THIEVES IN THE CHURCH
Do you know about the sin nobody admits? It’s a sin we’re afraid to mention. We must be afraid to mention it. Because nobody ever mentions it about himself, anyway. Now people have confessed to me that they’re committed some terrible, dark sins. I can recall people who have admitted being drunkards, who confessed to stealing, breaking up another’s home, murder, taking the Lord’s name in vain, trifling on the marriage partner, Sabbath breaking – all the rest – but as far as I can remember in all my time in the ministry, nobody has ever admitted to me that he was guilty of the sin we’re going to talk about now. …
THIEVES IN THE CHURCH
Library of Sermons No. (cpsaflib31)
by Joe Crews (Amazing Facts)
All Rights Reserved
Printed in USA
Published (Under permission) by
COCONET-US, LLC (Educational Department)
2207 East Snow Rd
Berrien Springs, MI 49103-9782
“Cast thy bread upon the waters; For thou shalt find it after many days.” Eccl. 11:1
The Scarlet Woman
Everywhere people are asking the same questions about the modern church. Why does it appear so weak and compromised? Where is the old-time fire and power that marked the church of a generation ago? These are questions, which prey witness the dwindling influence of religious institutions. Something seems to have gone wrong. Church members spend more time in places of entertainment and amusement than they do in the house of God. There is little firmness of faith, and almost no discipline for those who weakly bend to the indulgent lifestyle of the flesh and the world.
Where can we find courageous pastors who fear not to call sin by its right name? Paul urged the shepherds of his day to “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.” Then, he made this astounding prediction: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teacher, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”2 Timothy 4:2-4.
These words are being fulfilled before our very eyes. Fables are being taught, doctrinal messages are drying up, and millions are turning from truth to pleasing platitudes. Any sermon that demands obedience or self-denial is rejected out of hand as legalistic and judgmental. The voice of rebuke is seldom heard, and pointed preaching which identifies the biblical antichrist is looked upon as harsh and unloving.
Have we overdrawn the picture? I don’t believe any careful observer of the religious scene would contend that we have. Surely Satan is working harder inside the church than he is on the outside, and his plan is to produce the most clever counterfeit of truth that has ever existed. By creating a diabolical parallel system of doctrinal error within the church itself, he has already led millions into a false worship. The nefarious plot was recognized and exposed by the Holy Spirit shortly before the great deceiver began to implement the major elements of his plan in the post-apostolic church.
But before we turn to John’s inspired account of the sordid story in the book of Revelation, let’s read another prophetic description of the spiritual state of that turbulent period. Paul warned: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.” Acts 20:29. Again, he wrote, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposite and exalted himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sited in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.”2 Thessalonians 2:3,4.
Paul’s words do not reveal the nature of the apostasy neither the identity of the “man of sin” who would assume the prerogatives of God, but the program would clearly begin to unfold in the early church. Shortly after Paul’s cryptic caution about an antichrist movement within the church, the beloved John began to record his mysterious apocalyptic visions on the isle of Patmos. As the symbols of those revelations have been more clearly explained through comparative study of the prophecies, it is easy to see that John was simply enlarging upon Paul’s earlier oblique references to a developing dichotomy of good and evil within the post-apostolic church.
Without understanding the historical significance of his own enigmatic language, John faithfully described the cosmic controversy between Chris and Satan from it’s very inception. The age-old conflict would finally focus upon the emergence of a counterfeit Christ manipulated by Satan himself, who would seek to destroy God’s law, His government, and His people. In a climactic clash called the battle of Armageddon, the great adversary would consolidate both secular and religious powers of earth against the minority group of faithful loyalists who would refuse to transgress the commandments of God. The antichrist system, under the control of Satan, would be the major force to suppress truth and to seek the death sentence against those who refused to cooperate with the evil confederation.
In his epistles the beloved John had declared, “And every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof you have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.” I John 4:3. Because he recognized that the “spirit” of that prophesied antichrist was operating in his own day, John cooperated fully with the Holy Spirit by clothing his exposé of that power with symbolic language, unrecognizable to enemies who might have sought to exterminate the inspired record altogether.
The Two Sides in Conflict
John used a variety of colorful types and symbols to portray the elements involved in the final controversy between Christ and Satan: for example, a dragon, a lamb, and two fierce wild beasts. But the most prominent representation of the two sides centers in the two striking women described in chapter 12 and 17. No word could b found to identify more vividly the nature of the contending forces in this contest. On one side is the pure woman of Revelation12, clothed in the glory of the sun, wearing a crown of stars, and standing on the moon. Here is represented the true church, the bride of Christ. The prophets had written, “I have likened the daughter of Zion to a comely and delicate woman.” Jeremiah 6:2. “Say unto Zion, Thou art my people.” Isaiah 51:16.
Later, Paul used the same symbolism of the church when he wrote, “I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:2.
On the other side, John wrote in Revelation 17 of the activities of a drunken, scarlet-clothed harlot, sitting upon many waters and holding a golden cup of abominations in her hand. Here is the antithesis of the pure woman of chapter 12. The woman still symbolizes a church, but one which has committed spiritual adultery. Her cup is filled with fornication. According to the Bible, this represents a turning away from Christ and unfaithfulness to His Word. “You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that friendship of the world is enmity with God?” James 4:4. Although married to Christ, this church had been disobedient to His Word, taken the teachings of the world, His enemy, and therefore become a spiritual harlot. The fornication in the cup would constitute false teachings and doctrines that would be contrary to Christ, the true husband.
