When you ask the question, “which church is going through?” here are the answers that you get:
- One of the most popular, or traditional, views among many Seventh-day Adventists is that the church organization (structure) is going to go through to glory purified. There may be tares among the wheat, there are sinners in Zion and they are going to be cast out; but the structure is going to go through.
- A second view that has come to the fore in the last year or two, is the idea that the church structure is Babylon, or it is just on the brink of becoming Babylon. Therefore, it is just waiting to be destroyed.
- A third position is that the church structure is in the same position as the Jewish church was just before the crucifixion of Christ. Ellen White says, “When the fast westering sun should pass from sight in the heavens, Jerusalem’s day of grace would be ended. While the procession was halting on the brow of Olivet, it was not yet too late for Jerusalem to repent.” Desire of Ages, 578. Some people say that is the condition of the church right now. The structure could turn around. Something irrevocable could happen, just like it did to the Jewish nation.
Before I mention the fourth position, consider that we Isaiah 28:9, 10 tells us that we should look through the entire Bible if we want to learn the truth about any subject. We need to look at everything that inspired writings say about that subject, and if we do that, the Lord will lead us to the truth. “All truth, whether in nature or in revelation, is consistent with itself in all its manifestations.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 114. “…no lie is of the truth.” 1 John 2:21. What does that mean? It means, the truth always has to agree with itself. If it does not, if it contradicts, there is something that is not true.
- People who take this position say you must answer the question what is the church before you can answer which church is going through. How can you tell which church is going through if you do not have an inspired definition about what the church is? God knows what the church is and if God knows what the church is, He could tell one of His prophets. If one of God’s prophets told you what the church is, would you believe it? Some people do not believe it. “From the beginning, faithful souls have constituted the church on earth.” Acts of the Apostles, 11. That is the church militant; it could not possibly be the church triumphant because it says, “from the beginning,” and the church does not become triumphant until the end.
The Church is not Invisible
Someone might say it is the invisible church. Let us see if it is. The sentence we just read is right in the middle of a long discussion about the church. It says, “From the beginning, faithful souls have constituted the church on earth. In every age the Lord has had His watchmen, who have borne a faithful testimony to the generation in which they lived.” Ibid. Were the watchmen invisible? No. Was the testimony invisible? No. Was the generation invisible? No. There is nothing invisible in that sentence. “These sentinels gave the message of warning; and when they were called to lay off their armor, others took up the work.” Ibid. Is there anything invisible in that sentence? Nothing invisible there. In all of these statements there is someone you can see. “God brought these witnesses into covenant relation with Himself, uniting the church on earth with the church in heaven. He has sent forth His angels to minister to His church, and the gates of hell have not been able to prevail against His people.” Ibid.
Someone may say that we cannot tell who these people are. Look at the next paragraph. “Through centuries of persecution, conflict, and darkness, God has sustained His church.” This was hundreds of years of persecution. Can you tell who was being persecuted, or were they invisible? You could tell who was being persecuted. When somebody was burned at the stake, you could tell who it was. When you saw somebody taken off to the dungeon, you could tell who it was. Could you tell that there was a conflict going on where one person was on one side and one was on the other? Yes! This was something you could see. In fact, as you go through this chapter, there just isn’t anything anywhere about an invisible church. This is about people whom you can see, messengers bearing messages that you can hear. Even the wicked people can tell who is being persecuted. So it is not talking about the church triumphant, it is not talking about the invisible church; but it still says that the church is composed of faithful souls.
Every Word that Proceeds from God
Ellen White says that everyone who is faithful will be saved. That is good news. “Those who keep God’s commandments, those who live, not by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God, compose the church of the living God.” SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, 949.
If you understand those inspired definitions and you understand who the church is, then when someone comes to you and says you must not leave the church, you must stay with the church, what does that mean? I believe in staying with the church. It means to stay with those faithful souls. It means to stay with the people who are living by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God and who are keeping the commandments of God. That is what it means. Somebody might say, “You are getting mixed up. Matthew 13 says that there are tares in the church, and the wheat and the tares are all mixed up together. You cannot go and find a church where there is only wheat. The wheat and the tares have to be all together.” That is what people say.
