One cannot comprehend the real purpose and function of the Church without an understanding of Old Testament Israel.
Ancient Israel was both church and state. It was one of the world’s nations, called the kingdom of Israel. But it also was a church, called the congregation of Israel. Or, as in Acts 7:38, the “church in the wilderness.”
One cannot understand either Old Testament Israel or the New Testament Church of God unless he bears in mind God’s purpose in placing mankind on the Earth.
God is reproducing Himself! His cardinal objective for man is the creation of holy, righteous, spiritual character. Bear that constantly in mind as we compare, or contrast, the Old Testament “church in the wilderness” and the New Testament Church of God. Creation of this righteous character prepares for the ultimate objective.
We have explained the natural mind of man—and how it differs from animal brain. There is, in man, a spirit. This spirit is in the form of essence—not a soul or person. It imparts to the human brain the power of intellect—of thinking, reasoning, decision making. This is explained in detail in Chapter 7.
This mind, then, with which each human is born is the natural, carnal human mind. And “the carnal mind is enmity [hostile] against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). This mind is limited to the acquisition of physical knowledge.
To comprehend the things of God—spiritual knowledge—is impossible without receiving as God’s gift His Holy Spirit—a second spirit added to the “human” spirit with which each person is born.
God’s creation of man was perfect as a physical creation, yet incomplete! This physical creation began with Adam, but the spiritual creation must begin with the second Adam—Jesus Christ.
When God sentenced Adam’s human race to 6,000 years of being cut off from contact with God, He made an exception. He reserved to Himself the prerogative of calling into His service such as He required to fulfill His purpose!
God had called Abraham. And 430 years after, God called Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and Israel, then called “the children of Israel.” At that time they were in Egyptian slavery. Under leadership of Moses, God led them out of Egypt, to inherit the Promised Land.
At Mount Sinai, God offered them a covenant agreement, later called “the Old Covenant.” Upon obedience to God’sgovernment over them, God promised to make them the most prosperous, most powerful nation on Earth. But God promised them only temporal, material and national rewards—not His Holy Spirit of eternal life.
This hostile mind, unsubmissive to God, we shall see in Chapter 10, had been subtilely and invisibly injected into human minds through the human spirit, by Satan. A baby is not born with it. The “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) begins implanting it as early in life as the human mind begins to absorb knowledge and to function.
Modern intellectuals have said, “Given sufficient knowledge, the human mind can solve all problems.”
One of God’s purposes in Old Covenant Israel was to prove, by multiple generations of Israelites, that, even given knowledge of God’s government and way of life, the carnal mind will not—and therefore cannot—solve its problems, live in peace, happiness, joy, and eternal salvation.
However, humans will not obey God’s way to peace, happiness, and eternal joy without the addition of a second spirit to the “human” spirit.
The experience of multiple generations of Israelites proved that the natural mind of man is hostile to God—not subject to the law of God, which is the way to peace, happiness and abundance.
Adam and Eve had been instructed by God in His way. They rejected it, and turned to the way of self-centeredness—of vanity, lust and greed—of jealousy and envy—of competition, strife, violence and destruction.
But in Old Covenant Israel, God revealed to them, through Moses and the prophets, the knowledge of God’s way.
Why, then, Old Covenant Israel?
They were left without excuse. They were, in Adam, a physical creation—but without the spiritual creation, which can come only through Christ the “second Adam,” they simply would not live the way of life that produces peace and universal well-being.
I repeat, they were without excuse! It was man—the first Adam—who thought he could live a more happy life, without God’s Spirit, which he spurned.
God sent to Old Covenant Israelites His prophets, bearing His admonitions, pleading with them. They stoned many of their prophets to death!
Through the Prophet Jeremiah, God pleaded: “Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the [Eternal]; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the [Eternal] …. Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the [Eternal] thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers [Gentile nations] under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed my voice, saith the [Eternal].”
“Turn,” God continued, “O backsliding children, saith the [Eternal]; for I am married unto you …” (Jeremiah 3:12-14).
Old Covenant Israel was carnal-minded, with minds hostile against God, and not subject to the laws and ways of God!
