Where Is God’s Church Today?
[My sincere apologies for having failed to publish any articles for the past six months (February-July 2018). You see, I suffered a stroke in the second week of February and had to be under intensive care for about two weeks. Thanks to God’s mercies and the help and support of family, friends and health care givers, I am progressing well toward recovery. At least I am now able to write again for this website. I would appreciate your prayers for my complete recovery and wellness. Many thanks!]
Some weeks ago a concerned neighbor paid me a visit. While he came to wish me well, he also asked me what I thought about where the church which Jesus Christ founded almost two millennia ago is now. As Jesus promised, that church would not die but survive up to the end of this present age and beyond.
Well, then, where is that church?
My neighbor, as do a number of others, believes that the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), founded by Herbert W. Armstrong in the 1930s, had been the uninterrupted continuation of the church that Jesus built, in A.D.31. But now, since Mr. Armstrong’s death in 1986, the WCG has become split up into dozens of splinter groups and denominations. My neighbor, along with two friends who are leaders of former WCG congregations expressed concern about what could be done to bring back together again brethren who are now divided and scattered.
Before anything else, it would be good to review Christ’s promise to build His church, against which “the gates of Hades [the grave, or death] would not prevail.
The promise and founding of God’s Church
Jesus made this famous declaration to His disciple and later apostle Peter, who had given the right answer to the question He posed to His disciples, “But who do you think that I am?” Jesus told Peter: “And I also say to you that you are Peter [Greek petros, meaning “pebble”] and on this rock [Greek petra, meaning “rock,” referring to Christ Himself as the “Rock,” [same Greek derivation]. [See: 1 Corinthians 10:4 and The True Christ.] I will build My church, and the gates of Hades [the grave or death] shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
What Roman Catholics believe
Roman Catholics believe that the Roman Catholic Church is the church which Jesus Christ built, and that Peter was the “rock” on which Christ founded His Church. Catholics also claim Peter as the church’s first “Pope.” And that succeeding popes are heirs to Peter’s seat or throne [cathedra]; that the popes have been given the “keys” or correct knowledge about how one can enter God’s heavenly kingdom; that whatever rule or law they bind or loose on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven.
Thus, the Catholic Church believes that the popes, in conjunction with the “magisterium,” (a council of bishops, who decide church dogmas and practices, with the pope as supreme head) have Christ’s approval to change or reverse what God has commanded in His Word, the Bible. The Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:19 makes the popes and the doctrines and practices (traditions) they proclaim to be – in effect — more powerful than the authority of Scripture. Catholics claim that whatever the pope declares ex cathedra [from his seat] is official and free from error.
A clear example of this claim is the altering of the Ten Commandments as written in Exodus 20:1-17. The second commandment against making carved images and bowing down to them (which Roman Catholics practice), has been deleted, and to make up for the deficit, the tenth commandment has been divided into two: the Catholic ninth commandment now is that against coveting your neighbor’s wife; and the tenth is that against coveting your neighbor’s house, his cattle and any other of his property. The Catholic Church has also changed the fourth commandment (now the Catholic “third”) by omitting the reference to God’s seventh-day Sabbath and substituting it with “The Lord’s Day” [Sunday]. [See: What if the Sabbath Is Still Holy?]
The Catholic Church has also junked God’s feasts and replaced them with festivals derived from pagan sources (Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, the veneration of “saints,” etc.).[See: God’s Feasts in the Book of Acts: Mere Time Markers –or to Be Observed? Drunk With Strange Wine and “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!”]
Indeed, what has taken place in the Catholic sphere fulfills the ancient prophecy in Daniel 7:25-28, regarding a religious-political leader who will “speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High [the Church of God], and shall intend to change times and law.”
God’s word and law the basis for all rule
Jesus plainly said that He had not come to abolish God’s law, and that anyone who breaks one of the least of God’s commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-19 – not to say that such a one will make it to that kingdom!)
The Catholic Church that teaches men to break or disobey God’s law cannot be said to have Christ’s approval. Human beings cannot overturn God’s law by binding or loosening a rule contrary to that law. Isaiah 8:20(NIV) declares: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn [the truth].” [See: Freed From Bondage, Moses and Jesus – Are They Contraries? and The Law of Christ .]
