Friday, April 10, 2015

Bread and Wine

So how did you do?

Oh, come on, you know what I'm talking about. Where did you find leavening this week?

Today was the last Day of Unleavened Bread for those of you in the Churches of God. Traditionally, at services today, you swapped anecdotes about the most unlikely place you found leavening this week. A sandwich in the glove compartment of your car. Cracker crumbs that fell from the pages of that book you pulled off the shelf. Maybe that hand vacuum cleaner bin you forgot to empty.

It's funny, a week and a half ago you found those crumbs so vile that some of you baptized your toaster and scrubbed your pantry shelves with a toothbrush. No judging here. I was in the habit of "deleavening" my sock drawer, even though I have never, even once, eaten cake in my bedroom with socks on my hands, and then put them back in the drawer.  Anyway, where you were frenzied last week, today you chuckled, clucked your tongue and said, well, "God doesn't expect us to be perfect."

What does God have to say about those crumbs, or the sin you believe it symbolizes? Even the stuff way back in the dark corners of your life?

(James 2:10) For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.

Or should I say, whoever keeps the Days of Unleavened Bread, and yet finds one cracker, he is guilty of violating the whole thing.

(Revelation 3:5) He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before my Father and before His angels.

Maybe it should be, he who overcomes, who gets rid of all his sin, shall be clothed in white garments. In his pockets no crumbs shall be found.

Hmmmm... this is where the classic COG cognitive dissonance comes in. On the one hand, we believe that God doesn't expect us to be perfect, and that our works do not earn us salvation. On the other hand, we believe that our efforts, in both moral matters and in cherry-picked rites from the Sinai Covenant, help maintain our salvation.

So how much leavening, er, sin, do you need to get out to properly "keep" the Days of Unleavened Bread? Better than me, who didn't participate? Better than your wife, who drives a van full of children who sustain themselves on goldfish crackers 51 weeks a year? Better than your minister? What threshhold is good enough? (Please click here for more information what was being discussed in 1 Corinthians 5 regarding the Days of Unleavened Bread)

It's easy to see why the Days of Unleavened Bread were a shadow intended to point Israel to Christ (Colossians 2:16-17). No matter how hard they tried, sin remained, sin returned. They repeated the ritual for decades. Each year, they tried. Each year, they failed. They could never clean out all the crumbs, all the stains of sin. They needed Jesus to do what they could never do themselves - reconcile them to God and clothe them in garments of righteousness. Where the Light is, the shadows flee. They are no longer needed. Once we have learned the lesson, we no longer need the tutor (Galatians 3:24-25).

Many of us the COGs think we have embraced Christ, yet we place much of their faith in our effors to follow the tutor. We know Jesus died for our sins, and that we cannot be justified through our works. But our misunderstandings about salvation lead us to accept false teachings like "maintaining" our justification through our track record of sin and repentance. Unable to shake the cognitive dissonance, we hang our head in shame, and pray that God shows us mercy, or that He looks on the heart and determines we have been "good enough." Is this outlook the peace that surpasses all understanding? The spirit of joy, and of a sound mind?

Since the Days of Unleavened Bread are just about over, maybe it's time to switch to a different metaphor. Let's turn to John 2, the miracle at the Wedding at Cana. Historically, the COGs have missed the point of this lesson. They make it all about how Jesus produced high-quality wine. About the richness and abundance of God's Kingdom.

Christ's miracles often revealed deeper spiritual truths. He gave sight to the blind, signifying His ability to give spiritual sight and discernment to those who place their faith in Him. Those who rejected Him remained spiritually blind. (John 9:40-41). He raised a dead man to life. This demonstrated both His power over death and the new life available through faith in Him. He cursed the fig tree (Mark 11), showing His qualification to pronounce final judgment on fruitless humans (Matthew 7:19).

So is it likely that the miracle at Cana, Jesus' first miracle, was really just about top-shelf wine? Or is there a deeper spiritual truth that the COGs miss in their misunderstandings about salvation?

(John 2:6) Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water."  And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, "Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast." And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, "Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!".

These waterpots were used for ceremonial washing for the Jews, who were expected to wash their hands both before and after eating in order to be considered clean. These pots were not exactly the sterilized drinking glasses that come out of our dishwasher. They had held a lot of dirty water from a lot of grubby hands. They were not unlike the cup Jesus described in Matthew 23:25-26. But how do we clean the cup from the inside, as Christ instructed?

Jesus took these dirty, common vessels, filled them, and transformed the contents into a totally different substance. This is a picture of what Jesus does with each Christian. We come to Him as dirty clay vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7). We are helpless to clean ourselves. God fills us, then transforms us. We are already a creation in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17). Just as they miss the message of transformation in the miracle at Cana, the COGs miss the message of 2 Corinthians 5 because they're too busy trying to clean and transform themselves. With the "help" of their Holy Spirit power tool. It is not getting rid of the spiritual crumbs that ensures salvation. We will naturally have fewer crumbs because of our salvation. It is an effect, not a cause.

We, of course, must be submissive to this process, to God's will. We can't be filled, can't be transformed, if we are not in proximity to the source. This may require effort, active striving, resisting sin. As well as engaging in spiritual disciplines like worship, prayer, Bible study, fasting and the like.
And we should be bearing fruit and demonstrate good works, as James said. But that fruit is the evidence of our faith, evidence of our justification, not the thing that brings it about.

At the end of the day, scripture commands us to be filled with the Spirit, not to fill ourselves (Ephesians 5:18). Like those waterpots, which held 160 pounds of water at the very least, we are unable to move ourselves. We like Paul, need someone to save us from ourselves. Who is that? That someone is Jesus. Our primary responsibility is to place faith in Christ, not ourselves. We will bear much fruit when we are thusly connected to the Vine.

(John 6:28-29) Then they said to Him, "what shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said unto them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent."

Beloved children of God, you already believe the blood of Jesus covers your sins. Scripture tells you that you are already unleavened. You can choose to remain in the shadows of Sinai, trying to sweep out crumbs from the corners. Or you can trust Jesus to do what you cannot - clean you from the inside and transform you into something new. Stop putting new wine into old wineskins. Step fully into the New Covenant and place your full faith - not just part of it - in Jesus' finished work on the cross.


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It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11
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Friday, April 3, 2015

Should Christians Celebrate the "Night to Be Much Observed"?

"Should Christians celebrate Easter?" the pastel-colored magazine in my mailbox pointedly asks. "Nowhere does the Bible tell Christians to celebrate this holiday!"

I'd like to turn a similar question back to the well-intentioned Church of God ministers who have so graciously flooded my mailbox in recent weeks.

Should Christians celebrate the Night to be Much Observed? Nowhere does the Bible tell Christians to observe this occasion.

WHAT?!?!?!? How on earth can I say that? It's a Night. To. Be. Much. Observed. The Bible clearly tells us to remember it. It's in the name, for crying out loud.

