the Church--and is PUT OUT for cause (causing division or rebellion or opposition to Church government)? The CHURCH is like a human mother who is pregnant. If there is an abortion, the HUMAN LIFE departs totally from the fetus. There is, however, perhaps one difference in this analogy. A human who goes out, or is put out of God's Church, could, on repentance and renewed belief, be admitted back into the body again.
SATAN is the great counterfeiter. Satan has his churches, his religions, and his ministers in those religions and churches (II Cor. 11:13-15). What about the millions of people in traditional established "Christian" churches? In the book of Revelation, the TRUE Church is pictured in the 12th chapter as the persecuted "little flock," many martyred--put to death for their faith--having to FLEE for safety from persecution, torture and death. In chapter 17 is pictured the big, politically and worldly powerful churches, headed by "mother" "Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth" (verse 5). In other words, the ancient "Babylonian Mystery" religion, out of whom have gone daughter churches in protest. This politically great church was the persecutor of "the saints" (verse 6). This false church, politically great, sits astride a "beast" pictured in chapter 13 as a government ruling by power of "the dragon" who (Rev. 12:9) is Satan the devil.
This is shocking, but plainly revealed in God's Word!
What about those, in such churches, who profess being "born- again Christians"? They are DECEIVED! They may be ever so sincere. They do not know they are deceived and wrong in their beliefs. But they are not now being judged! They are neither condemned to the lake of fire nor "saved." They are among the WHOLE WORLD, swayed by the deceptions of Satan, CUT OFF from God!
It must be repeated--they shall have their eyes opened to God's TRUTH if still living after Christ comes and Satan is removed--or, if dead before then, resurrected and called to truth and salvation in the Great White Throne Judgment resurrection (Rev. 20:11-12).
Again, the reader is urged to read the free booklet Just What Do You Mean--Born Again?
Yes, the whole world is DECEIVED. But praise GOD! Satan soon shall be removed from earth, eyes shall be opened to ASTONISHING TRUTH, and ultimately EVERYBODY who ever lived shall have been called to salvation and eternal life! But when called, each must make his own decision. Sorrowfully as I say it, some will not repent, believe, and be saved. This book emphatically is not teaching a universal salvation. Some are going to finally perish in the lake of fire.
Meanwhile God's GLORIOUS PURPOSE must be worked out here below according to God's wonderful MASTER PLAN--a step at a time!
This, naturally, is related directly to the purpose of the Church--to call out of Satan's present world disciples (students, learners) to be trained to become kings and priests (teachers) in God's world tomorrow when God will open the tree of life (salvation, immortality) to all flesh.
But doctrinally, remember what the Church is called to help restore--the kingdom, government and character of God. What was taken away? God's law, the foundation of his government and the very essence of God's character and divine life.
In other words, the pivotal point is the SIN question. Sin is the transgression of God's spiritual law (I John 3:4).
Satan has deceived this world's churches into the belief that God's law was done away--that Jesus, rather than paying the price in human stead for transgressing the law, did away with it-- "nailing it to his cross."
The expression used by Protestants "nailing the law to his cross" can mean only one thing. This is Satan's teaching that by being nailed to the cross, Christ abolished the law, making it possible for humans to sin with impunity. What actually was nailed to the cross was Christ our sin bearer, who took on himself our sins, paying the death penalty in our stead, so that we are freed from the ultimate penalty of sinning, not made free to sin with impunity.
The very basic teaching, belief AND DOCTRINE OF God's true Church therefore is based on the righteousness of and obedience to the law of God. That law is LOVE. But it is not human love. Human love cannot rise above the level of human self-centeredness. It must be "the love of God...shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy [Spirit]" (Rom. 5:5). Ancient Israel could not really obey God's law--they could have kept it according to the strict letter of the law. But since love is the fulfilling of the law and they had only human self-centered love, they could not have kept the law according to the spirit--because the Holy Spirit had not yet been given.
