The Vanishing Church?
Dear Teachers in Training:
Jesus Christ said His Church would never die out. He also described it as a little flock. Throughout most of its history, since its official inception in 31 AD, the Church has been all but invisible. Obviously, the Church was well known in the 1st Century, but apostasy led to its scattering. Over the succeeding 1800 years, the Church came only briefly into historical view until God called Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong to restore all the doctrines that were first established by Jesus Christ.
On the basis of this restoration, the gospel was taken into the entire world during the 20th century. This was predicted by Christ in Matthew 24:14 and the surety of its completion described in Revelation 3:7-13.
Since the death of Mr. Armstrong in January 1986, the Church has entered into its final evolution prior to the tribulation and Christ's return to establish His Kingdom here on earth.
Again, as described in Revelation 3:14-20, this last era has succumbed to apostasy to such an extent that Christ states He is now about to spit them out of His mouth. Meaning He will allow them to suffer in the soon coming tribulation. This is to purge and cleanse them.
I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent
This apostasy is referred to in II Thessalonians 2:1-3. This is the time we are living in now. Ironically, Satan has so deluded many people in God's Church that they are blind to the apostasy surrounding them. The various groups that have emerged from the breakup of the Worldwide Church of God are almost entirely absorbed with themselves, while each proclaims itself as the legitimate successor to Mr. Armstrong. This shows the extent of their blindness, since Christ is not divided; yet each group contends that it alone is God's Church and the others are not. Even a cursory glance at their teachings clearly shows that none of them is faithfully following the doctrines Christ reestablished in His Church through Herbert W. Armstrong. Some groups have gone to a form of democratic government, others follow men who have taught or believe in some form of the pagan Trinity doctrine. The Trinity doctrine is idolatry; not just some philosophical side issue, as some have claimed. Others have no problem wearing crosses, which are the sun images condemned in God's word. Yet others subscribe to “The Nature of God” doctrine which distorts what God is really like and which helps underpin the Trinity concept. Some believe that Christians are born again at baptism instead of through a resurrection, as Christ was, or through a change to spirit at His return. “Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh, And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:3-4). “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). Others contend that God has a family rather than, as the Bible shows and Mr. Armstrong taught, that God (Elohim) is a family (Rom. 8:29, I Cor. 15:20, 23, 35-44).
Mr. Armstrong also taught that the true gospel of the coming Kingdom was to go forth to the world as a witness, not as a tool to bring people to conversion, as some teach. The apostasy began with the introduction of false worldly doctrines and graduated to the undermining of the true teachings found in God's holy Word.
The attitude of most of the laity in these various groups shows that they have forgotten why God called them. They were called to qualify to rule with Christ (Rev. 2:26; 3:21; 5:10; 17:14). They were called to become leaders. Christ expects all those He calls to become leaders, not just the ministry. Leaders must first be able to clearly distinguish between truth and error, evaluate the situation properly and take the right course of action. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15). In Revelation 2, the people of the Ephesian era were commended for being able to distinguish between true and false apostles.
Some 30 years ago, the government of Canada developed an interesting statistic that in my personal experience has proven to be accurate. They found that in society, there were only 2% natural leaders, 8% with leadership potential and 90% who were simply followers. These statistics applied across the board from the Boy Scouts to the local police department. Go watch little children play and you will soon notice the ones who think up the games and organize the rest to play according to their rules. This is the 2%. Then there are those willing to help and support them. That's the 8%. The rest are happy to allow themselves to be organized. That's the 90%. I found this statistic to be true of every church congregation I served in and it used to frustrate me because I knew Christ called people to become leaders.
Too many people are blind-sided today because they assume that their ministers are converted. This is unrealistic, given that tens of thousands of former W.C.G. people and numerous ministers have faded back into society, the Bibles many warnings about false ministers in the end times and the doctrinal aberrations listed above (II Pet. 2:1-3; II Tim. 3:1-7).
Each of us, ministers and laity, has a responsibility to prove all things and hold fast to what is good (I Thes. 5:21)!
Brethren, is the Church vanishing before our eyes or is Christ simply using this situation to separate the converted from the unconverted, and the self-satisfied Laodicean Christians from the stalwart Philadelphians, who are still holding fast to the doctrines they initially received through God's apostle Herbert W. Armstrong? (Rev. 3:11; Jude 3; I Jn. 2:24; II Tim. 3:14; II Pet. 2:21-22). It is plain that God had to let Mr. Armstrong die in order to prove His people! Consider what has happened since his death in January 1986. Approximately 160,000 people attended the Feast of Tabernacles in 1985 of whom some 90,000 were baptized. That's about 56% of the total 160,000. Today about 30,000 still attend the four main breakaway groups, plus a myriad of tiny entities. This means some 130,000 men, women, and children have fallen by the wayside over the last 16 years. Now it is obvious that many of these were not called, but did support Mr. Armstrong with their tithes and offerings to take the gospel to the world.