Just as the book of Revelation classifies all the world’s inhabitants as ultimately following Christ or the dragon, obeying truth or error, receiving the mark of beast or seal of God, so it pictures every individual at the end of time on the side of the symbolic harlot or the side of the pure virgin. What a solemn thought it is that everyone reading these words right now will belong to one category or the other. There will be no middle ground. It will be the camp of the saved or the camp of the lost. The prophet looked on one side and saw the wrath of God falling upon those with the mark of the beast (Revelation 14:10, 11). Then, he looked on the other side and declared, “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” Revelation 14:12. A faith experience – a Jesus experience – that produces obedience to His commandments, is the chief distinction between the followers of Christ and the followers of the beast.
The Harlot System
Since most of our study is to focus upon this false religious system which gradually evolved from an early church apostasy, we should read the full description of the “great whore” as given by John. “And there came one of the seven angels which has the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sited upon many waters: With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.” Revelation 17:1-6.
It is no exaggeration to observe that our eternal salvation could well depend upon a proper identification of this corrupt church system. The Revelator declared that “all the world wondered after the beast.” Revelation 13:3. There is no time to assemble the persuasive list of Bible characteristics of the beast power in this study, but it has been dealt with fully in the Amazing facts’ book entitled The Beast, the Dragon, and the Woman. Here we will consider the contextual evidence of Revelation 17 to identify the fallen woman and her daughters who are assigned the name of Babylon.”
Let us keep the points in clear, logical perspective as we look at the revealed facts. First, the woman has been shown to represent a religious system, howbeit a false one. Secondly, a dragon-like beast with seven heads and ten horns is supporting her. Who is this beast holding up the woman? Again, we cannot exhaust the evidence for lack of time, but verse 9 gives us a very strong clue. “The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman seated.”
These words strike a very familiar chord. What city is built on seven hills? The old pagan Rome, which was sprawled across seven hills by the river Tiber. Even though this mystery beast involves much more than pagan Rome, we have sufficient evidence that Rome was definitely a part of that which gave support to the harlot church system. This leads us to the question, what church received support from the pagan Roman Empire? Only one, of course, and that was the Catholic Church, whose papal head also assumed the title Pontifex Maximus, as the direct successor of the Roman Caesar’s.
The second line of evidence which points to the papacy is found in verse 6. “And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” History reveals only one church which waged such a frenzied warfare against faithful Christians. Over 50 million martyrs fell victim to the terrible inquisitions of the Church of Rome, according to the most conservative estimates. It was indeed a persecuting church. Multiple evidences, including admissions of the church itself, could be presented to support this particular mark of identification.
Another interesting clue is found in verse 4: “And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color.” Anyone who has visited the Vatican can confirm that these are the predominant colors which are in evidence around St. Peter’s Square. Scarlet-robed cardinals are among the most frequent visitors to the papal head of state and church.
John observes further that the woman was “decked with gold and precious stones and pearls.” What a contrast to the simplicity of the pure woman of Revelation 12 who has no artificial adornment at all – only the glory of her raiment of light. Throughout the Bible, jewelry and articles of adornment are used symbolically as indications of apostasy and unfaithfulness. (With such negative spiritual connotations, the true Christian should avoid the vanities of such fleshly display and pride.)
In passing, we should also note that the beast on which the harlot sits has ten horns. The angel explained them in these words: “The ten horns… are ten kinks, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast. Theses shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: … these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.” Revelation 17:12-16.
This prophetic scenario is very interesting indeed. Since the number ten designates earthly completeness, just as seven indicates divine perfection, we can recognize in this prophecy a universal confederacy of earthly governments giving support to the beast for a certain period of time. Just as pagan Rome was one of the major political powers passing on its strength to the papal system, we now see at the end times a joining together of all the kings of earth in support of Catholic aims. John declared that “all the world wondered after the beast.” Revelation 13:2.
But a change was to take place just before the judgment of the great whore. The earthly kingdoms, apparently, would recognize that they had been duped by the Babylon system and would withdraw their support. The prophetic language leads us to believe that at the very end they violently turn against the woman and “make her desolate … and burn her with fire.”
This helps us understand another symbolic account of the woman’s experience. Although she was seated on “many waters,” those waters were to be “dried up.” Revelation 16:12. The angel explained, “The waters which thou saw, where the whore seated, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues,” Revelation 17:15.
When those waters, of people and nations, turn away from their support, there is truly a drying up of the waters which held the woman in her position. The details of this future development are impossible to define in detail, but the broad picture stands clearly before us in the language of the prophet.
The Harlot’s Golden Cup
Now, we need to give closer attention to the contents of the golden cup in the harlot’s hand. We have already established the spiritual nature of that abominable fornication. A church can only commit such infidelities by turning away from the law of her husband, which is Christ. Without question, the cup overflows with unscriptural doctrines and practices. Many of them are easily identifiable because they have been absorbed by other subsequent religious bodies. Of these we will have more to say a bit later.
In the cup can be found sprinkling in place of baptism. Here is a custom never practiced or endorsed by our Lord. When Jesus spoke of baptism, He used a special word that has only one possible definition. It cannot connote sprinkling or a partial effusion of water. It literally means to dip under and totally immerse.
Also included in the cup would be the teaching of Sunday-keeping instead of Sabbath observance. Nowhere in the Bible has God’s great hand-written law of Ten Commandments been abrogated or changed. Jesus kept the seventh-day Sabbath, “as his custom was,” and knew absolutely nothing about the observance of the first day of the week. Luke 4:12. The pagan “day of the sun” was adopted long after the days of the apostles in order to placate the massive influx of Mithraism sun worshipers and their professedly “converted” pagan emperor Constantine.
