It would not seem strange to us to hear of a child, or even an adult, getting lost in the mountains or in the wilderness, but lost in church? We have known of, or perhaps even experienced ourselves, the terrors of being separated from our parents and realizing that we were lost. Perhaps in the grocery store or a mall, but we don't usually think of becoming lost in church. Yet even in the enormous churches of our land we can imagine a child getting lost, as in the preceding parable, but have you ever stopped to think that when Jesus returns there will be millions eternally lost in church? We can imagine that many will be lost in the taverns and gambling halls of the land, but lost in church? It hardly seems possible, yet this is exactly what the Bible says will happen. "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" Matthew 7:21-23. Here is a group of people, who are not just sitting in church every week, but these are leaders! It is not just a small isolated group of people either; this is a large group. Jesus said that there were many in this condition; many who have been given the gift of prophecy, many who have even cast out demons in the name of Jesus, and many who have worked mighty miracles in Jesus' name. These are leaders that people have looked up to and admired. They were looked upon as men of spiritual insight and favored of God because of the gifts they had received; but the sad reality was that Jesus never knew them. So, far from being favored of heaven, they were unknown to heaven. You would not find this group of people in the taverns and dens of vice. This group of people would never be found in houses of ill repute. On the contrary, you would find these people sitting in church every week, but still lost in church. They really and truly believed that they were headed to heaven. They thought that their ticket was sure, but they were lost in church. Will there be others who likewise are lost in church? How can a person be lost in church? What characteristics do those whom are lost in church have? We need to know, so we can be certain that we are not among that mournful group.
Lost in Church--How?
"They answered Him, 'We are Abraham's descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, You will be made free?'" John 8:33. The Pharisees of Jesus' day treated with contempt the idea that they needed anything. Were not they the privileged children of the patriarchs? They were not only church members, but there fathers had been good and faithful church members for hundred of years. Their connection with the church was sure to save them. They needed nothing else. The same thinking is still very prevalent in the world and churches of today. People think that as long as their names are registered in the church books, then they are safe. As long as they are in church each week, they are going to heaven, or maybe even if they are in church on Christmas or Easter they are going to heaven. I was having a rather unpleasant conversation with a man, in which this very topic came up. This dear man had fallen into sin and was not living according to God's Word. It was my painful duty to try to help him see the mistakes that he was making and to attempt to help him overcome them. During the course of the conversation, he made it very clear that he did not see anything wrong with what he was doing. He was living in open violation of the Word of God, and it is clear from God's Word that while persisting in rebellion against God, he could not enter the kingdom of heaven. He angrily said that he knew he was going to heaven because he had his passport hanging on the wall, and he pointed to his baptismal certificate. This thinking is not uncommon. It is easy to think that if our names are in the church books, if we have been baptized, then everything is fine and we are heaven bound. Nothing could be further from the truth. Simply because our names are on the church books or because we go to church every week, does not mean that we are on the right track. We need to make a profession, but profession alone is not enough.
The children of Israel felt that because they were the descendants of Abraham, they were secure in their salvation. Because they were in the true church they thought that they were saved. They did not realize the fact that they could be lost in church. "And do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." Matthew 3:9, 10. They were boasting their claim that since they were the descendants of Abraham (church members), they were the children of promise and they were saved. Not so! John the Baptist states that God is even able to turn stones into faithful church members (children of Abraham). God is not looking at the profession; God is looking at the heart. Every tree (church or person) which does not bring forth good fruit will be lost. The question is not, are you going go church? Do you claim to be a Christian? The real question is, does you life show that you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Are you obeying Him? Do you have good fruit in your life?