This basic teaching includes, therefore, all the "fruits of the Holy Spirit"--love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, etc.
The teachings of God's true Church are simply those of "living by every word" of the Holy Bible.
The first man, Adam, chose to decide for himself right from wrong--to decide his own teachings, beliefs and ways of life. The world has followed that same course for 6,000 years. The Church is called out of the world to live the way God, through the Bible, teaches.
The Church started on the day of Firstfruits called Pentecost, in June of A.D. 31. The Holy Spirit came from heaven upon the 120 disciples assembled in Jerusalem with a miraculous display such as has never before nor since occurred.
The 120 were all of "one accord." Suddenly "there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind" (Acts 2:2). Have you ever been in a tornado or a hurricane? I have. Wind can make a very loud sound. This sound filled "all the house where they were sitting." Next "there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy [Spirit], and began to speak with other tongues [languages], as the Spirit gave them utterance."
Never has such a supernatural display occurred before or since. Yet the modern sects calling themselves "Pentecostal" claim to repeat this experience.
But in their meetings no such sound comes form heaven. No supernatural divided tongues of flaming fire sit on their heads. Some do break out in a kind of gibberish supposed to be some foreign language, but emphatically not anything like that happened on this day of Pentecost in A.D. 31. Notice what kind of languages were spoken at the Church's inception. Many besides the 120 were present from many countries speaking different languages. Notice particularly, of these strangers, "every man heard them [the 120] speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying to one another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?"
Now notice carefully. Every man--that is, each individual-- heard them, the 120, all speaking in his own native language. The Greek heard the 120 speaking the Greek language. The Parthian heard the same 120 speaking in the Parthian language. The Mede heard the 120 speaking the language of the Medes. They understood what was being said. They got the message!
Today, in "Pentecostal" meetings one person may break out in a kind of gibberish that others in the meeting do not understand (I Cor.14:28). It says if one speaks in a foreign language there must be an interpreter so the others can understand. "But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God." In verse 33 it says God is not the author of confusion. In verse 19, God shows the relative unimportance of "tongues" by saying: "Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue."
When I speak to an audience in Japan or some other country, I always have an interpreter who will interpret into the language of that country, every few words, my message in their language. When I speak in this kind of "tongues" I speak with understanding, and the people get the message.
"Pentecostal" people have been deceived into thinking that one is what they called "saved" when one receives Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. They consider "the baptism of the Holy Spirit" evidenced by speaking in "tongues" as a subsequent imbuement of power. I have had a great deal of experience with these people. This "baptism" as they call it seems to loosen their tongues in what they call an "imbuement with power," which, in practice, means power to speak emotionally, often braggingly.
The above explanation will not change those already hooked on this deception, but hopefully it will prevent others from becoming misled by this counterfeit emotional "spirituality."
Today's customary gospel about Christ believes that simply "believing on Christ," which is professing Christ as personal Savior, means that one is already saved. Yet Mark 7:7-9 shows that many even go so far as to worship Christ, and all in vain because they do not obey God's commandments--especially the Sabbath--but follow the traditions of men by which Satan has deceived the whole world.
In John 8:30-44 the Jews who "believed on Christ" but who did not believe Christ or keep his commandments were called, by Jesus, the children of their father the devil. In I John 2:4 it shows that he who claims to know Christ as Savior, but does not keep his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him.
On the original day of Pentecost, of these Jews from other countries, some three thousand were baptized after a real repentance and belief in Christ and in his Word, on that same day. A day or two later, after Peter had healed the lifelong cripple at the gate of the Temple, 2,000 more were baptized. The new fledgling Church grew, not merely by addition, which God added to his Church, but by multiplication.
But this phenomenal growth was not to continue long at such an amazing rate of growth.
