Throughout its entire existence, the Lord designed for the church to be His appointed agency for the salvation of souls. Not that the church is to be the Saviour—it is simply to be the instrument of carrying the gospel to the world and bringing people to faith in the only Saviour, “Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (, ).
“The church is God’s appointed agency for the salvation of men. It was organized for service, and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world. From the beginning it has been God’s plan that through His church shall be reflected to the world His fullness and His sufficiency. The members of the church, those whom He has called out of darkness into His marvelous light, are to show forth His glory.”1
The church is not only to preach the crucified and risen Saviour, it is also commissioned to reflect to the world the beauty of His character—His glory. As the church goes forth to preach the gospel and reflect to the world the loveliness of Christ’s character, honest souls are enlightened and led to believe in Jesus. This is how the church is God’s appointed agency for the salvation of humanity.
The inspired apostle, in his letter to the church at Corinth, made a profound explanation to the believers regarding the church of Christ:
“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. . . . For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ” (, ).
As the human body is composed of different organs and systems having different functions—yet all are working together for the good of the entire body—so is the church of Christ with its many members likewise working together for the interest of the church body and the accomplishment of its mission. And as the human body has many parts, each with a specific function, so in the church with its many members, everyone has different work to do and a different position to occupy. Not all are to become ministers, prophets, or teachers; not all are to become president, treasurer, or any other position in the church. But everyone is to do the work assigned him or her in coordination and cooperation with the other members of the body, together in harmonious action.
In the early church, “every member was exhorted to act well his part. Each was to make a wise use of the talents entrusted to him. Some were endowed by the Holy Spirit with special gifts—‘first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues’ (2). But all these classes of workers were to labor in harmony.”
Everything that Christ does is in order. From the work of creating the unnumbered worlds in the vast space to all the affairs and administration of the universe, He is perfectly organized. It is the same in the establishment of His church on earth. It was Christ Himself who laid out the first step in the organization of His church with a simpler form of organization fitted for the infant church, at that time having only a few members.
“It was at the ordination of the Twelve that the first step was taken in the organization of the church that after Christ’s departure was to carry on His work on the earth.”3
Then the next step was taken during the time of the apostles, not long after Christ’s ascension. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the apostles continued to carry on the work of Christ in preaching the gospel and in developing the church body.
When Jesus first organized His church among the twelve, for example, only Judas was given the specific responsibility to serve as treasurer of the group. During the time of the apostles, other responsibilities were distributed to others, such as in the ordination of the seven deacons. As the church members have continued to increase and the burdens of responsibility have become greater, further development in church organization is needed to meet the demand in the work and mission of the church worldwide.
The Spirit of Prophecy reveals Christ’s purpose in organizing His church:
For missionary purposes: “The church of Christ on earth was organized for missionary purposes, and the Lord desires to see the entire church devising ways and means whereby high and low, rich and poor, may hear the message of truth.”4
To maintain order and harmony in the church worldwide: “Later in the history of the early church, when in various parts of the world many groups of believers had been formed into churches, the organization of the church was further perfected, so that order and harmonious action might be maintained.”5
To keep out spurious uprisings and refute claims not endorsed by the word of God: “Oh, how Satan would rejoice if he could succeed in his efforts to get in among this people and disorganize the work at a time when thorough organization is essential and will be the greatest power to keep out spurious uprisings and to refute claims not endorsed by the word of God!”6
To provide for the support of the ministry
For carrying forward the work in new fields
For protecting both the members and the ministry from unworthy members
For holding church property
For the publication of the truth through the press
For many other objects.7
When the remnant church was organized during the time of Sis. E. G. White, some were opposed, for they feared popery would result. Yet the servant of the Lord encouraged the members by supporting and helping to establish the system of church organization.
