David Grabbe focuses on a facile but errant slogan reflecting a Protestant heresy: "The Sabbath is the sign of the Old Covenant; the Holy Spirit is the sign of the New Covenant." The intended implication is that the Holy Spirit replaces the Sabbath. We should bear in mind that Pentecost—celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit—requires the meticulous counting of Sabbaths, and is itself an annual Sabbath. Those who subscribe to this catchphrase ignore the truth that God made the seventh-day holy during creation week; it occupies a central location amid God's Ten Commandments, in effect until Heaven and Earth pass away. Peter, at Pentecost assured his audience that repentance would be given to those who repent of breaking God's law (which of course includes His Commandments). Millennial prophecies make it clear that the Sabbath will remain in effect in perpetuity. Those false teachers who claim God has done away with or changed the Sabbath are implying that God is inconsistent, blessing "New Testament" Christians for violating the Sabbath, while destroying their ancient forefathers for doing the same thing. It is wrong to call the Sabbath the sign of the Old Covenant. The Sabbath is a reminder of God's creative power, a sign of identification in both physical and spiritual Israel, and a sign of sanctification. If we cast off this sign of sanctification, we will return to the way of life from which we have been freed. God's called-out ones must be cautious about clever one-liners spouted by liars dedicated to deceiving God's elect.
Ted Bowling recalls his early days in a Pentecostal Church where the key doctrine, deriving from a misapplication of Acts 2:4 and Acts 2:38, led the members to believe that glossolalia (speaking in 'tongues') was the unmistakable sign that God has accepted us. The miracle of Pentecost was not the speaking incomprehensible gibberish, but it was that a multitude of foreigners heard the Gospel in their own language. It was a miracle of hearing combined with a speaking of existing languages. In one bogus 'Pentecostal' service, a young man prayed out and cried for evidence of God's Holy Spirit (supposedly evidenced by the glossolalia) only to be denied this supposed gift, leaving him feeling that God had rejected him. God's Holy Spirit is a gift; we cannot and should not try to 'work it up.' When hands are laid on us at baptism, we do not feel a zap of electricity going through our nervous systems. The changes we receive are not external but internal, marked by inward growth in Godly character, leading to a mirror-like image of Jesus Christ.
Martin Collins, in the first part of his series on Christ's last words to His Disciples—which includes us—after His resurrection, focuses of three comments He made, all recorded in John 20. First, Christ, having achieved victory over sin and death, pronounced a greeting of peace, a peace which can only be achieved by yielding to God unconditionally, a peace which truly passes understanding. Christ then gives the Great Commission of becoming His messengers and His ambassadors, sharing His truth as the occasion arises. Finally, Jesus Christ breathed the Holy Spirit upon His followers as a type of what would occur on Pentecost. As His royal priesthood, we find it impossible to discern the deep things of God without His Holy Spirit, enabling us to discern both physical and spiritual. As members of the called-out Israel of God, we must be involved in proclaiming His message, feeding the flock, following and living His example, assuming the responsibilities, privileges, and blessings of our awesome commission.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition on the source of the Church's characteristics, reiterates that Jesus Christ is the architect, suggesting that the created institution or body must take on the characteristics of the builder, following assiduously His Commandments, hallowing the same Sabbath and Holy days that He did, and reflecting His character. Jesus Christ has handpicked those He wanted, gifting them with abilities to carry out their responsibilities, a process that has been underway for 2000 years, leading to a cumulative 144,000 beings, constituting the First-fruits and Bride of Christ, prepared to assist Him in governing. Those whom God has called are created in His image, but they are not yet of the God-kind until they receive a tiny portion of His Holy Spirit, enabling them to resist the carnal human nature with which they have been born. As God's Spirit displaces carnality, we become a new creation in Christ, born from above, developing godly character and displacing human nature. In developing and building character, we must voluntarily choose to obey, but God does virtually everything, giving us the will and power to work with His Holy Spirit. Spiritual birth occurs within the human heart—a total transformation of the human heart by the immaterial power that motivates us to acquire His characteristics. This transformation does not take place all at once but requires a lifetime to remove all the impurities. As the impurities are refined out of our character, the world will begin to hate the new creation being formed in us and will feel compelled to hatefully persecute us. We have no idea what God is doing with us as He begins to shape and mold us, but we need to remember that He owns us. As Adam contributed nothing to his physical creation, we contribute nothing to our spiritual creation except for our willingness to yield to His workmanship. The characteristics of the Church are being (and have always been) formed from on high.
