The subject of who and what is the church, is an exceedingly important subject. The most wonderful privilege any human being can have is to belong to God’s church.
“To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all people see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 3:8–10.
This tells us that there was a mystery hidden in the mind of God which no created beings understood. But Paul says, now this mystery is going to be made known. How?—by the church. If you belong to the church, God is going to reveal something through you to the beings all over the universe. There is a mystery that they have been wanting to know for a long time. They are going to find it out, through the church, through you. This seems inconceivable doesn’t it? Beings that have been alive for thousands and thousands of years, can learn something from you and me!
The church is one of the most wonderful subjects in the Bible. We are going to go back to the book of Genesis to study about the church. After sin entered the world, gradually God unfolded to this world the doctrines of grace. The world rejected God and went into idolatry. Then God chose a certain person to preserve the knowledge of His law—His government. This person became a progenitor of Christ. The people of God, all the members of His church, for the next 2,000 years, looked back to this person as their spiritual father and to themselves as his children. In fact, to become a member of the church involves becoming this person’s child. This person’s name was Abraham, one of the most famous men that ever lived. God came to Abraham and said: “And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly . . . And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.” Genesis 17:2, 7.
God gave circumcision to Abraham as a sign of the covenant. God told him that anybody wanting to become part of his seed, had to be circumcised.
“In Him [that is Christ] you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.” Colossians 2:11.
Ishmael & the Covenant
Any person in the world could come to Abraham and say, “We want to worship your God. We want to be part of your religion and your family.” They could become a part if they were circumcised. That represented the cutting away of sin from the life. When you became a member of the church you had to covenant that you were going to follow God and keep His commandments. When Israel left Egypt, that very same covenant was renewed to them. Exodus 19. Circumcision was an outward symbol of an inward experience. I want to ask you a pivotal question. What if you only had the outward symbol?—You had been circumcised but you did not have the inward spiritual experience that it represented. Were you a member of God’s church? Were you really part of the seed of Abraham? The Bible says that Abraham took Ishmael, his son, and all that were born in his house and had them circumcised. Genesis 17:23–25.
Ishmael had the outward experience of circumcision. Was he part of Abraham’s seed? He was according to the flesh. But was he part of the spiritual seed? No. Abraham asked if Ishmael could be part of the seed, and God said that He was going to establish His covenant with the son of Sarah. “But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.” Genesis 17:21.
Ishmael was not really a part of the church, because he did not have the inward experience that circumcision represents. When you give your allegiance to God and you choose to serve Him, keep His laws, and put away sin, then you become part of God’s chosen people—His church. In Old Testament times anybody could do this from any nation. Ruth was not a descendant of Abraham, but of Lot. She was a Moabitess. Notice what Ruth decided, “Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” Ruth 1:16.
Ruth & the Church
Ruth was not a descendant of Abraham according to the flesh, but she wanted to have the same religion and belong to the same church. She was adopted in and became part of Abraham’s seed. “The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” Ruth 2:12.
The covenant people—those that entered into this covenant that Abraham and the Lord had made—said, “Yes, we want to forsake sin and follow God by keeping His commandments. We want to be part of Abraham’s family, of his seed.” They professed faith in God and obeyed His commandments; they became part of His professed people. Now here is a question. What if these covenant people did not abide by the conditions of the covenant? Remember, a covenant is an agreement between two parties. God made the offer and the conditions. Genesis 17. We can decide whether we want to be part of that offer—covenant, or not. What if I decide to be part of the covenant and then I do not follow through with my agreement with the Lord? I have the outward experience, but I do not continue to keep His commandments. I do not cut away sin from my life. This has been God’s problem for thousands of years. The prophets addressed it over and over again. Jeremiah tells God’s people what is going to be the end of this kind of thing. He said circumcise your heart and not just your flesh. In other words, you need to cut away sin from your life.
In Jesus’ day, the people who called themselves God’s people had not been faithful to the agreement. They said, “We are Abraham’s seed. We are the true church.” But to be part of the church, there are conditions. If you do not cut sin away from your life, you have broken your covenant with God. That was the problem in Jesus’ day. In fact, the people that professed to be the children of God were actually the children of the devil. You cannot be both, part of God and part of the devil, at the same time.