Remember, these in the Church were being specially called by God out of Satan's world. Satan was sitting on the throne of this earth. He fought fiendishly to protect his reign and upset God's purpose to redeem mankind. Satan had sought to kill the Christ- child. Satan tried desperately to tempt and disqualify Jesus at age 30. Satan did not give up, nor has he to this very day. He now sought to destroy the Church and if he could not destroy it, at least counterfeit it and deceive his world into a false Christianity.
At the very outset Satan moved on Jews to fight the Church by denying Jesus as the prophesied Messiah. At the first the Church was almost wholly Jewish. The unconverted Jews fought to retain the physical rituals and animal sacrifices of the law of Moses.
Very soon, while the membership in God's Church was being multiplied (Acts 6:1), there was a great persecution against the Church (Acts 8:1). Members were all scattered abroad throughout Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
The apostle Paul wrote in II Corinthians 11:3:
"But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds [those in the early Church] should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him."Then Paul goes on and describes the false preachers as stated previously, that were coming and changing the gospel of Christ right at that time. Then we turn next to Galatians 1:6-7. Paul wrote:
"I marvel that ye are so soon removed from his that called you [you had to be called to become a member of the Church--no one can come to Christ, except those that are called] into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ."The gospel of Christ was the message about the coming kingdom of God. They were already turning to a different gospel.
Now we quote from a book of history, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume I and chapter 15: "The scanty and suspicious materials on ecclesiastical history seldom enable us to dispel the dark cloud that hangs over the first age of the Church." I have often called it "the lost century," because the history of that Church was lost at that time.
Scholars and church historians recognize that events in the early Christian Church between A.D. 50 and 150 can only be seen in vague outline--as if obscured by a thick mist.
The noted English scholar Samuel G. Green in A Handbook of Church History wrote: "The thirty years which followed the close of the New Testament Canon and the destruction of Jerusalem are in truth the most obscure in the history of the Church. When we emerge in the second century we are, to a great extent, in a changed world."
In Lectures on Ecclesiastical History William Fitzgerald wrote: "Over this period of transition, which immediately succeeds upon the era properly called apostolic, great obscurity hangs...."
In The Course of Christian History William J. McGlothlin wrote: "But Christianity itself had been in [the] process of transformation as it progressed and at the close of the period was in many respects quite different from the apostolic Christianity."
In History of the Christian Church Philip Schaff wrote: "The remaining thirty years of the first century are involved in mysterious darkness, illuminated only by the writings of John. This is a period of church history about which we know least and would like to know most."
But if we look closely through this mist, we can begin to see what was happening.
The world in which Christ founded his Church was the world of the Roman Empire--the greatest and most powerful empire that has ever existed. It stretched from Britain to the far reaches of modern-day Turkey, encompassing peoples from many different backgrounds and cultures under one system of government.
Rome's ruling hand was firm but the subject peoples enjoyed considerable freedom, within the compass of Roman law. Providing all citizens and conquered peoples paid due homage to the Roman emperor, they were also allowed to practice their religious beliefs and worship the gods of their ancestors.
After the day of Pentecost, the apostles began to follow Christ's instruction to go to all the world preaching the gospel of the kingdom. Once Christianity spread from Judea to the gentile lands to the north it began to encounter those who practiced the pagan religions of Babylon, Persia and Greece.
The apostles came in contact with Simon Magus, a self- proclaimed leader in a cult that was deeply rooted in the mystery religion of ancient Babylon. Simon Magus' plot to buy himself a position of influence in the early Church was foiled by Peter (Acts 8). But other false teachers soon followed.
In his early epistles, Paul warned the fledgling churches of Greece and Galatia that they were in danger of turning aside after another gospel--a false concept of Christ and his message. The gospel of Christ was being diluted as false ministers with their teaching, heavily influenced by the beliefs of Babylon and Persia, steadily infiltrated the congregations.
As the first century wore on, the original apostles encouraged the members to stay faithful. Jude, the brother of Jesus, urges the membership to strive for the faith that was once delivered (Jude 3). The apostle John warns the brethren to have nothing to do with those who are bringing in false doctrines (II John 10).
