LCN Article
Is the Door Closed?

September / October 2010

Wallace G. Smith

Does Jesus Christ still expect His Church to go “all out” and preach the gospel to the world? To those with eyes to see, it is very apparent that we are in the last days leading up to the return of Jesus Christ. Speaking to us through the corridors of time, the Apostle Peter tells us of scoffers who will walk according to their lusts and who will ridicule the idea of a returning Messiah (2 Peter 3:3–4). However, even among those who do believe in Christ’s return there can be scoffers in these final days, who ridicule the mission of the Church to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ to the world, making disciples and providing a witness before the end comes.

You may have heard the teachings of some of these scoffers. For instance, some say that the door to preach the gospel was only open in the Philadelphian era of the Church, and that it is closed in the Laodicean era. Some even say that to attempt to preach the gospel to the world is an insult to the late Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong— that the commission to do the Work was given only to him, and that he finished that commission before he died. Some people go so far as to say we are cursed if we attempt to preach the gospel!

Others are willing to preach the gospel “as resources permit,” but insist that the main emphasis—for some, the only emphasis—should be on the personal growth of Church members, “preparing the bride” to rule in the coming Kingdom of God after Christ’s return.

How do we respond to these ideas? The Living Church of God is committed to “preparing the bride,” and it recognizes the unique role of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong in preaching the Gospel. However, from the very beginning, the Church has emphasized that our first and greatest commission is to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God to the world as a witness. Are we wrong? What does the Bible say?

Is the “Door” Still Open?

We sometimes hear the question: “Is the formerly open ‘door’ to preach the gospel to the world now closed?” This question is often rooted in a misunderstanding of the prophetic Church eras listed in Revelation 2– open door

Look first at the promise given to the Philadelphian Church—which saw its eponymous era reach its climax during the ministry of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong: “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write,  These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens: I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name”’” (Revelation 3:7–8).

What “open door” did God give to the Philadelphians? We note that it is a door that God the Father or Jesus Christ must open! We also note that if He opens it, only He can close it—and if He closes it, no one else can open it! Using the Bible to interpret the Bible (Isaiah 28:9–10), the nature of this divinely opened door becomes clear. In Colossians 4:2–4, the Apostle Paul prays that God would “open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ” (v. 3)—an opportunity to preach the gospel! Notice how Paul recognized that God must open the door. Paul also writes of this door—a “great and effective door” to preach “Christ’s gospel”—in 1 Corinthians 16:9 and 2 Corinthians 2:12. In each case, it is a door that God must open for him, not a door that Paul can open. In Acts 14:27, Paul’s frequent and faithful companion Luke uses the same language, describing the “door of faith” that God had opened for the Gentiles to receive the gospel of God’s Kingdom.

Clearly, this door that Christ opens—a door that only He can open and shut—is the opportunity to preach His gospel! And, indeed, the gospel of the Kingdom of God went out with a power and vitality during the Philadelphian era that was unprecedented since the first century after Christ!

So, has Christ now closed that door? We should note that God gives the promise not simply to an era, but to a group of Christians in Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7, “to the angel [or messenger] of the church in Philadelphia”). And Scripture reveals that a remnant of Philadelphians will survive into the next, final era—the “Laodicean era”—in which a different spirit will predominate in the Church overall, and in which the Philadelphians will ultimately be protected from the Tribulation preceding Christ’s return (Revelation 3:10).

How, then, should we understand the mention of a closed door in the prophecy of the Laodicean era, in which we now find ourselves? Yes, a door is mentioned; but is it the same door? No, it is not! We can rightly divide the word of truth to understand (2 Timothy 2:15). We must not be deceived!

Jesus Christ says to lukewarm Laodiceans, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20). This clearly cannot be a door to preach the gospel! Why? Because this is a door that Christ cannot open, for He must stand outside and knock to enter! This is a different door than the one which no man can open (v. 7) but only Christ can open (v. 8). Read closely: Christ says to the Laodiceans, “If any man hear my voice, and open the door...” (v. 20, KJV). Clearly this is not the door Christ opened to the Philadelphians, which “no man openeth” (v. 7, KJV)!

If this closed door does not represent the opportunity to preach the gospel, as it did for the Philadelphians, what does it mean? What is this door that only man may open but Christ may not? It is the opportunity to have a truly deep and authentic relationship with Jesus Christ! Christ says that if a Laodicean will repent and let Him in, He will dine with him, indicating fellowship and communion together (v. 20; see also Acts 2:41–42; 1 Corinthians 10:16; Genesis 18:1–5; Luke 24:36–43). Those who open the door will enjoy fellowship with Christ—a fellowship that Laodiceans endanger when lukewarm attitudes place distance between them and their Savior (Revelation 3:15–16).

