Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting that 30 years have passed since the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, and 24 years since the founding of the Church of the Great God, marvels that the greater church of God continues to scatter over 400 separate organizational structures. Realizing that God evidently determined to effect this diaspora, our primary goal should be spiritual rather than organizational unity, as we endeavor to achieve the same kind of unity Christ has for God the Father, a unity He prayed for His disciples at the last supper, and for all His called-out ones. Much of the onus for the fracturing of the WCG rested with the leadership, based on a philosophy of authoritarian gentile leadership Christ warned against, mimicking sheriffs rather than shepherds, driving rather than leading. To successfully lead the church, leaders or overseers must: (1) Realize that God is sovereign, always in control and always at work, responsible for good and calamity. (2) Know that Jesus is the head of the Church; God the Father put everything under His feet.. As parts of a spiritual body, with roles assigned by Christ, neither leaders nor lay people should arrogate responsibility not given us. (3) Ministers are servants rather than overlords; all the Bible luminaries, including Paul, Peter, James, and Jude, referred to themselves as servants. (4) The authority for the leadership in the church is spiritual, not physical, political or authoritarian. God has commissioned pastors to lead and persuade, equipping the saints to function as god has ordained, rather than to browbeat and give orders. (5) The pastor's job description is to be a shepherd, guiding, protecting, feeding, and walking in front of the flock, leading them rather than driving them.
David C. Grabbe: ... Another aspect of reality, then, is that God puts people where He wants them and gives them the responsibilities that He desires them to fulfill. That was true for Israel, just as it is true for the Body of Christ. ...
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on three scriptures, Psalm 11:3-5, Luke 12:7, and Philippians 4:19, reflects on a frightening earthquake in 1971, in which he realized that he was in no way in control of the alarming situation, a relentless shaking that threatened to destroy the entire foundation. This earthquake has grounds of comparison to the devastating earthquake which destroyed the very foundation of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), sending the frightened members scrambling for safety. In the demise of our previous fellowship, we are to realize that, as God has His eye on the sparrow, the most timid of all birds, He has had His eye on us through this entire process of scattering, intending that the tests we have endured and weathered have been intended to bring about the best fruit possible. The breaking apart of the WCG has produced many splinter groups which collectively carry on a far greater work than Herbert W. Armstrong ever was able to do, and at a fraction of the cost. The intriguing story of the development of fledging Church of the Great God, a small insignificant splinter group, which has grown to be a major resource site for all the other scattered churches, is just a part of the entire picture. We are admonished to get our attention away from the activities of human beings and onto the activities of God as He neutralizes and destroys Satan's plans and the human surrogates in government, religion, and education who are currently carrying out his plans. The WCG was destroyed because it abandoned its covenant with God, committing spiritual adultery (in point of fact, idolatry) by bringing in poisonous doctrines from the world's religions, denigrating God's Holy Laws, which are a reciprocal expression of love between God and His people. Regardless of the magnitude of the aftershocks of the demise of WCG, God has not abandoned His church and His plans are right on schedule. As God watches over the sparrow, He can protect His people in the midst of any upheaval.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition on Ecclesiastes, focuses on three interrelated terms: paradox (something contrary to expectation), conundrum (a riddle), and wisdom (skill in arts, such as Bezalel and Oholiab who were gifted in a specific skill—or spiritual insight). We are called into the body of Christ gifted with specific skills and abilities to work with Christ edifying and serving His body, equipping the saints. Metaphorically, we are building or constructing the church of Christ using the wisdom or skill with which we have been endowed. Biblical wisdom (a special sagacity of quickness of perception, soundness of judgment, and far-sightedness needed for resolving spiritual problems pertaining to life as it is lived day by day) is achievable by anyone called of God because God is the source of this wisdom. The wisdom of Ecclesiastes is directed to those who have been called; it is not an easy book for most people. In Ecclesiastes 7, paradoxes appear in the statements that the day of our death is better than the day of our birth, mourning is better than rejoicing, sorrow is better than laughter, rebuke is better than a song, and the end is better than the beginning. Carnally speaking, when viewing the relative fates of the righteous (who seem to suffer) and the wicked (who seem to prosper), the unrighteous often seem to have it better. Many Bible commentators are stumped with this apparent difficultly and are not helped with multiple translations of these paradoxes and conundrums. The solutions to these difficulties are solved in other locations in the Bible. When the righteous are going through grievous trials, they are not being punished, but tested. God will never forsake the righteous. We dare not judge the fairness of God; He is fully aware of what we (and all others) are going through. God has carefully orchestrated all life's experiences, including the destruction of our previous fellowship, in order to protect us from error and to see how all of us will stand individually.
