The importance of this question, and its answer, can be found in the Word of God—in writings that very specifically address what has, what is and what will happen to the people of God in this, our generation!
The Worldwide Church of God was the culmination of the calling and life’s work of Herbert W. Armstrong in re-establishing the Truth of God as it was revealed and practiced in the early New Testament Church. Following his death in 1986, an insidious change infiltrated the Worldwide Church of God through the introduction of another “gospel”—one taught by most of the prevailing churches which claim to be Christian but which neither know God nor obey the gospel of Jesus Christ (compare 2 Thessalonians 1:8; Matthew 7:21-23 and Galatians 1:6-9).
The apostle Paul very accurately describes what has now happened to the Church of God:
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
Of this time, Paul also notes that those “having a form of godliness” (verse 5) are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (verse 7).
We see, then, that a separation exists between those who keep the Truth and those who believe the deceptive lies that lead to disobeying God!
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Because these things are happening now to many of those who once knew and understood the Truth (which foundational Truth was restored through the Worldwide Church of God), another prophesied event is finding its fulfillment:
“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition…” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3).
Deception is at work right now! It is the struggle of our time, and Jesus spoke of its danger when He answered His disciples’ question about what would signal the end of the age:
“And Jesus answered and said to them: ‘Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many’” (Matthew 24:4-5).
This destructive work has flourished within the Church of God, but it is by no means over—even greater deception lies ahead:
“‘All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold’” (Matthew 24:8-12).
In spite of all of this, Jesus also gives us vital keys for making certain that we don’t yield to deceptive falsehoods. He shows that some will hold onto the Truth of God and that the true Gospel will continue to be preached—an absolute proof of those who have continued to faithfully follow and practice the true doctrines of God:
“‘But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come’” (Matthew 24:13-14).
Note the way this commission is relayed to Timothy—an obligation that falls to all true ministers of God:
“I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching… But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:1-2, 5).
Because the ministry is held accountable for leadership within the Church of God (compare Hebrews 13:17 and James 3:1), Paul also reminds Timothy that he is answerable to God, saying:
“Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:14-18).
We need to understand that even in that first generation of the Church of God, false teachers were deceiving some brethren—that has continued to happen and will until the return of Jesus Christ.
Paul expressly dealt with a potentially divisive spirit that was arising in the Church of God that was in Corinth:
“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?…for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 3:1-5);
Here is Paul’s resolve—his answer to this partitioning of God’s church:
“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11).
Added to this, division was occurring in the keeping of the Passover among those in Corinth (compare 1 Corinthians 11:17-22). The basis for settling these wrong practices was to go to the source and to show the correct manner in which this observance was instituted by Jesus Christ (compare verses 23-26).
There were also some in Corinth who held Paul in disdain, and he addresses this source of contention as well:
“‘For his letters,’ they say, ‘are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible’” (2 Corinthians 10:10).
Once again, we see that Paul’s response to those who disagreed with his teaching and ministry was to remind the Corinthian church that Jesus Christ held the ultimate authority in these matters:
“For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).
By this time the Church of God had existed several years, and the New Testament writings record this history. People had not only grown up in the church, but some had grown old and that generation was giving way to another. The church in Ephesus served as an archetype of the prevailing attitude and actions of the Christians of that first era. Jesus conveyed this in His message to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation. Along with noting the very positive accomplishments of His people in Ephesus, He rebuked and warned them:
“‘Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent’” (Revelation 2:4-5).
Departure from the Truth became a subject that the ministry of that time had to guard against, and to even identify some who were causing dissension. Paul very specifically warned the leadership in Ephesus:
“Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:28-31).
This happened in many quarters within the Church of God, and we have John’s account of just such a person who placed himself ahead of even one of the faithful apostles directly chosen by Jesus Christ:
“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God. Demetrius has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself. And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true” (3 John 1:9-12).
So we can see that the Church of God was being split apart, and the divisions were occurring because of exactly what Paul warned—that selfish, greedy men were appropriating offices and titles to themselves in order to build their own following! Even as John’s letter describes, the church had both those who walked in the Truth and others who were proving to be worldly-minded—covetous mercenaries!
The apostle Peter urgently warned the brethren to “be even more diligent to make your call and election sure…” (2 Peter 1:10). His appeal was made in light of what was then happening throughout the church. He continues in his letter:
“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber… They have forsaken the right way and gone astray…” (2 Peter 2:1-3, 15).
He adds in verses 18 – 22:
“For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.’”
Jude also wrote of the apostasy that was overtaking the church in the later part of that first century AD. In just a few decades, deceitful persons had entered the church—overturning and betraying the revealed Truth of God. Jude’s letter addresses these heretical teachings:
“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (verses 3-4).
“These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage. But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit” (verses 16-19).
Beyond the biblical history so far referenced, secular sources confirm that great upheavals occurred as the vibrant, faithful people of God were over-run and displaced by a religious entity that was far different than the Church of God first established by Jesus Christ through His chosen apostles.