“We want to understand the time in which we live. We do not half understand it. We do not half take it in. My heart trembles in me when I think of what a foe we have to meet, and how poorly we are prepared to meet him. The trials of the children of Israel, and their attitude just before the first coming of Christ, have been presented before me again and again to illustrate the position of the people of God in their experience before the second coming of Christ. How the enemy sought every occasion to take control of the minds of the Jews, and today he is seeking to blind the minds of God’s servants. That they may not be able to discern the precious truth.” Selected Messages, vol. 1, 406.
John the Baptist’s Denial
If a person professes to be a child of God—you profess to be part of His church. God told Abraham, when you enter into this covenant you will be My people, I will be your God. In Jesus’ time, the people that professed to be the children of God, were not actually His children. They did not fulfill the covenant which was the condition for being the seed of Abraham. God sent a special messenger, John the Baptist, to give them a chance to turn around. These people said to John the Baptist, “Abraham is our father. We are his children, therefore, we are part of the true church. We are saved.” Notice what John the Baptist told them.
“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.” Matthew 3:9. What was John the Baptist telling them? They said, “We are Abraham’s children. He is our father. We are part of the true church.” And John the Baptist said, “Don’t you say that. Don’t say that Abraham is your father. Don’t say you are a member of the true church. Don’t say it.” Don’t even think it.
Then he said, “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 3:10. If the tree doesn’t bear good fruit, no matter what the name is, it won’t save the tree. You can say, “Oh, I’m a member of the true church.” But, that will not save you. It is the fruit—not the name that determines the destiny of the tree.
“John declared to the Jews that their standing before God was to be decided by their character and life. Profession was worthless. If their life and character were not in harmony with God’s law, they were not His people.” Desire of Ages, 107. [All emphasis supplied.]
That is plain talk. “If your life and character are not in harmony with God’s law, you are not a member of the church. You are not Abraham’s children. You are not God’s people. It is your character, the fruit of your life that determines membership, and not your name and not your profession.” John the Baptist said there is coming a great shaking and sifting among the Jews. He calls it a winnowing fan. There is going to be a separation soon, and the wheat is going to be gathered into the garner and the chaff is going to be burned up. That time of judgment and shaking came when Jesus came. When you follow the life of Jesus, you find out wherever He went His words and His acts aroused opposition and a great tumult. Jesus spoke about this same issue to the Jews in even stronger language than John the Baptist. Jesus acknowledged that they were the descendants of Abraham according to the flesh, but he denied that they were Abraham’s spiritual descendants.
Jesus’ & Abraham’s Children
” ‘I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.’ They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.’ ” John 8:37–39.
Jesus said, “If you were really Abraham’s children you would do the works of Abraham. You would have a character like Abraham.” What God is interested in is not our likeness in the flesh to somebody else, but it is the likeness in our minds and in our spirit.
” ‘But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father.’ Then they said to Him, ‘We were not born of fornication; we have one Father—God.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.’ ” John 8:40–44.
Jesus said to the Jews, “Your spiritual father is the devil. You are not the children of God. You are not part of God’s church at all. You are part of the synagogue of Satan. Your character proves it.” They were plotting to kill Him right then, and in addition to that they were lying.
Do you think people who heard talk that plain should be able to figure out who and what the church was? They didn’t. Even Christ’s own disciples took a long time to get this figured out. We human beings are so used to looking at the flesh, that often the spiritual truth in the Bible just bypasses us completely. The apostle Paul had to fight this same battle all over again.
Paul & Israel
“But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” Romans 9:6. Who is Israel?—God’s people. “They are not all Israel who are of Israel.”—They are not all Israel who profess to be Israel. They are not all God’s people who profess to be God’s people.
“Nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham: but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’ ” Romans 9:7. Ishmael does not count, even though he had the outward sign of circumcision to prove he was a church member.
“Those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.” Romans 9:8. How much more plainly can you say it? Profession alone does not make anyone a child of God or a member of His church. Who really is a member of the church? It is not the children of the flesh, it is the children of the promise—those who have the spiritual qualifications.
“For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” Romans 4:13. Paul teaches here that through righteousness by faith, the Gentiles have the same privileges as the Jews. It was God’s intention from the beginning that anyone could become part of the seed of Abraham, through faith. We saw this in the story of Ruth.
“For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, ‘I have made you a father of many nations’) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.” Romans 4:14–17. “The Israel of God are those who are converted.” Upward Look, 80.
John the Baptist said, “God is able of these stones [the Gentiles] to raise up children of Abraham.” Matthew 3:9. When a Gentile comes to Jesus and He puts His Holy Spirit in the mind, he then learns to keep God’s law just like Abraham did. When anyone has the same spiritual experience that Abraham had, he is accounted the seed of Abraham.
