This sermon began to take shape rather vaguely about three months ago when I read a paragraph in a commentary about the importance of doctrine. Then it really leapt to the forefront of my mind about one month ago when I read an article in the Sabbath Sentinel publication. The Sabbath Sentinel's Purpose Statement claims to not necessarily agree wholly with the doctrinal position of those articles they choose to publish. They do agree with the author's position regarding the necessity of keeping the Sabbath, and that is why they choose to print any particular article.
They published an article of mine in which the Sabbath was used to indicate the wide difference of belief that separated those clergymen who participated in the service in The National Cathedral following the World Trade Center bombing. The question in my article was: "Because of the wide disagreements, including the very important Sabbath doctrine, how could all of these impressive clergymen be right?" Those clergymen all claimed to represent God, but their doctrinal disagreement portrayed God as being unconcerned about doctrine.
The Bible clearly states that God is not the author of confusion; therefore, God is not the author of doctrinal confusion represented by those clergymen with all the impressive letters following their names. Which one, if any, was God listening to, and responding to, since none of them advocated keeping the Sabbath?
The article that appeared in the Sabbath Sentinel about a month ago made the following statement regarding his belief about the church:
This came from a man whose name I think most of you would immediately recognize, and who was of course a pretty high-ranking official in the Worldwide Church of God. [Understand that he is no longer in the Worldwide.] A paragraph or two later he went on to further explain the practical ramification of this notion that he put forth. He said:
Apparently a fairly sizeable number of people have come to a similar conclusion to this man's, because I think we can all know people that we formerly fellowshipped with in the Worldwide Church of God who are now attending a Sunday-keeping church. But I want to more closely examine and compare with biblical statements and commands some of the thoughts expressed within these paragraphs, because I think it is very clear that these people have reached a wrong conclusion that is going to cost them greatly before this scattering is over.
I read to you only two paragraphs from this article, but these portions of the article make it very clear that this man strongly believes that it is a proper solution for anybody to believe that regular fellowship at any church calling itself "Christian" is okay with God, because (he says) God's spirit is in those churches too.
Now consider this question: Is the Bible not merely careless, but outright wrong when it twelve times names a distinct organization—the "Church of God,"—and not Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Congregational, or you name it? This man, after all, called the people attending these churches with those names as "brethren." He also said that these churches are repositories of the truth, and that by fellowshipping with these groups one avoids the suppression of certain aspects of biblical truth, and all of the negative aspects of offenses generated by political in-fighting within the churches of God.
Now answer this question: Were not the New Testament epistles written to address problems in church of God congregations, and to instruct, exhort, and encourage those sons of God as to how to overcome those problems?
Another question: Have any of you, at any time, in any New Testament epistle, or in any Old Testament book, of any author, ever seen it written that one possible solution is to start fellowshipping with those meeting at the local high place, or the local idol's temple, because there you will have your spiritual needs met?
I and II Corinthians are especially good examples of what I'm talking about here. That congregation seemed to contain just about every bad quality that one can imagine the Church of God having, and yet Paul nowhere in those epistles advanced the possibility of going to another church to relieve the pressure and get spiritual help.
When Paul and the others wrote those epistles to the organized corporate body of the Church of God, there is absolutely not one indication that the authors expected Christians to be in other corporate bodies. These people were gathered together in one spiritual and physical organization. The General Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude directly addressed a division and scattering that occurred in the first century, and was caused by false ministers from within the Church of God, and yet none of those authors even remotely suggested fellowshipping with the competition for a while.
Every false doctrine that was used to scatter the church by destroying our unity of belief is to be found in full force in those competing spiritual groups. To go to them is to run into the arms of the major human source of the very thing that caused the division and scattering: false doctrine.
