John Ritenbaugh affirms that, in these times when innovation and knowledge are increasing, time appears to be speeding up as well, and that the emerging, Satanically-inspired Beast is already beginning to wear out the Saints. If we have not yet experienced persecution, it is around the corner. To combat our weariness, we must turn to God's Word, a document which is totally enigmatic unless we have the power of God's Holy Spirit to put it together slowly like a jig-saw puzzle, understood a little bit at a time. To the carnal mind, the Bible reads like gibberish. But, God's Word has both story line and theme, most prominently including 1.) the prophecy of the promised Seed, 2.) the holy line, beginning with Seth and culminating with Christ, and 3.) the "I will" promises to Abraham. The Bible also contains mysteries (best understood as God's invisible activities on our behalf) which have been 'hidden' in plain sight, but made clear by revelation from God's Holy Spirit. The spiritual cleansing and grafting in of the Gentiles, motivating Judah to jealousy and, ultimately, to repentance, is an example of one such mystery. Another mystery is the revealing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that is, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, attended by God's granting to those He calls the ability to understand the Gospel's message—God's reproducing Himself, creating the family of God.
Austin Del Castillo, recalling his reaction to several encounters he had with evangelical "Jesus Freaks" year ago, with their saccharine "Have you given your heart to Jesus?" approach, remembers that their behavior seemed syrupy, making him extremely uncomfortable. Because Protestants have seemingly denigrated God's Law and championed Jesus Christ as the liberator from its so-called bondage, the late Herbert W. Armstrong emphasized God the Father, seemingly de-emphasizing the role of Jesus Christ as the betrothed fiancée of the Israel of God—that is, Church. It behooves God's called-out ones to recognize Jesus Christ as providing the access to God the Father, the Way and the Life. The vine and branch metaphor suggests that we are to form an intimate relationship with our Bridegroom. We need to please our fiancé, trying to do what He wants and refraining from what He hates, in contrast to those 'Christian' organizations who claim to love Him but which do not obey Him.
David C. Grabbe: George Orwell, author of 1984, once noted, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act." While this can certainly be seen within politics ...
As the election approaches in the United States, many are proclaiming this to be the most important election in generations. While it may seem to be the height of patriotism to cast a ballot, Martin Collins shows that Christians are urged to refrain from interfering in the politics of this world, following the example of Jesus during His life and ministry.
When Jesus walked the earth during His ministry, He delivered a message of the coming Kingdom of God with Him as its King. However, as Martin Collins explains, Jesus never inserted Himself into the political process, but instead, He taught His disciples to come out of this world's way of life.
Martin Collins, asking why Christians must endure such horrendous persecution and struggle, asserts that Paul warned in Acts 5 that the church would always be in danger of deception from within and opposition from without. "Opposition from without" in Peter's time came from the evil oppression incited by the Pharisees and Sadducees. Paradoxically, with the beginning of persecution, the Gospel spread exponentially beyond Jerusalem, much to the frustration of the Jewish leaders, consumed by jealousy and fear of losing power. The more the church is persecuted, the more of a witness the church will become. Angelic ministers even the playing field by limiting the threat from unscrupulous and power-hungry religious leaders bent on protecting their turf. Christians can always expect new challenges, and must never be content with standing still, but must be pressing on to spiritual maturity. God allows a great deal of agonizing suffering to His church, but His will is definitely destined to prevail. Christians cannot fully mature without the full counsel of God, embodied in the Old and New Testament, enduring persecution and thorns in the flesh.