Monday, August 2, 2010

Douglas Winnail Sermon - Characteristics of the True Church

Dr. Douglas Winnail of the Living Church of God has given a sermon on March 20, 2010 entitled "Ten Characteristics of God's True Church." It was just posted to the Living Church of God website on or around July 30, 2010. In this sermon, Dr. Winnail offers ten characteristics of God's true Church. He gives the ten characteristics in question form, as questions someone should ask when searching for the true Church that Jesus Christ founded. I think the list of questions is good and useful for someone looking for a Church of God fellowship to attend with and support.

You can find the sermon at LCG's website at
Look for the link named "Sermons" near top of page.

One thing he mentioned that I thought was particularly good was in his point about prophecy. He said that the nations of Israel today need to know what is going to happen and why or else the punishment will not make any sense. Without hearing our warning, those who go thru the tribulation would ask, why is God letting this happen to us since we go to church regularly?

That is an excellent point. Many people who appose the preaching of the gospel to the public think that the only reason for preaching the gospel to the world is to bring new members into the Church of God. Since they see the Church as being divided and not setting a good example, they think God does not want to bring new members into the Church right now. But that is not the only reason or even the main reason necessarily for preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel. God says the gospel will be preached as a WITNESS (Matthew 24:14). People need a warning so that they know that God was fair and merciful to give them the warning before the tribulation comes and it is too late for them to escape. They need a warning so that in the tribulation they will remember that they heard the warning but ignored it. So instead of saying, "God never warned me so it's not my fault," they can say, "I heard the warning and I should have listened." Many religious people today think they are serving God by observing the traditions of their churches. They don't know they are doing wrong. They never heard the message of the Church. Failure to give them a warning gives them an excuse, and Satan an opportunity, for them to blame God, which will make their repentence more difficult later. Giving them a warning now, before the tribulation begins, will help them accept responsibility during the tribulation for their decision to ignore the warning, and that will be an important step towards real repentance.

Our time is unique in Church of God history in the last 2,000 years because most of the people who will be the first generation of humanity in the millennium are alive today. That first generation has already been born. We can start teaching them. Most will not understand or believe now, but they will remember later that they heard our message. As the millennium begins, they we remember what we have said to them now. That has never been true before. And they will remember in the tribulation. They will understand the reason for the tribulation and what they need to do to repent.

The list of characteristics of the true Church Dr. Winnail gave in his sermon are good, and I would like to offer another characteristic to the ones he gave, one which Herbert W. Armstrong looked for when he was first converted.

Herbert W. Armstrong faced this question when he was coming into the Church. He was looking for the true Church that Jesus Christ founded.

One of the characteristics that Mr. Armstrong looked for, according to his autobiography, was a willingness on the part of the Church to be corrected by the Bible in doctrine and to learn new knowledge from the Bible. He reasoned that the true Church would be GROWING in grace and in knowledge (2 Peter 3:18). So to see if this was true of the Church of God, Seventh Day, he performed a test. He tested that Church by sending them two doctrinal papers giving new knowledge from the Bible, knowledge which that Church did not have. One was the new knowledge of the identity of the lost tribes of Israel. The other was a doctrinal paper correcting an error that COG7D had in its doctrines. Mr. Armstrong did not mention in his autobiography what that doctrine was about, but it might have been about the holy days. Mr. Armstrong sent in these doctrinal papers to see how the leadership of the Church of God, Seventh Day would respond, to test them to see if that Church had the characteristic of being willing to grow in knowledge and in truth and be willing to be corrected by the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16).

They did not accept this new knowledge submitted by Mr. Armstrong, even though they did not refute it.

I believe that one of the reasons God could not use that Church to do a great work of preaching the gospel was because they were unwilling to practice what they preached. Those who preach the true gospel to the public are saying, "Give up your traditions and be corrected by the Bible," but if those who preach are not willing to do the same, how can God bless those who say, but don't do (Matthew 23:1-4)?

But Mr. Armstrong was willing to be corrected by the Bible. So was Loma Armstrong. A Church of God, Seventh Day member showed Mrs. Armstrong the truth about the Sabbath in the Bible. Mrs. Armstrong, who was raised in a Sunday keeping tradition, accepted this new knowledge (new for her) from the Bible. She believed the Bible more than her traditions. She then gave it to Herbert Armstrong. At first he did not accept it, but once he had proved it in the Bible, he also allowed himself to be corrected by the Bible and to learn new knowledge, knowledge he never had before and knowledge contrary to the traditions he was raised in. So God used a Church of God member to bring the truth to Mrs. Armstrong, and then used her to bring it to Mr. Armstrong. Now God began to use Mr. Armstrong to bring new knowledge to the Church of God, Seventh Day, not about the Sabbath, which they already had, but about the lost tribes of Israel and about the holy days. The test of faith in God's Word had come full circle. God used the Church to test Loma Armstrong, then used Loma Armstrong to test Herbert Armstrong, then used Mr. Armstrong to test the Church, each in turn being tested on willingness to accept new knowledge when shown it in the Bible. Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong passed the test. Would the Church of God, Seventh Day pass the test?

You can read the story in Mr. Armstrong's autobiography.

By the way, Mr. Armstrong was not ordained as a minister when he submitted his doctrinal papers to the Church. He was still a lay member. His ordination came later.

Mr. Armstrong thought that Mystery of the Ages was perhaps the most important book he had written, and it probably is as a summary of all the things he taught. But for Church of God members, I have long thought that, out of all Mr. Armstrong's books, his autobiography was the most important book a Church member can read because it covers some important principles that are covered in none of the literature written for the public.

A few decades after Mr. Armstrong tested the Church of God, Seventh Day on their willingness to learn new knowledge and be corrected by the Bible, when Radio Church of God / Worldwide Church of God was growing, he published an article, "Should We Listen to Others?" In this article he answered the question, what should a member do if he finds something different in the Bible than what the Church of God teaches? Should he hide his eyes from it? Should he believe the Church rather than the Bible? No! Mr. Armstrong said he should take it to his pastor or write to headquarters. If he is wrong, the Church would show him where he is wrong, but if the Church is wrong, Mr. Armstrong would make the correction for the whole Church. In the meantime, the member is not to cause division by talking about it with other members.

I think that is good policy, and is consistent with the scriptures (1 Corinthians 13:9, 2 Peter 3:18, 2 Corinthians 1:24, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, Matthew 4:4, Luke 4:4, Deuteronomy 8:3, Romans 4:3, James 2:23, Genesis 15:6, Isaiah 51:1-2, Mark 11:22, Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18, 2 Timothy 3:16, John 10:35, 1 Corinthians 1:10).

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

The Effect of the Holocaust, Chapter 4


The Two Witnesses and God's Fairness, Chapter 4

Why the Gospel Must Still Be Preached to the World, Chapter 4

Practicing What We Preach, Chapter 6

Changing Doctrine, Chapter 6

A Lesson from the Autobiography, Chapter 6

Should Each Member Promote His Own Opinion?, Chapter 6

A Possible Problem in the Church, Chapter 6

A Summary -- the Nineteenth Truth, Chapter 6

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