John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the estimated 50,000 "Christian" organizations currently extant, suggests that a tiny fraction of the world's people are following "the Way." Doctrinal purity, according to Jesus Christ, does not consist of man-made traditions, which often conflict with God's Commandments. False doctrines cut people off from a wholesome relationship with God. Doctrinal purity is measured according to how one emulates Christ, a requirement for those desiring to qualify to be among the 144,000 following the Lamb. Differences in doctrinal interpretation wreaked havoc on our former fellowship. Jesus Christ engineered its break up and the ensuing scattering of His people for their protection, rendering the splinter groups more obscure in the face of the coming wave of persecution. Scattered brethren, torn away from ineffectual social clubs, are now forced to rely on Jesus Christ as their only bulwark, with the training wheels of groupthink discarded. Christ did not establish any corporate entity, including the Church of the Great God, as His own special group. As the constituent members of the Israel of God realize they cannot cope with the barrage of trials with their own resources, they come to rely on Jesus Christ alone. Only by developing the mind of Christ can one gain ascendancy over the hopelessly evil carnal nature which threatens to destroy all of mankind. God works with the humble and contrite but never with the proud. From the beginning of Creation, the carnal mind has sought its own way. The only way to defeat deadly carnal nature is to stay close to Christ, acquiring His mind, the fountainhead of righteousness and spiritual maturity.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us to take God's words seriously, cautions that all His words have great depth, having far more applications than appear on the surface. His word unfolds in layers, like the peeling back of an onion skin. After the upheaval and disintegration of the Worldwide Church of God, it became clear that God mercifully split apart the Church because of (among other things) egregious doctrinal distortions. In doing so, God, in effect, transported us back to the conditions of the First Century, in which organizational unity (as distinct from spiritual unity) was nonexistent from congregation to congregation, much like the dis-similarity of the seven churches of Revelation 2-3, in which some had lost their first love, some had compromised with Satan and the World, while others had morphed into mere social clubs. Having no agreed-upon central leadership, we have entered an era of seemingly organizational disarray for the foreseeable future, a crucial time in which church members should adjust to what God has done. In this transitional time, God's called-out ones must learn to see God's hand, realizing that everything matters.
James Beaubelle reminds us that the creation process did not stop on the sixth day. Rather, the spiritual process of God's making offspring in His image has gone on continually from the foundation of the world. God has individually selected His people to become a part of the process of sanctification and transformation into God's family. Some of us may occasionally experience doubt whether we can complete the course set before us; sadly, sowing the seed of doubt can undermine our resolve. Doubt is a destroyer of faith. Sometimes we have doubts about what is and what is not our duty to God. Sometimes we have doubts about the gray areas within the doctrines and commandments. To have doubt is normal, but we must not stay in doubt. Thankfully, doubt can be an effective tool to drive us to seek God and His counsel, where there are plenty of resources to stabilize us from wavering between two opinions. If we remain in doubt, our faith will begin to erode. Five things we can do to dispel doubt include: 1) loving God with all our strength and might, 2) studying and meditating upon God's Word, 3) praying for wisdom and insight, 4) seeking counsel from others in the faith, and 5) giving earnest heed to the things we have heard, building steadfast faith in Almighty God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, citing Francis Shaeffer's observation, that bitterness rather than doctrine divides and estranges one member from of Christ's Body from another, suggests that individuals often look for a 'doctrinal' reason to cover up the real reason for leaving a congregation. Perhaps the principal cause of the estrangement between brethren can be explained by the Parable of the Leaven in Matthew 13:33, an image of a process of exaggerated growth, parallel to the mustard see analogy, in which a garden plant unnaturally grows into an imposing tree. Although many Bible Commentaries have assumed that both of these similes simply mean what started small will grow to something large, they fail to take into account the necessity of symbols remaining consistent beginning with the first mention in scripture. Leaven symbolizes corruption from sin, even as we examine the wave loaves, composed of humans laden from sin (from which they have repented). As ambassadors for Christ, already having our citizenship in Heaven, we still have sin in our nature. Interestingly, the grain offering in Leviticus 3, designated for the peace offering or fellowship offering did not contain leaven. As a biblical symbol, leaven stands for hypocrisy, false teachings, sexual immorality, vile corruption, malice and wickedness, a condition which will not exist in God's Kingdom, but is rampant in the Church of God today as it syncretizes doctrine with 'knowledge' derived from the Babylonic worldly philosophies. The woman sneaking in the leaven with three measures of meal in Matthew 13 evidently represents the Church, who surreptitiously mixed Christ's pure doctrine with a little sourdough of worldly wisdom, puffing up the church with intellectual vanity, but destroying the prospects of unity or reconciliation between the numerous splinter groups. With this leavening, Satan has destroyed the relationship between church members by corrupting the doctrines that had bound us together.
