It is a question few think to ask, but we all should consider: Why the Church? Jesus said that He would build His Church. Why? What purpose does His Church serve?
This is no trivial question. It is at the very heart and core of why we come together each Sabbath, why we observe or don’t observe certain days, and how we live our lives. The answer explains our raison d’être—our reason for being.
Why Are We Here?
Funerals tell us a lot about how people think. Family members often speak emotionally of the deceased, while others tell humorous anecdotes as a means of coping with their emotions at such a difficult time. When one tries to discuss the big questions of life and death, however, most who are not of God’s people sit there bored, looking down or off into space.
Deep down, people do want to know “what it’s all about,” but most do not think there is a real answer. “Heaven” does not excite them. Clerics of various persuasions try to make their ideas about the afterlife sound exciting, but although they rarely agree with each other, they even less often consider that the deceased have a productive future ahead. But you and I understand what most do not. Why would God create beings to go where there is nothing productive to do? To most outside God’s Church, the afterlife is what I often call a “candy store in the sky” or some kind of celestial LSD trip. For Roman Catholics and many others, it may be the so-called “beatific vision”—staring into the face of God for eternity—that brings supreme happiness and satisfies all our longings. But is this what God is doing—creating beings to find final happiness just staring into His face for eternity?
When I was first beginning to understand the Truth, I thought the difference between Heaven and the Kingdom of God was only a matter of location. Rather than exist up in the sky, Heaven would come here on earth. I certainly never thought that my reward would be to stare into God’s face forever, but my ideas were vague and, frankly, not exciting. Heaven, though, certainly seemed like the better of the two options, and attending church services seemed to be essential to reaching the better alternative.
In fact, however, where our reward will be, what we will be doing, and what God expects of us now, are vital elements in understanding why Christ said He would build His Church.
We should all know that the Gospel is about the Kingdom of God, and that Christ is central to the Gospel message. The good news is that His Kingdom is coming, and that we can be born into it. Christ, the King, is the way into that Kingdom (John 14:6). The Bible is an expression of His will, and it shows us what our part in the Kingdom will be. But let us not get ahead of the story.
Is Personal Salvation Enough?
Despite this wonderful news about our future, many are surprised to learn that our personal salvation is not the main reason why God is calling people in this present age. It is true that every one of us has earned eternal death because of our sins, and it is only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ that the death penalty can be satisfied on our behalf, and we can receive the Holy Spirit after sincere repentance, baptism, and the laying on of hands by the ministry. The Spirit, then, which makes our salvation possible, will transform us from following our own ways to following God’s ways as we prepare to be “born again” at the first resurrection.
“Isn’t that enough?” many will ask? The answer is an emphatic No!
If our personal salvation were the main reason why God is calling us now, why wouldn’t He call everyone? Why would He call you, or me? What makes you, or me, so special that God calls us, when it is obvious—from Scripture and from observable facts around us—that most of humanity is not currently called? Besides, if we are willing to be totally objective and self-searchingly honest, we know that there are many out there who are smarter, have more attractive personalities, exercise greater character, and are even—in human terms—more righteous. Further, why are so many cut off from having their own opportunity for salvation simply because of when and where they were born, in times and places where hearing the Gospel has been rare, if it has been preached at all? Think about it. This is important. Why you?
Jesus gave His followers a great commission, articulated in Mark 16:15–16 and Matthew 28:18–20. As we have this divine commission as Christ’s followers, is it okay to choose not to take an active part in fulfilling it? Paul tells us that Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Our Savior expects us to show outgoing concern for others. We must not sit back and wait for the Kingdom to come, as is the manner of some.
We may think of the Parable of the Minas in terms of developing ourselves personally, rather than in terms of multiplying our minas outwardly. However, notice that the rewards handed out involve rulership over cities (Luke 19:15–19). And what happens to the man who does nothing with his mina (vv. 20–27)?
Jesus asked an important question that applies to our future. “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season?” His answer is most instructive: “Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods” (Matthew 24:45–47). Yes, the one doing the Work now is the one who will be doing the Work in the Kingdom!
Jesus then went on to give the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, followed by the Parable of the Talents. This latter parable is similar to, but not exactly the same as, that of the Minas. Instead of giving each servant a single unit of money, He gives more to those with greater ability, and expects each to multiply the talents according to his ability. The one who receives a chance to multiply a talent and does nothing is called “wicked and lazy” and is cast “into the outer darkness” where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:26–30). Are you and I acting on what we have each been given?
Restrain Those Stumbling to Slaughter
Newer members of God’s Church may be unfamiliar with the “Ezekiel Warning”—our commission to preach not just the good news of the coming Kingdom of God, but also to warn the world what will happen to those who live in disobedience to God and His ways. Ezekiel was a Jewish captive in Babylon. He was given a mission to warn the House of Israel (Ezekiel 3:4–7; 33:7). Though he did prophesy to Jewish holdouts in Jerusalem, the thrust of his message was to the northern ten tribes of Israel. Jerusalem was to be a symbolic type of the House of Israel (Ezekiel 4:1–3). A careful reading of the book—even merely the fourth chapter—makes it abundantly clear that Ezekiel knew the difference between the northern kingdom, known as the House of Israel, and the southern kingdom, known as the House of Judah—the Jews (vv. 4–6).