Let's turn to Exodus 12, the passage the COGs claim discusses this supposedly ancient celebration.

(EXODUS 12:6-7) "Now you shall keep it (the lamb) until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it."

(EXODUS 12:13-13) "Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt So this day shall be to you a memorial, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance."

(EXODUS 12:24-27) "And you shall observe this thing as an ordinance for you and your sons forever. It will come to pass when you come to the land which the Lord has given you, just as He promised, that you shall keep this service. And it shall be, when your children say to you, 'What do you mean by this service?' that you shall say, 'It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households."

(EXODUS 12:41-42) "And it came to pass that at the end of the four hundred and thirty years - on that very same day - it came to pass that all the armies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. It is a night of solemn observance to the Lord for bringing them out of the land of Egypt. This is that night of the Lord, a solemn observance for all the children of Israel throughout their generations."

Verse 43 launches back into regulations for keeping the Passover. So we have discussion of the Passover from Exodus 12:1 through verse 51, the end of the chapter. The entire context is Passover. What event changed Pharaoh's heart? What did God use to win their freedom? The death of the firstborn, on Passover. When did Pharaoh call for Moses and tell the Israelites to leave? While it was still dark, on Passover. Passover is the night of importance, the solemn observance, the night to be remembered. There is nothing that indicates a second observance. We can debate the fourteenth versus fifteenth, we can rehash the Quartodeciman Controversy, but we can't debate the fact that the event this passage discusses remembering is Passover.

Verse 42, the scripture the COGs use to establish this fabricated celebration, tells us the observance in question is to be solemn. The Passover is unarguably solemn, because of what occurred that night - the slaughter of a lamb, and thousands of firstborns, and even moreso because of what it foreshadowed - the death of the Savior. This tone of the COG Passover service seems much more in line with what verse 42 describes than the alleged Night to Be Much Observed. It doesn't appear that the Israelites celebrated their deliverance until Exodus 15, after Pharaoh's army was drowned in the sea. Humanly speaking, this makes sense to me. Would I have been pleased the morning after the Passover, to learn we were leaving? Absolutely. But I can see myself a little shell shocked. Grieved at the deaths of so many Egyptians. A little post traumatic stress disorder from the plagues. And then there was the matter of the Egyptian army pursuing them. All in all, I suspect the day after the Passover was not a big party for the children of Israel.

And really, it's not exactly a reason to party for Christians today, either. The COGs tell us that this supposed Night to Be pictures Israel's deliverance from Egypt and our deliverance from sin through Christ's death. It is a night to prepare an elaborate meal, gather with brethren and rejoice. The tone of this tradition is tragically incongruent with what the evening allegedly marks.

What do the COGs tell us we are celebrating? Christ's victory over sin, achieved by His death. Is the end result of the story something to celebrate? Absolutely. But is His actual death something to celebrate? I think not. Do you start planning an elaborate party when a close relative passes? "Hey guys, Aunt Edna is dead, would you please pass the prime rib? And did you SEE the dessert table?".

Even we "deceived", "so-called Christians" get this point. Arguments about the timing of the crucifixion aside, have you ever been to a Good Friday service? It's solemn, bordering on somber. We know how the story ends, we know we have the victory, and we plan to celebrate it just days later. But still, there is sadness in the fact that our Savior suffered and died for our sins. It's a little harsh to celebrate while His body was still in the grave.

How did Christ's original disciples spend the night after the Passover? Were they celebrating the night of this alleged observance, while their teacher's body lay in the garden tomb?  It seems unlikely. There is no mention of a celebration that night, and John 20:11 tells us that Mary Magdalene was still weeping when she went to the tomb. The disciples appeared to be visibly upset when Christ met them on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:17. Lavish food was the furthest thing from their minds.

I know, we can't just go on emotion.  It's all about the commanded timing. Well, if the correct timing is so important, why do the gospels differ on as whether the crucifixion happened on the first Day of Unleavened Bread or the day before? There are many exceptions in Jewish law that could explain why Jesus and His disciples ate the Passover early, if they truly did. And what they observed obviously was the Passover. That's what Jesus called it, and He would know. But the larger point is, if taking the bread and wine on the self-same day as the Hebrew Passover were a matter of Christian obedience or salvation, the timeline in the synoptic gospels and John's gospel probably should match. There is no wiggle room when it comes to salvation. Perhaps this is one clue that the exact date one takes the bread and the wine doesn't matter, as long as we obey and do it in the reverent manner the New Testament proscribes.

Paul's use of the Greek word hosakis, an adverb that indicates multiplicity, in 1 Corinthians 11:25 is another indication that taking the bread and the wine wasn't a once-a-year thing. Spiros Zodhiates' Complete Word Study of the New Testament tells us the word can also be rendered "as many times as you do this." One must at least admit this isn't iron-clad evidence that the bread and wine were to be eaten annually, only on the Passover date. Christian recommitment and examination are more effective when they take place on a more frequent basis. I don't know about you, but I can't even remember what I ate for dinner on this day last week. Remembering my struggles and failures from 11 months ago is not a particularly effective assignment.

In short, the case for celebrating Herbert W Armstrong's Night to Be Much Observed is flimsy at best. Christians who honestly consider its alleged timing and symbolism may find it a tad distasteful. The COGs have us celebrate Christ's victory when His body was barely cold in the grave, yet they ignore the miracle of His resurrection. If were commanded to keep it, that would be one thing. But we aren't. It isn't even in the Bible.

I'm sorry, guys. I'm really not trying to be spiteful. I know some of you have Night to Be traditions that you find rich and meaningful. I know some find it a great time to fellowship. There's nothing inherently wrong with any of those things. But if we're going to be honest, if we're going to believe our Bibles rather than men, well, the Night to Be isn't in the Bible. If it's wrong for man to create his own religious traditions, well, then, the Night to Be has to go. So does the opening night service at the Feast of Tabernacles. So do Purim and Hanukkah, the latter of which we have evidence Jesus observed. But that's another story for another day.

Wait! I have a great idea.  I'll stop now and promise not to further criticize your man-made Night to Be celebration if you promise not to criticize my man-made celebration of the Resurrection on Sunday. Do we have a deal?


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It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11
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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Gardening with God, or Growing Spiritual Fruit

Winter is officially over, and I'm getting ready for one of my favorite spring traditions. Late at night, after the kids are asleep, I like to grab a lawn chair and park it underneath one of the fruit trees in my yard. If I'm really quiet, I can hear the sound of the branches grunting as they push out new fruit.

Ok, not really. I'm just having a little fun. Fruit development is a natural process that happens when a branch is attached to a plant, not something any old branch can work up on its own. I know you thought I was nuts the moment I wrote about branches straining to pop out fruit. But do you miss that point in the many Biblical passages that discuss spiritual fruit?