Nowhere does Scripture state that the Philadelphian remnant—faithful brethren of the Philadelphian era, a remnant prophesied to exist all the way to the return of Christ—encounters a closed door! The only “closed door” we see in Revelation is the door between the Laodiceans and Christ—a door that they, themselves, have closed, preventing intimate fellowship with their Lord and Savior!

Should We Focus on “Preparing the Bride”?

But what of the claim that God’s purpose for His Church has changed in the last era—that Christians must shift their focus away from preaching the gospel, and emphasize the preparation of the bride of Christ, which is His Church? After all, during the final Church era, many in God’s Church suffer from a lukewarm attitude and a lack of zeal, as we read in Revelation 3. Does this then imply a need to focus inwardly? When we read in Revelation 19:7 that the Lamb’s wife “has made herself ready” does this imply that the Church will, in the end-times, concentrate on its own spiritual state in preparation for His imminent return?

Mr. Gerald Weston covered this question thoroughly in his Living Church News article, “Preparing the Bride.” As he reminded us, “we can understand that ‘preparing the bride’ does not somehow conflict with, or replace, the Church’s mission to preach the gospel. If ‘preparing the bride’ meant a different mission for the Church, we would have to conclude either that those who went before us did not really preach the gospel, or else that they were not really preparing themselves and will miss out on the marriage supper. Preposterous!” (July-August 2006, p. 4). Indeed, it is nonsensical—and unbiblical—to believe that one can “prepare the bride” and “feed the flock” by deemphasizing the Work of preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God. God’s Philadelphian remnant “prepares the bride” by doing the Work of the Great Commission!

The Apostle John relates a powerful example that speaks clearly to us almost 2,000 years later. In John 4, we find the account of Jesus speaking to the Samaritan “woman by the well,” teaching her that the Father is seeking those who worship Him “in spirit and truth,” and affirming to her that He is the Messiah who will rule the Kingdom of God in Tomorrow’s World (vv. 23–26).

Later, knowing that He was hungry after the journey from Judea to Sychar, Christ’s disciples urged Him to eat something. Perhaps seeing an opportunity to teach them something about His (and God the Father’s) priorities, Christ told them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know... My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (vv. 32–34). The food of Jesus Christ was to do the Work of God!

What did He mean in this instance by “His work”? Was it His living a sinless life to be our perfect sacrifice? Was it simply teaching His disciples? The context—that Christ was referring to His encounter with the Samaritan woman—should make clear His meaning. Yet Christ’s own words describing “His work” make His meaning clear beyond doubt! Describing what He calls “My food,” He continues: “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!”

The Father’s “work,” which Christ called His “food,” is inseparable from His looking to the “fields” of humanity—like the Samaritan woman to whom Christ had just spoken—and going into those fields to “harvest” those whom God is calling! To deny this essential aspect of the “work” Christ was describing (Matthew 28:19) is to completely ignore both the context and content of His teaching! This brings us to an absolutely vital point. We see here that the “work” of preaching the gospel is the “food” of Christ—that which nourishes Him and sustains Him and fills Him with life and vitality, which is what food does to a body! Remember, too, that the Church of God is the Body of Christ, today (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4:12,  5:23; Colossians 1:18, 24).

If preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God was the food of Christ in the first century—that which nourished and fed His body—then does it not follow that such work is still the food needed by the Body of Christ? Yes it does! For, as we must recognize, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8)! What fed and sustained Christ then feeds and sustains His Body today!

With this in mind, we see the utter folly of those who suppose they can somehow “feed the flock” and “prepare

the bride” without doing the work of preaching the gospel! In fact, even more tragically, we see that those who claim to “feed” God’s people without preaching Christ’s message to the world are depriving the Body of Christ of its “food”—effectively starving the Body of Christ to death! God will hold them—and us—accountable for such choices!

To those being guided by the Holy Spirit, this should make perfect sense. God’s purpose is to instill a supreme and overriding focus on the way of “give” deep in the hearts and minds of those whom He is preparing to inherit “all things” and rule under His Son forever. God expects our cooperation in what He is doing; He will not instill His character in us “by fiat.” But if we put our predominant focus on taking care of ourselves—our development, our nourishment—at the expense of God’s command that we reach out and share His glorious truth with others, we are practicing the way of “get” instead of “give”! For those who persist in practicing the way of “get,” the result will be an undernourished Body of Christ, and a people unprepared for the glorious destiny God intends for them.

Was the Commission Only for Mr. Armstrong?

If Jesus Christ has not commissioned His followers to do the Work of preaching the gospel, then it would, of course, be presumptuous folly to attempt it. Indeed, there are some who insist that God gave the Philadelphian commission specifically and exclusively to Mr. Armstrong and to no one else, and that he finished it before he died. Consequently, some of these people say that it is an insult to Mr. Armstrong and an affront to God to attempt to preach the gospel to the world today. Is there any merit in their argument?

