Following the mid-1990s breakup of the Worldwide Church of God, hundreds of Sabbath-keeping groups formed. A handful are significant in terms of numbers and the work they do, but most of these “hundreds” are family or local groups, virtually unknown outside their areas. Groups formed around ordained and un-ordained leaders, usually involving some doctrinal difference. Some have declared themselves prophets or apostles and have convinced people to follow them. The Internet has made it possible for a few of these groups to attract scattered individuals to their doctrines.
Many are confused by this scattering of former members, and wonder what we should think about these many groups. On this subject, there are generally two camps. One looks to Ephesians 4:4, which tells us, “There is one body and one Spirit…,” and says that people in multiple organizations can’t be a part of one spiritual body. The other looks to passages showing that the first-century Church of God was not always as unified as it ought to have been—but was still the Church of God. “Now I say this, that each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ.’ Is Christ divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:12–13). Which view is right? Is either view correct? Perhaps each is partially, but not wholly, correct.
It is all too easy to draw conclusions based on our limited understanding of how God carries out the details of His plan. When Mr. Herbert Armstrong came along, the Seventh Day Church of God was split into several different camps, as is clearly shown in his autobiography. We believe that the Church was then at the end of the Sardis era, and transitioning to the Philadelphia era. This is much more easily understood in retrospect.
As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). This passage comes from what we call the “Love Chapter,” and Paul was comparing what is important with what is not so important. He then showed what really matters: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (v. 13).
What Is the Lesson?
Dr. Meredith often reminded us that the Bible is the mind of Christ. It expresses how He thinks, and we need to feed on Christ by studying the word He inspired (John 6:53–58). Here is a passage of Scripture that puzzles many, who then draw wrong conclusions: “Now John answered and said, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side’” (Luke 9:49–50). What are we to make of this?
Notice that Jesus said this man was not against them. He also said the man “is on our side.” Was Jesus endorsing this man, or putting His stamp of approval on everyone who claims the name of Christ, as long as he keeps the Sabbath and Holy Days? Not if we compare all scriptures on the subject!
There is a familiar passage that must be considered if we are to understand Jesus’ statement to John. If you’ve never considered it before, you’ll find that it sheds light on our question. Jesus declared, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21–23). So one may “cast out demons in [Christ’s] name” and be rejected by Him at His coming. Why, then, did Jesus, in Luke 9, instruct John to leave the man alone?
Mark’s account of John’s question about the man “who does not follow with us” gives more details about Jesus’ response: “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side” (Mark 9:39–40). John must have been puzzled by this response. We know nothing more about the man. Was he a “righteous” man or an opportunist? Was he a priest, with an office of ecclesiastical responsibility? Or was he a self-proclaimed exorcist who latched onto Jesus’ name?
Consider Jesus’ acknowledgment that there were individuals at that time who apparently did cast out demons. When He was accused falsely of using the power of Beelzebub, He responded, “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges” (Luke 11:19).
Many Bible publishers insert an uninspired subheading above this passage, such as “Jesus Forbids Sectarianism.” The word “sectarianism” means to have an “excessive devotion to a particular sect, especially in religion” (Dictionary.com). Based on their misunderstanding of this passage, there are those in mainstream religion who look at nearly all forms of Christianity as being part of Christ’s Church. Of course, even they put limits on who “qualifies,” usually by a “Trinity” test.
We must not make their mistake and take this passage out of the context of all Scripture. We recognize that false Christianity is real. Jesus warned us about this in the Olivet Prophecy (Matthew 24:4–5) and when the first seal in Revelation 6 was opened. Revelation 17 uses unflattering terms to describe a great false mother church and her daughters. Paul warned the elders from Ephesus against wolves in sheep’s clothing and self-centered leaders who divide the flock (Acts 20:29–31).
Paul also tells us that “Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:15–17). Paul was writing from prison, and this preaching of others generated local publicity for him and his message about Christ.
The Value of Publicity
Jesus tells us that “the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). Celebrities understand what we often fail to comprehend: “No publicity is bad publicity.” Even negative reports about people and ideas keep them in the public eye. Of course, publicity has limits. While the principle “No publicity is bad publicity” may be true in many respects, there are specific cases where it is not.