John W. Ritenbaugh: Part One, published several weeks ago, ever so briefly covered one aspect of why there are so many religions. ...
Many of us know Luke 21:36 by heart: 'Watch and pray always. . . .' We think we know what it means because the church has traditionally taught that it refers to watching world events. But does it? Pat Higgins contends that there is far more to this verse spiritually than meets the eye.
John Ritenbaugh, examining the set of doctrines which constitute "The Faith" identified in II Corinthians 13:5, warns that the greater church of God is not immune to the deterioration of doctrine cautioned by Paul. The doctrine of eternal security and the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, embraced by Evangelical Protestantism as well as our former affiliation, ominously threaten the spiritual welfare of all the splinter groups formerly affiliated with the Worldwide Church of God. When we depart from doctrine, convoluted reasoning and hair splitting must substitute for the simplicity in Christ. Minor deviations from doctrine bring about irreparable disastrous consequences. If we live by sight rather than by faith, we will automatically succumb to our fears (of denying our fleshly gratification or losing the esteem of our family and peers). The antidote to these twin-debilitating fears is the fear of God- a fear that must be learned and cultivated.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the writings of Malachi Martin, suggests that as the Catholic College of Cardinals have a large number of prudent agnostics within their ranks, we also have a great many fence sitters within the church of God, demonstrating an alarming deficit of faith. In times of intense stress and uncertainty, many become extremely apathetic, unwilling to persevere, unwilling to work at overcoming. We are on the threshold of the greatest period of testing ever to come upon mankind. We need to be developing a sense of internal hope and faith through the motivating power of God's Holy Spirit, striving to keep our focus on our calling (God sought us out purposefully), passionately striving for goodness. The apostle Peter wrote an entire epistle (I Peter) on the subject of hope—stressing that what we really need, God will not hold back—including shaping trials. Thankfully, we are not left without resources.
In this sobering sermon, John Ritenbaugh warns of the consequences of fellowshipping outside of God's called-out church. People who suppose they are supplementing their spiritual diet with a poisonous blend of heresy and lawlessness risk losing their identity and witness, and ultimately their spiritual life. God has made his covenant with one body, the Israel of God, which yields to His way of life, keeping His Sabbath as a perpetual covenant. Fellowship with organizations which despise or denigrate God's Sabbath is tantamount to spiritual adultery. Bad doctrine inevitably deceives and destroys. Our behavior and practice must inevitably derive or grow out of our core doctrines - that we were called to qualify as members of His Family, something of which the world's religions have no inkling.
People who jump from one fellowship to another often do so for superficial reasons such as a personal slight or perhaps defending a pet doctrine. Ministers should be judged by the fruit that they produce in terms of their teaching or the examples that they set. Because fruit takes time to mature, we members ought to exercise patience, refraining from grumbling, or premature judging. In the checklist distinguishing the true shepherds from the hirelings, true shepherds are seen in their genuine concern for the flock, as opposed to hirelings who only devour or take advantage of the flock.
