David Grabbe, reminding us that the apostle Paul had to caution the Thessalonian congregation against jumping to conclusions about the return of Christ, asserts the scattered Church of God has a similar penchant for jumping to conclusions, some identifying Joseph W. Tkach (a man who hardly demonstrated any wondrous miracles) as the man of sin, occupying the holy place. While biblical types come in all colors and flavors, the stark reality of II Thessalonians 2 is far more grave than any parochial upheaval. Like the Thessalonian congregation, we cannot afford to let anyone deceive us. The scope of this event is obviously international, affecting the entire world, involving a dramatic global rejection of God's truth. Our culture has been witness to this international apostasy, in viewing the acceptance of godless evolution over creation. A decrepit nominal Christianity has been challenged by a virulent radical Islam, which teaches that the notion that God has a son is blasphemous. Shockingly, for all its moral decline, America is the most 'Christian' country of any Israelitish nation on the globe; in Britain far, far more attend mosques than churches. Meanwhile, in 'Christian' America, Wicca and New Age earth worship surges in popularity, while a full one-fifth of the population has abandoned previous beliefs. In the mainstream religions, belief has become so anemic with such shallow ideas of righteousness that the truth of God cannot be translated into real life experience. We must realize that the falling way will be universal; every 'tribe' will be dismayed. Because this on-going apostasy has not occurred overnight, we must safeguard ourselves against the danger of adapting ourselves to the new normal of evil and wickedness, compromising ourselves into mortal danger by gradual neglect, allowing the plague of secularism to infect us little by little.
In Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus warns the Pharisees about crossing a line that cannot be uncrossed, an act of blasphemy that is commonly called "the unpardonable sin." David Grabbe explores the Bible's references to this often-misunderstood subject, showing that, while rare, one could fall into it through bitterness or neglect.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that Satan has indeed deceived the entire world, maintains that not only has Satan made exponential progress enslaving people with 'progressive' socialist leadership, but he has infiltrated the ranks of millions of nominal Christians, infecting them with destructive, pathogenic immorality, causing our current society to resemble the time of Noah immediately prior to the Flood. Though Satan has been working feverishly for thousands of years, the most dramatic erosion of spiritual and moral values has occurred in the last 70 years. Recently, the Pew Research Center, conducting a 6-year poll measuring 'Christian' acceptance of homosexuality as a lifestyle, demonstrated wholesale acceptance of this aberration in all major denominations, with the largest acceptance rate appearing among Roman Catholics, and the lowest rate among Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists. The percentage of increases represent millions and millions of adherents, indicating that for many 'Christians' God's Holy Law is not taken very seriously. Consequently, God's wall of protection has been removed from modern Israel.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the etymological roots of apostate and apostle, acknowledges that both words indicate "taking a stand." While "apostle" refers to someone taking a stand in behalf of someone or an ideal, "apostate" refers to someone who once held loyalty to a person or ideal, but has now taken a stand in opposition. Adam and Eve were the first apostates, having transferred their loyalty from God Almighty to Satan the devil. Paul identified Demas as an apostate, and John warned of apostatizing teachers. Current political leaders have apostatized from the Founding Fathers, who had a far better understanding of God's ways than virtually all public servants seeking office today. The churches of nominal Christianity, once considered the bulwark of morality in Britain and America, have disintegrated to a mere shell of their former presence. Secular progressive humanism, smugly and presumptuously exalting the creation over the Creator, has replaced Christianity as the dominant religion on earth. Apostasy in nominal Christianity has come from major apostate philosophers, serving as 'educators' within the worldly churches, causing more damage from the words of their pens than the combined cumulative military power on the earth.
Kim Myers, seeing a parallel between the church's drift into Laodiceanism and the physical nation of Israel drifting into a similar tolerant attitude toward immorality and lawlessness, as seen by the continuous trashing of the Constitution and the Federal judges' advocating immorality, warns that we cannot not allow ourselves to backslide, allowing pressure from the world's culture to water down God's laws and commandments. Instead, we are admonished to get off the fence and get back to the faith once delivered. If we revert to the old habits that we practiced during our pre-conversion period, God will be compelled to vomit us out. If we become again entangled in the world's pollution after we have been extricated, our latter state will be worse than our first one. As God's called-out ones, we have witnessed many miracles through the years, especially our miraculous calling. It behooves us to move forward as an energized body, assiduously avoiding the Laodicean mindset of self-satisfaction.