The apostle Paul wrote that in his time, already a “man of sin,” “the son of perdition” would be revealed who “opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped,” so that “he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4). Paul said that “the mystery of lawlessness” – the insidious promotion of rebellion against God’s law – was already at work in his time (Verse 8). This “lawless one” would do things “according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion that they should believe the lie, that they will be consumed who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness”(Verses 6-11). This lawless leader will instead oppose true righteousness, which is the keeping of God’s laws and commandments (Psalm 119:172).
It should not be surprising that many have believed the lies foisted by that church. Roman Catholicism boasts of being the “faith of millions.” Some 1/3 of the world’s population are Catholic. Many are convinced by the miracles and wonders attributed to the “saints.” But Jesus said that His followers in this age would be only few in comparison (Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 12:32).
Hallmark of God’s Church
In contrast to the Catholic Church that has rejected God’s laws and commandments, members of the Church of God [ called “saints” in the Bible] are defined as “those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12).
Jesus also said:”By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35). And to truly love the brethren is to love God by obeying His commandments (1 John 5:2-3).
These “saints” are not perfect, but upon repentance they have been cleansed and sanctified through Christ and God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). With God’s power they are able to overcome the sinful pull of their flesh, the lure of sinful society and Satan the devil. [See: The Higher Law of the Spirit and God’s Spirit and Obedience.] They are promised to be given the “right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). Revelation 22:14 affirms that only those who keep God’s commandments will be given that right to the tree of life and to enter into the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. Thus God will reverse for the righteous what happened to Adam and Eve at the Garden of Eden. [See: The Flaming Sword East of Eden.]
Unlike the “saints” of the Catholic Church, who are declared to be “saints” after their death, “saints” in the Bible refers to living members of the Church of God.
In his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul addressed them thus: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2). See also 2 Corinthians 1:1; Romans 1:7; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1.
Paul did not write to dead members but living members of the church! Here alone we can see how the Catholic Church has departed from the Bible’s testimony. With that definition in mind, it is possible to trace where the church that Jesus founded has gone to down through the centuries, up to our times today. The WCG published a booklet titled “A True History of the True Church.” [To read this eye-opening booklet, see this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select “Books & Booklets” and scroll down to the booklet with that title.]
This is the end-time remnant of the church that Jesus founded on the Day of Pentecost in AD 31. The resurrected Jesus had promised that His disciples would “be endued with power from on high” when they remained in Jerusalem (Luke 24:49). Before then, they had been in hiding, “for fear of the Jews” (John 19:19). But after they had received that power (Acts 2) they boldly gave witness to the Jews regarding Christ, as He promised and commissioned them (Acts 1:8).
This is that same message that the WCG has preached over the past decades. [See: Fake News And this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select “Books & Booklets,” and scroll down to the booklet titled “What Is the True Gospel?”]
The unraveling of the WCG
Shortly after Mr. Armstrong’s death in January 1986, and the takeover of the WCG by Joseph W. Tkach Sr. as the church’s new pastor-general, a movement rolled that sought to demolish all the teachings that Herbert Armstrong had left as something that “cannot be fixed” and had to go. In late 1994 Mr. Tkach came out with a proclamation of “new covenant” changes that would “liberate” WCG members from perceived oppressive and legalistic beliefs and practices of the past. [See: Just What Do You Mean – Legalism? and Freed From Bondage.]
When Mr. Armstrong traveled the world to preach the gospel of God’s coming kingdom to world leaders in the 1970s, he left the care of the church to his son Garner Ted (GTA). Unknown to his dad, GTA initiated what came to be known as a Systematic Theology Project (STP), which sought to revamp WCG doctrines, to conform to “orthodox” theology. Members who opposed this project called it “Slowly Turning Protestant.”
When Herbert Armstrong regained control of the WCG, he moved to get the church “back on track,” whereas it had gone “off the track.” Church members saw this as a prophetic fulfillment of Zechariah 4:9, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple. His hands shall also finish it.” Mr. Armstrong was thus seen as a modern-day “Zerubbabel” who would restore the ruined temple that the church had become while he was away from the WCG HQ or “command center.”
After Mr. Armstrong’s death, the WCG was again in shambles! The WCG split up into various splinter groups, some aiming to maintain doctrines and practices of the original WCG. Others went off on a wide tangent. While WCG members became scattered, the church as such remained “alive,” although “sickly,” we might say – much like the Jews in captivity in Babylon [later Persia] remained a nation or a distinct “people” (Esther 3:8),although under oppression by their captors. Many WCG brethren became “floating” members – clueless about where they are going, perhaps waiting for some positive sign from above. Some have become frustrated enough to turn agnostic or atheist.
