On November 12, 2021, the Wall Street Journal published an article titled “Churches Changed During the Pandemic and Many Aren’t Going Back.” The article discussed declining attendance in mainline churches. “The number of churchgoers has steadily dropped in the U.S.… Covid-19 and its lockdown restrictions accelerated that fall. In-person church attendance is roughly 30% to 50% lower than it was before the pandemic, estimates Barna Group, a research firm that studies faith in the U.S.”
The article went on to say, “Barna Group’s research suggests that tens of thousands of churches are at risk of closing because of membership declines and other long-term problems that the pandemic made worse. A dip in tithes and offerings is forcing some to prepare for permanently smaller budgets, with less real estate, fewer staff members and smaller programs.”
This is not the case everywhere—and we are happy to report that the Living Church of God has bucked the trend. God has blessed us with far more than mere survival. We continue to see the Work of the Church going forward at an increasing pace. One might have expected that finances would drop off with many out of work—preventing us from expanding—but just the opposite transpired! Regular tithes and offerings increased, and special donations gave us a real boost. Instead of laying off employees, we took on several new ones, including ministers. We also increased the number of issues of Tomorrow’s World Magazine each year from six to ten, and our subscription list increased by more than 230,000 from January 2020 to January 2022! How encouraging it is that the Work shot forward with ever-greater impact during the last two pandemic-stricken years.
This is good—no, wonderful—news. But the world around us has also changed dramatically in the last two years, and most of those changes are not so wonderful. Quite the contrary—our world, whether we look close to home or more broadly, is angry and fragmenting.
Look at the Whole Verse
I recently recorded a telecast titled “2022 in Bible Prophecy,” giving Bible-based predictions for the year ahead and elaborating on Ezekiel 7:26. That verse tells us that disaster upon disaster will come on the house of Israel, but there is another prediction in the verse: “and rumor will be upon rumor.”
It is easy to focus on the “disaster” part of the sentence and not consider the part about rumors. Was there ever a time when rumors were more prolific than they are in our day? Rumors thrive in times of instability, and social media is a rumor mill on steroids, spreading false information among countless millions. “Fake news” was a political slogan used against the news media, and not without justification, even though the man who made the mantra famous had his own problems propagating fake news. Conspiracy theories have been exacerbated by the politics of the pandemic. Foreign governments and unprincipled individuals routinely post made-up stories for the gullible on Facebook and Twitter, creating confusion and division. Our angry, divided world has become angrier and more divided as a result of the pandemic—all fueled by worldwide electronic media.
This is a challenge for us. As God’s elect, we must strive not to be taken in by rumors. We must not allow ourselves to become polarized over political issues. We must remain objective, not mind-made-up ideologues who take sides, favoring one worldly evil over another. Being convicted about the truth of Scripture is a good thing, but polarization over worldly issues creates an atmosphere where one rashly judges some individuals as evil and always wrong, and others as good and always right. If we do not remain objective, we may immediately latch onto reports that reflect our worldview and tune out those with which we disagree—one political party becomes good, the other bad.
No matter how sketchy the source, anti-vaxxers are quick to spread dubious reports on the evils of vaccines, while those in favor spread flowery reports promoting the jabs. Conspiracy theories thrive in this atmosphere, and objectivity is a casualty. In fact, every side deals in lies and fabrications. The same is true in discussions regarding gun rights, protests and riots, border policies, the efficacy of masking, and the lives of politicians and celebrities.
Sadly, this worldliness even seeps into the Church. Some members are little different from their neighbors in this regard. We all have our personal opinions, which is not inherently wrong, and I am happy to say that the overwhelming majority among us are fair-minded, accepting that a brother or sister in Christ may have a different opinion and still be our beloved brother or sister. Sadly, though, in our current atmosphere of division, some forget who is behind the anger, lies, and divisiveness (John 8:44). Truth really has fallen in our streets, just as the Bible foretold (Isaiah 59:14).
Some rumors seek to titillate, tempting us with juicy tidbits about people, and we are drawn to tales that bolster our world-view over someone else’s. Other rumors are based on fear or a lack of sound-mindedness. Paul’s statement to Timothy can be instructive: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). We are to insulate ourselves with God’s Spirit against shadowy and outrageous conspiracy theories, such as those of QAnon. Those of us who have been around for many years have seen such conspiracies come and go—even among members of God’s Church.
Don’t Let Satan Distract You
Dear brethren, let us never forget whose world this is. The old hymn “This Is My Father’s World” may sound good on the surface, but it is a deception—with a bit of truth to disguise the lie. Yes, God did create our world “of rocks and trees, of skies and seas.” But this hymn also subtly implies that God is the current ruler of this world. We know that God the Father and Jesus the Christ are all-powerful and rule over Satan, but they established Lucifer’s throne on earth in the distant past and will allow him to remain on it until a future time (Isaiah 14:13). On the night when He was betrayed, Jesus reminded His disciples that this evil spirit being is still the ruler of this age (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Paul also reminds us that this being is the “god” of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2). God even gave us a Holy Day devoted to the fact that the Devil is real and must be removed from power upon Christ’s return (Leviticus 23:26–32; Revelation 20:1–3).
Some Church members are tempted to try to change Satan’s world now. But while we are certainly called to “shine our light” as Christians—being honest, caring, and polite; being good neighbors; setting righteous examples; and doing good works when we have the opportunity—it is not appropriate for God’s people to advocate or vote for a human savior or to march and demonstrate for one worldly cause or another. Our responsibility is to proclaim to this world the better way of life that will come with the Kingdom of God, and to warn mankind of what will surely happen to those who do not turn in a different direction. Only when Christ returns will we have the opportunity and the power to change the world! That must always be our focus.
Satan is a master of distraction. He cares little which distraction you fall for—only that you get your mind off the great commission to which you are called (Matthew 28:18–20; Mark 16:15–16). Remember, when God explained to Ezekiel that He was setting him as a watchman for the house of Israel, He made it abundantly clear that this was a serious matter—he would be held accountable (Ezekiel 3:17–21). As we know, the house of Israel had gone into captivity more than a century earlier. The commission was for a future Work to carry Ezekiel’s message: Repent of your sins or go into captivity!
May we not become distracted by rumors, conspiracies, or divisive worldly issues. We have a great Work to do!