Friday, September 30, 2016

Are You Ready for the Feast of Trumpets?

So, are you ready for the Feast of Trumpets? 

I sure am, Martha, you're probably thinking. My boss approved my time-off request months ago. I have directions to the building for our local church service. I even have lunch plans with friends. I'm ready. 

No, that's not what I mean. Are you ready for the Feast of Trumpets? 

Oh, now I get it. Have you seen the news lately? Did you watch the debate this week? I know a lot of prophecy remains unfulfilled, but I'm still praying that that Jesus returns next week. I've never been more ready, Martha. 

No, I mean, are you ready? Like, personally?  

The Churches of God traditionally associate the Feast of Trumpets with the return of Jesus Christ and resurrection of those who have “qualified” to enter God's Kingdom. It's interesting to note that the Feast of Trumpets is never mentioned in the New Testament. The Hebrew people – to whom the festival was given – viewed the observance as an alarm and call to repentance in preparation for Yom Kippur . Whose interpretation is more accurate is certainly debatable. Still, since both traditions associate the festival with judgment, my original question is relevant. 

So, I ask, are you ready for Jesus to return? 

The answer might depend upon whom you ask and which church you attend. 

But wait, don't all the COGs basically teach the same things? Not according to United Church of God's Donald Ward, who recently gave a sermon on authority hinting that Christians needed to attend and obey UCG ministers in order to be right with God. This seemed out of step with UCG's usual moderate tone and has many wondering whether this well-publicized, hard-line message indicates trouble is brewing again in the group. 
“People ask me if I think that the splinters of the former Worldwide Church of God will ever get back together. They go on to say, ' After all we basically believe the same thing,” Ward explains.
“And I say, 'No I don't think they will get back together. And there are far more differences than one might discern at a distance,” he says.
Ward never explains just what these differences are. Rather, he says they are largely matters of mindset and organizational culture. But, he then defines culture as “a reflection of everything you believe at the core of your being.” At least we know it's nothing serious. Only vague, trivial stuff that's at at the heart of your existence. Stuff that determines whether or not you're part of God's true church. Minor stuff like that.

About the only point on which Ward ISN'T vague is that faithful church members don't buck church authority, citing 1 Corinthians 12. After all, God has placed these ministers in authority over the body. Who are you to reject His decision?

While church authority is a valid concept, Ward's use of 1 Corinthians 12 to support it is ironic. It's hardly a treatise on cold, steely hierarchy. Read in context, 1 Corinthians 12 discusses topics like unity in the Spirit and exhorts members of the church body to rejoice and mourn together as one. And, of course, it leads into 1 Corinthians 13 – commonly known as the “love chapter.”  

At any rate, Ward's position on authority must be news to the former UCG members and would-be leaders who bucked UCG's leadership in 2010 to create COGWA, God's new-and-improved only-true-church. So, what do those errant COGWA leaders say you must do to qualify for the Kingdom? 

As usual, COGWA's web site is sparse. We get the usual cognitive dissonance, like this:
 “Jesus told the wealthy young ruler that the way to salvation required keeping the 10 Commandments (Matthew 19:16-21). Jesus Himself kept all the 10 Commandments, including the seventh-day Sabbath (Luke 4:16),” explains longtime COG writer Cecil Maranville (Law and Grace: Jesus vs. Paul?). 
“Obviously, Jesus wasn’t intimating that anyone could earn salvation by keeping the 10 Commandments. Yet He taught and showed by example that God has set a reasonable standard of behavior for His children. That standard is the 10 Commandments,” Maranville tells us.
Ok, I see. I can't earn salvation by keeping the Ten Commandments, but I am required to keep the Ten Commandments for salvation. Got it. Thanks.  

Another article from COGWA elder Charles Haughee gives further insight into the group's mindset. 
“God declares that He is holy and wants us to be holy (Leviticus 11:45; 20:7) as His sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:17-18). John 1:12 and 20:17 and other scriptures also verify this concept. Our Father wants all of us to be like Him—holy and clean,” Haughee writes. 
“Every father wants what is best for his children, and God is no exception. We cannot remain clean if we eat things that are unclean.”
We cannot remain clean if we eat things that are unclean. COG elders like Haughee remind listeners every week that they must remain clean if they wish to qualify for the Kingdom. Obedience can't earn you your white robe, they tell you, but you better keep it spotless if you want to “make it.” The problem is, there is only One who can make us clean. And it isn't us. 

But the Living Church of God appears to demonstrate the most ignorance on this topic  In his article, “Love and Government,” Wyatt Ciesielka, an adjunct assistant professor of theology at LCG's Living University completely butchers the deep symbolism of of Genesis 15 as an opportunity to commend Abraham for his righteous behavior.
“While no human can act perfectly as God acts, notice that Abraham is counted as practicing righteousness (cf. Genesis 15:6),” Ciesielka writes. "It is no wonder that Abraham and David will receive very high positions in the coming Kingdom of God! What then is the purpose of this royal and perfect law? The purpose is to reflect His righteousness, which leads to salvation.” 
The problem is, Genesis 15 is almost universally recognized as the template through which Christians receive salvation today - by faith. Genesis 15:6 doesn't tell us that God numbered Abraham as someone whose behavior was righteous. Rather, it tells us that God recognized the depth of Abraham's faith and, as a result, credited him with righteous standing before Him.