A major element in the golden cup would undoubtedly be the Greco-pagan concept that man’s naturally immortal soul flies away at death to either eternal punishment or reward. The truth is that the Bible nowhere speaks of undying souls, Jesus called death a sleep. According to His doctrine, there is an unconscious, dreamless sleep of death in the grave from which all will be awakened in the Day of Judgment to receive everlasting life or eternal death. “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” John 5:28,29.
Jesus also contradicted another popular fallacy held in the golden cup of abominations. The doctrine of eternal torment in an endless fiery hell has been responsible for turning multitudes away from the gracious provisions of a loving Savior. Again, the words of Jesus are clear and unambiguous: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Mathew 10:28.
This text establishes beyond question and on the highest authority that the soul is subject to death. Only the righteous receive the gift of eternal life. “The wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23. “The soul that sinned, it shall die.” Ezekiel 18:4. “All that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that come shall burn them up, said the Lord of hosts, … And you shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet.” Malachi 4:1,3.
The consistent testimony of Scripture points to a final execution of judgment upon the wicked in the lake of fire. It will be an eternal death form which there can be no survival or resurrection. Since the soul is not immortal by nature, all the wicked will suffer the fate so vividly described by Jesus, “destroys both soul and body in hell.”
The Harlot’s Name
These and numerous other “ism” and perversions of true doctrine may be identified in the mystery cup of the harlot. Every one of them constitutes disloyalty and infidelity to the spiritual relationship which every true Christian should sustain with Christ. This is why the woman carries the name on her forehead “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of Harlots and abominations of the earth.” What a title!
The word “Babylon” denotes confusion. It originated with the Tower of Babel where God confounded their language so that they could not understand each other. We speak of a babbling of voices. God call this woman Babylon because of her unholy blend of truth and error which causes “the inhabitants of the earth” to be “made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” In other words, the whole world will be contaminated and confused by her teachings.
But now, let’s look at that emblazoned name more closely. Notice that it is obviously a family name, because she has daughters; and they are designated as harlots, just like their mother. Having established that women symbolize churches in these prophetic writings, we now inquire as to the identity of these daughters. Since they are guilty of infidelity also, we must conclude that they are churches which share some of the same false doctrines which constitute spiritual fornication. In other words, they would be drinking out of the same golden cup with its unscriptural portion of pseudo-Christian teaching. What churches could be represented by these daughters? Since the mother has been identified as the Catholic Church, we must look for other religious bodies that came froth from the mother church of Rome and carried with them some of the same confused doctrines of that church.
None can escape the conclusion that those daughters are Protestant churches who have inherited many of the empty traditions of their Catholic forebears. Whether we like it or not, we must admit that many of the most popular doctrines of the established Protestant churches are rooted in that quasi-Christian twilight period when the post-apostolic church was being overwhelmed by pagan influences.
We need only look at one example of the moral law to see how seriously the infiltration affected the teachings of the church, both then and now. With the most explicit words of the Ten Commandments before them, “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shall not do any work,” those leaders of the early church yielded to the political clamor to take in millions of former sun worshipers who did not want to give up their custom of worshiping on the first day of the week – a day they named and observed in honor of their venerable sun-god.
The Catholic Church hierarchy simply changed the day of worship from the seventh to the first day, under the claim that God bestowed such power upon them. Millions of Protestants continue that altered practice, even though it rests solely upon the illegitimate actions of the apostate Catholic system. No human church leaders, whether bishops, priests, or pope, have been given any authority to change the great moral law of the universe, the Ten Commandments.
Isn’t it interesting that the daughters blindly followed the majority practice of the compromised Catholic Church even though they properly identified her as the antichrist power of prophecy? How could this be? Why was it so easy to accept something that was such a flagrant violation of a plain command of God? Perhaps the answer to that question will be more apparent as we ourselves are confronted with a command just as concise and specific. We turn now to the crux of this tremendous prophecy and ask the question: What does God think about this woman and her daughters?
The Call Out of Babylon
The answer is found in the first few verses of Revelation 18. Here also we find the command of God which few are willing to obey in our day. “And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies. And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her my people, that you be not partaker of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God had remembered her iniquities.” Revelation 18:1-5.
A close examination of these verses reveals that a very special message is being proclaimed which will profoundly affect every corner of the planet. Under the symbol of a powerful fourth angel, a warning sounds forth against the counterfeit gospel being communicated through the woman and her daughters. Not only is she spiritually fallen from favor with God, but also her wine of deceptive doctrines have placed her in unholy alliance with the kings of the earth. All nations are represented as committing fornication with her by giving support to her false teachings. They use the illicit relationship to their own political advantage, and “wax rich through the abundance of her delicacies.”
But then, suddenly, the call of the fourth angel is cut off by an even more urgent voice which sounds forth from heaven itself. This time there is no doubt about the one whose message rolls from one end of the heavens to the other. God is speaking! And He is speaking to an exclusive group. He addresses Himself to “my people.
Here are the exact words, “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that you be not partaker of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues.” Revelation 18:4. Now the picture becomes more distinct. There are sincere people in all of those fallen churches represented by the harlot mother and her daughters. Because they have been faithful to all the light of truth which had been revealed to them, God extends a final invitation of mercy. But what a message! This is undoubtedly the most shocking and revolutionary call to ever fall on human ears.