Church historian and biblical scholar Jesse Hurlbut comments:
“For fifty years after Paul’s life, a curtain hangs over the Church, through which we vainly strive to look; and when at last it rises, about 129 A.D. with the writings of the earliest Church Fathers, we find a Church in many ways very different from that in the days of Peter and Paul” (Hurlbut, Story of the Christian Church, p. 41).
Historian Edward Gibbon states:
“The scanty and suspicious materials of ecclesiastical history seldom enable us to dispel the dark cloud that hangs over the first age of the Church” (Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Random House, N.Y., ch.15, p. 382).
In subsequent centuries the true followers of Christ were oftentimes persecuted and scattered—forced to live independently or in small groups; and, in some circumstances, killed for their uncompromising obedience to God. Meager records have been left of these people, and only occasionally do we find accounts in the pages of history about the Church of God and of those who kept the same faith as was observed in the first century AD—at least, not until more recent times.
However, an outline of the Church of God’s history is contained in the prophetic messages preserved in the Book of Revelation—especially, chapters two and three.
These accounts summarize the vital elements characterizing each of seven distinct eras that would exist during a period of approximately two thousand years. With words of strong admonition as well as reassurance, Jesus charged His followers to overcome, to endure and to look to the future—that of being counted worthy to have part in the “better resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35; compare John 5:24).
For a more detailed discussion on the seven ERAS of God’s Church, please read our Q&As, “What does the Church teach about Church Eras?” and, “Can You Identify the Seven Church Eras, as described in the book of Revelation?”.
While persecution from outside the church has existed throughout the centuries, issues of false doctrines along with false brethren and false ministers have also continued to challenge those faithful to God—and so they do, today!
Two of the messages, the ones sent to Philadelphia and Laodicea, specifically address the closing generation of the church age.
The church in Philadelphia is encouraged in that its “little strength” is not a limiting factor. Jesus points out that this church has “kept My word” (compare Luke 8:15; 11:28; John 14:15; 15:10; 17:6), and that the brethren “have not denied My name” (compare Matthew 10:33; Mark 8:38). In Revelation 3:9, Jesus reveals that there were others claiming that they were the true believers and standing in opposition to those of Philadelphia, but He calls them “a synagogue of Satan.”
In these last days, the vast majority of true Christians will belong to the final era of the church of God—the church of Laodicea or the “church of the Laodiceans” (Revelation 3:14)—but God promises that remnants of the church of Philadelphia would remain to exist when Christ returns.
A great promise resounds to that small, uncompromising group of God’s servants: “‘Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth’” (Revelation 3:10).
This tenth verse establishes the incontrovertible time setting in which the remnant of the church of Philadelphia would exist—the period leading up to the “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21).
We also find this additional reference to these people of God who are granted protection:
“But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent” (Revelation 12:14).
However, as mentioned, the Church of God typified as “Philadelphia” is not the only body of believers who are part of God’s church and who exist in this final generation ushering in the return of Jesus Christ! In fact, faint remnants of even earlier eras also still remain (in addition to Philadelphia, it is possible that remnants of Thyatira and Sardis still exist today), but it is the seventh, the final church of Laodicea, that faces very strong warnings and impending correction from Jesus Christ (compare Revelation 3:14-22).
That group finds mention in Revelation 12, as well:
“And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (verse 17).
Satan’s unleashed wrath will fall upon these Christians for the three and one-half years, while those of Philadelphia are protected!
In His assessment of those in Laodicea, Jesus describes a church that is “lukewarm” (Revelation 3:16)—halfhearted, lacking zeal and obviously content in their own self-absorbed opinions. They, like Job did, think of themselves as righteous, but of their condition, Jesus states they “do not know” how wrong they are! (Revelation 3:17).
As a consequence, this is what Jesus says:
“‘I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent’” (Revelation 3:18-19).
Laodicea is—emphatically—a part of God’s church; they are people who have been given the Spirit of God! However, the genuineness of their faith will have to be tested and proven (compare 1 Peter 1:7). In order to attain their calling to be among the firstfruits of God, they must become fervent in their works (compare Revelation 19:7-9).
Laodicean Christians have the opportunity to repent now (compare Revelation 3:20-21; Luke 21:34-36). But for those who stubbornly refuse, a time of severe correction will come upon them:
“Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?’ And I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ So he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:13-14).
To each and every era, Jesus says: “‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’” (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).
While two distinct groups comprising the Church of God are prevalent leading up to the time of great tribulation for the entire world, we are, nonetheless, told to consider everything Christ told His church—throughout its history.
We—of this time—find ourselves still reeling from the terrible persecution brought upon the Church of God by Satan, which has divided and scattered the people of God.
Regardless, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves, we must never give up or begin to compromise. Rather, we must take up our calling with fervent zeal—knowing that Jesus Christ watches over His Church and being reminded of what Paul told the Ephesians:
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were 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” (Ephesians 4:1-6).
The Church of the Eternal God in the USA; the Church of God, a Christian Fellowship in Canada; the Global Church of God in the UK; and the Kirche des Ewigen Gottes in German-speaking areas all hold to a common statement of beliefs and endeavor to fulfill the instructions given by Paul, as quoted above.
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.
Lead Writer: Dave Harris