|At Issue Index Salvation Index Table of Contents Previous|
The Remnant Church of God 12
The hour of God's judgment will bring to light those who constitute the true church. The church is called "the body of Christ." "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular" (1 Cor. 12:27). The body includes all true Christians, alive and dead. They are part of Christ, the living Head.
Christ asserts that He has a church in this world; that against God's church "the gates of hell shall not prevail." Here is a divine promise that His church will prevail against all opposition. It should not be difficult to make up one's mind to join such a church.
But which church is the true church? What church would Jesus recognize today as the church victorious against the powers of darkness? Do all church bodies and denominations belong to the one true church? All churches lay claim to the truth that points the way to the kingdom of God and to eternal life. But do all churches in fact actually do this?
There is a great deal of cheap religion in the world. It is possible to have a counterfeit. The kind of church one chooses matters a great deal. It is possible for a church to ally itself with those forces opposed to the truth of God, while all the time professing to teach and preach it. When this happens, men actually worship and serve the doctrines of men and the creations of men's thinking and opinions. Because a man's salvation is at stake, he ought to be sure of the way he is taking. To permit oneself to be deceived in such matters is folly of the worst kind.
No one denies that God has His children in every Christian body of believers. Jesus said:
If this is so, then can the answer to the question, Which is the true church? be that important? But that is hardly the point. This is what many people find difficult to comprehend and to accept. They begin from the wrong idea of what a Christian really is, what a true disciple of Christ is supposed to be. The true church must make it perfectly clear what it means to be a loyal disciple of Christ. This is not the same as repeating the Apostles' Creed. The true church begins with Christ. "upon this rock I will build my church." This is the believer's starting point. Jesus is not asking for a financial contribution to religious enterprises, or even for a morally respectable life. The issue is one of total commitment to Jesus Christ and to the revealed truth of God. Every church must be tested by this.
Is the church that is committed to the will of God revealed in the Holy Scriptures? Does the church lead its adherents to the truth that is in Christ and in the Bible? Christ promised to bring His church into unity on the truth through the work of the Holy Spirit.
It is God's purpose to communicate to the world through His church the revelation of Himself, His character, His truth, love, and mercy. The church cannot be truly the church until she fulfills that purpose. To speak of apostolic succession is acceptable provided this succession means loyalty to all the truth of God's Word. Without that, we have nothing but a self-styled claim to ecclesiastical privilege and authority.
The church needs to pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"; and then to make the fulfillment of that prayer possible by searching the Scriptures to discover the will of God in doctrine, in faith, in morality, and in Christian living. The difference between the true and the false lies just here. A compass will naturally point to the magnetic pole every time unless it has been tampered with. The true church of God will likewise point to the magnetic pole of truth found in the Bible. When a church fails to stand that test, it denies the faith once given to the saints. Throughout her history the church has been continually assailed on this issue. Satan has succeeded time and again in causing the church to depart from the truth of the Bible.
The all-important question is: What church can really be trusted? The answer is unmistakably plain: The church that confesses the truth of Christ and of the living Word of God. The true church is where the vital truth of God can be found. The ultimate issue today is: Can my church be depended upon as a safe guide in matters of faith and doctrine? Is my church true to the Word of God in every respect?
Time and again the Word of God has been tampered with. Men have set their own tradition against God's truth. Jesus recognized this departure from the truth of God and warned against it:
Therefore all churches, regardless of size or station, need continually to test themselves by that given norm of truth, the Holy Scriptures. There can be no hedging here if the church is to remain true to her Lord. When we say that Christ instituted the Christian church, we do not mean that He created an organization and then left it to be run by pastors and bishops and archbishops. Christ is always Lord of the church. God rules the church in truth and in love. Where Christ is Lord and where the Spirit directs, the church must be led into the truth. Christ would never deny the Scriptures. He Himself declared, "The scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). Christ makes it plain that accepting and obeying His revealed Word is a test of discipleship.
On this basis men will find themselves either for God or against Him. The peril that faces the church is the possibility of her departure from the Scriptures, and the consequent deception of her own followers. Thus men may be led away into error, while all the time claiming to believe the truth. For this reason no church on its own authority can declare a man to be "in the truth" or to be "saved." Only God can do that. Only the Word of God can reveal truth and distinguish it from error.