(Genesis 15:6) And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

This is not Martha's interpretation of scripture. This is Paul's interpretation of scripture.

(Romans 4:1-6) What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him to who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works.

Further, God credited Abraham with righteousness before he attempted to sacrifice Isaac (an act of faith for which the book of James commends him). It was credited to him even before he was circumcised.

(Romans 4:9-11) Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised but while uncircumcised. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also...

Still not convinced? Let's turn back to Genesis 15. Have you ever studied the bizarre account toward the end of the chapter? Rounding up animals, cutting them in half, spreading them on the ground, then chasing the vultures away. Craziness. Abraham must have looked like a madman.

Well, not exactly. Abraham was setting up a traditional middle eastern covenant ceremony. In this "walk into death," the parties involved in the agreement would walk between the pieces of the animals, indicating that they should suffer a fate similar to the animals if they broke the agreement.

But Abraham fell into a deep sleep - some believe it was supernatural - leaving God alone to pass through the pieces Himself (Genesis 15:17). This indicated that God alone was responsible for bringing these promises to pass.  As we have seen, Abraham had responsibilities according to the covenant. But it would be God's actions - not Abraham's - that would fulfill the covenant promises.
Our salvation is no different.

Now,  I know you COG folks start getting nervous when I say that your salvation depends upon what Jesus did, not what you do. Trust me, this is a blessing. Because if your record of obedience is a factor in your salvation, then everything you do matters. And I mean EVERYTHING.

What, you didn't know the beef-with-broccoli at your favorite Chinese restaurant was made with oyster sauce? Too bad. You're unclean.  

That doesn't count, you respond. I didn't know that. I didn't do it willfully. God is merciful. He wouldn't judge me for something I didn't know I was doing wrong.

Ok. So, tell me, how are you observing the new moon tonight? That's right. The U.S. Naval Observatory lists the new moon as September 30. Technically at 8:13 p.m., so maybe you've still got time. Observing the new moon is listed in the same "forever" scriptures as the Sabbath. They are listed in the same passage you use to support Sabbath-keeping and dietary laws in the New Testament. It's not stealthy, like oyster sauce. The weather app on your phone tells you the moon every time it boots up, for crying out loud. You knew. Or you should have known.

I know, I know, your minister says you don't have to observe new moons. Why are you taking his word for it? If forever means "forever" with regards to the Sabbath, then it means "forever" with regards to the new moon, too. Will you believe man or believe your Bible?

And how about the meal you planned to eat at that restaurant on Trumpets, anyway? You're paying that waitress to work on a holy day. Both your father-in-law and your best friend's wife have confronted you about it. Would you do YOUR job on an annual Sabbath? Then how can you justify paying her to do hers? 

You might disagree that it's a sin, Martha. That's fine. We all must have faith unto ourselves. But if your teach that your righteousness is dependent upon what you do, then you must accept that your righteousness really hinges upon everything that you do. But if we're to the point that we base "God's standards" on knowing and agreeing with subjective standards, then we're on pretty shaky ground. The book of James tells us the law - which you cherry-pick to define your righteousness - is like a plate glass window. You break one, you've broken them all. You must get it all right - the oyster sauce, the new moon, the calendar, the proper Sabbath observance. You must have the proper checklist. And having the right checklist isn't even enough. The Sermon on the Mount tells us that even our silent thoughts can condemn us.

(Galatians 4:21) Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?

(Galatians 5:4-6) You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. (Neither the context nor the historical record indicate that Paul is simply talking about circumcision alone here).

Estranged from Christ. That's a bad place to me. So I ask you again, are you ready for the Feast of Trumpets? Would God count your behavior as righteous, as Mr. Ciesielka of LCG would put it? Are you clean, as Mr. Haughee of COGWA explains?

You already know the answer. You know that you can't make yourself clean. But understand that you can't even keep yourself clean. Attending UCG, exclusively, or COGWA, or LCG won't make you clean. Dutifully marking the new moon, keeping the Ten Commandments perfectly and adopting a vegan diet won't keep you clean. Your righteousness is like filthy rags before Him.

How can you ever hope to bridge the gap between your behavior, as obedient as you try to be, and God's perfect standard of righteous perfection? Well, the same way that Abraham did, all the way back in Genesis 15:6.

We must stop placing our faith in ourselves and instead place it in the promise of salvation through the blood of the Lamb. We must repent of our sins and dedicate ourselves to God. And when we do, God credits us with Christ's righteousness. Now, we stand justified before Him and can begin the process of sanctification through the leading of the Holy Spirit. This is a process led by God, not us. It is the evidence of our salvation, not the cause of it.

Quit placing your faith in attending the right church, in keeping the right days and eating the right foods. Wash the filthy garments of your righteousness in the blood of the Lamb. Only then will you be clean, and truly ready for the Feast of Trumpets. 

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