DISAPPEARANCE OF THE APOSTOLIC CHURCH
The Sovereign Father's elect children who compose his earthly family of kings and priests are not immune to prophetic punishment. The fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the disappearance of the apostolic church reveals why there are so many different Christian churches today and why they all believe and teach so many different things about God and the Bible.
The following article reveals what happened to the early church and explains the three church ages that exist before Christ's return.
THE DYNAMIC EVANGELIZING CHURCH
Shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we find a dynamic evangelizing church spreading God's truth throughout the world. However, as dynamic as this church was, it virtually disappeared from history after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.. From 70 to 120 A.D., there was very little recorded about the true church of God. When historians began to write about the church again, they wrote of a dramatically different church from the one that embraced the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles. Today, we find churches that call themselves Christian, yet the vast majority of them do not even faintly resemble the early church.
Today, Christianity is one of the world's largest religions. There are literally thousands of Christian organizations and congregational associations that claim to be Christians and claim to worship and serve the God of the Bible. Each professes to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ as expounded in the pages of the Bible and each believes that it has a keen understanding of the Bible and God's will for humanity.
In this age, Christian organizations and congregational associations offer a variety of religious experiences. Whatever one's approach to religion, there is a Christian organization or congregational association that can be found in order to fill one's desire for religious expression.
The choices of Christian churches range from one extreme to another: from small personal groups to large crowds, from a quite scholarly intellectual atmosphere to the noisy frenzy of Pentecostalism, and from giant cathedrals to the evangelistic tent. There seems to be no end to the choices a person has when seeking a religious experience.
Most of these Christian organizations and congregational associations are separated by major doctrinal differences about subjects that are extremely important to one's salvation. There are many differing philosophies and concepts about how to worship the God of the Bible, and there is much confusion about what God expects of each person who wants to worship and serve him. These doctrinal differences and certain incompatible attitudes and behaviors between these various Christian organizations and congregational associations should cause anyone who is truly serious about their salvation to seriously question why there are so many different competing Christian churches and philosophies.
The problem is not with not having enough choices; the problem is which choice is the right choice. There are tens of thousands of separate Christian organizations and congregational associations and philosophies that profess to follow Jesus Christ. But, how do you know that the church of your choice is God's choice?
Many people frankly admit that they attend a specific church because their friends also go there, or because of its size, its standing in the community, its location, or its parking facility.
Only a small number of people who attend Christian churches claim to have spent some time researching what the early church taught before choosing a church to attend, and few wonder whether the doctrines of the church that they attend truly conform to what the early church taught.
It seems very strange indeed that most of the various Christian organizations and congregational associations use the same Bible on which to base their beliefs and lifestyles, but they all differ in how they perceive what is written in this book.
Professing Christians often say, “It doesn't really matter what you believe, just as long as you believe in God and the Bible.” But, it must matter somewhat because not all professing Christians hold the same beliefs. Can all of these conflicting Christian beliefs and philosophies be right? Logically, if any one of them are right, the rest must be wrong.
Obviously, everyone who professes Christianity believes that their particular religious philosophy will get them to heavenly bliss more quickly and efficiently than all of the others. If one does not believe this, they are settling for second best. Is one Christian philosophy or religious practice just as good as another?
WHERE IS THE CHURCH THAT CHRIST BUILT?
Does the church that Jesus Christ built after his death and resurrection exist on earth today? And if it does exist, is it doing the same work that Jesus commissioned the early church to do? If such a church does exist one will have to look outside popular Christianity, because a short study into the beliefs and teachings of the early church will reveal that most popular Christian beliefs conflict with the teachings of the early church.
In order to clearly understand why there is so much confusion and competition within the Christian Community today, one must view the church that Jesus Christ built in the context of the three distinct church ages that will have existed before his return to rule the earth. Once one has some knowledge of what transpired during the first two church ages and what will transpire during the churches' third age, the following questions can easily be answered:
WHAT CONSTITUTES THE CHURCH CHRIST BUILT?
When Jesus said, “I will build my church,”
what was he going to build? To recognize the true church today and in the
future, one must first understand exactly what the church is that Christ built.
The English word 'church' is translated from the Greek word 'ekklesia', which means 'calling out' (i.e., a popular meeting, an assembly, especially a religious congregation). The word 'church' simply means a group of people meeting together. Attaching the word church to a group or organization does not necessarily make it a part of the Body of Christ.
In the purest sense, the church is composed of people who are called out of this evil world by God the Father (Jn.6:44; 65) to believe what Jesus taught and submit to his rule in their lives (Jn.14:15-24).
The church Jesus established on the Festival of Pentecost after his death and resurrection was conceived and brought forth through the power of the Father's holy spirit which Jesus sent to dwell within repentant believers. The apostle Paul said the following about the spiritual quality of the church that Jesus established:
“By one spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many” (1.Cor.12:13-14 KJV). And “Now you are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (1.Cor.12:27).
Today, most professing Christians believe that God's church is composed of many different organizations with all the trappings of huge corporate structures, businesses, and governments. However, the church that Jesus rules over is not a corporate organization; the church he rules over is a spiritual organism, which consists of people whom the Father has called out of this world and made a part of his royal family and holy nation of ambassadors, kings, and priests. See 1.Cor.1:1-31; Rev.1:5-6.
Some people contend that any group that meets in the name of Jesus is a Christian group. It is true that Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt.18:20 KJV). However, this only applies to people who are truly the Father's elect children, because they are the only ones who have the authority to meet in Jesus' name.
