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, noting that the Book of Malachi is a post-exilic transition, link, and bridge book between the Old and New Testaments, indicates the dating of the book can be determined contextually, namely that the temple had been rebuilt, and the Jews were under a civil ruler before the death of Nehemiah. Malachi, one of last Old Testament prophets, is oriented to the future. John the Baptist arrived 400 years later. The same attitudes existing at that time are prevalent today. The offenses mentioned are 1) arrogance—-mankind's thinking man thinks that he knows better than God, 2) mixed marriages, and 3) neglect of tithes. We can see these attitudes by noting the use of the words "wherein," "in what way," and "how." The Priests, asking "How?" seven times in the wrong way in Malachi. In Genesis 18:23-33, Abraham asked God "how?" with respect. Malachi lists four personal failures of the Priests in Malachi 1:6-14. The Priests 1) offered defiled sacrifices on God's altar, 2) harmed the people, 3) were responsible for disparaging the Priest's office, and 4) demonstrated a brazen defiance of God. True ministers must: 1) show a proper relationship to God—fear equals reverence; 2) exhibit a personal commitment to the truth of God's Word; 3) demonstrate of integrity characterized by Godly character and devotion, faithful and Godly, in submission and obedience; and 4) guard the truth and be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in them.
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
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.
The last of the parables of Matthew 13, the Parable of the Householder is addressed directly to Christ's disciples, and beyond them, to God's ministers. Martin Collins reveals that Jesus wants His ministers to use their learning and experience to feed His flock a balanced spiritual diet.
Jesus teaches His disciples to be ready at all times for His return. We show how well prepared we are by the quality of our service to the brethren.
Martin Collins concludes that this nation has cast off all restraint regarding self-control and regulation of appetite. Self-absorbed and self-indulgent national leaders, through their disgusting lack of self-control, coupled with their influence on others, are bringing down hideous curses down on our people. According to the apostle Paul, lack of self-control, as well as the cultivation of self-indulgent perversions, would characterize large segments of our society living at the end times. Self-control caps off the list of the fruits of God's Holy Spirit. It may be strengthened by (1) overcoming evil with good (2) loving others (3) putting on Christ and mortifying the flesh, bringing every thought into captivity to God's Commandments, through God's Holy Spirit.
In this message on recognizing the true gospel, Richard Ritenbaugh stresses that the gospel encompasses far more than the Kingdom of God coming to this earth. It includes the complete revelation of God to man of His plan to reproduce Himself through man. The gospel has explosive power (dunamis, Romans 1:16) both to destroy evil and to construct righteous character, giving us everything we need to live like God. If a gospel does not produce repentance and faith, it is not the true gospel. The aim of the gospel is to always increase our faith, enabling every thought, word, and behavior to be motivated by God.
In this message focusing on the "tail wagging the dog," Richard Ritenbaugh discusses the motivations for proclaiming the true gospel and the motivation for teaching false gospels or heresies. For a genuine minister the gospel of the Kingdom creates a compulsory inner pressure causing him to virtually "explode" with truth, totally unrelated to the need for numbers or ego-stroking. The motivation for the bogus minister stems from a desire to pander to the "itching ears" of the prospective clientele telling them whatever they want to hear, catering to their desires and lusts (Ezekiel 33:32), mixing truth with error, creating a poisonous fatal mixture. While the true minister affirms God's law, the false minister grants license to do whatever one pleases.
We can easily slide quickly down the path of spiritual self-destruction when self-will becomes dominent in our lives. Our goal is to live by God's will, not our own!
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the practical advice in Hebrews 12-13 fits our current condition like a glove. Like the recipients of this epistle, the greater church of God, having drifted away and given in to sin, we must also lay aside every weight which encumbers, accept God's chastening, receive encouragement from those who have already succeeded (Hebrews 12:1), and energetically get back into the spiritual race. We should allow nothing to deter us from the goal, remembering the consequences if we fail. All of our behaviors — including demonstrating brotherly love and hospitality, exercising empathy, strengthening our marriages, being content with God's blessings, submitting to leadership, avoiding strange doctrines, coming out of this world, praying without ceasing, and being charitable — must be done out of a pure heart.
Richard Ritenbaugh presents an encouraging conclusion to his series on Matthew 13 by describing Christ's work on behalf of the church (Hidden Treasure, Pearl of Great Price, Dragnet) and the work of the ministry (Householder). The church constitutes His treasure, hidden in the world, purchased and redeemed with Christ's blood. The Pearl of Great Price depicts a rich merchant (Christ), the only one who had the means to redeem His church. The Dragnet symbolizes the scope of God's calling while the separation process indicates God's high standards of selection, indicating a time of righteous and impartial judgment. The Householder parable shows the responsibility of the ministry to be authoritative interpreters of scripture, using what they have learned and experienced to instruct the people.
John Ritenbaugh warns that human nature will degenerate as far as it is allowed. It has the tendency to quickly adapt to its environment, "adjusting" effortlessly to immorality and perversion. The conscience'the response of man's moral awareness to the divine revelation concerning himself, his attitudes, and his activities, restraining and permitting behavior (Romans 2:14)'is a function of a person's education, not instinctual. False doctrine causes a person to corrupt his conscience, making him tolerate and accept immorality. The conscience will automatically slide into the gutter (becoming hardened or addicted to sin) if God is not retained in our thoughts (Romans 1:21, Ezekiel 20:23-25). Conversely, if the heart accepts the truth, the conscience will follow suit. After we are converted and transfer our allegiance from the flesh to the spirit, the conscience (with feelings subordinated to rationality) gradually becomes tender, adjusting to God's standards.
A major distinguishing characteristic of mankind is his free moral agency, presenting him with choices and the right to make decisions. We need free moral agency to be transformed into God's image. The volition to do right has to come from the core of our character or nature. Paradoxically, the way to maximum freedom is to yield to God's way of doing things. Unless one has the Spirit of God, he cannot exercise the necessary internal control to be subject to the government of God. Even though the church is not the government of God (John 18:36; I Corinthians 15:50), we need to respect the ministry as well as lay members, being subject to one another (I Corinthians 11:1). The operation of God's government absolutely depends upon each person governing himself, never going beyond the parameters of the authority God has given him.
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