Many who called themselves Christian had not been truly converted. But throughout this period, all who called themselves Christian suffered greatly from the Roman authorities, because they refused to worship the emperor. The mad Nero in A.D. 64 blamed the burning of Rome on the Christians, and persecuted them savagely. Thousands suffered martyrdom.
Shortly afterward, the Jews of Palestine rose in rebellion against the Roman authorities. The rebellion was suppressed and Jerusalem destroyed in A.D. 70. A small number of true Christians in Jerusalem fled over the mountains to the safety of Pella.
Riders would follow the route--carrying messages from town to town. The messages to the seven churches have words of both encouragement and correction and they clearly show the dominant characteristics of each of the congregations at that time.
But these messages were intended for a wider audience than the Christians in these small towns. They are a series of remarkable prophecies, by which the future of the true Church was foretold in outline form, from the day it began on Pentecost, A.D. 31, until the Second Coming of Christ.
The history of the Church would fall into seven distinct eras- -each with its own strengths and weaknesses and its own special trials and problems. Just as a message could pass along the mail route from Ephesus to Laodicea, so would the truth of God be passed from era to era. It was like a relay race--in which the baton is passed from runner to runner, each one doing his part, until the finish line is reached.
Some time during the early decades of the second century, the baton was passed from the Ephesian era to the people that God had called to the Smyrna era of his Church. Powerless, often persecuted, and rejected as heretics, the world lost sight of them. Instead, there emerged from the lost century a church that was steadily growing in popularity but growing further away from the gospel that Jesus taught. Persecution continued at various times under the Romans until the fourth century, when Constantine recognized the degenerate Church of that period as an official religion of the empire.
But the Church that he recognized was by now very different from the Church that Jesus founded. The doctrines and teachings that he had taught his apostles were now buried amid the trappings, ceremonies, mysteries and rituals of a church that called itself by the name of Christ. It was essentially the Babylonian Mystery religion, now being called Christian, accepting the doctrine of grace but turning it into license. In other words, it was the old pagan Babylonian Mystery religion wearing a new cloak: "Christianity."
Once Constantine recognized them, this Church threw renewed energy into taking its message to the world. Teachers and preachers went to all parts of the Roman Empire with a message about Christ. Thousands--maybe millions--heard this gospel and believed it. But it was not the gospel Christ preached--his prophetic message of the coming kingdom of God.
Emperor Constantine died in A.D. 337, just over 300 years after Christ was crucified. He had given his blessing to a church that claimed to be the one that Christ founded.
Now that they were free from fear of oppression--the persecuted became persecutors. Those of the true Church who dared to disagree with their doctrine were branded as heretics, worthy of punishment.
In about A.D. 365 the Catholic Council of Laodicea wrote in one of its most famous canons: "Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather, honouring the Lord's Day. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ." This was a virtual sentence to torture and/or death. The false church did not herself put true believers to death, but caused them to be put to death (Rev. 13:15). This decree of A.D. 365 definitely shows that there were true Christians observing the Sabbath.
The small remnant of Christians of the Smyrna era fled once more--to seek the religious freedom they needed to practice their beliefs.
They left few records. Occasionally they appear as a footnote of history, rejected as heretics, ridiculed, and hounded by their enemies. But their strongest testimony comes from Jesus himself, in his words of encouragement to the Church that was at Smyrna. "I know your works, tribulation, and poverty....Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer....Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Rev. 2:9-10, Revised Authorized Version).
And so the baton passed from the Smyrna Christians to those of the Pergamos era. These had been called to carry the truth through one of history's most difficult periods--the Dark Ages.
The power and influence of the great universal church spread far and wide, driving those who clung to the truth of God ever further into the wilderness. But they were never far from threat of persecution and martyrdom.
And so very few of the Pergamos Christians remained faithful. One thousand years after Jesus had founded his Church, the exhausted remnant of the Pergamos era handed over the baton.