I know, few people think they fall into that category. But at this time of year, that message is easy to miss in the Churches of God. I know I did, for years. We work ourselves into such a frenzy scrubbing and vacuuming and examining and analyzing that we can lose sight of the bigger picture. And no, I don't mean overdoing the physical preparation at the expense of the spiritual. I mean the fact that God, not man, plays the lead role in removing sin and producing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

First, let me give credit where credit is due. The COGs do focus on eliminating sin to a greater extent than some liberal mainstream Christian denominations. Abstention from sin is a good thing - it's a biblical command (though we at As Bereans Did might disagree with the COGs on what is commanded of Christians and what qualifies as sin).

However, the COG focus is likely the result of their collective misunderstandings about salvation, not necessarily moral or doctrinal superiority. Herbert W Armstrong, who founded the modern-day COG movement, taught that a Christian's rate of spiritual growth factored into whether he would receive eternal life.

"And unless we do continue to grow in spiritual character development, more and more like God, we become like the unborn babe that miscarries - or like an abortion!" (Herbert W Armstrong, Just What Do You Mean Born Again, p. 45). 

Don't get me wrong, striving against sin is necessary. It's commanded. We should be actively, aggressively pursuing holiness in our lives. But there are two problems with the salvation theory that HWA taught. First of all, it causes us to live in fear. I'm not talking about a healthy fear - or respect - for God, but fear that any slip, any personal shortcoming, any sin we have yet to overcome will land us in the Lake of Fire.

The second, which I want to address today, is that HWA's model puts man in the driver's seat of a process of which we are not even qualified to be co-pilots. I know that different COG splinters emphasize man's responsibility toward rooting out his own sin and transforming himself to varying degrees. Still, nearly all depict the Holy Spirit as a power tool man wields to clean up his own sin, rather than God Himself changing us from the inside out. The problem is, the Bible describes us as instruments in God's hands, not vice versa. HWA's teaching simultaneously demotes God and elevates man to support a burden he cannot bear.

In reality, we are subordinate in the process of sanctification (mainstream Christianity defines "sanctification" as the process of becoming more like Christ. Though we must play an active role, we do not have equal roles. God leads and we follow. Scripture indicates that we have responsibilities, but we are not in charge.

(1 Thessalonians 5:23) "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." God, not man, is responsible for our complete sanctification. He is responsible for state of righteousness.

(Philippians 2:12-13) "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."  We have work to do, but at the end of the day, God works His will in our lives will accomplish His purposes.  We will discuss this verse in more detail later on in this post.

(Hebrews 12:7-11) "If you endure chastening, God deals with you as sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of the spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it". In this word picture, God is the parent - the one in charge, and we are the child - the one who is being corrected. He corrects us for our own good, and when we yield to this correction, it produces the fruit of righteousness in our lives.

(Hebrews 13:20-21) "Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen." God, not man, will make Christians complete, to do His will. He works in us to make us pleasing to Himself.

John 15:5 "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in him bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." As shown in the opening example, we bear fruit through our relationship with Christ. Branches bear fruit when then are nourished by their connection to the tree. They do not push out apples in a vacuum. Likewise, we cannot work up love, joy, peace and the other fruit of the Spirit on our own. It is a fruit of the Spirit dwelling in us.

Once we recognize that God leads us in the process of sanctification, we can truly learn to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14, Galatians 5:16). How does the Holy Spirit lead us? Christian theologian and author Wayne Grudem elaborates.  The Holy Spirit teaches us (John 14:26), renews our desires and our minds (Ephesians 4:17-24). The Holy Spirit can give us specific commands to obey (Acts 8:29; 10:19-20; 11:12; 13:12). Grudem sums it up well when he contrasts these dramatic commands from the Spirit with submission to the Holy Spirit's daily guidance in the life of a Christian.

"But in the vast majority of cases the leading and guiding by the Holy Spirit is not nearly as dramatic as this. Scripture talks rather about a day-to-day guidance by the Holy Spirit - being 'led' by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14, Galatians 5:18), and walking according to the Spirit (Romans 8:4, Galatians 5:16). Now it is possible to understand Paul here to be referring only to obedience to the moral commands of Scripture, but this interpretation seems quite unlikely, especially since the entire context is dealing with emotions and desires which we perceive in a more subjective way, and because Paul here (in Galatians 5:16-26) contrasts being led by the Spirit with following the desires of the flesh or the sinful nature." (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 642). 
 
With this context in mind, we can now accurately consider our role in sanctification. Because we do have a role, an active one - we must strive to obey God and take steps to increase our sanctification, Grudem says. We must grow in both our passive trust in God to sanctify us and in our active striving for greater obedience and holiness.

"Unfortunately today, this 'passive' role in sanctification, this idea of yielding to God and trusting Him to work in us 'to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:13), is sometimes so strongly emphasized that it is the only thing people are told about the path of sanctification. Sometimes the popular phrase 'let go and let God' is given as a summary of how to live the Christian life," Grudem says. "But this is a tragic distortion of the doctrine of sanctification, for it only speaks of one half of the part we must play, and, by itself, will lead Christians to become lazy and neglect the active role that Scripture commands them to play in their own sanctification." (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 754)

Verses like 1 Corinthians 6:8, 1 Corinthians 7:1, 2 Peter 1:5 and many others indicate our role in sanctification is active. Let's visit some of the more compelling examples.

(Colossians 3:8-10) "But now you yourselves are to put of all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him." We have put off the old man and put on Christ, so we should reflect His characteristics, not carnal characteristics like lying, anger, filthy language, etc.

(Hebrews 12:14) "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord." Pursuit indicates vigorous, intentional action.

(1 Thessalonians 4:3-5) For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how  to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God. This is a clear, direct command for Christians to abstain from sexual immorality. It requires active obedience on our part.

(Philippians 2:12-13) Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as much in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Some point to verse 12, saying it indicates we are responsible for maintaining our right standing with God once initially reconciled to Him through Jesus. This interpretation certainly would result in a life of fear and trembling! It is, however, incongruent with many other passages that describe the Christian attitude as at peace and filled with joy. And it glosses over verse 13, which tells us it is God Himself who works us in us to accomplish His will. The words used in verse 12 could easily be translated as "respect," "awe" and "reverence."

The Expositor's Bible Commentary offers helpful context for this verse - Paul is not rebuking the Philippians, whom this passage indicates have a track record of obedience. He is exhorting them to pursue their Christian progress without undue dependence on his presence. Earlier in the book (Philippians 1:27) he also encourages them to be as diligent in his absence as they were when he was present.

"The Philippians had always obeyed the commands of God implicit in the gospel. This response had occurred first when Paul originally evangelized them, and had been witnessed by him on all of his subsequent visits. But there must be just as careful attention given this matter while Paul was away and especially if his circumstances should prevent a return, for they owed their obedience not merely to him but to their Lord. " (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Exposition of Philippians). 

