Worldwide Church of God

Systematic Theology Project

Chapter 29 - The Church of God


Doctrinal Statement

The Church is the spiritual body of Christ, a group of persons called out by God and impregnated with His Holy Spirit. As a spiritual body, the Church is made up of baptized, spirit-led individuals who are scattered around the world. As a physical, external organization, the Church has meeting places in many areas worldwide where members and non-members alike, as well as children and guests, meet in harmony to worship God and to learn of His Way under the guidance of an ordained minister as their spiritual elder and leader. The main commission of the Church is to preach the gospel as a witness to the world and to baptize and spiritually nurture those whom God has called.


While God at times has dealt with particular human beings on an individual basis, He has normally worked through the congregation of Israel; in New Testament times this became "spiritual Israel" or the Church. The Greek word for "church" (ekklesia) is a common noun meaning "group," "crowd" or "assembly." It is used collectively of the group of persons with whom God is dealing and in whom dwells God's Holy Spirit.

The New Testament Church was originated and developed through Jesus Christ and the preaching of His twelve disciples who were later called apostles. The Church dates its origin from the first Pentecost following Christ's ascension as explained in Acts 2. Here Luke records the assembling together of Christ's disciples, the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit upon them, and the consequent conversion of 3,000 who believed in the gospel and person of Jesus Christ. From this point on, "the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47).

A number of metaphors or analogies are used by the Bible to clarify the organization of the Church and to explain the place of the members within it. 1 Corinthians 12 describes God's Church as a unified organism with the various members depicted as various parts of the body with various responsibilities, administrations and duties. Each member has an important contribution to the overall well-being of the whole body; each has his own unique part in enabling the whole body of the Church to accomplish its ultimate objectives. The Church is also referred to as a spiritual building (1 Cor. 3:9-17) and as a family--the members being spiritually related one to another (Eph. 3:15). They are called the siblings of Christ (Rom. 8:29) who, as their elder brother, leads them and directs them in their way (Heb. 2:10).

The name most often used by the Bible to refer to God's Church is "the Church of God" (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:13; 1 Tim. 3:5; etc.). In accordance with this biblical example, we are named the "Church of God"—adding the description "Worldwide" to form our official corporate name, "Worldwide Church of God," in order to differentiate ourselves legally from other groups who call themselves "Church of God." (Our name also delineates the worldwide scope of this Church.)

The Church is also pictured as Christ's bride. The members live in a state of expectation and preparation for the return of the divine bridegroom (Eph. 5:22-32; Rev. 21:9). The bride is striving to prepare herself to be acceptable to Christ by the process of spiritual growth, in order to become perfect and to measure up to the full stature of the bridegroom, Christ.

Becoming a part of the Church of God is not an incidental matter. A person is first called of God (Jn. 6:44), given an invitation as it were. Before accepting, Jesus said a person should "count the cost" (Lk. 14:28), because the Christian life is often difficult. When a person accepts this calling, he must repent of his past sins and go through the ordinance of baptism by immersion. This symbolizes the washing away of all his past sins. Then, with the laying on of hands by the ministry, the person receives the begettal of the Holy Spirit. His covenant with God is now signed and sealed. At this point a person becomes a full-fledged member of the Church of God. He becomes a Christian, a "saint," a begotten child of God reserved for the resurrection.

Members of the Church are exhorted to become a cohesive family unit. Judging each other (Rom. 14:13), making spiritual comparisons among themselves (2 Cor. 10:12), forming cliques, favoring one minister over another (1 Cor. 1:11-13), gossiping, etc. are all divisive and counterproductive of collective goals. What Christians should strive for is working together to further the preaching of the gospel, serving the poor, helping weak brethren, encouraging the dejected, visiting the sick, aiding the elderly, bearing each other's burdens; these are the fundamentals of Christianity and produce a strengthened church.

* In our earlier years, we were known as the "Radio" Church of God because of the radio broadcast through which the Church was best known. The name was changed to "Worldwide" Church of God in 1968 for the reasons mentioned above.

The Church constitutes the body of Christ, a spiritual entity (Col. 2:19). As such, "the Church" is not merely a building, or even strictly speaking a physical organization of persons who have "joined" the Church by having their names placed on a computer listing. It is rather that group of persons in whom dwells God's Holy Spirit. "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13). Likewise, Romans 8:9 states that "if any men have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his." Although any person in whom God's Holy Spirit dwells is by definition a member of God's Church, it is nevertheless erroneous to assume that any and all nominal Christians are actually part of God's true Church. The Bible also maintains that: "There is one body and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism ..." (Eph. 4:4-5). Likewise, Paul adds in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 that Christ's Body— the Church—is not to be divided into schismatic or opposing groups. Thus it logically follows that the main body of true spirit-filled Christians will comprise one main church organization through whom God is dealing to preach His gospel as a witness to the world (Mt. 24:14).

