The Church of God
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

We noticed in the newspapers toward the end of 1969 that reporters were recapping the events of the Sixties, and it occurred to us that it might be profitable for us to recap the Sixties in the light of Bible prophecy. We do not take Bible prophecy and try to bend it to fit current events; we declare what the prophetic Word of God declares, and then we examine current events to see how closely they are fulfilling the Word.

Shall we bow our heads together for prayer:

PRAYER:

Our Father, we thank Thee for the opportunity and privilege of sharing the Word of God once again. We ask that Thou wouldst open the Word to us in such a way that we will be able to grasp it. Grant, our Father, that the truth of Thy Word will be received. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

Three Divisions of the Human Race

The Apostle Paul said In I Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 32, “Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God.” The Apostle did not have prophecy in mind when he uttered those words, but he was presenting to us the three classes into which God divides the human race. We have undertaken to examine prophecy in the Word of God as it concerns these three classes. There have been three streams of prophecy flowing through the ages–the Gentile stream, the Jewish stream, and the stream to which we have referred as the Church of God.

We have examined the stream of Jewish prophecy by using the symbolism that the Lord Jesus Christ used–the symbolism of a fig tree. We have examined the Gentile stream of prophecy in three spheres–the political sphere, the moral sphere and the social sphere. Everything the Spirit of God said concerning the end of the Age is shaping up.

Preparing for Christ's Coming

The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ for His Church is an undated event. All the references to the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ speak of His coming in glory after the Rapture of the Church. As these events related to the Second Coming of Christ in glory are becoming more definite than they were even ten years ago, let me remind you that the Rapture of the Church is seven years nearer than that. So you see it is upon us; I believe the Lord is coming for His Church very soon. I would not be surprised to see Him tonight. But however long He may tarry as the clock of prophecy ticks away, we do not have very much more time, and whatever we are going to do we will have to do quickly, because the night cometh, when no man can work (John 9:4).

The Body of Christ

I want to think with you now about the thrid stream of prophecy, the stream which I called the Church of God. Before we can think clearly about this stream, it is important for us to distinguish between the Body of Christ and the professing Church, for there is a difference.

The Body of Christ is within the professing Church, but the professing Church is not within the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ is made up of all born again believers, scattered everywhere. The professing Church is what you see represented by buildings, by activities, by services. It is the outward manifestation that you can see. It is the thing that you can join by walking down the aisle or signing a card or taking some kind of vow. The Body of Christ is that Church the only means of entrance to which is through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. When you are born again, the Holy Spirit places you in right relationship to the Body of Christ, according to I Corinthians 12:13.

The Body of Christ has had its ups and down. It has had times of blessing and it has had times of famine, but someday the Lord Jesus Christ will come and take the Body of Christ unto Himself. When He does, the period of time that is to come upon the earth, second to none as far as tribulation is concerned, will occur. It is called the Tribulation, the time of Jacob's trouble. It will be a terrible time, and we can rejoice that the Body of Christ will not have to endure it. I can say to you with all assurance that if you have received the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour, if you have trusted Him, then you as a member of the Body of Christ will be raptured when the Lord Jesus Christ comes.

The Church of God

When we speak about the Church of God, will you keep in mind that we are talking about the professing Church and not about the Body of Christ.

If you will turn with me, please, to the book of Revelation you will be able to glance at some passages of Scripture as I call them to your attention. In Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, we have the story of seven Churches. If you were to look at these seven Churches on a map, you would find them in a rough circle in Asia Minor. If we were to illustrate it for you, we would draw a picture of seven lampstands with Christ in the very middle, where He could reach out and touch any one of them. He was in that close contact with them. That is what you read in verses 12 and 13 of chapter 1:

Revelation 1

12And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; [lampstands]
13And in the midst of the seven candlesticks [lampstands] one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.

Retrogression of the Church

But if we were illustrating not the progression but the retrogression of the Church, we would draw a picture of a door with Christ standing on the outside knocking, ready to be admitted if one cared to admit Him. that is to be the condition of the Church at the end of the Age. Notice Revelation chapter 3, verse 20:

Revelation 3

20Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

Though this verse of Scripture has been used effectively to bring people to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the interest of accuracy we would remind you that it is not an invitation to the unsaved; it is an invitation to men, in the days of apostasy, to fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. At the beginning of the Age He was in the center of everything; at the end of the Age He is to be on the outside knocking on the door.

Why am I saying this to you? So that you will have some idea of what we are talking about when we speak of the stream of prophecy known as the Church of God.

