Richard Ritenbaugh begins by recapping the first three chapters of the Book of Lamentation: "Woe is me" (Chapter 1), "God did it" (Chapter 2), and "If God is behind it, it must have been good" (Chapter 3). He then focuses on the themes of the chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 4 is a summation of how low God had brought the people of Judah, prompting the theme, "How low can you go?" In Chapter 5, the community bewails what it has suffered, prompting the plaintive theme, "Have You utterly rejected us?" A close reading of the text reveals that, as terrible as this ordeal was, only a few people repented, a reality which justifies Christ powerful rebuke to their descendants, the Pharisees and Scribes, calling them vipers for persecuting and killing the prophets, warning them that their sins would culminate in yet another great destruction. The people suffering under the Babylonians had blindly basked in the privilege of being God's chosen people, while at the same time the blatantly trashed the terms of the Sinaitic Covenant. The inhabitants of Jerusalem could not make a clear cause-and-effect connection between their own sins and what was happening to them. Because the people of Judah demonstrated no fruits of Godly repentance, they failed to achieve anything like a personal relationship with God.
John Ritenbaugh, fearing that we may be following suit in the world's religions by focusing on "getting salvation" rather than preparing for service in God's Kingdom, cautions us that we must re-orient our mindset, seeking to grow in the stature of Christ. Many mainstream religions believe that much of the "pesky" rules of the Bible have been 'done away.' We dare not 'do away' anything that is part of God's mind, or we will not be in His image. In judging, one size does not fit all. Some of the Commandments are more important than others, but they are all important. Acts 15 did not give Gentiles exemption from keeping God's Law. The laws of clean and unclean were not done away, but the vision Peter saw was given so that he would not judge Gentiles as common. The "yoke" Peter described in Acts 15:10 was not the Old Covenant laws, but rather Pharisaical regulations which were not a part of the Old Covenant. The Sabbath, Holy Days, and Clean and Unclean laws were not done away; the sacrificial system will be re-instituted for a time in the Millennial setting. We have been commanded to pursue holiness, moral purity, a necessary quality to grow into God's image. The term holy, in every context, does not always mean morally pure, but instead to cut something, or to set apart from the group. The term Greek haggios, however, denotes moral purity, only possible through God's Holy Spirit, enabling us to become partakers of the Heavenly calling, justified by Christ's blood, faithfully keeping the Commandments of God in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Those who have been called now have an advantage over the ancient Israelites, having power to faithfully keep God's Commandments (written indelibly in our hearts), motivated by His Holy Spirit. Holiness encompasses all of what was written in both the old and new covenants.
John Ritenbaugh insists that this particular topic is attached to the Old and New Covenants, solemn agreements which are eternal (God's Word is eternal) and will not pass away, nor will they be 'done away.' Some things may be set aside for a while, but they are there for our purposes for learning how to judge. Some of the aspects which the world's religious claim are 'done away' will at a future time be brought back. We need to learn to judge in a godly manner, putting merciful restraints on our tendency to condemn or jump to conclusions. We need to inculcate the two great commandments: loving God and loving our fellow humans. We need to learn that sin has different levels of consequences. When it comes to judgment, one size does not fit all. Not everything is on the same level. God is going to judge each of us individually. Our ultimate destiny is to share rulership with our High Priest, Jesus Christ, judging righteously in God's Kingdom, rightly dividing the Word of God. God's Laws set the standards upon which righteous conduct is to be judged. It takes a lifetime to prepare to judge in the Kingdom of God. Learning to apply the spiritual dimension of the law is much more difficult than applying the physical dimension. But both of these dimensions are easier to keep than the traditions and regulations of men, inherently heavy burdens. When Gentile converts were admitted into the church, they were instructed to follow Old Covenant laws regarding the strangling of animals, eating of blood, or eating meat offered to idols. Clearly, the Old Covenant was not 'done away.' After Christ's return, some of the aspects of the Old Covenant, currently in abeyance (for example, circumcision and sacrifices), will be re-instituted. There is nothing evil about the Old Covenant; it provides insights on righteous judgment.
John W. Ritenbaugh: Certain categories of subject matter published in the Church of the Great God's "Berean: Daily Verse and Comment" are almost certain to stir challenges against their content. ...
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.
Most Christians believe that the clean and unclean laws were "done away" at the crucifixion. But is that the case? John Reid looks into the most troublesome New Testament scriptures on the subject.