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the book Final Exit by Derek Humphry, a work exploring the prevalence of suicide and its impact on the survivors, warns us that this is the time to get our ducks in a row, making the most of what we have experienced, establishing our spiritual priorities, and reflecting deeply on why we gave ourselves to God. If we do not, we are subject to committing spiritual suicide, a fate far worse than those taking their lives without ever having God's Holy Spirit. Realizing that God intently hates evil, we may become discouraged reading the Bible, realizing that we do not measure up to even a fraction of God's standards. We need to change our perspective realizing that, as our father Jacob discovered, it is better to become a spiritual pilgrim (facing the myriad challenges confronting us and finding their solutions) than to play the part of an exile (running from pillar to post to escape curses). We must strive to stay on course spiritually to be in God's Kingdom in order to(1.) expand rule of God in individual lives, (2.) to restore peace to the creation, and (3.) to pay the debt we owe our loved ones who have not yet been called. It would be highly ironic—yea, tragic—if our loved ones eventually came into God's Kingdom, and we, through discouragement, had aborted our opportunity.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the heart is the generator or birthplace of our action, reminds us that we are a treasure in God's eyes, chosen, royal, and special, and we must guard and protect our calling, realizing it is the most precious possession we will ever attain- an opportunity to serve as the chosen retinue of Christ the King, the Bride of Christ, the 144,000 of Revelation 7:4, representing 12,000 from each tribe of Israel. In addition to the 144,000, the Innumerable Multitude consists of glorified spirit beings which have gone through great tribulation or stress, referring more to a perennial condition than a point event because the Greek did not contain the definite article (that is, the) in the original text. We are all currently going through this type of tribulation, which started with Adam and Eve's sinning and will crescendo right up until the end. The Church, or the Israel of God, started by Jesus Christ and the Apostles, is a unique educational institution, teaching the way of God and amplifying His Commandments, in contrast to the churches of this world, which take part in the world's politics as well as its wars and the emerging universality movement, which teaches there are many ways to God and that it is possible to be spiritual without being religious. The only institution that is qualified to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is the one consisting of those specifically called by God, willing to follow His Commandments, and yielding unconditionally to His leadership. Consequently, it is essential to know who we are and how we fit in. The churches of the world don't hold the answer because they have rejected the Sabbath and Holy Days, and do not see themselves as citizens of God's Heavenly Kingdom, seeing no use to follow the footsteps of Christ, imitating His behavior. God's Church separates itself from the world's systems, but maintains its loyalty to God's Heavenly Kingdom, upholding its laws in the spirit and the letter. The Church of God is an educational system preaching
In Christ, our earthly citizenships are essentially inconsequential. Paul writes in Philippians 3:19 about the enemies of Christ who "set their minds on earthly things" or "side with earthly things." One area in which we can evaluate how much our heavenly Kingdom means to us is how much we set our minds on earthly kingdoms.
When Jesus Christ began His earthly ministry, He started by preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:23; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:43). ...
David Grabbe, reminding us that a major focus of John the Baptist's ministry was a call to repentance and turning to righteousness, a focus that Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul reinforced and magnified. Curiously, in main-stream Protestantism, repentance has fallen out of favor and has been replaced by cheap 'grace.' The Law allegedly has been done away in the process. Actually repentance is mentioned far more in the New Testament than in the Old Testament, as the New Covenant stresses that Christians have, after they have rejected their sinful past, have been designed for works that are in alignment with God's law. Jesus, in the model prayer asks us to ask for forgiveness of our trespasses on a daily basis and counsels five of the seven churches in Revelation 2 to repent from their sinful ways, radically change course, and turn to God. Repentance transcends remorse, incorporating works of righteousness in sync with God's Law. If the Law were done away, there would be no need of a Savior.