And just what did Paul mean by "working out your own salvation?

"Hence, working out salvation does not mean "working for" salvation, but making salvation operational. Justification must be followed by the experiential aspects of sanctification, by which the new life in Christ is consciously appropriated and demonstrated. The emphasis on 'your' salvation ('your own,' KJV) may reflect the circumstance that Paul wished to visit Philippi to advance them spiritually. In the event that he could not, they must not depend on him but must work out their spiritual progress, because the same Lord who would work through Paul also worked in them." (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Exposition of Philippians).

"'With fear and trembling' is no contradiction of the joyful spirit permeating this letter. Christian joy is the experience of every believer in God's will, but holy fear of God that trembles at the thought of sin is also the attitude of the careful Christian." (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Exposition of Philippians)

Hopefully you see that not all Christian denominations are shallow social clubs that tell followers they can live any way they want after they are "saved, contrary to the picture the COGs paint of anything outside of Armstrongism. Christian should exhibit fruit and works, but as the evidence that a believer has salvation, not the thing that brings him salvation, or maintains his "saved" status.

The Days of Unleavened Bread are the very picture of working for salvation. In fact, that was likely the lesson that God had in mind for Israel when He instituted the festival. Cleaning out leavening - like eliminating our own sin - is an impossible task. That is how the Days of Unleavened Bread were a shadow that pointed to Jesus (Colossians 2:16-17). But do the COGs move beyond the tutelage that Sinai provided (Galatians 3:24) and embrace the substance of the freedom available in Christ?

No, they continue to live in the shadows, heavily focusing on ritual and human effort. Paul understood that the brethren at Corinth were already unleavened (1 Corinthians 5:6); how is it that we miss this detail today? (For more context on what Paul was discussing in 1 Corinthians 5, please read Were gentiles in Corinth observing the Feast of Unleavened bread?)

Instead, they insist you must perform an impossible physical ritual, which symbolizes an even more impossible spiritual activity. If you don't do both, to an unspecified percentage of completion, your salvation is in danger. How much is enough? Well, of course God doesn't expect you to be perfect. You just have to try, and bear some fruit. How hard, and how much fruit? How much is enough to be sure? There is only one sure thing - that you will sit dejected at Passover, feeling like you should have done more.

The truth is, you would always need to do more, if your "doing" was what gave you right standing with God, or even maintained it once Jesus' blood covered your past sins, as the COGs teach. You could never do enough. That was the lesson the practices of the Sinai Covenant were intended to teach. And then there's the sizable list of commands Jesus and His apostles gave Christians. Careful self-examination according to that list shouldn't leave us calculating our spiritual batting average. It should humble us to realize there is nothing except the shed blood of Jesus that can save us.

Beloved child of God, do not place a yoke upon yourself that you were never meant to carry.  Jesus has taken your heavy burden. The yoke He offers is easy, and the burden is light.  Quit living in the shadows and step fully into the New Covenant.


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It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11
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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Scrubbing from the Wrong Side

Do you hate cleaning windows as much as I do? It's got to be one of the top five worst household chores ever. You usually start off with glass cleaner and a paper towel, only to discover you're leaving tiny shreds of paper all over the pane. Then you try a rag, and the results are a little better. Still, when you take a step back, you still see random streaks. And a big smudge right in the middle. You spray and scrub several more times. No good. Somehow, this magical smudge is impervious to any cleaning product ever formulated.

Finally it dawns on you. The smudge is on the other side of the window. You've been cleaning the wrong side all along. Rolling your eyes, you head outside.

This technique works fine if we're talking about windows. But what if we're talking about cleaning something in a place where you can't just step to the other side?

Many of you in the Churches of God are in the midst of your annual Passover preparation. You'll take stock of your spiritual condition since the last Passover. You'll determine how much progress you're making in overcoming sin. How is that going for you? Are you making good progress? How much sin have you cleared out of your life in the past year?

Celebrating the Days of Unleavened Bread is a great framework to explore the problem of sin in our lives. Let's consider the teachings of Herbert W Armstrong on this matter. (Herbert Armstrong founded the Worldwide Church of God, which has since splintered into many smaller groups, including the Living Church of God; United Church of God; Philadelphia Church of God; Church of God, a Worldwide Association; Church of God, an International Community and many others. Most of these groups hold fast to Armstrong's teachings on sin and salvation).

HWA taught that the problem of human sin was primarily external, not internal. He taught that Satan broadcasts his negative attitudes through the air, much like radio signals, and humans absorb them.
"We humans start out at birth all right" (Herbert W Armstrong, The Incredible Human Potential, p. 162) but then "acquire" our evil nature from Satan's broadcasts (The Incredible Human Potential, p. 154).
"The spirit in  every human being is automatically tuned in on Satan's wavelength. You don't hear anything because he does not broadcast in words - nor in sounds, whether music or otherwise. He broadcasts in ATTITUDES. He broadcasts in attitudes of SELF-centeredness, lust, greed, vanity, jealousy, envy, resentment, competition, strife, bitterness and hate." (The Incredible Human Potential, p. 151)
"Utilizing this same principle, Satan, prince of the power of the air, stirs the spirits of humans, injecting into them attitudes, moods and impulses of selfishness, vanity, lust, and greed, attitudes of resentment against authority, of jealousy and envy, of competition and strife, of resentment and bitterness, of violence, murder and war. People do not recognize the source of these attitudes, feelings, motives and impulses." (The Incredible Human Potential, p. 152)
Many of today's COGs carry this teaching forward. In its booklet "Transforming Your Life," the United Church of God explains that children are born with a neutral nature - tabula rasa - but are quickly influenced by Satan and the world. The theory of tabula rasa (Latin for "blank slate") is believed to have originated with Aristotle, and hypothesizes that humans are born morally neutral and that their knowledge comes from experience and perception. If one of the most liberal WCG splinters holds onto Armstrong's theory - which originated in Greek philosophy, not the Bible - it's a good bet that splinters with more HWA hardliners do, too.

We here at As Bereans Did agree that Satan does influence humanity, individually and collectively. The Bible tells us so. But scripture also clearly states that man's sin problem is internal, not simply externally influenced.

Psalm 51:5 - Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.
The context here shows David isn't writing here about the son he conceived with Bathsheba, but of himself. It would appear the psalmist does not believe he was morally neutral at birth.

Job 14:4 - Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one!
Here, Job laments that impure man (or technically, woman) cannot give birth to something pure. The woman produces offspring of a similar nature, and Job does not describe that nature positively.

Psalm 58:3 - The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.
David describes his enemies as liars who were separated from God  before birth. Of course, Old Testament discussion is usually framed with Israel as righteous and her oppressors as wicked. Other passages, in both the Old and New Testaments, describe both Israel and gentiles as wicked, and give us a better picture of man's true condition.

