If you'll recall, last week I was on the fourth part of the CHURCH HISTORY series. This week will be part five, and it will be the last part. Some how, this week I managed to cram what I wanted to say in here. I had to leave an amazing amount out, and I probably read a hundred times more than I have in my notes here. But I think that what we have here will give you the message that I want to portray of the church in the last eighty years or so.
In John 15, Jesus spoke with His disciples about the necessity of bearing fruit.
This is something we saw that the Sardis Era did NOT do. They produced very little fruit, and that fruit [which they did produce] did not remain. If you'll turn with me to Revelation 3, the apostle John recorded a similar exhortation to the church in Philadelphia.
An important lesson can be drawn from these two verses. If our bearing fruit is to continue, we have to keep up the effort; and the effort has to be diligent. The fruits—or qualities of character—that God is building into our lives must be maintained and improved upon. We must produce fruit, which means that we can't stand still.
In Hebrews 3:1, Christ commands: "Let brotherly love continue." And like some trees that bear fruit continually (among them lemon, orange, and grapefruit), the fruit produced by God's Spirit should be never ending. Even though hundreds may eat of your fruit, the supply should never run out. In other words, we are to produce a perpetual harvest of rich spiritual fruit. This is an area many who were called failed to achieve, because they didn't faithfully persevere in producing fruit.
Sometimes we get discouraged because we don't grow as quickly as we think we should. We become frustrated because we don't see tangible fruit being produced. This frustration is especially noticeable during trials. One reason might be that we start to respond in a right direction, but stop too soon—just short of completion. Or, we may become bored with the routine that is required to correct the problem. Or, we may become just plain weary of well doing. (And this appears to be what Sardis had done. So Christ warns Philadelphia not to do the same. In the positive things that He said about Philadelphia, obviously they listened and reacted.)
We can't allow ourselves to give up, or get discouraged. We have to accept the time God needs to work out His purpose in our lives. The more we zealously practice the way of God and accomplish good works, the more fruit of righteousness God will be able to produce in us. This is why God's testing seems so often and consistent, and there seems to be no break from trials. But, God promises a way of escape to those who love His law. In I Corinthians 10:1-13, the apostle Paul gave the Corinthian congregation encouragement in this area.
In that statement we see a common problem throughout the history of God's church. All the eras—at least somewhat, and at some times—would allow themselves to reach this point.
The same principle holds true for the Church of God in the Sardis Era. There seemed to be no escape from the worldly temptations and Protestant enticements that Satan threw at the church. But at the critical moment, when the church in the Sardis Era was breaking up as a result of these problems (especially its problem of being spiritually dead), Jesus Christ separated A FEW people in Oregon to begin what we think of in church tradition as the Philadelphia Era of His church.
I'm going to give you some dates for the Philadelphia Era, but they are not "concrete." These are our best guess estimate type of dates for the Philadelphia Era. Some people may have other dates, but these are the dates that I am going to use. In my investigation into CHURCH HISTORY, this is what seems to be the most accurate. So I am going to say that the Philadelphia Era was from A.D. 1934 to 1972. That's two nineteen-year time cycles.
Prior to the 1930s, Herbert Armstrong had been very successful in business as a younger man. But more than once God had swept his business away, in order to humble him. Then God called and converted him, and Herbert Armstrong began to search for the one true church he knew must exist. Somewhere there had to be the church Jesus Christ said He would build and that nothing could destroy.
The Church of God people in Oregon seemed to have the truth; but something was wrong, and he couldn't put his finger on it. They seemed "spiritually dead;" and, consequently, Herbert Armstrong never joined their organization. But he began to fellowship with the people. He was asked to speak to them, and was finally ordained by the Oregon Conference of the Church of God in June of 1931.
God revealed the true identity of the modern "House of Israel" to Herbert Armstrong. He also came to see that God's annual festivals were commanded to be kept today—along with the weekly Sabbath. He began to understand their meaning, but it was seven years before any others in Oregon kept God's annual Sabbaths with Herbert and Loma Armstrong.
The world didn't notice the Sardis Era of God's church because it didn't proclaim the Gospel with power, and they didn't exploit the possibilities opened to it by the development of printing.