Many people think that, just because they are members of an organization called a Christian church and believe in God, they are Christians and are worshiping God correctly. This is a very dangerous assumption to make, especially when our eternal life depends on the way we worship and obey God.
The true church is a spiritual organism, Jesus Christ is its head, and its body is composed of those called by the Father to salvation, despite their organizational or congregational affiliation or lack thereof.
THE FIRST CHURCH AGE
It is clear from secular records and the Book of Acts that, shortly after the early church was established on the Day of Pentecost in 30 A.D., the apostles established a council of apostles and elders at Jerusalem under the presidency of James. This council exercised authority, responsibility, accountability, and jurisdiction over all the Father's elect children.
After the martyrdom of James (Jesus' brother) and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., secular history shows that the true Christians were in Pella with Simeon as president of their governing body. According to Hegesippus, the blood relatives of Christ continued in the presidency of the Nazorean council until the time of Tarjan Caesar. Although there are historical references about true Christians after this time, with the death of the apostle John, the Father's royal family and holy nation of ambassadors, kings, and priests began to disappear as an organized entity under a centralized leadership.
Clearly, the church that Jesus Christ established through the apostles does not exist in its original form today. But, what caused the early church to cease to exist as a powerful entity? The answer to this question is the foundation on which to build an understanding of the conditions that exist within the Christian Community today and the prophecies about the third church age that will exist just before Christ's return.
The Great Commission
The assignment that Jesus gave to his followers to proclaim the gospel is often called the Great Commission because it should be a priority in the life of every true follower of Christ:
“Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy spirit. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Matt.28:19-20 KJV).
Although the primary responsibility for preaching the gospel fell to the apostles and those specifically chosen and sent to evangelize, the responsibility was not theirs alone; it was to be shared by all of the elect. All who believe the gospel message and have accepted its terms and conditions for salvation must participate in the preaching of the gospel. See 1.Cor.12:1-31.
At the conclusion of Mark's Gospel, he says, “And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following” (Mk.16:20 KJV).
After the Festival of Pentecost in 30 A.D., God's elect did go forth evangelizing and spreading God the Father's good news message of salvation and the coming Kingdom of God. Their spiritual zeal literally changed the course of history. However, it was not in the plan of God to save the world during Jesus' lifetime or during the apostolic church age. If this had been his plan, he would have done it. See Isa.6:8-10; Matt.10:34-36; 13:10-15; Mk.4:11-12; Lk.8:9-10 and our studies about the various resurrections and the opportunity for salvation.
Authorizations of Power
Few people realize the awesome power that Jesus placed at the disposal of the early church as a unified body and the discretion with which they were authorized to use this power. There are at least 21 distinct authorizations of spiritual and physical gifts noted in the New Testament that were given to the organized and unified Body of Christ. Each of these authorizations was to be used to build the early church into a powerful and dynamic force:
“For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body” (Eph.4:12 KJV). See also 1.Cor.12:8-10,28-30; Rom.12:3-8; Eph.4:7-11.
There are many accounts of the elect using their powerful authorizations to perform the commission that Jesus gave to the early church (see Acts 3:6-7; 5:1-15; 6:8; 13:8-11; 15:12). The apostles and others did miraculous works at their own discretion. However, as dynamic and powerful as these people were, they ceased to exist as a powerful, dynamic and unified entity.
The Seduction of the Apostolic Church
Although Jesus foretold that the elect would be persecuted for their adherence to God's truth (Jn.15:20; 17:14-17; Acts 8:1; 2.Tim.3:12) and for teaching his ways, this is not the primary reason that the early church disappeared as a powerful, unified, and spirit-filled entity. Jesus warned that the demise of the early church would be caused by its being seduced into disobedience to God through false teachings. He also warned that most of those whom the Father would call to salvation would be deceived by a counterfeit of the Father's worship system:
“Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matt.24:4-5 KJV).
“And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matt.24:11-12 KJV).
The elect of the early church were continually warned and encouraged to keep "the Faith Once Delivered" and to be on guard against those who wanted to destroy them.
Peter also warned that many would be misled by people who would come to the elect and bring heretical teachings:
“And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of ” (2.Pet.2:2 KJV).
Jude encouraged the Father's elect of his day to diligently seek and hold onto "the Faith Once Delivered", because there were evil men among the elect who were actively seeking to destroy them:
“Earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ . . .. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the spirit” (Jude 3-4;19 KJV).
Confusion and Division
The apostle Paul urged the Church of God at Corinth to avoid confusion and division:
“Now I [Paul] beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no division among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been told of you, my brethren, by them who are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that every one of you says I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ” (1.Cor.1:10-12 Para.).
The apostle Paul asked the Corinthians, “Is Christ divided?” (1.Cor.1:13).
The church that Jesus Christ established should not be divided over doctrinal issues or any other thing that is important to salvation or doing a personal and collective work for the Father.
It is absurd to think that Jesus Christ is not quite sure what his Father's elect children should believe about truth or how they should function as a united body under his direction as the head of his Father's royal family and holy nation on earth. And it is just as absurd to believe that Jesus and his Father do not care how those called to salvation worship and serve them. The reality is that they do care and they will eventually punish those who refuse to hear what the spirit says to the churches about following false doctrine. See Revelation chapters two and three and Ex.20:5; Deut.5:29; 12:29-32; 13:1-4; 30:15-16.
