WHY SHOULD WE HAVE CHURCHES?
Early Writings of Herbert W. Armstrong
WHY should you brethren who meet at Eugene Church have this Church? And you brethren at Vancouver -- up in Everett -- or down in Los Angeles, WHY should you group yourselves together into a local CHURCH group? Do we have a divine PURPOSE and FUNCTION? Are we sure we know what it is? Let's search the Scripture and see.
First, we must fix in mind the truth that this world today literally is "in BABYLON." Satan is the god of this world, II Corinthians 4:4, -- he appears as an angel of LIGHT -- he has his ministers who claim to be the ministers of Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 11) -- he is the god worshipped by the worldly churches! The whole world is ORGANIZED today, according to Satan's pattern. It is organized commercially in a competitive economic system; organized into man-ruled civil governments of man's devising; organized into CHURCHES. And this we know -- the TRUE Church must be different, and separate!
So to understand exactly what each of our own little local groups OUGHT to be -- our true divine PURPOSE and FUNCTION and REASON FOR EXISTING -- we need to begin at the very beginning. Let's briefly sketch it thru.
When God created our first parents, He gave them His law -- His way of life. But as men multiplied upon earth, they turned from God's ways of LOVE -- the way of humility, of GIVING, of serving -- to the grasping ways of lust and greed and vanity -- their minds on evil continually.
So God wiped out, thru the flood, the entire human family save eight souls. This colossal judgment should have taught men their lessons. But it took Satan only two generations to find a man of ability and capacity thru whom he could DECEIVE the whole human family into a society of ORGANIZED competition based on the selfish principle. Ham, son of Noah, survived the flood. The first son of Ham was Ethiopia. And "Ethiopia [Cush] produced Nimrod, the first man on earth to be a despot . . . His Empire at first was Babylon, Uruk, Addad, and Kalneh, in the land of Shinar; from which he PUSHED OUT into Assyria, building the great city of Nineveh and its suburbs," Genesis 10:8-12, Moffatt translation.
Beginning of ORGANIZATION --Man Ruling Man
Nimrod was the first man to huddle families together in CITIES -- to ORGANIZE people into the ORGANIZED form of society whereby one man or a few men assume AUTHORITY over, and regulate the lives of the others.
IT WAS CONTRARY TO GOD'S WAY FOR MEN TO BE SO ORGANIZED THAT ONE OR A FEW MEN HAVE AUTHORITY TO RULE OVER THEIR FELLOWS! It is contrary to the principles of God's Law. But thru Nimrod Satan started this world off on the ORGANIZED system. This system began with, and is based on, the principle of building CITIES as centers of various organized activities -- centers of civil and other GOVERNMENT; centers for industry, commerce, business; centers for religious and social activity.
Thus the competitive principle -- the selfish, greedy, self-exalting way of life -- the SINNING principle -- became ORGANIZED. At first, as the Scripture shows and ancient histories record, each CITY was a kingdom in itself. Each city had a KING. The world was organized into a system of CITY-STATES. Each city had its army. The selfish, getting, sinning principle was now organized for carrying out the principle of competition in ARMED AGGRESSION. One king, lusting for more power and wealth, sent his army invading a rival city-state. If he conquered it, he now ruled TWO city-states. Soon he ruled over three -- then more. Soon some of these despots were ruling over NATIONS composed of several cities and the rural population in between. Thus NATIONS came into being. Life inside each nation became more and more highly ORGANIZED. Yes, SATAN is the GREATEST ORGANIZER IN THE WORLD -- and he has the world believing in the principle of human-devised and man-ruled organization, -- even in the CHURCHES!
We come down to the time of ABRAHAM. Abram was living in Babylon -- in Ur of the Chaldees. He was born and raised in such a society -- even as you and I today. In the 12th chapter of Genesis we read how God called Abram out of this life and environment, to a life of SEPARATION in a land God would show him. He was led to the promised land -- PALESTINE. God made a COVENANT with him, which after Abraham's test, was UNCONDITIONAL.
