The following is adapted from a letter sent in response to a question posed to several Headquarters ministers.
Thank you for your inquiry. You expressed concerns regarding the divided Church of God groups and certain Living Church of God teachings and emphases, so I hope this letter will be of help to you. The Church has always taught that the messages to the seven churches are warnings for all time, and that they also reflect the predominant attitudes in each of seven eras. Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong explained: "These seven messages DO apply to seven successive Church eras. BUT they also apply to the WHOLE CHURCH through ALL eras. In other words, the Ephesus characteristics DOMINATED in the first era, and the Laodicean will dominate in the last, but SOME of these characteristics are found in EVERY era. The messages apply to the WHOLE Church (and so I have said and written for more than fifty years) but certain characteristics predominate in the various eras" (The Incredible Human Potential, p. 158). This truth is important in order for you to understand the reality of disparate Church of God groups indicated by Revelation 2 and 3.
You have taken issue with the Living Church of God’s exposition of Revelation 3:7, and seem to believe this scripture has no application to government. Yes, the Living Church of God has described the "key of David" as it relates to government (see sermon #414, Dr. Roderick C. Meredith’s January 2007 message, "How Does the Key of David Apply to Us?" available at www.lcg.org). As you wrote, Christ has the key. He is the Head of the body, the Church (Colossians 1:18). That is exactly what the Living Church of God has been teaching! He is the Head of the body that is organized, and administers its responsibilities through the ministry (Ephesians 4:11–13; 1 Corinthians 12:27–28; Hebrews 13:7, 17). The New Testament clearly defines and outlines government as applied to Church administration. Those groups that do not recognize Christ as having the "key of David," and do not obey His instructions for Church organization and administration, will hardly identify with Philadelphia.
The Living Church of God does not label all other groups as "Laodicean." The Church has correctly stated that there are Laodiceans in the Living Church of God, as well as in other groups. The Living Church of God has zealously exhorted its members to be watchful, so that we do not let down and become "lukewarm." We are living in the Laodicean era, so we would expect that most Church of God groups, and most individuals in God’s Church overall, will exemplify that predominant attitude. But this does not excuse us from our responsibility to bear good fruits, individually and collectively—including those fruits exemplified by the Philadelphian era.
Is it because of "pride" that the Living Church of God strives to fulfill the description in Revelation 3:7–13? Not at all! Obviously, any true Christian will strive to obey and reflect the biblical pattern given to us by the One who holds the "key of David." Church members should individually, as well as collectively, strive to support the New Testament Church in following Christ’s instructions on government, applying the principle of the "key of David." Remember, Revelation 3:7– 13 sets the ideal, but we must work to live up to that ideal. We cannot say by "fiat" that we fulfill those characteristics; rather, we must "examine," "judge," "prove" or "test" ourselves (1 Thessalonians 5:21; 2 Corinthians 13:5) to ensure that we obey Christ’s form of Church government. In fact, Church leadership has a responsibility to focus publicly on that point, as well as on many other biblical doctrines (2 Timothy 4:1–5).
Many who develop new ideas about Revelation 2 and 3 fail to notice that Christ was the Head of all seven churches in Asia Minor to whom the letter was written. Were those churches "united"? Or did they have disparate doctrines, some of which were abominable?
The Pergamos congregation had members holding to the abominable doctrine of Balaam. The Church at Thyatira tolerated sexual immorality. The Sardis Church was mostly spiritually dead. The Laodicean Church was wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. Were all the Revelation 2 and 3 churches the "true Church of God"? Certainly, Christ Himself, by addressing each of them, claimed authority over them. Yet, several had serious flaws—which, unless corrected, would disqualify them!
We need to understand. What comprises the "true Church of God"? The seven churches could nominally be called true churches, because Christ was their Head. But did they fulfill the requirements for unity with Christ? Were they following their Head? As we have seen, many were practicing sinful doctrines, and unless they accepted Christ’s correction they would not be in God’s Kingdom!
Those churches, historically, were under Christ’s judgment, as are all the Churches of God today (1 Peter 4:17). The Living Church of God is under judgment, and as such we strive to fulfill the mission God has given His Church (Matthew 28:19–20; Mark 16:15–16). We strive to follow our predecessor in this Work, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, as he followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1) in fulfilling that mission. The fruits should demonstrate whether Christ is working through a Church of God group (Matthew 7:20), and mature Christians should be able to discern this rightly.