Now the New Testament CHURCH OF GOD
Remember Old Covenant Israel lived in the days of the first Adam. Satan, the “prince of the power of the air,” by subtile injection through the “human” spirit of his hostile attitude, ruled supreme in the world. And with the exception of those in God’s Church, he does still today!
Remember, too, that all nations and peoples, except the nation Israel, had been completely cut off from God and knowledge of God. They had continued forming their own ideas of government, swayed, though unrealized, by Satan. They had formed their own religions—created in their own imaginations their own gods. They had produced their own store of human materialistic knowledge—though more than half of all living were—and remain today—illiterate, living in abject poverty, filth and squalor. They were suffering the evil consequences of Satan’s way!
It was, and today still is, except for the Church of God and the message of hope it disseminates, a world without hope!
But Jesus Christ, the second Adam, was to come at God’s proper time, bringing a hope that is real—and transcendently wonderful beyond human capacity to comprehend!
Notice two prophecies, recorded by Old Testament prophets under inspiration of God:
“For unto us [the Israelitish people] a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the [Eternal] of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
This prophecy foretells Christ’s appearing as a King—a Ruler—to reestablish the government of God on Earth.
Then, foretelling His coming as the Savior of mankind, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
Now see this prophecy fulfilled in the New Testament: An angel appeared to Joseph, fiancé of Mary the mother of Jesus:
“Joseph,” he said, “thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy [espoused] wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy [Spirit]. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:20-23).
This prophecy reveals Christ as Savior.
And so was born Jesus—the second Adam! Begotten of God before His human birth—as no other had been. He was God as well as man—God with us—God made human so that, as a human, He could die (Hebrews 2:9) for humans! Yes, God in the likeness of human flesh, who could overcome Satan the former King Lucifer, thus qualifying to restore the government of God to Earth!
Satan tried to destroy Jesus soon after birth—before He could grow up to qualify and announce the Kingdom of God! But God protected the Christ-child, causing Joseph and Mary to flee with Him to Egypt—until Herod, provincial Roman king over Judea, was dead.
“And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom …” (Luke 2:40). Jesus was endowed with the Holy Spirit of God from birth.
I have said that, as the “prince of the power of the air,” Satan subtilely and invisibly injects into human minds through the “human” spirit his attitude of hostile rebellion. Satan begins implanting this carnal attitude as early in life as the child begins to absorb knowledge and to think. But the growing child Jesus, filled with God’s Spirit, resisted from infancy this magnetic “pull” we call human nature.
Jesus never had a carnal mind, hostile against God. His mind, from earliest childhood, was subject to the law of God. Thus He was constantly and continually overcoming Satan, in a manner no other human had experienced!
Then, turning again to Mark’s record, “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
“And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan …” (Mark 1:9-13).
After 40 days and 40 nights without a morsel of food or a drop of water, Jesus was physically very weak but spiritually strong. Then ensued the most titanic battle ever fought—for the highest stakes of all time in the universe!
The detailed story of this supreme struggle is recorded in Matthew 4, beginning verse 1.
Many a doctor of medicine would believe no man could live 40 days without food or water. They are woefully ignorant about fasting. Jesus was, truly, somewhat close to actual starvation. Words could not describe the desperate hunger that gripped Him.
Satan struck directly at Jesus’s weakest state at the moment. He hurled his first blow in this contest for the greatest stakes ever fought for, at what he well knew to be humanity’s weakest point both spiritually and physically—vanity, and hunger:
“If,” Satan must have sneered insultingly, “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread” (verse 3).
A spiritually weaker human would have bristled up, angrily answering back, “If I be the Son of God—what do you mean, IF? I’ll show you whether I’m the Son of God! I’ll show you I can perform miracles!” And, to satisfy His desperate hunger, He would have fallen into Satan’s subtile trap!
But Jesus held fast His obedience to God! He answered, “It is written,'’ going immediately to God’s Scripture, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God”! (verse 4).
Satan had lost out on his most masterful thrust of temptation. But Satan does not give up easily! How well I know that, by experience! He struck again.
