WHAT ABOUT THE CHURCH?
Within each human heart is a longing for a special place. . .a place to call your own. . .a place where you can feel you belong, just as you are. You may have wandered all over the world searching for that special place. Or you may have stayed right in your hometown; but your eyes have gazed beyond. . .looking for hope. . .dreaming of a different place.
Perhaps you're still searching. . .dreaming. . .your heart still crying out to belong--to be at one with something bigger than yourself. . .something more lasting than the here and now. Two thousand years ago Jesus promised to build you a place exactly like that. And he promised to give you the right to belong to that place. And now friend, as you search God's Word with a sincere heart, you will encounter. . .A PLACE FOR YOU.
When we become children of God, we become a part of the body of Christ. The apostle Paul, speaking to the church in Corinth, said, "All of you, then, are Christ's body, and each one is a part of it." (1 Corinthians 12:27,TEV.) The church is Christ's body.
We become a part of that body when we let Jesus become the transforming power in our lives. This power will help us to do the will of God. The church, in spite of its weaknesses, is still the body of Christ on earth. The weaknesses come not because of Christ, but because of people.
Yet, the church will stand. Christ promised this himself. He said, "Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18) The enemies of Christ--the gates of hell--have tried to destroy Christ's church by killing His followers. But the blood of the martyrs was seed that gave birth to many more believers.
Then came the spiritual darkness of the Dark Ages--when the people were subjected to traditions and man's imitations of the gospel-- when the Bible was taken away. Yet, the church fled to the wilderness and remained faithful. Then came the attacks of infidels and false science. But the true church of God stood. There was always a remnant of believers who shone as stars in the darkest night, who remained faithful in spite of persecution, ridicule and oppression.
This true body of Christ is the place for you. . .the place where you can find "the way, the truth, and the life." This is the place of which Jesus says, "My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they know me." (John 10:27) You may not yet have joined this fellowship of people who are following the Divine Shepherd. You may not be a member of any church. Yet, Jesus is calling you into his church. He says, "Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd." (John 10:16)
Jesus has a place for you, friend. All you have to do to find that place is to hear his voice. . .and come to him. The Bible says, "The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." (Acts 2:47) It is the Lord who will bring you to the true church--which is his body. He is calling all sincere, truth-seeking people to come. . .to leave the places of falsehood, of corruption, of man's traditions. His invitation is : "Babylon, the great (which stands for false religions), is fallen, is fallen. . . .Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins." (Revelation 18:2,4) But how can you know which is God's true church today? What will be the identifying marks of God's body?
The Bible paints a vivid picture of Satan's continual war against Christ's body, the church. It speaks of a remnant church--the last church--against which Satan will particularly vent his anger. "And the dragon (which is the devil) was wroth with the woman (or true church) and went to make war with the remnant of her seed. . ." (Revelation 12:17) Satan's mightiest and final attack on Christ's body is pictured here. And why is he so bent on destroying this last church? Because it has everything he opposes. It is a people ". . .which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." (Revelation 12:17)
God's people in the last days will "keep the commandments of God." They will not keep just some of the commandments--but all of them. They do this out of love for their Savior, who said; "If ye love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15) Their obedience will come from a love relationship with Jesus. Most Christian people today try to obey nine of the Ten Commandments. But to keep all of Christ's commandments means to also obey the fourth one. This is to observe the Sabbath day that Christ set aside for us. Most of Christianity today keeps Sunday, the first day of the week. But a remnant obey God all the way and observe the seventh-day Sabbath.
Therefore, one of the marks of God's remnant church is their faithfulness in following the voice of the Divine Shepherd, Jesus. But they also bear a special testimony. The Bible says that they "have the testimony of Jesus Christ." (Revelation 12:17) The true church of God testifies--or bears witness--to the power of Christ in their lives. They are led by Christ, and they recognize Christ's leadership. "He is the head of the body, the church," the apostle Paul said of Christ. (see Ephesians 5:23)
There is another dimension to the testimony of Jesus Christ. Revelation chapter 19, verse 10, tells us, "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." The remnant church is a church of prophecy. They search the Scriptures diligently to discover God's hand in history and in the present. With the apostle Peter, they believe that "We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place." (2 Peter1:19) In a world of darkness, where error and evil threaten to overcome truth, God's people follow the light of God's "sure word of prophecy."
In another way, too, the "testimony of Jesus" will be manifested among God's people, giving this last church a clear vision of her work and special direction in the world's final destiny. What Paul told the apostolic church in Corinth is also true of the remnant church today. He said, "Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 1:6,7) God's church will have the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And one of these is the gift of prophecy, a gift that will guide God's church through the trials and errors of the last days.