“We had a hard struggle in establishing organization. Notwithstanding that the Lord gave testimony after testimony upon this point, the opposition was strong, and it had to be met again and again. But we knew that the Lord God of Israel was leading us, and guiding by His providence.”8
It is the Holy Spirit that led the pioneers to organize the church, despite the opposition. They pressed forward with determination to obey God’s direction to establish the system of organization. According to the Lord’s servant, this was the secret of their prosperity:
“Our work was not sustained by large gifts or legacies; for we have few wealthy men among us. What is the secret of our prosperity? We have moved under the orders of the Captain of our salvation. God has blessed our united efforts. The truth has spread and flourished. Institutions have multiplied. The mustard seed has grown to a great tree. The system of organization has proved a grand success. Systematic benevolence was entered into according to the Bible plan. The body has been ‘compacted by that which every joint supplieth.’ As we have advanced, our system of organization has still proved effectual.”9
The Bible and Spirit of Prophecy have clearly laid out the system of organization that God has designed for His church. The Bible declares plainly that Christ “is the head of the body, the church” ().
This is opposite to the papal system when one man stands as the head of the universal church. The Spirit of Prophecy declares:
“God has never given a hint in His Word that He has appointed any man to be the head of the church. The doctrine of papal supremacy is directly opposed to the teachings of the Scriptures. The pope can have no power over Christ’s church except by usurpation.”10
“The church is built upon Christ as its foundation; it is to obey Christ as its head. It is not to depend upon man, or be controlled by man. Many claim that a position of trust in the church gives them authority to dictate what other men shall believe and what they shall do. This claim God does not sanction. The Saviour declares, ‘All ye are brethren.’ ”11
“Christ is the head of the church. The members of His body follow the directions of the Head, just as the members of the human body obey the impulses of the mind.”12 If all the believers take this to heart, there will be a better picture of Christ’s organized church than in the past when church members were taught to depend upon man as their head.
In Christ’s organized church, those who are chosen as leaders have a degree of authority in their sphere, but they are not the highest authority in the church.
“When the judgment of the General Conference, which is the highest authority that God has upon the earth, is exercised, private independence and private judgment must not be maintained, but be surrendered.”13
“At times, when a small group of men entrusted with the general management of the work have, in the name of the General Conference, sought to carry out unwise plans and to restrict God’s work, I have said that I could no longer regard the voice of the General Conference, represented by these few men, as the voice of God. But this is not saying that the decisions of a General Conference composed of an assembly of duly appointed, representative men from all parts of the field should not be respected. God has ordained that the representatives of His church from all parts of the earth, when assembled in a General Conference, shall have authority. The error that some are in danger of committing is in giving to the mind and judgment of one man, or of a small group of men, the full measure of authority and influence that God has vested in His church in the judgment and voice of the General Conference assembled to plan for the prosperity and advancement of His work.”14
The servant of the Lord clearly outlined the system of organization and order that should be followed in Christ’s remnant church. The highest authority in the church is not to be given to one man (General Conference President) or to a small group of men (General Conference Executive Committee or General Conference Council) but rather to the representatives or delegates from all parts of the earth assembled in the General Conference session. They are the ones to plan for the work of the worldwide church, to elect the officers of the General Conference, to agree on doctrinal issues, as well as decide any difficult matter not settled in the various other levels of the organized church. Those who are chosen as officers of the General Conference are to act, during their term of office, as the implementing body to execute the decisions of the General Conference in session. Between sessions, they act in behalf of the General Conference and will be held accountable to the next General Conference session for anything they do during their term. This system is to be carried out in all levels of the church—Union, Conference, Field, and Mission. It is totally different from popery or kingly power. It is not a one-man dictatorship or even a small group of men possessing authority—but rather a man with his fellows who together act as servants to carry out the decisions made by the church during sessions as the voice of God.
The Lord’s servant warned the believers against the spirit of independence that creeps into the church. Satan is trying to destroy the unity of the church by introducing deceptive theories and ideas to the members.