Jeremiah 17:9 - The heart is heart is desperately wicked, who can know it?
Our hearts are more than just tuned in to the wrong channel. There is a deeper problem.

It might seem like we're nitpicking here. But the question of sin being internal rather than external is highly relevant, especially this time of year. Because if our hearts are simply tuned to the wrong radio station, over time, we can learn to change the channel. If we are blank slates in which Satan has drawn, then we can pull our Holy Spirit eraser out of our desk and wipe away the filth. But these strategies won't work if the problem is our heart itself.

Christians are obviously commanded to turn from sin and model their behavior after Christ. The Bible uses strong, active words like "strive" and "resist" and "fight" to describe our Christian responsibility. It's easy for us to lose sight of the fact that we are not in full control of this process, or to believe that our salvation is dependent upon how well we perform these responsibilities. This was a connection HWA drilled into the mind of his followers.
"And unless we do continue to grow in spiritual character development, more and more like God, we become like the unborn babe that miscarries - or like an abortion!" (Herbert W Armstrong, Just What Do You Mean Born Again, p. 45). 
The question is, grow to what extent? To what degree, what percentage of holy, righteous character must we grow in order to avoid being aborted, or thrown in the Lake of Fire? Such questions are unanswered because they unanswerable, and leave many COG members living their lives in fear. The fear of "what if?"

This is why confusing steps in the redemption process is so damaging, according to theologian and pastor John Piper. Our only hope for progress in gradually becoming like Christ is that we already have right standing with God by faith, Piper explains in his book Counted Righteous in Christ. This right standing establishes the very relationship in which we find the help and power to make progress. Without this assurance, the battle is uncertain and engaged in fear, not confidence. The fallout that results from this kind of spiritual warfare is not pretty.
"If the battle of sanctification is made part of our justification, as the newer challenge tends to make it, a great part of the foundation for triumphant warfare against sin is removed, and we are made to fight a battle that has already been fought for us and that we cannot win." (John Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ, p. 50).
We can try to scrub all the dirt off the window, figuratively speaking, as long as we like. We can brush the dirt away all we like. We can try really hard, then try really hard some more, then keep trying hard. We can try to wield the Holy Spirit as a sponge. We may get some of the spots off. But we can't get it all. We are washing the window from the wrong side.

The Days of Unleavened Bread demonstrated this harsh reality to Israel. They might not have had all the nooks and crannies in their houses and leavened convenience foods, but still, did you ever notice Israel never seemed to be concerned with how their dough would become leavened once again? They may have been symbolically clean for a week, but the leavening always came back. Likewise, we can scrub the leavening out of every corner of our home, but our hearts will keep spewing crumbs until the day we die.

This is why the Days of Unleavened Bread were a shadow pointing Israel to Christ and permanent deliverance from sin He alone provided. But instead of learning that lesson, the COGs continue to embrace the shadow, focusing on a physical ritual we can't carry out completely, symbolizing a spiritual  action that we are even less capable of completing. Yet the COGs teach we must pursue both impossible tasks to an unspecified threshhold of completion, or else our salvation is in jeopardy. What's wrong with this picture?

There is hope. Isaiah 53, which prophesies the sacrifice of the suffering servant, tells us that we can be healed through Jesus' stripes. This does not refer to physical healing, but of the healing of our hearts available through the shed blood of Jesus. Of the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Of the justification, or right standing we can obtain through His sacrifice. Once we have right standing with God, secure in His salvation and love, then we can move on to the God-led work of sanctification, or becoming more and more like Christ.

Now that your Passover examination is almost done, tell me, do you only have a few fingerprints on the inside of your windows? Or are there dark, stubborn smudges that only a miracle could remove?  Does your heart need some fine-tuning, or are you in need of major surgery? Thankfully, we have a great Physician, a spiritual cardiologist, who is able to address our heart problems from the inside, the only place that will make an eternal difference.

(Mark 2:16-17, New Living Translation) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, "Why does He eat with such scum?" When Jesus heard this, he told them, "Healthy people don't need a doctor - sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous but those who know they are sinners."

Do you think you are righteous, in need of repentance for a few inner thoughts and choice words? Or has your Passover examination brought to mind deep stains of pride, lust or envy? Quit trying to wipe out those stains by yourself. Quit placing your faith in your own efforts. Step into the New Covenant and place your full faith for salvation in Jesus' completed work on the cross. Then, and only then, can He begin the real change, from the right side of your heart.


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It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11
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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lying For God v8 PartI pp24-28

Today we bring you installment #4 of Kerry Wynne's comprehensive study "Lying For God" version 8, Part I. Reproduced here by permission.

This section is about exploring theories regarding the weekly Sabbath and whether or not it applies to Gentiles.

As always, I want to reiterate that I am posting this because it is thought-provoking, not because I absolutely agree with every word and endorse the study in its entirety.

Today's installment picks up immediately after the point where the previous article left off, and will include material from pages 24-28.

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Another Possible Theory About The Sabbath 
Days Of Colossians 2:14-17

Even Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath scholar, the late Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, conceded that Colossians 2:14-17 targets the weekly Sabbath, and it was his absurdly Judaizing work-around of Colossians 2:14-17 that finally opened the eyes of the Evangelical world to the impossibilities of Sabbatarianism. A few thinking Seventh-day Adventist theologians also took note of the implications of Bacchiocchi’s theory’s and left Adventism, including the (then) controversial independent SDA theologian, Dr. Robert Brinsmead. Our research on the lunar Sabbath theory might possibly provide still another leg of support that Dr. Bacchiocchi's assessment that the sabbath in the third position represents the weekly Sabbath of the Decalogue. If the lunar Sabbath theory is correct, we would have another reason to see that the Jews viewed the sabbath system as an integrated whole, all synchronized to the new moons. However, there are other reasons for determining that the sabbath in the third position represents the weekly Sabbath. If the third sabbath is not a reference to the weekly Sabbath, his sentence structure would make no sense, as you would have “annual, monthly, annual,” or “annual, monthly, monthly.”

Note that the Greek word in the third position in Colossians 2:14-17 is “sabbaton.” Here is the Strong’s definition of the word:

Title: Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries
Edition: Third
Copyright: Electronic Edition STEP Files Copyright © 2003, QuickVerse, a division of Findex.com, Inc.

G4521

σάββατον sabbaton sab'-bat-on

Of Hebrew origin [H7676]; the Sabbath (that is, Shabbath), or day of weekly repose from secular avocations (also the observance or institution itself); by extension a se'nnight, that is, the interval between two Sabbaths; likewise the plural in all the above applications:— sabbath (day), week.