“If thou be the Son of God”—Satan repeated his stab at humanity’s weakest point—vanity—but now under different circumstances. He had taken Jesus up to a pinnacle of the temple. “[C]ast thyself down: for it is written”—now Satan could quote Scripture, too, only he misapplied its intended meaning—“it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone”—or lest inertia wallop you as gravity pulls you speedily to Earth. He was testing Jesus’s faith in God, as well as a repeated challenge against human vanity. Satan’s ministers can quote Scripture—but they twist and distort it out of its intended contextual meaning.
Jesus came right back at Satan.
“It is written again,'’ He said, “Thou shalt not tempt the [Eternal] thy God” (verse 7).
The scripture about angels bearing one up if he falls applies only to an accidental fall. To jump off deliberately would be “tempting God.” In other words, doubting the Word of God in its intended meaning, and testing God—putting God to the test, implying doubt that He would do it!
Satan had one more “ace-in-the-hole.” He now tempted Jesus on lust and greed—on getting—on seizure of power!
Satan now took Jesus to the top of a high mountain, and showed Jesus all the kingdoms of this world. Then he said, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me” (verse 9).
In other words, both Satan and Jesus knew that if Jesus qualified, He would be given rule over the governments of all nations on Earth. But they both knew of God’s 6,000-year sentence on humanity—and Jesus would have to wait almost 2,000 more years for the power and glory of world rule.
Jesus did not deny this power of rule, by Satan’s subtile deceptions, was in Satan’s hands. But He also knew Satan was a liar—would not keep his word—and if he did, Jesus still would have world rule only under Satan. He knew it was God’s to give, and He was definitely prepared to wait until God’s time—after the 6,000-year sentence on man, when God would crown Him and send Him again to Earth in supreme splendor, power and glory!
This time, Jesus decided to put an end to this colossal struggle for world power. “Get thee hence, Satan”! Jesus snapped out the command with authority! And Satan, defeated in his bid to retain world sway, slunk away (verses 10-11).
But don’t think Satan gave up! Not yet! He tried to overthrow God’s apostles, and His Church. He schemed to manipulate human powers to persecute God’s Church, and to suppress Christ’s gospel message of world hope! He is still warring savagely against God’s Church and apostle, even in this final generation of his evil world!
But Jesus Christ lives! God is on His throne, with Jesus there at His right hand. And Satan can do only what God allows!
Back, now, to Mark 1:14-15: “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of thekingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” That is, believe the message Jesus proclaimed announcing the coming world-ruling Kingdom of God!
The time was fulfilled. Jesus had qualified, where the first Adam failed, to wrest world rule from Satan—to restoreGod’s government to the Earth—to establish the Spirit-born Family of God, ruling in the Kingdom of God!
Leaving Nazareth, Jesus took up residence in Capernaum, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was no vagabond. He occupied an established home, contrary to much false supposition today.
And immediately Jesus called His disciples to Him—to teach and train them to become His apostles to go forth with His message of the Kingdom of God, after Jesus’s personal mission on Earth had ended.
Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He called to follow Him two brothers, Peter and Andrew. These brothers had not sought out Jesus. They had not aspired to become His apostles—they had chosen to be fishermen. But they now, at Jesus’s word, forsook all, and followed Him!
Next Jesus called to His discipleship two other brothers—James and John. They too, had elected to be fishermen—not apostles (Matthew 4:18-22).
Matthew had chosen to be a tax collector. But to His 12, Jesus later said, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.”
And, as in Mark 1:14-15, so in Matthew’s account, “… Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom …” (Matthew 4:23).
Until Jesus had qualified to restore God’s government by overcoming Satan, there could be no assurance, save in the mind and purpose of God, of the restoration of the government Satan had rejected.
For some 3½ years Jesus went about the land of Israel, preaching in their synagogues the good news of the world’s future hope, teaching and training His disciples to become apostles.
Finally, after being beaten with stripes, that His Church might have physical healing, Jesus was crucified—that by His shed blood our sins might be forgiven—because He had paid our penalty, death, in our stead.
The Church Is Born
After being three days and three nights dead in the tomb, Jesus was resurrected. By this resurrection, He became the first BORN Son of God (Romans 1:4). He was now very God Himself—the first so born of many brethren to follow by a later resurrection.
After His resurrection, Jesus was 40 days with His apostles, “speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).
Then He ascended to heaven, to the right hand of God on the heavenly throne (Hebrews 12:2; Revelation 3:21).