What does it mean? There is only one answer. Those religious bodies represented by the fallen Babylon system have departed so far from the foundation of Bible truth that God can no longer acknowledge them as His. By choosing the traditions of men over the commandments of God they have disqualified themselves as reliable shepherds of the flock of God. In almost every crusade, members come to me from a variety of churches weeping and asking what they should do about their church or they pastor. Instead of receiving loving counsel and Bible answers, they are being taught to break God’s law. “The Ten Commandments were nailed to the cross. You don’t have to keep the Sabbath today. You can choose any other day of rest and worship,” they are told.
Apostasy and betrayal has reached its limits when leader comfort people in their practice of sin. God says, “This is it, my people. You can no longer remain in fellowship with a church that is so spiritually fallen that it teaches you to break my law. Come out of that confusion.” What a fearful and emotional command that is to most people who hear it for the first time, and how easy it is to empathize with their mixed feelings. They love their church. Their fondest memories revolve around its ministry – baptism, marriage, and commitment. And even though they recognize the apostasy and the necessity to separate, it is one of the hardest commands to obey.
How strange it is that the strongest and most condemnatory language in the e Bible is used against religious people. Jesus pronounced terrible judgment upon the Pharisees who pretended to be so righteous while violating every principle of truth. Similarly, God speaks again directly from heaven against those who profess His name while willfully transgressing His commandments. His extreme displeasure is revealed toward both religious groups – hypocrites, whited sepulchers, generations of vipers, hold of every foul spirit, habitation of devils, cage of every unclean and hateful bird – these are some of the charges He leveled against them. Are they justified? Why such a scathing reaction against those who were so very religious?
The answer to this question is important. These churches – every one of them – had allowed the popular traditions of men to crowd out the self-denying truths of His Word and His law. Rejecting the Sabbath of the Lord in favor of a pagan substitute, they had been guilty of condoning sin instead of righteousness. Said Jesus; “In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” Matthew 15:9.
Who then are Babylon and her children? Any contemporary church who teaches contrary to Jesus. Errors and “ism” could be multiplied, but the height of abomination was reached by giving deliberate encouragement to the breaking of God’s great moral law. Be teaching mend to break the Sabbath, the sign and seal of our salvation-rest in Christ, the churches became the spoilers of God’s people. Very soon those same churches will be so bitter against the obedient ones that they will lend their influence to force compliance by religious legislation. To such organizations no true child of God can give support. It would be equivalent to subscribing to the erroneous beliefs and actions of those church groups.
No wonder then, that God sounds that radical calls, “come out of her, my people. You must leave those churches which have rejected my law.” But where should they go when they come out of the fallen churches? Does God want them now to be rootless, with no church, no pastor, and no fellowship? Indeed, not. Just as surely as there is a harlot woman of prophecy representing a counterfeit religion, there is also a pure woman who symbolizes the true church of Jesus Christ.
The Woman in White
We only have time for a brief look at Revelation 12 where the exciting history of the true church is recorded. A complete in-depth study is found in the Amazing Facts’ booklet entitled The Search for the True Church.
John begins his narrative of the woman in white with this description: “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.” Revelation 12:1,2.
The remainder of the chapter follows the course of this beautiful pregnant woman and her offspring. Standing in the glorious light of the New Testament age, with the symbols of the 12 apostles on her head, she is about to give birth to a baby. A terrible red dragon stands before her to destroy the child as soon as it is born, but the baby boy eludes the dragon. Later, he is caught up to throne of God. Who was the baby? John declares that he was to rule all the nations of earth; therefore, we must conclude that it was Jesus. He was also the only one caught up to the throne of God.
Afterward, the woman the true church, fled into a wilderness hiding place for 1,260 days. Since a prophetic day equals a literal year, the woman had to be hidden away exactly 1,260 years (Ezekiel 4:6). History confirms that the total period of papal civil rule, during which the true saints were persecuted, was from 538 A. D. until 1798 A. D. During those Dark Ages, the Bible was suppressed, and the true church was not to be seen before the world.
Nevertheless, at the end of the 1,260 years, or sometime after 1798, the truth was to emerge from its hiding place. John provides a dramatic description of the woman as she would appear at the very end of time, and how Satan would still be trying to silence her witness of truth to the world. “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 12:17.
This verse contains one of the most exciting revelations in the Bible. It reveals that the remnant, or the last part, of the true church will be characterized by obedience to the commandments of God. The scarlet woman of Revelation 17 had turned away from God’s law, rejected the doctrines with traditions of men. Now the breach is healed and the original truths are being restored by the last part of the pure woman’s seed, the remnant church.
At last, the prophecy of Isaiah will be fulfilled: “And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shall raise up the foundations of much generation; and thou shall be called, The repairer of the breach. The restorer of paths to dwell in. If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from
Doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable; and shall honor him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words: Then shall thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth.” Isaiah 58:12-14.
So the whole circle of apostasy has been uncovered. From the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15 to the seed of the woman of Revelation 12:17, the true church pressed its relentless warfare against confusion of woman seemed at times to prevail with a majority support, but the faithful little remnant of the woman in white which “keep the commandments of God” ultimately triumphs. And out of all the fierce beasts portrayed in the book of Revelation, it is the bleeding Lamb who prevails in the end. Trough the blood of that Lamb may we all be gathered to Mount Zion, the place of rest and eternal security.
Library of Sermons No. 21
Copyright 1992 by
Joe Crews (Amazing Facts)
All Rights Reserved
Printed in USA
Published (Under permission) by
COCONET-US, LLC (Educational Department)
2207 East Snow Rd
Berrien Springs, MI 49103-9782
“Cast thy bread upon the waters; For thou shalt find it after many days.” Eccl. 11:1
The Search for the True Church
Is there a true church in the world today? And if so, how can it be identified?