Galatians 4:8-11

GALATIANS 4:8-11 (NIV) - Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God-or rather are known by God-how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.
Sabbatarian apologists claim that the special days Paul was referring to here were the sacred days of the pagan calendar. Unfortunately, the focus of the book of Galatians is on the baleful influence of the Judaizers—Christian Jews who wanted all Christians to keep the Law of Moses and the rabbinical traditions. Several verses later, Paul even names the Judaizers as the culprits he is referring to. Review the following principles and you will see that Paul’s three anti-Sabbatarian passages are consistent: (1) The Sabbath was not referenced to the 7 th day of Creation, but rather to the principle of work six days and rest the 7th. (2) All three sabbath types were an integrated and inseparable set of sacred days in Jewish thought. (3) Even Seventh-day Adventist Sabbatarians concede that the annual and monthly sabbaths were done away with by Christ’s death on the Cross. (4) One type of Sabbath cannot exist without the others, so St. Paul said in Colossians 2:14-17 that all three types of Sabbaths became obsolete shadows when the Reality that cast those shadows died on the Cross. (5) If, indeed, the lunar Sabbath concept is true, we would have an additional reason to see all sabbaths as an inseparable set.

Romans 14:5-6

Romans 14:5-6 (NIV) - One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.
Sabbatarian apologists claim that the days referred to in this passage are merely references to the ceremonial Jewish feast days. They use circular reasoning, assuming that since the Sabbath is an unquestionable truth, Paul could not possibly be referring to the weekly Sabbath days in this passage. Unfortunately, this statement is about as clear as it can be said. Only a Sabbatarian bias forces someone to try to explain it away in such a manner.

Once the sabbath set became obsolete shadows at the Cross, there was no principle or absolute reference point that could be used to make any day of the year intrinsically sacred. As you will discover as you look deeper into the Sabbath-Sunday Question, you will see that Christians came to observe Sunday out of arbitrary convenience— not because Sunday was sacred. As we have said before, informed Jews never based their weekly Sabbaths on an absolute reference point because they couldn’t.

Paul is correct. With no absolute reference point to use to calculate a sacred day, no day possesses any sacredness in and of itself. To the Christian, all days are equal. Any day is a good day to worship God. Observe Sunday if you wish as an arbitrary day that Christians have chosen or worship on Saturday, but understand that if you chose to worship on Saturday, you are doing so not because it falls on a new moon or because it is an exact seven-day interval of the 7th day of Creation Week. Christians, therefore, are obligated to respect Paul’s admonition not to impose their own idea about sacred days on other believers because there are no longer ANY sacred days. We cannot imagine St. Paul telling the new Gentile converts that they would receive the Mark of the Beast and go to Hell if they did not join the Jewish Christians in keeping the Jewish Sabbath. The Jews departed from the intent of the Law of Moses by capitulating to worship on the day that Babylonian rabbis had arbitrarily chosen to be labeled the 7th day. Christians violate God’s special revelation through St. Paul that Christians are not to impose the Jewish Sabbath on others. They can keep it themselves without sinning because any day is a good day to worship God, but they ignore God's specific instructions when they seek to impose it on others.

DO THEN JEWS BELIEVE GENTILES
SHOULD KEEP THE SABBATH?

Again, we turn to the Karaite Jews for light on this perspective. Keep in mind that this opinion is that of Jewish scholars and can be used only so far to throw light on how Christians should think about this subject. Note that the foundation of this opinion is the concept that there is only one chance in seven that the seventh-day is an exact seven-day multiple of the 7th day of Creation:
Do the Other Nations Have to Keep The Shabbath? First of all, it is clear from what I have written above, that even if the other nations do have to keep the Shabbath, it does not necessarily have to be on a Saturday. Each society may choose its own day, and as long as all the members of that society are allowed to rest on that day, then that society is, in effect, keeping the Shabbath. But now the question arises, "Do they have to?" The answer to this question actually raises a much more general question: "Do the nations other than Israel have to keep the Torah at all? If so, what parts of it must they keep?" To answer that the other nations do not have to keep the Torah at all is clearly flawed, since no thinking person can imagine that other nations should be permitted to commit murder, theft and adultery. On the other hand, to answer that the other nations must keep the entire Torah is equally flawed, since, for instance, what relevance would keeping the detailed laws of Passover have to another nation, inasmuch as Passover specifically celebrates the freeing of Israel from Egypt? The answer, in my opinion, lies somewhere in-between. The laws of the Torah are meant for Israel, but Israel, in keeping them, is in turn meant to set an example for the rest of the nations. In other words, that which is mentioned in Deuteronomy 4:6 is supposed to happen: "So keep them and do them because this is your wisdom and your understanding in the eyes of the nations, who will hear all these laws and say, 'This is certainly a wise and understanding nation, this great nation.' " 5 After coming to this conclusion, other nations will naturally want to emulate many of our laws. When they do, Israel's role in the world is actualized. (For a further explanation of this idea, I recommend reading my book, The Torah and the Marketplace of Ideas.) Therefore, to return to the specific question of the Shabbath, my answer is as follows: The other nations are not explicitly required to keep the Shabbath, but as Israel's influence in the world grows, other nations, seeing the beauty and wisdom of the Shabbath, will choose to integrate the idea into their own societies. Indeed, this is exactly what has happened, as both Christian and Muslim societies do keep a form of the Shabbath, and just about all societies around the modern world have the concept of a day off from work, whereas this was not the case 2,000 years ago.
http://www.karaiteinsights.com/article/shabbat.html#sthash.TbCJFadJ.dpuf

Sabbatarians protest that some of the rabbis taught that the Sabbath was universal, and it is true that some have. Only a few select rabbis are chosen to have extensive training in the Ancient Hebrew version of the Hebrew language in which the Torah was “originally” written; so it is not surprising that a rabbi who did not receive this special training would write in ignorance. (We will have more to say about this fact later.) That this universal view is held by some rabbis has been substantiated by a paper sent to us by Brendan Knudson, “Patriarchs, Rabbis, and Sabbath,” by Robert M. Johnson, available from Andrews University Library. One example Johnson cites is found in the Book of Jubilees 2:30-33, which describes an angel telling Moses, “We kept Sabbath in the heavens before it was made known to any flesh to keep Sabbath thereon on the earth.” Note that the rabbinical author of the Book of Jubilees advocates for the universality of the Sabbath from a non-biblical perspective. As Robert K. Sanders observes, the angels had no part in Creation, so there would be no point in them keeping the Sabbath. When angels are assisting mankind through the week, they are doing “good” on the Sabbath, and thus they would not be resting. Furthermore, as Sanders observes, “The Father and Jesus work on the Sabbath. A non-biblical starting point seems to lead to a non-biblical conclusion.” (Similarly, Duane Johnson observes that Seventh-day Adventist scholars, while using questionable support for the Sabbath from other sources, demonstrate literary bias when they attempt to squeeze out a Sabbatarian-friendly reading of quotes from the early fathers of the church. Unfortunately, most of these passages, when taken in proper context, were strongly anti-Sabbatarian. Johnson cites such works as The Didache and The Epistle of St. Barnabas as examples of the writings of the early fathers who strongly opposed Sabbath-keeping. Now, reflect on Robert K. Sander's observation that a non-biblical starting point leads to non-biblical conclusions:
John 5:16 - 18 (NIV) 16So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. 17Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.
The rabbinical author of The Book of Jubilees, quoted by Robert M. Johnson, continues:
And the Creator of all things blessed it, but he did not sanctify all peoples and nations to keep Sabbath, but Israel alone.
Notice the theological difficulties posed by a Sabbath that existed before the creation of Planet Earth. The Sabbath was given to Israel. The Sabbath was given to the Jews in part to help them remember that God created this world —not the Universe. It was also given to them to help them not forget that God had led them out of Egyptian slavery. Jewish scholars seem to vary in their methods of Bible study just the way Christians scholars do. We would ask the question, if any Jewish rabbi studied the Exodus story with a native understanding of Ancient Hebrew, how could he possibly arrive at the conclusion that the Sabbath had universal jurisdiction?