Surely, God did do a remarkable Work through Mr. Armstrong—a Work the likes of which had not been seen since the first century after Christ! The Living Church of God plainly recognizes that Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong was an apostle of God called to raise up the Work of God in these end times! In fact, it is that very Work that we in the Living Church of God are continuing today, under the leadership of men ordained and trained by Mr. Armstrong—Dr. Roderick C. Meredith, Mr. Dibar Apartian, Mr. Richard Ames, and others. These men are striving to uphold the trust and stewardship God placed in them through Mr. Armstrong—who did not instruct any of them to stop carrying out Christ’s commission upon his death.

Remember, we see from Scripture that Christ gave His commission not just to one man, but to the Church. In all four of the gospel accounts, we read of Christ explaining the commission given to the Church through the apostles (Matthew 28:18–20; Mark 16:14–18; Luke 24:44–49; John 20:19–23).

Would we say that this commission was given only to the Twelve Apostles, for their time? Absolutely not! The Bible describes leaders other than Apostles preaching the gospel in the first century, and we should be sure that we read Christ’s commission carefully. In Matthew’s record of the Great Commission, Christ says: “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). The Work of God is the Work of the Church, and Christ’s commission is to the Church and to its leaders in every age.

Mr. Herbert Armstrong was as clear in this as he was in anything else he said: The very purpose of the church is to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God! The quotes that could be provided to establish this are many, but here we will note a small sample from only one of Mr. Armstrong’s many years in the ministry—a series of letters he wrote to the brethren in 1974:

“…the great commission for our time—preach the gospel of the kingdom in all the world for a witness unto all nations, as we are now doing.… Why, dear brethren, that is the very reason for the Church” (February 25, 1974).

Why has God called you and me now, while we still have to fight and resist the cunning of Satan, ahead of time—instead of when Christ shall have come, and put satan away, and set His hand to call every living person? The answer is, to get this job done!” (May 2, 1974).

“And God has given us ‘the work’ to do as the very means by which we may grow spiritually, so we may enter His Kingdom at Christ’s coming. In 47 years I have observed that only those whose hearts are fully in the work continue to overcome and grow spiritually, and endure” (November 18, 1974).

Can it be any clearer? In fact, exactly the opposite of what some claim, it is failing to preach the gospel to the worldlet alone refusing to go to the world—that would be an incredible insult to Mr. Armstrong! Consider these words of Jesus Christ: “For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors” (John 4:37–38). Nearly every minister involved in this present-day Work of God has observed that many—not all, but many—of those he contacts in response to the Tomorrow’s World telecast and special presentations are people who had seen and heard Mr. Armstrong in the 60s, 70s, or 80s, but who lost contact with the Work due to the apostasy of the 90s. The Work of the Living Church of God gave them the opportunity to find the Church once again, and become a part of the growing body of Christ! Truly, we continue to reap from Mr. Armstrong’s labors!

Should these individuals—whose minds began to be opened by God through Mr. Armstrong’s efforts—be forgotten? Are we to ignore them? Are we to turn our backs on them? In the name of Jesus Christ, how can we? How dare we? Talk about an insult to Herbert W. Armstrong!

Work Now or Wait Until Later?

In John 4, Jesus said, “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” (v. 35). In Jerusalem, the great harvest came in the autumn, four months after the “firstfruits” harvest. Reflect for a moment on Christ’s words, keeping in mind that Pentecost (picturing the start of the Church age) comes four months before the Feast of Tabernacles (picturing the great harvest of humanity in the Millennium). In effect, those who prefer to “wait” until the Millennium—who decline to do the Work of preaching the gospel now, in the Church age—are neglecting the imperative Jesus described in John 4, while the fields are still white for harvest now!

Yes, this is the day! We are not to make excuses—we are to focus on the harvest God is providing now! And,

as we have seen so abundantly in the Living Church of God, He is providing a harvest.

You Were Called for Such a Time as This!

When it comes to going all out to preach the life-changing gospel to a world that so desperately needs to hear it, an undeniable fact remains: Just as Mordecai charged his young ward in Esther 4:14, you have been called by God for such a time as this! There is a reason why those in the first resurrection are described as “those who turn many to righteousness” (Daniel 12:3). Do not let someone rob you of your purpose with foolish and deceptive counsel. Preaching the truth of God to this sin-torn world, both with our lives and with our words, is our sacred duty, our solemn responsibility, our great commission, and our humbling privilege. As the Apostle Paul—a passionate preacher of the gospel if ever there was one—said so long ago in 1 Corinthians 9:16, so must we say now: “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!”