In the old covenant, the outward sign that a person was a church member was whether or not they were circumcised. "And God said to Abraham: 'As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;'" Genesis 17:9, 10. Circumcision corresponds to baptism and church membership today, but circumcision is not what saved a person. Circumcision was simply the outward sign of their acceptance of God's covenant. There are many examples of people who were circumcised that are lost. (Esau, Nadab, Abihu, Korah, Dathan, Abiram, Saul, etc.) Lost and circumcised. Lost and in church. Ishmael is an example of all those have the outward sign of circumcision or church membership, but not the inward experience. Ishmael was circumcised on the very same day that God told Abraham to be circumcised, (Genesis 17:23) but Ishmael is "he who was born according to the flesh." (Galatians 5:29.) The Scripture says to "cast out the bondwoman [Hagar] and her son [Ishmael], for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman." Galatians 5:30. All those who have only an outward connection with the church are included in this scripture. All those who sit in church every week, all those who may even be leaders and teachers in the church, who make a profession, but do not show it by their lives. All who have not borne the fruit of the Spirit in their lives (Galatians 5:22, 23) will be bound, hand and foot, and cast into outer darkness. (Matthew 22:13.)
God repeatedly pled with ancient Israel to have that inward experience and not just the outward sign. "Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer." Deuteronomy 10:16. "Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings." Jeremiah 4:4. It is the circumcision of the heart that counts, not the mere external sign. Here were circumcised church members in good and regular standing, but they were still lost in church. It is the same in the new covenant. "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God." Romans 2:28, 29. Paul plainly tells us that it is what is inside the heart that counts. Just because you are a Jew (in the new covenant we could say, just because you are a church member) does not mean that you are really a part of the "church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven." Hebrews 12:23. Just because you have the outward sign of circumcision (or in the new covenant, of baptism) does not mean that you will be saved. There will be many church members lost. There will be multitudes of people who have been baptized in the lake of fire. The only thing that is of any value with God, is the heart experience.
When we understand this concept, what Paul says in Romans 9:6, makes perfect sense. "They are not all Israel (spiritual or true) who are of Israel (professed)." Not all that make a profession and claim to be a part of God's true church will, in the end, be saved. They are lost in church because they have made a profession, but it went no deeper than that. They accepted with their mouths and intellect the truth from God's Word, but the truth had not been implanted in the heart. Millions were lost in the old covenant for this very problem. They had the sign of church membership. They were among God's people. They were in the church, but they were still lost in church.
Judas - Lost in Church
Perhaps there is no better example of a man who was lost in church than the most infamous man in history--Judas Iscariot. Jesus said, "While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those who You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled." John 17:12. Judas had been with Jesus for over three years. He had been one of the most privileged men in the history of this world. He had been in constant association with the Lord of Lord and King of Kings, the One to whom all the angels bowed in worship. He walked with Him along the way. He talked with Him as we talk with our friends. He ate with Him. He slept where He slept. Judas saw the mighty miracles that our Lord, the Life giver performed. Judas actually performed miracles himself. The Lord's hands had been placed upon him in ordination. Judas was not just a church member. He was not just a disciple. Judas was a leader in Jesus' true church. In fact, Judas may have been the most high-ranking officer in the church, for he was the treasurer. (See John 13:29.) Even though Judas had all of these tremendous advantages, Judas was lost. Lost in church. "The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born. Matthew 26:24. The most fearful condemnation is here given against Judas. Jesus says that it would have been better if Judas had never been born, and the saddest part of all is that he was in the church, but he was lost.
Why was Judas lost while being an important leader in the church? Was it because he had never heard good sermons before? No, Judas heard the best sermons that have ever been preached. He heard the Sermon on the Mount, the sermon that has never been, nor ever will be equaled. Was it that those around him were hypocritical? Absolutely not. The one individual, who never had a particle of hypocrisy in Him, was the one whom Judas was in constant contact with. Was it because he didn't have enough time? No, he had three years of constant witness to the life and teaching of Jesus. Judas had all of the advantages that it was possible for him to have. Jesus tried and tried to break through to the heart of Judas, but Judas was lost in church because he never came to the point of full surrender to Jesus. "Therefore submit to God." James 4:7. If we are to be victorious in the Lord at last, we must learn the lesson of full surrender and submission to Jesus. "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time." I Peter 5:6. Those who receive the grace of humility and learn to submit to the Lord will indeed be exalted, but not until they have fully submitted. That was Judas' problem. He never came to the point of full submission. Instead of submitting to Jesus, his Lord and Master, he exalted himself, clung to his own ways, his own ideas, and his own plans. "But Judas did not come to the point of surrendering himself fully to Christ. He did not give up his worldly ambition or his love of money. While he accepted the position of a minister of Christ, he did not bring himself under the divine molding. He felt that he could retain his own judgment and opinions, and he cultivated a disposition to criticize and accuse." The Desire of Ages, page 717. Judas was eventually led to criticize one of the greatest acts of love that has ever been done--the anointing of Jesus' feet by Mary. "Then one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, who would betray Him, said, 'Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?' This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it." John 12:4-6. He had hardened his heart for so long that it seemed nothing to now find fault with what Jesus had allowed to happen. He thought that he knew better because he had not come to the full point of surrender and submission to Jesus, and all those who refuse to submit and surrender to Jesus, will eventually, like Judas, find themselves lost in church. "So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple." Luke 14:33.
