As the end time approaches and God’s people divide more and more, what suffers? Who’s to blame? And what must we do to overcome this problem?
God’s Church is a wonder in this world. This small group of dedicated believers professes the highest ideals and dedication to God’s way of life. The conditions seem ideal for a continuation of a close relationship with God. Paul passionately wrote about wondrous miracles, a Savior, protection from Satan, promises of eternal life and an inheritance beyond our comprehension (Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15). God dwelt with men in the flesh and taught about a direct, personal relationship with our Eternal Father. And yet, during the lifetime of God’s chosen apostles, seeds of destruction, weakness and folly were already growing. Paul and Peter both strongly wrote to encourage the brethren to hold fast to God’s ideals. Paul wept over some who had become “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:17-18). Paul and Peter saw the seeds of self-destruction in every church, it seems (2 Peter 2:1-3).
It seems we humans are not good at passing on the hard lessons of life to the next generation. Generation after generation has to learn all over again the great lessons of life and the values that promote happiness, contentment and peace. One of the prime examples of that is the life of King David and the hard lessons that he learned about walking with God. Not even two generations passed before so much was lost. David lost sight of God for a while, and it almost cost him everything he had. His son, Solomon, started strongly but fell so far. And the attitude of his grandson, Rehoboam, guaranteed the end of Israel. One of the sad observations we can make is that destruction came from within. It was self-destruction that tore Israel from God.
God revealed a little of what would befall His people—the saints—to Daniel. Daniel was told that it was not for him to understand, but he did see enough to know that just before the end time, the power of God’s people would be completely shattered—and then all these things shall be finished (Daniel 12:7-10). The attacks of Satan will intensify before and during the Great Tribulation, including the final attack against the two witnesses. The “power” spoken of can include the ability of the Church to preach and be organized.
Could it be possible that the shattering of the power of the holy people is caused from within? Are the divisions we’ve seen in the last decades fragmenting the Body of Christ? Each fragment is weaker than the whole. Could it be that following in the footsteps of so many before us, we are our own greatest enemies?
There was a great American statesman who once proclaimed that the United States was safe from foreign invasion, and if defeat was to be her destiny, it would have to come from with her own borders.
That seems to be what we are witnessing as the divisions result in more and more fragments of the Church. Each group seems to be working at odds with the others. Each little fragment that leaves become less able to preach the gospel strongly, and power certainly is lost. Is that part of the shattering/scattering that is foreseen? But God did promise Daniel that some would be purified and that the wise would understand (Daniel 12:10).
My membership in God’s Church began about 50 years ago when I began attending the Worldwide Church of God (then the Radio Church of God). During the first 25 years, up until 1987, that church had problems, but was mostly unified, very dynamic in preaching the gospel, spreading the word of truth around the world and existing in a positive frame of mind. There were about 170,000 people actually attending services and the circulation of its publications numbered in the millions, with an income of over $500 million a year (adjusted for today’s dollars). The seeds of self-destruction existed but were not watered often.
In the last 25 years, I have observed the Church change to the point that the former association no longer exists and the fragments left over that still strive to preserve the truth have a combined attendance of no more than 40,000 people. In almost every case, the splits, divisions and troubles came from within. Many ministers and members alike seem to have lost the powerful desire to be united and at peace. Paul’s words that there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and a measure of grace are words that do not fit what we see today (Ephesians 4:4-6). There are more than 300 splinter groups that believe they make up part or all of the Body of Christ. There is no logical way that we can reason that all of them are the Body of Christ when one group considers the others enemies or antagonists. One can only imagine where we would be today if the ministry and members who are entrusted with the truth could have remained together in one organization. How many saints would there be? What impact would the Church have on the population of the world?
God’s direction and will is for the Church to be strengthened. God will not shatter the power of the Church—it has to come from Satan or from within ourselves. Converted people are expected to examine themselves often to be sure they are pleasing to God. They are to know they are “children of God” (1 John 3:1). Their destiny is to be like Him (1 John 3:2). They are to realize that not loving your brother in Christ is an attitude that originates with Satan (1 John 3:10, 16). They are to struggle for one another and love one another (1 John 3:23). When we are surrounded by people we love and whom we love in return, and when we have a great God-given purpose for living, there ought to be no room for seeds of self-destruction. If we are witnessing the shattering of the power of the Church as Daniel wrote—let it come from without and not from within.
Edit 8/24/2012, 10:43 a.m. EDT Updated wording in sentence 5, paragraph 1 for clarity—Editor