NOTE: I often receive letters requesting my comments regarding church membership. Because the comments, circumstances and issues from a number of letters I have received are so similar, I have combined many direct quotes and details into one letter so that the topic of church membership can be addressed... LW
Dear Pastor Wilson:
I have a great dilemma. After studying your materials over the past two years, I have developed a whole new appreciation for Jesus, His teachings and the prophecies that point to His return. Bible study has become the joy of my life and I rejoice in the opportunity to understand God�s plan of salvation. The 203 Series has helped me gain a new appreciation for God�s PLAN to save the human race. For the past 25 years I thought I was a �born again� Christian. I joined the _______ Church through baptism when I was 22 years old and I have been a member ever since. As our children were growing up, we attended church faithfully every Sunday. Now, that they are married, they continue to attend church each week with their families, which makes me very happy.
We have a good pastor. He is a kind man and a very sociable person. My husband is a leader in our church and he and our pastor are good friends. Our pastor preaches good sermons, but now that I have become a Bible student, his sermons seem to be shallow � a mere collection of Bible stories or anecdotes � rather than a presentation of Bible truth. He speaks a lot �about� the Bible, using this or that text to confirm his point, but rarely presenting an in-depth study from the Bible. There is simply no Bible analysis.
I have learned many things from your books and your monthly Bible study published in the Day Star . This new knowledge is causing several problems for me. First, my husband is not interested in any material produced by Wake Up America Seminars. I have tried to tell him about the things I have learned, but he is quite content with his knowledge and understanding of the Christian faith. Yet, in our 29 years of marriage, I have never seen him read his Bible, so he really does not grasp the concerns I wrestle with. He is puzzled at my deep interest in your message. He did read the first four pages of your Warning! book and then refused to read any more. He thinks you are a calamity howler, scaring people so that they will �get religion.� My husband is a good man and perhaps I have used the wrong approach. Regardless, the result is that my husband and I cannot discuss Bible topics and this makes me sad. To add to my heartache, my children seem too busy to seriously consider the things that I have learned, nor do they show much interest.
A few weeks ago I visited with our pastor for two hours and shared with him the things I had been learning about Revelation. The meeting was a great disappointment. Our pastor doesn�t have a clue as to what Revelation means. Even though he does not believe in a pre-tribulation rapture, he assured me there is nothing to be concerned about. He thinks we should celebrate the return of Jesus. As he put it, �It will be a wonderful event.� I suspect that my husband had mentioned my fascination with end-time events to the pastor. At the end of our discussion, the pastor tried to assure me of good things to come, rather than answer any of my questions. He told me that most of Revelation�s prophecies were fulfilled during the first two centuries after Christ ascended into Heaven. He said the book was symbolic and designed by God to be a mystical story between good and evil. �The essential thing about Revelation,� my pastor said, �is that it is timeless � not timely.� I could see that our meeting was not going to resolve anything about Revelation, so as I prepared to leave, I asked my pastor about the holiness of the seventh-day Sabbath. He said God originally made the seventh day holy, but the day of worship was changed at the cross. The law requiring Sabbath observance was nailed to the cross with Jesus. �Ever since,� he said, �Christians celebrate Sunday observance to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week.� He ended by saying, �As far as the New Testament is concerned, the old Jewish Sabbath is gone and the spirit of celebration must now be applied to the Lord�s Day which is Sunday.� He was adamant and I offered no rebuttal.
My heart is heavy as I face this dilemma. I am deeply convicted of three things. First, I believe your approach and analysis of Revelation�s story is accurate. It makes sense. I cannot find fault with the rules of interpretation you use. They are simple, yet elegant. I have tested the rules for myself. I see how the 18 apocalyptic prophecies operate and I fully believe the opening of the fourth seal and sounding of the seven trumpets to be imminent. Second, I am convicted that Saturday is God�s holy day, His Sabbath. I am learning that observing the Sabbath causes a lot of social difficulties. Quietly keeping God�s day holy is more difficult than I anticipated. I recognize that living by faith means a total surrender to God�s will. I am resolved to follow God and obey all that God asks me. I have no question that salvation comes by faith, and honoring God�s Sabbath is really a matter of faith. Last, I now believe in a pre-advent judgment. I can see that the dead are not sent to Heaven or Hell at the time of death. It makes sense to me that God judges the people of Earth, both the living and the dead, just before Jesus returns. My confidence in God and the goodness of His character has grown immensely, simply by understanding the judgment process.
Now that I have shared my convictions with you, what should I do about the things I have become convicted about? Should I join another church? I am positive that my husband and children would not transfer with me and my church friends would not understand. I feel so alone. What church do you recommend? I have surveyed the phone book and there are three small groups in our town that meet on Saturday: Messianic Jews, Church of God - Seventh Day and Seventh-day Adventists. I am not acquainted with anyone who is a member of these churches, nor have I ever attended one of their church services.
