Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on the perennial desire of all cultures to return to a mythologized "Golden Age," a paradise wherein peace, abundance and harmony abound. When people claim that "old times" were better, they often overlook the thorny problems besetting those living then. God's people also have a proclivity to perceive the early Church nostalgically, focusing on a few Scriptures which point to the unity of that era. Reading the Scriptures more maturely however, we find that early church members experienced problems similar to what we face today. The early churches had to experience the same God-ordained process of sanctification (I Peter 1:3-7) and the same fiery trials (I Corinthians 10:13) we do today. Paul found it necessary to admonish (1) the Roman congregation to be discerning, shunning false teachers, (2) the Corinthian congregation to flee envy and strife, (3) the Galatian congregation to flee from tendencies to return to Judaism, (4) the members of the Ephesian congregation to maintain their "first love," (5) the Philippian congregation to put away division, (6) the Colossian congregation to eschew Jewish-gnostic philosophies, and (7) the Thessalonian congregation to reject interpretations of prophecy informed more by theory and rumor than by Scripture. The Golden Age has not yet arrived but will be coterminous with the Kingdom of God.
John Ritenbaugh, examining the socio-cultural milieu before the writing of the Epistle to the Hebrews, explains the difficulties experienced by the new Jewish converts to the Gospel. The powerful testimony of the recently risen Christ, combined with the apostles, who had spent 3 ½ years under His tutelage, were the main factors behind the fast growth of the church to 6,000. The Jewish leadership deemed these converts to be traitors to the of the religious heritage of Judaism. The estrangement these people felt is similar to that experienced by today's people of the true God. Christ told His Apostles not to become fixated about the fulfillment of prophecy, but instead to engage in the work He had given them. God's people today have the same no-nonsense orders Christ gave to His original Disciples, namely to take the Gospel to all nations. God's worldwide institution, the Israel of God, makes a transition to a New Covenant, not 'doing away with the law' but making it applicable to both Jew and Gentile. Repentance and baptism replace circumcision as the spiritual sign of the New Covenant. The Council of Jerusalem indicated that Jesus Christ's words and behavior proved the final word on New Covenant decisions, bringing about a significant change in practice.
Mark Schindler, cautioning us to avoid becoming involved in politics or in any sort of agitation for governmental change, focuses on the cautionary comments of the second American President, John Adams, who warned that our Constitution would work only for a people of moral responsibility. President Adams implies that the collective avaricious, carnal pulls of a people who do not have God in their conscience would ultimately destroy the American Republic. The corrosive consequence of the unity-from-diversity mantra chanted in the public square today is the sure—but not the slow—dissolution of the Nation's commonwealth. Doom is the birthright of any nation which institutes sinful practices as the law of the land. In the inevitable fray any nation experiences as it copes with the results of national sin, God's people do not want to find themselves on the wrong side of His purposes. To take sides in any type of national struggle is to battle on behalf of mankind's wrong-headed, godless attempts to avoid the consequences of sin—a losing battle. Mankind cannot create unity from diversity because such a marriage seeks perforce to homogenize evil with good—rather than detaching evil from good. God's way is to call people from diverse backgrounds, gradually imparting to them the mind of Christ, thereby creating a spiritual unity which prevails head over heels over any erstwhile physical differences. God has called His Church to a consecrated separation from this world—including political matters.
John Ritenbaugh, re-iterating that internal evidence substantiates the high probability that the Apostle Paul authored the Book of Hebrews, stresses that Christ's ultimate goal is to bring the entire creation under the Father's subjection when God will be all in all. The recipients of the book of Hebrews consisted of converts from Judaism suffering estrangement from family and community, excommunicated from the temple. The etymology of Hebrew denotes someone who has "crossed over" a boundary (such as a river) and by extension connotes moving from one idea cluster to another (such as carnal to spiritual- requiring living tenaciously by faith), as demonstrated by our Patriarch Abraham. The intended audience of Hebrews was not exclusively descendants of Judah, but those who were called by God the Father into the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) which would include a large influx of gentiles. Because the Israel of God has departed from cultural expectations from both Jewish and Gentile communities, they suffer intense persecution. The Jerusalem Church, the headquarters congregation, had to meld the gentile and Hebrew elements together, deciding whether things like circumcision were still mandatory. The solution was to concentrate on the things Christ taught by example to the Apostles, granting the ability to apply God's law in gray areas as well as clear black and white distinctions. The New Covenant requirements outlined by Christ demanded that God's Called-out -ones must learn to worship in "spirit and truth" without the 'security' of a brick and mortar temple. The sacrificial system of the Old Covenant has not been done away but will re-instated during the Millennium for those who failed to learn its purpose the first time around. For God's called-out ones, the sacrificial system has certainly not been done away, but requires a living sacrifice of lifetime service, yielding to Christ's words and example.
Martin Collins, concluding his series "God's Perseverance with the Saints," focuses on Christ's desire that all His disciples have unity and love. The unity He appeals for is not organizational unity, but unity within the divine nature, exampled in the unity between the Father and the Son. This unity operationally defines a family rather than a corporate unity, with a common Christian experience binding those He has called into an interdependent relationship where everyone serves each other with God-provided spiritual gifts. Christ, through His life-sacrifice while we were yet enslaved to sin, provides the model of love for us. We need to bring our highly flawed love to the infinitely-perfected level of agape love demonstrated by our Elder Brother. We must love our brethren even in their flawed state because God requires them to love us in our flawed state. We demonstrate this agape love when we 1) listen to one another, 2) share with one another, and 3) serve one another. Jesus set the standard for this kind of service as He washed the feet of His disciples the night Judas betrayed Him. If the world cannot see this perfected love demonstrated in us, we are seriously missing the mark.