This "solution" supported by this author to providing for one's spiritual need is very similar to what some psychologists give when telling dysfunctional married couples that the solution to their marital problems is to commit adultery. Spiritual adultery is exactly what Israel was committing when they fellowshipped at the local high place of Baal following the making of the Old Covenant at Mount Sinai. Now what kind of faithfulness does that kind activity show? Well Jeremiah makes it very clear. It directly led to Christ divorcing the church.
Let's begin with Deuteronomy 13:1-5.
Brethren, when fellowshipping with those who are not named "The Church of God" and who keep Sunday in obvious defiance of the Fourth Commandment given as a sign, is this not going to result in being taught doctrine the Lord has not commanded? That seems to me to be so logical, I don't know how anyone can deny it. We're going to see as we go through here place after place after place where God warns people, commands people: "Don't do that!"
We are being tested, and these people who are running to these other groups are failing the test. They are showing that they cannot be faithful to the One they have been affianced to—Jesus Christ—and that they can find their needs met elsewhere, apart from Him.
Are you aware that the people of the land that God is talking about here called their major god "Baal," and that Baal means the same thing as our English word "lord"? They worshipped "the lord." Is that not similar to what we have here today where there is a play on a name? Those people in those churches call God "the Lord," but as we go along you're going to see very clearly it is not the same God with the same teaching, and is not the same Lord they are worshipping. So often, brethren, we are deceived by our eyes, and rather than rely in faith, trusting confidently the word of God, we instead rely upon what we think we see and perceive in the people.
Now we have to ask ourselves a question. Are those people doing the will of God? They aren't, and we have an obvious area (the Sabbath and the Holy Days) which shows very clearly that they are not keeping them, even though very many of their theologians will admit that the Sabbath is the only day commanded in the Bible. They will admit it, and still not keep it. There is defiance there. There is an enmity there.
They may do many wonderful works, especially in some areas of society.
They may call out "Lord, Lord," but they are workers of iniquity, and iniquity means lawlessness, and lawlessness is commandment breaking. So don't be deceived by appearances. They might look as though they are very fine people and that they are doing wonderful social works, but they are commandment breakers.
There are clues all through the Book that they are wrong in their response to this scattering. Does one simply throw out clear warning patterns that God established in His dealings with Israel in the Old Testament? How, brethren, are people going to have their spiritual needs met by doing such a thing? Is the way to win a war to join with the enemy's camp? Is fellowshipping with the enemy the way to correct doctrine and truth so that one is equipped for every good work? These are questions with obvious answers.
Let's go to I Timothy 3:14-15.
Paul is writing here of a specific organization which is the support [the pillar which upholds] and is also the foundation (the ground) of the truth. How can one know that it is a specific organization? Actually, that is very easy. It's because of the pattern that God establishes, and because of God's use of symbolism and metaphor.
We're going to go back to the Old Testament again to establish something in the book of Amos, chapter 3, verses 1 and 2.
God made the Old Covenant with only one nation. We all understand that He uses the metaphor of a marriage between a young man and a young woman in order to establish one aspect of that covenant, and He gives the ideal: one man, one woman for life. That's the ideal. Not one man, two women; one man, three women; one man, four women. Spiritually, God is not a polygamist. He makes a covenant only with ONE organization. The Old Covenant was made with only ONE organization—the nation of Israel.
That agreement was the type that laid the foundation and set the pattern for the New Covenant. The Israelites were not scattered. They were all located in one geographical area. They were one organized unit, distinct from all other nations. They did not become scattered until they broke the covenant through poor performance, and God divorced Himself from them and scattered them. When they were scattered, they became lost within the pagan nations around them, and they lost their identity, forgetting to this day who they are. Do you understand what I am saying? These people who are leaving the Church of God are going over to this other group in their scattering, and they are setting the course so that they become lost just like the Israelites.
Let's go back to the New Testament again to I Corinthians 12:12.
Is Christ's body scattered all over the place? It's an organized body.
