Richard Ritenbaugh, while acknowledging that America's relationship with slavery has indeed been checkered, with chattel slaves and indentured servants contributing to the prosperity of earlier times, counters the 'Progressivist' claim that America invented slavery and historically practiced the most tyrannical abuses in the world. In point of fact, every ethnic group has both practiced slavery and has been victims of slavery. Israelites have been slaves multiple times, to the Egyptians, Canaanites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Romans. A culture of slavery pervaded life in the early Christian church , forcing Paul to pen instructions accommodating this practice in the context of love. As well, slavery was a part of the culture of ancient Israel, where God codified as part of His Law humane regulations, guaranteeing liberation of Israelite slaves after six years of service and the Jubilee. These regulations obligated masters to make provisions ensuring their slaves' successful transition to freedom. Contrasting the harsh treatment of slaves by some American slaveowners, God's treatment of us as slaves of righteousness is mild, with Christ's promise that His yoke is easy. Christ, having purchased us from a prior slave owner who was cruel, demands only a lifetime of reasonable service to our brethren with the same rigor as Christ has served us. God has given us a variety of talents and responsibilities to facilitate our serving one another in a spirit of humility, with none exalting himself above another. When we fulfill all the conditions for Christian behavior outlined in I Corinthians 12 and 13, we are still unprofitable servants unless we learn to forgive and meld in love (that is, in sincerity), compassion, and humility with our siblings in the God family.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the devastating locust plagues described in Joel, marvels that the prophet, instead of promising a silver lining on a very black cloud, affirmed that things were going to get intensely worse before they got better. Nevertheless, Joel, whose name means Yahve is God, in the middle of his prophecy, promised a marvelous blessing which would satisfy His people. This prophesied blessing, which became Peter's first words of his Pentecost sermon on Pentecost in 31 AD, was that God would pour out His Spirit, prompting young men to prophesy and old men to dream before the awesome Day of the Lord. Only a type of Joel's prophecy was fulfilled in 31AD and much more is yet to be fulfilled. Joel described a gruesome locust infestation that totally ruined the economy of the nation, placing the citizenry in a state of hopeless, panicked despair. Because Judah had taken God's blessings for granted, He removed His hand of protection, something we see happening in our morally bankrupt culture today. God, in His sovereignty, is guiding His creation to its ultimate purpose, including the devastating plagues and afflictions, designed to motivate repentance and obedience. God represents both mercy and justice. When sin becomes a dominant condition of God's people, God's judgment is not far away, either in the form of political oppression or natural disaster. For a repentant people, there will be restored fellowship and tranquility. The 1915 AD locust plague in Palestine had all the biblical proportions, including the sky darkened with adult locusts, eating everything in their paths. The locust plague Joel described is only a foretaste, symbolic of a more devastating judgment to befall the earth in the future Day of the Lord. Both disaster and grace are tools God uses to motivate repentance, and the wise will act accordingly, turning to God in sincere, contrite, humble, heartfelt repentance, rending their hearts rather than their garments, leading to total conversion and change of mind.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that remaining or abiding in Christ's word separates us from everybody else, exhorts us to treasure and appreciate the truth we have. Ezekiel prophetically warns Israelites today of imminent cultural collapse because of godly leadership. America, sadly, has never been a Christian nation; the hearts of the people have never been converted to God's truth, as a casual observance of a daily tabloid would attest. The fledgling Radio Church of God in the 1950's had a positive package of beliefs we referred to as "the truth"; members referred to the church itself and our calling as "the truth" or "coming into the truth." Regretfully, we had a skewed concept of grace in those formative years and still do for the most part because of the Protestant 'cheap grace' concept denigrating any kind of good works as earning salvation. God's grace begins everybody's history; there is nothing we have that did not come from Him, including our spiritual gifts, enabling us to carry out His divine purpose in us. Grace is an Old Testament concept just as much as a New Testament one (ordained before the foundation of the world), with the apostle Paul greatly augmenting the concept by splicing the Greek word charis (gifts) to the Old Testament Hebrew word chesed (connoting kindness, steadfast love, mercy, and devotion), greatly amplifying the meaning of the secular Hebrew and Greek words for grace. The precision of the Greek language gave the term grace a wider spectrum, as is indicated in the wide panorama of gifts indicated in James 1:16-18. The entire physical creation, including the elements, minerals, plants and animals are God's gift to man, and, as such, are part of His grace. Further, even the patterns of the sciences and the arts serve as a demonstration that God is the Giver of all gifts.
If we were asked to list the reasons for the recent decline of the United States, we would probably reply that, among others, poor leadership is a primary cause. John Ritenbaugh asks us to consider that God is putting us through exercises to create leaders in His image. His covenants are a primary tool in this process.