The “changes” that Mr. Tkach initiated turned the WCG (now renamed Grace Communion International or GCI) into a denomination that has become thoroughly Protestant, or “evangelical.” The GCI has, in fact, become a member of the World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF). Church historian Ruth Tucker described WCG’s transformation- – hailed as a “miracle” –as a move “From the Fringe to the Fold.” The evangelical community embraced GCI as now one of their own.
One GCI minister described this reaction as the fulfillment of Jesus’ words, “”If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor” (John 12:23). However, may not Jesus’ other words apply here, too? Jesus told His disciples: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19) .Before its transformation, the WCG had been considered by evangelicals as a “cult” – an unorthodox denomination that was on the “fringes” but not really in the “fold,” or what is considered the mainstream Christian community. They warned the world not to fall for Herbert Armstrong as a “false prophet” and “Mr. Confusion,” and his teachings as Satanic “Armstrongism.”
In comparing Mr. Armstrong to Zerubbabel (who came out from Babylon), church members imply that the WCG has become captive in some kind of spiritual “Babylon.” The ruined temple in Jerusalem was compared to the Church of God which has again lain in shambles after Mr. Armstrong’s death. While Mr. Armstrong was alive, some members believed that, as the end-time fulfillment of Zechariah’s Zerubbabel, he would be one of the “two witnesses” prophesied to arise before Christ’s return (Revelation11:1-12). His son Garner Ted was seen as the fulfillment of Joshua, the high priest who had fallen into sin, as Garner Ted did, and was hoped to have repented and thus had been cleansed and would be ready to be the other of the “two witnesses” (Zechariah 3:1-9).
Both Armstrongs have died, the “two witnesses” have not come on the scene, and Christ has not returned. So, where does that leave us? 2 Peter 1:19 assures us that there is no more sure word than that of prophecy. Revelation 11:1-12 will yet be fulfilled with certainty!
Many have come forward to present themselves as one or both of the “two witnesses.” Most have proven to be self-appointed crackpots with supposed miraculous powers. What everyone should grab hold of is the assurance that God is ever alive and has power to appoint and reveal – in His own time—those “two witnesses.”
As with the apostle Paul, so God will show us, without a doubt, how to recognize who those “two witnesses” truly are or will be. The apostle Peter acknowledged that Paul had received wisdom from God that made his letters a part of the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:15-16). With James and John, Peter (called “the big three” or “pillars” of the New Testament church), agreed that God had called Paul and given him the grace to minister the gospel of Christ to the Gentiles while they were to do the same to the Jews and Israel (Galatians 2:7-9).
They accepted Paul’s testimony about Jesus Christ Himself calling him to minister in His name (Acts 9:15; 22:14-21; 26:15-18). That is how Paul introduced himself to the Christian brethren in Rome (Romans 1:1-6). To the brethren in Corinth he introduced himself as “an apostle [meaning “one sent”] of Christ Jesus and God the Father (1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1). He told them that he had conducted himself in his dealings with them “in holiness and sincerity that are from God” (2 Corinthians 1:12) – that he had done so “not according to worldly wisdom, but according to God’s grace.” “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain. I labored more abundantly than they [the other apostles], yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
To the brethren in Galatia Paul introduced himself as “an apostle – sent not by men nor by man but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead (Galatians1:1). To the brethren in Ephesus Paul introduced himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (Ephesians 1:1). He also reminded them about what they had heard from him – the “administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.” He hoped that they would understand that his “insight into the mystery of Christ was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s apostles and prophets….I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of His power….this grace was given to me to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God” (Ephesians 3:2-5). Paul also taught that God’s grace given through Christ has appointed some to be apostles [as Paul was], prophets, evangelists, pastors,” etc. …. so that the body of Christ [the church, Colossians 1:18] may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).
To the brethren in Colossae Paul introduced himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (Colossians 1:1). He also reminded them that he became an apostle by commission given him by God to present the mind of God in its fullness (Colossians 1:25). He thanked the brethren in Thessalonica that they received the word he preached “not as the word of men but as the word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
To Timothy Paul introduced himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.” (1 Timothy 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1). He told Timothy about Jesus appointing him to His service, to preach the glorious gospel of the blessed God which He entrusted to me” and that the grace of our Lord was poured out on him abundantly along with faith and love that are in Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 1:11, 12, 14).”And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher” (2 Timothy 1:11).