If Judah is the church, who would a church member be? He would be a Jew. If Israel is the church, a church member would be an Israelite or a Jew. Notice who Paul says is really a Jew. “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly. [That is the one who makes a profession.] Nor is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh.” Romans 2:28. If that was the thing that did it, then Ishmael would have been a member of the church. But, Paul is very emphatic in the book of Galatians that Ishmael was not a member.
“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 2:29. It is not outward, it is inward. It is not in the letter, but in the spirit. Paul says, “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” Galatians 3:7. Those are the only ones who are really part of the church.
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:26–29. Jesus was a seed of Abraham and if I am a child of Christ, I am part of the seed of Abraham too.
The Church in Revelation 12
“Now a great sign appeared in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. And she bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and to His throne.” Revelation 12:1–5.
Who was the male child that was caught up to God and to His throne? It was Jesus. This is a symbolic prophecy about a woman that stood on the moon. This symbolic woman is a pure woman and is clothed with light. She is not a harlot woman. Who does a woman represent in Bible prophecy? A church. Paul said, “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. [He is talking to the church.] But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:2, 3.
In Revelation 12 we have a pure woman, God’s church. She is pregnant, about to bare a child. This is talking about God’s church. What does it mean? We can find one answer in Galatians 4:19. Paul is writing to a church that was converted but they went into apostasy and now he is making this appeal to them: “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you.” Galatians 4:19.
Men do not have babies in the flesh. He is talking to the church. He is talking about the spiritual nature of Christ. This is the mystery that we read about in our first text from Ephesians 3. The mystery is Christ formed in you, so that you think, talk, and act like He does. Paul describes this: “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27. If you want to be a member of this church that is talked about in Revelation 12, you must bring forth the spiritual character of Christ in your life. That is what New Testament religion is all about. The apostles were continually talking about it.
“Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.” Revelation 12:6. Why did the woman have to flee into the wilderness? Because the professed church tried to destroy the real or true church. If you do not understand the difference between the real church and the professed church, you cannot understand Revelation 12:6. “Romanists have persisted in bringing against Protestants the charge of heresy and willful separation from the true church. But these accusations apply rather to themselves. They are the ones who laid down the banner of Christ and departed from ‘the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.’ Jude 3.” Great Controversy, 51.
“Through the agency of Romanism, Satan took the world captive. The professed church of God was swept into the ranks of this delusion, and for more than a thousand years the people of God [true church] suffered under the dragon’s ire.” Signs of the Times, November 1, 1899.
Who Left the Church?
In the church at Rome there was a departure from the truth and the majority of the people and their pastor decided they were going to worship God on Sunday. This was happening by the second century. It started with Easter. They were going to celebrate the resurrection every year. Then they said, we might as well do it every week.
But there were a few people in the Roman church that would not go along with it. What happens when there are a few people and they do not go along with what the majority of the church wants to do? Who gets their way, the minority or the majority? The majority decided that they were going to worship on Sunday. But there were a few people that said we must keep all the commandments of God. Can you stay a part of a church when you cannot even agree on which day to go to church? No, you cannot. That little group had to go somewhere else and get another pastor and building. What if they met one of their brethren on the street in Rome and this person said to them, “Oh, why did you leave the church?” What should they say? They should say, if they understand who the church is, “Why did you leave the church?” You see, the majority of the people had the building, the pastor, the organization, the money, everything—everything but the truth. If you leave the truth, you leave the church. So the majority of the people left the church, but, from a human point of view, it looked like they stayed in. From God’s point of view the majority were the ones that left. And the minority that were forced out were actually the ones that stayed in the church, because the church is the pillar and ground of the truth. I Timothy 3:15.
Jesus told the Jews: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” John 7:24. Righteous judgment is not always according to appearance. There was this tremendous controversy during the Dark Ages as to who the church was. The controversy has persisted to the present day. Many Protestants today understand “who and what the church is,” more according to Catholic theology than Protestant theology. Protestants teach that the Bible is the ultimate authority and the church is underneath it. A Roman Catholic says, “I believe in the authority of the Bible, but the authority of the church is above the authority of the Bible.” (That is the difference. If you want to live according to everything in the Bible, you have to keep the seventh-day Sabbath.)
The Reformers & the Church
John Wycliffe said: “The holy church is the congregation of the just men for whom Christ shed His blood.”
