feast: What Is the Church's Work Today (Part Three)
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 03-Oct-96; Sermon #FT96-08; 65 minutes
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that biblical history substantiates that God does not always have the church perform the same functions continually, but sometimes drastically alters the course according to needs and conditions. The perceived detours are necessary adjustments God makes to accomplish His purpose. "The work" changes according to God's direction and our need. Currently, God has imploded, exploded, and scattered (a pattern He has used before) His Church for our ultimate spiritual safety. The primary focus of "the work" at this time is the repair or re-attainment of the believing faith (the faith once delivered through revelation) that has seriously deteriorated because of heresy, apostasy, and self-satisfied Laodiceanism. The turn-around begins individually with the purification of each living stone through repentance and re-commitment to our covenant with God.
In the last sermon, I continued to cover some of the facts that the church is clearly compared in the Bible to a human body in which its various parts have differing functions. Every part is to function for the benefit of the whole. That was not the only thing that we covered, but that was at least the beginning of what that last message was about. We spent a great deal more time covering a variation of that first principle and, that is, that even as an individual member's function changes from time to time, so also does the entire church's function change.
Probably, there is no place (at least, to my mind) that shows it more clearly than in Numbers 9. There some of the background, I guess you might say, in regard to what the children of Israel did during their period of time in the wilderness on their pilgrimage to the Promised Land is that they zigzagged their course back and forth. Sometimes they stayed in a rest area one day, sometimes two days, sometimes weeks, and sometimes months. Sometimes they went in one direction and then (seemingly) doubled themselves back, turned in a different direction, and made right angle turns. At any rate, it took them forty years to get there.
One of the lessons that we can extract from that is that God does not always lead His church in the same direction. They are not always doing the same thing all the time. But here again, this principle that every part of the body contributes to the whole—so does every zigzag, so does every turn of direction, so does every change in the work that God has the church doing. It also contributes to the perfection of the whole of His purpose. So, what may seem a detour by one person is seen as a necessary move by God to make sure that His purpose is completely accomplished.
In Romans 15:4 it says that these things that happened before were written for our learning. They are directions for you and me so that we are receiving instructions as to what we are to do at any given time. We need the direction. So we look back at what God shows regarding Israel, and we compare it with the events that the church has been going through. And then, from that, we reach a conclusion that the church needs to be doing ‘thus and such' at any given time.
Ezra 2:69 According to their ability, they gave to the treasury for the work sixty-one thousand gold drachmas, five thousand minas of silver, and one hundred priestly garments.
I was most interested here in terms of the phrase "for the work." That phrase is used there in exactly the same manner that we have used it in the church of God over these past fifty years. ("It's the work of God.") And indeed, it was the work of God. But I want you to focus your attention, just for a second, on what you know about the book of Ezra. What was "the work" that they were doing in behalf of God, that God had involved them in at that time? "The work" at that time was rebuilding a destroyed Temple. That was "the work." And the money that they contributed is (to you and me) an understanding that they were contributing of their resources (financial, as well as their intellectual powers, as well as their muscular powers) in order to do the work. These are the same principles that we are involved with. Only in this case, instead of building "the Temple," they were rebuilding a destroyed Temple. At that time, the work of God had to take on a different direction for a period of time.
Now turn with me to Nehemiah. This took place just a bit later than the book of Ezra.
Nehemiah 2:16-18 And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, or the others whodid the work. Then said I to them, "You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no more be a reproach." And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king's words that he had spoken to me. So they said, "Let us rise up and build." So they set their hands to this good work.
Now what was "the work" there? "The work" there was different from what they did under Ezra, but it still had a connection to the overall purpose. In this case, they were rebuilding the wall that went around Jerusalem. They were not rebuilding the Temple, per se, they were rebuilding the wall. A wall in biblical symbolism means "a means of protection." They were building up the defenses so that the Temple would be protected from incursions. All you need to do is understand what Ephesians 6 has to say about the armor of God. Most of that equipment there has to do with protecting. There is only one offensive piece of equipment that is mentioned in all the equipment there. So what needs to be built up here, as it were, are the defenses of the church.