In the New Testament the human body is a type of the church, and the human body is highly organized. It's parts are not scattered in many bodies. There is absolutely no permission given for one even to begin to think that he is helping things by fellowshipping with another organized spiritual body. If one does, the Old Testament already shows the result. Those people will become lost, absorbed in those religious organizations, and they will lose their distinctive identity. Where then brethren, is the witness going to come from?
These people are naively brave and foolish. They think that they are going to be a part of these organizations without absorbing the teaching and without becoming just like those who are in them. It will happen that way. Wherever you are as an American, you are distinctive, unless you are in America. Then you blend right in. The same thing is true in regard to spiritual organizations. You come in there different, and you are distinctive, but after a while you blend right in.
This sorting out the wheat and the chaff is an idle dream. It won't happen, and that's why we are urged all through this Book in different ways, in different forms of commands, the simplest being, "Come out of them!" If you stay in amongst them, you're going to be like they are. They won't be able to be a witness to God. Not at all.
I want you to reflect back on a scripture I used before in I Timothy 3:15.
In this scripture we have definite articles appearing before every one of those nouns, making them all very specific. I'm going to be focusing on "the truth." From here though, I want us to go to Galatians 6:15. We just read in I Corinthians 12 that we make up the body of Christ Jesus. We are in Christ Jesus. We are part of His body.
Circumcision is unimportant. What is important is the new creation. That's the emphasis in what Paul is saying here.
Christians are those individuals who have made the New Covenant with God, which in turn unites them with others who have done the same. They are then placed into an organized unit or body called the church (the body of Christ), or in this place the Israel of God. Even that is interesting, because it separates, makes distinctive one Israel from another. There are at least two Israels. One of them is distinctive, and that distinctive one is the Israel of God, which is spiritual Israel, which is the Church of God, which is highly organized, just like a human body.
Paul goes on to say that those individuals who make the covenant are those who walk according to the principle (the rule, as it is stated there) of the new creation. What Paul is inferring is a way of life. When he talks about the new creation, he is inferring a way of life, truth, rules, principles, doctrines, and tradition that will enable one to progress within the new creation.
Back away for just a second here, and I want you to reflect on just very generally the kind of fruit that those organizations (the competition people are being persuaded to fellowship with to fill their spiritual needs) have produced. What have they produced? What is their fruit?
This western world (primarily Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) is largely the product of its spiritual efforts. Is it filled with every good thing God promises, or with every filthy thing that He warns us against? You know what the answer to that is.
God's organized body (the church) has a very clear and specific sign given by God to those who have made the covenant with Him. All of these other spiritual organizations are NOT the pillar and ground of the truth. These people are fellowshipping with the enemy, and the enemy has rejected the clear sign given in Exodus 31. I'm going to read that to you even though you know what it is.
That's pretty clear.
I'm going to go back to the New Testament once again as we continue to show that fellowship with those people is totally unacceptable in God's eyes. It is NOT the solution to the scattering by which He is testing us, and these people are failing it miserably. Turn to James 3:11.
This man admitted in his article that you're not going to get the truth there.
The people who turn to that solution have really given themselves a spiritual Mount Everest to climb. "Reject the chaff; separate out the wheat," he said is that simple.
I'm going to go to another place to give you God's answer. David Grabbe went through this in a sermonette, and I thought I would read through it. We're going to go to Proverbs 7. I'm going to read most of that chapter because here we have types and symbols being used, and the woman in this picturesque story represents the false churches.
Brethren, if any of you can think back on any of the particulars when the Worldwide Church of God was falling apart in the early nineties and up to the middle nineties, how ardently the Protestant churches pursued the Worldwide Church of God, to break it up. They sent their representatives to counsel with the Tkachs and all that other gang out there, and lead them and guided them along the way as to what they needed to do in order to divorce themselves from the heresies (they say) of Herbert Armstrong and the Church of God.
Turn now to Jeremiah 2:13.
God and His church is the fountain of living waters, and He fellowships with the Israel of God.
Let's go back to the New Testament again to II Corinthians 6:14.