Every professing Christian is personally responsible for asking himself the right questions: Do I really want to know the truth? Do I seriously intend to obey the truth revealed in God's Word? Through the Holy Scriptures God has supplied everything needed to lead sinners to the light. The word of truth is the light that shines in the darkness of this world. It is available to all who read and study it. This is man's responsibility, regardless of which church he is a member. Every minister, likewise, of every communion is under sacred orders to learn the truth and to guide his hearers into the way of truth. It is when men are thus confronted that they say either Yes or No to God. A church can move so far from the truth that its very message is darkness; its very ritual, formal proclamations, and worship are only a veneer and a counterfeit that hide its departure from the faith.
Many church people today have come to believe in their particular church without knowing or examining the truth of that church's position; or whether they themselves are really living obediently to the revealed will of God. Departure from the Word by any church is every bit as serious as a departure from the right track on moral issues in our world today.
To be committed to the full light of truth found in Christ and in His Word is to be truly a believer. No Christian can afford to confront the truth of God and then refuse to see and hear because the Word cuts across his own selfish will, or because he hates to disagree with the church of which he is a member. Making disciples of Christ is no popularity contest. Only the remnant have stood with Christ. The majority have taken the broad road that leads to destruction. No one can afford to palliate his conscience by joining any church simply to avoid choosing the truth for himself before God.
The true church will continually lead its followers into the light of God, which "shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Prov. 4:18). In this way the church is continually winning the victory over the forces of error and darkness.
Some of the most vital and encouraging words in the Bible are to be found in God's address to His remnant church:
For men to recognize that God has spoken to them, so they can clearly understand and apply His truth to their own lives, is truly worth while. The Word of God is to have free course in the remnant church. The great day of refreshing from the presence of the Lord is at hand. "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power" (Ps. 110:3). The true church will prove they are God's people by their obedience to His commandments and by their living witness to Jesus Christ. In the true church members understand and obey the truth of God. This loyalty is gladly accepted because of the gift of salvation in Christ. The church is not something that men make. It is something that God makes by the power of His Spirit leading her into all truth. This is the church men can trust, a church tested by the Word of God and the living Christ, and not found wanting.
Without this testing no church however great can be trusted. When the church continually reaches out in faith and love to proclaim and do the will of God out of complete loyalty to her Lord, there will be power in the church of God, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.
Give Attendance to Doctrine
One of the dire perils for a church in these last days is to lack sound doctrine. The Greek word for "doctrine" is didaskalia or "teaching." The Scriptures form the basis for sound doctrine or teaching, for a doctrinal knowledge in divine things. Bible doctrines are the fundamental truths of the Bible usually systematically arranged. The mind is so structured that it needs to see the Bible truths in their proper relationship. Bible doctrines are usually thought of in terms of intellectual concepts in contrast with truth in experience and practice.
The Bible is the Word of God and therefore the truth of God. It contains little that can be called doctrine in a systematized sense. Rarely have any of the Bible writers presented a systematized study of any particular truth. There is, for instance, no organized outline or argument on such great truths as the Second Advent, the state of the dead, even on salvation, and many others. Paul's study on righteousness by faith in the book of Romans comes the closest to this.
However, there is a burning concern about what is truth and sound doctrine. Because the Bible writers did not write a textbook on Bible doctrines does not mean that they were careless about the truths and teachings of the Bible. The history of the Christian church reveals the conflicts that arose whenever the church departed from Bible teachings and taught error. The church has found it to her advantage to defend her position with an organized system of sound doctrine.
Time and again the Scriptures urge the need for the church and the Christian to follow sound doctrine:
Speak thou the things which become sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). In doctrine showing uncorruptness (verse 7).
When the Scriptures speak of "good doctrine" (1 Tim. 4:6; Prov. 4:2) and "sound doctrine" (1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 4:3), as opposed to the "doctrines of men" (Matt. 15:9) and "doctrines of devils" (1 Tim. 4:1), they are not saying that there are different ways of teaching the same thing or that doctrine is unimportant, but that these are antagonistic teachings. The difference is vital to Christian experience. Each Christian and each church has the responsibility to ask: What is truth? What is sound doctrine? The church is to exercise her role as a teacher of truth and sound doctrine. She "must adhere to the true doctrine" (Titus 1:9, N.E.B.). "What you say must be in keeping with wholesome doctrine" (chap. 2:1, N.E.B.).