But at the critical moment when the Church of God Seventh Day was breaking up, Jesus Christ separated nineteen people in Oregon to begin the Philadelphia Era of His church. (No doubt there are people left who are part of that era, but primarily today we are in the Laodicean Era of God's church.)
You'll notice there that God has nothing negative to say to the Philadelphia church. So, in one sense, they were unusual; and the things that God did with the Philadelphia Era were unusual in the great things that He was able to do in witnessing to the world. He began to use Herbert Armstrong—and the small group that He had called to assist as co-workers—to reach the world with the good news of the coming Kingdom of God, unlike any era before or after.
In verse 8, Christ promised an open door before the church. The "door" here is an opportunity to broadcast and publicize Christ's gospel. This verse implies that some people actually wanted to shut the door that Christ opened to the church. So we see there that there was resistance to it, and we know that Satan was the one leading that resistance.
Christ opened the door of radio to His church. Since the first Sunday in January of 1934 THE WORLD TOMORROW broadcast did not miss a week on the air until 1972. It began on television on a regular basis in 1967, and this proved to be an even greater "door" than radio. The Philadelphia Era had only a little strength of itself (as verse 8 states); but it magnified greatly through the modern "doors" of radio, television, the printing press, and the public appearances of Herbert Armstrong before world leaders—and, most important of all, through the power of the Holy Spirit! It [the church] was very active during that era.
Problems of a personal nature still plagued the church on a regular basis. About the 1950s, Herbert Armstrong wrote: "In those early days I used Raymond Cole, a pioneer student, as a 'trouble-shooter,' to restore peace where frictions had developed." So even though God has nothing negative to say about Philadelphia in Revelation 3, there were problems of the normal types that human nature ends up getting involved in; and they had to be taken care of. But generally speaking, things were quite smooth in the church (comparing it to all the other eras).
In 1953 (one nineteen-year time cycle after the beginning of the Philadelphia Era) the gospel of the Kingdom of God had gone coast to coast in the United States. Also this year, the work of God expanded to Europe.
Herbert Armstrong wrote in the June 24, 1985 issue of The Worldwide News (which was the issue that gave the history of the recent era of God's church):
So we see that Herbert Armstrong realized, starting in about 1969, that the Laodicean attitude of God's church was beginning to creep in, in a noticeable way.
The Philadelphia Era received most of its persecution from the world on individual members for Sabbath keeping. I remember back and I know that during that time my father lost several jobs because he was keeping the Sabbath in the Radio Church of God. Back then, an employer could fire someone for any reason he wanted. The laws weren't as strict as they are today, and lawsuits were very rare in that type of thing. I know many—even many of you—have lost jobs because of the Sabbath (and some of you during this time period, especially so).
Even the children were persecuted for keeping the Sabbath and holy days. In the times that I remember in the '60s, I remember two examples in my own case. In the seventh grade, after coming back from the Feast of Tabernacles my homeroom teacher stood me up and she said, "Now Martin Collins is going to tell the class about his weird religion." That's how she worded it. Today you'd think "lawsuit." But that's the way they were.
I was raised in the Baltimore, Maryland area, which is a Catholic colony, so to speak. And in eighth grade, my homeroom teacher (who was another Catholic) used to call me "Preacher." He would never use my real name. He would just call me "Preacher" or "Jew" when he called out my name. So the persecution back then was different than it is now, because the laws allowed it. That's just a couple of examples. But what impact that had on me today, I can guess one thing; and that is I am terrified to stand in front of people and speak to this day. But that's just a personal example that I saw back then. And I'm sure many, many, many people had to go through serious trials during that era.
But that Philadelphia Era, as I said, Christ doesn't say very much bad about. And there's so much information about it that I can go into, but I am actually going to stop there on the Philadelphia Era of God's church. I'll cover more about it towards the end, as I summarize the sermon; but I'd like to get into the Laodicean Era because there's so many (in one sense) more lessons to learn—though of a negative nature—than in the Philadelphia Era. Also we've heard many sermons and examples of the good things that Philadelphians have done.