The Foolish Virgins--Lost in Church
Judas is a very graphic instance of a person who was lost in church while being an important leader, but there are other examples as well. A person does not have to do the most ignominious deed of betraying our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, that Judas did to be lost in church. A person does not even have to commit a terrible crime to be lost in church; all a person has to do is simply neglect to do certain things.
"Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps…. The bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with Him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!' But he answered and said, 'Assuredly I say to you, I do not know you.'" Matthew 25:1-4, 10-12. Here is another tragic example of precious souls who are lost in church. This time it is not an individual person, but an entire group of people. This group of people is not a few isolated churchgoers here and there, but it includes large numbers of people who think and believe that they will be saved, but will find out too late that they have been deceived.
By allowing the Bible to explain some of the details of the parable, it begins to have more meaning to our minds. First of all, there were ten virgins who were going out to meet the bridegroom and then at the end of the parable the bridegroom finally comes after a period of delay. Who is the bridegroom? "And they came to John and said to him, 'Rabbi, He who was with You beyond the Jordan, to whom You have testified--behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!'… 'He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled." John 3:26, 29. John the Baptist, clearly talking of Jesus, says that He is the bridegroom. It is Jesus' Second Coming that is their hope, and it is Jesus Second Coming for which five of them are unprepared. They are virgins. Why are they represented as virgins? A woman is a church. A pure woman is a pure church. (Revelation 12.) A corrupt woman is a corrupt church. (Revelation 17.) "For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." II Corinthians 11:2. These ten virgins are all pure women, because "they profess a pure faith." Christ Object Lessons, page 406. They are not deluded by the thousands of false doctrines that abound in our world. They have a pure faith, or pure doctrine. They bring their lamps with them. A lamp is a symbol for God's Word. "Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Psalms 119:105.
Both the wise and the foolish are virgins. They have a pure faith. They have a pure doctrine. Both claim to be looking for the Second Coming of their Lord and Savior. Both have their lamps, or the Word of God, with them. These are not simply your nominal Christians who go to church every week and then go home. Their faith goes deeper than that. They believe and perhaps even tell others that Jesus is soon to come. They have a high esteem for the truths of the Bible. They probably even study their Bible. Their lamps, or their Bibles, are with them, so they are not just sitting on the television gathering dust, but are being studied. To all outward appearances, this group of people looks like respectable Christians. They look as if they are the strength of the church. In fact, you cannot tell the difference between those who will be lost in church and the ones who will, in all reality, be saved. There is no external difference, but there is a very major internal difference. The wise took oil in their vessels, but the foolish did not. What does the oil represent? "And I further answered again, and said to him, What are these two olive branches that drip into the receptacles of the two gold pipes from which the golden oil drains?'… So he said, 'These are the two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth." "So he answered and said to me: This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, saying, 'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.'" Zechariah 4:12, 14, 6. The oil that was emptying out of the two olive trees is said to be God's Spirit. So the oil that the foolish virgins did not have, was the oil of the Holy Spirit. They had all of the external characteristics of being a true Christian in the true church, but they had not the inward work of the Holy Spirit. They did not have the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23) in their lives. "The class represented by the foolish virgins are not hypocrites. They have a regard for the truth, they have advocated the truth, they are attracted to those who believe the truth; but they have not yielded themselves to the Holy Spirit's working. They have not fallen upon the Rock, Christ Jesus, and permitted their old nature to be broken up. This class is also represented by the stony-ground hearers. They receive the Word with readiness, but they fail of assimilating its principles. Its influence is not abiding. The Spirit works upon man's heart according to his desire and consent, implanting in him a new nature, but the class represented by the foolish virgins has been content with a superficial work. They do not know God. They have not studied His character; they have not held communion with Him; therefore they do not know how to trust, how to look and live." Christ Object Lessons, page 411. The mournful words of Jesus, "Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you," are not said because they didn't make a profession, but because they did not allow God to finish the good work that he had begun (Philippians 1:6), and as a result they are lost in church.