The Apostle Paul gave this scriptural definition for the true Church: "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free— and have all been made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:13). In other words, the body of Christ, the Church (Colossians 1:18), is a spiritual organism. Truly converted members exist in various corporate Church of God groups today, but the spiritual organism is one body.
Historically, Mr. Armstrong would refer to the Radio Church of God, and later the Worldwide Church of God, as "the true Church. "Why? Because evidence at that time indicated that most of those who fulfilled the characteristics of true Christianity were members of the Church that was then headquartered in Pasadena, California. Other unknown remnants of the true Church—who kept the Passover, the Sabbath, the Holy Days and other biblical doctrines—would sometimes be discovered in remote parts of the world when Christ led them to contact Pasadena and join in fellowship with the main body. Today, however, with both Philadelphian and Laodicean Christians striving to hold fast to the truths God restored through Mr. Armstrong, we can observe that scattered Laodicean members of the spiritual body will naturally gravitate toward fellow Laodiceans, when they find them—and scattered Philadelphian Christians will be led by the Holy Spirit toward fellow Philadelphians.
Be sure to read our booklet Where Is God’s True Church Today? by Dr. Meredith. He writes: "This church is not a building or a corporation or an invention of human beings. It is a spiritual organism with a history going right back to Jesus Christ and the apostles" (p. 2).
Understandably, the reality of disparate and disagreeing Church groups is painful to many, but agonizing over it— and wishing for "unity" even though the Bible shows such unity will not fully occur until Christ returns—will not change the reality in these end-times, just as it has never done in the history of the Church. Instead, our responsibility is to "hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 2:7) and apply it to ourselves individually and collectively.
Are the Church of God groups divided because of "bickering leaders"? In part, yes. But to overlook the obvious, such as major differences in how Church groups teach and follow the doctrines of church organization, government and administration (as well as other doctrines), leads to serious misjudgment (refer to sermon #199, "We’re Not the Same," and "We Are Not All the Same," Living Church News, Sep–Oct 2004).
In passing, we should notice that the Living Church of God leadership does communicate and work with leadership in other groups when appropriate. Living Church of God leadership does not "bicker" with other groups, but focuses on the mission of the Church. We respect the fact, as indicated above, that there are Philadelphians in other groups, just as there are Laodiceans in our group. Let us understand. Members of the Living Church of God did not come to the Living Church of God by accident, or because of leaders’ bickering. They chose, as most still choose, to strive to follow the full truth of the Bible, not one side of some factional dispute, and to fulfill the mission Christ gave the Church. Each member of the body of Christ is responsible for making such a choice.
Is it true that the existence of disparate Church of God groups hinders true "testimony" to the world? In part, yes, but no more so than the seven disparate churches of Revelation 2– 3, all under Christ, hindered true "testimony." Remember, not all of them hindered that testimony! Christ said He set an "open door" before Philadelphia then—and, prophetically, He is doing the same today! Those who understand Christ’s prophecies understand that "this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations" (Matthew 24:14).
I pray that you will have the eyes to see clearly where the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is being preached, and that you will support Christ’s mission wholeheartedly. Yes, the reality of different Church groups can be saddening at times, but we must have hope, not fear. We must know that Christ is alive, and that God’s promises are sure. Our hope must be in Christ, who told us, "Let your conduct be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ’I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ’The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’" (Hebrews 13:5–6).
Remember: in spite of the differences among Church of God groups—including some that depart in important ways from sound biblical doctrine and practice—Christ is not limited! As He stated: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 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; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18–20). Those who focus on the mission Christ gave His Church will see for themselves where that mission is being carried out most fully as He intended.
In Revelation 2–3, Christ admonishes us seven times to examine our attitudes with respect to the seven churches, and to respond accordingly: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 2:7). We in the Living Church of God recognize that we must strive to exemplify Philadelphian character and to finish the Work Christ has given His body, the Church.
Thank you again for your inquiry. May God bless you with His faith in fulfilling His will and Work.
In Christian love,
Richard F. Ames