Names of the Seven Churches

As we have said, in chapters 2 and 3 of the book of Revelation we find seven churches named. The name “Ephesus” in verse 1 of chapter 2 means “desirable,” and that describes very effectively the condition of the Church when it first began. It was desirable in the sight of God. He had much to commend it for. Things were beginning to happen that would drive it away from Him, but God in His mercy would draw it back.

You will notice in verse 8 the name of the second Church, “Smyrna,” which means “suffering.” God permitted a period of suffering to come upon the Church, trusting that that suffering would draw it back to Himself. For a time it did, but by and by Satan would try another attack by making things easy.

You find in verse 12 the name of the third Church, “Pergamos,” which means “married.” This was about 316 A.D., when Constantine purportedly became a Christian and made it easy for Christians. They were married to the world, and you might circle that word; you might make it a time point on your chart of declension, because it was now that the Church went downhill, never to revive again.

You will notice in verse 18 that the next church bears the name “Thyatira,” which means “continual sacrifice.” It is a fitting name for a period of Church history which was dominated by the Church of Rome. This is the central key of worship in the Roman church–the mass, which is a continual sacrifice.

You will notice in verse 1 of chapter 3 the name “Sardis.” It means “those escaping,” and it refers to that period of Church history which is designated as the Reformation. If we were to illustrate this for you, we would draw a straight line, everything running in the same direction–a bit downward, because there was declension; but when we come to the Church at Sardis we would have to draw a line going upward. This period in Church history was marked by an effort to return to the original condition of the Church, although its effort was not perfect before God. We would continue the line upon which the name “Thyatira” is written, because it will continue on through to the end of the Church Age.

If you will look further in this chapter you will notice the name “Philadelphia,” which means “brotherly love.” We would draw another line out of the Church at Sardis and write upon it the name “Philadelphia;” we would let this line go upward, because this Church showed a progression and not a declension.

If you will look at verse 14 you will see the name “Laodicea.” This name also would be written on a line out of the Church at Sardis, but it would go down instead of up, because this period marks a declension of Protestantism. The word “Laodicea” means “the rule of the people.” During this period, the Word of God is no longer to be the source of authority, but the whims of men are to govern the decisions in the Church of God.

Church Condition At the End of the Age

On the chart, then, we have a straight line upon which all these churches have moved, to the time when Sardis begins to go up and Thyatira goes straight on. You place the name of the Church at Philadelphia on a line which you might draw from Sardis straight up to the sky, representing the Rapture of the Church, because that is what is going to happen to the Church at Philadelphia. It will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. But the Church at Laodicea and the Church at Thyatira continue on into the period which we call the Tribulation. Very early in the Tribulation the Church at Laodicea and the Church at Thyatira become one, and you draw from there a straight line with just one name on it: the Church of the Tribulation. The book of the Revelation calls it “the harlot,” and it is described in Revelation, chapter 17.

This is the prophetic program for the professing Church as it is presented in God's Word. All we need to do now is to think about what we have said and see what may have occurred within the last decade to show that the program is going exactly as God planned.

Everything I have said to you up to this point I have said rather rapidly. If this i not familiar information to you, it may be difficult for you to keep everything that I have said in mind, and you will miss some of the things I am going to say. Let me give you three words which will sum up this prophetic program and help you to remember some of the things I am going to say. One of the words I want to give you is “affluence,” another is “apostasy,” and another is “amalgamation.” That is a word we don't use often, but I give it to you for the sake of alliteration. The words are “affluence,” “apostasy,” and “amalgamation.”

An Abundance of Material Goods

What do we mean by affluence? Webster defines the word as “an abundance of material goods.” What was it the Spirit of God said? He said that as the Church reached the end of the Age it would be an affluent church. No, He did not use those words; what He said is in verse 17 of Revelation, chapter 3:

Revelation 3

17Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
18I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.

Did you notice what He said? At the end of the Age the Church at Laodicea will say, “I am rich, and I am increased with goods, and I have need of nothing.” I would be wasting your time if I should go into any great detail about the affluence of the professing Church in the last ten years, but to provoke your thinking let me mention one or two things that you may have noticed in your newspapers but which may not have borne the significance for you they should have borne in the light of the prophetic Word.

According to the last evaluation that was made, the Church is the possessor of $80 billion worth of physical property, and this does not include the businesses and real estate in their possession for other purposes. So great is the real estate in their possession that many people in government feel it is time to tax the Church. Regardless of how you feel about that, I am bold to say to you that it would never have occurred to them if the Church had not forgotten her mission and become involved in business, so that she can say, “I am rich, and increased with goods.”

Present Examples of Church Affluence

I could name a denomination that operates an office to loan money at interest in one of our cities not too far away. This is not to loan money to their own churches to build churches, but this is to loan money on signatures, to loan money on chattel mortgages; it is big business. There are churches I could name which are so affluent that they build office buildings for the purpose of renting them, and not for their own use.

