With all the “Church of God” groups out there, it is healthy to ask ourselves, “Have I proven I am in the right one?” Truly, why are we here? Have we proven we are where we should be? Can we explain why we are in the Living Church of God? In this article, we are going to examine four concrete attributes that should be found in the Church of God.
The purpose of this article is not to convince anyone to believe these concrete attributes, though we will provide scriptural support to show why the Living Church of God believes and teaches these truths. The purpose is to provide four of the weightier objective, distinguishing qualities of the Living Church of God, which are provable from the word of God. If a person has proven these things from the Bible, and believes them, it becomes clear where he or she needs to be.
Mr. Lambert Greer wrote an article entitled, “We Are Not All the Same,” published in the September-October 2004 edition of the Living Church News. That article should be read along with this one to bring even more clarity to some of the differences, especially if individuals are trying to determine where they should be, or if they are trying to determine why they are where they are today. Why the Living Church of God?
Revelation chapters 2 and 3 exhibit letters to seven Churches extant during the first century—each of them led by Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:9–20). While they were all God’s Churches, they were not all the same. They each had distinct characteristics, and if we have “an ear, [to] hear what the Spirit says to the churches”—something we see repeated several times in Revelation 2 and 3—we realize it does matter where we are, and what we are a part of!
Preaching the Whole Counsel of God
What does this mean? Obviously, no one says, “Our Church does not teach the whole counsel of God.” Yet, as we will see, this first point is objective and concrete.
In the November-December 2010 Living Church News, Dr. Roderick C. Meredith wrote an article entitled, “We are Different!” In it, he explained:
Leaders in several groups seem eager to “dance” around these fundamental issues—to avoid clear answers, or even to deny the answers long taught by God’s Church and His word. The result of such spiritual neglect, and of their clever avoidance of these issues, is that their groups and the members become unsure about the nature of God, and about many other key issues that certainly are of importance to Almighty God!
So, in an effort to accommodate personal tastes, sidestep confrontations, and thereby avoid losing congregants who disagree, some reject or avoid various truths found in God’s word that were opened to the Church’s understanding through Mr. Armstrong. A few of these easily provable truths that some dismiss are proper church government, the identity of Israel’s descendants, who and what God is, and the Church eras of Revelation 2 and 3. God’s Church should be teaching all of the truth of the Bible. It should not evade certain truths because of personal taste, or to avoid conflict.
Paul, speaking to the Ephesian elders, said, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26–27). It was on the Apostle Paul’s shoulders to preach the entire truth. It is on the shoulders of God’s Church to do the same. The church in Philadelphia spoken of in Revelation chapter 3 is commended for “[keeping] My word, and [not denying] My name” (v. 8), while some of the other seven described in chapters 2 and 3 clearly strayed from the “whole counsel.” They were still God’s churches and still keeping the Sabbath, but not teaching the full truth! The Churches at Pergamos (the “Compromising Church”) and Thyatira (the “Corrupt Church”) are especially poignant examples of this. Teaching the “whole counsel” as it has been revealed from God’s word is critically important!
Preaching BOTH the Gospel of the Kingdom of God AND the Ezekiel Warning
The second concrete, scriptural commission that the Living Church of God proclaims and seeks to fulfill, is the obligation of the Church to preach the Gospel of God’s coming Kingdom, as well as the Ezekiel Warning message. Claims that this Work has been “finished” and no longer needs to be done or that we only need to preach it to the members of the Church to “prepare the bride” are simply not compatible with Scripture. They deny the very mission of the Body of Jesus Christ!
Jesus Christ said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). He is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). And, “He is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). This is what His entire life was focused on while He was here on earth. “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God… ‘because for this purpose I have come forth’” (Mark 1:14, 38). This was again on His mind after He was resurrected, and He commissioned His disciples to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19–20). Did He intend that only for His immediate disciples? Did He command that only until Mr. Herbert Armstrong died or until some other arbitrary time in the future? Some here and there have claimed this, but in the Living Church of God we believe this directly applies to God’s Church until the very “end of the age”!