Martin Collins, acknowledging that people universally are curious about the future, asserts that prophecy is difficult and perplexing. Regardless of when Christ will return, we must be ready. False teachers, apostasy, and wars, as well as rumors of wars, will be a permanent part of the birth pangs ushering in Christ's Second Coming and the end of the world. Our challenge in the wake of the terrible things we witness now (an arena of passion and fury) must be to retain confidence that God is in control, even though our faith will be tried to its ultimate. The zeal we had at our calling cannot hold up to the current rigors. We need to learn to fear God more than those who persecute us. When we are ill-treated, we are persecuted for His sake—a high honor. God will give us special ability to witness for Him in the midst of gruesome trials and persecution. God's promises have conditions, namely, that we come to the stature of Christ. We are commanded not to be deceived, not to be afraid, and not to worry. Because Jesus will come unexpectedly and suddenly, we need to always live as though Christ will be returning tomorrow. God encourages us to stay settled in times of conflict, to stand firm in the faith, and to preach the Gospel to the world until Christ returns, an event which will be as the blink of the eye regardless of when we die. Consequently, we need to maintain a solid relationship with God, watching and praying continually, protecting our spiritual valuables. Until Christ returns, we must serve our brethren, using the spiritual gifts God has given us, in direct contrast to the evil servant, who is careless, cruel, and engages in carousing, believing he has plenty of time since Christ has supposedly delayed His coming. Faithless Christians will be judged more harshly than those who do not know Christ. To whom much has been committed, much will be expected.
Martin Collins, alarmed about vacuous emotionalism in religion, producing emotional feelers for Jesus rather than followers of Christ, warns us that we must take the bad with the good, enduring suffering and consolation. "Feeling good" all the time is not our destiny as long as we are mortal human beings. Feelings and emotions may throw our faith off course. Our moods are mercurial and we must control them with daily prayer and Bible study. We could be emotionally manipulated more by what we see than what we hear, as demonstrated by our forefather Jacob, who seemed more inclined to believe bad news than good news, possibly because of the sorrowful events of his hard life, testing his faith on a regular basis. We should not allow our moods and feelings to govern the course of our lives. We must become in control of our feelings, a major fruit of God's Holy Spirit, enabling us to bring every thought into captivity. Husbands should painstakingly shield their spouses from negative feelings and bad news. Jacob had to be moved to believe that Joseph was alive by the testimony of Joseph's brothers and ultimately the carts from Egypt. Jacob, along with Samuel, Abraham, and Saul, was strengthened in faith with an assuring communication with God. Jacob, at 130 years, felt old and reluctant to pull up stakes, moving to a new locale steeped in pagan worship, having both bitter memories and prophetic revelation of future difficulties for his family. God's reassuring words to Jacob can provide strength for us as well, reaffirming our relationship with Him, the loyalty to the covenant, the surety of His promises, and the assurance of our part in His master plan. When we are fearful, we should seek God's guidance and direction before taking another step.
How are we different from those who have fallen away from the truth? How do we know that at some point in the future we will not also follow a path of deception and eventual apostasy? How can we be confident that we will not be deceived?
As Christians, we realize that God is not only powerful, but He is also the source of all power. How do we translate this understanding into practical action? John Ritenbaugh explains how we can tap into God's power to avoid slipping into apostasy.