Some four hundred years later we find, recorded in the early chapters of Exodus, God carrying out the first phase of His promise to Abraham. The promised Birthright was handed down to Isaac, to Jacob whose name was changed to ISRAEL, and to Ephraim-Manasseh, sons of JOSEPH. The descendants of Abraham, thru the twelve sons of Israel, had grown into a multitude of 600,000 men -- probably two to six million people, counting women and children. They were slaves in the land of Egypt. So God prepared MOSES in a special way to lead these Israelites out of the physical slavery and bondage of HIGHLY ORGANIZED EGYPT -- back to the promised land.
And when they came, in their journey, to Mt. Sinai, God made a proposition to these Israelites thru Moses. Here was the whole world ORGANIZED under Satan's competitive system started by Nimrod -- a pagan, babylonish civilization. In such a world no nation could survive without organization. God now Himself proposed to organize HIS people, Israel, according to a divine plan of organization -- different from the worldly system. The people accepted God's proposition.
So God made a solemn COVENANT with these Israelites. It was a MARRIAGE CONTRACT. It TIED these Israelites to God in a husband-and-wife relationship. It bound them to Him as HIS PECULIAR PEOPLE. Under this marriage COVENANT the twelve tribes were ORGANIZED -- not after man's pattern -- not a despotism, dictatorship, autocracy, or monarchy -- or yet even "democracy" -- but a THEOCRACY!
God's GOVERNMENT -- Under OLD Covenant
Under this MARRIAGE covenant, Israel was made utterly DEPENDENT upon God -- utterly obedient to Him, in a husband-and-wife relationship. Under this OLD Covenant, the Israelites were organized as a DUAL government -- both STATE, and CHURCH. As a STATE, or civil government, they were called "The KINGDOM of Israel," or "The HOUSE of Israel." But as a Church they were called "The CONGREGATION of Israel."
Their civil government was THEOCRACY. There was no human king -- no man to usurp authority to rule over his fellows! GOD was their king. No man was to issue orders, decrees, directives, regulations, or laws -- nor were they to have any law-making body of men. Their laws came direct from God -- and all were based upon and in harmony with the great basic SPIRITUAL law of LOVE -- the Ten Commandments -- the principle of GIVING, and of humility and dependence upon God.
The civil laws were administered by JUDGES. The Church ceremonies, sacrifices, and rituals, were administered by the PRIESTS -- the Levites. It was, incidentally, a FLESH-born Church, not a Spirit-born Church. Every man, woman and child in the nation was a member of the one Church. Membership came by BIRTH. There was no promise of receiving the Holy Spirit, or of salvation or eternal life. Only the prophets and leaders had God's Spirit.
MISSION of OLD Testament Church
Now we come to an important point.
The MISSION -- the PURPOSE and FUNCTION of the OLD Testament Church was not evangelistic. When God first called them out of Egypt to be His Church, He did not say to them: "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to all nations." Neither did He give them this commission at Mt. Sinai -- or at any other time or place, during the Old Covenant Church!
Rather, they were to have absolutely NOTHING to do with Gentiles whatever! They came to consider Gentiles as dogs and mongrels -- as unclean. They would not so much as eat with a Gentile. When God sent Peter to preach the first NEW Testament sermon to Gentiles, under the NEW Covenant, you remember Peter felt he should not carry the Gospel to Gentiles, and God had to give him the vision of the sheet filled with unclean animals before he would go. Upon return, Peter was called to task by his brother apostles, until he explained how God had shown him the Gospel now was to be carried to ALL nations. (See Acts 10 and 11).
What, then, was the function of the OLD Testament Church? It was concerned with a constant round of RITUAL -- sacrifices, meat and drink offerings, carnal (physical) ordinances, washings, etc., of the Law of Moses. Consider, then, how DIFFERENT was the Church of that day from the true NEW Testament Church!