Ten days later (the year was a.d. 31), came the annual holy day called “the feast of the firstfruits,” and, in the New Testament, “the day of Pentecost.”
Of the many thousands who had heard Jesus’s proclaiming the Kingdom of God, there were, after the 31/2 years, only 120 who believed! (Acts 1:15).
On that festive holy day, beside the 120 disciples, there were gathered devout Jews from many parts of the world.
Then an unprecedented and amazing spectacle happened. It was the welcoming display of the coming of God’s Holy Spirit to fill His Church! And it has never been repeated!
It happened suddenly! “[T]here came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they [the 120 disciples] were sitting” (Acts 2:2). Wind can make a considerable noise. God’s Holy Spirit is compared, elsewhere, to wind (John 3:8). Let it be noted that no such wind-sound is heard in modern-day “pentecostal” meetings!
But the disciples not only heard—they saw this supernatural display. “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them”—each of the 120 (Acts 2:3). And they, the 120, “were all filled with the Holy [Spirit], and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (verse 4).
Word of this supernatural display spread rapidly, and then it was that the many devout Jews from the many nations came running in—“and were confounded, because that every man heard them [the 120] speak in his own language” (verse 6). Note it! Each individual, in his own native language, heard them—the 120—speaking in his own foreign language. And they understood clearly, in their own various languages, what the 120 were saying. The miracle was in the hearing, rather than the speaking!
Then Peter, chief apostle, for the first time inspired with God’s Holy Spirit, preached a heart-stirring sermon, showing that Jesus was both Lord (King—Ruler) and Christ (Savior).
That same day God “added unto them about three thousand souls” who were baptized that same day (verse 41).
And thus the Church of God—the same Church that is known today as the Worldwide Church of God—was born. The line of succession will be shown later by which the Worldwide Church of God is positively identified as the continuation of the same Church. [For more information on what happened to the Worldwide Church of God after Mr. Armstrong died, request a free copy of Malachi’s Message.]
Now WHY the Church? Its Purpose
When Jesus Christ returns to Earth in supernatural splendor, power and glory, He is coming to His temple. But where is that temple—when will it be built?
Many students of the Bible have wondered—speculated. Will the Israelis, after all, destroy the “Dome of the Rock”—the Moslem temple standing today on the site of both Solomon’s temple, and the temple to which Jesus came at His first appearing?
Malachi’s prophecy says: “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek [Christ], shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant …” (Malachi 3:1).
It was John the Baptist who prepared the way—but that was before Jesus’s first coming. When we read on through verses 2-6 it becomes altogether evident that this prophecy in Malachi is talking about Christ’s Second Coming, in power and glory, to rule.
Who, then, as a human messenger (one bearing a message) was to prepare the way before His Second Coming? And what of the temple to which He is to come?
Look briefly at the prophecy of Haggai. It concerns the contingent of Jews who returned to Jerusalem 70 years after the destruction of Solomon’s temple to build the second temple on the same site.
The prophecy concerns Zerubbabel, governor of the contingent, and builder of this second temple. This was the same temple to which Jesus did come—except that the Roman King Herod had somewhat enlarged, restored, and embellished it.
But Zerubbabel was merely a type. The prophecy, as we see plainly beginning verse 6, chapter 2, is millennial.
“For thus saith the [Eternal] of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire [rsv has, ‘so that the treasures of all nations shall come’] of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the [Eternal] of hosts. … The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former …” (verses 6-7, 9).
It is speaking of the end time—at the Second Coming of Christ.
Now what does it mean, “The glory of this latter house [or latter-day house] shall be greater than of the former”?—that is, greater than Solomon’s temple, which had the most glorious splendor of any building on Earth? Certainly the second temple, built by Zerubbabel, even though larger, could not compare in splendor to Solomon’s.
But God was speaking of the temple to which Christ shall come, at His glorious Second Coming as King of kings and Lord of lords!
Jesus Christ came the first time still in the days of Old Covenant Israel—a carnal-minded and rebellious people. It was a material temple, even as He came to a physical, carnal people!
But He is coming the second time in supreme power and glory. He will come this time to a glorious temple—a spiritual, not a material, temple!