Paul is asking, "What do we have in common with these people?" The answer is nothing, except those things that are carnal. Those who have chosen to fellowship with the world's churches are giving clear evidence of their carnality. It may well be that they were simply unconverted tares who were sown amongst us and fellowshipped with us for a time. They may have been very nice people who agreed intellectually, were sociable and are quite cultured, but nonetheless unconverted. They are giving evidence that they are rich and increased with goods. They are saying that they have no further need of the spiritual help God provides through the Church of God—His spiritual help that will enable them to walk according to the principle of the new creation. This is going to become increasingly important as we go through this end of the sermon.
The Church of God is the pillar and the ground of THE truth, and THE truth is contained within the doctrines that were given to us. I am not saying as they were given to us they were given to us in their fullness and with complete understanding. There is always more that we can know, because God is so deep. I am saying that we were given the basics. We were given all that was necessary for salvation. We were given all and more that is necessary to begin to prepare us for salvation.
Our failure as a corporate body was not due to having wrong doctrines. Like ancient Israel, it was due to poor performance in using the doctrines that we were given. Poor performance in any area of life might be due to any number of factors. Poor performance in relation to God is almost always due to a lack of faith—the faith that God is really aware of and concerned with us individually and intimately. This lack of faith is always almost due to a lack of really knowing God, combined with an equal or greater lack of understanding of the practical application of His way.
To help us overcome is why God has provided so many gifts and offices that are named in I Corinthians 12. I just want to go over some of the gifts that He gives.
Every once in a while we would hear a report either from Mr. Armstrong or one of the others who traveled to some of the other areas of the world. It always impressed them, that no matter where they went in the world, whether the people were black or brown or Caucasian, whether they spoke Spanish, French, Nigerian, or whatever it was, the spirit that was in the congregation was always the same. It's not that way when one goes to these other organizations.
I do not mean that you can't go to, let's say, a Methodist church all over the world, and that they wouldn't have the same spirit. I think that they probably will. What I am saying is that there is not the same spirit in the Church of God that there is in the Methodist church. There is not the same spirit in the Church of God that there is in the Presbyterian church. I would also say there is not the same spirit in the Presbyterian church as there is in the Methodist church, or in the Presbyterian church as there is in the Catholic church, or whatever.
The spirit that is in the Church of God is distinct. It has to be that way, because it is the spirit of God, and that spirit is in every one of the congregations to a greater or lesser degree regardless of where we are in the world, and regardless of the language.
The remainder of this sermon is going to be devoted to helping us understand the importance of right doctrine, because it was given to us in a package. There is absolutely no doubt about that. Doctrine is available to the sons of God in a specific package that is in agreement with God's purpose and leads to the correct conclusion for life only in the churches of God. We're going to see this especially in the book of Ephesians.
There are six words in the Bible translated doctrine: four in the Old Testament, and two in the New Testament. Two of the ones in the Old Testament are each translated as "doctrine" only one time. These words actually have a stronger sense of being an announcement or a warning. That leaves us with four to deal with: 2 in the Old Testament, and 2 in the New Testament. All four of those words mean exactly the same thing. They mean "instruction." Doctrine is instruction. We can say doctrine is teaching, or doctrine is learning. Every one of those uses fits, depending upon the context in which it appears. Therefore, there is nothing hidden, mysterious, or ambiguous about the terms. They are all straight-forward and can be used for either good instruction or for bad instruction. They can be used for the Lord's instruction, Satan's instruction, the world's, father's, mother's, friend's, priest's, or minister's instruction. There is nothing unusual about any of these four words. They all simply mean instruction.
We're concerned with the importance of the Lord's teaching as contrasted with everybody else's, because that is the issue in the Bible. It was bad doctrine believed by many deceived people that is at the foundation of the scattering, and is continued to be used to increase the scattering. Turn to Ephesians 4:14.
These two verses show that it is very clear that bad doctrine deceives. People get blown about by it. You can think of leaves scattering in the wind. It deceives, and it destroys both godly maturity and unity.