In 1844, when God's Word prophesied that the final part of his work would begin, God bestowed the gift of prophecy in the remnant church. He called a young girl, Ellen Harmon, to be his messenger. Later, she married and became Ellen White. Through her God spoke to his people. She was given over two thousand visions and prophetic dreams during her 70 years of ministry. She guided the church through Satan's strongest attacks. She exalted Jesus as our Savior and Lord. Through her the Lord encouraged and led his church. Of course we don't ask you to take our word that she manifested the gift of prophecy for God's church. Test her. Read some of her books--she wrote 55 of them. Find out how God used her to give unwavering direction to the remnant church.
A third identifying mark of God's church is that they keep "the faith of Jesus." The Bible describes them this way: "Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." (Revelation 14:12) The true church of the last days will lift up Jesus. He is the only way to eternal life. . .the only hope for the world. "Christ our righteousness" will be their watchword. They will proclaim that sinners can be saved by God's grace only; salvation is a free gift of God's love. And they will walk in obedience to God's will and his Word, obeying God's commandments because they love Jesus.
There is a church today that has all the identifying marks God has given. There is a church that keeps all of God's commandments. . .that has the testimony of Jesus, which is the spirit of prophecy. . .and that keeps the faith of Jesus. We ask you to prayerfully consider the Seventh-day Adventist church as that church. Examine it by the Word of God and by its fruits. As you do so, and as you let the Holy Spirit lead you, we believe you will find this church to be God's place for you.
How can you become a part of Christ's body, his church? How do you accept God's chosen place for you? There are two basic steps. The apostle Peter told his listeners, "Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38,RSV) The first step is repentance. As you learn more and more about Christ's love for you, and see yourself as a sinner far from God, you will feel a need to turn to God. As you do so, this is repentance. True repentance produces a change in your life--a change of attitudes and desires. You will want to please God. You will want to learn more and more of him.
The disciples were given the great commission that included obedience and baptism. Jesus told them, "Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always." (Matthew 28:19,RSV) First, you become a disciple, or a follower, of Jesus Christ. Then you are to be baptized. The Bible is consistently clear on these steps.
But what does baptism really mean? Why should you be baptized? Baptism is both an experience and a symbol. As an experience, it gives us a high point in our relationship to Jesus Christ. As a symbol, it shows others that we have become part of Christ's body. We have accepted the place he has made for us. This is the way the apostle Paul described it: "For surely you know this: when we were baptized into union with Christ Jesus, we were baptized into union with his death. By our baptism, then, we were buried with him and shared his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from death by the glorious power of the Father, so also we might live a new life." (Romans 6:3,4,TEV)
Baptism shows that we have experienced death to our old selves. We have repented and turned away from our old way of life. Going under the water at the time of baptism signifies this. And then we show that we have the experience of a new life. Being raised from the water signifies this. The Bible describes it this way: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." (2 Corinthians 5:17)
We are raised from the waters of baptism to a new life. We show that we are willing to suffer for Christ as well as to rejoice in him. It is as Paul said, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." (Galatians 2:20) Baptism is a symbol of our faith to rely upon our Savior, Jesus Christ, and to obey and follow him.
There is only one form of baptism that can be a symbol of being crucified with Christ and being raised to new life in him. That is baptism by immersion. That is how John the Baptist baptized. That is how Jesus was baptized. The Scripture is clear on this:"John. . .was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there." (John 3:23)
And, "Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water." (Matthew 3:16) Nowhere in the New Testament is any other kind of baptism mentioned--only baptism by immersion. In fact, the word "baptism" means "to put under water." There is no biblical support for sprinkling. In fact, history shows that for many centuries after Christ, baptism was always by immersion.
When should one be baptized? Jesus instructed his disciples that they were to teach before baptizing. He said: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them. . . ." (Matthew 28:19,20) And again, Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." (Mark 16:16) Belief must come with one's decision to be baptized. For baptism to have meaning to the person being baptized, he must understand what it means and the responsibilities it implies. Baptism is also the ceremony of entrance into the body of Christ, the church.
Paul said, "We have been baptized into Christ's body by the one Spirit, and have all been given that same Holy Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:13) The person who believes on Jesus with all his heart will urgently want to fellowship with other Christians. He will want to be baptized as a symbol of his new experience. This happened to Saul of Tarsus. This happened to the Ethiopian. And throughout the New Testament we see people first of all believing that Jesus Christ is their Savior, and then going forward to be baptized.
Friend, God has a place for you. God has a church for you. If you have not yet been baptized in his name, why not determine to do so as soon as possible? Why not accept the experience of baptism by immersion to demonstrate how much Christ means to you? You will find baptism an experience you will cherish throughout life. "And now, why delay? Go and be baptized, and be cleansed from your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16,LB)
Let's bow our heads for a moment of prayer to our loving Father: "Dear Father, we thank you that you have a special place for us in the body of Christ. We pray you will give us the desire and the courage to become a living, vital part of that body. And we pray that you will work in our hearts, preparing us for the baptism your Son Jesus went through. This we ask in his name, Amen.