Richard Ritenbaugh, challenging the Protestant assumption that "getting our lives straight" (morality) distracts from the Gospel message of grace, suggests that this emphasis on "hyper-grace" is wrong-headed, denying any need for repentance and overcoming, and totally at odds with the teachings of Christ. The Gospel of the Kingdom emphasizes the plan of God, requiring that we become cleansed from our past sins, living a life of righteousness, preparing for the Kingdom of God—the endgame of God's plan, which is the creation of sons and daughters formed in His image and character. As our character is changed through the sanctification process, we can be turned into Spirit beings. Protestants have an extremely truncated concept of the gospel, denying the sanctification process of salvation and the resurrection. In order to destroy sin, it is necessary to get rid of all sin. God the Father and Jesus Christ want to get rid of all sin—a major part of God's plan. Repenting requires glomming onto God's Law and relinquishing our carnal control over to God's Holy Spirit. God has never finished His Work. In our Christian life, we have lots of rough edges which have to be smoothed before we can rule and reign. The hyper-grace gospel denies any responsibility for our behavior, revealing it to be a throwback to antinomian Gnosticism. Like He did for our forebears, God performed acts of grace to free us, but we have to walk away from sin, repenting of our sin and overcoming our vile human nature in the sanctification process, growing spiritually. The whole Bible is about putting on morality. God's people are to be involved in their sanctification— from consecration, separation, and the rigorous purification process, removing the dross, a process which takes place over a lifetime. The only proper response to grace is obedience to God, walking in His commandments to please Him, fulfilling His will. God called us to be Holy, exercising His Holy Spirit to make moral choices, cleansing ourselves
Richard Ritenbaugh, indicating that there are many flashpoints between the greater Church of God and nominal Christianity, suggests that perhaps one of the most significant differences concerns the place and purpose of God's Law. The carnal mind hates and despises God's Law. The Protestant doctrine of grace has an antinomian core, thinking that justification is a synonym for sanctification and salvation, ruling out any need for works. The Law was not nailed to the cross; the handwriting of ordinances (the record of our sins) was nailed to the cross. The Law shows us the boundary markers, serving as a protective hedge. Sadly, morality and 'moralism' are looked upon in many sectors of Protestantism as pejorative terms, juxtaposed in a false dichotomy with the gospel. We do not keep the Law to save ourselves, but keeping the Law is a major part of the Gospel, our guide to show us how to live our lives, helping us to stay in unity with the King. Nominal Christianity has rejected God's Law, the Sabbath, and God's Holy Days, all of which provide guidelines for our spiritual journey toward the Kingdom of God, following Jesus Christ with the help of God's Holy Spirit. Eating unleavened bread symbolizes taking in what is good and pure, purging out the old leaven and becoming a new lump—the new man. We have a part to play in forging the new man. The Feast of Unleavened Bread reminds us that God did the vast majority of the work, that God intends that His Law be in our mouths (not done away), and that these days are to be kept annually and in perpetuity. God's Word is available to us, enabling us to ingest it daily, making it part of our hearts and minds, enabling us to edify others and modeling it in our lives. God supplies the Word and the Spirit to put us on the same wavelength as He is on, working from the same playbook. We are being groomed to be the Bride of Christ. Our putting out sin and living righteously was not abolished by His death on the cross. We are called to be holy in all our conduct. We will not be
Last time, we saw that the pinnacle of Joseph’s faith, recorded in Hebrews 11:22, involved his confidence in the promises passed down from Abraham regarding the children of Israel’s return to the Promised Land. ...
Most long-time members of the church of God have Matthew 24:14 indeliably etched on their memories: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world. . . ." David Grabbe contends that many have failed to understand this verse as a prophecy, and have instead loaded it with meanings that the plain words do not contain. We should be encouraged that, by it, God guarantees that He will finish His work!
This world presents us with a disordered array of religions of all kinds—from atheism to animism, ancestor worship, polytheism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and many more besides. Where can we find the true religion, the true church, in all this confusion? John Ritenbaugh reveals that only one religion with its one true church has the answers to salvation and eternal life—the church Christ founded and heads today.
John Ritenbaugh observes that for over 50 years the Worldwide Church of God had no confusion about the nature of God, but in 1993, with the publication of the "God is..." booklet, the understanding of God as a family was surreptitiously replaced by the trinity doctrine, designated by the Roman Catholic Church as the most important doctrine in Christendom. The true understanding of the concept of Elohim thoroughly dismantles the entire trinity argument. What people worship is important to the quality of life within a nation, determining the ethics, art, fashions, and their vision for the future. As Emerson avers, we become what we worship. Unfortunately, there are many gods which compete for the loyalty we owe to the Almighty God, the God over all. God revealed Himself to Israel, but Israel has forsaken the legitimate knowledge of His nature, turning instead to vain Christological speculation. As late as 325 (at the Nicean conclave), the Catholic church could not find consensus with the trinity doctrine; not until more than 126 years later, in 451 AD, before the doctrine became accepted, as the people who would not accept it died off. Elohim wanted us to know that more than one personality (working in unity and harmony) was responsible for the creation of man. Jesus declared that the Son of Man came to reveal the Father of the spiritual creation, revealing how mankind can become children of God. God is recreating or reproducing Himself; we are being prepared to become a part of Elohim. To insert a third co-equal personality in the Godhead denies our opportunity for membership in the God family, and denies Christ's insistence that the Father is greater than He.