So I am going to say that the Laodicean Era goes from A.D. 1972 to the present. At the end of this sermon I will explain to you how they are not only eras but also attitudes and historical aspects as well. But in contrast to the Philadelphia Era, the Laodicean Era received most of its persecution on faithful individual members from within the church, as we will see later.
Having attended the Church of God since 1963 (when Worldwide was called the Radio Church of God), I saw firsthand many of the events that transpired during the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. And I can attest to the fact that there was a definite transition in the church's attitude around 1970 to 1974.
The humility, teachability, and brotherly love of the brethren prior to 1970 (just throwing out a general year) was replaced by the less moral, rebellious, and anti-authority attitude of the people who surged into the church through the evangelistic campaigns of the early 1970s. This attitude deteriorated into the "ME" attitude that so typified the world in the 1980s, which further degenerated into the "NOW" attitude of the 1990s. This trend went from "I want it." to "I want it now!" This and other self-centered traits typified the Laodicean attitude we see very obviously throughout the church today.
In 1972, THE WORLD TOMORROW radio program was taken off the air for a time; and the Worldwide Church of God, as a corporate body, ceased to preach the gospel publicly to the world. The only verbal preaching of the gospel was by ministers to the members in the local congregations.
The Protestant attitude began its infusion into the church in the early 1970s—and maybe as soon as 1969, as Mr. Armstrong noticed. It coincides very closely with the Laodicean attitude seen in the church at that time. Beginning in the Worldwide Church of God in the 1970s (especially with the influx of the large numbers of what we might call "converts" as a result of the evangelistic campaigns of Garner Ted Armstrong and other evangelists) Protestant and Laodicean approaches and doctrines were flowing into the church. The Laodiceans have the trait of constantly striving over doctrines, with a never-ending pursuit to liberalize and water down doctrine. And this is a trend that we saw constantly from the early 1970s, and even to the present.
In 1974, a large number of ministers conspired against Herbert Armstrong because of their differences of opinion on various doctrines—especially Pentecost, divorce and remarriage, healing, and tithing. They were impatient and wanted their "pet doctrines" changed quickly. Let's see what James has to say about being impatient.
What these rebellious ministers didn't do is that they didn't remain patient and wait for some of the doctrines to be changed in the way that they needed to be changed. But they took it upon themselves to take it into their own hands. So they missed out on developing this patience that James talks about here.
Had these ministers had patience, real errors in doctrine would have been corrected by Herbert Armstrong in due time. Thirty-five ministers rebelled against him, formed their own church and incorporated as the Associated Churches of God. They took about 2-3,000 people with them. Some Worldwide Church of God congregations were devastated. For example: Richmond, Virginia (if I remember correctly) lost 80-90% of its members; and then Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (where some of you on line with us today were there at the time) lost about 60%. I am not sure of that percentage, but I know that it was quite high—the number that these ministers had pulled away in their rebellious attempt to change doctrine.
According to an article in March 10, 1974 issue of the Dallas Times Herald:
So these are some of the changes that they couldn't wait for Mr. Armstrong to change (and obviously he never would have).
While the rebellion and conspiracy festered in Worldwide and just prior to the forming of the Associated Churches of God—Garner Ted Armstrong (Vice President of Worldwide at the time) issued a letter to the brethren, dated February 25, 1974, in which he said:
So you can see there how serious this whole thing had become—with the rebelliousness of those ministers. This rebellion was about forty years after the beginning of the Philadelphia Era of the church in 1934. Forty is the number of trial and testing. But keep in mind that the "eras" overlap. That is why I suggest that the beginning of the Laodicean Era was 1972, but it looks like this was a significant event in the Philadelphia part of the church as well (in the overlap).