For He continues in the commission, “…and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). In fact, we see that the “gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14)! There will be a group of God’s people doing this right up until the onset of the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:3–28). It will not be done in a corner, but powerfully! It will not be achieved if it is believed and taught that preaching to the world has already been completed, and it will not be achieved by a little website run by one guy in his basement. It will be done by the Body of Jesus Christ, made up of many members, who are led by His Spirit and take the commission seriously.
The early Church took every opportunity to preach the gospel and went through every “great and effective door” God provided (1 Corinthians 16:9). Some were large opportunities: “Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). Other opportunities were more limited, allowing them to preach in one city and not another: “…when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel… a door was opened to me by the Lord” (2 Corinthians 2:12). Just as Christ did for His Body shortly after His resurrection, He continued to provide open doors to the Church of Philadelphia to preach the gospel at the end of the age (Revelation 3:8)! Someone will be going through those doors, and the Living Church of God believes it is a commanded mission from God!
Concerning the idea that “The Work is done, and the Church’s job now is to ‘prepare the bride,’” Mr. Gerald Weston argued in his July-August 2006 Living Church News article “Preparing the Bride” that the way to prepare the Church is to do what Jesus Christ commanded His Church to do. That is, preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and warn the world of the troubles that are coming! Yet, just claiming to preach the Gospel and then putting only minimal available resources toward it is not enough (Matthew 6:21). Also, only preaching the “good news” aspect of the Gospel and not warning of the impending destruction that is going to come on our nations if they don’t repent, is a very dangerous position to take!
God’s people would be neglectful if they knew the “sword was coming” but didn’t say anything! “If the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand” (Ezekiel 33:6). As God’s people, if we know what’s coming and do not say anything, the world’s blood will be on our hands (Ezekiel 33:1–11)! The Living Church of God believes and teaches it is our job to preach the Gospel to the world and warn of the coming troubles, before God sets up His Kingdom!
Christ says that “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14)! However, not all of God’s people will be doing this in the end time (Revelation 3:14–22). Yet those who do participate in God’s Work to bring the Gospel to this dying world can reflect on the promise made through Daniel, that “those who turn many to righteousness” shall shine “like the stars forever and ever” at the resurrection to everlasting life (Daniel 12:3).
Proper Church Government
Another concrete doctrine that should distinguish the Church of God is its approach to church government. God’s word reveals how the government of God works, and we see its pattern in descriptions of the Kingdom of God. We understand from Scripture that God the Father rules above all, and Jesus Christ is under Him in authority (John 14:28; Daniel 7:9–14; Luke 1:32–33). We see that in God’s Kingdom, Jesus Christ will reign on the earth as King of kings and Lord of lords (Zechariah 14:9; Revelation 19:16). Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elijah and others will hold high positions, no doubt (Hebrews 7:4–10; 11:8–29; Matthew 17:1–3). The resurrected King David will reign over all Israel (Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 37:24–25; Hosea 3:5). The twelve apostles will “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28), under King David. Finally, speaking to all His disciples, Jesus said, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). We understand that one of the reasons the first resurrection is called the “better resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35) is because true Christians will be given the extraordinary opportunity to reign over cities as kings and priests during the Millennium, under the aforementioned saints (Matthew 25:14–30; Revelation 5:10; 20:4–6)!
Proper church government is essential for preparing for the Kingdom of God! Just as the Church that Jesus Christ founded did not vote or “ballot” the apostles or others into office, we will not be voting or balloting one another into the various positions in God’s Kingdom. Instead, God will set those positions by appointment (Matthew 20:23), just as He ordains positions in His Church now, which is one of the 18 truths God restored to His Church through Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong! “He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). Paul “commanded” Titus to “appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). The apostles asked for input from the brethren in Jerusalem about some of the leading members, not to ballot on which ones were to be deacons, but to suggest “whom we [the apostles] may appoint” (Acts 6:3) as deacons.
Voting/balloting in leadership sounds like a good idea in our democratic society, though it is never how God established His spiritual leaders. In fact, something like this was attempted when Moses was leading Israel. We read about it in Numbers 16, where several who did not like the government God had established confronted Moses and Aaron, telling them, “You take too much upon [or assume too much for] yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” (Numbers 16:3). The entirety of the Bible points toward godly leadership by appointment, not men choosing who their own leaders will be.
