What Is a Philadelphian? (Living Church News, July-August 2001)
Note: The article expressed what I saw in 2001. Sadly, LCG did not show certain Philadelphian traits over time. Information about that can be found in the articles Why Bob Thiel Left the Living Church of God, The Bible, Peter, Paul, John, Polycarp, Herbert W. Armstrong, Roderick C. Meredith, and Bob Thiel on Church Government, and What About the Living Church of God? Are there Doctrinal Differences with the Continuing Church of God?
What is a Philadelphian? This article will review the biblical passages about the Philadelphian Church and examine when it began, what its traits were, why a remnant still exists, how to determine who that remnant is-and why this is important to know.
Scripture describes the Church at Philadelphia: "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, 'These things says He who is holy, He who is true, "He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens": I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie-indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches'" (Revelation 3:7-13).
Jesus says here that He "has the key of David," and He talks about doors. References to the "key of David" and doors are used together in one other Bible passage: "I will commit your responsibility into his hand. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. The key of the house of David I will lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and no one shall shut; and he shall shut and no one shall open. I will fasten him as a peg in a secure place, and he will become a glorious throne in his father's house" (Isaiah 22:21-23). This suggests, as Dr. Meredith noted in his "Ambassadors for Christ" sermon earlier this year, that the "key of David" has something to do with governance and something to do with a throne. How could that relate to the Philadelphia era of the Church?
When the Philadelphia Era Began
A review of literature on the "Sardis" era of the Church demonstrates that there never was truly effective governance over the body (see True History of the True Church by Dugger). In his Autobiography (all quotes from the 1986 edition), Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong wrote: "Ministers were to be employed, and under orders from lay members. This is essentially the concept of what we call democracy: government from the bottom up. Those being governed dictate who shall be their rulers and how their rulers shall rule them. The most perplexing subject in all the Bible to me was this matter of church government. I never did come to clear understanding of the BIBLE teaching on the subject until after Ambassador College was formed" (pp. 411-412).
Note that when the Church of God Seventh Day (CG7) split over governance in 1933, Mr. Armstrong did not go with the side that had the most votes, but cooperated with the side that lost the vote (Mystery of the Ages, pp. 558, 561). Once he understood God's form of governance he wrote: "The Church is organized under theocratic government, hierarchical in form" (Mystery of the Ages, p. 246).
"From the year 1931, exactly 1,900 years (a century of time cycles) from the foundation of the Church, this small remnant of the original true Church of God began to take on new life as the Philadelphia era This era of the Church was to produce fruit " (Mystery of the Ages, pp. 289-290). Then, "after 3 1/2 years of intensive study and training, Christ ordained me to preach this same Gospel of the Kingdom in all the world as a witness to all nations (Matthew 24:14). This ordination took place at, or very near, the Day of Pentecost, 1931" (Autobiography, p. 428).
Mr. Armstrong had preached before then, but "by this time my whole heart was in it" and he was able to do his first extended campaign (Autobiography, pp. 426, 430). In 1933, he refused to accept any salary from the Oregon Conference of CG7, and on October 9, 1933 he began proclaiming the gospel over radio, which he considered to be a door opened by God and "the start of the present work" (Autobiography, pp. 506, 507, 525, 529, 530). He felt "though we did not know it then, that a new era of the Church was dawning" (Autobiography, p. 526).
Mr. Armstrong found that since God promised David: "Your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever" (2 Samuel 7:16) and "David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel" (Jeremiah 33:17), that this had been fulfilled throughout history through what became the British throne. Mr. Armstrong considered this identity to be part of the "key of David." By 1937, because of his writings on the biblical Holy Days and the identity of the U.S. and British Commonwealth in prophecy, CG7 rejected Mr. Armstrong-so it appears that from sometime between 1933 and 1937 the Philadelphia era of the Church became completely separate from CG7.