Martin Luther said: “The Pope, the bishops, the monks and the priests need not make a noise. We are the church. There is no other church than the assembly of those who have the Word of God and are purified by it.”
Melancthon made almost an exact statement to Martin Luther’s. It is quoted by Ellen White. “There is no other church than the assembly of those who have the Word of God and who are purified by it.” Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, 237.
How is it that we find such a marked uniformity among the Waldensees and these Protestant Reformers? They had all been studying the same Book. They had found that the New Testament teaches what the church is. If we are Protestants, if we claim that we are going to base all of our religion on the Bible, should our understanding of who and what the church is be based from it also? We will here study a few texts that define who and what the church is.
“I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church.” Colossians 1:24. The apostle Paul says that the church is Christ’s body. Paul has some very specific things to say about this body—the body of Christ.
Have you ever wondered how big the church is? Some people think that the church is located on several acres near the city of Rome. Some people think that the church is located in Maryland. Some people think that the church is located where they go to church. The church is a lot bigger than any of those places. “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:22, 23. Does this phrase “all in all” refer to merely this world? God says, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” Jeremiah 23:24. The Lord fills heaven and earth. The church is His body, “the fullness of Him that fills all in all.” It is the biggest thing in the universe, “the fullness of Him that fills all in all,” not only in this world but also in heaven. There is only one church in this world and in heaven.
How many churches are there? “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling.” Ephesians 4:4. There is just one. It is “the fullness of Him that fills all in all.” How many heads does this body have? Just one. Ephesians 1:22, 23. There are beasts in the Bible that have seven heads, but Christ’s church does not have seven heads. He Himself is the only head of the body. This was a major controversy during the Reformation. Roman Catholic theologians had made two churches. They said there is an invisible church and Christ is the head of that; and there is a visible church and the Pope is the head of that. John Wycliffe said, “If there are two heads of the church, that is a monster.”
The Bride of Christ
Christ is the husband of the church. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish . . . For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:25–32.
The apostle Paul says that the church is bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh. We are to be one with Him. What does this mean? “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For ‘the two,’ he says, ‘shall become one flesh.’”
1 Corinthians 6:15–16. You cannot mistake what the apostle Paul is talking about here. Notice that in the next verse He uses the same verb. “But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” To be a part of the church means to be joined to the Lord. What if I am not? If you get married and you go through all the process with the justice of the peace and get all the paperwork done, but immediately after you get married one of you moves to California and the other to Maine and you never see each other again, are they married? Not really. Any court would recognize that their marriage was not valid. They would not even need to get a divorce, that “marriage” could be annulled.
“But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” Romans 8:9. If I do not have the Spirit of Christ, am I part of His body? No.
The Vine & the Branches
Jesus said: “You are the branches.” John 15:5. The church is God’s vineyard. It was described that way in Isaiah 5, and we are the branches united to the True Vine. Jesus talks about how necessary it is to have a vital relationship, otherwise if we just have an external relationship some day we will be cut off and the branch will die. Desire of Ages, 830. The branch has to bear fruit or it will be taken away.
The Good Shepherd & the Flock
This is one of the most beautiful illustrations in the Bible. It is found in John 10. Jesus talks of Himself as the Good Shepherd and His church as His sheepfold. He speaks of Himself as being this door and we must go through it to be part of His fold. The door represents His humanity, His life. When we live His life we are going through the door.
“But if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” 1 Timothy 3:15. The church is the house or temple of God—the pillar and ground of the truth. Paul speaks about this spiritual house for God to dwell in through the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 2:22.
What is the Church?
We will now compare some definitions from inspiration with the condition of the Jewish church when Jesus came. Here are some definitions of what the church is.
- The church is the spiritual seed of Abraham.
- The church is God’s people.
- The church is the people who have entered into God’s covenant. (The sign of entering into God’s covenant, even in the Old Testament, was keeping the Sabbath.)
- The church is the body of Christ, joined to Him as one spirit.
- The church is God’s fold.
- The church is God’s grain field.
- The church is God’s vineyard.
- The church is God’s spiritual temple.
- The church is the faithful souls. “From the beginning, faithful souls have constituted the church on earth.” The Acts the of Apostles, 11.
- The church is “those that love God and keep His commandments.” Upward Look, 315.
- The church is God’s “city of refuge.” The Acts of the Apostles, 11. God has made a city of refuge for you, friend, and if you enter that city of refuge you will never suffer the second death, because Jesus will save you from it.