Even though I know you cannot answer every letter, I would greatly appreciate your response to my predicament.
Thank you for your letter. Since it is not possible for me to respond to all the letters I receive, I decided to consolidate and publish your letters. Your letter and my response to the issues you raised is timely, since many of our Day Star readers face similar situations which seem to be occurring more and more frequently.
Your experience is consistent with what I have observed as I travel from seminar to seminar across the country. You really do have a social dilemma on your hands! You have stated your circumstances very articulately. As far as you know, no one else in your community believes the things that you have learned, and therefore, you feel you stand alone at this time. Even though you are in a quandary as to what you should do, it pleases me to see that you do not have a spiritual dilemma. You have thoughtfully and prayerfully studied yourself into the light of greater truth. You have essentially resolved in your own conscience what the Bible says on the three points you mentioned in your letter. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, you have accomplished job one. You understand the five essential elements of God�s Word. You appear to have confidence in your understanding of God�s will and now you seek the wisdom to implement His will in your life.
Standing alone is never easy and standing for Biblical principles that others do not understand is a even greater social struggle. (This is exactly what Jesus went through, as well as all the reformers that followed in His steps.) For years you were in �spiritual harmony� with your husband, children, friends, pastor, and church doctrines. Now, as a result of your personal Bible study, that has changed. May I make two points about your situation? First, God has revealed truth to you, so you might share it with others. They may not listen right now, nor may they understand, as you do, the great Bible truths. But, they will observe you, they will see the work of the Holy Spirit in your life and will be able to interpret your sincerity. They will notice your loyalty to God, your loving attitude toward others and your deep desire to share what Jesus has done for you and the salvation He offers.
My second point is serious. It is important to act upon and consistently exercise your convictions. If you do not, your family and friends will quickly see your weakness. Further, if you flip-flop on the things you have learned, your spiritual experience will weaken and quite possibly, your interest in spiritual things will wither and die. I say this for one reason: You now know too much to return to your former state. To deny the light that you now know, or acquiesce because of social challenge, could lead you on a path toward spiritual darkness, composed of religious rituals and false security. In fact, it is possible that you could also lose interest in God altogether. A great opportunity will be lost. When God chooses to shine the light of truth upon each of us, a great privilege and responsibility also accompanies that light. To dismiss His truth and the privilege and responsibility that goes with it, means a person has chosen to turn away from God.
For reasons that we do not understand, God chooses to reveal things to specific people at specific times. (Acts 13:48; Romans 9:15,16) His purpose is quite clear. The people who God reveals the light to are called to be instrumental in taking the gospel to others. (Acts 13:47) In this sense, you and I and all other people who understand this end-time message, have a God-given responsibility. Look around, you have a sphere of influence no one else has in your town. Use it to the fullest, as God grants you the opportunity. As far as I can tell from our mailing list, you are the only person in your area that understands the seriousness of the events just before us. Perhaps God is testing you at this time to see if you will be a �faithful servant,� one of His 144,000. Time will tell.
Speaking of the 144,000, have you ever considered this point: No denomination or particular church body per se will present the final Gospel to the world. Contrary to what Messianic Jews, Mormons, Jehovah�s Witnesses, The Church of God of Prophecy and Seventh-day Adventists claim, NO denomination will give the final Gospel presentation. The 144,000 will not be �card-carrying members� of one specific denomination. Please allow me to explain this point since you asked if you should join another church.
What is a church? We use the word �church� in many different ways. Here are six distinct definitions:
Finally, the body of Christ can also be classified in two basic definitions: The body of Christ, invisible, and the body of Christ, visible. The body of Christ, invisible, is a church made up of all people that the Father, through Christ, accepts as His children regardless of their religion or lack thereof. And the body of Christ, visible, is any organized group of people that endeavor to conduct the mission and convey the teachings of Christ.
There are so many churches in the world and they all claim to know the truth. It is so confusing. But, church is important to people because people are innately religious. Even though the world population is great and religious views diverge considerably, religion remains one of the most powerful influences on this planet. So, in light of these definitions, we need to address a probing issue: Is church important? Must a person belong to a church and if so, which one? Does God favor one church above another?
Before we address these questions, I would like to �walk you through� each church definition to clarify what we are addressing:
Church � The Physical Building
When people organize and build a physical place to worship, they have said something very important. A church building confirms that a group of people have an established set of religious ideas or doctrines and they want to have a place to meet where they can discuss them. (Let�s call them: A. B. and C.) Therefore, they organize and build a location for worship according to A. B. and C. If you come into their building to discuss a new idea, such as �D.�, you will NOT be welcomed in that building because it exists for the promotion of A. B. and C. This is the nature of religion. Religion is not an open forum. I have seen churches rent their building to other religious groups who they perceived were �no threat� to their organization and at the same time, deny the use of their building to individuals who belonged to their own congregation, but were thought to be a threat. If you insist on making a lot of noise about your doctrine or prophetic interpretation called �D.� in their building, you will make them unhappy. They in turn, will attempt to make you even more unhappy.