When a society falls into chaos and blatant immorality, as the Western world seems to be on the verge of doing, it is evident that there is a crisis in leadership. While warning us of the times just ahead, John Ritenbaugh turns the focus of leadership toward the church, exhorting us to learn the lessons of godly leadership now because our positions in the Kingdom of God will require their use.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Ezekiel 34, in which the self-centered shepherds devour the flocks, reminds us that in addition to religious leaders, shepherds also include governmental, corporate, educational, and family leaders. In the combined history of Judah and Israel, when the leaders abandoned the covenants with God, the citizenry generally followed suit. Today, the prophecy in Isaiah 3:12 has come to pass in full force. Isaiah's prophecy, "children are their oppressors is being fulfilled on several levels, from youthful gang violence and leaders "Childish," immature minds, unable to grasp the true demands of leadership. God desires to create leaders who can show by example rather than tyrannically dominate by brute force. It seems that the vast majority of Israel's leaders have had serious deficits in leadership skills. The only Being who is worthy to rule is Jesus Christ (Revelation 5:12)], who qualified by what He did in the past, totally yielding Himself to the will of God the Father, following Him unconditionally. As God's called-out ones, we are admonished to follow the same course, qualifying to become a kingdom of priests (I Peter 2:9), and co-heirs with Christ as His collective Bride. The Leadership that God desires of us is what we learn following the Lamb, conforming to His example. Without a broad comprehension of God's covenants, we cannot presume to lead. None of us had a trace of leadership skills before our calling; what we accomplish is only due to God's working with us, imprinting His leadership skills in us. Covenants are unifying agents (as long as we pay attention to what God says), revealing not only His purpose, but also His judgments. The vast creation serves as a teaching device, instructing mankind about God's grace. The first covenant is the Edenic, which teaches that (1) God is the Creator, (2) God is orderly, (3) creation mirrors God's perfection, (4) creation is not to be worshiped, and (5) God has tasked mankind with managing His creation.
Richard Ritenbaugh, decrying the incredible dearth of leadership around the world (no Churchill's, no Bismarck's, or no Reagan's), avers that the state of affairs prophesied in Ezekiel 34:1-5, in which self-centered, narcissistic 'shepherds' feed off the flock rather than feed and protect it has now become the norm rather than the exception. The high water mark in statesmanship in leadership was King David, who not only served as a shepherd (protecting and nourishing the flock, giving it peace and rest) but also demonstrated leadership protecting the flock from danger and providing it justice, loving his neighbors and judging on behalf of God, qualities and commitments absent in the current corrupt political leaders of greater modern Israel. One of David's descendants, Jehoshaphat, had the potential of being # 2, receiving an "A" on his shepherding ability, but a "D" on his leadership ability. Although he was relatively mature and well-trained when he began his reign, he made a horrible blunder in judgment, making a political alliance with wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, becoming a weak junior partner in an alliance with Israel and Phoenicia, further complicating affairs by permitting the political wedding of his son Jehoram with Athaliah (daughter of Ahab and Jezebel), a union which later spawned multiple fratricides and filicides. Jehoshaphat foolishly was talked into a military alliance with Ahab, even though one of God's prophets predicted the gruesome outcome. Evidently, because of the outcome of this event, as well as some disastrous outcomes with trading alliances with Ahaziah, Jehoshaphat finally became convinced that any decision without God in the picture is patently stupid. When the wicked king of Moab threatened to destroy Judah, Jehoshaphat finally sought the Lord, who gave him the victory, enabling him to neutralize his earlier leadership blunders by making substantive reforms.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that the term leadership appears nowhere in the King James Version of the Scripture, even though numerous examples of good and bad leadership abound, points out that the state of civic leadership in America is at a disastrous all-time, low from the President, Supreme Court Justices, and Congress, all the way down to the community leaders (mayors, judges, etc.) overwhelmingly choked with despicable cowardice, corruption, and graft, emanating from base, immature, foolish, reprobate minds who have rejected God's leadership. Isaiah 1:4-15 well describes the governments misgoverned by Jacob's offspring, collapsing into chaos, hopelessly laden down with iniquity, having forsaken and defying Almighty God. The whole American body politic (as well as that of all of modern Israel) has become covered with putrefying sores, and stands in mortal danger of being devoured from strangers because of the lack of Godly leadership coming from anywhere. The principal cause of the demise of the entire society is lack of leadership within the family; the breakdown of society derives from the breakdown and destruction of the family beginning with the dysfunctional childrearing practices of our original parents and the deliberate actions by the 'leaders' currently in power. The shepherds castigated in Ezekiel 34 include every parent, as well as the religious, political, educational, and corporate shepherds. Parents have the solemn obligation to teach their offspring God's way of life while simultaneously submitting to His loving rule. As God's called-out ones, we dare not abdicate our part of the leadership responsibility, or the neglect will create an unwholesome ripple-effect throughout the church and eventually throughout the entire human community. None of us ever live or die to ourselves.
To help in understanding one of the great controversies among those who have left the Worldwide Church of God, consider the story and legacy of a man whose ideas have had more influence in Evangelical Protestantism than perhaps any other in the last 200 years...
Josiah, king of Judah in the late 7th century BC, may have been Judah's best king. Mike Ford uses his example to bring out several points regarding leadership.
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?
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.
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