Sermon: Removing Bars of Contention Between Brethren

Finding Common Ground

Given 05-Dec-15; 34 minutes

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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 1990s, 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.



Please turn to Proverbs 18:19. We are going to turn to a number of related scriptures from which I plan to weave together a theme.

Proverbs 18:19 A brother offended is harder to win over than a fortified city,
and contentions [separating families] are like the bars of a castle.

I will be quoting from the Lockman Foundation’s Amplified Bible. Now we will go to Matthew 18.

Matthew 18:7“Woe (judgment is coming) to the world because of stumbling blocks and temptations to sin! It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to the person on whose account or through whom the stumbling block comes!

Let us go a little further to Matthew 24.

Matthew 24:10-12, 45-49 At that time many will be offended and repelled [by their association with Me] and will fall away [from the One whom they should trust] and will betray one another [handing over believers to their persecutors] and will hate one another. Many false prophets will appear and mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, the love of most people will grow cold. Who then is the faithful and wise servant whom his master has put in charge of his household to give the others [in the house] their food and supplies at the proper time? Blessed is that [faithful] servant when his master returns and finds him doing so. I assure you and most solemnly say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that servant is evil and says in his heart, ‘My master is taking his time [he will not return for a long while],’and begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards;

In the current configuration of the greater church of God, we can almost view these aberrant servant behaviors as extreme positions, from the authoritarian fringe on one end and the conforming to the world fringe on the other end. On the authoritarian fringe, we find servants beating their fellow servants, perhaps lording it over the other groups, browbeating and intimidating those who have not conformed to their standards. We find servants on the other extreme, assimilating and conforming to the world, yielding to the carnal pulls of the flesh. All splinter groups in the greater church of God, including the Church of the Great God, have fellow groups, veering to the authoritarian fringe, condemning us for compromising and watering down doctrine, as well as groups on the assimilation fringe condemning us for being too Pharisaical or old covenant. We sometimes get so busy comparing our fellowship with the other fellowships in the greater church of God that we forget the apostle Paul’s admonition in II Corinthians 10:12 that such presumptuous comparisons are not wise. The only comparison we should ever make is how we individually conform to the covenant we have made with Almighty God.

I Corinthians 10:32-33 Do not offend Jews or Greeks or even the church of God (since our diaspora or scattering, this becomes the most difficult) [but live to honor Him]; just as I please everyone in all things [as much as possible adapting myself to the interests of others], not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, so that they [will be open to the message of salvation and] may be saved.

For those of you who like titles for messages, we will call this one, “Removing Bars of Contention between Brethren,” and the thesis, or specific purpose statement, of this split sermon is: In a dangerous and troubled world in which everyone is being manipulated and conned into squaring off in hatred for 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.

Back in 1981, about 35 years ago, the late Bob Bricker and I would have lengthy discussions in the Verdugo Mountains ruminating about problems in the church and problems in our personal lives. Occasionally we would get into some disagreements and impasses, and Bob would say to me in frustration, “Why can’t the Holy Spirit in me communicate with the Holy Spirit in you?” This statement jarred me into the realization that the only way we can achieve unity with one another is to seek a relationship with our Creator first, yielding to the shaping power of His Holy Spirit. If that relationship is properly secured, finding common ground with our fellow human beings (under the terms of God’s universal covenants with mankind as well as the special covenants with His called-out ones) can be expedited. Remember the encouraging words in Proverbs 16:7, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.”

The prince of the power of the air hates every human being who has ever lived, fearing them as interlopers on his turf. He does not care how we align ourselves, just as long as he can get us to hate one another to the point of murder. As the great deceiver of Revelation 9, he wants to divide and conquer by convincing us that hating and destroying our kindred human beings is in our best interests.

Back on April 1, 1999, John Ritenbaugh described the spiritual mark of the beast as constituting anger and hostility driven by self-centered competitive pride (Satan’s family characteristics) dividing nations, ethnic groups, and families, as well as the greater church of God. The biased state-controlled media has succeeded, thanks to modern day Nephilim like global government advocate and global warming mogul George Soros, to divide men against women, whites against blacks, Hispanics against Anglos, rich against poor, old against young, labor against management, Christians against Muslims, and war hawks against chicken hawks. As Soros generously funds incendiary leftist organizations such as Acorn, Black Lives Matter, media matters,, National Council of La Raza, National Organization for Women, and Planned Parenthood, he and his associates also pull the strings of the far-right war hawks, recklessly urging the United States to go to war with Russia.