Today there is both indifference and opposition to doctrine. Some say the essential thing is Jesus Christ. The cry is "back to Christ." Every Christian endorses that. No church or religion can be called Christian which does not center its doctrine and its life in Jesus Christ. Often professed Christians are led to believe that concern about doctrine makes for coldness in religion and loss in Christian experience. It is said that Christianity is not a creed but a life. No one wants to argue with that. At the same time, the statement can be quite misleading, especially when such slogans are used to downgrade the rational content and teachings of the Bible. The tendency is to set doctrine and Christian experience in opposition to each other. To cry "away with doctrine; let us get back to Christ" would be just as sensible as to say "away with botany; let's get back to the flowers"; "away with theology; let's get back to God." Doctrine and faith go together.
The perils to be found in this type of approach are not easily discerned. Men rest satisfied with a mental assent to religion without personal commitment. Often the church has been concerned largely with rational certainty rather than with living truth. She has long operated in the context of ideas and doctrines, giving priority to formal utterances by church and school. It is possible to answer many questions about religion without becoming personally involved. In the juggling of words and ideas it is possible to reduce God to an idea. The effort to formulate a logical system of doctrine can get man nowhere. Hence the cry for a faith to be lived rather than to be known. The contrast is between being a participant and being a spectator.
We affirm that the Christ-centered life is what all men need. Christian experience is more than doctrine. But the crucial question is how to arrive at truth. How does one know whether the experience he claims to have actually corresponds with the truth of God? At what point are men actually confronted with the truth? When is a man's experience in accordance with the truth?
One of the dangerous trends in our time is man's unwillingness to be bound by the normative character of the Word of God. Granted that doctrine about Christ is not Christ; that doctrine about man is not man. Obviously, God is not identical with doctrine. The doctrine of salvation is not the same as experiencing salvation. But Bible teaching on these truths is prior to a true experience.
Truth does not depend for its validity upon man's experience but upon what God has revealed in His Word. Paul's doctrine of righteousness by faith in the book of Romans is not the same as the Christian's experience of it. Nevertheless, the experience is tested by the Biblical teaching of it. God nowhere leaves sinful man to grope around within himself to find the truth. In all cases the Holy Spirit speaks and teaches and moves through these Biblical truths to make Christian experience genuine and meaningful. Truth is both doctrinal and personal.
Doctrines are the formalized aspects of the faith. They point to the living God. Religionists have a point in warning against abstract intellectualism. The vital nature of deciding for and committing oneself to Christ and to His Word cannot be overestimated. But how shall man know whether what he commits himself to is in reality the truth? The Bible tells men about the true God, who He is, what He has done to save man, what He will do, and what He requires men to believe and do. This is the given doctrine-and-knowledge content of truth. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, God addresses man personally. He calls for an intelligent personal response, an involvement in harmony with the teachings revealed in the Word of God. True Christian experience requires obedience to that which is doctrinally given and taught in the Bible. The knowledge of Biblical truth requires more than mere thinking. It requires the bringing of man's entire life into harmony with the divine truths of God's Word.
Without belief in the teachings and truths of the Word of God, Christian experience is reduced to a subjective feeling in the heart. Where God says nothing in terms of sound doctrine, there is no way to know what the truth really is. The peril here is that man will attach himself to that which is false.
For instance: Daniel prophesied of an apostate power that would "think to change times and laws" (Dan. 7:25). How would one know which law to obey except by the Word of God? The apostle John prophesied concerning the adulterous power, Babylon the Great, who would make "all nations drink of the wine [the false doctrines] of the wrath of her fornication" and cause the world to worship the beast and his image and to receive his mark (Rev. 13:14-17; 18:2-4).
In his letter to Timothy, Paul warned the church:
Speaking of the time of the end, Christ said:
How can the Christian be sure that he too will not be deceived? Obviously he cannot trust man. His only appeal must be to the Word of God.
The truths of the Bible have significance for men in every age because they constitute the eternal and fixed truth of God. No Christian can afford to live by what appears to be right in his own eyes and in his own experience. The revealed truth from God alone is sufficient to develop an experience in harmony with God.