So the Temple has to be rebuilt; and the defenses of the church have to be rebuilt as well. Now, that was not "the work" all the time. But, for a period of time, that was "the work," because conditions required it. God recorded it so that when we come down to our time, and we are in the period of time of the church we can look back in His Word, seeing what is happening in the church, compare it with these things, and then make a decision and set our resolve to do what work needs to be done.
Two clear principles are derived from this area, beginning in I Corinthians 3. And that is (1) that God specifically places people in the church to perform different functions, and (2) is that the whole body (that is, the whole church) does not always do the same work. It changes according to God's direction. It changes according to need.
However, in reflecting back on the sermon on Tuesday, most of the sermon time was spent on that aspect that I feel needs the most effort in terms of repair and restoration. That begins by understanding as an operating fact of our lives that this that occurred to the church did not just happen accidentally. So I asked the question, "Do you see God?" In this case, meaning do you see God actively working for our benefit by dividing the church?
We have got to put a positive spin on this, because what happened really is positive in the overall sense. We may not like what occurred. It may have caused us a great deal of pain. But, in the overall sense, God in His wisdom has directed it in this direction, because it is going to be good for us in the long run. If He had let it continue as it were, maybe very few of us would ever make it into His Kingdom. We would not be prepared, because of what was happening.
Now, something like what happened would not occur simply because it was forced on God. Think about that. Do we force things on God? Well, that would make us more powerful than His ability to save. The only conclusion that I can reach from this is that God actively participated in driving the church apart for our good.
The second aspect of this "Do you see God?" question is a personal faith, because this is spiritually the quality that has been most affected in the decline that has occurred over the past twenty years or so. Now turn with me back to the book of Jude, verses 3 through 5, where Jude writes:
Jude 3 Beloved, while I was very diligence to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.
What in the world was taking place when Jude wrote this? The first century church was falling apart! And here is one of the apostles of God writing to those people that they needed to turn back to the faith that was once delivered.
Jude 4 For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Are you aware of what it says in I Corinthians 11:19? Paul wrote that it is necessary that there be "heresies among you." Do you know why? "That those who are proven true and faithful might be made manifest." That is a clear evidence of God backing up the parable that Jesus gave that the wheat and tares are going to grow together. They are going to be right in the congregation. So when heresy arises, that makes manifest who is going to be true and who is going to be false. Though it causes pain, nonetheless God warns that He is going to allow it to occur.
Jude 4-5 For certain men have crept in unnoticed [This was ordained of old! It happened.], . . . ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into [license to do evil], and deny the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt,afterward destroyed those who did not believe.
There is the issue. "The faith once delivered" and believing. I contend that that is the issue today—the "faith once delivered"—whether we are going to be faithful to it—and whether we are going to believe it to the place where we trust it.
Now in Jude 3 where it talks about "the faith once delivered," faith has two applications there. The first is as a body of beliefs that forms the foundation of our lives. This is of critical importance, because we act according to what we believe. Are the Protestants and Catholics what they are and what they do because they believe in keeping the Sabbath, believe in keeping the holy days, and that we are members of the Family of God, and that the Holy Spirit is not a person? No. You know they believe all those other, false things: such as that the Holy Spirit is a person. They do not believe in keeping the Sabbath.
So what do they do? They keep what they do believe, and what they do believe causes them to act in the way that they do. Now, this is of critical importance because all of the wrong beliefs in the world will not make 2 + 2 = 5. Neither will all the wrong beliefs in the world make a person into the image of God. Making a person into the image of God requires the right recipe and the right response! Those people will follow the true teachings.
Now the second aspect of the faith that Jude is talking about there in verse 3 is faith as a living principle—that is, the driving force in our lives. Faith—as trust that motivates and relies upon.
Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
The kind of faith that Jude is talking about in verse 3 does not need all the answers before it acts, because its power to act is not derived from what it sees, hears, and feels.
Consider this. The first aspect of that faith—"the faith once delivered" (the body of beliefs)—is completely beyond human capability. The wisdom of this world cannot discover it. It must be revealed. Faith as an active and driving force is absolutely dependent upon what is revealed.