Martin G. Collins: Biblically, apostasy is rebellion against God or the abandonment of faith in God by those once enlightened by the truth. In the Old Testament it always relates to rebellion against God. In Israel, apostasy was a capital offense. One who sacrificed to another god was stoned to death. ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the promise of rest alluded to in Hebrews 4:9, emphasizes the need to endure, persevere, overcoming doubts and unbelief—something many of our forebears (described in Hebrews 3 and 4) did not successfully attain. When we become impatient (largely as a result of superimposing our timetable, plan, or understanding over God's), doubts and lack of faith arise. Like Abraham, we (as Abraham's seed) have been called to a life of rootless, unsettled wandering in a pilgrim state, continually on the move, trusting in God to lead us to our ultimate destination: a spiritual life of permanence. Until this ultimate objective (the ever-expanding promises made by God to Abraham- co-heirs of the earth and ultimately the entire creation) occurs, we experience temporary privation, temptation, and seemingly perpetual rootlessness. Thankfully, if we patiently endure the twists and turns, trusting in God's faithfulness to bring to completion what He has started, there will be a time when we will attain the rest we desperately yearn for.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that belief or faith is difficult enough to maintain if the doctrines are put in proper order, but greatly confused when the pastor dilutes correct doctrine with "benign" false doctrine derived from the belief systems of the world's cultures under the sway of Satan's manipulation. Seemingly minor changes affect major trajectories in direction. A person's cosmology (his understanding of the nature of the world) largely determines his belief system and attendant behavior. If evolution determines his cosmology, man becomes his own God. Until our cosmology is synchronized with God's (as we think as God's thinks), our spiritual well-being will be in continuous deadly peril. What a person believes shapes his views and behavior. The Axial Period (deriving from sixth- and seventh-century BC Hellenistic thought) has largely shaped the dominant cosmology of today's world.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the big lie ('you will not surely die'—Genesis 3:4) of inherent immortal life (an immortal soul). This dangerous false belief, held by the majority of Christian-professing denominations, has led to an acceleration of sin and the danger of eternal oblivion. Sin kills, and we are not immortal. Contrary to Socrates and Plato's misconceptions about inherent immortality, only God can give eternal life, and it has specific conditions (overcoming sin and growing spiritually). Death is not a friend or a liberator, but as Jesus understood at the time of his crucifixion, a bitter enemy, a tool of Satan, and a cruel instrument of separation. Only through God's divine act of resurrection can we hope to attain eternal life. We desperately need to do a thorough self-examination, properly discerning Christ's sacrifice, and strive mightily to overcome sin, the destroyer of life.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the technological and linguistic changes that have occurred in the short span of one century, marvels at the drastic decrease of our attention span and the corresponding degradation of language. The dramatic shift in orientation from words to pictures has weakened thought and the transmission of ideas, "dumbing down" our culture toward drabness, unaesthetic plainness, and imprecision. Because virtually everything we know about God comes through words, this denigration of language (the vehicle transmitting spiritual truths, metaphorical bread or food) could prove highly detrimental to our spiritual welfare. Spiritually, relying exclusively on images leads to shallowness of thought at best and idolatry at its worst. The Word of God, however, provides depth and nourishment leading to salvation and eternal life. Through God's Spirit, we need to learn how to process the Word of God effectively and efficiently.
John Ritenbaugh contends that those who believe in the "once saved always saved" doctrine foolishly fail to see that God has a more extensive and creative plan for mankind than merely saving them. One can fail to bring forth fruits of repentance and thus qualify for the Lake of Fire. By denigrating the role of works in repentance and building character, the proponents of the "no effort, no works, love Jesus only" idea ignore the lessons of Scripture and mock God's plan for mankind, suggesting that He requires nothing productive of His contractual partners. Salvation is not unconditional. If we deliberately choose death (Deuteronomy 30:19), rejecting God's covenant, He is not responsible for our breach of contract.
Are we "once-saved, always-saved"? Once God grants us His grace, are we assured eternal life? Richard Ritenbaugh exposes the fallacies of this Protestant doctrine of "eternal security."
Many think keeping Christmas is fine because it honors Christ, yet God never tells us to celebrate the day of His Son's birth. John Ritenbaugh explains that it is presumptuous on many Christians' parts to believe that such a syncretized holiday could please God.
Three of the seven churches of Revelation 2 receive warnings from Christ to beware Nicolaitanism. What is it? Richard Ritenbaugh shows how Nicolaitanism—a form of Gnosticism—still plagues the church today.
Dew is a creation of God that He uses several times in His Word. Ronny Graham illustrates how this symbolism applies to us today.
Christ's first letter to the churches focuses on the Ephesians, a people who succeeded in trying the spirits, but in the interim left [their] first love.
Some Old Testament stories read like parables, and Elisha's miracles in II Kings 4 are good examples of this. Richard Ritenbaugh draws parallels between modern church history and the second of these miracles.