Although some Protestant theologians feel that the Revelation 3:8 open door has to do with the entrance to the New Jerusalem (see Nelson's Study Bible, p. 2,170), Mr. Armstrong saw that it referred to public proclamation of the Gospel. "God had set before it [the Philadelphia era] an open door.
It is recorded in 2 Corinthians 2:12 and also Acts 14:27 how Christ opened the door for Paul to go into other countries and preach the gospel" (Mystery of the Ages, p. 290). Paul used a similar analogy when he wrote: "Meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ" (Colossians 4:3). Interestingly, right after Jesus declares to the Philadelphians, "I know your works," He says: "See, I have set before you an open door" (Revelation 3:8). Thus, Jesus ties the works of the Philadelphian Church to an open door. "
Also a door was to be opened for this leader and/or the Philadelphia era of the Church to fulfill Matthew 24:14: 'And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached to all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come'" (Mystery of the Ages, pp. 290-291).
What Are the Traits of a Philadelphian?
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance shows that Philadelphia means "love of brethren" or "fond of brethren." When Jesus used the term phileo with Simon Peter (translated as "love"), what was Peter to do to show this type of love? He was to do the work. "He said to him the third time, 'Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?' Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, 'Do you love Me?' And he said to Him, 'Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed My sheep" (John 21:17).
A trait of Philadelphians is that they love the brethren and will sacrifice to do so. While some may argue that this only means taking care of those already in the Church, this is inconsistent with Matthew 28:18-19 as well as Jesus' words in John 10:16: "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd."
Philadelphians love others, not just themselves. As Mr. Armstrong wrote: "This era of the Church was to produce fruit" (Mystery of the Ages, p. 290). As Jesus taught: "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:35). Philadelphians will give their all to proclaim the Gospel.
Philadelphians have "a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name" (Revelation 3:8). They are not part of an especially strong church (or a large church by the world's standards). They have kept God's word without watering it down. They have not denied Christ's authority (which is essentially how Strong's defines the word translated as "name").
The Philadelphians accept that "Christ is head of the church" (Ephesians 5:23), and accept authority within the Church: "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head-Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-15).
As Mr. Armstrong wrote: "The government of the kingdom of God is of necessity government from the top down. It cannot be 'government by the consent of those being governed' Revelation 3:12 indicates that those of the 'Philadelphia era' will be pillars in the Headquarters Church What I am showing you here is that Christ's gospel of the kingdom actually includes all this knowledge here revealed-even the whole universe will be ruled by us, who, with God the Father and Christ, become the kingdom of God" (Mystery of the Ages, pp. 49, 347, 362).
Philadelphians are given a warning: "Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown" (Revelation 3:11). Mr. Armstrong wrote that he restored to the Church of God at least 18 truths that the previous era had lost (Mystery of the Ages, p. 251). Philadelphians are the ones who hold to those truths (as well as all other biblical truths)-including governance-and will be able to have a crown and to rule!
Philadelphians have "kept My command to persevere" (Revelation 3:10). Holding fast to Truth, while putting a priority on proclaiming the Gospel, is what sets the Philadelphian Church apart.
Why Is There a Philadelphian Remnant?
The Laodicean Church is the last one mentioned in the book of Revelation (Revelation 3:14-22). As the last, it is the one that will be the most dominant at the time of the end. The word "Laodicea" can be rendered "the people rule", "judgment of the people" or the "people decide." Laodicea is characterized by a rejection of the governance accepted by the Philadelphians, and by a general lukewarm attitude. Laodicea places emphasis on self (as opposed to proclaiming the Gospel), thus it also waters down the Truth-and so is "rebuked and chastened" and counseled "to buy from Me gold refined in the fire" (Revelation 3:18-19).
Because Laodicea is dominant at the end of the age, Philadelphia cannot be predominant then. However, a remnant of Philadelphia must still exist. We know this because Jesus told the Philadelphians: "Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly!" (Revelation 3:10-11). The Philadelphians are the only ones promised protection! The remnant of the Philadelphians are "given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent" (Revelation 12:14).