Charles Whitaker, focusing on Paul's admonition to the Ephesians that there be unity in the Body of Christ, suggests that, in the interests of preserving unity, God judges and then surgically separates hypocrites from real believers. This judgment-resulting-in-division model appears throughout Scripture in the episodes of the ones taken and the ones left behind, the wise and foolish virgins, the parable of the talents separating the productive from the indolent, and the good figs and bad figs in Jeremiah 24. In each of these cases, God divides the entire group into two parts, one blessed and one cursed. The archetype for this judgment-resulting-in-division pattern appears in Deuteronomy 27, where Moses directs that representatives from the twelve tribes of Israel publicly chant the Blessings from Mount Gerazim, a site without an altar, and the Curses from Mount Ebal, a site with an altar of rough stones and the Law written on plastered stones. The two venues prefigure future congregations, all of which acknowledge God's Law. The critical difference is that while the Gerizim group represents those who allow the law to be written on their hearts, the Ebal group represents those who, while giving lip service to the letter of the law, hypocritically practice sin secretly. Virtually all the curses focus on hidden sin. The hidden leavening of hypocrisy practiced by the Pharisees, using piety as a cloak for disgusting covert sins, has found its way into the Church of God. If God's Law has not been written in our hearts, completely altering our thoughts and behavior, the corporate entity in which we find ourselves will not save us from the wrong side of the judgmental cut.
Levi W. Graham: New and old, North and South, black and white, Republican and Democrat, left and right. The vast array of differences that make up our world are an ever-present reality. ...
Martin Collins points out that the graphic imagery of a turbulent sea appearing in Isaiah 57:19-20 describes the troubled minds experienced by those who reject God's laws. God's called-out ones must earnestly strive for peace, realizing that Satan has countless ways to trouble people. It is impossible to grow spiritually in a climate of animosity and jealousy. If we use the power of God's Holy Spirit, peace will naturally accrue as one of the fruits. If we have offended a brother in Christ (or anyone for that manner), we should: (1) admit any mistake in attitude or action, (2) not make excuses for our behavior, (3) acknowledge the hurt we have caused, expressing genuine sorrow, (4) accept consequences, as well as make restitution, (5) overcome our negative behavior by changing our attitude and actions, (6) face up to the offended person, and (7) ask for forgiveness. Similar formulas appear in this message for rebuilding relationships with God and spouse. Another formula for putting an end of contention consists of: (1) praying for humility and wisdom in handling conflict, (2) putting ourselves in the other person's shoes, (3) anticipating likely reactions in order to plan responses, (4) choosing the right time and place, (5) talking face to face if possible, (6) assuming the best about the other, (7) speaking only to build others up, (8) asking for feedback from the other person, and (9) recognizing our own limits, realizing God alone can change a person's mind. We should exercise the same kind of forgiveness and reconciliation to others that Christ has shown us.
Mark Schindler, reflecting that God's Sabbaths or Holy Days are inestimable blessings which should not be squandered, cautions us of the need to tend and keep these blessings, avoiding the careless use of hallowed time. Relating a true story, Mark recalls a time when, attending a wedding which took place on the Sabbath, he and his wife were inadvertently drawn into non-holy activities when a wedding reception in downtown Chicago unexpectedly became a reviewing stand for a 200-unit nudist bicycle parade. Embarrassing incidents like this could be considered wake-up calls from God that this time should be spent more profitably in spiritual pursuits. In another recollection, Mark, in compiling a video memento of his romance with his wife Nancy, reflects that a loving and faithful wife is a blessing from God. The significance of this blessing was punctuated by the observation that his aging mother, suffering from Alzheimer's disease, excitedly recognized Nancy when she had practically lost memory of everyone else in the family circle. This miraculous observation reiterated the importance of treasuring, tending and keeping the many blessings God has bestowed to us. All the spiritual gifts God has given us should be carefully tended.
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.
Bill Onisick, reflecting on the horrendous damage caused by forest fires in the Carolina mountains, draws some parallels to the spiritual forest fires currently raging in the greater Church of God. Most literal and spiritual fires are caused by human carelessness or arson rather than natural causes like lightning strikes. There is a triangular relationship (heat, oxygen, and fuel) which increases the size of a fire—rendering it out-of-control. Miles and miles of black charred ashes is all that remains of a once beautiful forest. Relationships throughout the greater church of God have been charred in the same way by loose lips and careless tongues described in James 3:2, setting on fire the course of nature by Hell. We have all been guilty of spiritual arson. If we do not control our tongues, we are on a path to destruction. Our prideful desire to correct others, even when we are technically right, does not please God. We need to listen far more than we speak, sparing our words. God gave us ears that remain open and mouths that close. As we count our 50 days to Pentecost, have we been a fire igniter or a fire extinguisher? A quickness to listen is a mark of humility, whereas a quickness to speak is a mark of pride. We should control our reactions to our thoughts, focusing our minds on the suffering Our Savior endured on our behalf. We need to continuously and diligently use the spiritual tool of meditation, bringing our thoughts into captivity of God's purpose for us, developing Godly mindfulness, which is our spiritual armor against pride. Godly mindfulness enables us to pause before we react, giving us precious time to think before we blurt out foolishness. Godly mindfulness enabled Jesus Christ and Stephen to forgive their adversaries while they were facing death. If we follow James admonition to maintain Godly mindfulness, we can prevent our mouths to flare up in sin.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that. despite recent claims from the Evangelical conservatives, America was never established as a Christian nation. God called out Abraham, specifically blessing him, and through him, blessed the nations of the entire earth. The early European settlers of the North American Continent consisted of Israelitish immigrants from Europe—descendants of the immigrants who came from Ur of the Chaldees to the Promised Land millennia earlier. God guided these descendants of Jacob to a virtually empty land. God brought the Israelitish people to certain lands in order to prepare them for the return of Christ. God follows patterns so that His converted children can see His invisible work, including immigration patterns. No one leader among America's Founding Fathers approached the stature of Moses, nor did any feel inclined to implement God's Holy Laws or Covenant. The founders established no single religion to ensure the sanctity of the Sabbath and the Holy Days. If they had established such a religion, it was, and remains, highly fractured. The founders made no covenant between the People of the United States and God. American citizenry never practiced true Christianity, America is still laboring under the curse of I Samuel 8, where Israel asked for a king to be like the nations around them. A human leader seemed more 'real' to them than an invisible God requiring faith to follow. Human governments are nothing but raw force, grasping for control in order to benefit the leaders. Human governments have no faith in God and they do not fear God. Even with the mandates Moses gave to a future king, Israel would always suffer from the rule of a human leader, The faith of physical Israel has been eroded through evil philosophers.