Persecution is not a subject we normally like to think about, but it is a fact of life for a Christian. John Ritenbaugh explains why Jesus says we are blessed if we are persecuted for righteousness' sake.
Compromise usually begins small and can grow to encompass once strongly held beliefs. Martin Collins uses the story of Solomon to illustrate how this process works.
It seems that some sins should be worse than others in God's eyes. Is this so? Martin Collins explains that, though all sin merits the death penalty, some sins carry greater consequences and penalties.
Richard Ritenbaugh contends that the book of Jude, a scathing indictment against false teachers, is perhaps the most neglected book in the New Testament. It was designed for the end time, a time of apostasy, when most of these problems would occur. Jude admonishes ministers to protect the flock, warning that brute beasts (false teachers), having wormed themselves into leadership positions in the church, governed by lusts and desire for gain, will attempt to devour the flock with their cunning antinomian, ungodly teaching, twisting the doctrine of grace into licentiousness, encouraging unbelief, rebellion, and immorality. Jude, seeing the coming apostasy, admonishes people to put forth agonizing effort to be grounded in the truth, taking on God's mind.
A Statement of Purpose and Beliefs of the Church of the Great God
All the signs point to Christ's imminent return, yet the Bible warns us not to let down! John Reid, using Hebrews 10, exhorts us to strive zealously to please God and finish our course!
Are we really so certain these are the last days? How can we know for sure? What does the Bible give as evidence that the last days are here?
In this Last Great Day sermon Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that the Lake of Fire (Second Death or Third Resurrection), dreadful as it initially appears, produces both immediate as well as ultimate benefits or good. As a deterrent against sin, the Lake of Fire has an immediate benefit for those who, after having accepted Christ's sacrifice, might be tempted to sin (Hebrews 10:26-27, 12:26-29, II Peter 3:10-11). The future benefit of the Lake of Fire will be a thorough scouring of all evil, perversion and filth from the universe, ushering in an eternity without the pain or misery of sin (Zephaniah 3: 14-15,Revelation 21: 8, 27). As God's called out ones, our time of judgment (our Great White Throne Judgment) begins right now (I Peter 4:17, II Peter 1:3-11)
John Ritenbaugh provides the rationale of this phase of the church's work- what and why the Church of the Great God is doing what it is doing. In this time of scattering, God is testing our loyalty to Him, correcting deficiencies that will keep us out of His Kingdom. Despite the untested Protestant assumption that "the work" of God is preaching the Gospel to the world, nowhere does the combination of words "preaching the gospel to the world is the work of God" appear in the Bible. Though it is part of the work, it is only a small part. The hardest part of God's work is the feeding of the flock the full counsel of God, to get the called-out ones ready to enter the God-family (in His Spiritual image)-especially considering the cesspool of heresy and apostasy from which we have been rescued. God engineered the scattering for our own good, enabling experiences to restore faith and attain the full stature of Christ.
How does God define the church? What comprises it according to the Bible? The ekklesia, the Greek word translated "church" in the Bible, is not a humanly defined corporation, but the mystical body of Christ, having the Spirit of God. The true church of God is an invisible, spiritual organism, of those people that have and are led by the Spirit of God. And such a person will not turn away from the teaching delivered by the apostles.
Indeed, many heresies crept into the church over the past several years. John Ritenbaugh explains the difference between heresy and apostasy, how Satan works to introduce heresy into the church, and most importantly, what we can do about it!
In Matthew Christ likens end-time events to the time of Noah's Flood. John Ritenbaugh gives insight into how this end time flood might manifest itself and what we can do to avoid being swept up in it.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that we do not have immortality as a birthright (the lie which Satan told Eve), but that God is the sole source, making our relationship with God and God's judgment the most important focus of our life. One common denominator in all four Gospels is that a parallel exists between our lives and what Christ experienced on the earth. As part of Christ's body (I Corinthians 12:14-15), we all experience together what Christ experienced (crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and glorification- Romans 8:17). The death of self (Romans 8:13 and Galatians 3:5) must absolutely precede the resurrection to life (Romans 6:5).