According to the August 6, 1979 Worldwide Church of God Member's Hotline newsletter, Herbert Armstrong wrote:
The Systematic Theology Project was the number one official symbol of this Protestantizing of the church. It also brought out the rebellious attitudes in the Worldwide Church of God in the early to mid-1970s. The STP (which the evangelist Dean Blackwell referred to as "Slowly Turning Protestant") was pushed on the ministry as a new doctrinal approach to the truth of God. In the May 21, 1990 issue of The Worldwide News, Joseph Tkach's Personal admitted this:
Joseph Tkach went on to say:
During the final eight years of Herbert Armstrong's life, he intensely denounced the STP—calling it Satan inspired! This Laodicean rebellion against God's truth so disturbed Herbert Armstrong that he was still condemning it just a few months before his death. Here is what he said in the June 24, 1985 issue of the Worldwide Church of God newspaper, The Worldwide News: On the Pasadena campus more and more friction developed between the Liberals and those loyal ministers and members who held to the biblical truths God had placed in His Church. It was a sort of cold war of nerves.
There's no doubt where Mr. Armstrong stood on this. Herbert Armstrong, once finding out about this project, put a stop to it and commanded ministers to return their copies of the STP to headquarters. Many ministers did not! It was at about this time that Herbert Armstrong began his campaign to get the church back on the right spiritual track.
By the early 1980s, he stated that the church was back on the right track. But little did he know of the extent to which many of the ministers had allowed themselves to be indoctrinated with this Protestant approach to God's truth. Remember the old saying, "A person convinced against their will is of the same opinion still." Well, many ministers and brethren were of the Protestant opinion still—just waiting for Herbert Armstrong to die. So you see that up until 1980 the Laodicean Era of God's church was marked by rebellion, after rebellion, after rebellion.
In this series on CHURCH HISTORY, we have seen unconverted man's characteristics of rebelliousness towards, and hatred and disdain for, God's way of life. The world's treatment and pursuit of anyone associated with the true doctrine of Jesus Christ and the example He set for us to emulate is always a threat to the world. God has allowed the members of His church to be tracked down, persecuted, attacked, and in many cases martyred. We see no difference today in this end time as far as the attitudes are concerned. It's just that the laws of today prevent people from actually murdering God's people.
Immediately on the heels of the conspiratorial STP that attached Christ's doctrine from within, the church and its government were attacked from the outside with the help of disgruntled ex-members. (This was a mild precursor to the coming persecution of the church in the near future.)
In 1979, the State of California sought to destroy the religious freedom that was guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America.
Here is part of a report dated March 31, 1979 and entitled "An Aide Memoir re: State of California vs. Worldwide Church of God." It was prepared under the auspices of the Emergency Committee for the Defense of Religious Freedom, an AD hoc voluntary association of lay members of the Worldwide Church of God in good standing. It was published as an official record of the events surrounding the church's confrontation with the State of California. (As I read through this, the hair just stood up on the back of my neck, because here we claim so much religious freedom in this nation; but this was allowed to happen without anyone batting an eye.)
Isn't that interesting? And that's in these here United States. Continuing on with the quote:
That's a very sobering report, but it gives you an idea that things aren't always as they seem on the surface. At any moment, the government can move in and take over a church, or keep people from meeting together.
It's interesting that the original charges were filed by ex-members of the Worldwide Church of God, who had either real or imagined grievances against the church and sought vengeance on their ex-fellow brethren. How many times throughout the church's history has the persecution of the brethren of the true Church of God been instigated or aided by false brethren and ex-members (wolves in sheep's clothing)? I hate to say it, but often—as you already know. And the civil and religious leaders are always anxious to take part in the attacks if given a chance, and they themselves don't feel threatened.
Once Herbert Armstrong died (on January 16, 1986), the "wolves" inside and outside the Worldwide Church of God were able to have their way with the "sheep." They began to "clarify doctrine," as they phrased it—when in reality they were subtly changing essential teachings of Christ to conform to mainstream Christianity, which is dominated by Catholicism and Protestantism. They were actually bringing back the Systematic Theology Project under a new cover—once again slowly turning the ministers and the brethren "Protestant." (I say "slowly turning," but many were already that way; and so what they did was that they used it to continue to completely turn individuals "Protestant.")
Since I lived in Pasadena, California—working for Ambassador College and the Worldwide Church of God from 1986 to 1990—I saw this first hand, and recognized similarities to the STP within one and a half years of Herbert Armstrong's death. The "wolves" used the same scenario as they had in the 1970s. The same doctrines were changed, in the same general order, and in the same way. So they hadn't been successful in the 1970s, but they were in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Satan doesn't give up!