Church � A Group of People
When two or more enthusiastic people see �eye to eye� on spiritual matters such as doctrines A. B. and C., they might join together to persuade others to believe that A. B. and C. is the gospel. If they are successful in getting enough people to accept A. B. and C., they eventually form a church organization so they can buy property, have a bank account, build a church building and conduct certain businesses, such as printing. If they have a comprehensive vision and their local efforts prosper, they often obtain the means to �evangelize� people located in other parts of the world. By doing this, their group census grows and eventually a denomination is formed, consisting of many local churches. Keep in mind however, that in this setting, a church is an ever changing group of people. The group tomorrow will be larger than the group today!
Church � A Denomination
A denomination is an association of local churches belonging to one centralized religious identity. Denominations have church professionals who oversee the activities of the church. Denominations, by their nature, do three things for local churches: First, they establish A. B. and C. as a creed. A creed is a statement of belief (which is another way of saying what they do not believe). Second, denominational professionals �keep watch� over the sheep. If a pastor gets �out of line,� it necessitates a move to a different location or he/she is dismissed to protect the flock. Denominations also protect their believers from heresy by approving what should be studied, what should be read, and who should speak publicly in the churches. It is very embarrassing to invite a guest speaker to a flock and then realize their message is contrary to the ways and doctrines of the church. Last, denominational professionals oversee the businesses of the church. They manage retirement programs (investments), mission activities, employment and other necessities that go with conducting the King�s business.
There are different denominations because there are differences in the understanding of God�s will, but they all function just about the same. Some denominations maintain very similar doctrinal beliefs as other denominations. For example, one denomination may believe in A. B. and C. and another may believe in A. C. and F. Obviously, these two examples hold A. and C. in common and prospective members might investigate doctrines B. and F. to see which denomination they like better. Usually though, most people choose to attend a specific church for one of three reasons: (1) they grew up in that church, (2) a friend invited them to attend that church, or (3) it was the closest church to their home.
Church � A National Religion and Culture
The world has several current examples of national religions or a national church. In these settings, religion and culture have been merged together and the result is enormous control over the people. In such countries, new ideas are not solicited. In fact, it is illegal to openly share religious ideas that are contrary to national interests! Tradition in these nations is highly important. Those in power stay in power. The poor remain poor and uneducated because whatever opportunities exist for advancement are reserved for the wealthy class. I cannot think of one country, controlled by a strong national religion, where there is a middle class of people. This says much. Individuals who embrace another religion (church) are disinherited by family and friends.
I mention this type of �church� because there are some people in the United States who want to develop a national religion. This is a recent, but very unfortunate development. However, it is the prophetic destiny for the USA and all other nations. When the judgments of God begin, the Bible predicts a powerful union between church and state will take place in every country. People will be subjected to the �majority� religion of their country. I am sure you know what I am speaking about since I have written extensively about this in all my books.
Church � The Body of Christ Invisible
This �church� includes all people who are faithful to their knowledge of God. It is called invisible because no one can see it. Only God knows His own and know which people are part of this church. This church is composed of people from every walk of life who respect and faithfully honor God according to all that they know about God. God reads the heart and knows a person�s honesty and sincerity regarding his/her relationship with Him. If people are sincerely living up to all the light the Holy Spirit has revealed to them about God, God generously accepts each person as a member of the body of Christ.
This is the only church of the group of six that ultimately matters. You can be a member of a local church, a denomination (or non-denomination) and not belong to the body of Christ! It is possible to be born and baptized into a church and never known the rebirth experience that comes only through the Holy Spirit. On the other side of the coin, a person can experience the rebirth of the Holy Spirit without ever entering a church! This brings me to the final church...
Church � The Body of Christ Visible
When two or more people meet as a result of knowing Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit, they begin to think of ways to reach out to others with the good news of the gospel! The minute they organize to do something, they form a visible body of Christ. There have been and will continue to be many visible bodies of Christ. There are many organizations founded by �born again� people to promote the gospel. Suffice it to say, each organization may present the gospel differently, but they are nonetheless visible bodies of Christ, as long as they teach faith in Christ and obedience to His teaching. (Matthew 28:19,20; Luke 9:49,50)
As time passes and new generations inherit the organization established by their forefathers, history confirms that visible bodies of Christ usually cease to be dedicated to the ministry of Christ. In other words, over time, most organizations become apostate because a visible body of Christ comes under the control of men and women who are not Spirit led. This is the tragic, degenerate consequence of sin and this process, sooner or later, infiltrates every visible body of Christ. The carnal heart loves money and power, and when religion has both, watch out! Satan preys on this carnal motive to place people in leadership positions so that all visible bodies of Christ might be led astray. The enemy of man, the devil, insures the success of this process and history proves the devil is very thorough.