To Titus Paul introduced himself as “a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness – a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at His appointed season he brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior” (Titus 1:1-3).
I have belabored this point to show that Christ, who is ever alive and sitting at the right hand of His Father knows fully well what His church today needs to be able to become a vibrant, unified body of believers, as it was in Paul’s day. True, there were those who opposed Paul, but we cannot deny his push toward the unity and upbuilding of the church. His passion was to prepare the church to be presented to Christ “as a chaste virgin” (2 Corinthians 11:2), pure and spotless, and without any wrinkle – holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27).
Is it too difficult for God to raise up in these our end times faithful servants like Paul who will help the scattered members of the Church of God come to “unity in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, Jesus (Ephesians 4:13)? God assures: “behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me”(Jeremiah 32:27)?
Zechariah 13:7 [“Smite the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered”], fulfilled when Christ was arrested by a mob of Jews (Matthew 26:55-56), may well apply to the WCG after the death of Mr. Armstrong. Isaiah 53:6 (NIV) may well describe what has happened to the former flock that was the WCG: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.
Ezekiel 34 pictures the sad plight of God’s flock under the hand of wayward shepherds. While God vows to punish these shepherds, in the end He will move to regather His people and place them under the care of a shepherd like King David (Ezekiel 37:21-24). See also Jeremiah 23, 50 and 51.
Many WCG members believe that God has revealed all that the church needs to know through the late Herbert W. Armstrong, who was a descendant of King David. That his hands will yet finish the work of restoring the church in such a way as to make it ready at Christ’s return (Zechariah 4:8). [To understand how God works out the succession of His servants, see: Leanings and Two Goats Together, especially the box titled “Reexamining the roots of our beliefs”. See also: Laodicean Christians .]
The Spirit of God given through His grace to inspire His chosen servants will also inspire church brethren and others whom God may call into His church at this time, to accept the teachings, wisdom and insights of those servants as indeed coming from God and are truth ( Corinthians 2:1-16). Paul urged the brethren to have the same mind and attitude of Christ (Philippians 2:5). That they would thus “be perfectly united in mind and thought,” that they would agree with one another and have no divisions among them (1 Corinthians 1:10).
Such is the clarion call to former members of the WCG to submit to the teachings of God’s chosen servants in these end-times! May God reveal clearly and unmistakably His chosen “two witnesses” soon! These two are the two “olive trees”—the Lord’s anointed servants — who pour out “oil” [symbolic of God’s Spirit] into God’s church [symbolized by a lamp stand, compare with Revelation 1:19-20] (Zechariah 4:11-14; Revelation1:4).
God’s “two witnesses” will complete the restoration of God’s Church that Mr. Armstrong could no longer fulfill after his death. Through his hands that ordained the “two witnesses” while he was still alive, Mr. Armstrong [see the principle in Hebrews 6:1-2; Deuteronomy 34:9], can be said to have completed the restoration of the Church of God, God’s “temple” on earth today (1 Corinthians 3:16; Zechariah 4:9), to make it ready to meet Christ at His return.
Dire end of “Babylon”
Revelation 18 describes God’s judgment upon a spiritual “Babylon” that symbolizes false religion, as embodied in the Roman church and its cohorts, such as the evangelicals (Psalm 137:8; Revelation 17:5). That God tells His people [His church] to “Come out” of that “Babylon” shows that God’s people are in it and must come out of it, or else they will partake of the dire plagues that God will pour out on “Babylon” (Revelation 18:4-8)!
Former WCG members may not realize it, but they have been drinking of the “cup” that this “Babylon” has filled with the “maddening wine of her adulteries [KJV, “fornication”, see: Drunk With Strange Wine.] (Revelation 18:3). No wonder they are confused and have lost their way! [“Babylon” means confusion! – and God is not its author (1 Corinthians 14:33).]
If you are concerned about your salvation, you had better heed God’s serious warning, repent of all the abominations and falsehoods you have imbibed while in captivity in this spiritual “Babylon!” Do it soon – before it will be too late!
May God give you the eyes to see and ears to hear and may you be saved from this present evil age (Acts 2:40)! May you hear the authentic voice of our “Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ,” and follow only that voice (John 10:14, 3-5; 18:37).
God tells us to be diligent to make sure we are a part of His “elect” church (2 Peter 1:10-12)! Only that elect will be gathered to Christ at His return (Matthew 24:31)! [See: “I Never Knew You!”]
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.