Many of those Worldwide Church of God leaders, who themselves taught these heresies, are now in some of the major splinter groups. It seems it wasn't until the Worldwide Church of God started changing the doctrine of the Sabbath that they left the Worldwide Church of God. The other major changes in doctrine didn't really faze them. So they took many of those Protestant beliefs with them into the various large groups. With God's allowance, Satan saw to it that his lies would continue within the fellowship of God's church.
Many of those ministers who went from Worldwide Church of God to other splinter groups continued in their agreement with the changes in doctrines of the Worldwide Church of God up until the point that they left. By that time, they have been deeply indoctrinated with Protestantism.
The "fallen woman" of Revelation 17 is clearly identified as the great false church, which ruled over the kings of the Roman Empire from A.D. 554 until 1814. Her doctrines and practice (falsely called by Christian names) are actually the same identical "Chaldean mysteries" of ancient Babylonian Baal worship—denounced in the Bible as the most idolatrous of all false worship! And isn't it interesting that Baal means "Lord." What is it that you hear people proclaiming in the Protestant churches? "The Lord this and the Lord that." And what they are not realizing that they are saying is "Baal this and Baal that."
Revelation 17:5 says that she is called "BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS." She is a mother church. She has daughter churches. She calls the Protestant denominations her wayward daughters. They came out of her in protest, calling themselves "Protestant." They—like the mother church—participate in the governments, politics, and affairs of this world. By this, they reject the government of God! All Protestant denominations contain a certain mixture of false Roman doctrine that have been handed down from the ancient Babylonian idolatry. It is an organized system, even though divided into hundreds of sectarian organizations.
Malachi 3:1 states that Jesus is to come to His temple. He came to a physical temple of stone, wood, gold, and materials in 27-31 A.D. This temple—or church—that Jesus comes to is NOT divided like the Babylonian mystery religion and mainstream Christianity.
The church, of course, is spiritual today (not like the physical temple that Jesus Christ went to in 27 A.D.) The church at Ephesus was composed of former Gentiles. They were no longer foreign Gentiles, but fellow-citizens with the saints—a spiritual nation. They are also a Family—a "household" of God—the Family of God. As a "building," they are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone. As a "building," they are fitly framed together—growing into a holy temple, a spiritual temple. That is totally unlike the Protestant and Catholic descendants from the Babylonian Mystery Religion.
When I worked for the Worldwide Church of God in Pasadena in 1988, I remember hearing that 50% of the members of the church had started attending within the previous ten years. So, from that statistic, you can see what a turnover there was. Not only a turnover, but there were also new members coming in. And it was so substantial that the impact of the liberal mentality coming from the world was overwhelming to the church. With this huge influx of new members, and the turnover of existing members, the whole character of the church had long before become Laodicean.
Most of you know only too well what has transpired in the last 12-15 years. The same problems that sporadically hit the Church of God down through its history have now accumulated into the Laodicean Era. Conspiracies, liberal discontented brethren, splinter groups, doctrinal difficulties, false teachers, opinions galore, self-righteousness, faithlessness, and disloyalty—to name just a few.
Now an old satanic deception has been repackaged and is rearing its ugly head to try to grab those who are scattered. Today there is a movement developing, and gaining popularity, that encourages "brethren" to invite outside preachers to speak to them on the Sabbath. Recently I received this e-mail encouraging just that. The e-mail, which tells a clever story that is designed to impress the emotions, is entitled BUILD BRIDGES, NOT FENCES. I'll just read this story quickly.
That story, in itself, is a nice story—one that warms our heart. We feel good about it, and we want these bridges to be built. But notice the application—how missed it is, and deceitful. The e-mail went on to say:
So you can see the danger of that—after having gone through the eras of God's church throughout its history; and seeing that every time this type of thing was done, it led people astray. But you see how they've tied in such a nice story, but not compared it directly with what's being done. That is, calling in other speakers of various backgrounds. That means they don't know what they are teaching, but they are asking them to come and speak to them.