Unfortunately, most people grow up loving their �body of Christ visible.� They cannot comprehend how their church could become corrupt and represent false doctrine and are highly offended if someone tells them they are not teaching Bible truth. If you think I am exaggerating, go into any church and tell them what you believe the Bible says and then watch their reaction. As you know from reading my books, I believe the seven heads on the beast in Revelation 13 represent the seven religions of the world. The number seven indicates the sum total of world religion and the Bible points out that all seven religions are blasphemous. I interpret this to mean that all visible bodies of Christ are corrupt in these last days; however, their corruption will not be totally exposed until the seven trumpets begin.
The Properties of Religion
Now that we have examined these six definitions, three things should stand out. First, the essential church is the body of Christ invisible. If you are not a member of that church, you are not a part of God�s house no matter what church you might belong to. A person becomes a member of the body of Christ invisible by submitting to the will of God and living by faith � period! Second, it is fair to say that God has blessed the efforts of many groups of people down through the ages as they proclaimed their version of the gospel. There are many wonderful bodies of Christ visible in our world today. Even though they differ on the aspects of the gospel they proclaim, God is generous with all mankind � for as a race, we are largely ignorant and degenerate. As long as any body of people is committed to the proclamation of the gospel, God will bless it. So, it is important to recognize the different administrations of God�s work throughout the Earth and have respect for them when possible. Last, if you believe in doctrines A. B. G. and H., and no one else around you has that combination of views, you obviously will stand alone.
There is something worse than standing alone, but most people are not aware of it! Suppose you belong to an organization that believes in A. B. and C. but you have not studied the Bible enough to understand A. B. and C. for yourself. Suppose you are blind and naked and do not recognize your great spiritual poverty. This is far worse than standing alone and regrettably, it describes the condition of many �church going� people today. (Revelation 3:17) Most of us inherit certain religious ideas and views, and few of us ever question them and fewer still, ever fully understand them. Religion is a strange power.
You asked if you should join another church. Knowing what you know, what church CAN you join? Not one of the churches you mentioned believe the same combination of Biblical elements as you now understand them. Therefore, you could �join� a Sabbath-keeping church, but remember, you will still be alone in certain areas of understanding. If you join a new church and openly share your views with your pastor, chances are you will be marked a heretic or �trouble maker� and ultimately be avoided or expelled. Yes, a sincere person at the new church might �pick up� on some of your comments and want to know more, but do not expect a significant interest in prophetic issues from any one denomination. Most denominations already have developed their own prophetic views and history confirms that no denomination has ever changed its prophetic view by a vote from the laity. Of course, you could attend church and say nothing. However, I do not think you would be satisfied at being a spectator Christian. Here is the real issue: Each church has an agenda and your agenda for the cause of Christ is not the same as any current church. You have a timely message. You have an understanding of what God is about to do. None of the churches you listed have this understanding.
Another option is to remain in your current church until your presence causes too much turmoil. Since your church meets on Sunday, and you now believe that Saturday is God�s holy day, this could prove to be a challenge. Even more, how can you sit in church each Sunday and not make certain comments to your friends about things that you know are not right? How can one be silent when he/she believes the judgments of God are about to begin? To remain silent is unconscionable. On top of that, the internal frustration from staying there will be enormous. Yes, a church service can offer a real �spiritual� experience � good music, inspiring words, and happy fellowship. But, what is all this if it is without the understanding of truth? (See John 4:23,24.)
There is, however, another possible solution to your question. Start a home church. Why not actively share your understanding with those around you. Keep looking for individuals, like yourself, who want to know more about the Word of God. Pass out books and materials. Sow seed. Invite people to come to a place where you can have Bible study and pray together. God�s Sabbath is a perfect day for this. (Acts 16:13) Pray that the Lord will send the harvest. I recommend this method because I suspect this humble type of meeting by the visible body of Christ will become more and more frequent as we progress toward the Great Tribulation. In fact, I believe this will be the final form of God�s visible church on Earth and the 144,000 will be its evangelists. So, be of good courage. Be strong. Be faithful. Be determined. Be about the King�s business and you will have fellow-ship with the Master � and what is sweeter than having Jesus in the same boat with you?
So, R&K&B, this is the sum of the matter on joining another church as I understand it. I hope my response has been helpful. Pray about it and the Spirit of Truth will properly guide you. (James 1:5-8)
With prayer and best wishes,