- The church is “God’s fortress . . . which He holds in a revolted world.” Ibid.
Were all the Jews God’s Church?
Now, let us look at the Jewish church in the time of Christ, at the leaders and most of the people.
- Were they the spiritual seed of Abraham? No. Matthew 3:9; John 8:39.
- Were they God’s people? No. John 8:42; Desire of Ages, 36.
- Had they entered into God’s covenant? No. John 8:34–42.
- Were they the body of Christ? Absolutely not. They were not joined to Christ, they were fighting Him the entire time He was here.
- Were they God’s fold? No they were not. Jesus said to the Jews, “But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep.” John 10:26.
- Were they God’s vineyard? They had no vital connection with the true vine. They were like the fig tree that bore no fruit.
- Were they a spiritual building where the Spirit of God dwells? No, they were not. They became the agents of Satan. The people whom God had called to be the pillar and ground of the truth had become the representatives of Satan. Desire of Ages, 36. They were not a spiritual building where the Spirit of God dwelt.
- Were they faithful souls? No, they were not. They were unfaithful souls. Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2, 41.
- Did they love God and keep His commandments? They professed to, but did they really? No, they did not, they murdered Jesus and lied about Him; they did not love Him or keep His commandments. Matthew 15:3.
Some are Tares
For the sake of the whole universe being convinced as to who is faithful in their profession, God allows all who make a profession to be a part of the professed church—His chosen people. However, the parable of the wheat and the tares tells us that some who make a profession are tares. Jesus said the tares are the children of the devil. In the professed church, or the church militant as Ellen White sometimes calls it, there is a mixture of wheat and tares, a mixture of the children of God and the children of the devil. The tares are not a part of the body of Christ, they are not faithful souls, they are not part of the spiritual building, they have not gone though the door into the sheepfold, they do not love God, and they do not keep His commandments. But, they pretend, or profess, to do all these things, while in reality they are a part of the synagogue of Satan or the devil’s church. You cannot be a part of Christ and part of the devil at the same time (I Corinthians 10).
Now in addition to the tares, or children of the devil who are in the church, there are those who have once been converted but their spiritual experience has become tepid, or lukewarm. Their love for God is not wholehearted anymore, they have lost their first love. Now I have two questions for you. The first one is this: How do we relate to tares—children of the devil, who are in the church? People think that is an easy question and right away they say, well, the Bible says don’t pull them up. But, they have not read their Bible carefully enough. That statement, “don’t pull them up,” has a context. The Bible is very clear (see 1 Corinthians 5), that anyone who is living in open sin is to be put out of the church. However, if a person is false in their heart but they are making a profession, we cannot do anything about that. Those are the tares, the people who are making a profession. They are not living in open sin, they are not taking their brother to court, or using NLP, or lying, and openly doing those things that are contrary to the ten commandments, they are making a profession, but their heart is false. We cannot read that. Those are the tares. But they still are the children of the devil. Christ Object Lessons, 71.
I want you to notice something else Jesus said about the church which a lot of people have not noticed today. Look at Matthew 15. Jesus is talking about the tares in the church. You know He is talking about the tares because it says: “He answered and said, ‘Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.’ ” Matthew 15:13.
Who are these plants that the Heavenly Father has not planted? These are the tares. Now, notice what He says about these tares that had gained control of the God’s professed church in Jesus’ day.
Let Them Alone
“Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.” Matthew 15:14.
There were people in Jesus’ day, and they said, “Oh, these are the spiritual leaders. They have duly constituted church authority and they are the sons of Levi.” And Jesus told them that those spiritual leaders were blind spiritual leaders. They were not teaching the truth and if you followed them you would lose your eternal salvation. I hear people say, “I think we had better go and talk to these people.” But Jesus says, “Let them alone.” Do not go and talk to them or associate with them. Do not go and listen to them. If you do, you are going to be led somewhere you do not want to go and you are going to lose your soul. There are people today that have not studied this text and they are being led by blind leaders who are leading the blind, and they are leading them straight to hellfire and they do not even know it. Now that is plain talk, but that is what Jesus taught in Matthew 15.
A Little Leaven
Jesus warned His disciples: “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” Matthew 16:6. Then the disciples got into a discussion about that, and Jesus said to them: “How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?—but you should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Matthew 6:11, 12.