I'm going to back off just a little bit because I want to give us all a bit of an overview of the book of Ephesians. The overall theme is unity: how our (the Church of God's) particular unity came about, why it is essential, and how to maintain it.
In Ephesians 2 Paul charges us to know that we are saved by grace through faith, and we are purposefully being created for doing good works. He reminds us briefly that this very racially and ethnically diverse group has been unified around Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ broke down the middle wall of partition that divided us.
In Ephesians 3 Paul explains his special assignment to the Gentiles, that he has been gifted by God to make known the arrangement of God's plan for salvation, and that it is through the church that it is going to be witnessed to the principalities and powers in heavenly places. This is a very important chapter in terms of the purpose of the church and why it has to be organized.
In the beginning of Ephesians 4 the unity theme really leaps to the fore, because this is where he says, "There is one body, one spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God who is above all and through all, and in us all." All of us have been given gifts to enable us to live, work and unify within the Church of God." He then charges that some have been gifted as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, and that their purpose is to help in equipping the saints for service and maturity that we might be unified rather than immature and scattered.
It's right here in chapter 4, verses 14 through 16, that the instruction makes a major significant turn from what I call foundational doctrine or conceptual doctrine intended to enable us to envision broad overall concepts explaining how we got here and where we are going. From this point on, beginning in verse 17, Paul gives a much more narrow practical application doctrine that will enable us to meet and fulfill our responsibilities in daily life. In other words, verse 17 and on contains what we must do in order to carry out our part in the outworking of God's great purpose, thus ensuring that we are not causing disunity.
Paul is a very careful teacher. He doesn't simply announce great principles, and then leave it there. He always applied his teaching. He doesn't merely leave things on an intellectual level. He preaches "because of this, we must do that," and thus he exposes us to our duties, our obligation, and our responsibility. Do you know why he does this? He does this so that we have absolutely no excuse for failing. We have been told. In John 13:17 Jesus said, "Blessed are you if you do them."
Knowing what we know is a great responsibility, because if we know without applying it, we're going to have to answer for it. In Luke 12 Jesus said, "To whom much is given, of him much more is required." In the light of what we have been given, our responsibilities are enormous.
Let's look at Ephesians 4:17-20.
That word "therefore" begins Paul's two-chapter long conclusion. He begins by telling us that there is no separating what we know from daily life. There is not one life inside the church and another outside. Both are one. We must "walk the walk." Church is not something that one puts a suit on for and goes to on the Sabbath, and then goes back to the same old "same olds" the rest of the week. As part of the body of Christ, a person is something. He is a Christian, and he is to be a Christian at home, at work, at play, driving his automobile, interacting with the husband or wife, in childrearing practices, in the market place. It matters not where. One who is a part of the body of Jesus Christ is always a Christian wherever.
Because of the tremendous overwhelming important doctrines taught in the first three and one-half chapters of this epistle, a person cannot allow himself to live as the unconverted live because of the futility of their mind, which is subject to ignorance and hardness of heart.
Now this is what a Christian must do:
The Christian, as he has learned Christ—that is, the truth contained in the doctrines taught through the apostles—must be actively taking off and putting aside the old conduct, and putting on the conduct and attitudes learned through the Church of God. In other words, Paul is saying that there must not be any difference between the major conceptual doctrine and practice. Conduct must always arise from, be dictated by, and controlled by these Christian doctrines.
Now listen to what I have to say here. Christian practice is not merely a code of conduct imposed on us. There is conduct that we must do, and there is conduct that we must not do, but we must know why. The conceptual doctrines tell us why, and they give us understanding. Doctrines give logical sense to the things of Christianity. I know that one of the things that impressed me, as I learned from Herbert Armstrong, is how logically everything fits together just like a picture puzzle. It is the broad conceptual doctrines that teach us the who, what, where, why, when, and how of life from God's perspective. As we learn it, it begins to dissolve the mysteries of life. Paul charges that we be no more children. We must learn, we must grow, we must understand our responsibilities. Our practices in life must always be such that is inevitable because of what we believe. In other words, believing this will inevitably lead to doing that.