Military strategists have long realized the key to success in the training of new recruits is to identify the danger they will encounter—in short, to know their enemy. Recruits to God's spiritual army also need to know their enemy and to make appropriate preparations for battle. Daniel 7:25 reveals the modus operandi of the enemy: a concerted effort of the Satanically inspired Beast to physically, mentally, and if possible, spiritually wear out the saints. John Reid suggests that members of God's family should remember that: 1. trials help us to build character 2. Because we stand in stark contrast to the world, we will be hated and persecuted. 3. We must seek the aid of Jesus Christ, who provides the pattern for enduring these pressures and hardships.
In this follow-up sermon on the antidote to presumptuousness, Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that a person who is truly content is never presumptuous. Korah and Abiram were not contented with where God had placed them in the body, but, in a spirit of pride-filled competition, wanted to arrogate to themselves the office of Moses, as Heylel wanted to arrogate to himself God's office. God is very quick to punish presumptuous sins. Self-exaltation leads to debasement. Following the cue of our Elder Brother, we ought to humble ourselves, content to be nothing, allowing God to do the exalting. We need to be content in whatever position God has called us (Philippians 4:11-13).
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God alone chooses the servants through whom He works His will. Sometimes the rationale God uses for selecting His vessels defies worldly wisdom. The major reason for the horrendous split of the greater church of God was the rejection of the doctrines God's servant and Apostle Herbert Armstrong had restored. Apparently, God has used this confusing state of affairs to weed out those individuals who will not yield or submit to those doctrines. When it comes to submitting to God's government, we dare not vainly compare ourselves one to another (II Corinthians 10:12).
John Ritenbaugh, insisting that God is not the author of confusion, affirms that God, throughout the scriptures, has used a consistent pattern of appointing leaders over His called-out ones. God has invariably chosen one individual, working with him until it becomes obvious through his fruits that God had intended him to lead. After choosing the leader, God brings the people to him, placing within them an inclination to voluntarily submit to him. Rather than a cacophony of discordant voices, God designates one individual (Abraham,Moses, Peter,etc.) to serve as a representative, taking a pre-eminent role as spokesman.
Richard Ritenbaugh, citing the African Proverb, 'It takes a village' asserts that this principle more aptly applies to the church, specifically designed to serve as a support for those in need. In this era of 'going it alone' or 'cocooning,' we as a people like to be self-sufficient without any support from others. Consequently we become self-centered, self-absorbed, showing little concern for others. As Christians, especially in our current scattered condition, we need to fight this pervasive trend, forming warm, productive, quality relationships with our brethren, actively ministering to the needs of one another. The ministry functions to equip members to become other centered (or family centered), serving one another and applying righteousness for the good of others. If we refuse to apply this practical knowledge, actively serving one another as interdependent joints, we miss the mark of coming to the unity of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh insists that we must be aware of our awesome status as a unique, called-out, chosen, royal priesthood—teachers of a way of life and builders of bridges between people and God. Because God owns us, we differ from the rest of the people of this earth. We need to seriously think of what we are now (His chosen people) and also what we have been (children of Satan). As former bond-slaves of satanic human nature, we effortlessly have given ourselves over to excesses and unrestraint. The Old Testament examples were given to show us what God had to do (the tremendous cost in life) to pave the way for our calling, sanctification, and ultimate glorification. Reflecting on the awesome cost of our calling, we must resolve not to go back into the slavery of sin.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the practical advice in Hebrews 12-13 fits our current condition like a glove. Like the recipients of this epistle, the greater church of God, having drifted away and given in to sin, we must also lay aside every weight which encumbers, accept God's chastening, receive encouragement from those who have already succeeded (Hebrews 12:1), and energetically get back into the spiritual race. We should allow nothing to deter us from the goal, remembering the consequences if we fail. All of our behaviors — including demonstrating brotherly love and hospitality, exercising empathy, strengthening our marriages, being content with God's blessings, submitting to leadership, avoiding strange doctrines, coming out of this world, praying without ceasing, and being charitable — must be done out of a pure heart.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that God esteems certain spiritual qualities above other spiritual qualities. To elevate a minor regulation above a major regulation is to spiritually lose ones sense of proportion. The attribute of love (I Corinthians 13:13) supercedes (but not negates) all other spiritual gifts or qualities. There are degrees of missing the mark (sin) as well as priorities of spiritual importance. Love, justice, mercy, and fidelity (the weightier matters of the law) God desires more than meticulous, mechanical religiosity. The greatest or the first commandments (loving God with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourselves) precedes all the other ordinances in importance (Matthew 22:37-40).