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.
Martin Collins, focusing on the designation of six cities of refuge in Exodus 21:12-13, finds a spiritual parallel outlined in God's annual Holy days, beginning with Christ as a refuge for us in the Passover and our making a refuge for others during the Feast of Tabernacles. The institution of cities of refuge, havens for those who have committed unintentional manslaughter, highlights the great importance God placed on the sanctity of life, especially in beings created in God's image. In the Ancient world, where blood revenge was widely practiced; a large number of people died violently. The cities of refuge prefigure Christ's final refuge from death, protecting us from Satan's murderous intentions. The elders of the city, Levitical priests, trained to counsel individuals in the ways of God, would examine the weapons used in the killing and would investigate the history of prior relationships between the killer and the victim in order to determine whether the verdict of manslaughter or murder be handed down. If the seeker of refuge were exonerated, he was confined to the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest, at which time he could return home. When Christ, our High Priest, died for our sins, we were set free and allowed to reconcile with our Heavenly Father. Besides providing refuge for the twelve tribes of Israel, these cities became a refuge for non-Israelites who had killed another person unintentionally. The cities of refuge did not provide protection for premeditated murderers, unlike the bogus 'sanctuary cities' created by liberal progressives, which protect law-breakers and felons instead of protecting the innocent. The code of law in God's sanctuary cities is universal, not one set of standards for one ethnic group and one for another. Christ is our place of safety; we have refuge in Him at all times. The names of these cities all represent aspects of Christ's character. For example, Kedesh signifies setting apart as holy (Passover) while Golan represents joy and dancing in the Millennium.
Richard Ritenbaugh, examining Thomas Seeley's analysis of the swarm instinct of bee cultures, and sociologists' attempt to link that wired-in animal instinct to human behavior (opting usually for collective groupthink), suggests that there is a balanced approach to applying community behavior to Christian living, especially when we apply Paul's body analogies in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 God's admonition that we learn from the ant does not teach us to yield to a hierarchical system but, rather, to unselfishly participate in a community, the final goal being its edification. Swarm behavior, flock behavior, and herd behavior, according to Tom Seeley is more democratic than authoritarian (as assumed in previous models). In the Body of Christ, we similarly work as an interdependent body of believers, serving one another, laboring for a common goal, as is rehearsed annually through God's appointed feasts and Holy days, all of which have unique qualities and lessons. On Pentecost, the priests baked loaves with leavening, representing those set apart before Christ's earthly ministry and those set apart after His ministry. We are obligated to be team players, looking after the needs of the entire body. Our rugged individualism must be tempered with the knowledge that we are part of a larger, interdependent body. Though God called us all individually, we need to think of ourselves as a part of the community, being just as protective of the flock as is our Elder Brother. Whether we are branches of a vine, God's field, God's building, God's flock, or the very bride of Christ, the common denominator is that God has designed us to serve one another. If we, as servants and fellow family members, all do our part, God will give the increase. There ought not be schisms in the Body; we will be living together eternally.
Mark Schindler, reflecting on the 30th anniversary of his baptism, recalls how he joyfully, but perhaps myopically, assumed that he would automatically walk harmoniously and peacefully with the other members of the body of Christ into the Kingdom and eternity of God, without experiencing any impediments or sibling rivalry among our brethren in God’s family. As we are called into God’s Church, we come from divergent backgrounds, cultures, and philosophical viewpoints, potentially divisive and explosive, providing Satan a beachhead to divide and conquer brethren. Many of the things which have happened in our lives have molded and shaped our opinions, opinions that frequently place us at loggerheads with well-meaning people. If we allow the old man to dictate how we make decisions, we will trouble the Household of God and inherit nothing but the wind. Hanging onto the things of this world can do nothing but divide us. Are we willing to give up our intangible assets, such as our opinions, in order to allow Christ to fit us together in His Body? No matter how closely our experiences have meshed, no two people will ever see things 100% alike. All of us have come into God’s church from vastly different backgrounds, but with one major mandate—to love one another as Christ has loved us. Are we willing to jeopardize our spiritual inheritance by hanging onto opinions shaped by this world’s systems? Only by conforming to the example of Christ, fervently loving God the Father and loving our brethren as ourselves, can we edify instead of troubling God’s House. The meek, those who have power, but hold it wisely back, will inherit the Earth. Evildoers will be cut down like weeds, but the righteous will have an eternal inheritance. If our citizenship has been registered in Heaven, we are no longer residents of a fractured and divided nation
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.
David Maas cautions that in a dangerous and troubled world in which everyone is being manipulated and conned into squaring off in hatred for one another, being enticed to take the spiritual mark of the Beast (seething anger and hatred toward one another), we must find common ground, not only with our fellow citizens, but especially among the multiple splinter groups in the greater church of God. Following the apostle Paul's example, when we encounter groups with differing views from ours, we must find common ground, finding things praiseworthy about them, providing the framework for mutual understanding, always on the basis of God's covenants to all of mankind and to His called-out firstfruits. In the current configuration of the greater church of God, blown to smithereens in the early 1990's, each group finds itself on a continuum, with an authoritarian fringe on one extreme and an assimilation or conforming to the world extreme on the other fringe. Each group has gifts and insights, as well as blind-spots and deficits in understanding, both of which will be cleared up by Almighty God in the fullness of time. In the meantime, we are commissioned to do our part of the work, always esteeming others over ourselves, respecting and loving one another, and striving to conform to God's covenant with all of us.