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
Jesus' born-again teaching has been prone to misunderstanding since Nicodemus first heard it from Christ's own lips almost two thousand years ago. John Ritenbaugh shows that we must understand His instruction entirely from a spiritual perspective. Interpreting Jesus' symbols physically obscures necessary truths about how God sees His children and how we see ourselves.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Elohim is a plural noun indicating more than one personality. Elohim could be considered a genus—a God-kind, parallel to human-kind, animal-kind, etc. Jesus Christ, as the second Adam, is the beginning of the spiritual kind. The creation has switched from physical to spiritual as God reproduces His kind. God the Father and Jesus Christ are two separate personalities, with the Father having pre-eminence. The Bible contains no shred of evidence to substantiate a third person in the God family, let alone a third co-equal being in a closed trinity. The Holy Spirit as a person did not enter the Roman Catholic Church until well into the 4th century. The doctrine was developed out of speculation, deduction, and human reason, ignoring and displacing scriptural evidence. The trinity doctrine is read into, rather than read out of the, scripture. The Holy Spirit has been designated as the "power of God" in the angels' announcement to Mary. According to the scripture, people will be immersed in the Holy Spirit, and it will be poured out on people, it will fall in people, it will fill a room, etc. In the salutations in the epistles from Paul, James, and Peter, the Holy Spirit is never mentioned as a personality or a part of the God family, and never mentioned in the chain of command. In Psalm 139, the Holy Spirit was designated as the power of God, the means through which He accomplishes His will, HIS very spirit! The communion of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to have fellowship with God and Jesus Christ, and it provides an invisible communication network to connect all of Christ's body simultaneously. When one looks at the figurative applications of the Holy Spirit (metaphor, simile, imagery, personification, anthropomorphism), the idea of the Holy Spirit as a person becomes increasingly absurd.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: A great deal of confusion exists--even among professing Christians--about true conversion. Contrary to many who teach it, confessing the name of Jesus is not how the Bible defines a converted person. ...
Martin Collins, reflecting on an episode in which he was 'baptized' during Vacation Bible School, examines the correct process for baptism, leading to conversion, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, overcoming, and sanctification. Noah's rescue from the flood and the Exodus through the Red Sea are types of baptism. John the Baptizer received his understanding of the ordinance and principle of baptism from his parents, emphasizing repentance, belief, and faith, as well as keeping God's laws, bearing fruits of repentance. When God calls us, there is an irrevocable contract committing ourselves to a lifetime of overcoming, counting the cost, and forsaking all, following the example of our older brother Jesus Christ, becoming living sacrifices, totally relying on God for our strength. In the great commission to the church, Jesus commands, through His Father's direction, baptism into God's Holy Spirit. Baptism symbolizes a burial and resurrection from a grave, or the crucifixion of the old man or carnal self. After a person realizes his ways have been wrong, turning from his own ways, repenting of his sins, wanting to follow Christ, and wanting to become a child of God, he should counsel for baptism.
Richard Ritenbaugh, after reading a testimonial of a Charismatic, describing being "filled with the Holy Ghost," leading to barking, laughter, violent jerking, and inebriated behavior (a kind of "Pentecostalism on steroids"), asks us to ponder what the Holy Spirit will actually motivate a person to do. Scripture reveals that the Spirit constitutes the active, creative power and mind of God, 1) motivating God's people to do His will, 2) giving them discernment and wisdom, 3) endowing them with strength to do God's work, 4) enabling them to see truth clearly, 5) setting individuals apart (for specific purposes) by ordination, 6) providing physical and spiritual power to overcome and resist the Devil, 7) inspiring a person to speak God's words clearly, and 8) inspiring fellowship with God and His people. God's Spirit will never prod us to do anything that is not out of godly love, and because it a spirit of a sound mind, it will never motivate us to do stupid or crazy things.