Of God’s Church He says, in the second chapter of Ephesians, “Now therefore ye are … of the household [Family] of God [the Church]; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (verses 19-21).
The glorified Christ is coming to the glorified temple—with a glory far greater than Solomon’s temple!
Note it. Christ is not coming to a material building, but to His Church, then to be glorified with Him!
Notice further, in Ephesians chapter 4: “From whom the whole body [Body of Christ—the Church!] fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth …” (verse 16).
Now let’s understand!
Old Testament Israel, both church and state, lived in the days of the first Adam. They had the one “human” spirit—they were carnal minded, hostile against God, not subject to the law of God. But God gave them His laws (spiritual, as well as sacrificial, ceremonial, and statutory). It proved that without the second spirit—the Holy Spirit of God—people would not turn to the right way of life—even though God revealed to them the knowledge—not only of Himself—but of His government!
But the New Testament Church of God started out with God’s Holy Spirit added to the “human” spirit, even from its inception.
The Old Testament sacrificial laws and ceremonial rituals were a mere temporary substitute for Christ and the Holy Spirit. When the reality came, the substitute was ended—but the basic spiritual law—the law of love, codified in the Ten Commandments—continued. But the Church was required, having the Holy Spirit, to obey them not merely according to the strictness of the letter but according to the spirit—or principal, or obvious intent, of the law (2 Corinthians 3:6).
Now we come to the purpose and function of the Church of God.
Immediately after the foundation of the Church, the apostles Peter and John performed a sensational healing of a well-known cripple—after which Peter preached to the crowd that was attracted (Acts 3:1-26). But immediately the priests, captains of the temple, and Sadducees threw the apostles into prison overnight (Acts 4:1-3). And the next morning the apostles were brought before the high priest and his family beside other rulers and dignitaries. They were severely threatened and commanded to cease preaching in the name of Christ.
These apostles were human. This experience was unnerving! They went immediately to a company of Church members for encouragement, prayer and morale strengthening (Acts 4:23).
These loyal Church brethren “lifted up their voice to God” (Acts 4:24) in united prayer, petitioning God for inspiration and divine power, that the apostles might continue boldly proclaiming the message.
Notice here an important function of the Church. The Church lay members did not go forth with the message—they backed up, unitedly, the apostles who were charged with the great commission. Notice: “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together …” (verse 31).
These Church brethren were able to stand solidly and loyally back of the apostles, because they “were of one heart and of one soul [mind]” (verse 32).
Later, when the savage persecution had set in, the Apostle James was martyred; King Herod also had Peter cast into prison, with the intent probably of killing him also (Acts 12:1-4).
“[B]ut,” verse 5, “prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.'’
The result? God sent an angel to loose the chains that bound Peter, and to lead him secretly out of the prison. Peter fled on to Caesarea.
The Prevailing Error
At this point it is well to clarify further a most common and universal erroneous belief. It is the assumption that God is desperately waging a contest against Satan, attempting to get every living human “saved” now! This assumption must concede that Satan is winning that contest overwhelmingly! But there is no such contest. Satan has power to do only what God allows!
The corollary to this assumption is an even more tragic belief that has acquired universal acceptance. And that is the fallacy that everyone not now “saved” is “lost”—condemned to an eternal hellfire—which, incidentally, is also a myth. The vast majority are neither “saved” nor “lost.” Just not yet judged!
It was our first human progenitor that made the choice. God accepted his decision, and pronounced sentence on Adam’s world for 6,000 years—except for those God called for some special performance. The 6,000-year sentence is about to expire—and a happy, joyful world of peace, with eternal life available to all, is now just around the corner!
Jesus Christ emphatically verified this sentence God pronounced on the world. He said plainly, “NO MAN CAN come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him …” (John 6:44). And none can come to God, except through Him!
So let us clarify once for all time that the purpose of the Church is definitely not to preach or persuade the whole world into a spiritual salvation, now—before Christ’s Second Coming!
Some have construed the great commission as being to the Church to fulfill as a whole—to evangelize and “save” the world—now! A large system of missionaries from traditional Christianity has resulted.
Examine, now, the three places where the great commission is explained.