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, clarifying our worldview with respect to the Israel of God (or the Church) in the context of eschatological (that is, end times) events, declares that our vision of our calling as well as our level of responsibility before the imploding of our prior fellowship, may have contained several major flaws. The sporadic mushroom-like ascendancy to numerical and monetary prominence, shortly before the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, was certainly a curious anomaly never occurring before in the history of the Church. God the Father and Jesus Christ clearly blew apart our prior fellowship, frustrating many who would like to see unity at any cost. We are no longer united in a single common work, but the composite splinter groups still constitute God's called-out church. Paradoxically, our collective but separate efforts have accomplished a greater work at a fraction of the cost. The concept of church eras is not Scripturally supportable and indeed has become sadly responsible for the needless pecking-order engaged in by several of our fellow splinter groups. The seven churches of Revelation 2-3 historically all existed simultaneously and indeed, the characteristics of five of them will apparently be extant at the return of Christ. Jesus Christ expected that all of us learn from the seven churches the commendations and warnings, applying them to ourselves individually, allowing us to repent as needed. Jesus Christ built the Church; the architecture should resemble the pattern He personally fashioned, such as 1.) keeping the Sabbaths and Holy Days, 2.) existing as a relatively small flock which will never die out despite continuous, perennial eruptions of apostasy and persecutions, 3.) being empowered with God's Holy Spirit (defined here as the invisible motivating power ultimately transforming us into spirit beings having God's characteristics—our spiritual DNA) which will ultimately configure us into His image as we allow God to shape and guide us. We receive this Holy Spirit before baptism and before
John Ritenbaugh, asking the questions "Who are we?" and "Where do we fit in?" examines the process of sanctification, comprising the state we are in because of God's action, a continuous process. The end result is that we will possess absolute holiness in every aspect of our life. Sanctification began beyond our control, and is an honor bestowed on a few out of billions, indicating that we are special to the Giver—an honor so valuable we do not want to lose out, motivating us to keep His laws, statutes, and judgments. Our calling, attended with spiritual gifts, could make us susceptible to the same dangerous pride Satan succumbed to if we do not exercise extreme caution. Satan knew he was gifted, but let his self-centered goals eclipse God's purpose for him. To Satan, God was the bad guy, thwarting his plans. God has placed us all in the body where it has pleased Him. We dare not imitate Satan by not appreciating where God has placed us. In order to benefit from the motivating power of the treasure, we must develop a single-fixed vision or goal, maintaining clear focus as if we were watching the movement of a ball in a team sport. We must exercise care about how we perceive ourselves against the backdrop of the world, constructing a worldview which takes in the preciousness of our calling. Seven truths which should be components of our world view are: (1) The church was planned before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6); (2) The church cannot be randomly joined; one must be called (John 6:44); (3) The Church is the Body of Christ (Ephesians 2:19-21); (4) Through the spirit of adoption, we become members of God's family (Romans 8:14-20); (5) Mankind has an impulse to worship; the correct way must be revealed; (6) The nation of Israel is a worldly institution; the Church is the Israel of God; and (7) God considers the Church as His treasure, giving His personal protection in order not to lose us. Our worldview should be a process of clarifying this treasure.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, comparing the New Testament city of Corinth, the Old Testament city of Sodom, and the Church, finds some disturbing parallels and similarities. The focus of I Corinthians is practical advice on how to live a Christian life in an ungodly venue. Secular progressivism has successfully pushed God out of the picture in every sector of the culture. Corinth went through many of the same challenges that America is going through today. America, like ancient Corinth (also having a multicultural focus) espouses perverted sexual practices on a daily basis. Today there are serious factions in the greater church of God as well as almost all of the other problems occurring in Corinth. By using I Corinthians as a practical manual of surviving in a "Sodom-like" culture, we can strengthen our guard against the deadly, corrosive aspects of our current corrupt and perverted culture, having both excesses of wealth and time. Paul writes to the Corinthian congregation, stating that they have been sanctified by Christ, called to holiness, just as other congregations have also been set apart. Paul realized that he needed to encourage them before correcting them about disunity and cliquishness. Paul reminds them and us that if Christ were central in our focus, and we were all tapped into God's Holy Spirit, we would be unified. Party spirit, whether religious or political, denotes carnality. Paul cautions that it is unwise to pick favorite ministers (all of whom are servants and stewards of God, all accountable to God) clustering into divisive cliques. Paul warned the Corinthians not to go hastily to court, but instead to develop Godly judgment. The Corinthian congregation was warned not to use their religious liberty to put new members with weak consciences in jeopardy. Corinth was warned about excessive complaining, lust, and idolatry. Corinth showed lack of judgment regarding decorum, exercising spiritual gifts, and demonstrating concrete acts of love. The Corinthians allowed Platonic thought to undermine t
We do not often think of fellowship as a means of devotion, but when we look into the book of Acts at the unity of the early church, fellowship was a priority of those first members of God's church. Clyde Finklea reveals that Christian fellowship is more than just getting together on a regular basis; it is sharing with each other on a higher, spiritual level.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that if we do not know who we are and where we are going, we are destined to undergo continuous stress. If we yield to God's manipulation of our lives, we will handle stress constructively, developing a relationship with Him, bearing spiritual fruit. As our forebears followed the pillar of cloud and fire, we are instructed to follow God's written Word. The goodness of God leads to our repentance and transformation, progressively becoming a peculiar people, a royal nation of priests. Our uniqueness and greatness stems from keeping God's laws, and having them implanted in our hearts. We can make it on our wilderness journey if God is continually with us all the way to the end. God has given us more spiritual understanding than the most sophisticated leaders and educators of the world will ever hope to have. Only those who have been called understand the mystery of God's will. Much of our overcoming involves dissolving prejudices we may have against those God has called into His family. We have been put into an already- designed structure, living stones in a spiritual structure. There is no such thing as an "independent" Christian. Our inheritance will be the whole earth as a sanctified, holy nation, a royal priesthood and a holy priesthood, performing the work of the Lord, offering ourselves as living sacrifices.
George Santayana's famous quotation—"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it"—applies equally well to the church of God. Richard Ritenbaugh compares the history of the early church with the events and trends being exhibited in the modern church of God. Will today's church follow the disastrous example of early second-century Christianity?
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 predominate focus of Matthew 24:2 is on the physical Temple and its environs. Jesus Christ's words that "not one stone shall be left here upon another" has already had one physical fulfillment in the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in AD 70. ...
At times the paradox is painful, but it is nevertheless true. True Christians "receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon [us]" (Acts 1:8), yet even with that divine power there is much that we would like to do but cannot. ...