God is not the author of confusion (1.Cor.14:33); he is an orderly being. Look at the order of all that exists. From the balance of the galactic systems down to the smallest atomic structure, all of the physical creation shows great order; it is not in confusion. Because God created the physical existence to function in an orderly manner, it makes sense that he would have his people worship him in an orderly, structured way and not in many different ways. See Eph.4:4-6; 1:22-23; 1.Cor.12:12-13.
A short review of the Creator God's instructions to Moses and the priesthood concerning the construction of the tabernacle, the sacrificial system, and the conduct of the priesthood, and the warnings of dire consequences for failure to comply in every detail to these instructions clearly shows that God requires his people to worship him in the manner he chooses, not in the manner they choose.
A Departure From The Faith
Paul said to the Galatians, “I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ to another gospel: Which is not another; but there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal.1:6-7 KJV). See also 2.Cor.11:13-15.
Paul warned Timothy, “Now the spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (1.Tim.4:1-2 KJV).
“For the time will come when they [the elect] will not accept sound teaching . . .. And they shall not pay attention to the truth, and shall turn it away , and shall be turned instead to fables” (2.Tim.4:3-4 Para.).
Many who fellowshipped in the congregations of the early church would not accept sound teachings. They sought out teachers who would teach things that were pleasing to them and things that did not require their obedience to God's laws, precepts, and principles. To deceive the gullible and the spiritually lazy, these teachers replaced truth with error and taught mysticism and other philosophies that appeal to human nature.
THE PROPHECY OF ZECHARIAH
The answers to the perplexing questions concerning the demise and disappearance of the early church are only answered in part by the warnings of Jesus and the apostles. Additional answers are found hidden in the prophecy of Zechariah. Matthew, Mark, and John all record Jesus quoting the first part of Zechariah's prophecy, that foretold the scattering of Jesus' disciples after his death:
“All you shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered abroad” (Matt.26:31 KJV). See also Mk.14:27; Jn.16:32.
This is an extremely important prophecy because the rest of the prophecy, which Jesus did not quote, allows us to understand why the apostolic church ceased to exist as a powerful entity:
“I will turn my hand upon [against] the little ones [the Father's elect children]” (Zech.13:7 KJV).
The 'little ones' mentioned here are the Father's elect, which is noted in many scriptures (see Matt.8:12; 18:3-10; 19:13-14; Mk.9:42). But, why would the Lord of hosts turn against the 'little ones'? And why did Jesus omit this prophecy?
The reason for the rejection of the 'little' ones is that they would reject the "Faith Once Delivered" and cease to be zealous for truth. The reason that Jesus did not quote the rest of Zechariah's prophecy, is because it was a different prophecy, which was to be fulfilled at a different time. The second part of Zechariah's prophecy began its fulfillment during the apostolic church age and will continue to be fulfilled until shortly before Christ's return.
The Early Church Became Corrupted
The early church failed to hold onto the "Faith Once Delivered" and became corrupted with false and misleading teachings about God, his ways, and his plan for humanity. Because of the persistent corruption of God's truth, the once dynamic and powerful entity that Jesus established on the Feast of Pentecost in 30 A.D. began to collapse from within.
After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and following the death of the apostle John, the organized preaching of the gospel on a powerful basis ceased. The elect were persecuted and their numbers were dramatically reduced in the great martyrdoms inflicted by the Romans. They became scattered and eventually disappeared into obscurity. Centuries of intense persecution forced the church to go underground. Until the 19th century, the only remaining records of the early church were those of their enemies. A careful study of prophecies concerning God's true body of believers clearly shows that the church Jesus built will remain small and obscure until just before Christ returns at the end of this age of human rule.
THE SECOND CHURCH AGE
“I will build my church and the gates of hell [hades: the grave] will not prevail against it” (Matt.16:18 Para.). See also Matt.28:19-20.
This scripture is often used to prove that the church that Jesus established still exists today with an unbroken succession of spiritual leaders. However, this is not what Jesus said; he did not promise an unbroken succession of spiritual leadership or that the church would endure throughout the ensuing centuries as a unified organization with great spiritual power and prominence until his return. Jesus only assured his disciples that the spiritual entity he would build for the Father would never be destroyed or cease to exist; it would endure the test of time.
Jesus has kept his promise; the Father's royal family and holy nation (i.e., the church), which he rules, does exist. It has continued to exist throughout the centuries alongside a growing counterfeit of biblical Christianity. Though small in numbers, the elect of God have existed in relative obscurity without losing the understanding of the most basic truths that are necessary for salvation.
Today, the church that Jesus began in 30 A.D. now consists of the Father's elect children who are scattered throughout the world with some who associate together in organizational and congregational associations and some who are without formal association with their spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ.
In order to clearly understand the condition of the true church today, one must carefully read Jesus' prophecy recorded in Revelation chapters two and three concerning the spiritual attitudes and behaviors of the Father's elect children who comprise the second and third church ages. This prophecy shows that most of the organizational and congregational associations of the Father's elect children are separated by major doctrinal differences, differing philosophies and concepts about how to worship the Father, as well as incompatible attitudes and behaviors.
The prophecies concerning the various churches in Revelation chapters two and three also clearly show that there are seven distinct groupings of individuals which characterize the Father's collective royal family and holy nation during the second and third church ages.
The condition that exists within most of the Father's royal family and holy nation today is the result of centuries of passive existence without great spiritual power or numbers, centuries without a unified centralized body of dynamic spirit-filled leaders, and centuries of having only the most basic of spiritual truths to sustain spiritual growth. Although this is the current situation, all who truly have the Father's spirit of adoption do exist as a spiritual organism, which is the collective Body of Christ (the church).