With Jesus Christ there was no conflict between the doctrinal statements and the experience of Biblical truth. Jesus was overwhelmed with compassion when He saw the neglected multitudes. In response to their need, He began to teach them many things. He not only met them and smiled upon them, He spoke to them. He instructed them. He brought light and healing to them. He not only made them feel good, He fed the mind. Prior to His departure He commanded the disciples to do the same:
There is no evidence whatsoever that Christian doctrine is a deterrent to the Christian life. On the contrary, a closer communion with Christ means a firmer grasp of sound doctrine. Concerning the Decalogue, Christ did not say: "The teachings of the ten commandments are no longer in force since I came. if you have me, you don't need the law of God." As to the sixth commandment, He also forbade a spirit of hate that would lead to murder. He did not deny the permanency of the seventh commandment against adultery, but also forbade even a lustful intention.
Jesus Christ is the one sure foundation. And "other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (1 Cor. 3:11-13).
It cannot be a matter of indifference whether the superstructure we claim to build on this foundation be of costly stone or stubble. Commitment to Christ does not lead the Christian further from Bible doctrine. It establishes him in it. Christ is the truth. He speaks the truth. He teaches the truth. This is the Christian's heritage. Commitment to Christ comes first. If one's relationship with Christ is wrong, then no relationship to doctrine can be right.
Any church that willfully neglects or rejects any part of the Word of God stands in dire peril of apostasy from God. God's frequent charge against His professed people in the Bible is that they have not obeyed His voice. We deplore the neglect or rejection of any Bible doctrine while at the same time claiming to accept Christ as Saviour and Lord.
By all means let us make Christianity live. But the moment one does this, he discovers the very standards and truths that make doctrine inevitable. There is no use calling upon men to live upright lives unless they acknowledge obedience to the divine law of God. No good purpose is served by urging people to follow Christ unless they acknowledge the need to keep His commandments.
These words sound incredible and hard to believe. But our Lord spoke them. He declared that many of the people who will ultimately be cast into outer darkness will be those who have preached and taught from the sacred desk in the churches and those who have sat and listened in the pews.
What a man believes does matter. The more one knows and obeys the Word of God the more sound will be his faith and experience. Christ said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). Now, a man may choose to live on a crust of bread a day, but his health and strength will be strictly limited. He will serve himself, his family, and his community to greater advantage if he has an adequate diet that feeds both his brain and his body. So it is with the Word of God. If it is to provide strength to conquer sin and develop a sound Christian experience, the believer must live by every word and not rest satisfied with a bare minimum. None of God's truths and Bible teachings are to be abrogated. Bible doctrine stands as a bulwark against error and deception.
Lovethe More Excellent Way
Today "love" is the favorite word among religionists of all faiths. This is said to be the one common denominator that unites. Far be it from me to deprecate the love of God in the Christian life. The Christian stands with the Bible that love is "the more excellent way." Seventh-day Adventists affirm that love is the last message of mercy to be given to the world.
Every Christian wants power to keep these two great commandmentslove to God and love to man. "The fruit of the Spirit is love" (Gal. 5:22). In keeping these commandments the Christian shares in the power of the Holy Spirit. This love is a righteous love. It can be trusted. The liberty of love is the liberty to fulfill the will of God. This is what Christ meant when He said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). What does the love of God require? It requires the keeping of the commandments. In other words, love is something more than merely a good feeling in the heart. It really changes and transforms the life. It brings a man into harmony with God.
Much of popular religion today emphasizes an immediacy with God in terms of an intensity of feeling, passion, and often ecstasy. It claims to involve the believer with the supernatural. Men are led to believe that love is the one absolute; that everything else changes. Love will solve the problems of the world. Love is Christianity. Christianity is love. But who wants to argue against love? Certainly all lovable people will have something in common that unites them.
But one is led to ask: What kind of God does one love? What kind of truth does one love? Or does it matter? The church must guard against two extremesthe abstract intellectual dealing with truth and the claim to an inward feeling after God that neglects or disdains the doctrinal truth of Scripture.
There are a host of variations in religions and cults marked by vagueness in Biblical teaching and doctrine. This is a time of intellectual indolence in Bible study. The greatest threat to the church is her failure to live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Men and women are starving for the truths of the Bible. There is a famine for the Word of God.