The Thyatiran era got off to a vigorous start, preaching repentance throughout the Alpine Valley of Southern France and Northern Italy. Many heard and were converted.
The religious authorities quickly reacted to this challenge. Leaders of the true Church were arrested. Some were martyred.
After the death of its first leaders, the Church went into a temporary decline--but emerged once more under the dynamic leadership of Peter Waldo. For several years in the 12th century, these Waldensians flourished in the Alpine Valleys, preaching what truth they had. Booklets and articles were written and copied by hand. This was still before the days of printing.
As Jesus prophesied of the Thyatiran era, they had faith and they worked hard. Their latter works were greater than the first. But once again, persecution followed, as the full force of the Inquisition was felt in the peaceful valleys that had once provided a safe haven for the work of God.
Many that remained began to adopt the customs and traditions of the world around them. Europe now had many scattered groups of people calling themselves Christians.
Meanwhile, the world was changing. Printing had been invented- -and knowledge began to be increased. The Protestant Reformation broke the monopoly of the Church of Rome.
As religious wars swept across the European continent during the Middle Ages, many refugees fled to the relative safety and tolerance of England. Among them were members of the true Church. They brought with them their doctrines and beliefs, especially the knowledge of the Sabbath.
The strict Sunday-observing Puritans resisted, but in spite of a rising tide of opposition, in the early 17th century, there were several small Sabbath-keeping congregations in England. Jesus was raising up the fifth era of his Church--Sardis.
Protestant England became increasingly intolerant of dissenters, including Sabbath keepers. The true Church in England withered. But across the ocean, men were beginning to discover a New World.
Stephen Mumford, a member of a Sabbath-keeping church in London, left England for Newport, Rhode Island, in 1664. Rhode Island was the smallest of the American colonies, and had been founded by Roger Williams, a Baptist fleeing persecution from the Puritans of Massachusetts.
Rhode Island was the first place in the world to guarantee freedom of religion as a basic tenet of its constitution. Finding none who kept the Sabbath, Mumford and his wife began to fellowship with the Baptist church in Newport. He did not proselytize, but quietly maintained his own belief. Several members of the Sunday- keeping congregation became convinced that they, too, should observe the Sabbath.
They became the first Sabbath-keeping congregation in America. At first they met in private homes. In the historical museum at Newport, their record book is preserved--containing names--their contributions--even records of their ordination services.
Also preserved is the simple, but elegant, meeting hall that they built in Newport in the early years of the 18th century. Others joined them in their belief, as God began to call more to his work in the New World.
A second congregation was established at Hopkinton. This soon became a thriving church of several hundred. A bridge today marks the spot where their meeting house once stood. Several thousand were baptized here on the banks of the Pawkatuk River. Then spiritual decline set in.
By the mid-1800s, vigorous new Sabbath-keeping congregations, raised up as a result of the preaching of William Miller, 1831- 1849, could be found throughout the American Midwest.
At Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1860, many thousands were persuaded to accept the beliefs of the followers of Ellen G. White. They departed from the true name--the Church of God. Instead of the true gospel, the kingdom of God, they substituted doctrines of Ellen G. White, called "the shut-door policy," "the investigative judgment," a "2,300 day" doctrine and "the spirit of prophecy," identifying Mrs. White as the church's prophet who actually set the church's doctrine.
They adopted the name Seventh-day Adventists, by which name they are known to this day. But those who remained of the true Church of God refused to accept these teachings and doctrines and restored certain truths that had fallen into neglect in the previous century.
They moved their headquarters to Marion, Iowa, and then to Stanberry, Missouri. A magazine, The Bible Advocate, was published. Their efforts bore some fruit--small congregations sprang up across the nation.
And so it was that some time in the 19th century, a small congregation of the true Church of God was established in the peaceful Willamette Valley in Oregon.
