Wednesday, September 26, 2012

“Keeping the Church Faithful”

Third Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
Keeping the Church Faithful
For the week of Sept. 29, 2012
Keeping the Church Faithful
“Here is the patience of the saints: here [are] they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” Rev 14:12.
Faithfulness in the members of the church starts with the Author and Finisher of faith (Heb. 12:2).
God has exercised faith toward humanity in having Jesus die for all men (2 Thess 2:13; Jn 3:16). From the SS teacher’s edition:
“Our salvation resides in the fact that God took the initiative to save the human race. And that means that God is not going to let anyone be lost easily. A person will be lost only because he or she deliberately and persistently refuses to respond to God’s grace.... God is determined to save us as long as we are willing to let Him.”
It is this faithfulness of God that gives us hope, comfort, consolation, and the ability to stand fast in the “good traditions” of the gospel - in word and deed (2 Thess 2:15-17). We should be speaking of the faith of Jesus as we share the gospel. And we should be demonstrating the faith of Jesus in all our relationships.
This is what Paul was doing for the Thessalonians - “We have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you.” 2 Thess 3:4 (cf Phil 2:13).
Tradition is mentioned in both 2 Thessalonians 3:6 and Colossians 2:8, but there is a clear distinction between traditions based on the teaching of scripture and those of the world. In modern medicine there is a great push to use “evidence-based” treatment for disease. We could say the same for tradition - we want evidence-based traditions of faith, not doubt. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  “But without faith [it is] impossible to please [him]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and [that] he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Heb 11:1,6.
As Paul’s fellow apostle James indicated, faith is active. Even our modern beggars tacitly recognize this principle. You have seen the signs - Will Work for Food - or something of the sort, though not all appear really willing to work. But a willingness to diligently seek, to exercise faith, is integral to the belief that help is on the way.
For Paul, following Matthew 18 should demonstrate faith in action, a willingness to hold people accountable (even to the point of avoiding their company) without attacking them as enemies. How often do we think it an exercise in faith to warn and exhort as brothers and sisters those who are going astray? Do we express words of confidence that they can and will do better? This is the faith of Jesus applied: “Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more.”
From A.T. Jones:
"THE just shall live by faith." 
Who are the just?—They are only those who are of faith; because men are justified only by faith. For though we all "have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," yet we are "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."
For "to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Those who are of faith, and those alone, are the just in the earth.

Now faith is entire dependence on the word of God, that that word shall accomplish what that word says. "It shall accomplish that which I please." Isa. 55:11.

To be justified by faith, then, is to be justified by entire dependence upon the word of God. The just are those who are of the word of God. This is how men become just.

Men must not only become just by faith,—by dependence upon the word of God,—but being just, we must live by faith. The just man lives in precisely the same way, and by precisely the same thing, that he becomes just.

We become just by faith; faith is entire dependence on the word of God. We, being just, must live by precisely the same thing by which we become just; that is, by entire dependence upon the word of God.

And this is exactly what Jesus said: Man shall live "by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." When Jesus said that, it is perfectly plain that he simply said, in other words, Man shall live by faith.

There is no other way truly to live than by faith, which is simply living by the word of God. Without faith, without the word of God, men only die.

Indeed, without the word of God everything only dies; for in the beginning everything came by the word of God. The word of God is the origin and life of everything; for, "He spake, and it was."

All things animate and inanimate,—sun, moon, and stars, animals and men,—all are entirely dependent upon the word of God for existence. Only in the case of men, God has bestowed upon them the wondrous gift of choice as to whether they will do so or not. This gift opens the door of faith. And when a man does choose to live by the word of God, which is the only means of life, faith—entire dependence upon the word of God—is the means by which he lays hold on the means of life.

Thus "the just shall live by faith," and thus "whatsoever is not of faith is sin;" which is simply to say, The just must live by the word of God; and whatsoever is not of the word of God is sin.