John Ritenbaugh observes that although each of God's festivals depicts increasingly larger numbers of people being drawn to God, the counter pulls emanating from sinful carnal human nature war against the prompts of God's Holy Spirit, producing continual conflict. Choosing between these two opposite poles is something we have to contend with daily. If we choose the spiritual pole, moving toward unity with God, we will become unified with others who similarly strive for these same spiritual goals. Without this spiritual contact, we subject ourselves to the second law of thermodynamics: entropy, chaos, and disorganization, but with God's Holy Spirit, we do not have to succumb. According to Lamentations 2, God scattered Judah for their sins. Likewise, God scattered the Worldwide Church of God (possibly using Satan as His agent) mercifully administering painful chastening for our own safety and protection, putting us in venues where we actively have to love and forbear one another. Pride condemned Satan to a fate of using or manipulating rather than serving. This presumptuous self-centered trait belonging to Hillel (later Satan or adversary) creates disunity and ultimate destruction. Unfortunately, several leaders of church groups have adopted these presumptuous competitive traits, arrogantly and disdainfully looking down on other groups within the greater Church of God, completely antithetical to the behavior of John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ. We must follow the example of Abel, humbly doing things on God's terms, rather than the example of Cain, presumptuously doing things on his own terms. Likewise, when we have nothing acceptable to offer to God (Exodus 23:16, Leviticus 22:25, Joshua 5), we cannot presumptuously make an offering.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Jesus Christ's prayer for unity in John 17, insists that unity with our brethren is impossible without unity with God first. Adam and Eve severed this unity by yielding to Satan's influence, stimulating their minds with a novel diversion. Sin automatically separates us from God. The key to overcoming rests exclusively in our relationship with God. We are placed in the Body of Christ at His discretion, and are obligated to subject ourselves to His workmanship, keeping Him continually in our thoughts, night and day. We do not produce any fruit unless we are attached to the vine. As members of Christ's body, we must function for the good of the whole body, not competing with other organs or limbs. We must continually see God and function as a son of God. As with our Elder Brother, if we do those things that please our Heavenly Father, He will be there for us. Not responding to God and treating our brethren shabbily, brings harsh judgment upon us. Unity in the Body is brought about by yielding to and using the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, enabling us to love our brother as God has loved us. The more we have in common, the greater will be unity and peace.
Jesus, in His prayer recorded in John 17, fervently asks for unity among His Disciples (and by extension-all of us). Almost 20% of this prayer is devoted to the subject of unity, that His disciples would be unified with God the Father and with each other, as Jesus is unified with the Father. If we aren't unified with our Heavenly Father, we can't possibly be at one with (or a functioning member of) the Body of Christ. Each member of Christ's body must choose to function in the role God has ordained to produce unity, emulating our elder Brother always doing those things that please the Father by keeping His Commandments (statutes, judgments, and ordinances), enabling us to become at one with Him. Unity with our Heavenly Father leads to unity in the church or the Body of Christ. Failing to discern the Lord's Body- the church (by refusing to engage in rigorous self-examination) leads to eating and drinking damnation to ourselves. The disunity which Paul described in 1 Corinthians 12 has an antidote in 1 Corinthians 13, namely love in all of its manifestations, resulting in physical and spiritual healing and peace, the ideal environment for the growth of spiritual fruit. If we are separated from God the Father and Jesus Christ, we cannot be unified with the church, as was demonstrated by the devastating destruction and Diaspora of the Worldwide Church of God. The disintegration will never be repaired except as individuals voluntarily submit themselves to the rule of God the Father.
David C. Grabbe: During these restless days in the church of God, it is common for us to wonder when the really exciting things are going to begin happening, what God is doing now, and where He is working. ...
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that we are to follow Abraham and Sarah's example of relying on God's guidance, learning to trust in the wisdom of Almighty God rather than the world. In order to avoid strife, Abraham allowed his forward nephew Lot first choice. Likewise, the apostle Paul admonished the New Testament church to refrain bringing law suits before the public. Abraham and Sarah were willing to suffer loss in order to achieve peace. Regarding the current scattered flocks, any spirit of competition is the way of enmity and strife. The sheep do not belong to any man or any one group, but they belong to Christ, given to Him by the Father. It is Christ's, not the minister's responsibility to get the sheep into the Kingdom of God. The Church of the Great God sees the other splinter groups as brethren in the greater church of God rather than competitors. Unlike certain understandings in our previous fellowship, each person is directly and individually responsible for his own submission to God's government. No external coercion will develop character or submission to God. Throughout history, the large congregation has been the anomaly rather than the norm. The scattering of the flock has been a blessing, forcing people to take individual responsibility to develop godly character, responding to a still small voice rather than to brazenly get out in front of God. The Bible is replete with examples of great leaders, with hubris, presumptuousness, or pride who got out in front of God (Satan, Abraham, Sarah, Korah, and Josiah) causing irreparable consequences for their descendents. The antidote to presumptuousness involves patiently waiting on the Lord, following God's lead, resisting any impulse to get out in front of God.
John Ritenbaugh asks the question, "How much leavening would God allow to infiltrate into the church, society, or the individual before He steps in to correct it?" Leaven can symbolically represent false teaching, as in the stifling traditions of the Pharisees, the skepticism of the Sadducees, and the secularism of Herod, all producing deadly cynicism and pessimism. With immense forbearance and patience, God carefully timed the cumulative wickedness of a people (when every thought would become saturated with evil) before He intervened. Likewise, we have no insight as to how much sin God will tolerate in the church or our own lives before He will sternly intervene. The tares and wheat (sin and righteousness, heresies and truth, or unconverted and converted) must coexist until the harvest when the fruit will become clearly seen, at which time a separation and judgment will take place, when the good will be contrasted from the evil. In the meantime, the persecution we receive now will show God definitively where our loyalties lie.