As my former colleague Gene Hogberg once said of the biased media, "They may not tell us what to think, but they select the narrative they want us to think about." Paradoxically, the organizations which George Soros and people of his like mindset have founded to ostensibly empower downtrodden and oppressed groups, have successfully galvanized seething hatred between peoples, and with the ultimate view of ‘fixing the problem,’ they have created by dissolving cultural institutions and sovereign borders, destroying their economic systems, replacing these ‘racist’ archaic institutions with a more equitable New World Order.

We have to remember that Almighty God is keenly aware of all these stratagems. As Clyde Finklea pointed out in his sermonette last week, there are occasions to rejoice and there are occasions to soberly reflect. Obviously, we are in a time of reflection. The architects of the New World Order have achieved unqualified success at forcing illegal immigration and Jihadist refugees, criminalizing those who do not adhere to the bogus manmade climate change doctrine. Obviously, the time of Jacob’s trouble, both in physical Israel and the Israel of God, has been greatly exacerbated.

Ecclesiastes 5:8 If you see the oppression of the poor and the denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight [of corruption]; for a higher official watches over another official, and there are higher ones over them [looking out for one another].

Solomon here describes a hierarchy of puppet-masters who leverage control by bribes and intimidation, directing the behaviors of compromised and corrupted officials below them. The media puppets simply promote the agenda of the corrupt officials above them. The chief puppet-master under the sun is Satan the Devil, the most anti-Semitic, anti-black, anti-white, anti-Hispanic, anti-woman, anti-Arab, anti-Russian, anti-Syrian, and anti-Turkish being who has ever existed.

Whether he broadcasts his thought impulses through the mainstream media, the alternative media, or the world media, the prince of the power of the air would like us all to grab scimitars and hack the heads off those who annoy us. From this sinister puppet-master, God has admonished His called-out ones to sever the strings, transferring our allegiance to Almighty God.

In Ecclesiastes 7:9, Solomon warns us not to be eager in our hearts to be angry, "for anger rests in the heart of fools." Our elder brother Jesus Christ, in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:22, warns us even if we harbor anger in our hearts, we have already committed murder. The apostle John substantiates this caution in I John 3:15 that "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."

It would be a crying shame if this coming spring, we meticulously clean out every physical leavened crumb from our homes, only to ignore vast pockets of the leaven of malice and wickedness in our hearts, which the apostle Paul identified in I Corinthians 5:8.

Upon learning the true identity of greater Israel, many became inoculated against anti-Semitism after learning that Judah is one of Jacob’s offspring, making the eleven other children full brothers. It would be profitable to remember that Ishmael and Isaac were half-brothers, just as Jacob and Esau were full brothers—twins! All of these siblings were Semitic.

The bitter feud between the Islam population and the Christian population is a battle between cousins. Furthermore, every man, woman, and child on the face of the earth is a descendant of Father Adam and Mother Eve. When we harbor hatred for any ethnic group, we automatically hate our brothers and sisters all made in the image of God, all with the potential of become God’s children.

While I concur that President Obama, German Chancellor Merkel, and President Hollande have all demonstrated dereliction in leadership in endangering their citizenry to terrorist attacks, not even remotely coming close to God’s prescription for assimilating strangers, I am extremely alarmed by some of our own citizenry who react to the unpleasant consequences of their dereliction of leadership by hating all the children of Ishmael, threatening to send hogs into their mosques, defiling them like the Greeks did to the Jews in the days of Maccabees when Antiochus Epiphanes polluted the Temple with swine-blood, an event commemorated by the Jewish community tomorrow night.

The apostle Paul has provided a modus operandi when it comes to dealing with cultures different from our own. In my August 1998 article in the Forerunner, "Godly Tact and Diplomacy," I provided extensive details of how the apostle Paul was not a feisty, dogmatic, in your face fireball, as is interpreted by some Protestant commentaries. He was instead a classic diplomat schooled at the feet of Gamaliel, another sterling diplomat, constantly searching for common ground, constantly praising aspects of other cultures, occasionally appropriating quotations from their playwrights and authors in his instruction. Many are unaware that part of Paul’s instruction in I Corinthians 15:33, “Evil communications corrupt good manners” actually is a quotation from the Greek playwright Meander in his play Thais. Like Gamaliel, the apostle Paul sought to maintain peace and stability. In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul writes, "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men" (Romans 12:18).