Separately, it is interesting to note that the letter to Philadelphia has to do with government (cf. Revelation 3:7; Isaiah 22:22; 9:6)—in this case, the government of God, “on the shoulder” of Jesus Christ. Dr. Meredith often stressed the connection between the “key of David” and right government, and Jesus Christ begins His letter to the church in Philadelphia—picturing zealous, faithful, end-time Christians—with a reference to proper, legitimate, godly governmental authority.
While God allows us to decide for ourselves, and He does not currently force His people to submit to His form of government, we should be very careful not to stray from the biblical pattern. The question is this: While He will not make us do it His way, are we doing it His way? (See Matthew 4:4.) The Living Church of God believes and practices the type of government God uses and shows to us in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. This form of government requires trust in Jesus Christ as the loving Head of His Church, and it also demands the need for our next point. One without the other is not godly government!
Godly Love and Servant Leadership
In explaining to His disciples how to execute God’s form of government mentioned above, Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25–28). Peter also explained how the ministry is to serve the brethren: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers… not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock…” (1 Peter 5:2–3).
Love includes keeping God’s Church clean of sinful practices (breaking of God’s Law, 1 Corinthians 5:1–8). At the same time, it does not include the invention of extreme and ungodly rules and regulations, such as the Pharisees added, that, if broken, will lead to disfellowshiping. We are not to be dictatorial or harsh in our approach. “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition…” (2 Timothy 2:24–25).
As God’s people, it is our job to grow in an attitude of service and warmth toward others (Philippians 2:3–4). Christ Himself commanded: “…love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35). Jesus Christ was the perfect leader and showed perfect love. He came to serve humanity! The very word Philadelphia means “brotherly love.” This is God’s way of life and is to be reflected in our lives!
We are not to instill fear of men in God’s people, but we are to strengthen, encourage, build and edify (Ephesians 4:11–16). It is our job to build families, not tear them apart (1 Corinthians 7:10–16; 1 Peter 3:1–5)! Some unconverted family members may be troubled when God first calls us and may even become hostile toward us (Matthew 10:34–39). We should, in no way, be the ones instigating division by shunning our family members if they do not attend the Living Church of God with us (Matthew 15:6; Romans 12:18). God’s ministers should not point the members toward discord, separation and division, but toward peace and unity in the family (Malachi 4:6).
The Living Church of God believes and teaches as part of its mission statement, “Learn and practice Servant Leadership in all our dealings with others.” Dr. Meredith guided us toward a culture of love and servant leadership and wanted us to continue growing in it! We are to exhibit Christ-like leadership in faithfulness, steadfastness, humility, and love. If some want to dispute the truth, we are not to be wishy-washy, but rather we are to be firm—but always gentle and loving.
God allows each of us to make our own choices, and He does not “make” us do anything. When it comes down to it, each of us must prove what God’s word teaches (1 Thessalonians 5:21), step out in faith, and do what it says. There are many organizations claiming to represent God today, each with its own twist. There are those that keep the Sabbath and the Holy Days, and many of them have at least some of the Truth, but they are not all the same. As Mr. Richard Ames asked in his sermon, “Churches Under Judgment,” we, too, must ask as we consider the churches of Revelation 2 and 3: Which church do we want to be a part of? The dead one? The corrupt one? Which attitude and spirit should we try to emulate?
We will not do it perfectly in this life, but we should strive to reflect the character of the one found in Revelation 3:7–13 and have an ear to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” If we claim that we are Philadelphian, what room for improvement is left? We would be wise to heed the warning in Revelation 3:17–18! We must continually examine ourselves, identify the wrong, and cast it out! Dr. Meredith frequently told us, “We are the Church of God in the Laodicean era, trying to do a Philadelphian Work.” It does matter where we choose to attend, and with whom. While there are other points that could be addressed, these four points are concrete and easily provable from Scripture. And the Living Church of God fully believes, teaches, and strives to live up to them.