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on the Pharisees, analyzes the reasons for their continuous condemnation. Having their origin in the days of Ezra, the Scribes and Pharisees were extremely zealous for the law, separating themselves for this exclusive purpose. Over time, this originally noble purpose devolved into a rigid, exclusivist sect, separating themselves from foreigners, heretics, or base people, manufacturing strict, repressive rules for the Sabbath; supporting and detailing the Temple service; and promoting strict observance of the tithing laws. As the teachers of the people, they held a great deal of power, which soon became corrupt, turning them into arrogant, desiccated legalists, ignoring the redemptive aspects of God's law. Pharisees sought after signs, interminably multiplied regulations concerning ceremonially clean and unclean, and developed elaborate regulations for washings, actually leading to the breaking of God's law.
Many think keeping Christmas is fine because it honors Christ, yet God never tells us to celebrate the day of His Son's birth. John Ritenbaugh explains that it is presumptuous on many Christians' parts to believe that such a syncretized holiday could please God.
Why was Jesus transfigured on the mount? What did it mean? What was it designed to teach the apostles? Richard Ritenbaugh shows the significance of this wonderful miracle.
Jesus lists judgment as the first of the weightier matters in Matthew 23, verse. This article explains this term and shows why judgment is a major part of Christianity.
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.
Most are not aware that in the Gospels, questions about the Sabbath center on how to keep it, not whether it should be kept. John Ritenbaugh explains how Jesus approached the Sabbath as an example to us.
John Ritenbaugh clarifies some difficult terms which Protestant theologians have misapplied, characterizing God's holy law as a "yoke of bondage." If we fail to realize that Paul's focus in the Galatians epistle was justification (rather than the whole salvation process of sanctification and glorification) we could become confused. The Old Covenant had no provision for justification nor did it provide a mechanism to change the heart. The antinomian argument ignores that Christ also puts a yoke of responsibility on New Covenant participants (Matthew 11:29-30). The yoke of bondage Paul referred to was a syncretism of Halakhah- the code of regulations added by the Pharisees- and Gnostic ascetic ritualism, neither a part of God's Law. God's Spirit and law keeping are not contradictory.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Paul's target in Galatians 2:16 was a syncretism of Judaism with strict Pagan ascetic Gnosticism and certainly not God's law. We need to avoid the Protestant ditch of "Christ did it all" leading to no attempt at law keeping or at best an apathetic assent to its value. Paul makes it abundantly clear that Christ did not free us from the death penalty in order to turn us into lawbreakers. Though God did not design the law to justify; without the law telling us of what to repent of, we would have no clue as to which path to take. The secret to successful law keeping is Christ living in us through God's Holy Spirit (Galatians 2:20; Romans 5:5) Christ will empower us, but will not live our lives for us. The marching orders for our pilgrimage derive from God's Word- containing His holy law.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that in Galatians Paul took issue with the Halakhah- the Jewish way of life- not God's word, but a massive collection of human opinion, some fairly accurate, but some way off the mark, placing a yoke or burden upon its followers. Jesus, in Matthew 23, acknowledged the authority of those sitting in Moses seat, but he took great exception as to how they were using their authority, a zealous obsession with the traditions of the fathers, but almost no application of God's Law. Being strict in human tradition does not mean keeping God's laws, but instead an exercise in zeal without knowledge. On the other hand, Galatians 2:16 does not "do away" with God's Law, or make faith and works mutually exclusive (James 2:24). Works must be based upon faith in Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the days, months, and times referred to in Galatians 4:10 do not refer to Jewish Holy Days or the law of God, but to Pagan Gnostic rites connected with the worship of demons. To refer to the liberating law of God as weak and beggarly constitutes rank blasphemy. To use Galatians as an antinomian tract denigrating God's holy and righteous law creates a hypocritical dichotomy- in which Paul, while keeping the law, allegedly urged the people not to keep it. Paul, as a light to the Gentiles, kept the Sabbath and the rest of God's law in the middle of gentile territory (Acts 18:11, 13:44) indicating that neither the Sabbath nor any other aspect of God's law had been done away. The target of Paul's wrath was Gnostic asceticism, which was syncretized with both extra- biblical Judaistic and Pagan elements.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the entire Old Testament was written with the New Testament church in mind. Certain temporary ceremonial sacrifices, washings, and rituals were set aside when the spiritual reality—such as Christ's sacrifice replacing animal sacrifices and God's Holy Spirit and His Word replacing physical washings (Hebrews 9:18; Ephesians 5:26)—added a spiritual dimension. All biblical law, including the ceremonies, comes from God. Paul never taught any Jew to forsake the Law of Moses, the constitution and civil code, but he did rail against Pharisaical additions for the expressed purpose of attaining justification. Even though a change occurred in the administration of existing law, no laws were done away. Instead, they are written in the hearts of the converted (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16).