Every citizen, remember, was a member of that one CHURCH, the Congregation of Israel. If we had that kind of condition today, every family in Cottage Grove would belong to the ONE CHURCH. In Eugene, in Portland, in Vancouver, in Everett, it would be the same. Just ONE CHURCH, and every man, woman, and child in the city would be a member. There was not just ONE minister in each town or city -- or one for several. There were scores, or hundreds of priests for each city the size of some of ours. About every twelfth man (one whole TRIBE of the twelve tribes) was a priest!
And now what was the FUNCTION of those MINISTERS? It was to minister, solely, to the LOCAL congregation -- to officiate at all these continual ordinances, sacrifices, rituals, washings, and services. The priests of the OLD Testament Church had no duty but to minister the LOCAL congregations! We shall see how DIFFERENT is God's commission today!
But, remember, that Church was made up of carnal-minded, UN-converted people who had not been "baptized into the one Body BY THE SPIRIT." And so it was that these people soon departed from God's rules and ways. They profaned and departed from His Sabbath -- His SIGN by which they were to KNOW that He alone -- the CREATOR -- is GOD. This led to idolatry. Soon they were grumbling and complaining of God's ways, demanding that a man be exalted to become KING and have authority over them, like the pagan nations around them. Thus they REJECTED God as their king!
More and more they wanted to live like the other nations -- the ways of pleasing SELF -- of PLEASURE -- of greed and GETTING -- of organized COMPETITION -- of exalting self, and humans. Thus they departed from God's ways, and drew deeper and deeper into the ways of SIN.
And thus they BROKE their marriage Covenant with God, which had set them up as His organized CHURCH and STATE. So God DIVORCED Israel, Jeremiah 3:8. He CUT OFF the Church ORGANIZATION -- CUT OFF the government -- took away from Israel the divine right to GOVERN!
Right of GOVERNMENT Given Over TO GENTILES
Get this point! Listen!! "If ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all those commandments . . . . they that hate you shall reign over you," God had warned them, Leviticus 26:14-17. And this punishment was to last for "SEVEN TIMES" -- twenty-five hundred and twenty years!
First, the House of Israel (Ten Tribes) sinned and was driven into captivity. They then dwelt many days without a king. God took away from them the right and privilege of continuing under His GOVERNMENT -- both Church and state. Next, Judah sinned even worse, and Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was sent down by the Eternal to capture Judah.
And to King Nebuchadnezzar -- the first of the GENTILE kings, starting the "TIMES OF THE GENTILES" -- Daniel was inspired of God to say: "The God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, and power, and strength, and glory," Daniel 2:37. It was a WORLD ruling kingdom (verse 38). It was the first of FOUR such WORLD RULING Gentile Empires to last for the 2520 years of the "TIMES OF THE GENTILES."
What does this mean? It means that so far as government in His CHURCH is concerned -- or any form of DIVINE government -- GOD TOOK AWAY ALL DIVINE
GOVERNMENT FROM ISRAEL and turned the right to govern (the human, competitive, Nimrod way) over to the GENTILES for the duration of the TIMES OF THE GENTILES! And that period is not yet over!
And since, all governments on earth have been of the PAGAN principle -- man-ruled, competitive! ALL GOVERNMENT ON EARTH DURING THIS 2520-YEAR PERIOD IS CONTRARY TO GOD'S FORM OF GOVERNMENT! It is not God's will. It is contrary to His Plan, His laws. All forms of GOVERNMENT today, whether civil or religious, are PAGAN in form -- based on the NIMROD principle! They are WORLDLY! And they are WRONG! We are, of course, as Christians, to submit to such civil government as may have jurisdiction over us -- to pray for our presidents, kings, or rulers -- but WE ARE NOT TO BE OF THEM.
The True NEW Testament CHURCH
Get this! It seems almost none have seen it, but it was the MARRIAGE Covenant made at Sinai which ESTABLISHED Israel as a GOVERNMENT. When the covenant was annulled -- the DIVORCE given Israel, -- the right of GOVERNMENT, so far as God's type government is concerned, was taken from Israel. The privilege of government is given over to the GENTILES because God always PERMITS human beings to break His laws, and to live or organize contrary to them -- but as men sow, so do they reap!
