Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Perhaps the most famous line from the quill of American patriot Thomas Paine is the sentence that opened his pro-revolution pamphlet, The American Crisis, No. ...
With many "churches of God" around the world claiming to be part of or even the only church of God, the question "Is There a True Church?" is a pertinent one. John Ritenbaugh examines, not their claims, but what the Bible reveals about the makeup of God's church, especially as time draws near to the return of its Head, Jesus Christ.
The church plays a major role in God's Word, so it is no wonder that the church is represented by literally dozens of symbols. These symbols, taken together, paint a very detailed picture of the future bride of Christ.
Most of us are aware of a phenomenon that too often takes place within the church of God. It should not happen, but it does. This phenomenon is that if an attitude or trend begins to develop in the world, we can expect that it will soon enter the church. When it does, it shows that we are not as attuned to the Kingdom of God as we should be—that we are still too attached to the world. John W. Ritenbaugh explains.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that we are manufactured goods designed specifically to glorify God. We have been summoned or separated from the rest of the world for the specific purpose of having God reproduced in ourselves — becoming clean and pure, transformed into God's image. As God's royal priesthood, we have a responsibility to draw near to God, keeping His commandments, witnessing to the world that God is God. Chipping away at the living stones, fitting them into their proper places, God works continually shaping and fashioning His new creation (II Corinthians 5:17).
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.
John Ritenbaugh somewhat modifies his amazement at individuals who made gigantic sacrifices in the fledgling days of the Radio Church of God, concluding that it is in fact God who expends the lion's share of the energy, putting us all through flip flops in our sanctification process. Our yielding to God's will is a relatively minor sacrifice compared to what He does continually on our behalf. In no way are we interfacing with a passive God, but instead with One extremely active in our lives from before the foundation of the world. As the destinies of the major biblical luminaries were predestined, so are all the lives of God's called-out ones. God does the choosing; God does the moving, micro-managing the lives of those He has called as His servants (such as Abraham, Isaac, Moses, etc.), protecting us from the hatred of the Gentiles (emanating from the spirit of Satan), who are jealous of the hedge of protection and prosperity (both resulting from grace) God has given Jacob's descendants, the current custodians of the prosperous western world. God set apart (that is, made holy, sanctified, and metaphorically married) the entire physical nation in order to model His Laws and way of life to the rest of the world. Physical Israel failed in its responsibility, squandering its precious blessing. God destroyed the physical Temple, national Israel's "security blanket," but concomitantly began building, under Christ, another temple, this one made up of called-out believers. (In a supplemental metaphor, these believers represent Christ's Body, wherein the Holy Spirit dwells.) Whether seen as a body or a temple, these called-out believers represent a new institution, an entity distinct from the previously set-apart nation of Israel. This new institution will eventually have a holiness on a vastly highly plane than that of physical Israel, as it will come to possess the very holiness of God Himself. No one can come to this level of rel
In the last few years, turmoil and confusion have run amok in the church of God. Many feel they were misled by individuals who taught them doctrines they later came to understand were untrue. Some have yielded to the tendency to become cynical and suspicious of nearly anyone who claims to be a teacher of God's Word. Why all the distrust? Do Christians need a church?
Ecclesiastes is perhaps the most practical, as well as profitable, book in the Old Testament, providing overviews of life-guiding advice, essentially a roadmap through the labyrinth, which constitutes the Christian's life journey. Ecclesiastes could be considered the core of biblical wisdom literature. The teacher's conclusions in Ecclesiastes are deliberately blunt. In the labyrinth journey, we are compelled to live by faith, not having all the facts at our disposal. Ecclesiastes is a practical guide in "right now" applications rather than anticipating the future. God knows where He is taking our lives; we do not have a clear picture where God is taking us. We need to develop a trust to submit to Him in order that He can prepare us for our destiny. Ecclesiastes was given to us to expose the world's false values and philosophies which have the tendency to throw God's people off balance. Thankfully, God does not leave our creation up to us or to chance. Godly wisdom accrues from practical experience (dodging obstacles and cul-de-sacs of the world) stemming from a relationship with God. Ecclesiastes gives practical advice for people living in a corrupt world trying to live a godly life, providing us helpful or useful cautions and warning as to what to avoid. Anything that is vanity is nothing compared to the permanence of God's Kingdom. God intends for His people that life should be profitable. In order to achieve that profitable life, we should be looking over the sun for a converted perspective. God is forcing us to make a choice between His profitable way (fearing Him and keeping His commandments) or the common way of mankind.
John Reid identifies four separate ways we are taught: (1.) God's Holy Spirit (John 14:26) imparted to us after our calling (John 6:44) and baptism (2) His Word (II Timothy 2:14-15), (3) through physical observation (Romans 1:20), and (4) through the ministry. The purpose of the ministry is to take members from their point of calling, bringing them to the point where they can be of service to God, edifying them, equipping them for their job of ministering in divine things (Ephesians 4:11-12, I Corinthians 6:2-3), establishing spiritual unity, and bringing them to spiritual maturity or adulthood to the measure of Jesus Christ. The minister serves as a shepherd, teaching not autocratically, but through example (I Peter 5:1-3)
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that mankind does not have (nor ever had) the prerogative to determine standards of righteousness, including whether war is justified. God clearly demonstrated that He was willing to fight Israel's battles for them. Neither ancient Israel nor modern Israel has been authorized to wage war. God's purpose (as well as His promises to our patriarchs) will stand regardless of whether Israel presumptuously chooses to go to war or not. Many biblical examples illustrate that when the leader put his faith in God and submitted himself to God's rule, God supernaturally protected His people. As Jesus lived as a human, He modeled for us a life of restraint and non-violence. Ambassadors of a foreign power do not become involved in another nations politics or wars. When the Kingdom of God becomes a kingdom of this earth, Jesus Christ (along with His resurrected saints) will permanently put an end to all rebellion and conflict.
After explaining the context in which Paul advocated going from house to house, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Paul, who understands clearly that God alone calls (John 6:44), makes his initial contact with non-believers in public places (synagogue and forum), going later to private dwellings by invitation only. Chapter 15 focuses upon the Council of Jerusalem, discussing the controversial subject of circumcision and its relationship to salvation. Peter, speaking from his experience working among the Gentiles, realized that some aspects of the ceremonial laws (including circumcision) were not obligatory to Gentiles for salvation, but that the entire Law of God (given by Jesus Christ), far from done away, is to be kept in a more responsible spiritual sense (respecting the boundaries or constraints of conscience) by both Jews and Gentiles. It had become apparent to the apostles gathered at Jerusalem that God had made a parallel visitation and calling to the Gentiles as He had originally concluded with Israel. The new spiritual tabernacle (the Israel of God) would be composed of Gentiles as well as people of Israel.
Charles Whittaker, reflecting upon what Herbert W. Armstrong referred to as one of the most common as well as one of the most egregious sins, the sin of ingratitude, focuses upon the necessity of proper thanksgiving and the spirit of gratitude. Pride, the kind demonstrated by Nebuchadnezzar when he boasted about what he had accomplished, militated against any feelings of gratitude. Thanksgiving begins with a mindset to see, appreciate, and recognize God. To not recognize God is tantamount to idolizing the self. The spirit of thanksgiving involves a spirit of sacrifice, sacrificing our ego, sacrificing our own lives, and our prideful self-sufficiency, yielding to God's calling out into the body of Christ. The apostle Paul admonishes us repeatedly to be thankful for our shelter in Christ's spiritual body.
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