Hebrews 11:27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.
So the second principle of faith is dependent upon what is revealed—not what we see, not what we hear, not what we feel, or anything like that. It depends upon what is revealed. And so Abraham was driven—he was motivated, he moved, he acted, he conducted his life—even though he did not know the answers.
Honestly, I did not know what a significant statement I made the very first Feast that we held. In a sermon, which was sort of a real long announcement about the Church of the Great God, I answered a question that somebody asked me because, you know, when you start out on a journey you want to know where you are going. So they asked me a very logical question, "Where are we going?" In that sermon, I said "I don't know." I told them why. I quoted this verse. Abraham did not know where he was going. We will not always know the answers if we are operating our lives according to the kind of faith that Jude 3 is talking about. We will know what is revealed; but where what is revealed is going to take us, we will not know every specific of that.
Do we know whether God will heal Kerry Sollars? Yes, (in a generality) we know—because His Word is inviolate, and He will heal—but that healing may come in the resurrection. We do not know what He has in mind between now and the resurrection for Kerry Sollars. You have to operate according to what you cannot see (according to what is revealed). And what is revealed is God will heal.
Do we believe that enough that we will trust Him? We are not dealing with simple answers here in regard to faith. We are dealing with things that are tough in terms of living them. You see, we have come to the time in our spiritual life where we have got to "fish or cut bait." It is going to come on us gradually, and it is going to come on us with increasing intensity. God is going to put the pressure on to force us to decide what we are going to do. Either live by faith—either live by what is revealed—or live by intellectualism. So we have to go on. Let me show you a little bit more on this.
II Thessalonians 3:1-2 Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you [writing to brethren. Verse 2 is the one that I really want], and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith.
I do not have an Interlinear with me. This verse just popped into my mind this morning—that I might use it. I am almost virtually certain that what it says in the Interlinear is that the definite article "the" is in there in front of the word faith; and that it really reads "for all men have not the faith."Almost everybody has faith to some degree. But there is faith; and there is the faith! We are to get back to the faith once delivered.That is the one that is based upon revelation, and that is the one that is the operating principle of our lives. It is founding everything else that we hoped for.
It is driving or motivating us todo what we have to do—maybe till we come to the place (like Paul was) where he said, "Woe unto me if I preach not the gospel." That man was driven. He felt it so powerfully working within him. He felt that if he did not preach the gospel to the world and to thechurch he was a dead man—because he was not going to fulfill his responsibility to God. I am sure that God put that driving force within him in order to give him that power (or whatever) to do his responsibility as an apostle. I feel sure that Mr. Armstrong felt that same way. And he filled us with some of the energy he felt about that responsibility that was given to him.
It is this second aspect of faith which tests the validity and the purity of what is revealed (you see) in our lives. So, there are an awful lot of people who believe that they should keep the Sabbath. A lot of people believe that they should keep the holy days. There are a lot of people who believe that they ought to tithe, or that they ought not to lie, or that they should not steal. But, I will tell you, those who are operating by the faith will drive themselves to constantly purify and perfect the keeping of those commandments—not that it is going to save them, but that they might be in the image of God and that they might glorify God. That is what is driving them! It is not to "get" salvation. It is to glorify God and to fulfill the responsibility within the church and to God that is the driving force in their lives.
When some organization wants to do away with the instruction of God by saying that the law is done away, oh ghastly! That is like saying you are taking away the tool that is going to put you into the image of God. "The image of God" will never be in us unless His law is written in our hearts and minds. His law is ‘written in our hearts and minds' by a combination of factors—not the least of which is obedience to His law—His instruction. It would be like assigning a potter to mold something into a beautiful piece—a beautiful work—and not give him his hands to work with. Or, to say that ‘you've got to do this without any water' or maybe do it without even any clay. It cannot be done! But, I will tell you, Satan is awfully subtle in appealing to the flesh and using intellectualism to make sure that those who have that kind of bent think that it can be done without the instruction of God.
Go to Acts 28. This occurred, of course, right at the end of the book. Paul was in Rome there. He was facing death, and he met with the leaders of the Jews there. And, at the end of that session with them, it says in verse 24:
Acts 28:24 And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.