In due time, God sent His Son, Christ the Messiah, as the MESSENGER OF THE (New) COVENANT, Malachi 3:1. And so Jesus came into Galilee preaching the Gospel of the KINGDOM (government) of GOD, Mark 1:14 -- the GOOD NEWS of a KINGDOM, or GOVERNMENT to be set up only when Jesus shall come again as KING of kings (world ruler) and LORD of lords (world high priest).
By the time He came, the Jews had gotten themselves organized into a number of SECTS, or denominations. There were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, the Samaritans, etc. JESUS JOINED NONE OF THEM -- rather He called His followers OUT of all organized denominations!
And JESUS NEVER ORGANIZED A CHURCH -- He never ONCE gave His disciples any form of Church GOVERNMENT -- He never once gave any man AUTHORITY OVER His Church, or power to rule!
"Ye know," Jesus said, speaking of the GENTILE-type government as started by Nimrod, "that they which are accounted to RULE OVER the GENTILES exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise AUTHORITY upon them. BUT SO SHALL IT NOT BE AMONG YOU," Mark 10:42-43.
It is true Jesus gave His apostles AUTHORITY -- but over what? Listen! "Then He called His twelve disciples together, and gave them power AND AUTHORITY" . . . . over WHAT? over MEN? No, NEVER, but . . . "over all devils, and to cure diseases," Luke 9:1. Why is it that those men posing as the "ministers of Jesus Christ" today never ATTEMPT to exercise this divinely given AUTHORITY over demons, and over sickness and disease, but trust in the pagan science of MEDICINE which originated in EGYPT -- and yet they assume authority over MEN in what they call Christ's CHURCH, which authority Christ never gave! Isn't this twisting and wresting the Scripture -- turning it upside down?
It is said that PETER was the "big boss" -- that Christ gave him AUTHORITY to rule the Church. I will gladly pay $25 for one text showing the delegation of this authority! Rather, when the disciples at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the Gospel from Philip's evangelism, Peter did not order the two men to go to Samaria to lay hands on the new converts for receiving the Holy Spirit. No, rather, the other disciples -- as a whole -- SENT Peter and John on this mission. Peter did not do the sending -- HE WAS SENT. Not by any man, but by ALL the disciples!
Of course, we do find local church organization in that limited degree necessary to preserve decency and ORDER in the conduct of church services. There were elders and deacons in each local church.
How Elders and Deacons are Selected
But, even here, THERE IS NO POLITICS -- none of the usual WORLDLY
methods in selecting local elders and deacons!
The NEW Testament procedure -- if we wish to follow it -- does not provide for these officers being ELECTED by local congregations; neither does it provide for their appointment by some "big boss" in general authority over ALL the churches, or over a large district. This all would lead, as it does in the practice of worldly denominations, to PLAYING POLITICS -- to showing respect to persons, to the competitive spirit, even to various forms of bribery, graft, personal favoritism.
Rather, the DIVINE pattern, as found in the NEW TESTAMENT, is that those EVANGELISTS, called of God, USED of Him in converting enough souls to raise up local churches, are to APPOINT, and ORDAIN the elders and deacons in the local churches raised up and organized by them.
For example, Paul and Barnabus, "returned again to Lystra and to Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith . . . and when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord," Acts 14:21-23. The local congregations did not elect them. Paul and Barnabus were not executives ruling a church government IN AUTHORITY. They were simply humble evangelists, used of God, and their fruits PROVED God was working thru them.
Paul gave this same instruction to the evangelists he was sending out. To Titus, here was the divinely inspired instruction: "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order (this does not say ORGANIZE on the worldly GOVERNMENT plan) the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee," Titus 1:5. Then follows the divine qualifications for an elder.