In his message at the Areopagus on Mars Hill recorded in Acts 17, beginning with verse 22, Paul lavishes praise ton he Athenian philosophers, proclaiming: “Men of Athens, I observe [with every turn I make throughout the city] that you are very religious and devout in all respects.” In the same encounter he demonstrates knowledge of their culture, finding common ground, as he declares in verse 27, “for as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ It is from this common understanding that Paul is able to then point them to a new insight: "So then, being God’s children, we should not think that the Divine Nature (deity) is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination or skill of man."

While assuring the Philippians (in Philippians 3:20) that our citizenship is in heaven, Paul nevertheless used the privilege of his Roman citizenship three times, twice to save his own skin and once to further the gospel.

Long after his conversion to Christianity, Paul nevertheless found common ground from a sect of his former fellowship, again ostensibly to save his life. Pease turn over to Acts 23 to the episode when Paul was hauled before the Sanhedrin for intense interrogation. Paul used wisdom to find common ground, pitting one sect against another sect (or perhaps we could say one splinter group against another splinter group). We will begin at verse 6.

Acts 23:6-9 But recognizing that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began affirming loudly in the Council chamber, “Kinsmen, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!”When he said this, an angry dispute erupted between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the [whole crowded] assembly was divided [into two factions].For the Sadducees say that there is no [such thing as a] resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees [speak out freely and] acknowledge [their belief in] them all. Then a great uproar occurred, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and began to argue heatedly [in Paul’s favor], saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has [really] spoken to him?”

I have a Muslim neighbor across the street and Hispanic neighbors on both sides. I find it comforting during the sieges of Halloween and Christmas to have an ally across the street. In Simi Valley, all three of the world’s monotheistic religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christendom) are represented, providing a kind of check and balance, safeguarding freedoms and choices. Because 2/3 of these groups follow the clean and unclean laws of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, I can walk into our Valley Produce Market and find plenty of things that I can eat. Because Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks constitute the stronghold of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, the site of the Adventist Media Center and the consortium of Adventist Hospitals, we find companionship for keeping the Sabbath.

One Seventh Day Adventist televangelist, the late George Vandeman, who, to be sure, did not subscribe to many of the doctrines of other faiths, nevertheless did a series of telecasts on “What I like about the Lutherans, the Baptists, the Methodists, the Charismatics, the Catholics, our Jewish friends, the Adventists, Rescuers of Neglected Truth.” Without compromising any core values of Adventism, George Vandeman, like the apostle Paul, found common ground, found things to praise, and established a platform for greater understanding.

Another Adventist minister, James Standish, has carried on Vandeman’s diplomatic work, starting a new series of “What I Like about non-Christian religions” such as Islam and Buddhism. I found this observation in his article on the Muslim religion extremely instructive:

Let’s start with Muslims. I particularly appreciate that Muslims generally take the prohibition on idols seriously. I always felt a twinge of embarrassment when Muslim representatives visited the General Conference and I had to explain that the statues of angels and Jesus in the foyer were not in fact graven images. My explanation sounded uncomfortably similar to the one I’d heard Catholics give to explain their images. Yes, I’m aware that the ark had cherubim and that Moses made a brass snake, and hence not all images are idols. But when we cross the line into making statues of Jesus, it feels uncomfortably close, doesn’t it?

This Adventist minister was convicted of breaking the Second Commandment by an alien religion. Often the children of Ishmael have shamed professing Christians and Jews of their apostasy from God’s covenant.

As the world becomes more dangerous and threatening, we, like the apostle Paul, must identify allies who share a reverence for God’s laws and covenants, even if it is only one or two isolated concepts. It would be a mistake for us to think we have nothing to learn from other cultures—not so that we syncretize concepts foreign to God’s law, but that we affirm when we share a godly concept, doctrine, teaching, or behavior extant in God’s covenants.