Richard Ritenbaugh observes that the self-indulgent, immoral culture of Corinth parallels today's America and the current fractured state of the church. Paul, before he gives the Corinthians a corrective message on factions and party spirit, reminds them that they are sanctified members of Christ's body, which should not be divided by schism. He pleads with them to present a united front, all adhering to the same doctrines. Getting rid of pride and selfish ambition makes attaining unity as genuine Christians very difficult. Ironically, fractures or schisms in the church serve as a litmus test, distinguishing those faithful who really belong to Christ. Our ultimate responsibility is to zig and zag with Christ in faith, and not become deceived or distracted by human reason. A true, godly minister does not draw people to himself, but instead to Jesus Christ and the Father. Not placing Christ at the forefront will lead to carnal-mindedness and retardation of spiritual growth and maturity.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Isaiah 53:2-3, reminds us that as Jesus had no form or comeliness that people would desire, likewise His spiritual called-out church would also be not attractive in the sight of men, but rich in faith. But outcome-based religion looks to their vast numbers for their outward sign of success, believing that the ends justify the means, and throws out or waters down any doctrine that interferes with their growth and unity. In making rapid growth the standard of success, they have elevated fellowship above the value of truth; they have forsaken the superiority of correct doctrine in favor of community. Outcome based churches measure their success by their spectacular growth and intense media coverage. Doctrinally and philosophically they are way off base, drifting toward secularization, discarding any tenet or doctrine that would cause offense to anyone, expressing tolerance to all manner of aberrations. Because they throw out the doctrine of Christ and refuse to sanctify Him as Lord, the outcome-based churches are drifting hopelessly into error, advocating a new form of polytheism, in which individual members try to fashion their own image of God. Outcome based religions, even though they use Christian terminology and quote scripture, are not basing their lives on the sayings or doctrines of Christ, but from Gnosticism, pop-psychology, pop-philosophy business gurus, and the occult, actually placing their members precariously close to demon influences.
The Bible makes it very plain that salvation is by grace, but it is also clear that we are 'created in Christ Jesus for good works' (Ephesians 2:10). Having explained justification, John Ritenbaugh tackles the process of sanctification, showing that the far greater part of God's saving work in us occurs after baptism!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Two events occurred this morning to prime the old thinking pump: the funeral of Pope John Paul II in Vatican City and receiving the February 28, 2005, issue of The Journal: News of the Churches of God in the church's mailbox. ...
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.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, cautioning against the danger of presumption, warns against assigning biblical types (like Joshua and Zerubbabel) to any contemporary ministers, pointing out that, except for a few superficial similarities, there are not enough parallels or grounds of comparison to make such an inferential leap. Two major assumptions made by calendar changers are that: (1) the calendar is too complicated and (2) the Jews are guilty of deliberate manipulation in order to create a calendar that is more convenient in actual usage. The Bible nowhere says that the calendar should be simple; everything God has created, including life Bible, the calendar, as well as life itself, is complex. God, totally faithful and reliable, gave us a calendar, assigning the responsibility for its maintenance to the nation of Israel, not to the church or private individuals, guaranteeing order, stability, and unity within the culture. The Anti-Christ inspires tampering with times.
Richard Ritenbaugh, expounding upon the principle that it is more blessed to give than to receive, suggests that the things we ardently desire for ourselves we should be willing to give to others, including forbearance and forgiveness. Following the Apostle Paul's example to the Corinthians, we ought to forgive and comfort one who has genuinely repented. Godly character includes the capacity to forgive and exercise forbearance. Within the body of Christ, we consist of interdependent cells, dependent upon each other. By failing to forgive our brother, we jeopardize the health or well being of the entire body. Extending forgiveness to a repentant brother is a godly characteristic, strengthening the entire body, leading to unity. Our Elder Brother's example should be our standard.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that having an objective orientation (other centered approach) rather than a subjective orientation (self-centered apprach) leads to unity and reconciliation. As members of Christ's collective body, we must exercise those self-restraining and self-controlling godly attributes of walking worthy, having lowliness of mind, meekness, patience, and forbearance- all elements of love demonstrating a practical application for guarding the unity of the spirit.In the present scattering, permitted by Almighty God, the group that one fellowships with is less important than the understanding that there is one true church, bound by a spiritual, not a physical unity.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that because of our collective lack of self-discipine and our lack of willingness to guard the truth, we have allowed our theological, philosophical, and attitudinal base to deteriorate under the persuasion of the the world, hopelessly scattering us into myriad fragments and splinters. Liberty without self discipline has produced this chaos. In order to regain the unity we have lost, Paul lists four elements of character we must all exercise: humility, meekness (or lowliness of spirit) patience, and forbearance, counteracting the pernicious pride, vanity, and competitiveness which have driven us apart.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that walking worthy demands a balance between doctrine and application or between doctrine and conduct. Unity demands both. It is impossible to make a corporate union of all the splinters of the greater church of God because doctrinal, attitudinal, philosophical, and policy differences have grown increasingly disparate. Unity has to come from the inside out with God raising a leader which people, having their minds opened by God's Spirit, will voluntarily submit to. We can prepare for this unity by submitting to God's doctrines and living in accordance with them. Only when we have willingly gone back to our first love can we again attain family identity and spiritual unity.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that the doctrines entrusted to us through Herbert Armstrong's apostleship remain a major plank in the foundation of our faith. Adopting a revolutionary stance (Proverbs 24:21) for the sake of change, variety, or relieving boredom will systematically destroy the faith once delivered. Through the sanctification process, we incorporate Christ's righteousness by obedience, prayer, study, bearing fruit, sacrificing, serving, and yielding to God's Spirit, enabling us to develop character. In the current scattering, God is testing us to see whether we will hold fast, resisting heresies and false doctrines. Our vision must be kept alive and ever growing or our zeal, motivation, and unity will wane.
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.
In this lead-off sermon of the 1999 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh draws an instructive though disturbing parallel between the warning given to Belshazzar and the warning given to the greater church of God. A major contributory cause in the splitting of the church has been the wholesale rejection of the doctrines Herbert Armstrong, under God's inspiration, worked to restore. When the shepherd was smitten, false teachers systematically undermined the faith once delivered. We need to realize that if God were not with Herbert Armstrong in those formative years, then indeed the handwriting is on the wall for us. We desperately need to hold fast to those doctrines restored through Herbert Armstrong's ministry.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that unless the splinters of the greater church of God repair their mangled relationships with the Almighty, recoupling will be impossible. A major contributory factor in the scattering is the deceitful heart of man (Jeremiah 17:9) and carnal nature (Romans 8:7) which attempts to substitute charm and social skills (passing it off as conversion) for sincerity and a contrite heart (Psalm 51:17, Isaiah 66:3). Because God's scrutiny penetrates right through to the inner heart (I Samuel 16:7), it is foolish and pointless to use the same duplicity toward Him as we use to deceive others and sadly, even ourselves.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that neglecting to feed the flock has been detrimental to preaching the gospel to the world. Because of this unwitting neglect, many members succumbed to the "lost in the crowd" syndrome, feeling insignificant, meaningless, and useless. The vine and branches analogy (John 15:1-6) and the body analogy (Romans 12:4-5; I Corinthians 12:12-17) indicates that we are all responsible for one another, with no one having an insignificant role. We draw upon God's Holy Spirit, not for ourselves only, but for the well-being of the entire body. Putting first things first,the condition of the body or temple is dependent upon the spiritual condition and well-being of the individual members of the body.