David Grabbe, cuing in on Ecclesiastes 3:1-3, reminds us that God has designed sequential seasons in which various events occur as a part of a long-term plan. God plans the season; we only get to choose whether and how to respond. There is a time to gather and a time to throw away; there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. Our fellowship was once gathered to a level that we had more than 100,000 members, distributing multiple millions of magazines monthly, and blanketing the globe with radio and television. Because of negligence and dereliction of some spiritual duties, God mercifully scattered our fellowship, demanding that we seek a relationship with Him first, before we presumptuously seek unity with our scattered brethren on the basis of compromising with one another. As we all seek unity with God and His commandments, God will grant us unity. At the time of Christ's return, remnants of all seven churches on the mail route in Revelation 2-3 will be extant. Currently, we all yearn to be re-united with our scattered brethren, but until our own personal walk with God is attained, and until we intently seek Him first, unity of the spirit will not happen.
With great privilege comes great responsibility. The nation of Israel was clearly privileged, for God tells her, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3:2). God says that because of His blessing and favor, Israel was to be a living testimony to Him and His sovereign power--a great responsibility indeed...
David C. Grabbe: As a new year dawns on most of the nations of the earth, people's thoughts often turn to what lies ahead. ...
As seen previously, the Creator is a God of unity and division. While God's ultimate goal is for His children to be united together with Him in His Family, in the meantime, instances will occur when the Sovereign judges that division is the best tool for bringing His perfect will to pass. This is especially true when salvation is under threat. ...
Having shown that God is involved in world affairs, John Ritenbaugh concludes by showing that God's hand was definitely involved in the scattering of the church. Our reaction needs to be positive: that, if He felt it needed to be done, we should respond by growing and preparing ourselves for His Kingdom.
How involved in man's affairs is God? Is He merely reactive, or does He actively participate—even cause events and circumstances? John Ritenbaugh argues that God is the Prime Mover in our lives and in world events.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the reason Jacob succeeded and Esau failed had nothing to do with personality, but Jacob was elected from the womb (Romans 9:7-11). God gave Jacob the edge. Likewise, we can do nothing to gain the favor of God before our calling, but we are empowered by God to carry out a particular part of His plan to edify the body. We need to guard our appetites, preventing any kind of over-stimulation which would produce an apathetic worldly Laodicean temperament. Paul suggests that with the level of gifting God has blessed us, there is virtually no reason to fail (Ephesians 1:3). God has chosen, elected, predestined us, forgiven us, given us wisdom, an insight into the future, and has empowered us with His Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the calculated Hebrew calendar reflects God's faithfulness in providing His Spiritual offspring a reliable calendar. To concoct one's own calendar with errant human reason and assumptions equates with the presumptuous way of Cain. Some of the bedrock American values such as competition and individualism, when applied to changing established doctrine and established ordinances, bring an automatic curse of scattering and a seared conscience upon those who do these things. We cannot take the community's laws into our own hands, tweaking them for our own advantage, and still be a good Christian. Challenging the calendar is tantamount to challenging the laws of the Commonwealth of Israel (including its calendar) and challenging the sovereignty of Almighty God.
John Ritenbaugh takes issue with those who feel that the perennial calendar controversy was never understood, investigated or resolved by Herbert Armstrong. After a lengthy study in the 1940s, he concluded: (1) there are not enough rules in the Bible to establish a calendar. (2) God had given no authority to anyone outside the Bible to establish a calendar. (3) The oracles of God had been committed to the Jews (Romans 3:1-2), and nobody else. The issue is not mathematical or astronomical, but instead a matter of trust in God's faithfulness, authority, sovereignty, oversight, or ability to govern. If we did not have revelation (including the provision of a calendar) from God, presumptuously trying to establish a calendar independently has led to, and will continue to lead to chaos and confusion.
God's sovereignty is one of the most important issues a Christian must consider. Is God supreme in all things? Have we acknowledged that He has total authority over us in particular?
John Ritenbaugh admonishes the greater church of God that we make a conscious effort to feed the flock (devoting more effort, time, energy, and money than for preaching the Gospel as a witness for the world) until we get ourselves straightened out first. To preach to the world and ignore a disintegrating flock is like a husband and wife paying attention to people and things outside the home while the family is falling apart. We need to examine the causes for our split and our gravely deteriorating faith. Our emphasis must be on feeding the flock, restoring the faith once delivered, rebuilding the broken walls and repairing the breaches.