A ludicrous thing happened recently in our city when a group of churches purchased a full page ad in the local paper to suggest that all business houses should close on Sunday. That very group of people own a building which is rented to a national chain store that stays open on Sunday. The Church has forgotten her God-given mission ans has become more interested in materialism that in spirituality, and it is sad.

I think I have said enough that you can see that the Church in the last ten years has traveled at a rapid rate toward the affluent state in which God said she would be found at the end of the Age, and there is no indication that it will let up. Every indication is that the Church will become more affluent still.

A Departure From the Faith

I gave you another word, “apostasy.” Very simply defined, “apostasy” means “a departure from the faith.” What was it the Spirit of God said would happen at the end of the Age? That there would be in the professing Church a definite trend away from the basic fundamentals of the faith. Peter said in his Second Epistle, chapter 2:

II Peter 2

1But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
2And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.

Beloved, the time of apostasy has arrived. It has been with us for quite some time, as a matter of fact. It has changed its name, and it has changed its appearance, but it has increased in intensity. Men who advertise themselves as clergymen are not hesitant at all to make dogmatic statements as though they were the pronouncements of God. They do not hesitate to put their own pronouncements on the same level as those of the writers of the Scripture.

Example of Apostasy

David Poling, whose article is found on the editorial page of THE ABILENE REPORTER NEWS each week, must bring grief to his departed father if he knows from Heaven what is going on. Certainly he is a great source of grief to his uncle, an outstanding minister of God's Word who believes the Bible to be the inspired Word of God. David Poling does not. Perhaps you read his article just a few weeks ago in which he said that Jesus Christ was not the Son of God. No, he did not say it just that way, because David Poling is a polished scholar, but very smoothly he said the very same thing in another way, and most people did not even notice. He said that “Jesus Christ, the son of Joseph, did thus and so.” Not the Son of God. Jesus Christ was not the son of Joseph. If he was the son of Joseph, He was not the Son of God, and if he was not the Son of God, then our faith is in vain (I Corinthians 15:14; Romans 1:4), and David Poling ought to look for a new means of livlihood. He is denying the very Lord who brought Him.

Lester Kinsolving's column is carried in the local paper under the title “Witness.” I have read it very carefully since it appeared and I have often wondered the reason for the name. A witness to what besides a man's deliberate determination to undermine people's faith in the Word of God? Lester Kinsolving said a few weeks ago that the churches have abounded in prophets down through the Ages, but they have not been infallible. Bishop Pike, he said, made several prophecies that were not fulfilled, but he said that is not unusual; in chapter 4 of the book of Jeremiah, verse 14, Jeremiah made a prophecy that was never fulfilled. But why be so alarmed about it? Bishop Pike or Jeremiah, all are subject to mistakes, he said.

I don't think I need to take your time with any other suggestions of how apostasy has become alarmingly prevalent. There was a time when you knew where you stood. There was a time when the conservatives and the liberalists could battle it out–when a man said, “I am a liberal,” and a man said, “I am a conservative,” without an apology either way. But now a man stands in the pulpit, he reads from the Bible, he carries the title of clergyman, and with terms that orthodox people have used down through the ages he undermines the faith of a great many people. It cannot get much worse. That is why I feel that the end of the Age is very near.

Ecumenical Movement

The last word I suggested was “amalgamation.” What is amalgamation? It is a combination of groups. You know it better, I suppose, as the “Ecumenical Movement,” because you see that word “ecumenical” in your newspapers frequently. I would like to suggest to you that in the past decade the Ecumenical Movement has progressed further than in any other decade since the turn of the century, when the National Council of Churches was first organized. When it was first organized, the National Council of churches was in all probability an effort of good men to try to quiet the differences that were dividing what they believed to be the Church of Christ. But it was not long until the National Council of Churches became the World Council of Churches, and it was not long until the purveyors of thought in the World Council of Churches could not rest until they had courted everybody that might sell their ranks and make possible one church.

I want to share with you some actual comments concerning a recent meeting of the World Council of Churches in Sweden. Over two thousand persons attended, including 880 delegates from 232 member churches of the Protestant Orthodox Anglican and Old Catholic communions. Such steps were taken toward religious unification that LOOK magazine said in an article by one of its reporters that with 15 Roman Catholic observers on hand, this time to do everything but vote, this assembly in Sweden–notice this carefully–was the most complete gathering in 900 years. Pope Paul VI gave it the Vatican's first blessing for an Ecumenical meeting. One Catholic priest, a key Jesuit, surprised the delegates by suggesting that they seriously consider the possibility that the Roman Catholic Church might one day become a member of the Word Council. Nine Catholics have already been elected to the Council's Faith and Order Commission.