According to the prophecies concerning the end of the age, this condition will continue to exist among the elect until Christ begins to awaken them either to do a great work for him or to punish them for their rebellion in the hope that they will repent and obtain salvation.
THE THIRD CHURCH AGE
The prophetic scriptures record the advent of three Elijahs. The first was a prophet to ancient Israel, the second was John the Baptist who prepared the way for the Messiah's first appearance, and the third Elijah will appear just before and during the last and third church age. The prophecies concerning this last Elijah show that Jesus will send him to prepare for his return to rule the earth, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the sons and the sons to the fathers, and to restore all things:
“Behold I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me . . .” (Mal.3:1 KJV).
“Behold I am sending you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the sons, and the heart of the sons to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction” (Mal.4:5-6 Para.).
“And Jesus replied, Elijah truly will come first and restore all things” (Matt.17:11 Para.).
Jesus' reference to the restoration of all things is a reference to the restoration of God's worship system which includes the sacrifices, the priesthood, Jesus' teachings concerning the salvation of humanity, and the spiritual relationship between God the Father and his elect children.
The message of the third Elijah is focused on the restoration of God's truth. Therefore, we should expect the third Elijah to restore an understanding of how the worship system that God instituted at Mount Sinai and the worship system that Jesus Christ instituted work together for the salvation of those people who will believe and worship God the Father in truth. See our studies concerning the covenants and the sacrificial system that will be established after the return of Christ.
This restoration is necessary, because most of these truths were lost to the world as God's worship system became perverted by ancient Israel and Judaism, and during the demise of the early church and the rise of a counterfeit Christianity.
The prophecies about the appearance of the third Elijah, the messages to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation, and the prophecies surrounding the Two Witnesses and their associates mentioned in the books of Revelation, Haggai, and Zechariah clearly show that Jesus Christ attempt to awaken his Father's elect children out of their spiritual sleep and remind them to their responsibilities.
Christ's End-time Work
Although Jesus Christ has been protecting, nurturing, and guiding the members of his Father's royal family and holy nation since he established it in 30 A.D., during the end of the age just before his return, he will begin an awesome work on earth of such great magnitude that it is beyond the comprehension of the unconverted people in this world:
“Behold you among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days, you will not believe, though it were told” (Hab.1:5 Para.). See also verses 1-4.
While teaching in the synagogue at Antioch, the apostle Paul repeated the warning of Habbakkuk to show the Jews the consequences of disregarding the good news message that he was bringing them:
“Beware, lest that comes upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, you despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I will work a work in your days, a work which you in no way will believe, though you are told about it” (Acts 13:40-41 Para.).
Although the prophet Habbakkuk speaks of Jesus Christ doing an awesome work just before his return, many elect will also participate in his great work as members of the third age of the church.
“Truly, truly, I tell you, he that believes on me, the works that I do he shall also do, and greater works, than these he shall do; because I go to the Father. And whatsoever you will ask in my name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the son. If you will ask any thing in my name, I will do it” (Jn.14:12-14 Para.).
As powerful as the apostolic church age was in the performance of their responsibility to proclaim the Father's message, they did not do a greater work than Jesus. However, some of God's elect who will live just before Christ's return will do this greater work. They will do a greater work because they will have the kind of faith, power, and protection necessary to do a greater work (Dan.11:31-35; Jn.14:12-14; Rev.11:1-6).
The prophecies about the end of the age show that, just before his return, Jesus will again establish a dynamic, powerful people to proclaim his Father's good news and the coming Kingdom of God.
During this age, many of the Father's elect children will become unified in belief and filled with dynamic spiritual and physical power. Many will manifest the authorizations of the early church and more which is noted by the prophecies about the Two Witnesses, the third Elijah, and Daniel (Dan.11:31-34).
It is likely that some of the people whom Jesus will use in a dynamic way in the end of the age will come out of six of the seven church groupings noted in the Book Revelation, chapters two and three. These will be awakened out of their spiritual lethargy and begin performing the functions and responsibilities that they were originally called to do. During this time, many of the elect will have the ability to defy the very laws of the physical universe with their miracle working power. Moreover, no physical or spiritual power will be able to stop them from doing their God-given task.
The Promise To Philadelphia
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things say he that is holy, he that is true, he that has the key of David, he that opens, and no man shuts; and shuts, and no man opens” (Rev.3:7).
The individual in this prophecy who has the key of David has absolute authority over its use and the door which it opens as does the prophetic Eliakim noted in Isaiah 22:15-25.
Revelation, chapter 3, verse 8, seems to show that the Church of Philadelphia represents a grouping of the Sovereign Father's earthly children who are to do a great work in the end of the age, and that it is Christ who has the key to open to them the knowledge and power they will need to do this great work.
Speaking to the Church of Philadelphia in verse 8, Christ says:
“I know your works: behold, I have set before you an open door, and no man can shut it: for you have a little strength, and have kept my word, and have not denied my name” (Rev.3:8).
The English word translated as 'man' in verse 8 is translated from the Greek word 'oudeis', which does not mean a man (Greek: 'anthropos'; which means 'man-faced', i.e., 'a human being'. 'Oudeis' means 'none' 'nobody', or 'nothing'.
The English word 'strength' in verse 8 is translated from the Greek word 'dunamis', which means force (literally or figuratively); specifically, it means, miraculous power (usually by implication, a miracle itself).
Christ specifically says that, at the time the open door is set before them, the Church of Philadelphia has little force (i.e., miraculous power). Historically, this has been the condition of the entire collective church since the demise and disappearance of the early church as a powerful unified entity.