First, the report of the great commission recorded in Matthew 28: “Now the eleven disciples” (Judas already had left them) “went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them ….” To whom? Not the Church as a whole! Only to the disciples who were to become the original apostles! “… ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. GO therefore and make disciples [learners—those taught] of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age’” (Matthew 28:16-20, rsv).
Notice carefully. This great commission to be sent forth with Christ’s gospel message was given only to those who were apostles—and the word “apostle” means “one sent forth” with the message!
The King James translation of the above has been misinterpreted by some to imply that all the people in every nation were to be converted then.
The King James Version has: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them ….” The sense is, “teach within all nations,” not teaching every individual. The rsv translation, above quoted, also has this same sense. “Make disciples—students—learners—to hear the message within all nations.” And, “baptizing them” can refer only to those God specially called, since Christ said plainly, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.”
Now examine Mark’s account of the great commission (chapter 16). Most translations from the original Greek text into English omit verses 9-20, saying these verses were not inspired and were added at a later date by uninspired editors. Even so, the rsv does quote these verses in finer type, starting verse 15, as follows: “And he said to them”—the 11 apostles—“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” That is, announce the good news of the coming Kingdom of God. Continue: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved …” (verse 16). But Jesus plainly said no man could come to Christ—believe—except those specially called by the Father!
Notice now the King James translation: “Afterward he [Jesus] appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat …. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved …” (Mark 16:14-16). Of course none could believe and be baptized except those God the Father specially called. So there is nowhere any contradiction. The great commission was given to the apostles—those “sent forth” with the message—not the lay members of the Church.
What, then? Did not the lay members have any part in proclaiming the gospel? Definitely they did, as we have seen. Their part was to back up the apostles—stand behind them with their prayers, encouragement, tithes and offerings. They are part of awell-organized team, as we shall show in more detail.
And there is no evidence in either Matthew’s account or Mark’s that any were to be baptized except those God the Father had called to a special service.
But nothing contradicts the fact that God had withdrawn His Holy Spirit from all, except those specially called.
Now notice the account in Matthew 24. This is in the form of a prophecy, for our present living generation:
The King James has, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end [of this age] come” (Matthew 24:14).
The rsv is the same in meaning: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.”
The Church an Organized Body
Is the Church of God merely a scattered, isolated, number of professing Christians, each going his own way to get out the gospel—or, as many believe, to get his personal salvation and eternal life?
Jesus Christ specially called His disciples, trained them to become His apostles. To them—the apostles—the ones “sent forth” with His gospel message—He gave the great commission—not to the laity of the Church as a whole.
But what of God’s Church? How is it organized? It is a spiritual organism—but also it is physically organized, as we shall now see.
The Church is the begotten Family—or household—of God (Ephesians 2:19), “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20).
It is, continues verse 21, like a “building fitly framed together [which] groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.”
It is the temple to which Christ shall come at His Second Coming in glory! It is that Body of Christ that is the affianced Bride of Christ, to be married to Him (as the Old Covenant was a marriage covenant) when He returns.
Ephesians says: “… Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it …. That he might present it to himself a gloriouschurch” (Ephesians 5:25-27) in the resurrection!
Of that same marriage, Revelation says: “Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb [Christ] is come, and his wife [the resurrected glorified Church] hath made herself ready” (Revelation 19:6-7).
It is not only a spiritual organism—it is a well-organized physical organization! Notice 1 Corinthians 12: “… brethren, I would not have you ignorant” (verse 1). “But now are they many members, yet but one body” (verse 20).
And it is a well-organized body (verses 4-6, 11-12): “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. … But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For … the body is one”—united, organized into cooperative team-work—not scattered individuals, each claiming to serve God in his own way!
Continuing: “For … the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body …. That there should be no schism [division] in the body; but that the members should have the same care [that is, outgoing concern and love] one for another” (verses 12-13, 25).
Continuing: “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues” (verse 28).
Now back to Ephesians. What about the member who goes out of the Church, to have his own relationship with Christ—to GET his own salvation? He is outside the Body of Christ!
Notice, again, the “household of God”—the Church—is built upon a foundation. Would one build a building on a foundation of shifting sand? God’s Church is built upon “the foundation of the apostles [the New Testament], and prophets [Old Testament, whose prophecies are for us today (1 Corinthians 10:11)], Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:19-20).