John Ritenbaugh takes issue with the popularly held notion that preaching the Gospel to the world as a witness is the sole identifying mark of God's church. There is a vast difference between "preaching the Gospel to the world" and "making disciples"- the major focus in Matthew 28:20. The largest portion of the great commission demands that the lion's share of time, money, or energy ought to be invested in feeding the flock. With the present scattering of the church, engineered by Almighty God (not Satan) in response to our sick, rebellious, and unsound condition, our major obligation at this time should be to heal its wounds and to point it in the direction of repentance, overcoming, and growth. God indeed wants unity, but it has to be on His terms.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the preaching the gospel to the world, held by some to be the only identifying mark of the church, is at best the beginning of a long, complex process of creating disciples and godly offspring through steady feeding and encouragement to overcome (feeding the flock). God, as a responsible parent, is not one-dimensional in assigning responsibilities to His children, but frequently shifts gears, changing circumstances, giving His begotten children a well-rounded education. God - not Satan or an incompetent ministry - engineered the massive scattering of the church of God to move it away from pernicious and fatal Laodiceanism. We need to adjust to the new situation, realizing that God has engineered these events with the real work of God in mind: making man in His image and reproducing Himself.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that salvation is an entire creative process undertaken by God to justify, sanctify, and glorify a called out body of individuals. Ephesians 2:8 uses the perfect tense 'saved,' indicating an action started in the past and continuing on into the present. As with the typology of the Israelites 'saved' from bondage, the process was not completed until a remnant made it to the promised land—with the sobering example of many dying in the wilderness. Likewise, we are warned about the dangers of backsliding and resisting God's will (II Peter 2:20; Hebrews 10:31) rendering the erroneous 'once saved, always saved' assumption a foolish and dangerous misconception. God assumes the burden for our salvation, but we are obligated to yield to His workmanship—made manifest by good works—the effect rather than the cause of salvation.
A Statement of Purpose and Beliefs of the Church of the Great God
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Daniel's prayer, observes that there are no hollow threats with God. Confusion, disorder and scattering (the current state of the greater church of God) are the automatic (God-engineered) results of sinning against His law. Under the current scattering, we must acquiesce to the responsibility that God has called us to, and not presumptuously attempt to do something we were not appointed to do. Success in spiritual things does not consist in growing large and powerful, but humbly living by faith, overcoming, being faithful, and yielding to God's shaping power, establishing a dynamic relationship with Him. Unity will only occur when we are yielded to God's leadership. If we were scattered because of sin, we will be unified because of righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that biblical history substantiates that God does not always have the church perform the same functions continually, but sometimes drastically alters the course according to needs and conditions. The perceived detours are necessary adjustments God makes to accomplish His purpose. "The work" changes according to God's direction and our need. Currently, God has imploded, exploded, and scattered (a pattern He has used before) His Church for our ultimate spiritual safety. The primary focus of "the work" at this time is the repair or re-attainment of the believing faith (the faith once delivered through revelation) that has seriously deteriorated because of heresy, apostasy, and self-satisfied Laodiceanism. The turn-around begins individually with the purification of each living stone through repentance and re-commitment to our covenant with God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the easiest part of God's work is the preaching the Gospel to the world- a task mechanically carried out as the church deteriorated from within. Much more demanding is the feeding of the flock, producing the kind of faith and trust to transform formerly carnal individuals into glorified members of His family. The work of the church varies from time to time, with different functions performed as different needs arise. God determines when, where, and the direction He wants His work to go. At this time, God has purposed to "blow the church apart" for our own spiritual safety. Our current focus should be upon the factors that caused the deterioration within the body, determining to respond to God, fixing the problems (the cracked foundations of faith emanating from a counterfeit gospel) that led to our implosion and scattering.
In this keynote message of the 1996 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the causes of the atomizing of the greater church of God into very small particles. Almighty God, as a means of mercifully disciplining and chastening His faithless children, initiated the scattering of the church (the Israel of God) for our ultimate good (Deuteronomy 28:25; Romans 8:28; Hebrews 12:5-6). Christianity is a religion of revelation- not human intellect. When the revelation of God was replaced with the wisdom of this world (the leaven of errant intellectualism), God had no choice but to scatter. As Israel did not repent at the preaching of Amos, or Judah at the preaching of Jeremiah, the members of the greater church of God did not take the warnings of Herbert Armstrong personally and individually. Any regrouping of the scattered pieces will be done only on God's terms.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the breakup of our former fellowship into hundreds of pieces, examines the prospects for future unity. God gave His approval for the destruction of our prior fellowship into myriad splinter groups, allowing heresies to emerge enabling God to see who really loves Him. God has authorized and ordained the splitting for the best interests of everyone at this time. Historically splitting has eventually allowed a wider geographical spreading of the message wherever the house of Israel was forced to flee from persecution. When we understand that the churches in Revelation 2-3 will be all extant at the end-time gathering, we can see God's plan of providing special instruction for the individual groups, all having different personalities and different focuses, for specialized uses in the regathering when Christ, the son of David, having the key of David, will put all these pieces back together, assigning the roles which best fit the specialized training.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the persecution of the apostles in the fourth chapter. Peter, inspired by God's Holy Spirit, demonstrated exemplary boldness and courage before the Sadducees (zealous influential movers and shakers of the Jewish community, descendents of the Maccabees), religious leaders who feared losing their power and influence. Peter, John, and the early church had confidence in God's absolute sovereignty, realizing that no human authority could thwart God's power. This powerful conviction gave them confidence to endure their trials, submitting to whatever God had prepared for them, realizing that God uses trials to further His ultimate purpose for them. The last portion of this chapter illustrates the exemplary, voluntary generosity exhibited in the early church.