In our Update #479 (dated 11th February 2011; Q&A: “Are You God’s True Church?”), the specific question was asked: “Every splinter group or offshoot of the Worldwide Church of God claims to be God’s true Church. What do you say of yourselves?”
The answer concluded with this statement: “We believe that we are part of the Church of God—the body of Christ—which is a spiritual organism. We do NOT believe that we are the ONLY group comprising the Church of God. At the same time, we would like to encourage you to study our literature in order to determine whether we belong to the remnant of the Philadelphia era, or whether we are part of the church of the Laodiceans. You may want to review our Statement of Beliefs at: www.eternalgod.org; www.churchofgodacf.ca; www.globalchurchofgod.co.uk; and www.aufpostenstehen.de.”
There does seem to be a lack of understanding when a leader, members, or both, claim that their particular Church of God fellowship or group is the only true Church of God and that one has to belong to that particular Church organisation to be protected from harm during the Great Tribulation and to inherit eternal life. Let us first of all realise the following:
A true Christian is someone who is called by the Father (John 6:44, 65) and must repent and be baptised (Acts 2:38). The Holy Spirit must dwell in a true Christian because “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Romans 8:9). Acts 5:32 clearly tells us that God only gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him. Therefore, a true Christian must be called, repent, be properly baptised and continue to obey God – nothing less will do according to God’s Word. Our Update # 237 (dated 31st March 2006) covers this thoroughly in the Q&A, “What is a True Christian?”
We know that there is no other way to God the Father except through Christ: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12; also see John 14:6). The apostle Paul writes in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh by faith in (better “of”) the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
The Church comprises those in whom the Spirit of God dwells, irrespective of their affiliation, and we know that the Church is comprised of ministers and members. We read in Ephesians 4:11-13: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
In the Good News magazine, dated October 1976, the following remarks from a reader were quoted: “You have stated: ‘The true church is (today) small, and its people are scattered. But remember, no organisation is the body of Christ. Rather, the church is an organism often composed of scattered individuals (see 1 Corinthians 12).’ The Bible completely disagrees with you! The Church of God is most definitely the body of Christ!”
The article continued to respond as follows: “We must not confuse the Church of God, the body of Christ, with the configuration into which members of that body organise in order to achieve the goal of preaching the gospel in an orderly fashion. It is quite correct to say that the Church is the body of Christ. This body is a spiritual organism composed of those individuals who have been given the Holy Spirit by and from God. But these individuals may at different times in history organise into groups of people (the Greek word ekklesia, translated ‘church’ in the New Testament , means ‘a group of people’) dedicated to a common set of purposes. Organisation, in this sense, is what the church has, not what it is. The Church of God today has an organised ministry, deacons, deaconesses and various other leaders or ‘governments’ (see 1 Cor. 12:28).
“In 1 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul likens the Church to a human body which has many members or parts. But this is only an analogy. The structure of the Church, in the physical sense, is merely a tool for doing a job. God has used various structures in different ages. Today the Church may have a corporate structure for the purpose of dealing with the world on its own business terms. But that corporation is not Christ’s body – it is something that the body of believers uses to get the job done.”
That response was written over 36 years ago and was a concept that was known, understood and believed years before that. In fact, Church members [apart from Directors or Board members] were never even members of the Worldwide Church of God, a California corporation, nor were they members of other Church of God corporations; and the same can be said today. The Church of God, the spiritual body of Christ, works through legal entities, but it is not, by itself, a legal entity. This lack of understanding as to what the Church is explains one of the reasons (but by no means the only one) why those are in error who still feel that they must remain to be a “part of” the Worldwide Church of God (operating now under a different name) to remain members of the body of Christ.
Unfortunately, since the true Church of God started going through its modern difficulties, particularly in the 1990’s and on into the 21st century, some have taken the incorrect position that one does not need to belong to ANY Church organization. We address this fallacy in our Update #213 (dated 30th September 2005, in the Q&A, “Will ‘Independents’ Be Saved?”).
The opposite partisan approach is also incorrect; namely, to believe and teach that the group or fellowship to which they belong is the ONLY true Church, and that physical protection and spiritual salvation can only be obtained if one is a member of that particular group. This is simply a lack of understanding of a basic Scriptural principle. It is also an attitude of “exclusivism” which the Word of God does not endorse (1 Corinthians 3:1-8, 21-23). Such an approach can bring about a “superior” attitude which is not pleasing in God’s sight; neither would it be an application of esteeming others better or “superior” than self (Philippians 2:3), and of many other Godly principles.
On the other hand, it is true that we must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18), the Head of the Church of God (Ephesians 4:15; 1:22-23; 5:23; Colossians 1:18). We can do this most effectively when we are in the best possible spiritual environment that is available to us. We are admonished to have fellowship with brethren of like mind (Hebrews 10:23-25; see our Update #596, dated 5th July 2013, in the Q&A on “Required Regular Church Attendance”), and to separate ourselves from those who are lacking in zeal; who are lukewarm and unrepentant; or who are being led by a different spirit (2 Timothy 2:20-21).
We are sometimes asked whether we believe that ours are the organisations closest to God’s truth. It is natural and logical that we believe this; otherwise, why would we exist as separate organisations and not simply join with another Church group? But it is not for us to tell YOU… it is up to YOU to find out for yourself, searching the Scriptures daily to ascertain whether the things we teach are so (Acts 17:10-11).
Those who have the Holy Spirit and are obedient to God’s Word are members of the Church of God, the spiritual body of Christ, irrespective of affiliation. We cannot second guess who and where they all might be, as only God knows His own (2 Timothy 2:19) and their hearts (Acts 15:8-9). But insofar as we ourselves are concerned, we are to prove or test all things and hold fast what is good (1Thessalonains 5:21); we are to test the spirits, whether they are of God (1 John 4,1); and we are to listen to and follow the voice of our Shepherd, Jesus Christ (John 10:1-5, 14).
Lead Writers: Brian Gale (United Kingdom) and Norbert Link