In this Feast of Trumpets sermon, John Ritenbaugh, reflects on Malachi Martin's book, The Final Conclave, which claims that, not only are 60% of the College of Cardinals not firm believers, but that a hard core 27% are functional but prudent agnostics, hedging their bets. Some of us, facing the stress and uncertainties of the time, may also be going through the motions but losing every vestige of faith. The Day of the Lord, like a claw hammer, has both a business end (return of Christ) and a wrecking end (destruction, mayhem, and tribulation). In this stressful time, we had better have our convictions in order, realizing that not only is God preparing a place for us, He is also preparing us to be conformed to the image of His Son.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that keeping the Feast of Tabernacles in a central location enables us to realize that we are involved in something larger than our own salvation- part of a universal and eternal mission, giving us unity toward God's purpose. Jeroboam, motivated by political ambition and self-centered fear, incrementally and surreptitiously established a more convenient idolatrous festival, replacing the Levites, and establishing new centers of worship in order to prevent his people from keeping the legitimate Feast of Tabernacles in Judah. The modern parallel seems quite clear.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the prophecies concerning the Man of Sin refer to a personage having immense political power with global significance rather than to an errant leader of a small church. The mystery of lawlessness which Paul warns about 19 years after Christ's resurrection (II Thessalonians 2:7) was the insidious religious deception of the Babylonian mystery religion infiltrating the church, appropriating the name of Christ, but despising and rejecting His Law, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness (Jude 3-4). The mystery of iniquity is progressive in nature, building to a fearful climax just before the return of Christ, when the Man of Sin, along with the Beast, will have aligned a major portion of the world in a fierce battle against Christ. If we don't love the truth, we will be absorbed into this hideous system.
John Ritenbaugh stresses the importance of making preparations, gathering our thoughts, and turning our lives around while there is still time, rather than squander our opportunities like the foolish virgins (Matthew 25:3) and the timid Shulamite (Song of Solomon 5:3). The Apostle Paul gives two significant warnings, signaling the impending Tribulation: (1) The falling away or Apostasy and (2) the appearance of the man of sin who exalts himself above God, ultimately setting up headquarters in the temple in Jerusalem (II Thessalonians 2:3-4). Because of the immense international geopolitical significance of this personage, it is unlikely that an errant leader of a small church, as speculated by some, could remotely fulfill this role.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes the spiritual condition of the recipients of the Hebrews epistle as dangerously complacent, drifting into apostasy through neglect rather than from any blatant sin or perversion. Losing their zeal and first love after the manner of the Ephesians, having a complacent disregard for Christ's sacrifice, they were in danger of permanently searing their consciences and losing their vital access to God. The entire eleventh chapter provides examples to bolster their faith and rekindle their first love. The kind of faith described in this chapter is not blind and clueless, but is carefully developed as a result of systematic analysis of available evidence. Abraham, Sarah, and Moses were all motivated to endure by calculating or adding up all the evidence. Likewise God desires and has deliberately planned that we build our faith by the same kind of calculation, analysis, or adding up the evidence.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that Jesus Christ's sinlessness was not the result of being a programmed automaton, but instead as a result of volition or choice—actively struggling against carnal pulls and temptations, enabling Him to fully empathize and have compassion on those tempted in like manner. He experienced exactly the same kind of temptations and suffering we experience, qualifying Him for the role of High Priest, bridge-builder between man and God, the same role for which members of God's called-out Family are also qualifying. Like our Elder Brother, we must learn righteous judgment by continually exercising our spiritual muscle, practicing making choices, distinguishing right from wrong, but building godly character and spiritual maturity through the enabling power of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the suffering we experience in trials stems from a desire of our carnal nature to bail out, giving in to temptation to satisfy the appetites of the flesh. As the trials become more intense, our flesh ravenously demands to be satisfied, making sin look increasingly more attractive. As we stiffen our necks and resist God's will, we automatically lose what we have gained spiritually and become ignorant of His awesome purpose for us. We must emulate our Elder Brother, who learned through suffering (resisting the powerful, deceitful pulls of sin), preparing Himself for His role as High Priest. Giving in hardens our hearts and alienates us from the fellowship with God. Like the original recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, we must soberly reflect upon our calling, unconditionally trusting in God's faithfulness to fulfill His purpose for us.
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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