Martin Collins, focusing upon Paul's assertion that the Son of God was manifested in order to destroy the works of the devil, recounts the historical development of Satan the Devil. Jesus Christ qualified to replace Satan as the ruler of the earth, and will restore order and tranquility at His second coming. In the meantime, God's called out ones are the target of the Great Dragon. Satan and his demons know that their time is short and are determined to destroy as many people as possible, especially the Israel of God. If it were not for God's intervention, the entirety of mankind would perish. Unfortunately, near the close of the age, false teachers have turned Christ's Gospel into empty philosophy, making God's people vulnerable to false doctrine. Satan enticed our original parents, placing them into the kingdom of the Devil, separating them and their offspring from God. Everything about the world's culture, science, economic systems, and religion has been polluted and perverted. Satan's sole desire is to destroy all of humanity. During the Day of the Lord, Satan will marshal all the world's armies around Armageddon in order to fight against the conquering army of Jesus Christ. Satan's lie penetrates into the deepest recesses of our minds where sin originates. Christ has exposed and delivered us from sin's tentacles in the inner mind. Jesus Christ breaks the captor's heavy chains, delivering His people from demonic influence, proving Himself stronger and more powerful than Satan. As Christ rejected Satan's lie and received resurrection, God's called out ones, by rejecting Satan's lie, will also be resurrected. If we are members of God's church we are already being transformed into a new work, being translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.
Everyone knows what the book of Revelation is all about, right? The end of the world, strange and fearsome symbols, and enigmatic clues about the shape of things to come. David Grabbe, however, argues that, though those are included in its pages, the real subject of Revelation is readily apparent.
Jesus Christ came to this earth with a message of salvation, which the Bible calls 'the gospel of the Kingdom of God.' John Ritenbaugh, in setting up the final article in the series, describes just what Christ's gospel is and its relationship to Christian works.
The first parable of Matthew 13 lays the groundwork (pun intended) for the remainder of the chapter. Martin Collins explains the various soils upon which the seed of the gospel falls, and the reasons why growth—or its lack—results.
John Ritenbaugh explores what the Bible teaches on the function of the prophet. Through Biblical contexts, we learn that a prophet is one who speaks for God, expressing His will and purpose in words and signs. The office of a prophet is to forth-tell God's purpose through His Law and tell people God's words. A true prophet, never losing sight of the law of God, deals with local situations, events of the Messiah, events of the future, and events that are dual in application. The prophet, described as coming from outside the system (who brings new truth building it upon the foundation of old truth) is contrasted with the priest who conserves old truth (given to them by a prophet). A prophet goads people to urgently commit themselves to a righteous course of action, forcing them to make clear and often painful choices. Elijah and John the Baptist clearly fulfilled the role of prophet.
If you knew you would live forever, how would you live? John Ritenbaugh explains that, biblically, eternal life is much more than living forever: It is living as God lives!
Maybe the most amazing fact gleaned from Christian history appears in Galatians 1:6: "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel. ...
In this message on recognizing the true gospel, Richard Ritenbaugh stresses that the gospel encompasses far more than the Kingdom of God coming to this earth. It includes the complete revelation of God to man of His plan to reproduce Himself through man. The gospel has explosive power (dunamis, Romans 1:16) both to destroy evil and to construct righteous character, giving us everything we need to live like God. If a gospel does not produce repentance and faith, it is not the true gospel. The aim of the gospel is to always increase our faith, enabling every thought, word, and behavior to be motivated by God.
Jesus' words in Mark 1:15 come in the form of an urgent command: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."
Members of the Worldwide Church of God remember Herbert W. Armstrong frequently turning to Mark 1:14-15 to thunder out the truth that the gospel Jesus proclaimed is focused on the Kingdom of God. ...