They were farmers, without formal education. They lacked trained ministers to teach and guide them. But they had the name, Church of God, and they faithfully kept the Sabbath day.
God's Church had come a long way across the turbulent centuries since the day of Pentecost. It was weak, and lacked influence. Years of persecution and compromise had taken their toll. Much truth had been lost. But they had stayed the course.
In the Willamette Valley, they waited. It was nearly time for the baton to change again--into the hands of those God would call to do his end-time work.
This Philadelphia era is described in verses 7 to 13 of Revelation 3. The Sardis era (Rev. 3:1-6) was by this time spiritually dying and had become impotent in spreading the true gospel of Christ. Indeed they had by this time lost knowledge of the true meaning of that gospel. They knew they were approaching the Second Coming of Christ, but they had no knowledge of what would happen during the thousand years millennium, further than the fact Christ would rule.
Of the Philadelphia era of God's true Church we read: "To the angel of the church...." This word angel translated from the Greek angelos means messenger or agent. This is not necessarily always referring to a spirit angel but can refer as well to a human agent. It is possible that God's principle of duality may apply here. It may apply to an actual spirit-composed angel that has been assigned as an overall agent or helper of this particular era of the Church. Or it may also apply to the human messenger or agent God has raised up to lead this era of his Church.
At the same time another principle of duality may apply to verses 7-13. It may apply to the Church of this era as a whole, and also it could apply to the human leader God had raised up to this era of his Church.
Continue with verse 8: "I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name."
This era of the Church was to produce fruit. To this era--or to its human leader--God had set before it an open door. It is recorded in II Corinthians 2:12 and also Acts 14:27 how Christ opened the door for Paul to go into other countries to preach the gospel. This Church and/or its leader had but little strength. Neither were of great and powerful stature in Satan's world but those of this era were faithful to the Word of God. Though much of the original gospel truth, imparted to the original apostles by Jesus in person, had been lost, it was restored through the Bible to this era of God's Church who were faithful in keeping it.
It is revealed in Malachi 3:1-5 and 4:5-6 that God would raise up one in the power and spirit of Elijah, shortly prior to the Second Coming of Christ. In Matthew 17:11 Jesus said, even after John the Baptist had completed his mission, that this prophesied Elijah "truly shall first come, and restore all things." Although it is plainly revealed that John the Baptist had come in the power and spirit of Elijah, he did not restore anything. The human leader to be raised up somewhat shortly prior to Christ's Second Coming was to prepare the way--prepare the Church--for Christ's coming, and restore the truth that had been lost through the preceding eras of the Church. Also a door was to be opened for this leader and/or the Philadelphia era of the Church to fulfill Matthew 24:14: "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."
It was to be at a time when, for the first time in the history of mankind, the weapons of mass destruction were produced that could erase all humanity from the earth (Matt. 24:21-22). This also was to occur just before the Second Coming of Christ (verses 29-30).
These prophecies have now definitely been fulfilled. The true gospel has been restored and has now gone in power into every nation on the face of the earth.
The Church has taken on a new Spirit-empowered life. All the technological advances and facilities are being employed.
First radio was used, beginning on one of the smallest-powered stations in Eugene, Oregon. Then the printing press. This started with an old secondhand Neostyle, ancestor to the mimeograph. In due time the printing press was used. The advent of television came in 1945--immediately after the end of World War II. The Church began using television in the summer of 1955. The true gospel, for the first time in 1,900 years, has finally been proclaimed and published into all nations of the earth. The Church has grown. For the first 25 years it grew at an average rate of 30 percent per year.
The first apostles would be astonished to see the size and scope of the work now. The means of communications, the technology and the modern resources that God has given to his end-time work would indeed be strange to those men who first received the commission to take the gospel to the world nearly 2,000 years ago.
But some things would not be strange--the Sabbath and Holy Days, the name, the Church of God, and the gospel of the kingdom-- these they would recognize--handed down through the ages from the time of Christ to the time of the end.