Bible prophecy is very clear that a short time before Jesus returns again, there is going to be a time of trouble such as has never been since there was a nation. And God’s people will not be meeting together in churches during that time. Some will be in prisons, some will be in caves, some will be in dungeons, some will be in dens, some will be in forests or in the rocks of the mountains. But when you are in situations like that, you will know that Jesus is coming very soon, and if you have faith, it will be one of the most exciting times of your life. The question is will you have faith?
Some years ago I became acquainted with a man who had gone as a self-supporting missionary to Mexico in 1956. That country is almost entirely Roman Catholic in religion. However, he was a Protestant missionary, and as he became acquainted with people and studied the Bible with them, many in that part of the country became Protestant. He told me when he went to Mexico there were only about fifteen thousand Protestants in the whole area, and now there are almost three hundred thousand.
The same thing happened in Guatemala. Approximately thirty percent of the Guatemalan people are now Protestants. For many years, I have seen evidence that millions of former Roman Catholic people, from around the world, have become Protestant. However, sometimes a Protestant becomes a Roman Catholic. A book was recently published describing the experiences of eleven Protestants who became Roman Catholic. I was interested in finding out what these individuals were looking for and what they found, so I read a review of this book.
What is Mankind Searching For?
First, I discovered that these people were completely confused concerning the biblical meaning of who and what is the church. What does the Bible say that the church really is? There are a lot of Protestants today who do not know, and if you do not know who and what the church is, you might become a Roman Catholic some day.
In this book, I discovered that there was something for which all of these people were searching. When they became Roman Catholics they thought that they had found it. They were searching for certainty. They wanted to know for sure that they knew the truth. Do you know for sure that you know the truth? Unless you know that your beliefs are the truth, one of these days you are not going to believe what you believe now. You are going to be swept off your feet by the pressure that is going to come in the last days. It is important to know for sure that you know the truth. We are living in an age when many well-educated people do not seem to know anything for certain.
Several years ago I was attending a meeting in Dallas, Texas. It was not a religious meeting. It was a convention where nutritionists and dieticians were meeting with people from the public school system in Dallas. A public school educator asked these experts in nutrition and diet the following question: “I would like to know what you know for sure about nutrition.” I was very interested in the answer that they gave him. They said, in essence, “We do not know anything for sure.” And I thought to myself, “Well if these people do not know anything for sure, why should I go to them for counsel and advice?”
A minister recently spoke to a physician who had attended a medical meeting. At this meeting reports were given concerning new advances and discoveries in the field of medical science. One lecturing physician said, “Now we know statistically, from looking at the past, that approximately half of what I just told you will be proved, in the future, to be wrong.” He said, “The trouble is, I do not know which half it is.” That is a nice way to say that you are terribly uncertain about what you are thinking and about what you are doing.
Several years ago I spoke to a physician at a rehabilitation program where we were trying to help people who had heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. He told me about how he was trained to treat these problems when he was a young physician back in the 1940s. He treated his own mother for high blood pressure, and he told me, “I know now, that what I told my mother to do for high blood pressure was exactly the wrong thing to do, but I did not know it then.”
Today, we are living in a time of uncertainty. The theory today is proven wrong tomorrow. As people see one theory after another proven wrong, they soon do not have certainty about anything, or confidence in anything. They know what looks like certainty today will be proved wrong tomorrow. So today, as in no other time, people have a need to know something for certain.
Do you know anything for sure? Are you absolutely sure that what you know is infallibly so? How important is it to know something for sure? Revelation 13:15–17 says, “He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.”
Here is predicted a time, in the very near future, when, if you do not worship the beast or have the mark of the beast, you will be told that you cannot buy groceries. Perhaps you say, “No problem, if it is that tough I will just accept whatever it is. I will just accept the mark of the beast or worship the beast or whatever I have to do. I have to eat.” That is your choice. If that is what you want to do, you can. But if you accept the mark of the beast, or worship the beast, notice what is going to happen to you. “Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.’ Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” Revelation 14:9–12. Notice, you can accept the mark of the beast so you can buy and sell, if you want to do so, but if you do, God says that you are going to receive the wrath of God.
The world that we live in today is approaching the most stupendous crisis of world history, and this is what the crisis is going to be about. You must either receive the wrath of men, who are telling you that you cannot buy or sell, or you are going to receive the wrath of God, who says, “I am going to put you in hellfire if you do this.” It is going to be one way or the other. You are going to have to decide which you are going to endure. When this time comes, is it going to be important for you to know for sure what you believe? Are you going to risk your life with threatened imprisonment and death, unable to buy or sell? Are you going to risk all of that for something of which you are unsure? Why no! No one risks their life for something that they are unsure of. You had better find out for sure what you believe. Is there certainty, something that you can know absolutely for sure, that is infallible, and cannot be proved false? There is!