The inference in verse 8 is that, because of their small amount of spiritual power, the Church of Philadelphia cannot open this door on their own. However, when this door is opened for them, absolutely nothing can shut it except Christ.
Who Are the Philadelphians?
All of the various organizations and congregational associations throughout the world that overtly teach foundational elements required for salvation, including the observance of the Sabbath and the annual festivals and holy convocations, believe that they are a part of the Philadelphia church mentioned in the Book of Revelation, chapter 3. And most professing Christians who know of the prophetic Philadelphians also think of themselves as having the attributes and behaviors of the Philadelphians. However, most are self-deceived and haven't really examined what is required to be accepted by God as a Philadelphian who is worthy of special consideration, empowerment, and protection.
For most people, the discovery of the identity of the Philadelphia church will come too late to forestall receiving some of God's wrath during the great tribulation at the end of the age. Clearly, the vast majority of professing Christianity today does not have the characteristics that the Father and Jesus Christ require of a spiritual Philadelphian.
DIFFERENT CHRISTIAN DENOMINATIONS
Today, there are tens of thousands of church organizations and congregational associations who call themselves Christians, but do not faintly resemble the early church. The majority of them are in direct competition with each other, teaching many different confusing and contradictory philosophies about Christ and the Bible.
To understand why there are so many different Christian denominations today and how this situation came into existence, we must answer the following questions:
Rebellion Against God
The first reason for so many different Christian denominations is rebellion against God. Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden. The children of Israel rebelled against God in the wilderness, after he had delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Mankind has been rebelling against God from Adam until now. See Ezk.20:1-17; Isa.30:9-10; 66:3.
Jesus said, “I will build my church,” and he did build it; however, Jesus did not build or sanction the tens of thousands of different competing denominations that claim to follow him. Jesus inspired the apostle Paul to write the following:
“There is one body, and one spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one Faith, one baptism, One God, and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph.4:4-6).
For some reason people seem to think they can worship God any way they want. Notice that Jesus called the religious leaders of his day hypocrites, because they were teaching their own philosophies and traditions in place of God's truth:
“You hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, This people draws near to me with their mouth, and honors me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But IN VAIN they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt.15:7-9).
Because some of God's elect children fall into this category of rebellion. Paul warned the young evangelist Timothy:
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned to fables” (2.Tim.4:2-4 KJV).
“Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (1.Tim.4:1-2 KJV).
Rebellion can come in many forms and always separates the rebellious people from God the Father and Jesus Christ, no matter what organization or congregational association people align themselves with.
The second reason for so many different Christian denominations is Satan's deception. In the early days of the church, Satan started his master deception and tried to destroy the true church from within. The apostle Paul warned the church at Corinth about this deception:
“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2.Cor.11:13-15).
Yes, Satan has ministers and even churches designed to counterfeit God's true church (Rev.2:9; 3:9). Moreover, there are many pseudo-Christian ministers who truly think they are serving the true God but are themselves deceived into serving as a minister of Satan. See our studies about spiritual leaders.
The reality is that the vast majority of professing Christians today are deceived into thinking they are worshiping the true God because of Satan's deception:
“And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Rev.12:9 KJV). Jesus knew this would happen and warned, “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying I am the Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matt.24:4-5 KJV).
Jesus foretold the time when Satan's ministers would preach another gospel in his name, and many would be deceived into thinking they were following him. See Matt.24:11,14; Gal.1:6-9.
Jesus' prophecy has come true. Most professing Christians today believe and preach a false gospel, not because they have predetermined to do so but because Satan has deceived them. Satan is indeed the master deceiver. Moreover, deceived people do not know that they are deceived; otherwise, they would not be deceived.
It is obvious that the early Church was not divided into many different denominations. It is also obvious that, if all professing Christians submitted to God's rule in their lives, denominations would disappear.
Contrary to what most believe, Jesus Christ does not sanction the many different competing church organizations and congregational associations that exist today. Jesus said, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt.16:18 KJV). He did not say he would build many different competing churches; he said that he would build his church and it would endure.
After being crucified and resurrected from the dead, Jesus instructed his disciples on how he wanted his church to be constructed:
“Therefore, you go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy spirit. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Matt.28:19-20 KJV Para.).
Jesus told his disciples to teach the things that he had commanded. Christ was not only referring to the things he had taught during his earthly ministry in human form but also the things he had taught Israel when he was their God before he became a human being.
ABOUT THE CHURCH
Let us look at what the Bible says about the people who are the church. The first thing we find about its members is that they are not very popular. In fact, they are usually hated by most people. Jesus knew this would be the case and asked God the Father to protect them:
“I have given them your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that you should take them out of the world, but you should keep them from evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through your truth: your word is truth” (Jn.17:14-17 KJV).
Why are God's people hated by the world? The answer is really quite simple when we understand that the human mind and nature is enmity against God, his truth, and way of truth (Rom.8:7), and that God's enemy, Satan, has deceived the whole world into following him (Rev.12:9) and influenced the world to hate the things of the true God and his people.
THE CHURCH—PERSECUTED, SCATTERED, AND SMALL
Jesus understood human nature as no other man could. As the Creator God of all things including humanity (Jn.1:1- 3; Eph.3:9), he had observed human behavior throughout their history and knew that people would continue to oppose truth as long as they were influenced by their own nature and Satan. From its very beginning, the people of the early church suffered much persecution because of what they believed, practiced, and taught:
“And Saul consented to Stephen's death. And at that time there was great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except for the apostles” (Acts 8:1 KJV).