In this message focusing on the "tail wagging the dog," Richard Ritenbaugh discusses the motivations for proclaiming the true gospel and the motivation for teaching false gospels or heresies. For a genuine minister the gospel of the Kingdom creates a compulsory inner pressure causing him to virtually "explode" with truth, totally unrelated to the need for numbers or ego-stroking. The motivation for the bogus minister stems from a desire to pander to the "itching ears" of the prospective clientele telling them whatever they want to hear, catering to their desires and lusts (Ezekiel 33:32), mixing truth with error, creating a poisonous fatal mixture. While the true minister affirms God's law, the false minister grants license to do whatever one pleases.
New Testament writers use the word "gospel" a hundred times altogether, mostly generically ("the gospel" or "this gospel," etc. ...
The evangelist Mark begins his recounting of Jesus' ministry with these words: "Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. ...
In this pre-Passover sermon, John Ritenbaugh compares God's flawless works to the imperfect works of mankind. In addition to being flawless, God's works have a multiplicity of purposes, while man's works have limited utility and many flaws. Like air, having multiple uses, God's Word also has many uses; any one scripture can be used in dozens of different applications. The closer one looks at the multifaceted aspects of Christ's offices (Creator, King, Redeemer, High Priest, Savior, etc.) the more we realize the preciousness of His life and the high cost of the sacrifice for our sins. The focus of our self-examination should not be self-centered or comparing ourselves with others, but on the awesome significance of His sacrifice.
Normally, we tend to think that God's mind is unfathomable. However, we often fail to realize that God's mind is an open book—the Bible! This article explains that the gospel message is the expression of the very mind of God!
John Ritenbaugh, noting a parallel between the recipients of the book of Hebrews and our current situation, suggests that the pressure these people encountered was not a bloody persecution, but instead constant psychological pressures (economic, health, persecution on the church, social, family, etc.) coming right after the other in a wave that never seemed to end, causing weariness and unfeeling apathy. The book of Hebrews provides resources to recapture flagging zeal and motivation, focusing again upon the reason for our hope and faith, establishing clearly Christ's credentials and the import of His message, re-igniting the original excitement of their (and our) calling and their (and our) awesome future which they (and we) have put in jeopardy through apathy and neglect. We are admonished to resuscitate and readjust our focus and damaged belief system, reestablishing our access to God through Christ our High Priest, claiming the promises of the New Covenant.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that God's Spirit is the essence of God's mind rather than a third person of a trinity. With this Spirit, God opens our minds, dwells in us, and implants or transfers His Family characteristics into us through His Word (Romans 8:9-10; I Corinthians 2:10; Hebrews 8:10; 10:16). Just as a family member can live on another continent and still literally be in a family, so can Christ, the Father, and His called-out ones be "in one another" (John 17:21-22) united by the same Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh defines the world as the aggregate (total, mass) of things seen and temporal, having a powerful magnetic appeal to the carnal mind (or the spirit in man), including entertainment, fame, academic knowledge, material possessions, etc. Because we find ourselves immersed in this world's system (constituting a virtual Trojan Horse within our minds), we must realize we are walking on a razor's edge with the Kingdom of God on one side, and the world with all its sensual magnetic charms on the other side. Our marching orders are to seek the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33) and to walk by faith rather than by sight (II Corinthians 4:18).
A Statement of Purpose and Beliefs of the Church of the Great God
When we sing this popular hymn, are we singing a lie? No, this is a commision to apostles, and right now we are doing what God desires of us.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that we ought to be devoting considerable time getting to know our prospective bridegroom, like the Apostle Paul desiring to conform to Christ in every way before the marriage. This challenge becomes extremely complicated because Satan has deliberately designed this world to burn up our precious time, creating an artificial sense of urgency and a perpetual state of discontent, taking something that was formerly simple and making it extremely complicated. Following Herbert W. Armstrong's mandate to simplify our lives, we desperately need to redeem the time, seeking the Kingdom of God and conforming to God's personality.
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.
