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The Revelation Comes To The Church of God


Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)


There are many denominations and independent churches that go by the name Church of God, so it is necessary to give some distinction as to what is meant by the name Church of God in this lesson.

In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, “I will build My church.” That church came into existence on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the 120 disciples of Jesus gathered in the upper room as described in Acts 2:1–4. That this church is called the church of God is quite evident in the NT. In Acts 20:28, the Apostle Paul meets with the elders from the church in Ephesus and gives them this solemn charge: “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”

Notice that Paul said it is the Holy Spirit that set the overseers in place in this church of God, which consistent with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Notice also that the church of God was purchased with the blood of Christ, indicating the church experiences salvation from sin. In the New Testament  the name church of God appears many times and refers to individual congregations, churches in an area, and the universal church of all the redeemed.

Throughout the Christian Era, the church at large has always been referred to as the church of God. The name is not the moniker of any particular group, denomination or fellowship of Christians as distinct from all others. It is appropriate for any assembly of Christians to take on the biblical name of the church as long as they respect the true meaning and implications of the name. That group must be called together by the Holy Spirit; that group must be purchased by the blood of Christ—saved from sin; and, the group must acknowledge and accept all as members that have been purchased by the blood of Christ and are led by the Holy Spirit. Many churches have been organized, calling themselves by the name church of God, but they do not follow the biblical pattern. Instead, they were organized by a group of people in opposition to other churches and membership in their churches is contingent upon applicants being accepted by the church and their adherence to its rules—not the blood of Christ.

In spite of the many failures in trying to be the true biblical church on the part of many, it is still possible to be an assembly of Christians following the biblical pattern, accepting all that have been purchased by the blood of Christ and are led by the Holy Spirit. While this is true, no congregation or group has the right to claim to be the one and only true church of God in exclusion of all other real Christians.


A Movement Begins


A religious movement originated around 1880 centering on a holiness paper called The Gospel Trumpet and its editor, Daniel Warner. The beginnings of this movement are recorded in a book written by Andrew Byers titled Birth of a Reformation, the Life and Labors of D. S. Warner. (Available to read on this website)

In addition to the Wesleyan-Holiness teaching of entire sanctification, this movement also believed that Christians should not be divided into competing sects, but are to work together to be the one biblical church of God at large. This movement did not see itself as the true and only church at its inception; they saw themselves to be a practical expression of the biblical church. This movement followed the church historic interpretation of the Book of Revelation and sensed that their present time was of prophetic moment.

Rather than trying to start a new church or another denomination, the message preached by the movement was that God was calling true Christians out of churches and denominations that divided God’s people and did not teach all the truth, meaning salvation consisting of two works of grace styled justification and sanctification. The movement saw itself as a reformation movement within the Christian church at large.


The Gospel Trumpet


The movement quickly spread across the United States and within a few decades it had established itself in many places around the world. The common thread that united this movement was The Gospel Trumpet paper. It was not considered to be the official organ of the movement; originally it was owned by D. S. Warner. As Warner aged, the ownership of the paper was expanded but it was largely under the control of its editor.

The paper was started in Rome City, IN as the Herald of Gospel Freedom by Warner and I. W. Loman. While it was privately held, the paper was issued under the auspices of the Northern Indiana Eldership of the Church of God. The Herald was merged with another holiness paper called The Pilgrim in December 1880. At this time its name was changed to The Gospel Trumpet. Warner was soon excommunicated from the Eldership and took the Trumpet with him.

The Gospel Trumpet paper actually began publication on January 1, 1881, published by Warner from Rome, IN. Eventually the paper was moved to Grand Junction, MI where a camp meeting and other facilities were established to support the work of the paper. Warner died in December 1895 and E. E. Byrum became the editor of the paper. The Gospel Trumpet Company was moved to Moundsville, WV in 1898 and to Anderson, IN, in 1906. The Gospel Trumpet ceased to be published in 1961 and was replaced by a magazine called Vital Christianity, which was published until 1996.

When the Gospel Trumpet Company was moved to Anderson, IN, the movement began to take on an organizational structure and it developed activities that took on a quasi-denominational nature. This shift in orientation disturbed many people associated with the movement and over time many ministers and congregations disassociated themselves from the movement resulting in many unaffiliated groups all calling themselves the Church of God.

One distinctive of the Church of God in whatever movement or group it may be found is its attraction to the book of Revelation. Prior to editing The Gospel Trumpet, Warner had written a book titled Bible Proofs of the Second Work of Grace in which he wrote three chapters devoted to the prophetic description of the restoration of the biblical church through which God was to bring His people into unity again. The basis of his argument was taken from aspects of the restoration of Israel from its Babylonian captivity, teachings about the church in the New Testament, and Second Blessing theology prevalent among the Holiness Movement of the time. His argument had little to do with the Book of Revelation, but the prophetic nature of the argument easily led him into the church historic interpretation of the Revelation.


