Today, literally hundreds of groups each claim to be the true successor to the Worldwide Church of God under Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. Jesus Christ said that He would build His Church, and that it would never die out (Matthew 16:18). So, since God’s word cannot be broken, we know that He is still leading His Church. Somewhere, He is directing His servants to continue in doing His Work of proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom of God to the world, as a witness, and feeding those sheep whom He calls.
Is Christ Divided?
The Apostle Paul pointedly asked the Corinthian brethren, “Is Christ divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:13). Already in Paul’s day, the Church was being pulled apart by factionalism and personality worship or dislike. People were more interested in following their favorite minister, rather than maintaining a spirit of godly unity.
As the years went by, self-appointed leaders began to stray further and further from the foundation, as laid down by Christ and the apostles. Paul warned the ministers of his day to be careful of outsiders who would worm their way in to pervert the truth. The ministers were also to guard against deceiving themselves into thinking that they should be the focus of attention, rather than humble servants of God’s people. “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:28–30).
Those words that Paul wrote more than 1,900 years ago could just as easily have been written to describe what happened in God’s Church after the death of Mr. Armstrong. Indeed, the problem of false ministers has been around since almost the very beginning. Even ancient Israel had false teachers who tried to deceive the people of God. The Creator sent true servants to prophesy against the religious perversions being taught, and to point the sons of Jacob toward the true worship of their God. “And when they say to you, ‘Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:19–20).
How could so many become deceived, turning their backs on the truths they once knew and obeyed? Jesus Christ Himself gives us the answer, explaining what has happened to those who can no longer discern where Christ is working today: “And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. I do not receive honor from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you” (John 5:37–42).
Those who act on God’s word are able to understand it and retain the truth in their own lives. Those who think they “know better” or that “it doesn’t apply” to them will lose the knowledge they once had. We grow in knowledge by practicing what we know. And we grow in love by practicing love for others, by being part of the Work that is proclaiming God’s message to a world in desperate need of the coming Kingdom of God.
God’s love toward all of humanity is the same outgoing concern that truly Spirit-filled Christians will display for their fellow human beings. Notice that Paul himself—the “apostle to the Gentiles”—knew and practiced the principle of godly love toward men and women of all nations. “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13) Paul’s love for those who were not of Israel is the same love Christ taught we should show first to our Father in heaven and then to anyone made in His image: “‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30–31).
Those who love God will support His plan—first to warn and ultimately to save their neighbors. If we love ourselves enough to want eternal life, we must be willing to do our part to help everyone else gain eternal life. Today, whether by overt word or simply by deed, many who call themselves Christians—even in the Church of God—put their own “selfish salvation” first, and in doing so they “lose the plot” of God’s plan, forgetting the big picture of what God is doing for all of mankind.
And what is the ultimate fruit of that selfish approach? God will spew such self-interested Christians out of His mouth! “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, `I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:15–17). God has given Christians the Holy Spirit not just for our own salvation, but also to give us the power to do our part in supporting His very Work. Today, there are wolves circling who want us to take our eyes off that purpose, and instead to focus on some grievance or personal ambition as if it is more important than our mission. Yet to do so is a “one-way ticket” to outer darkness (Matthew 25:14–30)!
We put ourselves in danger if we think that, because we “know” what God has said, we can ignore what seem to be small details. Notice the example of Moses. God instructed Moses to speak to a rock, to bring forth water for the children of Israel. However, Moses lost his temper and neglected how he was supposed to carry out God’s instruction: “And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, ‘Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?’ Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank. Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them’” (Numbers 20:10–12).
Today, there are men who call themselves “prophets” and “apostles” and claim leadership in the Church of God, yet by their words and deeds we can see they have forgotten Who it is that can cause water to flow from solid rock. Instead of humbly yielding to God’s word and to those whom God has placed in authority, they presumptuously modify God’s instructions and seek to draw a following.