The Tares--Lost in Church
"Another parable He put forth to them, saying: The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?' He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, 'Do you want us then to go and gather them up?' But he said, 'No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.'" The wheat represents "the sons of the kingdom" while the tares represent "the sons of the wicked one." Matthew 13:38. There are two classes of people here described in the world, but more specifically in the church. Jesus said that that field was the world (vs. 38), but more specifically it represents the church of God in the world, because the entire parable is teaching about the "kingdom of heaven." (Verse. 24.)
In the early stages of growth, it is nearly impossible to discern the difference between the tares and the wheat. Both have small green spires and as they continue to grow the tares continue to copy the wheat, but at the harvest it is truly seen which are tares and which are wheat. The wheat is heavily laden with a head of grain, while the tares, as a worthless weed, bring forth no such fruit. Both have the advantages of sunlight, rain, and good soil, but one produces fruit and the other does not. As the wheat in the field, so there are two groups of people are in the church. They both have the benefits of good sermons, of faithful reproofs from God's Word and God's messengers. God provides both with the necessary elements to grow spiritually and bring forth fruit, but the ones representing the tares do not take advantage of the precious opportunities granted them by God. It is impossible to tell the difference between them from man's perspective, but the angel's can see another story. In the lives of the tares there may be something that they are unwilling to surrender to the Lord. Perhaps it is some cherished idol, a wrong habit, practice, or belief, but it is there and it is enough to separate the soul from God. The Holy Spirit works upon the heart convicting of sin, righteousness, and judgment soon to come (John 16:8-11), but to no avail. The heart of the tare refuses to yield to the convicting voice of God's Spirit. "Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: 'Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,'" Hebrews 3:7, 8. The Holy Spirit pleads, convicts, and appeals, but the heart of the tare grows harder and harder. Any known sin, secretly practiced, will silence the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit. The Lord calls and calls upon the heart to surrender, but there is no answer. No one else can see the sin of the tare, but it is still there. The tare may be a faithful church member, he may be a deacon, an elder, or even the pastor, but if there is sin cherished in the heart, he is a tare. Outward distinction means nothing, anything can look good on the outside, but God is looking deeper, into the heart. "For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." I Samuel 16:7. A tare may have the highest distinction in this world, but, in the Day of Judgment, that will not cover the fact that he is a tare. The lives of all professed Christians will be laid bare and each shall be known as he really is. (I Corinthians 13:12.) The tare, like Judas and the foolish virgins, is lost in church.
Not only is being lost in church something that is possible, it is something that is going to happen to many that are comfortably seated in the pews today. There are millions of Christians. In fact there are billions of Christians. It was estimated by the International Bulletin of Missionary Research that in the year 2000 there will be a total population of over six billion people, and of those, a little over two billion profess Christianity. Lumping all kinds of Christians together makes it the largest religion in the world, but the sad fact is that the majority is going to be lost in church. Millions of Israelites, in Christ's time and before, were lost, and they were in the church. Lost in church because, like Judas, they refused to submit and surrender all to the Lord. Lost in church because, like the foolish virgins, they believed the truth but they did not yield themselves fully to be filled and worked by the Holy Spirit. Lost in church because, like the tares, they clung to some secret sin and refused to give it up for Jesus. Bible prophecy even predicts this. Revelation tells us that like the millions of Israelites, who were lost in church, the same scenario will be reenacted in the last days.