Here we see people—claiming to be "brethren" of Christians—looking through a smorgasbord of ministers who titillate their senses and agree with their form of religion. These religious hobbyists have rejected the government of God, and have set themselves up as "the standard of righteousness"—replacing Jesus Christ and God the Father, who give clear instruction through the apostle Paul NOT to do this.
For more scriptures supporting this, I give you I Timothy 6:3-5, also verses 20-21; II Timothy 2:16, and verse 23; II Timothy 3:1-5; Titus 3:9-11; and Jude 4. All of these warn that we are to avoid these types of situations and these types of attitudes. In one of those scriptures it said that these are proud people, who come around preaching these things in this way.
In the book of Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, we discover that all seven letters to the seven churches have three distinct approaches:
Now, here's a quote from John Ritenbaugh, from the sermon he gave on May 4, 2000 entitled SOVEREIGNTY, ELECTION, AND GRACE:
So we see there that there are different approaches that we can study the letters of the seven churches; and I've tried to combine all three throughout these five sermons.
Five out of the seven references to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 indicate they are in existence when Christ returns:
against them with the sword of My mouth.")
And, of course, the Laodicean Era talks about them having to be tried by fire, which is an indication that they have to go through the tribulation. So, if you take those five or six, then you can also assume that the other one (with no mention of His return) is also included with those as being in existence at Christ's return. And you can take your pick—whether it's the attitude, or the characteristics, or the era that is in existence at that time. To me, if it is all or one of them isn't really all that important, but just the fact that we learn from it. I personally apply all three of those approaches here at the end time.
Here is a summary of the negative characteristics of "the called" of the Church of God, down through its history and at the end time:
An example of this liberalization is that one professing Church of God minister recently stated that the story of Adam and Eve was a myth. Some of the split-off groups have officially changed the church's standard Bible version to the very Protestant slanted New International Version, which among publishers is considered half literal and half paraphrase in its translation.
Today many Church of God groups differ on the application of doctrine—for example, on Sabbath keeping and tithing. Tithing is taught that it is a matter of the heart, and not a command; but it is both. With some congregations in other groups being organizationally autonomous, the members determine what the minister preaches—hand tying him from preaching the truth of God. As a result of this wrong type of church government, the minister doesn't "cry aloud and spare not" as God commands in Isaiah 58:1.
Since the minister under this type of government fears the loss of his job (because of having to please the members), he is unable to admonish the people of their transgressions. Also, in this bottom-up government, some Church of God congregations are very liberal and others are very conservative. The brethren determine what the minister preaches—according to human reasoning, not godly guidance. This is a faithless form of government, which promotes disunity.
In many of the Church of God groups the view of the Sabbath is similar to the Protestant attitude that it is good to seek your own pleasure—even when it contradicts Isaiah 58:13. The Sabbath is NOT kept as holy time. Many seek entertainment during this holy time, while many neglect Bible study and prayer. Some spend hours in restaurants, feeding the lust of the eyes and the flesh. Others play sports, or work out; and some go as far as to do secular work on it.
There has been a similarly Protestant de-emphasis of keeping the law of God. In many congregations, the Ten Commandments have become suggestions rather than commandments! When appearing before the great God of the universe, many people wear casual clothes. Casual Sabbath wear reflects casual attitudes, and a casual attitude is a Laodicean attitude. Remember the prophetic description of the Laodicean attitude in Revelation 3.
We have to yield to being molded into the image of God—growing in character, in grace, and in knowledge. This choosing is a joint effort: We work, and the Father works. Our part is to show Him our faithfulness, loyalty, commitment, and obedience. It is those who overcome with the help of the Holy Spirit that God places with Him on His throne. Sanctification signifies that we are impregnated with the Holy Spirit and stamps us with a seal that says we have God's Holy Spirit.
God calls many, but He selects only A FEW. He makes His truth available generally; but, by comparison, only A FEW succeed in passing the test for inclusion with the firstfruits. So, tens of thousands of people throughout the almost 2000 years of the history of the true church have been introduced to God's truth, and then gone back to the religions of this world.