Of all the religious questions facing the modern truth-seeker, this is certainly the most demanding and also the most frustrating. Conflicting voices from every quarter declare that they have the answer. Denominations, sects, and cults make strident claims based upon emotional interpretations of isolated Bible texts.
The average Christian today has been so totally turned off by these exaggerated boasts that many have even discounted the possibility that any “true church” could really exist. Others have questioned the criteria by which any church could be tested and rated as “truer” than another.
It is very important to recognize that no church can be proven superior because its members are without sin. People are people, and all are subject to the same frailties of human nature. Yet, it is also true that every Christian has access to the same mighty power of God for overcoming those frailties. Therefore, any church today will necessarily be made up of individuals who are at varying levels of personal sanctification. The wheat and tares will still be mingled together, and no church will be made up entirely of perfect people.
But the question remains: Is there some valid way to identify the church which is closer to the biblical standards of truth? Some feel that the distinctive name of the organization will set it apart as the right one. Obviously, this could be no accurate test, because the choice of a name would reveal nothing about the spiritual nature of that church. Such shallow claims only serve to discourage intelligent searchers after the truth.
It must be apparent to all that if God has a special church in the world today, He will reveal it clearly and explicitly in His holy Word. The information must be couched in language that will appeal to human logic and should consist of more than just vague generalities or insinuations.
I am reluctant to make any claims for what you are about to read, although I know very well that it could revolutionize your life. Do not scan or read lightly the material which follows. I ask only that you study it prayerfully and with an open mind. Then judge it on the basis of the Scriptures and your own spiritual convictions. If it is truth, the Holy Spirit will guide you into joyful recognition of it. My personal feeling is that you will find this experience to be the most exciting adventure you have ever had in God’s Word.
Our quest for truth will focus upon the twelfth chapter of Revelation. Limited time and space does not allow for an exhaustive study, but two principles will be given priority – accuracy and simplicity. Over twelve hundred years of history must be dealt with only briefly as we follow the absorbing story of the true church to its surprising climax. Further confirming evidence for the historical part of the prophecy has been provided in my book entitled “The Beast, the Dragon, and the Woman.”
THE WOMAN SYMBOLIZES THE CHURCH
Revelation 12 is basically the narrative account of a beautiful, sun-clad woman and her descendants. “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” Revelation 12:1.
Here we are introduced to one of the most familiar symbols in the Bible. In both the Old and the New Testaments, God represents His people by a woman. As the bridegroom, he is married to the church. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” II Corinthians 11:2.
All through the Bible we can follow the record of this symbolism. God said in the Old Testament, “I have likened the daughter of Zion to a comely and delicate woman.” Jeremiah 6:2. And again, “Say unto Zion, You are my people.” Isaiah 51:16. The church is called Zion and God compares it with a beautiful woman. In the Old Testament, Israel was the chosen people so often portrayed as being married to God.
In the New Testament, the true Israel of God is no longer a nation but a church composed of Jews and Gentiles who receive Christ as their Savior. Therefore, the woman of Revelation 12 flashes us the picture-story of the church at the time of Christ. The clothing of sunlight typifies the glorious New Covenant of grace, and the twelve starts represent the twelve apostles. The moon under her feet indicates the fading glory of the Old Covenant in the presence of the true Lamb of God.
Now begins the thrilling part! We are going to follow the unfolding future of that true church of our Lord Jesus. The next verses vividly delineate the course of truth through the ages. We want to know where that woman can be found TODAY! Don’t miss a step of the prophecy as we trace the vicissitudes of the true church right down to the twentieth century!
The first thing we discover is that the woman is about to give birth to a baby. “And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads… and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and to his throne.” Revelation 12:2-5.
Who is this man-child destined to rule all nations and who was caught up to heaven? Only one person can meet this description – Jesus Christ. And who does the dragon represent, who tried to kill Christ at His birth? It was Herod, the representative of Rome, who sent out the order for all babies of two years and under to be slaughtered. Ordinarily, the dragon is used as a symbol of Satan, but in this case, the devil was working so closely with the Roman power to kill Jesus that the dragon also symbolizes Rome.
How did Jesus escape the diabolical decree of Herod? Joseph and Mary were warned of the danger in a dream and fled to Egypt with the infant. Later, after the death of the tyrant, they returned and settled in the town of Nazareth.
Even though the devil was foiled in his initial plot to kill Jesus, he did not abandon his purpose. Repeatedly, he sought to take the life of Jesus, and finally, he managed to bring Him to that mockery of a trial where He was tortured, crucified, and buried. But the grave could not contain the Son of God, and on the third day He burst out of the tomb. Later, He ascended to His Father in heaven.
PERSECUTION OF THE CHURCH
With no direct access to Jesus, the dragon (Rome) now turned his anger against the followers of Christ, the church. “And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.” Revelation 12:13.
These words provide only a tiny hint of the horror of the violence which broke forth against the apostolic church. Practically all the early disciples and church leaders were martyred for their faith. Cruel pagan emperors turned the sporting arenas and coliseums into theaters of death for those who followed the true gospel.
Soon pagan Rome yielded to papal Rome, and the persecutions continued with even greater force. Millions died under the terrible inquisitions which sought to eradicate all opposition to the papal system. Historians estimate that during the Dark Ages more that fifty million people laid down their lives rather than yield up their Protestant faith.