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 shares the significance of Herbert W. Armstrong's role in the church. Increasingly, some fail to realize Herbert Armstrong's stabilizing role in God's church. The scattering we have experienced since his death has been a blessing from God, revealing our collective, pitiable spiritual deficits. God deliberately engineered the scattering to save us from our precarious spiritual condition. Like the virgins in the Parable of the Ten Virgins, we have all slumbered. In the meantime, God has been working on His spiritual creation, fashioning us in His image. At this juncture, we are not being scattered because of persecution, but because of punishment brought about by our wholesale lack of obedience, requiring loving, firm corrective action. We are not victims of Satan, but bear much of the responsibility for this dismantling from our failure to discern false doctrine. The division of Israel and Judah (between Jeroboam and Rehoboam), occurring because of disobedience, was engineered by Almighty God, and was designed as a lesson for us. If we sin, God will scatter us. He who scatters the church will re-gather it in His good time. Herbert Armstrong, while not perfect, not infallible, and not sinless, nevertheless served as the custodian of the precious truths of God - occupying the role of God's servant and messenger. To reject the message from God's messenger is to reject God. We need to collectively repent and go back to the first works and the faith once delivered to the saints.
The Sermon on the Mount is as vitally important to us today as it was when Christ preached it. It contains within it the very way we are to conduct our lives as God's representatives on this earth. How well are we following what Christ taught?
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.
Focusing upon Psalm 133 as the 14th step of 15 degrees of ascent, Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that in our spiritual pilgrimage, unity will be perhaps one of the last objectives to be accomplished. Upon the anointing or setting apart of our High Priest Jesus Christ, and our own anointing with God's Holy Spirit, we receive the means to attain this unity. Like the descent of the dew of Hermon and the fragrant oil, unity comes from God through His Son to us by the anointing of His Spirit, covering us from head to toe. Unity comes only through the initiation of God. It is our responsibility to respond to His command to be unified, humbly walking worthy of His calling, willing to render our reasonable service to one another, motivated by His Holy Spirit. If we would follow the practical suggestions given by Paul in Romans 12, we could do our part in promoting unity in God's church.
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.
Ron Sellers, a religious trend watcher, sees great instability in world religion, and it is mirrored in God's church. Richard Ritenbaugh shows how this dovetails with Bible prophecy of the end time.
Love is the first of the fruit of the Spirit, the one trait of God that exemplifies His character. John Ritenbaugh explains what love is and what love does.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the pressures and conflicts that the church has undergone is part of a larger Zeitgeist (spirit of the time) that has embroiled institutions religious and political institutions worldwide. The mindset reflects (and is a function of) an unseen spirit world under the sway of the prince and power of the air. This Zeitgeist or wisdom of men (evidenced by carnality) could well dominate our lives. We need to be extremely careful about what we allow into our minds, from academia, psychology, politics, and especially from people supposedly speaking for God (false prophets), but having their taproot in the world and Satan the Devil. Any message, true or false, has the capability of producing a faith. Faith in the wrong thing will bring deadly consequences. To counteract the heresies emanating from the spirit of the world, we must have union with Christ (through His Spirit), giving us direct access to God's wisdom.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that works are not the cause of salvation, but instead are the effect of God's creative efforts at bringing us into His image—a new creation. We are created in Christ Jesus, given a tiny spark of His nature from which to draw spiritual nourishment and receive our power to act. In this context, works are nothing more than our puny efforts to respond to God's love by voluntarily living like God does. The perfect tense of the verb 'saved' in Ephesians 2:8 (denoting an action started in the past and continuing in the present) does not guarantee that we will always remain in that state, but only if we continue to yield to God's shaping power, mortifying our human nature, and conforming to His image.
Observing that more controversy exists about the counting of Pentecost than for any of the holy days, John Ritenbaugh suggests the confusion may be a function of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19). Confusion, separation, and division have been our legacy since the Garden of Eden. The major reason for Christ's ministry was to put an end to the quarreling and division, enabling us to be one with the Father and with each other. Three of God's festivals (Passover, Atonement, and Pentecost) have a direct bearing on the principle of unity. As we individually strive to become unified with God, believing in His authority and His doctrines, we will ultimately become unified, in one accord, with our brethren. It is our individual responsibility, enabled by God's Holy Spirit, to follow those things that were revealed by God through His apostles, keeping God's Commandments, rather than following our own inclinations or private agenda.
Have you ever wondered what "all in all" means in relation to God and Christ? John Ritenbaugh explains how this term has great significance to us today!
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.