"We can not have a healthy Christian experience, we can not obey the gospel unto salvation, until the science of faith is better understood; and until more faith is exercised."

"Hast thou faith?" Have the faith of God. Here are they that keep "the faith of Jesus." 
(March 7, 1899 ATJ, ARSH 152)

"Such is living faith"
...the faith that comes from the living God; the faith of which Christ is the Author; the faith which comes by the word of God; the faith which brings life and power from God to men, and which works the works of God in him who exercises it; the faith which receives the Holy Spirit that brings the living presence of Jesus Christ to dwell in the heart and manifest Himself still in mortal flesh. This and this alone is living faith. By this Christians live. This is life itself. This is everything. Without this, everything is simply nothing or worse; for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

With such faith as this, that is, with true faith, there never can arise any question as to works; for this faith itself works, and he who has it, necessarily works. It is impossible to have this faith and not have works. "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love." Gal. 5:6. This faith being a living thing, cannot exist without working. And coming from God, the only works that it can possibly work are the works of God.

Therefore anything that professes to be faith which of itself does not work the salvation of the individual having it, and which then does not work the works of God in him who professes it, is not faith at all, but is a fraud that that individual is passing off upon himself, which brings no grace to the heart, and no power to the life. It is dead, and he is still dead in trespasses and sins, and all his service is only a form without power, and therefore is only a dead formalism.

But on the other hand, the faith which is of God, which comes by the word of God and brings Christ, the living word, to dwell in the heart and shine in the life—this is true faith which through Jesus Christ only lives and works in him who exercises it.

Christ Himself living in us; Christ in you the hope of glory; God with us; God manifest in the flesh now, to-day in our flesh, by the faith of Jesus Christ—this and this only is living faith. For "every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God; and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world." 1 John 4:2-4. Therefore, "Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves." Jesus said unto them and to us all: "Have the faith of God." Mark 11:22, margin.
A. T. JONES. (January 14, 1895 ATJ, BEST 10)
-Todd Guthrie

Friday, September 21, 2012

“The Antichrist”