God told Ezekiel that he would be held responsible—that blood would be on his head—if he failed to warn the House of Israel (Ezekiel 33:1–6). He was to tell them that they would go into a brutal captivity if they did not repent. But here is the problem: When you read carefully, you will realize that the northern ten-tribed kingdom—Israel—had already gone into captivity some 130 years before Ezekiel received his commission! Was God late in giving this warning—and thus quite unfair in holding Ezekiel accountable to do the impossible? Or is there another explanation? The latter is the case. Much of the book of Ezekiel was clearly written for the end time. This means that its message must be preached at the end of this age—which we, for many good reasons, believe is our time today. (For greater insight into this subject, go to TomorrowsWorld.org and watch my telecast “Ezekiel’s Message Unlocked.”)
So, we must ask: Who can preach that message? Who understands the identity of the House of Israel? Who understands what sin is, and what the results of Israel’s sins will be? Who understands end-time Bible prophecy? And who, knowing all of this, understands what is at stake for those who fail to give the warning? Proverbs gives us this sobering warning: “Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Surely we did not know this,’ does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?” (Proverbs 24:11–12).
Do we see a people “stumbling to the slaughter”? Yes, we do! Our world—especially the Western world and Israelite nations—is Slouching Towards Gomorrah, as the late Robert Bork so eloquently stated in his book by that title. If we were merely “slouching” when he wrote in 1996, we arrived in Gomorrah several years ago! Our Western nations are shockingly rivaling Sodom, as politicians and the media attempt to outdo one another in rejecting all biblical standards and casting off all restraints. Truly, “There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land. By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed” (Hosea 4:1–2).
Some in the Church of God have viewed our responsibility as one of “warning and walking away.” How often I’ve heard people say, “Anyone God is really calling will do whatever it takes”—meaning that they will drive two hours or more to Sabbath services, they will submit to a series of visits before being allowed to attend services, and they will jump through any number of hoops set before them—as if there is nothing you or I can do to dissuade them from following the truth.
If there is anything most of us have learned, it is that unless God is opening a mind, there is nothing you or I can do to open it. That is a given! However, does it follow that when God opens a mind, there is nothing you or I can do to close it? Remember Jesus’ warning, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” (Luke 17:1–2; see also Mark 9:42).
“By All Means Save Some”
“Warn and walk away” is not what Jesus instructed. He gave this commission to His disciples, and it applies all the way to the end of the age: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations... and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20). It should be evident that the Church is both to give the good news and to warn, with the hope that some will repent. It is equally evident that the Apostle Paul understood this when he said, “I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more.… I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19, 22).
Some who consider themselves part of the Church of God have disputed this point—either actively by misinterpreting the words of Scripture and proclaiming that there is nothing for us to do, or passively through laziness and inaction. So, are we to “wait it out” until Christ returns, or are we to do a Work?
Others tell us that Mr. Herbert Armstrong “finished the Work,” and that the Church’s responsibly today is simply to “get the bride ready,” referring to one-third of one verse: “and His wife has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7). This, of course, raises two important questions: First, where is the bride of Christ today? And second, how does she make herself ready?
The answer to the first question is simple: For the most part, they are six feet underground! Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Elijah, Elisha, David, Daniel, and the converted individuals of the Old Testament—plus all the Apostles and the members of God’s Church from the first century onward until our own day—make up the bride of Christ, and the vast majority of them are in their graves.
Scripture gives us the answer to the second question, though it may be more difficult to answer to everyone’s satisfaction. God has clearly called us for a special purpose, and it is not for salvation only. We cannot sit back waiting for Jesus to return and avoid fulfilling that purpose now. Abraham and his descendants fulfilled their part in God’s plan. David and Daniel did not sit on the sidelines. They ventured into the arena, as did the Apostles. We see the zeal of first-century Christians who did not turn back in the face of persecution.
The parables of the talents and the minas state powerfully that we must actively do the Work of God until Jesus Christ returns. Our Savior is unambiguous regarding those who are too afraid or too lazy to enter the arena. That which they have will be taken from them, and when they see what they have lost—forfeited by their choice to “wait it out” until Christ’s return—they will weep and gnash their teeth (Matthew 25:24–30; Luke 19:20–27).
Mr. Herbert Armstrong died in January of 1986—about 34 years ago. Most people alive today know nothing of him. Two whole generations have grown up since his death. We are thankful for what he did, but we must follow his example and be found so doing. We in the Living Church of God have a great calling to be sons and daughters of God (2 Corinthians 6:18). We can be “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). As we thank God for our personal salvation, we must also show our thankfulness by fulfilling the calling He has given us at this time. We should be grateful that He has allowed us to be part of something greater than ourselves—the active and energetic Church of God as led by our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ.