William Branham taught that there is a church natural and a church spiritual. Is this correct? Does God really have two classes of children? Are there really special Christians that believe the message and the not-so-special sons and daughters that just believe the Bible?
What does the Bible teach on this issue?
William Branham's teachings
William Branham, over the course of his ministry (see quotes below), taught the following about the church natural:
- Israel was the church natural and the New Testament church is the church spiritual
- The Bible teaches that you can't separate the church natural from the church spiritual
- Lot in Sodom typed the church natural
- Cain was a type of the church natural, while Able typed the church spiritual.
- God won't bless the church spiritual until it pulls away from the church natural
- Esau was a type of the church natural
- Judas was a type of the church natural
- The church natural is a carnal church
- The church natural is intellectual
- Billy Graham preached to the church natural as did Oral Roberts
- The church natural is made up of people that "steal, cheat, lie, smoke, drink, gamble..."
- The church natural preaches a social gospel
- Denominational churches are the church natural
- If you are born again, you are in the church spiritual.
- The church natural is the lukewarm church
- The lukewarm church and the five foolish virgins are synonymous.
However, William Branham also admitted that if a person was "born again", they were in the church spiritual.
What does the Bible teach
There is only one Body of Christ
If a person is a Christian, that is they have placed their trust in Jesus Christ, they are in the body of Christ.
- For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
- For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.
- There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
- And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.
What do I have to do to get into the Body of Christ?
A person is saved by the grace of God; by placing their trust in Jesus Christ and accepting His sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins. They are not saved by following William Branham's message.
- ...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” ...For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 
- But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
- ...who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel...
- But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Two-tiered Christianity is not new
At various times in the history of the church Christians have attempted to divide the church into two categories of believers. But two-tiered Christianity is a false teaching as we will see below.
Jews vs. Gentiles
In the first century church there was a dangerous tendency, which Paul spoke against, to develop a two-tiered sense of Christianity, especially between Jews and Gentiles. The two classes were Jews and Gentiles. Jews, because they followed the Old Testament law in many ways, were seen as more favorable before God, and Gentiles, because they didn’t, almost felt like second-class Christians at many points.
Gnosticism had a two-tiered system of Christianity. The gnostics were a heretical movements that promoted a secret gnosis, or knowledge, that was reserved for their elite members. God alone can communicate truth about himself, and this can only be conveyed in enigmas, symbols, allegories, metaphors, and in similar figures. Thus, Scripture is thoroughly like a parable and neither prophecy nor the Savior himself announced the divine mysteries simply so as to be easily understood by everyone, but expressed them in parables. The holy mysteries are preserved for chosen men, selected for knowledge because of their faith; for the style of the Scriptures is that of a parable. The truths of God were transparent and bright to the gnostics but they are dark to the multitude. Thus, a two-tiered system of Christians was erected, with spiritual believers being able to understand the mysteries of Scripture that simple believers could not appreciate.
In AD 160, a gathering of the church condemned a teacher named Montanus. Hailing from the region of Phrygia (modern-day Turkey), which was known for being a hotbed of eccentricity, Montanus looked at the church in his day and decided that it was not ready for the return of Jesus. He sought to recover a particular view of the gifts of prophecy and tongues in the church. In so doing, he developed unorthodox teachings about the Holy Spirit: Montanus believed that he himself was the Holy Spirit incarnate. He also led a group of people known for their extreme asceticism and gibbering chants. Appropriately enough, this movement is known as Montanism. The Montanists believed that true Christianity depended on a mystical experience with the Spirit, and they taught a two-tiered division of believers, distinguishing between ordinary believers and the pneumatakoi, or “spirit-filled” Christians. The pneumatakoi were the “more advanced” group that received a special indwelling (a “baptism”) of the Holy Spirit after conversion. According to the Montanists, a life of true holiness or godliness was not possible if you were not numbered among the pneumatakoi.
Such teaching, the church quickly recognized, flies in the face of the uniform testimony of Scripture that there is but one faith and one baptism (Eph. 4:4–6). God’s Word knows nothing of a Christian who does not possess the Holy Spirit.
One of the distinctive characteristics of the Reformation lies in the way it revalued the activities of daily life over and against the works of the monastic communities. In the late Middle Ages the Christian life was often split into two tiers so that there existed “average” Christians and “super” Christians. The former were called carnali, or carnal Christians. They could attempt to live according to the Ten Commandments like others, but this would only enable them to climb the ladder so far up to God. In order to climb all the way up, one had to move on to the so-called evangelical counsels—the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. In this way one could move toward the sanctified life. These were called the perfecti, or the sanctified ones. Luther’s recovery of the gospel knocked the legs out of this way of thinking. It enabled one to come back to earth and embrace this earthly life as God’s created form even for Christians. Rather than seeking to escape this world, one could embrace it in all of its fullness.
Two-tiered Christianity again showed its ugly head in the Keswick movement or the "Let go and let God" theology. Keswick theology was one of the most significant strands of second-blessing theology. It assumes that Christians experience two “blessings.” The first is getting “saved,” and the second is getting serious. The change is dramatic: from a defeated life to a victorious life; from a lower life to a higher life; from a shallow life to a deeper life; from a fruitless life to a more abundant life; from being “carnal” to being “spiritual”; and from merely having Jesus as your Savior to making Jesus your Master. People experience this second blessing through surrender and faith: “Let go and let God.”
Keswick theology, however, is not biblically sound. Here are just a few of the reasons why:
- DISJUNCTION: It creates two categories of Christians. This is the fundamental, linchpin issue.
- PERFECTIONISM: It portrays a shallow and incomplete view of sin in the Christian life.
- QUIETISM: It tends to emphasize passivity, not activity.
- PELAGIANISM: It tends to portray the Christian’s free will as autonomously starting and stopping sanctification.
- METHODOLOGY: It tends to use superficial formulas for instantaneous sanctification.
- IMPOSSIBILITY: It tends to result in disillusionment and frustration for the “have-nots.”
- SPIN: It tends to misinterpret personal experiences.
B.B. Warfield boiled it down to three major contentions:
1. Warfield argues that the adherents to the victorious life movement build a high wall of separation between justification and sanctification. This split between entering the Christian life and living the Christian life put asunder what Warfield argues must be kept unified. “We cannot divide Jesus,” Warfield states, “and have Him as our righteousness while not at the same time having Him as our sanctification”. This division, Warfield tells us, stems from a deficient view of Christ and the cross.
2. In reference to Christ when we receive Him at salvation, we receive both His person and His benefits, and, Warfield adds, “when we have Him we have all”. The victorious life movement teaches that at salvation we do not receive all, but that we need to wait until the second blessing or wait for some later time of empowerment in order to live fully the Christian life. Further, perfectionism promotes a deficient view of what Christ accomplished on the cross. In the victorious life teaching, Christ’s death is looked upon as merely saving us from the guilt of sin; the salvation from the corruption of sin comes later. Warfield responds this way: “It is a fatally inadequate conception of salvation which so focuses attention on deliverance from the penalty of sin and from continued acts of sin, as to permit to fall out of sight deliverance from sin itself—that corruption of heart which makes us sinners” 
3. The Christian, saved from the guilt and corruption of sin, does not then proceed to sin no more. Yet, Warfield advocated a view of sanctification that looked quite different from his victorious-life protagonists. In their view, there are two classes of Christians, some on the higher plane experiencing victory in Jesus and another class wallowing below. This teaching frustrated Warfield as he saw it undermining Christ’s cross-work, not to mention the role of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. In Warfield’s view, such classes do not exist. All those in Christ have all that they need to live the Christian life, to strive after holiness.
The Pentecostal doctrine of baptism in the Holy Spirit divides the world into Christians and non-Christians, and then puts Christians into two categories, ordinary believers and Spirit-baptized believers.
But as we saw above, such a division of Christians into two categories is not a unique understanding that is found only in Pentecostal teaching in the twentieth century. In fact, much Pentecostal teaching came out of earlier holiness groups that had taught that Christians could either be ordinary believers or “sanctified” believers. Other groups have divided Christians using different categories, such as ordinary believers and those who are “Spirit filled,” or ordinary believers and those who are “disciples,” or “carnal” and “spiritual” Christians. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church has long had not two but three categories: ordinary believers, priests, and saints.
What is the problem with viewing Christians as existing in two categories like this? The problem is that it contributes to a “we-they” mentality in churches, and leads to jealousy, pride, and divisiveness. No matter how much these people who have received this special empowering of the Holy Spirit try to be thoughtful and considerate of those who have not, if they genuinely love their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and if this has been a very helpful experience in their own Christian lives, they cannot help but give the impression that they would like others to share this experience as well. Even if they are not proud in their hearts (and it seems to me that most are not) with respect to this experience, such a conviction that there is a second category of Christians will inevitably give an impression of pride or spiritual superiority. Yet there will very likely be a sense of jealousy on the part of those who have not had such an experience. In this way, a view of two groups within the church is fostered, and the repeated charge of divisiveness that is made against the charismatic movement is given some credibility. In fact, divisions often do occur in churches.
The major objection to this position is that the New Testament itself teaches no such two-level or two-class Christianity. Nowhere in the Epistles do we read of Paul or Peter telling a church that is having problems, “You all need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.” Nowhere do we hear of the risen Lord Jesus speaking to the troubled and weak churches in Revelation 2–3, “Ask me to baptize you in the Holy Spirit.” It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the two-level or two-class view taught by all of these groups throughout history does not have a solid foundation in the New Testament itself.
William Branham appears to have confused references to unbelievers in scripture to his strange view of the "church natural".
A person that is following Christ in accordance with the teachings of the New Testament is a Christian and part of the Body of Jesus Christ regardless of whether they attend a message church or not. There are not tiers or classes of Christians.
This is clearly not the Gospel that Paul preached:
- ...but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
Equality in status among God’s people is also emphasized by Paul in Galatians: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27–28). Paul is here underlining the fact that no class of people, such as the Jewish people who had come from Abraham by physical descent, or the freedmen who had greater economic and legal power, could claim special status or privilege in the church. Slaves should not think themselves inferior to free men or women, nor should the free think themselves superior to slaves. Jews should not think themselves superior to Greeks, nor should Greeks think themselves inferior to Jews.
Similarly, Paul wants to insure that men will not adopt some of the attitudes of the surrounding culture, or even some of the attitudes of first-century Judaism, and think that they have greater importance than women or are of superior value before God. Nor should women think themselves inferior or less important in the church. Both men and women, Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, are equal in importance and value to God and equal in membership in Christ’s body, the church, for all eternity. In practical terms, we must never think that there are any second-class citizens in the church. Whether someone is a man or woman, employer or employee, Jew or Gentile, black or white, rich or poor, healthy or ill, strong or weak, attractive or unattractive, extremely intelligent or slow to learn, all are equally valuable to God and should be equally valuable to one another as well. This equality is an amazing and wonderful element of the Christian faith and sets Christianity apart from almost all religions and societies and cultures. The true dignity of godly manhood and womanhood can be fully realized only in obedience to God’s redeeming wisdom as found in Scripture.
Quotes by William Branham
And there, when Israel was called out, a type of the Church... Israel always was a type of the Church. That was the church natural, this is the Church spiritual. They was called out. And as soon as they were called out, they passed through the Red Sea, baptized unto Moses. And as soon as they come on the other side, they were baptized then with the Spirit.
Now, I believe that was the Church natural. The Jewish church that was brought out of Egypt to Palestine, was the natural church, God's natural people, who had a natural law. See? But we today, are God's spiritual Church, with a spiritual law written on the tables of our hearts, led in a spiritual form.
So there's no way of separating church natural and Church spiritual. But the Church spiritual is the elected Church, called out and set aside by God alone. And they are the ones that will hear the Word of the Lord.
And they had some believers down there, the church natural, Lot, his people.
One of them desired Life Eternal, and he offered to God by faith a more excellent sacrifice than Cain: a perfect type of the churches today: the church natural, church spiritual. And there's no doubt but what I'm talking to both classes right now, and perhaps by the tape will talk to tens of thousands of them.
But look, the church natural, it's just the church carnal.
Remember, as long as they were associated together, the church natural and the church spiritual, they never did get the blessing. Jacob was never blessed until he separated hisself from Esau. And Abraham was never blessed until he separated himself from Lot.
...the church natural persecuting the church spiritual. Now, we find out then that Judas pretending to be a brother, a brother, and that headed up and finally come to a climax.
That is the ungodly, the church natural--intellectual, and the church spiritual--called out. Now, the word, "church," means "called out." These here, the intellectual, was called out of this. And these were called out of that, which is the Bride, and this is the remnant of the woman's seed.
The days of Sodom, there was a--a great revival went on. A one of the modern Billy Grahams went down into Sodom and preached the Gospel, had a great time, and called out what there was in there. And that was the church natural and carnal. But look what happened to it: went right on in and formed a great nation called Moab.
And we realize that when the days of Abraham, that there was a modern Billy Graham went down into Sodom and preached the Gospel and brought out Lot, the church natural.
But that church spiritual, Abraham, Sarah, there was One Who stayed with them Who showed the sign of the supernatural. When He had His back turned to the tent, He said, "Where is Sarah, thy wife?" How'd He know that he had a wife? He said He was a stranger. Said, "In the tent behind you." And He told him He would visit him, according to the time of life, and Sarah, inside the tent laughed, within her heart, and the Angel said, "Why did she laugh?" That was a sign. Just a little bit before the world was burned.
You said, "As it was in that day, so will it be in this day." God, You still have Angels. And we realize that Angel was manifested in human flesh, for soon He disappeared in the presence of Abraham, and Abraham called Him, "Elohim." God.
...this remnant was the sleeping virgin that he spurted the water from his mouth to make war with the remnant of the woman's seed. Now, what is a remnant? Now, there you--you have to get these types together now. There is a church which is church natural.
And that's what's the matter with the churches today. You've done got away from that River, got away from them gifts of the Spirit; they got just a church natural. And they get away from the spiritual gifts and the spiritual things, and they cast their fruit. What do they do? They're--they're believers, live with the world, act like the world, steal, cheat, lie, smoke, drink, gamble, have bunco parties in the church to pay the preacher, and everything else, soup suppers, dances. See? They cast their fruit. It's just like the world, and the unbeliever look and say, "There's no difference in that person and me."
The church natural. There is a church natural; that's the one's made up by man. Church spiritual... You know, the Bible says that? Yes, sir. Church natural and church spiritual. And the Bible says, "Cast out the bondswoman and her child (Hagar), for she will not be heir with the freewoman and her child."
Now, let's just take--take today. Now, isn't it strange that the church natural, out in the--the denominational world, they have had a great blasting, two great ministers? Isn't it strange that A-b-e-r-h-a-m and G-r-a-h-a-m never hit before in all the world? Then we got a Brother Oral Roberts, another great man. And remember as G-r... Or these Angels went down into the Sodom; they didn't perform any miracles; only one night they were smitten blind. And the preaching of the Word smites the unbeliever blind. He's blinded by the Word.
There was Lot and his group, which were lukewarm believers, church natural. There was Abraham, the spiritual, called-out, elected, out into the wilderness away from Sodom.
There is two churches in the world, church natural, church spiritual, they're all called "Christians." But the church natural cannot raise. It's doing its raising now in the World Council, council of churches.
But the Christian rises to meet Christ because It's a Bride, to go to meet Him. There is a difference in them. Nature holds these secrets, to us, and we can see them as we watch them. And we see that Christianity speaks the Truth, of death, burial, and resurrection.
Now, Jesus told us just exactly what would take place just at this time. He told us, in Matthew 24, that the Church, true Church, and the other church, would be... Church natural, Church spiritual, "Would be so close together, impersonators, until it would deceive the very Elected, if it was possible." How that it was in the days of Noah, "How they was eating, drinking, marrying, given in marriage," and all this immorality of the world that we see today.
But there is a segregation, the Bride of Christ is segregated from the rest of the churches, and that's exactly right: church natural, and the Church spiritual; church carnal, the Church the Word. It always has been. "Jesus came to His own, His own received Him not; but as many as received Him!"
And then the church natural is just a bunch of people in denominations, that joined. It's no more... I don't even no more call it "church." I don't like to refer to it. I like to refer to it as a "lodge," Methodist lodge, Baptist lodge, Pentecostal lodge.
But the Church is the borned-again that's in Christ Jesus, that's new creatures. And so we still see that, that God keeps His Word.
And now, today, as we see the church natural, in your intellectual gospel, going further and further away from the Word, in social gospel; we find that the women of the world, on the streets, members of such, is carrying themselves in the same atmosphere. You can't tell them. They've lost all sense of common decency, the people have. See? And that's the way the church has. And you can see it going straight to the ecumenical council, just as certain as anything in the world, and right into Rome as hard as it can go, see, 'cause it's prophesied. And there she is. That's her behavior.
That is when even the lukewarm church and the five foolish virgins will appear. He will separate the sheep from the goats. When He comes He will take over the kingdom, for it is His, and with Him will be the thousands times ten thousands, His Bride, who come to minister to Him. Glory! Oh, it is now or never. Repent before it is too late. Wake up from amongst the dead and seek God to be filled with His Spirit or you will miss eternal life. Do it now while there is time.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 12:4–5.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Co 12:12–14.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Eph 4:4–6.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Col 3:15.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 10:9–11, 13
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Eph 2:4–9.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 2 Ti 1:9–10.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Tt 3:4–7.
- David Platt, “Freed through Faith,” in David Platt Sermon Archive (Birmingham, AL: David Platt, 2008), 1753.
- Gregg R. Allison, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 122–123.
- Tabletalk Magazine, January 2009: Resolved to Press on toward the Goal (Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2009), 52.
- Christopher John Donato et al., Perspectives on the Sabbath (Nashville: B&H, 2011).
- Andrew D. Naselli, “For the Church: Why ‘Let Go and Let God’ Is a Bad Idea,” Tabletalk Magazine, August 2011: Theological Reflections on Classic Literature (Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2011), 75.
- The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 8, p. 475
- The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 8, p. 579
- Tabletalk Magazine, April 2005: Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2005), 17–18.
- Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 777.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ga 1:7–8.
- Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 458–459.
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