Another Old Testament example of letting a personal agenda get in the way of God’s instructions is found in the time of Jeroboam. God had sent a man to admonish Jeroboam for leading the northern ten tribes of Israel away from the true worship of the Creator. This man carried out his instructions to the letter until he started home. Then, that man of God was pursued by a prophet who carried a false message to test him. “Then he said to him, ‘Are you the man of God who came from Judah?’ And he said, ‘I am.’ Then he said to him, ‘Come home with me and eat bread.’ And he said, ‘I cannot return with you nor go in with you; neither can I eat bread nor drink water with you in this place. For I have been told by the word of the Lord, “You shall not eat bread nor drink water there, nor return by going the way you came.”’ He said to him, ‘I too am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, “Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.”’ (He was lying to him.) So he went back with him, and ate bread in his house, and drank water. Now it happened, as they sat at the table, that the word of the Lord came to the prophet who had brought him back; and he cried out to the man of God who came from Judah, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Because you have disobeyed the word of the Lord, and have not kept the commandment which the Lord your God commanded you, but you came back, ate bread, and drank water in the place of which the Lord said to you, ‘Eat no bread and drink no water,’ your corpse shall not come to the tomb of your fathers’.” So it was, after he had eaten bread and after he had drunk, that he saddled the donkey for him, the prophet whom he had brought back. When he was gone, a lion met him on the road and killed him. And his corpse was thrown on the road, and the donkey stood by it. The lion also stood by the corpse”’” (1 Kings 13:14–24).
Evil Men and Impostors
What is the lesson? It is that we must be wary of anyone who, claiming to be a messenger or minister of God, brings instructions that differ from those we have received from those we know to be God’s ministers. We know that, as the end of this present age approaches, we will more and more see this coming to pass. “But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them” (2 Timothy 3:13–14).
Yet, we are to learn and grow. The Apostle Peter wrote: “Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever! Amen” (2 Peter 3:17–18, NIV).
Some few have been upset by the Living Church of God gaining greater understanding of several key passages of Scripture. Yet—unlike some leaders who claim “new revelation” that must be accepted on their own authority—Dr. Meredith consistently admonishes us, “Don’t believe me; believe what you find in the pages of your own Bible!” If we study the word of God daily, and know it “inside and out,” we will be able to tell the difference between true scriptural understanding and the misrepresentations of self-interested false leaders. We need to follow the example of the Bereans. “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
In this “Internet age,” it is easy to find dozens and hundreds of teachers proclaiming their own messages, claiming to follow Mr. Armstrong but in fact straying wildly from the truths Mr. Armstrong taught from the Bible. Some would have you believe that the Work is finished. Yet Christ made it plain that He expects His followers to be doing what He did—preaching the true gospel of the coming Kingdom of God (Matthew 24:46). Others have corrupted the gospel by teaching a message “about” Mr. Armstrong, while distorting Mr. Armstrong’s actual message—thus mimicking the same error that took first-century Christianity off the track!
Paul told the Galatians, “As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:9–10). Some ministers come to God’s people as flatterers, assuring them that if they believe some strange new doctrines they are the “very elect.” Others want God’s people to flatter them, insisting that they be recognized as apostles or prophets despite their utter lack of fruit.
As we go forward, we must always be mindful of Christ’s last command to those who would carry on His Work; “But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And 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 24:13–14) Since the end has not yet come, Christ expects His true servants to carry on, as He has instructed them. We can stop only when He tells us to and not before. As long as we have life and breath, we must push ahead, as God makes it possible. “When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:23).
Listen to the Shepherd!
How can we be sure we are not misled? First and foremost, we must listen to our Shepherd! We must read our Bible every day, studying and meditating on its teachings. God alone can save us! As we keep our minds saturated with the word of God, and our hearts in supporting His Work, we can go forward in confidence, knowing that we can discern between the truth of God and the falsehoods offered by so many who would seek to draw us away from that truth. If we absorb ourselves in the truth, we will not have the “itching ears” of which Paul warned Timothy. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:3–5).
Paul told Timothy that his mission was to do the work he had been given—to fulfill his ministry. Each of us, in our own ways—whether as a homemaker, a parent, an employee, an employer, a husband or a wife—has been given responsibilities by God. Satan wants to distract and ultimately to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). He can do that if we take our eyes off our responsibilities and listen to those who do not have our eternal interest at heart.
We live in a world where self-appointed teachers are free to say and publish what they want, contrary to God’s word. But we have a job to do. What should our approach be? Solomon said it well: “And further, my son, be admonished by these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:12–14). Let us keep our eyes on the goal as we carry out our responsibilities, listening obediently to the true Shepherd, Jesus Christ!
—LCG Editorial Staff