You see, all men believe something. But there is a specific faith that God is concerned with, and this is the faith that was once delivered to the saints. The basis of that faith is revelation—not the wisdom of men.
Now Leviticus 26. I think it would be good to just read these things, because it is for our admonition and helps us to understand the connections between the Old and the New Testament. These things were written "for our learning" so that we could apply them in their spiritual intent within the church.
Leviticus 26:14-15 But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you will not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant . . .
Leviticus 26:33 I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste.
So here is a warning that, should Israel not keep His commandment, He would scatter them. Now, are we to assume that because we are under the New Covenant that these do not apply to us, even though we are the ones that He has made His New Covenant with? You see, these principles do apply. You can see that they are at work from the events that have occurred. You know what I am telling you is true from actual experience.
Turn with me now II Chronicles 7. The context here is the building of the Temple under Solomon.
II Chronicles 7:12 Then the LORD appeared to Solomon by night, and said to him: "I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself for a house of sacrifice.
That is very significant; because we are talking about the Temple here. The Temple is the church in the New Testament. You are the temple of God; and you are a temple of sacrifice. We are living sacrifices. We are wholly set apart to God—our entire life. Our life, and all of our wealth—all of our being—belongs to God, because He bought us at a price. We are to be a house of sacrifice, and we sacrifice ourselvesin obedience to Him. Notice, we do not sacrifice something we have. We are the sacrifice! We are to give ourselves willingly (like Amaziah did, there at the beginning of the Feast).
II Chronicles 7:13-14 "When I shut up heaven and there is no rain [if I bring a famine], or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name [Is this the church of God?] will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
II Chronicles 7:19-21 "But if you turn away and forsake My statutes [like tithing, like the holy days] and My commandments [like the Sabbath] which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods, and worship them [like intellectualism], then will I uproot them from My land which I have given them; and this house which I have sanctified for My name I will cast out of My sight [He will scatter it.], and will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And as for this house, which is exalted, everyone who passes by it will be astonished and say, 'Why has the LORD done thus to this land and this house?'
Have you heard those words? You surely have heard them. You may have even said them to somebody else. You surely thought them. "Why is this happening? What's going on?" There is the answer. We were turning our back on God.
II Chronicles 7:22 "Then they will answer, 'Because they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, who brought them out of the land of Egypt [the spiritual ‘land of Egypt'], and embraced other gods, and worshiped them and served them, therefore has He brought all this calamity upon them.' "
Has God suddenly changed just because it is the church? It tells me, in Malachi 3:6, "I am God. I change not; therefore you sons of Jacob [Israel] are not consumed."
It is a good thing He does not change. Jesus Christ the same, yesterday, today, and forever. God will work to secure our salvation—and He is able to do it—but there are things that we have to do. One of those things that we have to do when we see something like this occurring, is that we have to humble ourselves and repent individually. Quit pointing the finger at Joseph Tkach, and quit pointing the finger at Joseph, Jr., and quit pointing the finger at Michael Feazell, and anybody else (our local minister or whatever), and realize that purification begins with me. The body cannot be pure until I am pure.
And so, the turn-around, if there is going to be one, begins in our bedroom, on our knees (or wherever it is that you choose to pray). But I think that it should be done with as much of a background and with as much of an understanding and with as much knowledge and insight as possible. That is why I am giving this series of sermons. As I mentioned in the other sermon, I do not like to do things like this, but we have to know. These things have hit me like a ton of bricks too.
Please turn to Revelation the 2nd chapter. I was asking the question, "Has God changed His will?"Has God changed His mind simply because it is the church? In verse 4 He says to Ephesus:
Revelation 2:4-5 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you are fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come unto you quickly and remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.
That is pretty straightforward. I see the same God writing that as I see tossing those warnings out against Israel in the Old Testament. As I said to you the other day, there are no hollow threats with God. He is just as faithful in carrying out curses as He is in giving the blessings. Now, He might be slower in carrying out the curses, and He will warn before He does it. But His warnings are faithful, and they will happen—unless we repent. Five of the seven churches are warned to repent. And that is very strong. It is not just "repent" but also "orelse I will take your candlestick out." That means that they would be headed toward the Lake of Fire.