There is a difference between mere morality and Christian living. The world's morality is concerned about the goodness and rightness of behavior mostly in terms of its social consequences. This is important for us to understand, because there are many people like this, and there is nothing wrong with this as far as it goes, but it can also be deceiving us. I know that some of these people who are going to these Protestant churches especially, are being deceived by nice people, moral people who are in them. Like I said, this is good as far as it goes, but mere morality is not what the Bible is concerned about in terms of Christian living, because Christian doctrine shows that this world's approach to morality doesn't go anywhere near far enough for a Christian.
Christian doctrine shows that Christianity is primarily interested in us, and in our conduct and attitudes, not in and of themselves and their social consequences. It is interested in our conduct and attitudes because of our interest in Christ, in the Father, in the Church, in God's plan of redemption, in the Kingdom of God. By that, as Paul shows in this epistle, God is going to astound the principalities and powers.
It is not merely conduct in and of itself, but conduct within this vast scheme of God nullifying the works of Satan, and restoring and uniting all things in Christ. In other words, Christian conduct and attitude is seen in the Bible as relating to God's new creation, and having little or nothing at all to do with the world itself. Where, brethren, are you going to get teaching like that, except in a Church of God that knows what the purpose of life is, that we were born to be God? We weren't born just to be good. We weren't born just to be moral. We were born to glorify Christ, to glorify the Father, and to be prepared when Christ comes! That's why He wants us to be moral. He wants us to witness for His way. He wants us to witness and to be moral because of His plan of redemption so that we're prepared when the Kingdom of God comes.
All of the teaching of the Church of God bears directly upon preparation for and the establishment of His government and His religion on earth. Everything in Christianity is attached to that. In one sense Christianity doesn't give a hoot about our social consciousness. That's going to be taken care of in God's good time.
Now we aren't blind to what's going on. I realize that. But it's the focus that counts. It's the why. It's the understanding of why we are required what we are required. That's what those big conceptual doctrines that appear in the first three and one-half chapters of Ephesians and Romans the first eight chapters is about.
Turn to Galatians 1:6.
Those people aren't being given the Gospel.
"That which you have received." Just like we did in this generation.
It is very true that Herbert Armstrong's gospel is not the same as the gospel that is preached in all those Protestant and Catholic churches. They are preaching men's gospels about Christ.
Brethren, those people are not receiving doctrines that have to do with God's new creation, but a perversion that focuses on one aspect of the true gospel, and so they have doctrines like going to heaven, having an immortal soul, the trinity, keeping Sunday, keeping Easter, keeping Halloween, going to Purgatory, and ever-burning hell. They don't know what the true purpose of life is, or that we are regenerated by God's spirit and that begins a long period of preparation that is creation. They think that they're already complete and they're ready for God's reward. They believe in death-bed repentance that's going to usher one into heaven without preparation.
Brethren, their focus is on this world, not the Kingdom of God. You know very well I could go on and on about the differences between the truth that came to us as a package and what those people are being taught in those churches. Those unfortunate people, subject to the influence of those false doctrines, are on an entirely different path and it is going to end at an entirely different destination because belief gives birth to conduct, and they will follow the way of their beliefs.
Brethren, Revelation 2 and 3 show the Church of God is not perfect, and neither is doctrinal makeup or its practice, but it is so far ahead of whatever is in second place there is no comparison. Going to those other churches is either an excuse for Laodiceanism weakness, or is an admission of unconversion. Those who allow themselves to come to believe and follow false doctrine because they deliberately put themselves in harm's way by fellowshipping with false churches, will not be part of the first fruits, because they won't be prepared through obedience to the true doctrine. So don't allow yourself to be deceived. Doctrine does make a difference.