Now we must reflect on what has happened to the people of the Way, those receiving their calling during the tenure of Herbert W. Armstrong—the entity that was blown apart in the early 1990s with no end of the fall-out in sight. Over 400 splits, including our own fellowship, the Church of the Great God, have emerged from this violent tsunami. Surprisingly, we are in agreement on a sizable number of core issues, but are distributed on a rigid to flexible, heavily authoritarian to fiercely independent continuum on marginal issues, each fellowship finding its own comfort level along the continuum. Disagreements as to what constitutes a doctrine essential to salvation and relatively twiggy matters not essential for salvation are legendary:

  1. Church government—hierarchical from the top down or democratic from the bottom up (the same issues which divided the Puritan settlers in Massachusetts) probably due to misapplying Herbert W. Armstrong’s statement about the church being God’s government in embryo, to which some thought that the military model or the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church was superior to the family structure with brothers and sisters submitting to one another under the sovereignty of God.

  1. Interpretations of prophecy locking in on speculations as to the identity of the Beast, False Prophet, and the Whore riding the Beast

  1. Different understandings of the metaphors of born again or born from above.

  1. Different understandings of proper Sabbath attire.

  1. Different tastes in appropriate church music, in my opinion, one of the most divisive marginal issues.

  1. Different understandings on administering third tithe.

  1. Different understandings of the role of Hebrew roots.

  1. Different understandings of the role of interactive Bible studies using the question/answer format.

  1. Different understandings of whether an administrative decision about the spring holy days made in 1956 by church administration and later rescinded should be elevated to doctrine.

  1. Different understandings about the role or identity of the Azazel goat.

  1. Different understanding about whether brethren can have a Bible study without a minister present.

  1. Different understandings on what constitutes a work—having a telecast, a college, a magazine ( I have a list of about a hundred such issues in my preparatory notes—if I keep reading, I am bound to strike a doctrinal minefield in someone’s fellowship).

In the greater church of God, we must take into account that what we consider a tare someone else will regard as wheat, and what we regard as wheat, someone else may regard as a tare.

On the positive side of the ledger, the diaspora of the greater church of God has greatly augmented the scope and power of the gospel through the Internet. And no one will fulfill the Matthew 24:14 prophecy about the gospel preached to all nations until the Two Witnesses in Revelation 11:3 and the angels in Revelation 14:6 have done their respective jobs. In the meantime, all of us need to pitch in and do our part of the work, esteeming one another over ourselves, realizing we all have gifts, insights, and nuggets of truth, but we also have serious blind-spots which will thankfully be removed in the fullness of time.

Daniel Botha, in his sermon “Malice Toward None, Charity Toward All” given in Big Sandy on September 5, 2015, recommended that when we deal with our fellow human beings and brethren, we read the love chapter I Corinthians 13, substituting the pronoun “I” where the word “love” appears. It would sound like this:

I endure with patience and serenity, I am kind and thoughtful, and am not jealous or envious; I do not brag and am proud or arrogant. I am not rude; I am not self-seeking, I am not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered]; I do not take into account a wrong endured. I do not rejoice at injustice, but rejoice with the truth [when right and truth prevail]. I believe all things [looking for the best in each one], hope all things [remaining steadfast during difficult times], I endure all things [without weakening]. I never fail [fade nor end]

I would like to conclude this message with a short essay, A Definition of a Gentleman, written by Victorian clergyman John Henry Newman, inspired by I Corinthians 13.

It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain. This description is both refined and, as far as it goes, accurate. He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him; and he concurs with their movements rather than takes the initiative himself. His benefits may be considered as parallel to what are called comforts or conveniences in arrangements of a personal nature: like an easy chair or a good fire, which do their part in dispelling cold and fatigue, though nature provides both means of rest and animal heat without them. The true gentleman in like manner carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast;—all clashing of opinion, or collision of feeling, all restraint, or suspicion, or gloom, or resentment; his great concern being to make every one at their ease and at home. He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; he can recollect to whom he is speaking; he guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome. He makes light of favours while he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring. He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort, he has no ears for slander or gossip, is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and interprets every thing for the best. He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes unfair advantage, never mistakes personalities or sharp sayings for arguments, or insinuates evil which he dare not say out. From a long-sighted prudence, he observes the maxim of the ancient sage, that we should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend. He has too much good sense to be affronted at insults, he is too well employed to remember injuries, and too indolent to bear malice. He is patient, forbearing, and resigned, on philosophical principles; he submits to pain, because it is inevitable, to bereavement, because it is irreparable, and to death, because it is his destiny. If he engages in controversy of any kind, his disciplined intellect preserves him from the blunder. [From The Idea of a University, 1852]

Remember, our elder brother Jesus Christ proclaimed, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”