Although Mr. Armstrong wrote that he was able to fulfill the first portion of Matthew 24:14-"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations" (Mystery of the Ages, p. 291)-he appointed other television presenters to take over for him if he died prior to the second portion of the verse, "and then the end will come." He also wrote: "But Christ said to His Philadelphia era Church, that because we have but little strength, He would OPEN THOSE DOORS TO US (Revelation 3:8)" (Letter, Nov. 19, 1976). Philadelphians need to keep preaching to the world until the end comes, since they will be around until the end comes.
How to Determine Who the Remnant Is (or Is Not)
By attempting to heed Jude's admonition "to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3), the remnant of the Philadelphian Church will hold fast to the Truth that was restored in that era. The remnant of the Philadelphian Church will continue to attempt to go through whatever doors are open in order to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom as a witness. They will also proclaim the Ezekiel warning to the physical descendants of Israel, even if this remnant does not have as many "talents" as it once had (Matthew 25:15-28). It will keep the biblical form of authority within the Church-the same form of governance that will be used in the Kingdom of God. Remember, though: just calling oneself (or one's church) "Philadelphian" does not guarantee that one actually is Philadelphian. Some who claim to be Philadelphian are not.
The Living Church of God cannot claim that all its members are Philadelphian, but we do believe we are a uniquely Philadelphian remnant. Can one find a larger or more effective "corporate body" which retains the Truth as taught by Mr. Armstrong, without adding non-biblical "revelations" or diverting its members from making their top priority the Great Commission of proclaiming the Gospel as established by Jesus Christ? No! One can expect that Philadelphians, who care about doing an effective Work and holding fast to the Truth, will naturally support the Living Church of God. Of course, simply attending with the Living Church of God does not make one a Philadelphian; individual members must do their part, and must not allow their lives to be cluttered by the cares of this world so that they themselves become lukewarm (Laodicean).
With all the confusion and misreporting that has occurred in the last several years, we can appreciate that there are Philadelphians outside the Living Church of God. However, this is not an excuse for zealous Christians to become "independent." Mr. Armstrong wrote that the first "purpose of the Church" was to proclaim "the coming kingdom of God to the world The 'loner'-the 'individual Christian' who wants to climb up into the kingdom some other way than by Christ and His way through His Church-is not being trained in Christ's manner of training, to rule and reign with Christ in his kingdom! The person who says, 'I will get my salvation alone, outside of the Church' is totally deceived" (Mystery of the Ages, p. 270).
Why Is This Important to Know?
Some say that knowledge of Church eras is unimportant, and believe that it makes no difference in how Christians live or act. Is this the correct attitude? It is not coincidental that many who de-emphasize Church eras also water down key truths restored by Mr. Armstrong-in some cases no longer even considering it their top priority to proclaim the full Gospel as a witness. This may help explain such an attitude-but does it excuse it? Seven times (Revelation 2; 3) Jesus warned: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (e.g. Revelation 3:13). Why would He repeatedly say this if these messages were not important?
Jesus promised the Philadelphians more than just physical protection. He also said: "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name" (Revelation 3:12). Who in God's Church does not want to receive these promises?
Those God has called can decide whether or not to accept and teach the truths restored to the Philadelphian Church. It is up to them-but the spiritual and physical costs of not accepting and teaching the Truth appear quite high. A Philadelphian holds fast to true doctrine, does not deny Christ's authority, keeps His word, goes through those doors that Christ opens and perseveres to the end. A Philadelphian hears "what the Spirit says to the churches."
Consider also reading the articles Why Bob Thiel Left the Living Church of God, The Bible, Peter, Paul, John, Polycarp, Herbert W. Armstrong, Roderick C. Meredith, and Bob Thiel on Church Government, and What About the Living Church of God? Are there Doctrinal Differences with the Continuing Church of God? Some booklets of interest would include Where is the True Christian Church Today? and Continuing History of the Church of God.Back to home page