God never sent a messenger to a Heathen city or nation to condemn it for Sabbath-breaking, but He did for violating fundamental moral laws. On the other hand, God rebuked Israel when it broke the Sabbath after it was given to them as an ordinance– additional evidence that the Sabbath was for Israel alone. No other nations had any meaningful knowledge of the True God or of the Sabbath He provided for the Jews. Robert K. Sanders provides three texts to support this position:
Psalm 147:19 - 20 (NIV) 19 He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. 20He has done this for no other nation; they do not know his laws. Praise the LORD.
The Sinaitic Sabbath covenant was not made with the Fathers such as Adam, Noah, Isaac, and Abraham.
Deut. 5:2 -3 (NIV) 2The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. 3It was not with our fathers that the LORD made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today.
If the Israelites did not know about the Sabbath then certainly the Gentile nations did not know about it:
Neh. 9:13, 14 (NIV) 13“You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. 14You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses.
Duane Johnson adds the following texts in support of the fact that the Law of Moses with its Sabbath commandment was unique to Israel:
Deut 4:5 - 7 (KJV) 5Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. 6Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. 7For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for? 
Deuteronomy 4:5-7 - Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for?
Sabbatarians claim that since the Sabbath is part of the 10 Commandments, doing away with it would be like doing away with all LAW. The reference to the Law in James 2:8-11 is to all 613 laws of Moses—not simply the 10 Commandments:
James 2:8 - 11 (NIV) 8If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
Note contextually how James uses the “law” here, referring to the “whole” law, and how that covenant law worked when it came to breaking any one point of that whole law. One was guilty of the entirety should they break any one point of that law.
William Hohmann observes that James used the Old Covenant Law as an example to illustrate how the New Covenant “Royal Law of Liberty” works when it comes to our relationship with other people. If we show favoritism for one, and despise another, failing to show proper love even for one other human being, we are guilty of transgressing that Royal Christian law of Liberty, having shown partiality in our love and treatment of others.

BUT ISN’T THE SABBATH PART OF GOD’S LAW?

 It is a cheap theological trick Sabbatarians use when they dismiss all available evidence to the contrary and say things like, “Well, the Sabbath is part of God’s law. If you take away God’s law, everyone would have license to kill, steal, and commit adultery.”   The heresy of Sabbatarianism develops for at least two reasons.  First, unfortunate last resort results from their failure to take into consideration to whom God was speaking and under what circumstances.   Second, there is the failure to understand what Bible writers meant when they used the term, “Law.”  The idea that the 10 Commandments represent “God’s Law” contains only a certain element of truth. Sometimes the greatest deceptions are those that have some truth mixed in with them.  Just because part of a teaching is correct does not mean that all of it is.

God gave the Sabbath to Israel and to Israel alone.  He gave it to them as a sign that would set them apart from all other nations of the world.  Logic tells us that it is impossible to have a factor that distinguishes two different groups from each other to be a shared attribute:
Exodus 31:14-17 (NIV) - “‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. 15For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. 16The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. 17It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”
Who is to observe the Sabbath?  Israel.  It is to be celebrated by Israel as a covenant.  God did not make a covenant with any other nation but Israel. It is the sign that they are the covenant people.

In the next section, Robert K. Sanders will clarify the concept of the LAW.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Blowing in the Wind

A few weeks ago, I was up during the night with one of my children during a storm. When daylight came, there were branches down all over the yard. My husband, who was blissfully unaware of either disruption, saw the tree carnage the next morning and asked me, "did it rain or something last night?"

I was a bit tired the next day, but I was thankful for the experience. It helped me understand a scripture that I had been wrestling with for weeks, from the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3.

(JON. 3: 8) The wind blows where it wishes, and you can hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the spirit.

Though I had left the Churches of God a while ago, I had a hard time viewing this scripture through any lens besides Herbert Armstrong's. The storm helped illustrate a concept people had been telling me for a while. My husband didn't see or hear the storm, but the broken limbs all over the yard was evidence it had blown through.

Armstrong and most of today's COGs believe this passage refers to humans who are "born again" as spirit beings when they are resurrected at Christ's return. Just like the wind, spirit beings are invisible -  you can't tell where they come from or where they go.

This, of course, wreaks havoc with other teachings. The explanation for John 3: 8 pictures the resurrected church as invisible spirit beings only able to be detected indirectly. At the exact same time, one of the most fundamental teachings about the resurrected church during the Millennium is that they will be visible, tangible, audible, literal - and so will Jesus Christ. Verses such as Isaiah 30: 20-21, the parable of the Minas in Luke 19, Zechariah 14: 3, 12, 16-21, Revelation 2: 27 and many others besides were used to proof-text this idea out. (For more just read "The Wonderful World Tomorrow What Will It Be Like" by Herbert and Garner Ted Armstrong.)

Sermon after sermon delved in great detail about how the world would see the resurrected church with their own eyes and despair. The entire purpose of the church being resurrected at the start of the Millennium was for the church to be visible and accessible to the unchanged humans who survive the Great Tribulation, to rule over them and teach them alongside Christ. Therefore the stock explanation of John 3: 8 is contradictory. If humans are seeing resurrected church members and interacting with them, then likening them to the wind is a poor simile. So why would Jesus liken a resurrected church member to the undetectable wind when the promises and point of it all is for them to be precisely the opposite of that? It makes very little sense. Is there any other explanation that makes far better sense? Yes.