John Ritenbaugh contrasts the genuine miracle of tongues or language at the first Pentecost with the current practice in Pentecostal groups. In Acts 2, the crowd actually heard the disciples speaking in their own languages - dialects already in existence - not gibberish. The apostle Paul, chastising the spiritually immature Corinthians for the abuse of this spiritual gift, affirms that there is no reason for people to use language except to communicate intelligently. Tongues originally served as a sign for unbelievers, not as a secret "rite of passage" for the initiated. It is a mistake to equate speaking in tongues with 1) the baptism of the Holy Spirit, 2) being filled by the Spirit, 3) evidence of the fruits of the spirit, 4) evidence of faith, or 5) evidence that God is working through the speaker.
Pentecost is known for its stupendous signs, particularly the display of power in Acts 2. David Grabbe shows that Pentecost teaches us of another, more personal witness: our own display of Christ's way of life in us.
Because Israel experienced a type of baptism in passing through the Red Sea on the last day of Unleavened Bread about 3,500 years ago (Exodus 14:29; I Corinthians 10:1-4), Richard Ritenbaugh rehearses basic scriptures on baptism. The etymology of baptism - from the Greek baptizo (to immerse) from the root bapto (to dip), symbolizing death, burial, redemption, and resurrection (Romans 6:4) - requires the practice of total immersion. Baptism represents the destruction of our carnal selves and a resurrection to a new life. Baptism is not for children because one needs to be mature to understand its meaning and eternal consequences. It is a one-time event, a break-off point involving repentance (Acts 2:38) and commitment to a lifetime of bearing fruit, motivated by the power of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh cautions that we may have had a somewhat incomplete understanding of the symbolism of eating unleavened bread, exaggerating the importance of our part in the sanctification process. Egypt is not so much a symbol of sin as it is of the world or the location of our bondage. Leavening represents those elements of the world we are to leave behind- symbolic of every weight which encumbers our spiritual progress. Symbolically we eat unleavened bread because of what God has done- not what we have done. Eating unleavened bread symbolizes following God, displacing sin by doing acts of righteousness. God's total involvement in the whole sanctification process makes it impossible for any flesh to glory in His presence.
Many think works and faith are incompatible, but the Bible instructs us to do works of faith. What are they? These are things we MUST do during the process of salvation.
Repentance is a condition of baptism in God's church and ultimately of conversion and salvation. It is also a lifelong process which we should continue until the day of Christ's return.
Laying on of hands is a strange subject to most, especially to the nonchristian. However, it is one of the church's fundamental doctrines and plays a large role in baptism, healing and ordination.
What is the Holy Spirit? What does it do? Who has it? How does it work? What does it produce?
God has given us two valuable tools, which if used in proper proportions, bring about character and spiritual fruit. Used independently, like all polar or dichotomous thinking (going to one ditch or the other), over-emphasis on one has the tendency to distort the process. The law and God's Spirit (not to be considered polar opposites), given on the same calendar date (at Sinai and Jerusalem), must be applied in tandem to get the best results. Richard Ritenbaugh uses analogies from governmental codes and regulations to illustrate what happens when one extreme dominates the other. Over-emphasis on law produces rigidity and loophole hunters, while over-emphasis on spirit produces emotional imbalance, permissiveness, disobedience and lack of structure. Law and Spirit are not opposites, but complementary, and must work together in order to get results.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Paul's work in Ephesus, during his third evangelist campaign, where he entered the stronghold of worship of the mythological multi-breasted goddess of fertility or providence — Diana or Artemis- whose statue supposedly had fallen from heaven by the hand of Zeus. Initially Paul had to augment the understanding of new converts to Christianity who had received the baptism of John, but who were ignorant of the function of God's Holy Spirit. For several years, Paul used the school of Tyrannus to continue his evangelistic teaching. From this venue, the precedent of anointed cloths for the healing of the sick had its origin. Paul's success at promoting the Way started to undermine the prosperity of vendors promoting the worship of Diana, leading to a riotous assembly (actually a hastily called 'union meeting') in the Temple of Diana, a tumult which the city clerk was able to diplomatically quell, giving Paul and his companions room to breathe and regroup.