Using the same percentages we applied to the W.C.G. back in 1986 relative to the non-baptized verses the baptized, 56% of 30,000 is only 16,800.
This group of approximately 16,800 true Christians represents the pool from which the final cut to complete the 144,000 of Revelation 14 will be selected. It is important to remember that the 144,000 are the firstfruits who have proved faithful from the time of Abel to Christ's Second Coming. Not a large group, considering they have been selected over a 6,000 year period.
The question is, how many of the 16,800 mentioned above are Laodiceans and how many are Philadelphians? For the reasons discussed previously, the Laodiceans certainly make up the majority.
So of the 16,800, how many will prove to be Philadelphian and as a result escape the soon coming tribulation? In 1986 for example, there were a total of 2,400 people attending the Worldwide Church of God in the Chicago area. Today all groups combined in that city number only 400. That is just one-sixth. One-sixth appears realistic with regard to many other locations across the United States and Canada where cities, which at one time had large congregations, but today are but a handful. One sixth of the 90,000 baptized people attending in 1985 comes to 15,000, which is pretty close to the 16,800 ball park figure we arrived at earlier. But again, how many of those will prove to be Philadelphians?
In the story of Gideon in Judges 7, God used three hundred men, less than 1% of Israel's army to win a great victory over the Midianites. Christ points out numerous times that many are called but few chosen (to rule with Christ). The following statistics are designed to show just how small the numbers are today as Christ fills the last slots in His millennial government of 144,000.
By applying the statistics regarding leadership to the 15,000 - 17,000 baptized people left in the various breakaways from the W.C.G., we should get an idea of approximately how many Philadelphians exist today around the world in various groups or at home!
Out of 15,000 Out of 17,000
2% = 300 340
8% = 1200 1360
TOTAL = 1500 1700
Using 15,000 as a typical number, are we looking at 300 Philadelphians, 1,200 Laodiceans and 13,500 who are just hangers on? Or will it be a total of 1,500 Philadelphians and the Laodiceans, with the hangers on being found in the remaining 13,500? I don't know for sure, but one thing is certain, the total pool of 15,000 - 17,000 people is very small in itself. Look how these percentages would impact on the 400 still associated with the church in Chicago. 2% of 400 = 8, 8% = 32 and 10% = 40.
Consider also that Philadelphians are to be protected during the tribulation in a small temple yet to be built by the Jews in Jerusalem. (Rev. 11:1; Dan. 12:11, Dan. 8:11-14). Philadelphians are proving themselves leaders now by holding fast. Laodiceans must prove their leadership potential in the great tribulation because they are blind and self-satisfied now.
Every day that passes finds more and more people vanishing into strange sects or mainstream Christianity, thereby reducing the total number of people who could possibly be part of the true Church of God. It helps us to realize that the group of people we can help to get ready for Christ's return is not a large number and only God knows where they are.
How do we prove to Christ that we can be made worthy to rule with and under Him? By understanding who Mr. Armstrong was and holding fast to what he taught us and continuing to grow in grace and knowledge of Christ and His plan. That is also how people should be able to distinguish a Philadelphian work from the others out there. Prophecy did not stop unfolding in 1986. If people want to prove where Christ is leading today, study our literature, compare it with what else is available, and get to know us and observe our fruit, then help us to help others.
Brethren, continue to hold fast and pray that God will use us to guide and encourage others seeking support and direction. The finish line is close and we must not slacken now.
Keep pushing ahead for we shall reap if we faint not. No, my friends, the Church is not vanishing, it's just coming into focus and its Philadelphian element must be proactive now.
Sincerely in Christ's service,
Robert J. Elliott
PS. The question has been raised, are people lost who are simply called to support the gospel work done by Mr. Armstrong? Paul was inspired to say that God wants all men to be saved -- to experience eternal life, “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4). Only those few who refuse to be subject to God's authority will have to suffer the second death. What we must understand, however, is that not all are called to be part of the 144,000 firstfruits who will rule with Christ throughout the millennium and on into eternity. Since we are told that of the increase of God's government there will be no end, it would appear that as it expands throughout the universe positions of service will continue to open up.
It is also conceivable that those called to support Mr. Armstrong, but not to be part of the millennial government of Christ, will respond positively to God's two witnesses during the tribulation and be spared either with the 144,00 physical Israelites or the great multitude of Gentiles mentioned in Revelation 7. God is just, fair and merciful and He will not forget their service if they in turn respond to His servants during the tribulation.
PPS. Is God's Church, Worldwide the Philadelphian element today? The G.C.W. is simply a corporate entity created to carry on church business in the United States. True Christians are baptized into a spiritual body, the body of Christ. Philadelphian Christians are scattered everywhere, including in the G.C.W. However the work of God's Church, Worldwide is Philadelphian and scattered Philadelphians will recognize this when exposed to it. Hold Fast!
Other Important Articles:
The Vanishing Church?
God's Church, Worldwide