Is the Church of God Infallible?
Millions and millions of Christians believe that the thing that is infallible in the world, the thing that can bring certainty to people, is the church. They believe the organized church, or its leaders, to be infallible. They quote Matthew 16:18 where Jesus said to Peter, “on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Have you studied this out in the Bible? According to the Bible, is the church, any church, infallible? Absolutely not!
How long has God had a church? In Acts 7:38 we read, “This is He who was in the congregation [the church] in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us.” So God had a church in the wilderness with the Children of Israel when He gave them His law from Mount Sinai. God had a church, and that church was the church of the Old Covenant, the church in the Old Testament. It was the Jewish Church, the Children of Israel, and it was their mission to take the gospel to all the nations of the world. God told them in Isaiah 49, “You are to be a light to the nations, a light to the Gentiles.” And there were some Gentiles that became part
of the church. They even became the progenitors of the Messiah. Have you read, in your Bibles, the story of Ruth? She was not an Israelite by lineal descent. She was a Moabite woman, but she became a part of the Israelite Church and became part of Israel.
Then there is the story of Rahab. And there are the stories of many others in Old Testament times, like Naaman, who became part of God’s people. But as we read the story of God’s church in the Old Testament, was God’s Old Testament Church infallible? No, they went into apostasy over and over again. A large part of the Old Testament deals with their apostasy. Daniel talks about this very problem, and he says in Daniel 9:11, “Yes, all Israel has transgressed Your law, and has departed so as not to obey Your voice; therefore the curse and the oath written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against Him.”
Jesus commented on their apostasy in Matthew 23:31–35. “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.”
Was the church in Old Testament times infallible? Oh no, they killed the prophets Jesus said. In fact, Jesus said to them, “Show me which one of the prophets you did not try to kill. Show me one.” Who was it that instigated the crucifixion of our Lord and Saviour? It was God’s chosen people, His church. It was not the Romans, because Pilate was not in favor of it. The Romans just did what the church coerced them into doing. The church was responsible for the crucifixion of the Lord.
Some may think that New Testament times would be different, because Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 that the gates of Hades would not prevail against His church. Well, was the New Testament Church infallible or not? Let us look at the church at Corinth. Paul writes in I Corinthians 3:1, 3: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. For you are still carnal.” They were in apostasy. Galatians 3:1 tells us just how bad the church in Galatia was. “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?” Does that sound like an infallible church? No! The church in New Testament times went into apostasy too. The church was not infallible and the leaders of the church were not infallible.
Acts 21:18 talks about the apostles and leaders of the apostolic church. In this instance they were not infallible, they made a dreadful mistake that resulted in the imprisonment of the apostle Paul. Acts 21:18 says, “On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.” These were all the elders of the General Conference Church, the Apostolic Church, and you can read in that chapter about what they did there. The decision they made was a mistake and resulted in the apostle Paul going to prison. They were not infallible.
A Great Apostasy
After the time of the apostles, not only was the church not infallible, but Paul and Peter predicted that a great apostasy would develop within the church itself. In Acts 20:28–30 Paul addresses the church leaders in Ephesus, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves.”…Here Paul says that among the bishops, the elders of the apostolic church in Ephesus, this apostasy was to come. He says, “I know that after my departure also among yourselves, men will rise up speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.” He is predicting that right in the heart of the Christian church, among the leadership of the Christian church, a great apostasy is going to develop.
Paul knew that the Second Coming of Christ was not going to happen right away; something else was going to have to happen first. He wrote, “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day [the Second Coming of Christ] will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4. Paul says that a man of sin is going to come, and he is going to come into the temple of God (the church); he is going to be a leader of the church, and he is going to show that he, himself, is God.
All the early Christian fathers read this text. Chrysostrum, one of the early Christian fathers living about the fourth century, was a bishop in Constantinople. When he read this passage he taught the people in Constantinople that the antichrist power was going to rise up right in the church, and it was going to arise from the leadership in the church. That is what the early Christian fathers taught.
The book of Revelation clearly shows that the church is not infallible. The church could go into apostasy. Revelation 2:18–26 talks about a church in Thyatira and the Lord says to this church, “You have allowed Jezebel to come right into your church and to deceive people right in the church.”
It is very clear all through the New Testament that all the apostles taught the infallibility of the church. The theologians were not infallible (Galatians 1), the church councils were not infallible (Acts 21:18), the leaders of the church, the bishops, were not infallible (Acts 20), even the apostles were not infallible. Paul wrote, “Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision.… But when I saw that they were not straight forward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?’” Galatians 2:11–14. So, Peter himself was not infallible. That is what the New Testament teaches. Peter made a very serious mistake and the apostle Paul had to rebuke him in public.