The truth of God is simple, even some of the more complex doctrines are easily understood by those who truly seek God. We need to remember this principle when faced with doctrinal change.
We all want to be known as seekers of the truth. None of us would want to follow a lie! Yet oftentimes, searching for the truth brings us into conflict with others' beliefs, causing separations between brethren in the church of God. How do we tell truth from lie?
John Ritenbaugh warns that human nature will degenerate as far as it is allowed. It has the tendency to quickly adapt to its environment, "adjusting" effortlessly to immorality and perversion. The conscience'the response of man's moral awareness to the divine revelation concerning himself, his attitudes, and his activities, restraining and permitting behavior (Romans 2:14)'is a function of a person's education, not instinctual. False doctrine causes a person to corrupt his conscience, making him tolerate and accept immorality. The conscience will automatically slide into the gutter (becoming hardened or addicted to sin) if God is not retained in our thoughts (Romans 1:21, Ezekiel 20:23-25). Conversely, if the heart accepts the truth, the conscience will follow suit. After we are converted and transfer our allegiance from the flesh to the spirit, the conscience (with feelings subordinated to rationality) gradually becomes tender, adjusting to God's standards.
Nothing is more confused than the state of religion today. God's people can stay above the fray by being firmly grounded in His Word. Included are seven principles of Bible study.
John Ritenbaugh warns that Satan's modus operandi has always been to use a lie to promote self-satisfaction over obedience to God. Like the Messiah, we must learn that the way to the kingdom is through self-denial rather than self-satisfaction. We are particularly vulnerable to Satan's disinformation when we feel we are not getting what we deserve or are being treated unfairly. In a world we perceive to be unfair, we need to emulate Christ who endured unfair treatment, suffering for righteousness sake all the way to his death, without complaining (I Peter 2:20-21) The major cause for the confusion and division of the Corinthian church (and the greater church of God) was Satan-inspired self-exaltation, finding excuses other than sin not to fellowship. The opposite of love is not so much hate ? but self-centeredness.
John Ritenbaugh initially explores the work of Paul and Barnabas developing the church in the cosmopolitan city of Antioch, the location from where the term Christian originated. The twelfth chapter, an apparent flashback, focuses upon the execution of James (at the hands of mad Herod Agrippa), Peter's miraculous escape from prison followed by the dramatic death of Herod as a result of blasphemy, an episode showing the relationship between prayer and God's response. The episode also had the effect of driving Peter from Jerusalem. Chapter 13 begins a concentrated effort on the part of the Antioch church to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles through the efforts of Barnabas and Saul.
John Ritenbaugh explores the conversion of Cornelius, a Gentile. This event is nearly as pivotal a benchmark as the original Pentecost because the Gentiles at this point are given the same portal of salvation (repentance, belief in Christ, and receipt of God's Holy Spirit) originally offered to Israel. This portion of Acts highlights: (1) The church's initial resistance to Gentiles fellowshipping in the church, (2) God's leading the church into the right understanding of Gentile conversion, (3) God's using Peter (originally relatively rigid and unyielding in his scruples) instead of Paul (more cosmopolitan), and (4) Jerusalem's acceptance of Gentiles (originally considered ceremonially unclean from the Jewish point of view) apart from the influence of Judaism. Peter's vision about the unclean beasts is to be interpreted metaphorically or symbolically rather than literally: Gentiles are not to be regarded as impure or ceremonially unclean.
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