Protestant theologian Robert McAfee predicts of the Catholics that they will not hold the Council back; the really good Catholics are 'way ahead of traditional Protestants. The Director of Ecumenical Affairs for the National Council of Churches in a recent magazine article projected his views on hastening the unification of all churches into one church body by saying that what could be done immediately is for the Roman Catholic Church and the major Protestant communions to recognize the existence of a general church membership. This means that if you become a Christian, other Christians–of course he means a Church member; he does not mean a born-again believer–other Christians will acknowledge that you are fully a Christian. Anyone who belongs to one church belongs to all. Thus if you should become a member of the Methodist Church you would become simultaneously a full member of the African Methodist, the Episcopal Church Zion, The Roman Catholic Church, the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church.

Further along in the article he said that in practice some people will maintain a lifelong fidelity to a single tradition. Others will expose themselves to many traditions at once, participating perhaps in a Lutheran Bible study class, a Methodist prayer group, a Roman Catholic mass, and service projects in Episcopal enterprise and education.

Recent Changes In Local Policy

Here in Abilene we are off from the mainstream of activity and slow to change, perhaps. I came here thirty years ago, and because I said I was not related to any church, because I said I believed that when people are born again they are members of the Body of Christ, I was thought a freak; everybody here was a member of the Church of Christ, the Methodist Church, or the Baptist Church, with a few Presbyterians sprinkled in. If you were not in one of those groups you just were not accepted. The lines were drawn pretty straight; I was the freak. But I have lived to see a Methodist Pastor stand at the altar at the Catholic Church on 8th Street and perform a wedding ceremony. If I had even suggested that thirty years ago, they would have said, “That is just another reason why we had better run this Yankee out of town, because nothing like that is going to happen.” Well, it has happened, and you have seen it.

If you do not believe that the Catholic church is changing–now wait a moment; it has the same goals in mind, because it is going to be the framework for the harlot to which I referred–if you do not believe that she is adapting herself to the present trend, you are not keeping abreast of things. Catholics were shocked to learn that about two hundred Catholic priests had joined a union to gain a voice in the affairs of the Catholic Church in America. For the first time in the open, many priests are questioning tradition, and Catholic laymen are protesting or ignoring the Pope's decision regarding the use of birth control devices.

Present Power of the Pope

One UPI religious columnist said that when Pope Pius VI issued his Encyclical on birth control last July, many people thought it would be a severe setback to the Christian Unity Movement. They felt that the Pope had dashed ecumenical hopes by reiterating rather than modifying a Catholic teaching which is almost universally rejected by Protestants. But that judgment is now up for reappraisal. Astute observers are beginning to think that the birth control controversy may be more of an asset than a liability to the cause of Christian union.

Reasoning goes like this. The greatest obstacle to unity is a constant fear of Papal power. Despite the example of Pope John XXII, and despite the pronouncements of the Vatican Council, most Protestants have remained dubious about the existence of real freedom of conscience in the Catholic Church. In the words of Dr. Brown, a Presbyterian observer at the Vatican Council, Protestants have feared that if organic union with the Catholic Church should ever come to pass, we would be required to submit our individual judgments of conscience to the voice of authority emanating from Vatican City, and to subordinate our personal convictions to whatever is definitely spoken by that voice. But we no longer fear that. In a meeting in California recently, a spokesman for four of the major denominations suggested that an alliance of those denominations with the Church of Rome should be formed, with the Church of Rome being the framework for the five groups and the Pope the recognized head.

Now draw your own conclusions. Is the World Church, which will bring the Antichrist to power and which is known as “the harlot” in the book of the Revelation, going to take very long to form, when these things are happening in our day? I think not.

Use of Our Time

We have traveled down the three streams of prophecy concerning the Jews, the Gentiles, and the Church of God, and everywhere we have looked we have seen God's Word fulfilled. I say to you, Beloved, that the time of our redemption draweth nigh. I say to you that we must not waste any more time. Though we may look up and know that our redemption draweth nigh, we remember the admonition of the Saviour, “Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13). That means use every available moment to its utmost capacity. Are you doing that? You have the answer yourself, not I.

Shall we bow our heads together for prayer:

PRAYER:

We thank Thee, our Father, for the opportunity of ministering Thy Word. We ask, as we are forcefully reminded once more that Jesus is coming, not only that we may look up and know that our redemption draweth nigh,* but that we will be impressed that what is done must be done quickly. Help us to live, our Father, not only in the light of the eternity into which we will go at the day we die, but also in the light of the report we will have to make at the Judgment Seat of Christ when Jesus comes. For we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

* Luke 21:28


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