John Ritenbaugh teaches that God's grace gives us focus on what the Law's true purpose is — namely the basic guide as to what good works are — rules for the journey of life. God's Law outlines a way of life, defining sin, actually categorizing a descending level of gravity or seriousness (from sins which lead to death and those which do not; I John 5:16). Righteousness consists of applying the Law's letter and/or intent. Sin constitutes a failure of applying or living up to the standards of what God defines as proper or right. The conclusion of this sermon begins an exposition of four principles determining whether the law is binding.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the two major purposes for the Sabbath are to (1) remind us that God is Creator and (2) to remind us that we were once in abject bondage and slavery to sin. Christ, in His role of Law magnifier (Isaiah 42:21) magnified the spiritual intent of the Sabbath as a time of blessing, deliverance, liberty, and redemption. From the beginning of His ministry Luke 4:16 to His death, Jesus used the Sabbath to set people free from physical and spiritual bondage. If we reject the Sabbath or keep it carelessly, we are begging to be put back in bondage to Satan and sin.
Countering the Protestant red-herring argument, "You cannot earn salvation by works," John Ritenbaugh stresses that works certainly are not "done away" but that God expects works from all those He has called. We show our faithfulness and loyalty to God by our works or conduct - what we produce by what we have been given. The works demanded of us consist of continual striving to be faithful to our covenant relationship with God by keeping His commandments (not the traditions of men). As we strive to live by the Spirit instead of by the flesh (Romans 8:5) we will produce the kind of fruit pleasing to God. God forces a converted person to choose between two opposing forces (Romans 8:13), providing us His Spirit as a tool to overcome.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the word "Passover" was edited into Deuteronomy 16:1 following the Babylonian Captivity, when both feasts were by tradition called the Passover. Hezekiah and Josiah instituted Temple Passovers as emergency procedures to prevent people from drifting into Baal-centered paganism. At the time of Christ, as corroborated by Josephus, both the biblical commandments and human traditions co-existed. The Temple did not have the capacity to slaughter lambs for the entire population at the prescribed time. Jesus teaches that keeping man's tradition in a relationship with God transgresses His commandments (Matthew 15:3, 8). Thus, Jesus and His disciples kept a ben ha arbayim (between the evenings), early 14th Passover.
John Ritenbaugh insists that it is the Word of God that is to be trusted—not the records nor the traditions of a people who were supposed to be custodians of God's law, but who liberalized and blurred the distinctions between right and wrong. The Passover was to be kept on the twilight of the fourteenth, while the Days of Unleavened Bread began on the fifteenth. Reliance on the Word of God supercedes reliance on heritage.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Jesus' calculation upon the time of arrival at the Feast of Tabernacles, indicates that Jesus carefully took into account many variables to maximize His effectiveness at this event. The myriad opinions of the crowd concerning Jesus were all conditioned from their perspectives and traditions, but hardly ever from God's perspective. Jesus demonstrated that the only way to learn the doctrine of God is by doing it. He also taught us to look for God not only in the extraordinary, but also in the ordinary. Jesus warns the crowd [and us by extension] that the time to seek God is now, while we still have a sense of spiritual need (or hunger) lest we permanently miss out on the opportunity. Cuing in on a water ceremony performed daily at the Feast, Jesus drew a spiritual lesson, dramatizing the need for God's Holy Spirit without measure. Amazingly, throughout these dramatic encounters with the public, Jesus had deliberately chosen a course that would lead to His death rather than to immediate power and adulation.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes chapter 12 as the "rise of the opposition," outlining the rising suspicions on the part of the Jews, the prejudiced blindness and the active investigation, countermanded by Jesus response, making claims to His authority, His courageous defiance, and His bold attack. In the first several verses, it is clear the disciples were not stealing corn (Deuteronomy 23:25) nor were they breaking the Sabbath as David had not broken the Sabbath when he ate the showbread on the Sabbath when he was fleeing from Saul, nor do the heavy priestly duties (normally work forbidden by lay members) violate the Sabbath. Human need takes precedence over human custom. Jesus didn't break the Sabbath, but he did break extra-legal fanatical human custom applied to the Sabbath apart from God's Law- those foolish prohibitions proscribing healing and alleviating human misery. Interestingly, Jesus did these miracles in a courageous, but nevertheless a discreet manner, asking his clients not to publicize these events, but nevertheless, as a humble servant [not yet a conquering hero- nor certainly a brawling instigator of incendiary riots], demonstrating humane application of the Sabbath law to the Jews and the Gentiles, having universal application. His motives were misconstrued by the opposition, accusing Him of using demonic powers. Christ warns us that following His way of life will bring persecution. Our spiritual gifts and skills (discerning skills to distinguish good from evil) we must continually use so they don't degenerate. When we cannot make this distinction any longer, we have, in essence committed the unpardonable sin- candidates for the Lake of Fire. The well-spring of good (as well as evil) stems from the heart, producing the fruit of good (or evil) works and good (or evil) words. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]