“Some have advanced the thought that, as we near the close of time, every child of God will act independently of any religious organization. But I have been instructed by the Lord that in this work there is no such thing as every man’s being independent. The stars of heaven are all under law, each influencing the other to do the will of God, yielding their common obedience to the law that controls their action. And, in order that the Lord’s work may advance healthfully and solidly, His people must draw together.”15
“The spirit of pulling away from our fellow laborers, the spirit of disorganization, is in the very air we breathe. . . . I have been instructed that it is Satan’s special effort to lead men to feel that God is pleased to have them choose their own course, independent of the counsel of their brethren.
“Herein lies a grave danger to the prosperity of our work. We must move discreetly, sensibly, in harmony with the judgment of God-fearing counselors; for in this course alone lies our safety and strength. Otherwise God cannot work with us and by us and for us.”16
Satan knows well that the strength of God’s people is found in their union with Christ and with one another. But if they are disorganized and divided they become weak and easily defeated.
“‘Counsel together’ is the message which has been again and again repeated to me by the angel of God. By influencing one man’s judgment, Satan may endeavor to control matters to suit himself. He may succeed in misleading the minds of two persons; but when several consult together, there is more safety. . . . In union there is strength. In division there is weakness and defeat.”17
There is no point in time when Christ will abolish the system of organization in His church on earth; rather it will continue until the end. The closer that God’s remnant people approach to the end, the more they need to be organized and perfectly united. The Lord’s messenger declared:
“We want to hold the lines evenly, that there shall be no breaking down of the system of organization and order that has been built up by wise, careful labor. License must not be given to disorderly elements that desire to control the work at this time.”18
In the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy, the final calling and mission of Christ’s remnant church is clearly presented in: “They that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.”
The Spirit of Prophecy explains that this prediction refers to the remnant church:
“In the time of the end every divine institution is to be restored. The breach made in the law at the time the Sabbath was changed by man, is to be repaired. God’s remnant people, standing before the world as reformers, are to show that the law of God is the foundation of all enduring reform. . . . In clear, distinct lines they are to present the necessity of obedience to all the precepts of the Decalogue. Constrained by the love of Christ, they are to cooperate with Him in building up the waste places. They are to be repairers of the breach, restorers of paths to dwell in.”19
“Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” ().
This scripture does not refer to any other group of people than the final product of the third angel’s message. It is a description of the remnant church that will have gotten the victory in the last battle of God and His remnant people against Satan.
The members of the remnant church are to go forth to proclaim the last message of warning to all the inhabitants of the world. This message is to be focused on Christ as the living illustration of the righteousness of God’s character and of the sacredness and beauty of the law. But this last message of mercy is not to be presented to the world merely by eloquence of speech—but rather by the power of a transformed character and holy life after the similitude of Christ.
“The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love. The children of God are to manifest His glory. In their own life and character they are to reveal what the grace of God has done for them.”20
The reason the remnant church has accomplished but little despite all her efforts is the character defects in the lives of her members. We must first be transformed in character before the Holy Spirit can give us the efficiency needed in preaching the everlasting gospel. The honest souls in different parts of the earth who are still outside of Christ’s fold are waiting for the light to shine in the lives of God’s remnant people before they will be attracted to flock to their side.
From the beginning of her establishment to the end of time, the church has been called to witness for Christ. God purposed through His church to manifest His character to the world and to represent His system of government.21 Through her members, the order and divine harmony existing in heaven is to be reflected to the world. God’s final remnant are the ultimate instruments to fully accomplish God’s purpose for His church. This is how the issue in the great controversy shall be finally and fully settled. This is how the beauty of the everlasting gospel shall be fully seen and fully preached to every creature. This is how the character of God and His law shall be fully vindicated before all created beings throughout the universe. The riches of Christ’s mercy, His grace, and His love shall be fully and finally displayed by a people called by His name—not only before the world but before all the celestial and terrestrial beings throughout the entire universe.