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 asserts that keeping the Feast of Tabernacles in a central location enables us to realize that we are involved in something larger than our own salvation- part of a universal and eternal mission, giving us unity toward God's purpose. Jeroboam, motivated by political ambition and self-centered fear, incrementally and surreptitiously established a more convenient idolatrous festival, replacing the Levites, and establishing new centers of worship in order to prevent his people from keeping the legitimate Feast of Tabernacles in Judah. The modern parallel seems quite clear.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that it is the responsibility of each person to govern himself. Otherwise, even the very best government (the government of our Head, Jesus Christ) won't work. Goethe said "the best of all governments is that which teaches us to govern ourselves" Voluntary consent and mutual consent is the way to unity. Christ expects the leader to give, to give, and to give some more. Consequently, the authority in the ministry is a "staff position" given by God, as a gift to the church, for equipping the saints for service and for edifying the body of Christ so that we can all grow up into Christ.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that while Godly righteousness is open ended, allowing room for growth, human righteousness is self-limiting because of its self-centered mindset, smugly satisfied with its accomplishments. The attainment of Godly righteousness demands humility, a readiness to admit shortcomings, a yieldedness to correction, and a willingness to be refashioned. Before one can become a good example to others (serving as an improver), he must develop the humble attitude of being willing to be shaped by God's Holy Spirit, realizing shortcomings, and continually hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Achieving perfection through human devices (trusting human sensory equipment and reason for deciding standards rather than relying upon God) will severely limit spiritual growth.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the people who were preaching Christ from questionable motives were church members and not Judaizers, as some have assumed. Paul experienced a dilemma wondering if it would be better to suffer martyrdom, finishing his life's calling or remain alive to help the Philippians bear more spiritual fruit. Paul and the Philippians had mutual affection and respect for one another. Paul, after encouraging this congregation, assures them that their spiritual growth depended on their personal relationship with Christ, urging them to stand fast in the unity of the truth, being loyal citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven as Philippi was a loyal colony of Rome. Paul, assuring them that God is with them, providing everything they need to overcome, teaches that individual overcoming in lowliness of mind, putting others ahead of self, leads to the whole body being strengthened.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Apostle Paul, in this prison epistle, conveyed to the Philippians his optimism that the apparent misfortune was actually a blessing, actually enabling Paul to magnify his effectiveness, enabling more fruit to be borne. Paul, looking far beyond his prison experience, would be contented no matter what God had chosen for him, even though he felt a special desire to help the Philippians- striving to be worthy citizens of the outpost of the Kingdom of God (even as Philippi was an outpost of Rome) boldly unified in Christ (having Christ's mind -receiving encouragement by God) in a team effort (having a selfless concern for others) against a common adversary. Paul suggests that it is a very high calling to suffer for Christ (Faith untested is not faith/no cross-no glory)-serving as a crucible for perfection or maturity.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Paul's motivation for his letter to the Philippians, both appealing for unity and offering encouragement, reminding them that their relationship with one another was through Christ. Unity could only be maintained if they prayed for one another, exercising reasoning, discerning, and discriminating agape love. Paul encourages the Philippians, assuring them that his own incarceration (apparently engineered by God) had turned out for the best, enabling him, exuding his cheerful personality, to provide one—on-one testimony to a succession of guards, enabling God's witness to get to the upper echelons of the praetorian guard, greatly extending or amplifying the witness. Regardless of the precariousness of his ostensibly grave circumstances, Paul, with deep conviction, expected spiritual deliverance.
Paul systematically planned his travels to specific cities for specific reasons, choosing Philippi for its strategic location as the only autonomous Roman colony in the region having historical cultural, military and commercial significance. As an autonomous outpost of Roman culture, more Roman than Rome, it provides a metaphor of a Christian's status of occupying an outpost of the Kingdom of Heaven, ardently maintaining a loyalty to the customs and laws of the home country. From Philippi, God called people from several nationalities and social strata, galvanizing them into one family. Paul expresses joy and camaraderie more with this congregation than any other, appreciating their selflessness, generosity, and sacrifice. Paul, from his vantage point of a prisoner, offers both abundant encouragement (God will complete what He has begun) as well as a plaintive appeal for unity to this congregation.
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.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, after delving into questions of how people living during the Millennium will develop faith, as well as the reason for re-establishing a sacrificial system, focuses on the significance of Christ's sacrifice and His glorification. Christ's perfect life and His sacrificial death was a prerequisite for our reconciliation with God, demonstrating how far God will go to save us. Only living our lives as God the Father and Jesus Christ live their lives will bring about abundant life. Eternal life is to know God, seeking Him to imitate Him, living as He does, and developing an intimate relationship with Him. Christ manifested the Father's attributes as He lived, setting us an example to live our lives the same way, becoming similar imitations of the Father. Christ's extensive prayer for His disciples is for our guarding, preservation, protection, and unity with our brethren as we bear the name of God. As God gives us challenges and responsibilities, He also gives the necessary tools to fulfill them.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that chapter 18 provides instructions to how to get along in the church. Jesus teaches a parable contrasting the enormity of what we are forgiven to what we forgive others. Our forgiveness by God is directly connected with our forgiveness of our brother; blessed is the merciful for they will obtain mercy. The Creator's life is worth more than the entire creation; offenses against us are a mere drop in the bucket compared to our sins against God. Gentile women became proselytes to Judaism because of the better treatment of women in the Bible as opposed to their treatment in Gentile religion. Sadly there was a wide variance between the ideal and the practice since the Jewish culture of that time also considered the woman a possession of her husband or father with no legal rights except those granted to her by her husband. Religious leaders, influenced by Hillel's liberal approach to divorce could grant divorces for trivial reasons. Jesus explained the original intent of marriage with Adam and Eve, who were explicitly designed for one another with no competition. Moses, because of the hardness of peoples' hearts allowed for a bill of divorcement as a temporary concession to their unconverted heart and mind, in order to prevent wholesale adultery. Uncleanness of heart is really the only real grounds for divorce, usually preceded by the unconverted mate leaving. In the case of desertion by the other mate, the converted person is free to marry. The ideal God intended in marriage can only be attained by those with God's spirit, with Christ living in them. Jesus admonishes us that we should emulate certain qualities of innocence and trust displayed by children as we become mature adults.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the ability to do miracles does not identify a speaker as a representative of God, especially if the signs entice one to depart from the Word of God. Jesus warns that if we ask God for protection from demonic influence, we cannot sit back passively; Satan always counterattacks. Evil must be displaced with good. Jesus encourages us to develop spiritual family relationships within the Church of God coupled with common experiences to reinforce godly behavior. Generally, we cannot expect this kind of special reinforcement from our blood relatives or physical friends. The parable of the sower reflects the various levels of receptivity and conversion among people who are exposed to the Word of God. Matthew 13:22-23 seems to be aimed at the ministry, providing encouragement to keep plugging away despite some un-germinated seed. Like a farmer, the minister must learn patience before results are realized. We must use and develop what God has given or it will dissipate. The study concludes with an exposition of the tares (Darnel) and wheat parable, indicating that Satan has planted false brethren that are hard to distinguish from the real. God is the only one fit to judge.[NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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