Sinners in Zion
People also say that Ellen White said there are sinners in Zion. (By the way, that does not come from Ellen White, it comes from the Bible, but Ellen White does use it.) She says that right at the end these sinners are going to be sifted out, separated from the church. So, they say, the church is full of sinners. Let us take a look at that for a moment. First of all, let us find out who these sinners in Zion are. I like to make things simple, so here they are: “There are many sinners in Zion, and they are likened to tares among the wheat.” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, October 10, 1893. So these sinners in Zion are the tares. If we can figure out what Jesus was trying to teach us about the tares, we will understand about the sinners in Zion.
I just want to find out the truth. If the truth requires me to do something completely different than I am doing, then I want to do it. I have perfect confidence that if I find the truth, the truth will always agree with itself, and I will be on solid ground.
The Wheat and the Tares
First of all, let us look at a few points about the wheat and the tares. This is one of the few parables that Jesus gave where His explanation to His disciples is recorded afterward, and He said, “He who sows the good seed is the Son of man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore, as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Matthew 13:36-43.
In verse 30 and 40 it says “at the end of the age.” The word “at” makes people think that a point in time is being referenced, which is not the case at all. In the Greek it says “in.” In other words, during the end of the age. The harvest time is during the closing period of earth’s history, and that is when the angels are going to gather out the tares.
In Christ’s Object Lessons, 70, Ellen White talks about the parable of the tares, which brings up several questions: First of all, we want to know who and what a tare is, because a tare is not to be uprooted. Now the way some people interpret that, you would think you could never put any wicked person out of the church. But that is not what Jesus was trying to teach. Let us see what Jesus was talking about.
“…it is in the church that we are to grow and ripen for the garner of God.” The wheat grows and ripens for the garner of God. Where? In the church. So is it important to know what the church is? If you are wrong about where you think the church is, could it result in you not having salvation? Is that possible? It most certainly is!
Where are the Tares?
Let us look at several facts about the tares. Who plants the tares? The devil. Where does he plant them? In the church. Let us notice how they are described. She calls them ‘those who bear Christ’s name while they deny His character.’ They bear His name; they are professed members of the church, but they deny His character. Are they connected to the church? In a way they are, and in a way they are not. But here are some descriptions of the tares. “Christ’s servants are grieved as they see true and false believers mingled in the church.” Ibid., 71. So a tare is a false believer. “The tares represent a class who are the fruit, or embodiment of error, of false principles.” They have false principles; they are false believers, but notice how she describes them on page 72. “The real character of these pretended believers is not fully manifested.” What does she call them? Pretended believers!
Notice three different descriptions of the tares. They are planted by the devil, and they are the embodiment of false principles. They are false believers, but they pretended to be believers. On the outside they look the same. And then on page 73 she gives another description and she mentions it twice. She calls them false brethren. So, a tare is a false believer, a pretended believer, and a false brother. Let us just think that through for a minute. Is a tare a true brother? No. Is it possible to be in a family, have the family name, but not be part of the family? Yes! But these false brethren are pretended brethren, and pretended believers. Now, let us take it one point further. A tare is a person who, on the outside, looks like a true believer until the time of the harvest. But when it becomes manifest that they are living in open sin, they are to be disfellowshipped, and people want to forget that. People want to think that if someone is a tare, you just have to let them be and the Lord will separate them at the Second Coming. Actually, the separation takes place before the Second Coming. Mrs. White had just been talking about the tares, stating that they are both growing together with the wheat until the harvest, then she says, “Christ has plainly taught that those who persist in open sin must be separated from the church.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 71.
Now let us just think this through so we know exactly what we are talking about. She says, “…He has not committed to us the work of judging character and motive.” Ibid.
An Open Sinner is Not a Tare
Open sin is a sin that involves an action that others can see. Let us be very plain in our speech. Adultery is an open sin if it is committed in the flesh. But if it is only committed in the mind, we do not know about it, and we cannot judge a person by what happens in the mind. That person is a tare, and God is going to judge them, but we cannot. At the time of the harvest, during the time of the end, the Lord is going to separate the people who have sin on the inside, that is not visible on the outside.
If a person covets something that belongs to somebody else, you cannot judge their character and motives. But if they actually rob or steal, that is an open sin. Christ has plainly taught that those who persist in open sin must be separated from the church. We find that in Matthew 18.
Paul also taught the same thing in 1 Corinthians 5. The apostle John taught it as well in 2 John.