In this context, the Worldwide Church of God believes itself to be God's true church organization. As stated above, by strict biblical definition everyone with God's Holy Spirit dwelling in him is a member of God's Church, regardless of whether that person is on the membership rolls of any particular church or attends services or even has any formal allegiance. Nonetheless, we believe that God is dealing with mankind through one main body of called-out, converted individuals, which is His Church, and not through numerous contradicting and opposing bodies. The Worldwide Church of God claims to be that main body of true Christians, and for this sincere belief we make no apologies. (Indeed most churches believe similarly to a greater or lesser degree.)

The Worldwide Church of God, however, does not consider itself the sole repository of God's Spirit. It is not for us to determine—nor is it any man's prerogative to judge— whether this or that person outside church jurisdiction has or has not been truly converted and has or has not received God's Holy Spirit. (The obvious exception is when a sincere individual comes to an ordained minister of God for spiritual counsel.) Nevertheless, the Church would hardly have any reason for existence if it did not consider that it had a unique calling from God. Granted, some of its basic beliefs correspond broadly with those of other Christian churches; yet it does have certain fundamental doctrines by which it differs considerably from all others. But perhaps the most important difference is its approach:

The Worldwide Church of God endeavors to pattern itself after the New Testament church in a way without parallel in modern Christianity. This does not mean there exists an exact correspondence, naturally, since twenty centuries of environmental and cultural changes necessitate some differences in perspective and application.

Yet the attempts of the Worldwide Church of God to follow the examples of Jesus and the early church has sometimes earned it the label "Jewish." This we consider quite complimentary and appreciate for several reasons, primarily because it corroborates our claim to be following the teachings and practices of the Apostolic Church. In reality the Worldwide Church of God does appear Jewish-Christian to modern observers simply because traditional Christianity has long since departed from the doctrines, customs and practices of the original apostles which were indeed "Jewish." First century historians who specialize in early Christianity would recognize that we are the nearest modern counterpart of the earliest segment of what they call Jewish-Christianity, the segment associated with the names of Peter and James and others of the original apostles. For this we make no apologies; after all, the early church itself was looked upon as an upstart, egotistical sect in its own time just as some have considered us to be.

One area where the Worldwide Church of God has been accused of deviating from the early New Testament Church ironically demonstrates just the reverse. The claim is sometimes made that while the early church preached the doctrine of grace through Christ, the Worldwide Church of God preaches the doctrine of obedience to the Law of God. Though often distorted—e.g. the Church does not preach that salvation can be earned (see the appropriate doctrinal statements in this systematic theology)—there is an element of truth here, and a significant element at that. To understand the critical parallelism, it is necessary to first compare the religious environments of first century Judaism in which the early church began with twentieth century Christianity in which the Worldwide Church of God began. Judaism of the first century was extremely strict by modern standards; its teachings were well—known and stressed the enormous importance of keeping not only God's law but numerous additions to that law as well. In this environment, it would have been ludicrous for the early apostles to emphasize the need to keep God's Sabbath, for example (see Sabbath). They stressed what was new and revolutionary—that salvation was a free gift and could not be earned, that Christ's death paid the penalty for sin, that forgiveness and grace was available through Christ, that Christ was resurrected, etc. Today, the religious environment is almost diametrically the reverse, necessitating a change in the emphasis of doctrinal teaching in order to produce the same overall result. The prevalent Christian message for centuries has been about the person of Christ, His shed blood, grace, salvation, etc. to the exclusion of the importance of keeping God's law which Jesus and the apostles knew so well. Consequently, owing to opposing religious situations and circumstances, in order for the Worldwide Church of God to clearly present to the world precisely the same overall concept of God's total revelation as did the early New Testament church, it is essential that more emphasis be put on keeping God's law. What we preach and practice today is, in the final result, as close as possible to what the apostolic church preached and practiced. Whatever differences there may be only reflect either cultural disparities and/or shifts in stress or accent needed to generate the desired doctrinal identity.

Another demonstration of God's Church is its fidelity to the Word of God. While recognizing that it has developed a certain body of traditional beliefs, interpretations, and practices, the Worldwide Church of God is unique in its willingness to abandon tradition when it becomes convinced that such is out of harmony with the Bible. The biblical teachings rather than church tradition are considered the absolute standard of right and wrong. Many other churches make this claim as well. However, our own history over the past decades has backed up the claim with decisive action. When certain understandings and beliefs were examined and found to be incorrect or lacking, they were changed or modified. This fact has produced some astonishment in certain students of religious history because churches as a rule are quite reluctant to go against established tradition and usually greatly resist any movement for change, no matter how much they may also claim to follow the Bible as their ultimate authority.