But let’s follow the tragic story in our prophetic outline. Revelation 12:14 tells us what the true church did as the pressures of persecution built up to a climax. “And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.”
In order to escape extinction, the faithful Protestant refugees fled back into the Alpine mountains and valleys holding onto the true doctrine delivered by Jesus. Another book of Acts could be written about the heroism of the Waldensian, Huguenots, and Albigensian who refused to surrender their faith during those centuries of fierce oppression. God fought for them, and sometimes the pursuing armies of Rome were cut off by mysterious avalanches and rock slides. At other times the mountain streams were reddened by the blood of those faithful ones who sealed their devotion to the truth with their lives. The Revelation prophecy gives a symbolic picture of the desperate attempts made to wipe out those minority Christians who were hiding for their very survival. “And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.” Revelation 12:15.
How long was the true church to remain out of sight in the wilderness? The prophecy declares it would be for “a time, times, and half a time.” How mysterious! What is meant by this strange description of the time period involved? When would it end? The answer is found n verse 6. “And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.”
Now the picture begins to clear up. One verse says the woman was in the wilderness for 1,260 days and the other verse says she was there for “a time, times, and half a time.” These two periods are equal. This means that a “time” has to be a year in prophetic symbolism, “times” is two years, and “half a time” is half a year. When we add up the one, the two, and the half, we get three and a half years. And that is equal to exactly 1,260 days, using the Bible reckoning of 30 days to the month.
There is one more principle of prophetic interpretation to take into account here. In symbolic Bible prophecy a day always stands for a year. You will find the key for the principle in Ezekiel 4:6: “I have appointed to you each day for a year.” It is laid down elsewhere in these words: “…forty days, each day for a year.” Numbers 14:34.
Please note that this applies only to symbolic prophecy, and cannot be read into other portions of the Scripture. A day is used for a year only in the setting of an obvious prophetic context. This places the woman in her wilderness hideaway for the full period of 1,260 literal years.
Our conclusion must be, then, that the true church could not appear in the world until the end of the 1,260 years. Did such a thing happen to the true people of God? How long did the papal power continue to suppress the true doctrines by the exercise of her religio-political authority?
Here is a fascinating point of history. In 538 A.D. a decree by Emperor Justinian went into effect which assigned absolute spiritual preeminence to the church of Rome. Gradually, this religious tyranny drifted into union with civil powers until eventually kings were forced to seek permission from the pope before they could begin to rule. This authority remained in force until the year 1798 when Europe was rocked by the French Revolution. In the subsequent rebellion of the oppressed peasant against the privileged clergy, the pope was captured in 1798. The papal property was confiscated, and the French Directory government decreed that there would be no more Bishop of Rome. The oppressive rule of the papacy ended exactly 1,260 years after it was inaugurated in 538 A.D.
THREE MARKS OF THE TRUE CHURCH
This brings us to a most important observation. THE TRUE CHURCH COULD NOT APPEAR IN THE WORLD UNTIL AFTER THE YEAR 1798. It was to remain in hiding until the end of the 1,260 years, and that “wilderness” period ended in 1798. We have before us now one of the most amazing marks of identification for the true church. It is not based on some emotional feeling or upon some strained interpretation of a single Bible text. It is rooted in a prophetic revelation of a specific time period which can be verified by scores of historical records. The woman [church] simply could not make her appearance until the inhibiting powers of papal opposition had been taken out of the way. That prophesied event took place in 1798, and the truth which had been clothed in sackcloth now began to emerge from obscurity, soon to appear as the glorious remnant of the woman.
Now we are brought to an actual description of the woman as she would appear before the world sometime after the year 1798. “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 12:17.
This text is one of the most crucial to be found in the entire Bible. Nowhere is there a more concise description of the last-day remnant of the original apostolic faith as it was preserved through the ages. Here is an actual verbal definition of the true church for the twentieth century. It is so important that we are going to analyze every word in order to extract the full meaning. If the true church can be discovered at all in the Bible, this will be the verse to reveal it.
“AND THE DRAGON… “Who is the dragon? There can be no question on this point. In Revelation 12:9 the dragon is called “the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world.”
“WAS WROTH…” What does that mean? “Wroth” is the Old English word for “angry.” It simply means that Satan was angry. Whom was he angry with? “WROTH WITH THE WOMAN…” Who was the woman? We have already found that she is the true apostolic church, representing the great, original teachings of Jesus.
“AND WENT TO MAKE WAR WITH THE REMNANT OF HER SEED… “Here a new word is introduced into the picture. Satan is going to fight against the REMNANT of the true church. What is a remnant? It is the last end piece on a bolt of cloth. It is exactly like the first piece that came off the bolt, but it happens to be at the very end and is always a small piece.
What does this tell us about the remnant of the woman? It is the last part of the true church, at the very end of time, which will be holding the exact same doctrines as did the early, apostolic church. But let’s read on.
“WHICH KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD …” What commandments would this be referring to? This designates the great moral law written by the finger of God on tables of stone. The Ten Commandments reflect the character of God, reveal His will for all His creatures, and form the basis for all morality and worship.
Here we are confronted with the second intriguing mark of identification of the true church. Not only must it arise some time after the year 1798, but on the authority of the Word of God, it would have to be keeping all The Ten Commandments of God.
But now let’s finish reading the fantastic verse. “AND HAVE THE TESTIMONY OF JESUS CHRIST.” Here is another characteristic of the true remnant. Not only will this last-day church arise after 1798 and keep all the Ten Commandments, but it will have the testimony of Jesus. But what is the testimony of Jesus? That is an unfamiliar phrase, and we need more than human wisdom to uncover its meaning.