This passage in the first chapter of Philippians begins with Paul’s observation that “the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ” (Philippians 1:12–13). The spreading of the message was furthered. This fact encouraged the “brethren in the Lord” to become confident and bold, less reticent to speak up about Christ (v. 14). It is in this vein that Paul says that some were preaching Christ “from envy and strife” (rivalry and competition). Others had a right motive—“from goodwill.” But, whether it was from right and sincere motives or from selfish ambition, Christ was preached.
So What Is the Point?
Jesus in no way indicated whether or not the man casting out demons would be in the Kingdom. As we read in Matthew 7:21–23, there are those who cast out demons in Christ’s name who will be shut out of the Kingdom. Jesus was simply telling John that the man using Christ’s name was none of their concern, to leave him alone and do the work he (John) was called to do.
This example is only one of several demonstrating that we are, essentially, to mind our own business—to focus, instead, on what we are charged to do. Peter was instructed three times by the resurrected Christ to “feed My sheep [or lambs]” (John 21:15–17). Afterward, Jesus told Peter that “when you are old... [they will] carry you where you do not wish” (v. 18). At this, Peter wanted to know what would happen to John, and Jesus replied, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me” (v. 22).
We also see this desire of human nature to compare in the parable about the workers in the vineyard. When the end of the day came, those who had worked throughout the whole day complained that those who had worked for only an hour received the same pay, but the landowner replied, “Take what is yours and go your way” (Matthew 20:14).
There are some things we must judge, such as right and wrong, according to the word of God. We must also make personal decisions as to where we believe God is working. I hope all of us know why we are in the Living Church of God, or if you are reading this and are in some other group, that you know why you are there. All of us should make this decision carefully and prayerfully. Such decisions should not be based on family or friends, but on where we see the fruits that show where God is truly working.
But there are other matters in which we ought not involve ourselves. It is for God to judge the many groups, whether they be large or small. We need not judge or compare ourselves. In fact, we ought not! “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12).
Does this mean that all groups keeping the Sabbath and Holy Days are the same and equally pleasing to God? Some claim that we all believe the same thing. Is this true? Apparently not. If we did, we would all be together. It behooves each person to know why he is where he is, and do as Jesus said to John regarding those who are elsewhere: Leave them alone and let God be the judge. “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?” (James 4:11–12).
Ah, but there is that word, “brother.” Can we consider someone in another group a brother? In reality, how can we not? Are we to be as the lawyer who asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).
Jesus did not say that John should reach out to the man to bring their two works together through compromise. Neither should we. The man could have chosen to follow them, but he did not. Why? We do not know. He would have been wise to do so, and maybe he later did. What we do know is that Jesus told John to leave him alone.
When we see others doing a work similar to what we are doing, we need not be concerned. We must know why we, as individuals, choose to be where we are, but it is unwise for us to compare ourselves with others. God is the judge. All of us, leaders and members, must one day answer to Him for the decisions we make in this life.
Some today no doubt “preach Christ even from envy and strife” and from “selfish ambition.” Others do so sincerely “from goodwill.” Yes, we need to base our decisions on biblical facts, comparing such things as doctrines, governance, and focus. That we must do. We cannot compromise truth for the sake of a false unity. But neither should we be in the business of judging the motives of others. It is true that the motives of some are so transparent that only a fool would be so blind as not to notice, and Jesus, after all, did call some of the religious leaders hypocrites (Matthew 23). However, our responsibility is to leave alone those who are not with us and to focus on the Work He set before us. As Paul advised the disunited Corinthians, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God” (1 Corinthians 4:5).
We are coming up on the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread. This is a time for introspection. The breakup of the Worldwide Church of God was something few, if any, of us foresaw, and it created a lot of distrust and confusion. We will someday look back and understand a greater picture than we currently can see, but here is one thing we should all be able to agree upon: There has been far too much judging of others and other groups, in all the groups. That is not the mind of Christ!