Enter, The Adventists And Their Influence


After the debacle of The Great Disappointment, a man by the name of Uriah Smith became a prominent author in the Adventist movement. His purpose was to give that movement prophetic justification for its existence.

Smith wrote a book titled Thoughts, Critical and Practical on the Book of Revelation in which he methodically traces what he believed to be the history of the Christian Church presented in the Revelation. The Adventists, particularly with their view on Sabbath keeping, saw themselves as the true church, and, as such, the Revelation was their history and it gave them prophetic credibility as the true church in the end time.

Warner was well acquainted with Smith’s writings and became attracted to the Revelation also seeing in it the history of the Christian Church—the church of God. This view appeared to support his idea of the restoration of which he wrote in his book.

Warner began publishing articles in the Trumpet featuring the Revelation basis for the restoration movement. In time, the movement saw itself as the modern fulfillment of the end-time prophecies of the Revelation. Warner died before he could make a complete theological presentation of his views. Herbert Riggle followed in his steps organizing much of what Warner had written into several of his own books.

Eventually, F. G. Smith became the premier teacher of prophecy in the Movement. He served as missionary, editor of the Trumpet, pastor, and expositor on the Book of Revelation, writing three major works on the subject: The Revelation Explained, 1906; The Last Reformation, 1919; and, Prophetic Lectures on Daniel and the Revelation, 1941. This book is a collection of 8 key lectures that reflect 40 years of teaching by Dr. Smith.


The Church Of God’s Fascination With The Revelation.


There was the thrill of exploring and bringing to light the meaning of this mysterious book in the Bible. In tracing the history of the Christian Church through the Revelation, it came to be believed that the Church of God Movement was the literal fulfillment of end-time prophecy of the Revelation. The early movement had an almost post-millennial disposition (not in doctrine) in that it felt that it would usher in a world-wide revival of holiness and the true church which shortly would be followed by the return of Christ and the end of time.

In the 1920s, some ministers with theological backgrounds began to challenge the church historic interpretation of the Revelation. Otto Linn, Adam Miller, and Russell R. Byrum were among the first to suggest alternative explanations for the Revelation.

In time, the Movement moved to a more Preterist interpretation of the Revelation and in the 1930s the seeds of discontent sprouted. In 1933 W. S. Goodnight wrote Chart Explanations of the Revelation: With the Opening of the Last Seal. In the 1940s, Goodnight and G. W. Pendleton published a paper called The Seventh Trumpet dealing with what they believed to be the advancement of Revelation understanding and the transition of prophetic time into the seventh and final seal of the Book of Revelation.

Many Church of God ministers adopted Goodnight’s explanation and in time many congregations left the Movement centered on Anderson IN and dedicated themselves to what was called the Seventh Trumpet Message. This movement never organized itself in the manner of Anderson IN,

During the 1960s a minister by the name of Emerson Wilson became prominent in this fellowship and was the main spokesman for the Seventh Trumpet—or the Seventh Seal—Church of God understanding of the Book of Revelation at the time. Two series of his sermons were transcribed into books which represented his teachings: Parallel Lectures, 1960. These lectures compare the parables of Jesus concerning the Kingdom of God to the seven churches of Asia in the Revelation,  The Sounding of the Seven Trumpets, 1963. These were considered definitive lectures on the Book of Revelation. Much emphasis is placed on the errors of denominations and the Church of God centered on Anderson IN.

In the 1970s Duane Spanogle rose to prominence among some fellowships of the Church of God preaching essentially the same message as Wilson but with a more practical emphasis.

By the turn of the 21st Century, much that is called Church of God had been burned out on the Revelation message for any number of reasons and allowed preaching the Revelation to fall into the realm of the quaint past.


Hear What The Spirit Says To The Churches


The history of Revelation teaching among the Church of God has gone through several phases.

Initially, preaching the Revelation called people out of denominations and churches considered to be the Babylon of the Revelation. Congregations were established and countless people were brought into a clear experience of holiness under this teaching. And then there has been hard-fought controversy and much name calling by opposing sides of various disputes that sought either a new or better understanding of the Revelation.

In spite of all this, Jesus attached a blessing for those that would read, hear, and keep the sayings of the prophecy. The question remains: What are the real sayings of this prophecy and what do they mean?

We must never come to despise the Revelation or be afraid of it. While there are different approaches to explaining the Revelation, even in the fellowship of the Church of God that has so loved this strange book, we must follow the instructions of Christ as He said to each of the seven churches to which the Revelation is addressed: “Hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”