Martin Collins, reflecting on Christ's promise in Matthew 16:18 that He would build His Church, asks us whether we can identify the true church. Yes, we can, if we examine the fruits. For example, the true Church will follow God's Law and eschew the pagan traditions. We should interpret each of the letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3 as personal messages, as well as records of historical epochs of the true Church. Because God did not lead the members of the various historical churches to record their experiences, we must rely on the histories of their adversaries. The Catholic Eusebius, hardly an unbiased witness, has provided valuable insights about the persecutions which took place against those who resisted Emperor Constantine's displacement of Passover with Easter, a tragic consequence of the Council of Nicaea (325 AD). Constantine and, later, Archbishop Chrysostom of Constantinople displayed no tolerance for those who were on the fence; persecution and martyrdom shifted into high gear. Despite the Council of Laodicea's condemnation of the Sabbath, a large group of faithful believers termed Paulicians assembled in Armenia under the leadership of Constantine of Mananali, assiduously keeping God's laws, including the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, baptizing by immersion, preaching the Kingdom of God, and resisting the mainstream heresy emanating from Rome. Compromise (that is, spiritual adultery) begins a slippery slope of no return, where each successive compromise incrementally deadens the conscience. Like the Armenian Paulicians, we must take heed when we think we stand, for we may indeed be on the verge of perishing.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on a review of Christopher Browning's sobering 1992 book, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, explains the chilling group-think mentality of people who under normal circumstances would not hurt a fly. Individuals, similar to all of us with garden variety human nature, were coaxed into accepting the murder of 83,000 Jews as a part of the war effort. Those timid individuals who were too squeamish to pull the trigger were not punished for their reticence. Obedience to authority was a touted virtue in war time Germany, espoused by most Protestant and Roman Catholic Clergy. All of the members of Police Battalion 101 were shaped by their world view, exposed to Goebbels-style fake news propaganda, and they voluntarily carried out their orders (with the help of a little Schnapps). As God's called-out ones, we dare not yield to governmental politically correct propaganda, brainwashing us into thinking that murder, sexual perversion, or any kind of social evil is acceptable in the eyes of Almighty God. We all will individually stand before God Who will determine our faithfulness to His Word—even when peer pressure is factored in.
The quality of human life on this earth has in large part been determined by the character of its leaders. In the Bible we have a record of both good and bad leaders, and it provides a repetitive principle that "as go the leadership, so goes the nation." John Ritenbaugh begins a new series that links leadership to the various scriptural covenants and their success or lack thereof.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon II John 5, an epistle which cautions about deceivers who would denigrate the value of work, considers the straining on the point "we cannot earn salvation" a red herring, diverting our attention from the true value of Christian work. God indeed judges the quality and quantity of what we do in our Christian responsibilities. Our calling is a vocation; work or labor is vitally important in our calling. God is our model regarding work, mandating that we produce fruits of righteousness. Christ admonishes that our highest regard should be seeking the Kingdom of God and righteousness. We work for Christ as His slaves. Profit from life is produced by work, requiring sacrifices of time and energy. Christians have been created for the very purpose of doing good works which God has prepared for us. We will be continuing in this work for all eternity. Christian works were never intended to save us; Jesus' works as our Savior and high Priest is what saves us. Doing the works provides practice in God's way of life, engraving in us His character, providing a witness to the world, glorifying God. It takes work to put things in order and prepare for the return of Christ. Three parables in the Olivet prophecy (The Two Servants, Wise and Foolish Virgins, and the Talents) emphasize the necessity of work in the preparation for Christ's return. One's faithfulness in productivity does not transfer to one who has been a slacker. We are all being scrutinized and judged by Almighty God as to what we do, especially as it related to our service to our fellow servants. Whatever we sow, regarding our relationships with one another, we will reap. Sin (of commission or omission) describes the failure to maintain God's standards. The failure to work is sin. Works do not save us, but everyone who is saved works. We will be judged and rewarded according to our works, both the quantity and the quality.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Deuteronomy 30:19-20, reminds us that we are called to a lifetime of decisions and judgments. We have problems with judging fellow brethren in different groups of the greater Church of God, of which at least three claim to be the only true church. This intemperate judgment may come back to bite the biter in a painful place. Judgments must always be open to new information; a fellow servant never falls on our judgment or estimation of him. It is terribly difficult at times to recognize the tare or to recognize the true wheat. Christ's judgments are made according to what each person has been given. We need to internalize this practice of judging and evaluating, especially regarding our brother or fellow servant. We cannot possibly know the levels of gifting God has bestowed on the other members of God's family. Just because we understand an aspect of spiritual truth does not mean that God has gifted the other member to comprehend it, or vice versa. God gifts each person as it pleases Him. God provides the hearing ear, understanding, and wisdom, both in the physical and spiritual dimensions. Not everybody has ears to hear in both dimensions. Even the converted do not comprehend the full spectrum of parable-centric teaching, often containing multiple layers of meaning. The secret things belong to God; the revealed things become our property on a need-to-know basis, only when we have developed the ability to use the information responsibly, using the mind of Christ. We have been given spiritual gifts to serve the entire congregation as they are needed.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Romans 14:10-12, suggests that the Days of Unleavened Bread depict a period of intense judgment on the church. As God's called-out ones, we are sojourners and pilgrims on this earth, with our citizenship in heaven. Our pilgrimage to our Promised Land (the Kingdom of God), like our ancient forbears, may not go in a direct straight line, but in many circuitous routes. We are obligated to trust God in spite of all these apparent detours, following His lead, traversing through a spiritual wilderness with no familiar signposts. We walk by faith, not by sight, to the beat of a different drummer, requiring an intense reserve of faith. We could use the book of Numbers and the summary in I Corinthians 10 as a kind of roadmap, pointing out particular pitfalls. As God kept our forbears perpetually on edge, He does the same thing with us, continually leading us and correcting us, promoting our growth in order to save us. We have to be on guard against lusting, distorting the truth, infidelity, cowardice or fearfulness, peer pressure, presumptuous rebellion, rejecting God by rejecting God's representatives, grumbling, murmuring, complaining, and acting impulsively or rashly. Most of the people making the covenant in the wilderness church did not reach the Promised Land.
John Reid asserts that if we understand that the "heart" represents what we are, who we are, and how we conduct our lives, then the condition of our spiritual heart should be of the utmost importance to us. The condition of our heart (our inner and core being) reflects the condition of our conversion. Overcoming (a change or conversion of heart) and spiritual growth is an individual rather than a collective matter. We can't hide the subtle intents or motives of our heart from Almighty God. We need to prepare our hearts, our minds, our very core beings, everything we do unto the Lord, aggressively putting away the pernicious attitudes and behaviors that are against the character God wants us to develop. Studying God's Word with effort and energy, diligently applying these words to our lives, will help us to properly prepare our hearts, developing character and becoming faithful stewards of God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the deeply felt sense of obligation we feel knowing that a ransom has been paid to redeem us from the death penalty. While we have been justified through grace by faith, good works are the concrete and public reality of this faith. Because we have been bought with an awesome price, we have no right to pervert our lives, but are obligated to look upon our bodies as sacred holy vessels in His service. In John 15:16 Christ teaches that He has appointed us to bring forth fruit. Christ's special calling produces a sense of gratitude, loyalty, and intimate friendship in which we feel an abhorrence of letting Him down.
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