Emotional ecstasy is all too often the refuge of sluggish minds. It makes thinking unnecessary. It unites everybody by turning out the lights. It permits hazy thinking on Bible truth. Now, if one wishes to identify truth and salvation with some emotional experience, there is no way to prevent it. But how is one to distinguish what is true and what is false? If Satan confronts man as an angel of light in some form of ecstasy and good feeling, how is man able to distinguish between the voice of God and the voice of the devil? If Christ is judge at this point, His continual appeal to Scripture"It is writtenin exposing the devil himself still holds true for christians in every age. by what standard are men to test the love, the feeling, the inner witness, if not by the word of God? sinful men are prone to pervert the truth. the remnant church in these last days must make sure that her communion with God is genuine, because of the possibility of a counterfeit at the very point where truth and trustworthiness are so essential.
To avoid deception by false spirits it is necessary to return to the Bible. This does not mean that truth can be experienced by the mere reading of it. There is always the need of the Holy Spirit to write the law and the truths of God upon the heart. But the truths written on the heart are not different from those in the Scriptures.
One man recently reported, regarding the emotions and excitations of one particular church, that to find happiness, joy, and love is what religion is all about. Isn't that what we should find in the church? Does this mean that so long as men feel this way they agree to ask no further questions? That if you claim to love your neighbor, then there is no further need to consider differences in Biblical doctrine? Why get into an argument about which day to keep, the seventh or the first? Why bother to find out whether the law of God has been abrogated? What difference does it make whether Christ is coming soon or five thousand years from now?
This very attitude raises a serious problem. How far can any church omit from its beliefs the basic truths of God's Word? How many of the Bible doctrines can one leave out of one's neat little definition of the Christian faith? If one denies the importance of the fourth commandment, why not deny them all? In actual living, are we to say that people may live contrary to the Word of God and that it does not affect their eternal destiny? Is loving one's neighbor all there is to it? Can the whole truth of Christianity be explained by the one word "love" while rejecting the other claims that the Bible requires in obedience to the will of God?
Unfortunately, we have developed in our time a type of religion without due regard for the Scriptures. It is a short-cut religion. It is a religion without obedience, one that claims to be above involvement with the law of God. Today we have a conscienceless Christianity, a religion without law, a belief that does not influence behavior, love without chastity. A large part of the world lies in spiritual darkness and a developing paganism that has brought mankind to the edge of total disaster. Spiritually and morally the world is a precarious place to live inthe end of the world is in sight. Men have forgotten how true and how vital is the Word of God. The Bible offers light and certainty in a day of darkness and doubt. No church that departs from the great truths of the Bible can meet the needs of the world today.
We are frequently told that the world needs a religious revival. It is most significant that the remnant church of the last days is to be distinguished by a living faith in Jesus Christ and the keeping of His commandments. Thereby the whole world is to be lightened with the glory of God (see Rev. 12:17; 14:12; 18:1-5).
The religion of the remnant church insists upon a right relationship of faith, love, and obedience. Obedience is determined by man's devotion to Jesus Christ. God's people recognize God's claim over the whole of their lives, the right of Christ to rule throughout. Faith in Christ harmonizes the mind and the life with God, diffuses the whole being with the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. The remnant church discovers God's power to save from sin. Faith lays hold of the invisible God.
God's people will sow to themselves in righteousness, not in unrighteousness. Granted that no works can save a man. Christ does that. But salvation is not simply some nice feeling in the heart. Salvation is from sin unto godliness, from disobedience unto obedience. It involves the whole of a man and the whole of his life in all of his personal relationships. Fidelity to Christ and to His commandments is the lodestar amid the moral degeneracy of our time. He who comes to know Christ must of necessity come to moral integrity and a life of righteousness.
The remnant church calls the world back to Christ. And there is much that follows. Men do not stand still. To walk with Christ is to live like Christ.
The remnant church affirms that men are not saved by great sacrifices or on account of obedience. Yet it is no small thing that in being saved by Christ alone, men find that salvation is from sin unto the fulfillment of the righteousness of the law for those who walk not after flesh, but after the spirit (Rom. 8:4). There is an eternal and necessary relationship between love and obedience to the will of God. What church and people will be ready to meet the coming Lord?
At Issue Index Salvation Index Table of Contents Previous