The Beast--in the Church
Bible prophecy depicts a power that will arise and have authority "over every tribe, tongue, and nation," and lead "all that dwell on the earth" to "worship him." Revelation 13:7, 8. This is the leopard-like beast of Revelation, the little horn of Daniel 7, the man of sin of II Thessalonians 2, and the anti-christ of I John. This power "opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God." II Thessalonians 2:4. This power opens "his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven." Revelation 13:6. This power is the power that "shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law." Daniel 7:25. This is the power that God has warned us against worshipping in the last days. This power will seek to enforce the mark of his authority, and all the world will be deceived into accepting it. "I saw one of his heads as if it has been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast." Revelation 13:3. But all that accept this mark will receive the most fearful judgments from God ever on record. "Then a third angel followed them saying, with a loud voice, 'If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation." Revelation 14:9, 10. All of the world will be coerced into going along with this beast power, but they will suffer the wrath of God.
Although most are familiar with this power, many are unaware of the character of this power. I was studying this subject with a man one time and he told me how he thought this was going to be played out. He thought that he would receive a knock on his door and standing outside would be some very muscular men dressed all in black who would tell him that he had to receive the mark of the beast. He then planned on shutting the door in their face and going about his business. That is not quite how the Bible says the mark of the beast will be enforced. First of all, the beast power is actually a religious power. It is not an atheistic system as many people think. The very word anti-christ is a combination of two Greek words anti and Christos. Anti in this context means more than just against but, "instead of, in the place of." Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Gingrich and Danker. This is a power that sets itself up instead of Christ; that puts itself in the place of Christ. This is not atheistic communism or some other non-religious power; this is a religious power that puts itself in the place of God. Daniel tells us, "He shall be different from the first ones," Daniel 7:24. He was going to be different from the first ten horns. The first ten horns were solely political kingdoms, but here is a religious political kingdom. "He sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." II Thessalonians 2:4. He even sets himself up in God's temple and claims to be God. Many have mistaken this verse to mean that the Jewish temple will be rebuilt and that the anti-christ will then set himself up in the rebuilt temple, but what they don't realize is, this has already happened! Temple has several meanings under the new covenant. There is the temple in heaven where Jesus is ministering. (Hebrews 8:1-5; 9:11, 12, 23, 24; 10:12, 19-21; Revelation 1:12, 13; 8:3-5; 9:13; 11:19.) There is the temple of our bodies, or the temple of the Holy Spirit. (I Corinthians 3:16, 17; 6:19, 20; John 2:18-21.) Finally, the church is called a temple. It is this final temple that the anti-christ will set himself up in. (Obviously, it is impossible for the anti-christ to set himself up in heaven or in our individual bodies.) "Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God [the church], having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit." Ephesians 2:19-22. The church is called a holy temple, so it is in the church where the anti-christ, beast power sets himself up, and it is in the church that the mark of the beast is going to be enforced. (See Steps to Life's booklet The Beast's Mark, for a full study on who the beast is and what his mark is.) Lost in the church with the mark of the beast. Not one single person who receives the mark of the beast will be saved; every last one will be lost. This is a serious and important subject because in the last days, the ENTIRE WORLD will be lost in church!
The True Church
There will only be a small group of people who will not be swept into this titanic delusion of being lost in church. Revelation describes these people 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." "Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus." Revelation 12:17; 14:12. God's people, who not only make a profession but who live out their profession, are represented as those who keep all the commandments and have the testimony of Jesus. They are not content to keep most of the commandments and they are not content to simply keep nine of the commandments. While all of the world is following the traditions of men, they are standing firm for the truth of God's Word. They will not be moved to the right hand or to the left. They, with Peter, say, "We ought to obey God rather than men." Acts 5:29. All of the world is following the beast power and rejecting "the commandment of God," that they "may keep" their "tradition." Mark 7:9. But like the three worthy Hebrews in Babylon they say, "Let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up." Daniel 3:18. They refuse to keep man's laws when they conflict with God's Law. When an image to the beast is set up, they refuse to give homage to it.