How well organized?
“In whom all the building [the Church] fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (verse 21).
Further: “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16).
Yes, Christ organized His Church.
“And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers” (verse 11, rsv), continuing in kjv: “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (verses 12-13).
What about a single member, “a joint, or part,” going off by itself—or following a man instead of the Church of God that is in direct continuous succession from the apostolic Church founded by Christ, in a.d. 31? He is like a joint or a piece of wood or stone, entirely outside of, and therefore no part of, the Body of Christ that shall marry Christ!
We have seen that Christ gave the lay body of the Church the special mission to back up His apostles in their going forth with the gospel to the world—with their prayers, encouragement, tithes and offerings.
But this giving of their prayers, encouragement and financial support was God’s assignmentas the very means of developing in them God’s holy, righteous character—that they, with the apostles and evangelists, may qualify to rule with and under Christ in God’s Kingdom. This very means of character development within the laity is the way ofGIVING—not Satan’s way of getting.
God’s way—the way of His law—is giving of outflowing love. It is the giving way. The person who tries to be an individual separate Christian, to get his own salvation, is going at it the getting way—Satan’s way. And I would not want to try to get myself into God’s Kingdom by Satan’s way.
Notice again why God set apostles, evangelists, pastors and other elders in His Church not only for the work of the ministry, being sent forth into all the world announcing Christ’s message of hope. Read it again (verses 12-13): It was “[f]or the perfecting of the saints … for the edifying [enlightening—instructing] of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man ….”
But cannot a single separate individual edify himself, outside of the Church? Not likely—and that is not God’s way.
How does God infuse His truth into the Church? Not through each individual separately—but through the apostles, and other ministers under them.
In the time of the first apostles—first century—the Bible was not yet completely written. God used a very few prophets, through whom He communicated. The prophets gave the message to an apostle. Today the Bible is complete.
However, the laity of the first-century Church received their teaching and instruction from the apostles. The original 12 had been taught by Christ in person—and so also had Paul. Jesus Christ was the personal Word of God. The Bible is the written Word of God. It’s all the precise same truth and teaching, whether from Jesus in person, when on Earth, or from the written Word of God. God’s apostle for our day was taught by the written Word of God—the same identical teaching!
But what of the separated individual believer, who tries to get his salvation all by himself—or by following some man, or any of hundreds of professing Christian denominations of our day? He is cut off from that true teaching which Christ reveals to and through His apostle!
What if one in the Church disagrees on some point of doctrine? Then he is out of harmony with God’s Church. And God has only theoneChurch.
And all in the Church are commanded to speak the same thing—and it must be what Christ, either in person, or by written Word, has taught His apostle.
To the Church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing …” (1 Corinthians 1:10). Some of them wanted to follow Peter, some wanted to follow Apollos, some Paul. But Paul was their apostle, and Christ taught them by Paul.
The separated individual believer will follow his own idea of God’s truth. That is not God’s way.
God in His almighty wisdom has raised up the Church as His means of teaching all the same truth—all speaking the same thing! Not each individual his own thing!
God raised up the Church, not only that its apostles and evangelists go into all the world announcing the good news of the coming Kingdom of God, but also, as the very means for the general body of lay members to develop God’s own holy righteous character—by means of GIVING—giving their continuous prayers for the apostle, giving their encouragement, tithes and offerings!
What, then, of the person who follows after a man outside the Church—or tries to get his salvation, simply by getting—and not giving that which members are to give to the Church’s work? Consider Jesus’s parable of the pounds in Luke 19. The pound is the British unit of money. Jesus illustrated Himself giving each member, on conversion, “one pound”—representing the Holy Spirit given at conversion. But the Christian must grow in grace and Christ’s knowledge. As he does, by giving in the Church, he receives an increasing amount of God’s Spirit. The isolated, separated member will probably lose out (see Luke 19:20-24).
In Summary: WHY THE CHURCH?
Finally, why the Church? Why did not Christ just “save” separated individuals? What is the real purpose of the Church?
Like most everything in the Bible, the purpose and function of the Church has been grossly misunderstood. The entire world has been deceived by Satan (Revelation 12:9).