When did the devil plant the tares? We know he planted them in the church, but when did he plant them? What time of day? While men slept. Have you read any warnings in the Spirit of Prophecy given to Seventh-day Adventists who are asleep? She tells us that we need to wake up! The more the church sleeps, the more tares the devil is going to plant. What would you do if you were in a church and the devil planted so many tares that the tares controlled the church? If there is somebody living in open sin, they should be disfellowshipped from the church. People who are living in adultery, incest, robbery, open liars, people who are openly breaking one of the Ten Commandments, are to be disfellowshipped.
When the Tares are in Control
But suppose they cannot be disfellow-shipped because the tares are in control of the church. The devil has planted so many, and people have slept so long, that the tares are in control. Suppose someone in your church has robbed a bank. You come to the church business meeting and some people are saying, ‘This man is disgracing the name of the church, and we must disfellowship him.’ However, another group of people are thinking, ‘If we disfellowship him, what is going to happen to me? I have done some pretty bad things myself,’ so there is no one willing to disfellowship somebody who is living in open sin because the tares are in control of the church.
What would you do then? Leave that church? Did you know that this has happened before? In fact, when Jesus was here the tares had control of the Jewish church. As you read the gospels, you can plainly see that. Why did they crucify the Lord? Because the tares were in control of the church.
Jesus gave very specific advice on what to do if the tares control the church.
“When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, ‘Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.’ Then His disciples came and said to Him, ‘Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?’” Matthew 15:10. The Pharisees were in control of the church in that day. There is no question about it, they were in the driver’s seat. Notice what Jesus said. “But He answered and said, ‘Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.’” Ibid., 13.
Who plants the wheat? The Son of man. But these are plants that God did not plant. So who planted them? The devil. They are tares. But these tares are in control of the church. You cannot get them out. Jesus said they are coming out. There will be judgments coming and these tares are going to come out, but you cannot get them out. So what should you do? Jesus tells us what to do. “Let them alone.” Some may say, “Oh no, Lord, that could not be possible. This is the true church, do you not understand that?” Well, is God God, or not? If tares are in control of the church, should you try to destroy and uproot them? Jesus said, “’Let them alone, they are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into the ditch.’” Ibid., 14.
Are you Being Led by Tares?
Now let us think that through. Not only did Jesus say to let them alone, but He warns you not to let those people lead you, or you are going to go into the ditch. “Oh, but Lord, these Pharisees, they are the leaders of the church, and I need to go to the synagogue and listen to them preach.” Well, if you do, Jesus says you are going to go into the ditch. People need to study Matthew 15:14. It always says the same thing.
Let us look at the harvest. During the time of harvest something is going to happen. “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest [that is during the time of the harvest] I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into My barn.’” Matthew 13:30. Notice, there is a two-fold harvest. At the harvest time Jesus said the first thing that gets harvested are the tares, the wheat harvest comes later. The tares will be bound in bundles, the wheat is not bound in bundles; but is harvested one at a time. If you are going to be in God’s granary, in His garner, you are not saved as a family, you must be saved as an individual. Who does it? Look at verses 40 and 41. “Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness.” So the first thing that happens is that the angels do a work of separation. This is one of the most fearful things that any Christian can think about.
“The looker-on may discern no difference, but there is One who said that the tares were not to be plucked up by human hands lest the wheat be rooted up also. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then the Lord sends forth His reapers to gather the tares and binds them in bundles to burn, while the wheat is gathered into the heavenly garner. The time of the judgment is a most solemn period. When the Lord gathers His own from among the tares, those who have been members of the same family are separated.” Testimonies to Ministers, 234.
When we say that those who have been members of the same family are separated, we are talking about an eternal separation. This is not a pleasant thing to think about, but it is reality. We are all going to have to face it sometime. In the time of the harvest, there is a separation of the tares from the wheat.
What is this separation? First, the tares are bound in bundles; and this binding of the tares in bundles is happening, and has been happening, for a long time. For example: Ellen White wrote a long time ago that the labor unions were one of the agencies by which people were being bound in bundles as the tares. (See Pamphlet to Sanitarium Workers in Southern California, 1905.) A lot of people do not know that. She also wrote that fearful is the work of the Third Angel. (See Early Writings, 118.) This is the Third Angel recorded in Revelation 14:9-12. His work is to separate the wheat and the tares. Whenever someone preaches the Third Angel’s Message, separations take place. Have you ever seen that happen in families? One person accepts the Third Angel’s Message, other people do not. What happens? There is a separation. The Third Angel separates the wheat and the tares. A mark is placed upon the righteous. “They shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.” Malachi 3:17. Those who have been obedient to God’s commandments, will unite with the company of the saints in light; they shall enter in through the gates into the city, and have right to the tree of life. The one shall be taken. His name shall stand in the Book of Life, while those with whom he associated shall have the mark of eternal from God.” Testimonies to Ministers, 234, 235.