If you go and listen to someone preach doctrine that is not according to the Bible and if you keep going and listening, what is going to happen to you? Did you ever put a little yeast into some dough and let it sit there and watch what happens? It goes through the whole batch and soon, if you want to make unleavened bread, you are going to have to throw the whole batch out and start all over. The yeast will infect the whole batch. If you listen to a blind leader of the blind that is preaching or teaching, not according to the Bible, you are going to become infected with false teaching and will be ruined for the kingdom of Heaven. You will be led into the ditch. Look what Paul said about this in 1 Corinthians 5:7. Some people come and say, “I want to keep going to this church over here. I know the pastor isn’t preaching the truth but I have a lot of friends here. I will go to some camp meetings and other special revival meetings and stay alive spiritually.” Or another variation is, “I know that the messages there are not any different than those being preached in other churches.” But, pablum sermons will not get you ready to successfully go through the last days That is dangerous!
“Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” 1 Corinthians 5:7. Paul says, purge out the old leaven. I want to warn you, I am doing this because of love for your soul. If you go and talk and have conferences with people who are blind leaders of the blind, you are going to become infected and not even know what has happened.
“God is displeased with us when we go to listen to error, without being obliged to go; for unless He sends us to those meetings, where error is forced home to the people by the power of the will, He will not keep us. The angels cease their watchful care over us, and we are left to the buffetings of the enemy, to be darkened and weakened by him and the power of his evil angels; and the light around us becomes contaminated with the darkness.” Early Writings, 125.
Here is a question for you. What is going to happen to the tares, the wolves in sheep’s clothing, those who have climbed over the wall into the sheepfold, those who do not have a vital connection to the true vine? Just like in the time of John the Baptist, there is going to be a shaking or purging in the church, and at the end, Jesus says there is going to be a separation. The angels are going to come and separate the tares from the wheat. John the Baptist said there would be a separation in the time of Christ—and there was a separation. There was a shaking and almost the entire Jewish church was shaken out. But, their church organization went right on. That is something that many people have not thought of and you need to think it through. Judaism still existed, but almost the entire group, or organization, was shaken out. I have to tell you the truth. According to prophecy, something very similar to this is going to happen to the Seventh-day Adventist Church before the end.
People say, “We are in the true church and we are going to be saved.” They do not know they are following blind leaders. This is what is going to happen, “How many I saw in the time of trouble without a shelter! . . . Those who refuse to be hewed by the prophets and fail to purify their souls in obeying the whole truth, and who are willing to believe that their condition is far better than it really is, will come up to the time of the falling of the plagues, and then see that they needed to be hewed and squared for the building.” Early Writings, 71. When the plagues fall then probation is over and it is too late to be saved.
“To the marriage supper of the Lamb will come many who have not on the wedding garment—the robe [Christ] purchased for them with His lifeblood. From lips that never make a mistake come the words, ‘Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?’ Matthew 22:12. Those [thus] addressed are speechless. They know that words would be useless. The truth, with its sanctifying power, has not been brought into the soul, and the tongue that once spoke so readily of the truth is now silent. The words are then spoken, ‘Take them out of My presence. They are not worthy to taste of My supper.’ (Compare with Luke 14:24.)
“As they are separated from the loyal ones, Christ looks upon them with deep sorrow. They occupied high positions of trust in God’s work, but they have not the life insurance policy that would have entitled them to eternal life. From the quivering lips of Christ come the mournful words of regret, ‘I loved them; I gave My life for them; but they persisted in rejecting My pleadings, and continued in sin. O that thou hadst known, even thou, in this thy day, the things which belong to thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes.’ ” Upward Look, 301.
Oh, if you want to be part of the church, part of those that will be saved when Jesus comes, you must have the spiritual experience that makes you a part of His body, joined to Him as one spirit. You must have that vital connection with the True Vine. You must love God and obey His commandments. You must have the reality and not just the form. There is coming a time when the only people that will be left in the church will be holy people. Isaiah 4:3.
I want to be part of the real church when Jesus comes, not just someone that has made a profession and then falls out at the end. The profession is necessary. If you have the real thing you are not going to lie and say you do not have it, you are going to tell the truth and make a profession. I want to appeal to you, friend, to make that decision and come to Jesus and say, “Lord, I want to enter into the covenant. I want the real thing, more than just a profession. I want to be one of those faithful souls, one of those who loves God and keeps His commandments. I want to be a part of the body of Christ, ‘bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh,’ one of those who is joined to Him in one spirit.” I want to be part of the church not just by profession but in character.
by John J. Grosboll