God's way of life is opposite to the way most people want to live. Most people do not like to be told how to live or that their behavior is sinful and they usually dislike people who point out their faults. The Bible is full of examples of the righteous being hated, despised, maligned, persecuted, and murdered for believing, practicing, and proclaiming truth. It is no different today. The Father's elect children will be hated and persecuted for believing, practicing, and proclaiming his truth until his kingdom rules the earth.
Although Christianity as a world religion encompasses hundreds of millions of people, it is evident from the scriptures that those who truly comprise the spiritual organism which is the Father's royal family and holy nation is a very small number of people. But, does being small in number make a group of people the true church? Of course not! There are many small groups that say they are Christian but they are so far out of line with what Jesus taught that they do not even begin to resemble true Christianity.
Hated by Popular Christianity
There are tens of thousands of different competing groups and organizations that profess to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. All of these feel that their particular interpretation of Jesus' teachings and the Bible is acceptable to God.
Those who truly follow the teachings of God the Father and Jesus Christ teach that there is only one way to worship the true God and only one way to obtain salvation, and that those who teach another way of worship and salvation are worshiping a false god.
The vast majority of counterfeit Christians hate the Father's true children because their belief, practices, and teachings are a condemnation of counterfeit Christianity. Just as the Jews of Jesus' day professed to believe in God and hated Jesus for what he taught, so it is in this age. God's people will be hated for believing and teaching the truth as Jesus taught it (Jn.17:14).
Hated by Judaism
Those of the various Jewish sects, for the most part, believe that Jesus Christ existed, but very few believe he was the Creator God, the Son of God, and the Messiah. However, a major part of the gospel message teaches that Jesus Christ is the Creator God and the Son of God, and that God the Father sent Jesus to cancel the first covenant with national Israel and replace it with a new one.
Both the Old and New Testaments and the words of Jesus condemn Judaism as a perversion of the original writings of the word of God. Therefore, it is no wonder that those of the various Jewish sects feel that any who believe in and follow the teachings of Jesus are their enemies and worshipers of a pagan god.
Christianity and Judaism
Quasi-Christians and people of Jewish sects who profess to worship the true God but whose lives and teachings are not harmonious with the truth of God always have a great deal of disdain and hatred for those who actually worship God in truth, love, and obedience. Jesus says these individuals who hate his followers are evil and corrupt:
“Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying, This people draws near to me with their mouth, and with their lips honor me; but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the ordinances of men” (Matt.15:7-9 Para.). See Isa.29:13; Ezk.33:31-32.
“For the tree is known by its fruit. O generation of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak good things? for out of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things: and out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matt.12:33-35 Para.). See Matt.3:7.
Jesus called the religious leaders of the Jews “hypocrites, snakes, evil and corrupt men,” because they were not teaching the total truth of God. Instead, they were teaching half-truths and their own perverted philosophy that were in opposition to God's word. The same can be said for the quasi-Christian and Jewish sects of today. Both claim to be obedient to the word of God; however, their actions and the results of their teachings are far different from what the Bible says they should be if they were truly worshiping the true God and living according to his way.
“But I say to you, That every idle word that men speak, they shall give account for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you are justified, and by your words you are condemned” (Matt.12:36-37 Para.).
The words of those who only pretend to worship the true God condemn them for what they really are. People can fool other people as to their true beliefs and intentions, but they cannot fool God. Hence, Jesus gave his condemnation of the religious leaders of his day who were, in reality, only pretending to worship the true God:
“Why come to me and call me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?” (Lk.6:46 Para.) See Lk.6:43-45.
The elect of God must speak out as Jesus did and condemn those who falsely claim to worship the true God. This is yet another reason that the elect of God will be hated and persecuted
Hated by all Religions
Those who truly believe that the biblical record is the printed word of God should also believe the biblical teaching that there are only two religions in the world. The religion of God the Father who is Sovereign of all that exists and the religion of God's enemies that are separated into three basic divisions: Quasi-Christianity, Judaism, and all other religions.
Because of this belief, it is little wonder that those who truly believe that they are the only true worshipers of the only true God and his Son will be hated by all religions of the world today. It is interesting that this is the same basic reason that the ancient nation of Israel was hated and persecuted by other nations.
Hated by Governments
Jesus was not persecuted by the Roman government; he was persecuted by those who said they were worshiping the one true God. After Jesus' death and resurrection, the early church existed for many years without being persecuted by the Roman or any other government.
During the time of the apostles and the early church, persecution always came from the Jews or other religions. It was only after the Romans and other governments perceived the followers of God as a political threat that they began to persecute them.
During the time of the end, the elect of God will claim to be the only ones worshiping the true God and the only true representatives of the Government of God on earth, like Jesus and the early church did. The elect will believe and preach that the government of God is about to begin its rule over all the earth, which will cause them to be hated by governments as well as by people of other religions.
“And you shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake” (Matt.24:9).
Hated by all Israel
The nations of Israel have always been rebellious people who have seldom heeded the warnings of God's prophets and servants. As the end of this age approaches and the elect of God proclaim the gospel along with its warning and witness to the Israelites scattered throughout the world, the Israelites will respond to God in the same way that they always have in the past.