Many people believe that our sins are the focus of Passover—but they are wrong! John Ritenbaugh shows that Christ, the Passover Lamb, should be our focus. How well do you know Him?
There are many 'gospels' in the world but only one true gospel—the message that Christ brought about the good news of His coming Kingdom! It is the ONLY gospel that will bring us salvation. We need to hear it!
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the subtle changes made by the Worldwide Church of God have contaminated and corrupted virtually every doctrine we have lived by. Alterations in 'the package' affect the whole of what is produced. Proponents of these doctrines fail to see that God is doing more than merely saving people; He is producing sons in His image. Naively thinking that grace was something unique to the New Covenant and law unique to the Old Covenant, these misguided proponents of the 'do away with the law' mentality fail to see that the difference between the two covenants was in the quality of the the faith. The obligation in both covenants consisted of commandment-keeping. Justification denotes alignment with God's Law- not an excuse to break it.
John Ritenbaugh examines the serious and devastating ramifications of the doctrinal changes made by the misguided leaders of the Worldwide Church of God. This pernicious incremental package of changes totally destroyed the vision of God's true purpose for mankind—a marvelous plan of reproducing Himself, creating a God Family (Romans 8:29)—and replaced it with the nebulous Protestant goal of going to heaven or the Catholic concept of a "beatific vision." Predictably, when the vision was changed, then the law (intended to guide that vision), of necessity, had to be thrown out.
Instead of some grandiose title, God asks us to call Him simply "Father." We have human fathers, church fathers and since our calling, a spiritual Father. The role of father is very important!
After warning against literary junk food, John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the dominant emphasis of Matthew, an ex-government official, who concentrated upon the kingly qualities of Jesus as a descendant of the royal house of David, representing the Lion of Judah. Matthew highlights Jesus' authority over the deposed king (Satan), the Kingdom of Heaven (appearing 33 times) and righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh provides compelling evidence that remnants of four out of the seven churches will be extant at the time of Christ's return. The inset chapters of the book of Revelation are digressions which give clarity to the sequential events. Revelation 10 and 11 constitute one inset, reflecting a time before the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, a time when the last of the seven thunders (symbolic of the messages of the seven eras of God's church) rumble to a faint whimper. After this time, the dramatic work of the Two Witnesses will begin. Because we have all become contaminated with the worldliness of the Laodicean era/attitude, we need to soberly reflect upon the extent of this contamination.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that our spiritual transformation (conversion) gives us the capacity to see Christ and other people, the self, institutions (such as churches or governments) in their true light. Things we formerly deemed important (money, pleasure, and power) become less important and other things (love, duty, and service) become more important. Our attitude toward government must be one of submission—including to human government. (Titus 3:1-2 and I Timothy 2:1-2) We have to realize that the church cannot perform its function without the cooperation of the unconverted state governments.
John Ritenbaugh, after going through the history of Israel's incremental rejection of God's authority and putting themselves under the yoke of Satan's political system, asserts that God is establishing a spiritual kingdom from the dynasty of David, having Christ at the head installed beginning with the seventh trump when He will unleash the power of His Kingdom against the kingdoms of the world. Those who hear the good news of the Kingdom of God and respond to it (entering a covenant with God to become a part of it) are in the process of being built into a spiritual house that is also a royal priesthood (2 Peter 2:9). This royal dynasty will govern a holy nation bearing governmental rule over the earth as kings under Christ.
John Ritenbaugh explores the possibility that the book of Acts, in addition to its role in continuing and advancing the Gospel or Good News, could well have been assembled as an exculpatory trial document designed to vindicate the Apostle Paul and the early Church, demonstrating that Christianity was not a threat to the Roman Empire as Judaism had asserted. The book of Acts also serves as a conciliatory, unifying tool, endeavoring to heal breaches that had emerged in the church through rumor or gossip. A key theme of Acts (appearing more than 70 times) concerns the particulars of receiving and using God's Holy Spirit. Acts also provides insights on the Commission to the Church, the relationship of Jesus with His physical brothers, significant contributions of women in the Church, and the emerging roles, organizational patterns, and responsibilities of the disciples.