The Worldwide Church of God is administratively organized in accordance with general biblical guidelines and in a manner viable in this 2 0th century society. The head of the Church is Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), who leads and inspires the Church and its leadership through His Holy Spirit. Under Christ in authority are the ministers, theologians, and Church executives who fulfill religious and administrative responsibilities respectively in accord with such scriptures as 1 Corinthians 12:28-30 and Ephesians 4:11-13. The government of the Church is formed in accordance with biblical examples and principles so that responsibility and commensurate authority comes from the Pastor General of the Church through the ministerial structure to the entire membership. The administration of the Church is strongly centralized in order to focus as much of the Church's collective resources on its primary commission—preaching the gospel to all the world. While the Church maintains its central headquarters in Pasadena, California, it is international in scope with offices and churches around the world. Local congregations meet for weekly Sabbath services and are led by a resident pastor and ordained minister of the Worldwide Church of God for their area. These ministers are employed directly by the central organization of the Church and are responsible to it.

Throughout biblical history, God's Church has had a relatively unified basic commission--that of carrying God's message to those who have yet to hear and accept it. Two scriptures which outline this commission are Matthew 24:14 and Matthew 28:19-20: "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; .... Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them... and teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you... " (vv. 19-20).

This message may at times be delivered through speaking, writing, by one's very life or any combination of these and other possible means. But regardless of the means, to preach the gospel to the world is the express purpose, goal, commission and very reason for being of the Church. Consequently, the central thrust of the leadership of God's Church today is towards preaching the gospel which is referred to both as an "announcement" and as a "witness and warning." The membership realizes that the purpose of the Church is for the preaching of the message and not merely for its own spiritual sustenance. The membership is wholeheartedly and enthusiastically behind this effort; indeed they recognize that the purpose for their own calling now is to help do the Work of God in addition to growing in their own Christian development.

Although the Church is described as a comparatively small group or flock (Lk. 12:32; Mt. 7:14), Christ nonetheless assigns it an awesome task to fulfill. The members are to be worthy ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20)—i.e. effective representatives of the godly way of life—and proclaim to the world God's plan for mankind. They are required to let their "manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Phil. 1:27), i.e. they should be a positive example of Christianity in presenting the gospel to the world.

The Church recognizes that its local congregations are a powerful means by which the gospel may be preached both through the example set by the membership of true Christianity and through the effect that the local congregation should have on the community it serves.

The objectives of the local congregation include more than just the spiritual development of its members. Every congregation supports the work of preaching the gospel worldwide. Every congregation also serves as a nucleus for new converts. It also fosters educational programs to help all from the very young to the very elderly to grow in the knowledge of Christ.

But "pure religion" involves more than preaching; it is a way of life exemplified by the biblical teachings of "love of God" and "love your neighbor as yourself." The local congregations of the Worldwide Church of God endeavor to bear the burdens of the needy and be a light to their communities through service to their fellow man and by the example of their personal lives (Jas. 1:27).

Since the first qualification for being able to help others is for the individual himself to be a living success, the Church actively seeks to develop the potential of each member through nationwide programs for its adults and its youth. These programs are designed to aid each individual in sustained, personal growth and development so that all might better reflect God's way of life to those around them.

But personal development is not satisfying unless it can be channeled in a productive and creative way. Jesus exhorted His disciples to come to the aid of those in need (Mt. 25:34-36). Such humanitarian activities are the highest expression of love for God and one's fellow man (v.45). Therefore, the Worldwide Church of God recognizes this God-enjoined responsibility and strongly encourages each local congregation "as we therefore have opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:10). And though the Church does not promote a lay-ministry concept, it is firmly believed that each member can be a powerful witness for Christ by living a truly exemplary life of service and growth (1 Pet. 2:9-17).

Members of the Worldwide Church of God are encouraged through weekly Sabbath services, periodic Bible studies and other religious and social events, to learn the true qualities of Christianity that are expressed in love for God and love for neighbor. This love for one's neighbor means that a true Christian will help his fellow man both in and out of the Church in every reasonable way. A true Christian will set an example of hard work on his job, during recreation and in all aspects of daily life. His example of leading a godly life should positively influence those around him and serve as his personal and individual witness of the truth of the gospel of Christ. Historically, the example of the membership of God's Church in the community has had a powerful effect on those with whom they came into contact.

Likewise, as a group, the combined membership of a local congregation--led by its minister—may, as the opportunity arises, serve its local community during disaster or time of special need. Once again, the positive Christian example of such a local congregation in the community will be a great testimony to the proper principles of God. Thus the working nucleus of the Church of God, letting its "light so shine before men" (Mt. 5:16), is the local congregation.

As individuals, we should have personal contact with God daily, but the Bible also reveals there are times to meet together in assembly to worship God. In these assemblies Christians meet together to actively worship God (Ps. 100: 1-5; 135:1-5), to be instructed from God's Word (Rom. 10:13-17) and to fellowship not only with other members of like belief, but also with God and Christ (1 Jn. 1:3; 1 Cor. 1:9).