The prophet Isaiah was inspired to record the harsh reality concerning the attitudes and mind-set of the people of Israel toward God. The comments God made about his chosen people are as true today as they were when Isaiah recorded them centuries ago:
Isaiah 30:1-15 LPB
“Woe to my rebellious children, says the Lord; you ask advice from everyone but me, and decide to do what I don't want you to do. You yoke yourselves with unbelievers, thus piling up your sins. . . Now go and write down this word of mine concerning Egypt [symbolic of sin as well as a literal nation], so that it will stand until the end of time, forever and forever, as an indictment of Israel's unbelief. For if you don't write it, they will claim I never warned them. ”Oh, no,“ they will say, “you never told us that!” For they are stubborn rebels. They tell my prophets, “Shut up—we don't want any more of your reports!” Or they say, “Don't tell us the truth; tell us nice things; tell us lies. Forget all this gloom; we've heard more than enough about your 'Holy One of Israel' and all he says” (vs.1-11).
It should not come as a great surprise that all of the politicians, military leaders, and government officials at every level of the Israelitish nations scattered around the world will hate the elect of God, because the elect of God will be preaching the same message of repentance that God's prophets have always preached to Israel.
“This is the reply of the Holy One of Israel: "Because you despise what I tell you and trust instead in frauds and lies and won't repent, therefore calamity will come upon you suddenly, as upon a bulging wall that bursts and falls; in one moment it comes crashing down. God will smash you like a broken dish; he will not act sparingly. Not a piece will be left large enough to use for carrying coals from the hearth, or a little water from the well." 15 For the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, says: "Only in returning to me and waiting for me will you be saved; in quietness and confidence is your strength"; but you'll have none of this" (vs.12-15).
Another reason for the Israelitish people's hatred and persecution of the elect of God in the end of the age is that the elect of God also teach that God the Father is now punishing the descendants of Israel throughout the world for their continued rebellion against him and his physical and spiritual laws of behavior. The elect also believe that God will give them the power to bring destruction upon the Israelitish people as a witness and warning of more destruction to come if they and the world at large will not repent of their evil ways and peacefully come under his rule. See Isa.29:9-14.
Why was Jesus Christ crucified for preaching the gospel message? Why were most of the apostles along with many of the early church martyred? And why will many be murdered just before the return of Jesus Christ for preaching the truly astounding message that Jesus taught?
Jesus Gives the Answer:
“If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (Jn.15:20 Para.). “And all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2.Tim.3:12 Para.). See also Mk.13:13; Lk.21:17.
The persecution of the elect of God is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because of their obedience to the command of Jesus to proclaim the gospel message. The elect of God will be hated and persecuted because they will be doing as Jesus instructed. They will be preaching and teaching the good news message of repentance from evil, true belief in God the Father and Jesus Christ, and the soon-coming Kingdom of God.
The gospel message that Jesus brought from the Father is a message that is so dynamic, so powerful, and so diametrically opposed to what has been taught by this world's religious leaders and philosophers that the vast majority of people will reject it when they hear it and hate and persecute those who live it and teach it.
Jesus says to let one's light shine (Matt.5:14-16). When one does this, one cannot help but bring persecution upon oneself.
Today, just before the return of Jesus Christ to conquer the earth and establish his Father's religion and government over the earth, the true servants of God must proclaim God the Father's good news just as Christ did centuries ago.
The basic reasons for the persecution of the elect are not complex or difficult to understand. Revealing the true condition of the world and laying the blame at the feet of those who are responsible for these horrible conditions will indeed bring persecution.
HOW TO FIND THOSE WHO TRULY FOLLOW JESUS CHRIST
In this world of confusing Christian denominations, how does a person go about finding the Father's elect children who truly serve him and his Son Jesus Christ? How does one find a group of true Christians? It should be obvious that Jesus is not the founder of the tens of thousands of competing Christian organizations and congregational associations, so how can a person find people who truly serve the Sovereign God and his Son?
Are there identifying marks, signs, or something that one can observe that will help one to recognize true Christians? The answer is yes! True Christians can be identified and separated from those who are not. The following are some major points to look for when determining if someone is being guided by Jesus Christ and the Father's holy spirit:
The apostle John has a stinging rebuke for those who say they know God and do not keep his law:
“He that says, I know him, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1.Jn.2:4).
God's people recognize that a requirement for maintaining a harmonious relationship with the Father and Jesus Christ is commandment keeping. Moreover, God's people show their love for God and their concern for each other through keeping the Father's law:
Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (Jn.14:15 ).
“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous” (1.Jn.5:2-3). See our studies about Christians and God's laws.
“By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if we have love one to another” (Jn.13:35).
Although love for those within the body of Christ may not seem to be a major sign of God's people, it is nonetheless. In a world torn with strife, war, divorce, murder, anger, hatred and violence, true love and concern for another person is rare indeed, and it is truly a sign of the people who follow the one who loved the world enough to give his life for it.
The Seventh-Day Sabbath, Commanded Observances, and Holy Convocations
God's people observe his seventh-day Sabbath, his commanded observances, and his holy convocations:
“Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever does any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death” (Ex.31:15-17).
“Moreover also I gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctifies them” (Ezk.20:12). “And hallow my Sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God” (Ezk.20:20).
Other observances and holy convocations that God's people keep are the New Moons, the Passover, and the Annual Festivals. These are statutes to be kept forever and are signs of God's people. See Ex.13:9; Lev. chap 23; Isa.56:1-6; 58:13; 66:22-23, and our studies concerning God's commanded observances, and holy convocations past, present, and future.