How are we to know, then, today, who is thus qualified and led of God to ordain the elders and deacons in the local churches? Not by any authority vested by MEN -- but by the call of GOD. "BY THEIR FRUITS ye shall know them," Matthew 7:20. If, for instance, an evangelist comes to our Pacific Northwest, claiming exalted titles in a man-made political organization, and the only FRUITS he leaves as a result of his labors are dissensions and divisions and bitterness sewn among brethren, with no souls converted, WE KNOW, by his fruits, that man was never called of God. But if a man's efforts have resulted in many conversions -- many being led deeper into the TRUTH who never saw it before -- whole churches raised up, not by the competitive method of proselyting and taking members away from others, but by converting people from the world -- the sick healed, the gospel preached to thousands -- then this is fruit that NO MAN can produce EXCEPT GOD BE THE REAL POWER IN HIS LABORS!
In the Churches of God, we have always followed this New Testament divine pattern. This is one of our BELIEFS that makes us DIFFERENT.
The MISSION of the NEW TESTAMENT Church
Now we come to the real question -- WHY should you brethren who meet at Eugene -- at Cottage Grove -- at Jefferson -- at Oregon City -- at Portland -- Vancouver -- Everett -- or Los Angeles -- group yourselves together, assemble together every Sabbath as a local CHURCH group? What is our divine PURPOSE and MISSION? Do we have one?
I wish to divide this question into two phases:
1) What is the God-given function and mission of the MINISTER?
2) What is the divine PURPOSE and mission of the CONGREGATION?
Isn't it just HUMAN that here and there one of our number might get to looking at the way OTHER churches are conducted, and begin to think we ought to be more like them? It sometimes seems hard to remember those other churches are WORLDLY -- in BABYLON -- organized and conducted according to the NIMROD principle of organization. We are DIFFERENT. We seek a BIBLE REASON for all we do! Isn't that one thing that makes us proud to belong to the Churches of God?
So, first, the mission, the function, of the MINISTRY.
In the denominational churches about us, each church has its own local pastor. His function is to MINISTER TO the local congregation. He devotes his entire time to serving, ministering to, the local MEMBERS. Thru the week he devotes his time to visiting the members in their homes, or in various social activities of the church.
You see, whether they realize it or not, everything in these churches is on the GETTING BASIS. The only united activity, aside from social and religious activity among themselves, is an effort to GET more members, or take them away from other churches. The members attend only for what they are GETTING out of it.
Perhaps they are like one of our brethren, when he was first converted. Whenever I was in his city preaching he would always try to attend, but when I was not there he seldom came. Then one Sabbath I asked him about it and he replied, "Well, I don't seem to GET much out of it except when you are there, so I don't come." But when I explained the Christian is to be on the GIVING side, not the GETTING, and applied this principle to church attendance, he instantly saw the point and began attending regularly with the thought in mind of how much he could CONTRIBUTE to the others, rather than what he could GET from them -- and his spiritual progress was much more rapid from that time.
But in OUR Churches -- the Churches of GOD -- GOD'S Churches, what is the function we want our pastors to perform? What should be the true divine CALLING and COMMISSION of the MINISTER? To visit our members in their homes, to minister to US, to serve US? Do we, the lay members, pay our tithes and give our offerings IN PAYMENT FOR SERVICES RENDERED to US? Are we only paying for what we GET?
Let's see the commission of Jesus. Remember, under the OLD Covenant, the ministers DID devote their entire time ministering to local members. Is that changed in the NEW Covenant dispensation?
Let us note, first DURING Jesus' earthly ministry, when His disciples acted as His assistants; and then, secondly, His commission after the close of His ministry, when He was departing to heaven.
But first of all, JESUS' OWN EXAMPLE -- for He was the EXAMPLE for ministers to follow, as well as the EXAMPLE of private Christian living. According to Acts 10:34-38, Jesus' ministry did not begin until after "the baptism which John preached." He was a Messenger, sent from God with a MESSAGE -- the Messenger of the (NEW) Covenant, who proclaimed the New Testament GOSPEL. Mark says: "Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the GOSPEL (Good News) of the KINGDOM (government) of GOD," Mark 1:14. In preaching the Gospel, Jesus called disciples to BELIEVE the Gospel, follow Him, be converted. But did He -- the example for YOUR pastor to follow today -- devote all His time to them, visiting them in their homes, serving them, ministering to them? No, by far the greatest portion of His time and effort was spent in carrying the Gospel on to OTHERS.