Members of God's Church are therefore exhorted to attend the religious activities of the Church. These are not ends in themselves but directives of God, designed to spiritually strengthen the individuals and the local congregation as a whole so that the light of their Christianity might burn more brightly. This policy is in accordance with the command of God that Christians should not neglect to meet together (Heb. 10:25). This scripture is actually a warning from Paul to Christians "not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is" (Heb. 10:25). This warning was made in the realization that daily cares can distract us from God and His plans for us. Meeting together regularly on God's weekly Sabbath and His annual holy days provides Christians with the opportunity to have spiritual goals reestablished and spiritual vision renewed. One who would habitually neglect Church services, with the exception of circumstances beyond his control, is neglecting an important aspect of his spiritual life. Local Church services also provide the community, as well as the membership, with an open meeting to hear the truths of God that the minister expounds from the Bible.

In addition to providing Sabbath services for its members, the Church provides periodic public Bible studies and social activities for all age groups. The Church maintains its own youth organization ("Youth Opportunities United") in order to provide positive, Christian activities for the children of its membership and the community. The Church also publishes and distributes a newspaper for its members describing activities both of the headquarters leadership of the Church and of its congregations worldwide.

The Worldwide Church of God has long maintained a major commitment to higher education through its church-related four-year liberal arts college--Ambassador College in Pasadena, California--where thousands of young church adults have received a first-class educational experience. Education in general is fundamental to Church teaching in that it is an essential part of the overall message that God is announcing to mankind today, and it will play a prominent role in the building of the world tomorrow, following the return of Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

As already mentioned, the Worldwide Church of God traces its spiritual history back to the apostolic church of the New Testament. This claim is founded on the fact that what we believe and teach in the twentieth century are the same basic doctrines that the original Church believed and taught in the first century.

Jesus said, "I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it" (Mt. 16:18). Consequently, we believe that God has always had, from Christ's time to this, some faithful group which He has used to perpetuate and propagate His truth.

Although the Worldwide Church of God recognizes that its recent history is short, it sees many spiritual and doctrinal predecessors through the last two millennia and traces its history genealogically as well as spiritually to the New Testament Church.

Through much of the New Testament period, the early Church was evidently expecting the imminent return of Christ. Therefore, it was only in some of the later books that a long history of the Church was contemplated. The question naturally arises as to whether a book such as Revelation might give a hint as to the history of the Church down through the ages to the end time. Revelation 2-3, the messages to the seven churches, have been understood as embodying a history of the Church over the centuries.

When we examine these two chapters, several possibilities arise:

  1. The churches are historical, being actual churches in existence at the time Revelation was written (perhaps the 90's).

  2. The churches are metaphorical expressions of the spiritual condition of various Christian congregations

    or individuals at various times and places.

  3. The churches represent the various historical "eras" of the Church throughout history.

  4. The churches are seven aspects of, or divisions within, the Church at the end time ("the day of the Lord," Rev. 1:10) just before the return of Christ.

Naturally, one could combine any number of these possibilities into different arrangements to produce many more alternatives and indeed none are mutually exclusive. No one can argue against the fact that Revelation 2 and 3 somehow describe actual historical churches in the first century A.D., because history and archaeology confirm that there were such cities with these characteristics. Therefore, one cannot eliminate this possibility even though he might combine it with something else. Similarly, experience has shown that the spiritual conditions of each of the churches can represent individual Christians who have left their first love, "Philadelphian" Christians who have kept God's Word and have an open door, "Laodicean" Christians who are self-content and lukewarm, "Sardis" Christians who are spiritually dead, and others who have the characteristics of the other churches.

As its traditional primary understanding, the Worldwide Church of God has believed that it represents the sixth or "Philadelphia" era of God's Church in a historical sense. Support for this concept is gleaned from Revelation 3:8 where the Philadelphian era of the Church has "kept my word and hast not denied my name" and has had set before it an "open door" (understood to mean a "door" to preach the gospel to the world). Although other ideas have been offered as additional evidence suggesting that the Worldwide Church of God is the "Philadelphia" era, the concept is held more on the basis of spiritual insight than demonstrable historical documentation. Various speculations have been made about the yet future "Laodicean era."

It has never been the responsibility of God's Church to evangelize for the express purpose of proselyting new members. God is the one who calls persons to His Church by opening their minds to His gospel (Jn. 6:44; Rom. 9:15,-16). Nevertheless, as a result of the preaching of Christ's disciples, new converts—as called by God (Jn. 6:44) and in numbers God chooses (Acts 2:47)—are brought into the Church. Here they are nurtured through God's Word and helped by the ministry and each other to grow in grace and the knowledge of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18) .

Copyright ©1978 Worldwide Church of God All Rights Reserved