Notice, this separation involves a mark. The righteous will have a mark and the wicked will have a mark. There will be a mark of deliverance and there will be a mark of destruction.
The harvest occurs during the end of the age. And of course, this harvest involves the purification of the church, because once you have all the tares out, you have a pure church. There are many statements in inspired writings about how the purification of the church takes place. What we want to understand is how the church is purified. How does it happen? It is very important to understand, because there are many people who say the organized church (the structure) is going to go through; it is going to go through purified. The next question is how is it going to be purified? You need to find out how it is going to be purified, and how the Lord is going to take it to glory. Is God going to take a church to glory that has sin in it? No. The church has to be purified before it can go to glory.
Purification of the Church
Next month we will look at how the tares are going to be separated from the wheat; how the sinners in Zion are going to be sifted out; how the purification of the church is going to take place. We will find that inspired writings are very, very specific about how this will take place.
1 John 2:19 has to do with this purification of the church. You see, the purification of the church has happened in other ages, too, not just at the end. It says, “They went out from us.” Now let us think that through a little bit. Who is “us”? The church. What church? Who is the church according to Acts of the Apostles, page 11? Faithful souls. It is those who keep the commandments of God and live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Is that the definition of “us” that John is using here? Oh, surely it is. Look back at the beginning of 1 John 2:3–5. He says that the way you can tell if you really know Him is if you keep His commandments. And the one who says that he knows Him and does not keep His commandments is a liar. He talks about the little children, the fathers and the young men, and these are the people who have overcome the wicked one. These are people who are overcoming, who love their brother as themselves, who are keeping the commandments. That is the “us”! It is very clear who “us” is. Who are “they”? “They” went out from us. Are they the wheat or the tares? They are the tares, they left. But notice how it says this. “They went out from us, but they were not of us.” (Verse 19.) They had the name. They were professed church members. They were apparently part of the church. They went out from “us”, but they were not really of “us”, even though they had the profession and they looked like they were part of “us.” They were not of “us”, he said, because they left. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” If they had really been the wheat, they would have stayed. “But they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.” Ibid. Very, very interesting text. You have to understand who and what the church is to understand that text. All the apostles understood this. The apostle John understood who the church was. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” Formerly they had the name. They came to church. It looked like they were part of “us” but they really were not, they were the tares, they were these pretended believers—these false brethren. Finally things developed so that they left.
Paul says the same thing, “But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” Romans the 9:6-8. Everybody who has a connection with the church is not really of the church. Only the faithful are really part of it. There are a lot of other people clinging to the skirts of Zion who are going to get shaken off. “Nor are they all children because they are of the seed of Abraham; but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’ That is, those who are the children of the flesh.” Those are the people who say, “I am a descendent of Abraham, I am part of the church.” But making a profession does not make you part of the church. “These are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.”
Are You Planted in His Vineyard?
Ellen White says the same thing over and over again in Christ’s Object Lessons, 216. “Shall the words of doom erelong be spoken of you? How long have you received His gifts? How long has He watched and waited for a return of love? Planted in His vineyard [the church], under the watchful care of the gardener, what privileges are yours! How often has the tender gospel message thrilled your heart! You have taken the name of Christ, you are outwardly a member of the church which is His body, and yet you are conscious of no living connection with the great heart of love.”
Outwardly you are a member; inwardly you are not. Outwardly you are part of the church; inwardly you are not. Just like the parable of the vine and the branches in John 15, some had an outward connection, and some had an inner connection. Those who had only the outward connection were cut off and burned up. Those who had the inward connection bore fruit.
Profession Is Not Everything
“God called them (the Jews) to be co-workers with Him in blessing the world; but while in profession they accepted the call, in action they refused obedience.” Ibid., 279. In profession they claimed to be sons of God. They professed to be part of the church, but in life and character they denied that relationship. Their profession is one thing; their life and character is something else. “In taking upon themselves the solemn covenant of the church they have pledged themselves to receive and obey the word of God, to give themselves to God’s service, but they do not do this.” Ibid.