I just want to take a moment to look at the positive characteristics of the seven churches. I don't want it to be all "negative;" but as you realize in reading through them, it is mostly negative things that are said about the churches—but there are some good things. So here is the summary of the positive characteristics of the churches.
The common link in the praise that Jesus Christ gives the churches and the difference between the called who fall away and the chosen is that "the called who fall away" are the faithless, proud, and opinionated; but "the elect of God" are truly faithful, humble, and teachable. From all that I've read about CHURCH HISTORY, these are some of the key factors that I've noticed:
It is essential to God's plan to preserve, train, and perfect His church. We find all that the seven churches persevere through is for the purpose of refinement (in using a general category).
That's what God's goal is for the seven churches—to bring His people through all of these trials, and into "rich fulfillment." Though the experience of metalworking is unfamiliar to most people, we still talk about God's melting our hearts, and purifying or refining us. We tend to see this individualistically, rather than corporately; but God does both—because by refining us individually, He refines His church corporately. Our actions individually affect the church corporately as a whole—as a Body.
The Bible often stresses refinement's positive benefits, rather than the element of judgment—although both may be involved. This is why the refining process requires the judgment that sin be removed from the Body, beginning on an individual level.
In this CHURCH HISTORY series, we have seen that (throughout the last almost 2000 years) God's people have experienced the same types of trials, tests, and persecutions. Some time periods have had more severe trials than others. But, regardless of the time period, God have tried and tested every individual He has called—for the purpose of separating out and completing His "Elect," in preparation as first fruits for the Kingdom of God. "Many are called but few are chosen."
The true Church of God is spiritual (not physical). It is NOT some politically organized denomination that one joins. We are NOT baptized into any humanly devised organization, but into the Body of Christ. Jesus did NOT die for one organization called a church. We can't join the true church. Only God puts us into it! The church is called "the Body of Christ" because it is a spiritual organism whose Head is Jesus Christ (just as a husband is head of his wife, as we read in Ephesians 5:22-24). Sadly, even this is not a popular concept among the Laodiceans.
From the beginning, the church was subject to the rule of God. It was NOT a government set up by human beings. Jesus is the Head of the church. The true Church of God is one spiritual church, composed of scattered members and united in spirit. The church that Jesus is building is composed of those scattered individuals who have God's Holy Spirit.
But God has often used organizations to further His preaching of the gospel. And Worldwide Church of God is a prime example of an incorporated body that—by its worldly incorporation—was able to further preach the gospel to the world than it would have otherwise. So there are times when incorporation will help the church more easily promote God's way of life.
IF we have submitted to God in faith and obedience, and are genuinely repentant of our sins, have accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, were baptized with full submersion in water, and had ministerial hands laid on us so that we may receive the Holy Spirit; and IF we have done all the required things and produced good fruit—it is still by the grace of God, through faith, that we receive salvation and entrance into the Kingdom of God.
The major principle regarding God's part in working with His church is reflected in the number of sermons in this series. There have been five, and "5" represents the number of grace. What we see throughout the history of God's church is that it is by God's grace that His people will be saved. But, of course, there is work to be done. And faith without works is a dead faith. So we do have to produce faith and works; but we don't earn salvation with that.
What we see consistently though the church's history is the unmerited pardon of the weaknesses of the elect of God! It is NOT the blind grace of the tolerance of sin (that Protestantism falsely calls "love"). Rather, it is a deep commitment by God the Father and Jesus Christ to see Their plan for the salvation of mankind through to the successful development and completion unto perfection of the first fruits of the Kingdom of God—followed, at another time, by the salvation of the rest of humanity.
These are great rewards promised to the called who overcome: spiritual food (Revelation 2:7), a new name (Revelation 2:17), authority (Revelation 2:26), robes of righteousness (Revelation 3:5), a permanent position or responsibility (Revelation 3:12), enthronement (Revelation 3:21), and an eternal inheritance (Revelation 21:7).
In God's dedication to work individually with each of us, He generously forgives our sins—as we repent and overcome them! It is by the grace of God that we are given the opportunity to be among the first fruits of the Kingdom of God. I'm going to read Romans 8:27-39 and end with that, because it couldn't be stated any better by anyone else.
Who could say that better?