John Ritenbaugh, pastor of Church of the Great God, teaches that Jesus is describing the Holy Spirit, not a resurrected spirit being. We agree. Much like the wind, one cannot see the Holy Spirit, but we can see the effects. Per chance it was a breezy night and Jesus grasped the opportunity for a teachable moment. We cannot see the Holy Spirit making a person more and more like Jesus Christ each day. No one exclaims to a Christian, "Can you tell the Holy Spirit to stop making so much noise in your heart? I can't concentrate!" But when the Holy Spirit is at work in a person, the results are recognizable to all. We can't explain exactly how God works in our lives and hearts, but we can see His fruit.
"We can witness the changes that He produces in people by noting that the formerly sinful person is becoming holy; the immoral person is becoming moral; the stubborn, obstinate person is becoming gentle, thoughtful and helpful," Ritenbaugh says. "In other words, just as with the wind, we see the effects of an invisible cause. The Father grants regeneration and repentance, and He reveals Himself, bestowing His Spirit and spiritual growth on whomever He will. He does these things at the times and in the ways that please Him."
This explanation actually does make sense outside of the COG lens, and it has support elsewhere in scripture. Consider Ecclesiastes 11:5, which I discovered only recently.

(ECC. 11: 5) As you do not know what is the way of the wind, or how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, so you do not know the works of God who makes everything.

This passage links the blowing wind with the work of God, lending support to Ritenbaugh's interpretation of John 3:8. Also consider the description of the Holy Spirit's arrival on Pentecost in Acts 2:2, which describes "a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind." It seems more likely that Jesus was drawing on scriptural examples, as well as His own knowledge of the Holy Spirit, to describe how one is born again, not their material state (or lack thereof) in the resurrection.

The Jews of Jesus' day consistently failed to grasp the spiritual significance what He said because they assumed He was speaking in physical terms, Ritenbaugh notes. (Part 1). If we repeat this mistake with John 3, we cannot help but misunderstand being "born again."

We have one definite advantage the Jews do not - that we can read Ephesians 2:1-6, which shows that we were once spiritually dead, but made alive in Christ. Luke 9:60 seems to confirm Paul's description of how God perceives unbelievers - as spiritually dead. But we also know that God gives life to the dead (Romans 4:17). For exactly this same reason Jesus said to the Apostles:

(JON. 16: 12-14) 12 I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.

With that in mind, let's turn back to John 3. Nicodemus, like the other Jews, is thinking in physical terms. His reply shows he has no clue that, despite being physically alive, he is a spiritually dead man and can only get the spiritual life he needs from God. He would have been shocked if he comprehended that even he, as a high ranking Pharisee, one of "God's chosen people," was a foreigner to the Kingdom of God unless he was made spiritually alive. (Ritenbaugh, Part 1).

Ritenbaugh notes that the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus focuses on how men are made alive spiritually, not how men should live. It would seem that being born again must be the basis and starting point for a believer's transformation into Christ's image. Neither a fetus nor a corpse is capable of faith and obedience.
"It is as if everything regarding our spiritual future beings and proceeds from this point," Ritenbaugh says.
This is in agreement with what the early church believed. Everything regarding our spiritual future proceeds from this point. And "this point" for them was baptism. The importance of baptism was not missed by them. Over and over they quote John 3 verse 5:

(JON. 3: 5) Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

The early church understood "of water" to be a reference to water baptism.

As far as this single verse is concerned, Herbert Armstrong glossed completely over the mention of water and went straight on to spirit. He missed a full half of the equation in this verse because baptism doesn't figure in to how the resurrected humans will appear. But baptism is in this verse, so it cannot simply be ignored. Except the resurrected saints are not born of water. Only a new Christian is born of water and Spirit, in the act of baptism. Therefore this lends credence to the notion that Jesus was not referring to how Nicodemus will appear when he is resurrected. Jesus was referring to a death and rebirth now. Colossians 2: 12 clearly relates baptism to a symbolic death and rebirth. Symbolic, yes, as water itself does nothing, but necessary as an act of initiation.

(I PET. 3: 21) There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

(We are not attempting to flesh out whether regeneration starts at baptism or at confession of faith. We are just attempting to show that Herbert Armstrong's proof texting of John 3 is illogical in several ways.)

Like Nicodemus, Armstrong failed to discern that Jesus was speaking figuratively and spiritually. Armstrong intuited literal processes into spiritual examples, and spiritual processes into physical examples. He was like the Pharisees in John 2, mentally calculating the hours of labor that went into building the temple and scoffing at Jesus. In fact, scoffing was something HWA did quite well. Consider some of his concluding thoughts from Just What Do You Mean Born Again:
"That true born-again experience will be incomparably more glorious than the false, vague, meaningless, so called 'born-again experience' that deceived thousands think they have had now."
                                -Herbert Armstrong, Just What Do You Mean Born Again, p. 45
Consider - if John Ritenbaugh and all who agree with him are correct, then Herbert Armstrong is blaspheming the Holy Spirit, calling His participation in us "false, meaningless, so called" and etc. Do not, dear reader, simply gloss over this. What most people call "born again" is nothing less than the power and presence of the Holy Spirit within them. Therefore, if Herbert Armstrong is wrong on this point, then what he refers to as "false, meaningless, so called" is nothing less than the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

Sadly, the spiritual, the humble and the small things take a back seat to the literal, the grandiose and the dramatic. Such is typical where HWA is concerned.
"We shall appear like him at the second coming to earth.  What will he be like? Like the glorified Christ - his eyes blaze like fire, feet like burnished brass, face shines like the sun, And that is the way you and I shall look, if and when we are finally born of God! These deceived people who talk about having had a "born-again" experience certainly don't look like THAT!"
                                - Herbert Armstrong, Just What Do You Mean Born Again, p. 40
Consider - Herbert Armstrong describes what appearance the resurrected saints will have. The invisible saints. If the saints were truly invisible, they would not look like anything. So, are they visible or invisible? Like the wind, or like the sun?

First Corinthians 2:14 tells us that one without the Holy Spirit finds things from the Spirit of God to be foolish. After all, those things can only be discerned through the Spirit. So it would make sense for someone who was "in the flesh" to consider teachings on regeneration to be vague and meaningless. Hypothetically speaking, of course. When we take a step back from accepting something simply because we have an ideological commitment to what the COGs teach, and just allow ourselves to contemplate other possible explanations, does the traditional COG teaching make the best sense? Not to us it doesn't. And not to several modern COG members including John Ritenbaugh. The mainstream understanding of "born again" is the superior explanation. People in the COGs are beginning to realize and accept this.

We are now governed by the Spirit, not the flesh, if The Spirit of God lives in us. Though our bodies are still mortal, we have life now through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-10). The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God, His ways are foolishness to such a mind. The hostility HWA displayed concerns me, and it should concern you, too, if you are following his followers. Like the Jews, HWA failed to see the figurative and scoffed at the spiritual. Much like Israel of old, to this day, among the COGs, when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts." 2 Corinthians 3:15. This veil was put in place by their founder, a man who couldn't see behind it himself.

"You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things?" (John 3:10, NIV)



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It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11
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