They profess something, but they do not live it out; it is not real. They have an outward connection, but the inner connection, by which the life of Christ flows into their life, is not there.
“The professed followers of Christ are on trial before the heavenly universe; but the coldness of their zeal and the feebleness of their efforts in God’s service, mark them as unfaithful. If what they are doing were the best they could do, condemnation would not rest upon them; but were their hearts enlisted in the work, they could do much more. They know, and the world knows, that they have, to a great degree, lost the spirit of self-denial and cross bearing. Many there are against whose names will be found written in the books of heaven. Not producers, but consumers. By many who bear Christ’s name, His glory is obscured, His beauty veiled, His honor withheld. There are many whose names are on the church books, but who are not under Christ’s rule . They are not heeding His instruction or doing His work. There they are under the control of the enemy.” Ibid 303, 304
They have the name, but whose control are they under? Satan’s! There may be those who say we should not worry about all of this because the Lord is going to straighten it all out. The Lord is going to straighten it all out! Next month we will see just how He is going to do it.
The church is going to be purified, but, as we look at this subject, about which church is going to go through, remember we are asking one question. The question is, how? Your understanding has to agree with all of the inspired statements. If it does not agree with all of the inspired statements, there is something wrong.
An Inner Connection to Christ
There is a church that is going through, and that church is going to be composed of people who are overcomers. They do not just take the name, but they actually have an inner connection to Christ through the Holy Spirit, and the divine power is coming into their lives to give them power to overcome.
If you cannot understand everything yet, can you understand that if you are going to remain with the church until it becomes triumphant, you have to be an overcomer? You cannot just be a professor of religion, and play church. There are a lot of people playing church today. Do you know what it means to play church? You go to church. Maybe you are a deacon; maybe you teach the Sabbath School lesson or the Sunday School lesson; maybe you are even a preacher, or an evangelist, or an administrator. Maybe you have a high position in the church. You can do all of those things and just be playing church. The Pharisees did all those things, and people thought that they were righteous because on the outside it looked like they were. Judas did it. He was a tare. Annanias and Saphira did it, and they are described as tares. Demas did it, and he was described as a tare. Simon Magus was baptized; yet he was a tare. In every single one of these instances, when the tares developed to the point where they were in open sin, they were removed from the church. Do not ever forget that. The important thing for you, as an individual, even if you cannot understand all of the theology and all of the questions that people may ask you, is to understand this: the only people who are going to go through to the end are the people who overcome their sins. Are you going to be one of them?
Some years ago one of our best-known preachers made the statement that in these final battles we might lose some whole divisions. We might lose more than whole divisions. We might lose the whole General Conference. But the church will still go through. The question is, are you going to be an overcomer and go through with it? The Lord has power to help you if you are willing to surrender all to Him, follow Him, and be faithful to Him.
Those Who Follow the Lamb
In vision John saw a group of people who will ‘follow the Lamb whethersoever He goeth.’ They are going to be taken out of this world alive and taken to heaven. Would it not be wonderful if some of you could be part of that group? It could happen if you are willing to be faithful—not just to be a professed believer, Paul said to the Corinthians, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith.” 2 Corinthians 13:5. Jesus Christ is in you unless you are unapproved. Is Jesus Christ in you? Can you say like Paul, “For me to live is Christ?” That is what will make you a grain of wheat. The Lord has promised in this last great contest that not one grain of wheat will fall to the ground.
Whatever my responsibilities are in this world, I have a pastor’s heart inside. I have a shepherd’s heart inside. I want to see every person reading this article saved. I would like to see the whole world saved, but I cannot bring it about. Would it not be wonderful if there were a few churches around, where the whole church was saved? If everybody is going to be saved in your church, you have to be saved. Every single one of you can be saved if you are willing to surrender all to Jesus. Say, “Lord I am in this thing for real, for serious. Please come into my heart so You and Your love may be living inside of me. I want my religion to not just be a profession, but something that I look like, something real.” Do you want to have that experience? Do you want to be connected to the Lord Jesus so that He is in you? If that is your desire, make a commitment to Him and say, “Lord, I want you inside to transform my heart and my life, to make me a grain of wheat.”