Notice how the Bible specifically defines this expression for us. If this text truly contains the heart of ultimate truth for us, the Word of God would have to clarify every part of it. The definition is provided by the word of an angel sent all the way from heaven to explain it to John. “I am thy fellow servant, and of your brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Revelation 19:10.
There it is! We know now without a shadow of doubt that the testimony of Jesus is the SPIRIT OF PROPHECY. And this is the third great mark of identity of the last-day true church!
Let me ask you something: Does a spirit of excitement rise up in you as these plain Biblical statements zero in on the most sought-after secret in the Word of God? We are getting closer and closer to identifying the special people of God in our day and their special message. And we are doing it by allowing the Bible to make the identification. We have not fabricated a single one of these three definitive characteristics. No one can honestly challenge their application to the end-time church of Jesus Christ. That remnant church will have to possess all three of these biblical tags of identity:
- ARISE AFTER 1798.
- KEEP ALL THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
- HAVE THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY
I know that some are already puzzling over that third mark. The “spirit of prophecy” is just about as incomprehensible as the “testimony of Jesus.” But stay with me, and we will get the explanation for that point very shortly.
A FOURTH IDENTIFICATION CHARACTERISTIC
Right now I would like to add a fourth crucial mark of identification to our list. We have found this church to be the last, end-piece of historic truth. It will be proclaiming the final message of God just before Jesus returns. In fact, if God has any kind of special counsel or warning for the world at the end of time, He would surely give that message through His last-day remnant church. I think we can all see the logic of this conclusion.
Does God indeed have such a message, and is it identified clearly in the Bible? Jesus indicated that the proclaiming of a certain definite truth would immediately precede the conclusion of human history. Listen to His words: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” Matthew 24:14.
The last sign of Christ’s coming will be a worldwide preaching of the “gospel of the kingdom.” After that, the end will come. Now follow me closely. John the Revelator actually saw in vision the fulfillment of Christ’s words. He wrote, “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice…” Revelation 14:6, 7.
The next few verses describe precisely what that special last proclamation of the gospel will consist of. Then immediately John said, “And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle… and he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.” Revelation 14:14-16.
Did you catch that? The end comes just as soon as this particular “gospel” message has gone to every nation on earth. Jesus said the same thing. “this gospel… shall be preached in all the world… and then shall the end come.”
I submit to you that whatever this message is, it has to be the most urgent and compelling one that human ears have ever heard. Both John and Jesus testify that upon completion it will usher in the glorious kingdom of Christ.
Can we know what that final warning will contain? John spelled it out so simply that none need be in doubt. “Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come.” Revelation 14:7. Notice that a part of this last call of God will be announcing that the judgment has already started. “IS COME,” not “will come.” We must look and listen for the preaching of such a pre-advent judgment message to all nations of the earth.
The next part of the first angel’s message is this: “And worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of water.” Revelation 14:7. Does that sound familiar? It should, for it is quoted almost word for word right from the fourth commandment of the Decalogue, which strongly indicates that the Sabbath will be a part of the “gospel” proclamation which must go to the whole world just before the end.
How do you worship God as the Creator? Right in the heart of the Ten Commandments God wrote the answer: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.” Exodus 20:11.
True worship stems from a recognition of God’s creative power and authority, and the Sabbath is God’s own established sign that He is the maker of everything. Over and over throughout the Bible God claims worship BECAUSE He created all things. “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: “FOR YOU HAD CREATED ALL THINGS.” Revelation 4:11.
God challenged the false gods repeatedly because they could not create. “The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth… He had made the earth by his power.” Jeremiah 10: 11, 12. “God himself… formed the earth and made it… I am the Lord: and there is none else.” Isaiah 45:18.
The Sabbath was instituted by God as a great reminder-sign of His sovereign authority as the only God to be worshiped. The Creator set in motion the arbitrary cycle of the seven-day week to mark off the true Sabbath, so that the world would be without excuse in knowing whom to worship and when. Thus the first angel’s message called for men to “worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea”- a call to true Sabbath-keeping.
The second and third angel’s messages described by John can be summarized briefly: “Babylon is fallen … If any man worship the beast … and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God.” Revelation 14:8-10. Contrary to the opinion of many, this plain, bold preaching of the beast message is included in the everlasting gospel of God’s kingdom. Even warnings against the mark of the beast will be heralded to every nation, kindred tongue, and people. THEN THE END WILL COME!
We are now prepared to add a fourth characteristic to the list of three others. The true remnant church of the last days will surely be used of God to carry His final warning message to all inhabitants of planet earth. That message will include a) the judgment hour is come, b) true Sabbath worship, c) the fall of spiritual Babylon, and d) the mark of the beast.
This completes the amazing array of specific characteristics of the twentieth century’s true church:
- ARISES AFTER 1798.
- KEEPS ALL TEN COMMANDMENTS
- HAS THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY
- PREACHES THE MESSAGE OF THREE ANGELS (Revelation 14 – on worldwide scale)
Could any thinking person be indifferent toward what we have discovered thus far? We have in our hands right now the key to unlock one of the most fantastic spiritual secrets in the world. God has concentrated all the clues in this one, tremendous, prophetic chapter of Revelation. Look at the marks of identification. This is God’s list, not mine. I simply lifted them from the inspired pages of God’s Book. What do they tell us about the true church today?