God's People and Paganism
God's people do not observe pagan festivals and holidays (e.g., Christmas, Easter, and Halloween) or rituals and traditions appropriated from this world's religions. Although many professing Christians will say there is nothing wrong with observing and practicing other religions festivals, holidays, rituals and traditions, they do admit they are pagan in origin. The prophet Jeremiah gave this warning from God concerning Satanic practices:
“Do not learn the ways of other nations, and don't be terrified at the signs of heaven as other nations are. For the customs of these people are vanity; for one cuts a tree out of the forest, with an ax it is the work of the hands of the craftsman,. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, so they don't move.” (Jer.10:2-4 Para). Also see Deut.12:29-31.
“Don't go after other gods to serve them, and to worship them, and don't provoke me to anger with the works of your hands; and I will not harm you” (Jer.25:6 Para).
Paul warns God's people at Corinth not to bind themselves with other people who are unbelievers and practice Satan's worship systems:
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship have righteousness and unrighteousness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what concord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has he that believes with an infidel? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (2.Cor.6:14-16).
Separate from Other Religions
The apostle Paul instructed the elect at Corinth to avoid mixing paganism with Christianity (2.Cor.6:14-16). He also told them to separate themselves from the religions of that day:
“Wherefore come out from among them, and be you separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you” (2.Cor.6:17).
God's people must remain separate from this world's religions, because participation in them leads to spiritual adultery. The true church will be the Bride of Christ, and its people today are representatives of the Father's holy nation as its citizens, ambassadors, kings, and priests (2.Cor.5:20). See our studies concerning the elect's status within the Father's royal family and holy nation.
The Kingdom of God
“Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. And saying, The time is fulfilled , and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent you, and believe the gospel” (Mk.1:14-15 KJV). See also Matt.24:14; 28:19- 20.
God's people proclaim the coming Kingdom of God as the solution to humanity's problems, as well as the other good news messages that Jesus Christ and the apostles taught concerning the Father's plan for the salvation of humanity and entrance into his family and kingdom as a spirit being. See our studies about the five good news messages.
“But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel to you than that you have received, let him be accursed” (Gal.1:8-9).
These are strong words; but they do show just how important it is to the Father that his people proclaim the right message. The gospel that Jesus proclaimed is a far cry from the teachings of popular Christianity today. The true good news messages are so dynamic, so powerful, so diametrically opposite to what is taught in most churches around the world today that most people reject it:
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned to fables” (2.Tim.4:2-4 KJV).
The Purpose of the Church
The early church was not established to become a large and powerful organization in order to challenge Satan for world rule and make this world a better place in which to live under its present leadership. Instead, Jesus established the early church for the following four basic reasons:
“And has [i.e., Christ has] made us to our God [i.e., God the Father] kings and priests; and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev.5:10). See also 1.Thes.3:13; Rev.3:21; 20:4-6.
“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matt.24:14).
“Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt.28:19-20).
“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the holy spirit” (Acts 2:38).
God's People Understand the Plan of Salvation
God the Father has a plan by which humans can be born into his spiritual family. This plan involves repentance, the forgiveness of sin, water baptism, and full redemption and salvation. Only people whom the Father adopts into his royal family and holy nation during the gospel age of salvation truly understand his plan for the salvation for humanity. See Mk.4:10-12; 1.Cor.2:1-8 and our studies concerning the purpose of human life, salvation, predestination, and immortality.
The apostle John wrote, “Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1.Jn.3:2). See also Rom.6:1-5; Phil.3:21; Rev.21:6-7.
There are only two religions on earth: 1) The Sovereign God's worship system which is administered by his Son Jesus Christ and leads people who practice it to eternal life; 2) Satan's counterfeits of the Sovereign's worship system which leads people to the irrevocable termination of their life in the Lake of Fire. Therefore, the two following questions and their answers are extremely important to anyone whom God the Father is calling to salvation during this age:
If there is no God, and the Bible is not his word, it does not matter what a person believes about God and the Bible or with whom one associates to worship God. If there is no Sovereign God to whom one is accountable, why waste one's time and effort with religion? The problem with believing that there is no God is the fact that there is abundant proof that God the Father and Jesus Christ do exist and that the Bible is their word and instruction manual to the human race.
If one is truly seeking to be in harmony with the Sovereign of all that exists and wants to be given eternal life by him, one should be extremely concerned that one's life measures up to his expectations.
God's True Church Does Exist
The Sovereign God's worship system and the spiritual organism (his adopted sons—the church) which his Son rules has existed from the day he established it through his Son and his holy spirit in 30 A.D.. His body of true believers have endured the test of persecution, martyrdom, and time and this body still exists today as a spiritual organism wherever members of his royal family and holy nation worship and serve him and his Son (Matt.16:18; 18:20).
The true Church of God is a single spiritual organism consisting of people who worship and serve the Father and his Son as instructed by Jesus Christ and the apostles:
“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph.4:4-6).
Somewhere on earth there are people who truly worship and serve the Sovereign Father and his Son, either individually or as a collective group. God's church does exist. It is here on this earth right now! It is doing the same work Jesus commissioned it to accomplish, and it has the same spirit, attitude, goals, and objectives as the early apostles and the church that they ruled and served. If a person is going to find the true church, they will have to look outside this world's religions and look into the Bible for its description, doctrines, and policies, because one will not find God's true church among the popular religions of today. The reason is that the true church that Christ built is not a part of this world.
Where is the true Church today?
The true church is a spiritual organism and it is wherever you find an individual or a group of people believing, teaching, and practicing the same worship system that the early church believed in, taught, and practiced.
The prophesied disappearance of the apostolic church
happened right on schedule and the events prophesied to occur during the end
of this age concerning the Father's children as they witness and warn of the
return of Christ will occur.
By B. L. Cocherell
File a17pws 7/07