You will not find this small group of people in the big churches of the land. They are not the ones who will be lost in church. In fact they may not even have an organization, denomination, or even a church building to go to, but they are still the true church of God. God's true people are not those who have the most money or the most education. God's true people are the ones who know, teach, and live the truth. "Which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." I Timothy 3:15. It is not a building that makes a true church. It is not the longevity of an organization that makes it the true church. It is the fact that God's truth is there. If God's truth is not there, God's presence is not there, and it is not a true church. Many people have asked me, how do I know where to go to church. The answer is found in the John 4:21, 23, 24, "Jesus said to her, 'Woman believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father…. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.'" A true church is one that truly worships God in the spirit and in the truth. If it doesn't have both of these things, it is not a part of God's true church. God's truth, from the Bible, must be proclaimed and the presence of the Holy Spirit must be there. Even if there is not a church building, if these two things are there, it is a part of God's great true church. In a town where Paul was there was no church building that matched the prerequisites of God's true church. Did he say well, I guess I will just have to stay at home and study my Bible at home? No. "And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had met there." Acts 16:13. You don't have to have a church building to go to church, but there must be God's truth and His Spirit or else it is useless to go. You will end up lost in church if you go to a place where the truth and the spirit are not. In fact, in the last days, it is predicted that God's people will not have church buildings and the like. "He will dwell on high; his place of defense will be the fortress of rocks;" Isaiah 33:16. Many of God's people will be forced to find a refuge from the ire of the beast power in the mountain fortresses. There certainly are not many churches there, but God's presence will still be there if we have the truth and the spirit.
We can be lost in church even if we belong and attend God's true, commandment keeping church, but do not have the necessary heart experience. But if we belong to the churches of our land in these last days, who are not teaching the truth, we will most inevitably end up being lost in church. God's true people are described throughout the Bible as those who love God enough to keep His Law. (John 14:15, 21) It is not enough to keep some of the commandments. It is not even good enough to profess to keep all of the commandments. If we are breaking one, we are judgment bound. "For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all…. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty." James 2:10, 12. If a person is guilty of breaking one of the commandments, they are guilty of breaking the entire Law and will be judged as a lawbreaker. How much more true is this for churches who are breaking one of the commandments and teaching others to do so. What a fearful account they will have to settle before the judgment bar of God. When a church teaches that it is all right to break the fourth commandment, (Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, for in six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord, thy God. See Genesis 2:1-3; Exodus 20:8-11; 31:13-17; Isaiah 56:2-8; 58:12-14; 66:22, 23; Ezekiel 20:12, 20; Mark 2:27, 28; Luke 4:16; Acts 13:42, 44; 16:13; 17:2.) it is teaching its members to break God's Law, and thus will be guilty of breaking them all. When a church keeps the traditions of men instead of the Commandments of God, they are not teaching the truth from God's Word and thus are not a part of God's true church. If a person stays in a church that is teaching the commandments of men over the commandments of God, he will end up being lost in church. "And in vain they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." Matthew 15:9. There may be a beautiful choir, an eloquent preacher, padded pews and impressive ceremony, but God's Spirit is not there. God's message to all those in these popular, Commandment-breaking churches is, "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen and has become the habitation of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird! Come out of her my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues." Revelation 18:2, 4. All, who stay in these churches, will share in her sins, receive of her plagues and be lost in church. Where will you be? Will you be among the small group without the buildings, institutions, or numbers, but who have the truth from the Bible and are living out their profession? Or will you be LOST IN CHURCH?
All emphasis the authors unless otherwise stated.
All texts from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.
Christ Object Lessons, Ellen G. White, 1900.
The Desire of Ages, Ellen G. White, 1898.
International Bulletin of Missionary Research, January 1999, David B. Barrett & Todd M. Johnston
Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, F. Wilbur Gingrich & Frederick W. Danker, 1983
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