First of all, it could not have arisen before 1798. This eliminates most of the great popular Protestant churches of the world. Practically all of them were formed before 1798. Secondly, it would have to be a church which keeps all the Ten Commandments. At first glance, this would seem to be a very poor definitive test for discovering which church is right. Surely all of them would teach and practice obedience to the great moral law of God – or would they? The fact is that very few contemporary denominations even lay claim to keeping all the Ten Commandments. Most of them admit freely that they do not observe the seventh-day Sabbath required be the fourth commandment. They observe the first day of the week instead of the Sabbath.
MOST CHURCHES FAIL THE BIBLICAL TEST
Doesn’t that seem strange? God wrote with His own hand, “the seventh-day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it you shall not do any work.” Exodus 20:10 No one has ever been confused about the day God sanctified and commanded. All preachers and churches freely admit that Saturday is the seventh day of the week. Yet most of them are transgressing the commandment of God every week by blatantly doing work on the Sabbath, which God has prohibited.
To compensate for the breaking of the seventh-day Sabbath, they have substituted another day – the first day of the week – in place of the one God commanded.
How do they justify such willful manipulation of the great moral law of God? The situation is astounding no matter how we view it! Many churches brush aside the Ten Commandments as mere ceremonial rules of Moses and teach that they were abolished at the cross! Others take the position that all the Ten Commandments, EXCEPT THE SABBATH, were carried over into the New Testament. In either case, the fourth commandment, containing the special sign of God’s creative and redemptive power, has been rejected and desecrated.
Yet we have just discovered that the true church will be distinguished for keeping the commandments. Mark it down: according to the clear teaching of the Bible, no church could be the remnant of the woman unless it keeps the seventh-day Sabbath as well as all the other nine commandments. Suddenly, we see the vast majority of those who passed the first test failing to meet the second.
But now we move onto the third requirement of the prophecy. The last-day remnant church must have the spirit of prophecy manifested in it. What does that mean? Without doubt this particular flag of identity is the most important one on our list. We shall discover that this involves more than merely understanding and preaching prophecy.
Finally, this special church will be distinguished by the unique message it proclaims to all nations on earth – the judgment is begun, the seventh-day is the Sabbath, Babylon is fallen, and warnings against the mark of the beast.
Before we say more about any modern church system which might match these inspired characteristics, let us return to identifying point number three, which still has not been fully explained.
THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY
Under the inspiration of God, John declared that the remnant of the woman would have the “testimony of Jesus.” Since that expression is somewhat ambiguous, John later gave a clarification which still leaves much to be desired. He said simply, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Revelation 19:10.
At least this is moving in the right direction, but we must now discover what John means by that expression, “spirit of prophecy.” Whatever it is ranks high with God, because He designates it as one of the ways by which to recognize His true church in these last days.
The picture begins to clear up when we examine the full context of the statement. An angel appears to John, and John falls upon the ground in awe and admiration. Said the Revelator, “And he said unto me, See you do it not: I am thy fellow servant, and of your brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God; for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Revelation 19:10
In this verse, please notice who is described as having the testimony of Jesus, or the spirit of prophecy. Only John’s “brethren” are identified as having it. Now we must seek for some further information as to who John’s brethren were. The Word does not fail us. In Revelation 22:8, 9 John repeats the story of the angel and adds a little more detail. “And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things. Then said he unto me, See you do it not; for I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets… worship God.” John’s brethren were the prophets, and they alone are said to have the spirit of prophecy.
Suddenly, the whole puzzle falls into place. The only ones who had the spirit of prophecy were the prophets themselves. If just knowing prophecy and preaching it could be called the “spirit of prophecy,” then many modern teachers and evangelists might qualify. But the Bible makes it exceedingly clear that it is the actual ability to prophesy. In other words, it is the gift of prophecy. Only the prophets had it.
This fact is supported by the apostle Paul. “That in every thing you are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge: Even as the testimony of Christ (spirit of prophecy) was confirmed in you: So that you come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I Corinthians 1:5-7.
Here the testimony of Jesus is called a “gift” instead of the “spirit” of prophecy. And the implication is very strong that the gift will be in operation at the return of our Savior.
With this inspired insight from Paul we are back on familiar ground again. We have no problem with the term “gift of prophecy.” The New Testament epistles are filled with references to all the gifts of the Spirit, including the gift of prophecy. Paul told the church at Ephesus just how and when the gifts were bestowed: “Wherefore he said, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.” Ephesians 4:8.
Little comment is needed on this. It is a well-know fact that when Jesus returned to heaven He left certain special “gifts” or abilities with His people on earth. In fact, they are named: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” Ephesians 4:11.
For what reason did Jesus endow certain ones in the church with these appropriate spiritual gifts? “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Ephesians 4:12. He did it to build up the believers and strengthen the church. These gifts were to mature and perfect the leaders of the body of Christ as they sought to edify the members.
The next verse tells exactly how long those gifts would be needed in the church. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:13.
If language has any meaning at all, these words convey one idea very clearly. All the gifts which Christ placed with His church were to continue operating until the very end of time. They would be needed to bring the church to perfection and to the fullness of Christ’s stature.
Dare we ask the next obvious question? Where are these gifts today? If they were intended by our Lord to do their sanctifying work right down to the end of time, then they should all be seen operating in the churches around us. Let’s inquire if they are. Do we find teachers in most churches today? The answer is yes. What about pastors and evangelists? Practically all denominations have them. What can we say about apostles? Since this word literally means missionaries,” (coming from a Greek word meaning “one who is sent”), again w