After Jesus had selected, called, and instructed His disciples, He did not remain with them, devoting His time to them alone -- tho He continued thru His ministry to minister to them and teach them. "And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding His twelve disciples, He departed thence to teach and preach in their cities. Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said unto Him, Art thou He that should come, or do we look for another? " Matthew 11:1-3. How was John to KNOW whether Jesus was sent of GOD -- whether He had authority to do what things such ministers of God are authorized to do? Jesus did not send back any credentials signed by men. He did not tell John's disciples he had been elected, or appointed, by vote of the congregation or some denomination. He pointed directly to the FRUITS of His labors -- fruits which could be performed ONLY by one in and thru whom GOD was working. Thus He pointed to GOD'S selection, not man's. That is the sole standard by which we should determine, today, who is called of God to raise up churches, ordain elders and deacons, etc. But, "Jesus went about all the cities and villages . . . PREACHING the Gospel of the Kingdom," Matthew 9:35. Jesus was, first of all, an EVANGELIST.
How about those He called to His ministry? DURING His ministry they acted as His assistant evangelists: "These twelve Jesus SENT FORTH, and commanded them, saying . . . As ye go, PREACH, saying, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand," Matthew 10:5, 7. Seventy other disciples were sent as advance emissaries into every city and place He was to come later. After His resurrection, just before ascending to heaven, Jesus' final COMMISSION to His ministers was: "GO YE INTO ALL THE WORLD, AND PREACH THE GOSPEL," Mark 16:15. True, Jesus had said to Peter, "Feed my sheep," John 21:16. The minister is to preach to, minister to the FLOCK -- the BRETHREN in our local Churches. That is PART of the divine commission, given to the SAME ministers who are commissioned "GO YE INTO ALL THE WORLD AND PREACH THE GOSPEL." But the evangelistic mission of CARRYING THE GOSPEL is FIRST, and was always stressed MOST by our Saviour! Peter and all the apostles did the same. Paul charged the elders "FEED THE FLOCK," I Peter 5:2, meaning the local congregations. This is most important. But it is SECONDARY to the FIRST mission of SPREADING THE TRUE GOSPEL -- especially in these LAST DAYS when Jesus said the GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM must now be preached and published over the world, BEFORE THE END OF THE AGE.
Now the divine PURPOSE of the CONGREGATION. The individual Christian is called to a CALLING. He is to become, in the Kingdom a king (civil ruler) or priest (spiritual teacher). There is a DUAL purpose in the Christian life. One is to
prepare, train, and fit him to assume the responsibilities to be given him then. But ALSO he is to have HIS PART in PRESENT EVANGELISM -- before the end of this age! Notice just two converts: One, whom Jesus called, wanted to first go and bury his dead father. "Let the dead bury their dead," answered Jesus, "but go thou and preach the KINGDOM OF GOD. And another also said, Lord I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.' And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God'," Luke 9:60-62. These were just converts -- not ministers. The FIRST duty, function, purpose, and commission of the CHURCH is to PROCLAIM THE MESSAGE! Each of you brethren has put his hand to the plough. You have YOUR part in it. LET US NOT TURN BACK!
How thankful we are that we have this light -- that God has revealed to us His divine purpose -- that our Churches are not social clubs -- our purpose not to GET but to GIVE -- we do not have Churches just to ENJOY ourselves and be ministered to, but to MINISTER. And out of our LITTLE FLOCK -- our few little Church groups, has grown a work of evangelism that is SHOUTING THE MESSAGE all over the North American continent -- a truly great work for so small a membership! Each of us has his part -- in PRAYER, in tithes and offerings, in encouraging and upholding the pastor -- and I know each is thankful for the privilege! The minister cannot carry the evangelism load alone -- ALL our hands are to the plow!