Jesus had not come on a “soul-saving crusade.” The most widespread false assumption of all is that Christ is contesting against Satan to “get everybody saved now!” And with it, the supposition that all not saved are “lost”—condemned! They are neither. They are not yet judged!
But in Adam, by his decision, all humanity has been sentenced to 6,000 years of being completely cut off from God! That is, all except the comparative very few specifically called for a special mission.
Jesus Christ, I repeat, emphatically verified this 6,000-year sentence (John 6:44). No scripture can or does contradict that plain statement of Jesus.
Jesus called, chose, and for 31/2 years trained His apostles to become, with Him and the prophets, the foundation on which the Church was built. Also He set the example, those 31/2 years, for His apostles, in proclaiming (announcing) the coming Kingdom of God. Then Christ died for the sins of humanity, and was resurrected, and ascended to God’s throne in heaven.
On the day of Pentecost, a.d. 31, He sent the Holy Spirit in a great manifestation both visible and audible, to found His Church.
On that day of Pentecost, it was Peter, chief apostle, who proclaimed the gospel message—and that day God added 3,000 baptized that same day.
A day or so later—very possibly the very next day—Peter and John healed the cripple and Peter preached the gospel. God added another 2,000 to the Church.
It is significant, and generally unrealized, that neither Jesus nor the apostles embarked on any “soul-saving crusade,” which is a modern Protestant practice. The apostles, as Jesus had done, proclaimed the gospel—the good news of a coming better world. It was not an emotional pleading, “Won’t you give your heart to the Lord?”
True, because unbelieving Jews did not accept Jesus as their promised Messiah, the apostles, at first, put special emphasis on the fact they were eye-witnesses to Jesus’s Messiahship and resurrection. They had been with Him 31/2 years before He was crucified, and 40 days after He rose from the dead.
But they did proclaim the same message Jesus had taught them—the coming Kingdom of God. It was not a begging for “souls.” “[T]he Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47).
When the apostles met with fierce persecution, imprisonment and threat, the laity of the Church encouraged them, prayed heartrendingly for them, supported them financially.
So, let the truth be clarified once for all, the purpose of the Church was not to “get the world saved now!”
God’s purpose in raising up His Church in a world otherwise cut off from God was dual:
1) To provide a united body of Spirit-led believers to back up the apostles (and evangelists) who had been specially trained to go forth into all the world with Christ’s gospel message. All this, as their part in the great commission. Theirs was a work ofGIVING—giving of their prayers—their encouragement, and financial support of the organized gospel Work. And this as GOD’s means of, and the training ground for,
2) the overcoming of Satan, and the constant development of that holy, righteous character—thus qualifying them to sit with Christ on the throne of Earthwide government.
God’s way of developing His holy character was theGIVINGway. God’s way of life is the giving way of outgoing love. Satan’s way is incoming self-advantage—hostility to God’s way and to His Church.
Those who allow an attitude of hostility and rebellion against God’s Church—and God’s government within His Church—to cause them to leave, and “go it alone,” or follow a man, are seeking merely to get salvation for the self! That is not God’s way!
The GLORY on Beyond!
Happily, the 6,000-year sentence on Adam’s world—being cut off from God—is due to end in our present living generation. This world, now—still Satan’s world except for God’s Church—is fast plunging into the supreme crisis of world tribulation. But it is said to be “darkest just before dawn!”
Then, suddenly, when least expected by the “cut-off world,” Jesus Christ will come in supreme supernatural power and glory! Yes, “at such an hour as ye think not,” said Jesus.
His Church will have been made ready!
“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not [precede] them which are asleep [dead]. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). He is coming to rule all the Earth!
Then shall be fulfilled Revelation 19:6-7: the mighty voice of the archangel shouting, “Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice”! The Church, resurrected in glory, shall reign with Christ a thousand years!
Satan will be banished! God will call all living to His salvation. After the Millennium shall come the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-12) when all who had been cut off from God for 6,000 years shall be resurrected mortal—and all called to God’s salvation and eternal life!
Then, the glorious eternity beyond—all saints then immortal, inheriting the transcendent human potential—renewing thefaceof all decayed planets, finishing the glorious beautifulcreation throughout the wholeendless universe—in happiness, joy and glory!