John Ritenbaugh explores the conversion of Cornelius, a Gentile. This event is nearly as pivotal a benchmark as the original Pentecost because the Gentiles at this point are given the same portal of salvation (repentance, belief in Christ, and receipt of God's Holy Spirit) originally offered to Israel. This portion of Acts highlights: (1) The church's initial resistance to Gentiles fellowshipping in the church, (2) God's leading the church into the right understanding of Gentile conversion, (3) God's using Peter (originally relatively rigid and unyielding in his scruples) instead of Paul (more cosmopolitan), and (4) Jerusalem's acceptance of Gentiles (originally considered ceremonially unclean from the Jewish point of view) apart from the influence of Judaism. Peter's vision about the unclean beasts is to be interpreted metaphorically or symbolically rather than literally: Gentiles are not to be regarded as impure or ceremonially unclean.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the martyrdom of Stephen, largely instigated by Hellenistic Jews, actually had the paradoxical dramatic effect of spreading the Gospel into Gentile venues, enabling individuals like Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch, upon repentance, belief, and baptism to be added to the fellowship. Even more remarkable in this section of Acts was the miraculous dramatic conversion of the zealous learned Pharisee Saul (virtually handpicked by Jesus Christ and rigorously trained in Arabia for three years) into Paul the Apostle, fashioned (his intense zeal redirected or refocused) for great accomplishment as well as great suffering. Like Jeremiah and John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul was sanctified in his mother's womb, set apart for a specific purpose. At the conclusion of the chapter we find the account of the resurrection of Tabitha (or Dorcas) following Peter's fervent prayer.
John Ritenbaugh continues to reflect on Stephen's incendiary message to fellow Hellenistic Jews (ostensibly given in hopes of their repentance), chastising them for their perennial rejection of prophets and deliverers, including the greatest Deliverer ever sent (namely Jesus Christ), clinging instead superstitiously to the land, the law, and the temple. Stephen's 'untimely' martyrdom and his compassion on his persecutors, followed by the protest reaction against his brutal murder (all part of God's divine plan) resulted in a rapid spreading of the Gospel. The study then focuses upon the influence of Simon Magus, a noted practitioner of sorcery or magic who became impressed with the power of God's Holy Spirit, presumptuously offering Peter money to purchase this power for selfish purposes to control others rather than to serve them. Peter recognized the hypocritical, deceitful, impure motives of this request and responded appropriately.
John Ritenbaugh refutes the erroneous belief that glossolalia (or speaking in tongues) constitutes a sign or condition of having received God's Holy Spirit. The dramatic manifestations in Acts 2 (cloven tongues of fire, rushing wind, and the miracle of speaking and hearing extant languages and dialects) were event specific, and not to be a perennial spectacle in so-called "Tarry meetings." Adherents to the Pentecostal movement try to mimic some of the superficial surface manifestations (noise, commotion, and unintelligible gibberish) rather than follow the teaching given on that day- including repentance, unconditional surrender of our will to God, and keeping His Commandments through the power of His Holy Spirit. Receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (the power to subdue our carnality and live righteously) is dependent upon repentance and baptism. The ability to speak in tongues, although a legitimate spiritual gift for a very specific purpose, is not the identifying hallmark of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh maintains that our historical and theological roots are advanced in a polished, literary, chronological narrative, perhaps designed as a trial document authored by Luke. It defends the apostle Paul and the early church, with a larger purpose of 1) augmenting or increasing the faith of the saints, setting a pattern for all future generations of the church, demonstrating its continuity with the acts of God in the Old Testament; 2) proclaiming the church's mission and message; 3) showing progress despite seemingly overwhelming opposition; 4) tracing the expansion of the gospel to the Gentiles; and 5) revealing the life and organization of the church, emphasizing the role of the Holy Spirit in the church's formation, growth, and empowerment. Peter's sermon 1) explains the scriptural and prophetic significance of the Pentecost miracle, 2) proclaims the identity, death, and resurrection of Jesus, 3) and calls for repentance, a major condition for receiving God's Spirit.
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