Each one of those messages ends with the same admonishment. "Hear to what the spirit says to the churches" (plural). What applies to Ephesus, applies to Philadelphia. What applies to Philadelphia, applies to Ephesus. God only recorded the characteristics that were intrinsic (I guess you might say) within that particular congregation, but it applies to all seven. Each individual message applies to all seven, even though there are some specific things applied to each one of them. So the lesson from this is very simple—if the shoe fits, wear it.
Now, I want to just quickly review (give an overview) of what has happened in approximately the last twenty-five years, considering that Mr. Armstrong said that he first saw Laodiceanism in the church as early as 1969. Beginning in the early ‘70s were the sexual scandals of GTA, followed by a defection of 35 full-time ministers and about 3500 people in 1974. Then shortly after that, 1976 began the influence of the S.T.P. Program. In 1977 was Mr. Armstrong's heart failure. In 1978 the disfellowshipping of GTA. In 1979 the lawsuit of the State of California—which was generated from within the WCG, and was surely an attempt to take over the church's operations, or its treasury, or both—an insurrection, in other words, a revolution from within.
Then came the campaign to "put the church back on the track." If you have ever stopped to think of it, that was an open admission that it was "off the track." It was ‘off the track'! Brethren, if it was off the track doctrinally, it was off the track in terms of working faith as well. And so, what was gradually eroding and being destroyed, through the doctrinal shift, plus the witness of the events that were occurring? It was faith. The faith of the people was being undermined—incrementally, step by step—until finally, we started scattering in every direction.
Despite the fact that it was getting back on the track doctrinally because he turned things around, as best he could, Mr. Armstrong knew that the church was still deteriorating in its faith. Now, how do I have proof that he knew? Because of what he published there on June 24, 1984—The Recent History of the Philadelphia Era of the Worldwide Church of God, which was a warning to your and me—"Lest this happen again."
Now I have even more proof that he feared that when he died the church was going to fall apart. What was Mr. Armstrong's commission to Mr. Tkach? He made it very plain. Do we believe this? Do we believe that he was God's apostle that God raised up to establish His end-time church? I believe it. I know that he was a man just like you and me. He had the kind of passions that we have, and he had his share of sins, just like you and me. But God never said that any of His servants were perfect like Jesus Christ. Each one of us has to deal with the flesh, with the world, and with the Devil.
Mr. Armstrong publicly said that "The preaching of the gospel is done." Now what did he mean? Did Mr. Armstrong suddenly have a vacant mind so that he forgot all about the Two Witnesses? Did he slip a cog somewhere and think that the commission to preach the gospel to the world suddenly was erased out of the Bible? Well, not at all! What he meant was that the preaching of the gospel to the world is done for those people that were raised up under his ministry.
I did not give you the whole commission that Mr. Armstrong gave to Mr. Tkach. The commission was "The preaching of the gospel is done. Get the church ready for the return of Christ." That was an open admission that the church was not ready. He knew it. He knew its faith was slipping. And because its faith was slipping, its love was waning. He knew (because the love was waning) that we were not keeping the commandments. We were drifting, maybe ‘running away' from the covenant that we had made with God.
The campaign to get the church back on track, though a success in terms of actually straightening out what the doctrines of the church were to be, it had not straightened out the people. The people were infected with a worldliness that was too great and was overcoming them from the top to the bottom. And when Mr. Tkach came into his office, what we got was what we deserved. He was a reflection of us. But he was in a position to do something about it, where we are not.
I also want to give all of us a little bit of breathing room. Understand, and I think that you know this, that not everybody was in exactly the same spiritual condition. There were some who were still on the stick, as we say. They had not gone down the tubes anywhere near as much as others. And they were doing all they could to protect their relationship with God. You also have to understand that it is extremely difficult to remain in that kind of a spiritual environment and retain what you formerly had. (It is awfully hard to climb Mount Everest.) This is why Mr. Armstrong said the whole church is asleep, and why he said, "Wake up! Wake up!"