Third Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“The Antichrist”
For the week of Sept. 22, 2012
 “The Antichrist”  2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
      In 1378 there was a breakdown in relations between Pope Urban VI and the cardinals who elected him. They soon regretted their decision. What they next did gave rise to what is known as the “Great” or Western Schism (which lasted 92 years) in the Church of Rome. Even though Urban was still reigning, the same body of cardinals elected a rival pope who took the name Clement VII on September 20 of that same year. This started a line of popes who reigned in Avignon, France. This second election of a pope threw the Church into turmoil.
     There had been antipopes – rival claimants to the papacy – before, but most of them had been appointed by various rival factions. In this case, however, a single group of leaders of the Church created both the pope and the antipope with each pope calling the other “antichrist.” Needless to say, the simultaneous claims to the papal chair of two different men, in two different cities, damaged the reputation of the “infallible” papacy. The rank and file church members were faced with the comic-tragedy of one pope in Rome excommunicating another pope in Avignon. The spectacle of two rival popes excommunicating each other was a confirmation for all to see of the spiritual bankruptcy of the papacy and the need to put something else in its place.
     This idea to of the antichrist as a bishop is traced centuries earlier. Pope Gregory I (reigned from 590-604) wrote that whoever claims for himself the title of “universal priest” is a forerunner of antichrist. He made this statement in a letter in which he denounced the claims of the Patriarch ofConstantinople at the time, who said he was a universal bishop. Gregory held this title for himself alone! and wanted no competition. He wrote that the teaching coming from the spirit of Antichrist is as follows: “I confidently affirm that whosoever calls himself – sacerdos universalis – [universal priest or bishop], or desires to be so called by others is in his pride a forerunner of Antichrist”[1] (This argument, intended to defend Gregory’s papal office, was in itself its condemnation. And this same Pope also wrote that Sabbath preaching pastors were “preachers of Antichrist.”[2]).
    So, in 1378, when the two rival popes were charging each other as being the Antichrist, John Wycliffe in England agreed with both. Wycliffe, a Roman Catholic priest and a Reformer, upon learning that the two antipopes were contesting the right to be recognized as the only valid pope  declared, “The fiend no longer reigns in one, but in two priests that men may the more easily overcome them. Now is antichrist divided, and one part fights against the other.”[3] 
     In 1888 Ellen White wrote about that papal schism and quoted Wycliffe’s observation:
“The schism, with all the strife and corruption which it caused, prepared the way for the Reformation, by enabling the people to see what the papacy really was. In a tract which    he published, ‘On the Schism of the Popes,’ Wycliffe called upon the people to consider whether these two priests were not speaking the truth in condemning each other as the antichrist. ‘The fiend,’ said he, ‘no longer reigns in one but in two priests, that men may  the more easily, in Christ's name, overcome them both.’ ” [4]
     To further complicate the situation regarding the papacy, a church council was held at Pisa, Italy, in 1409 under the auspices of the cardinals who again tried solving the dispute between the two popes. But instead, they added to the problem by electing a third pope named Alexander V who reigned briefly from June 26, 1409, to his death in 1410, when he was succeeded by John XXIII.
     This third election threw the Church into more turmoil. There had been antipopes—rival claimants to the papacy – before, but most of them had been appointed by various rival factions; in this case, a single group of leaders of the Church had created both popes and antipopes. The conflict quickly escalated from a church problem to a diplomatic crisis that divided Europe. Secular leaders now had to choose which claimant they would recognize. The situation created by the cardinals and their antipopes helped prepare the way for the Reformation 100 years later.
     The teachings of Scripture that define Antichrist and his spirit are found in only four places:  three in the first epistle of John and one in his second (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:2-3; 2 John 1:7).
John indicates to us that the Antichrist possesses the following characteristics: 1) Antichrist is a liar, 2) denies that Jesus is the Christ, 3) denies both the Father and the Son, 4) denies that Christ has come in the flesh, and 5) is a deceiver. Obviously, the spirit of antichrist was present in the time of John and continues to our day. 
     Later, after John wrote about the antichrist, Tertullian (A. D. 155-222), two centuries prior to the fall of the Pagan Roman Empire spoke of the future antichrist who would come after Rome’s fall, and “whose separation into ten kingdoms will bring on Antichrist.”[5] This idea seems to have been generated from Daniel 7 and 8 and from Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica (in our lesson today on Thess 2:1-12). Many of the features in Paul’s description of the Antichrist are derived from the book of Daniel:
(1) “The man of lawlessness,” cf. Dan 7:25; 8:25.
(2) “the son of perdition,” cf. Dan 8:26.
(3) “the one who opposes,” cf. Dan 7:25
(4) “and exalts himself against everything (that is) called God or worshiped,” cf. Dan 7:8, 20, 25; 8:4, 10, 11.
(5) “so that he seats himself in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God,” cf. Dan 8:9–14.
     This is not surprising because “the little horn” of Daniel 7, the one which came up after the ten horns, is the Antichrist and “the little horn” of Daniel 8, the one which came out of the west, became the Roman papacy. With respect to the antichrist as pictured by Paul, the passage in 2 Thess 2:3b, 4 states the following: “the man of lawlessness.” This is a man or a system whose opposition to God’s law. The man of sin is the adversary of God’s law, of God’s people, of God Himself. This system is the very personification of rebellion against God. It is also called “the son of perdition” the final Judas (cf. John 17:12). The man of lawlessness is pictured here as utterly lost, designated unto perdition, the system of spiritual darkness. This is in contrast with the “sons of light” in I Thess 5:5. Children of the day are ones who receive Christ, the Light of the world. Christ is the “Sun of Righteousness.” Children of Light involves the message of grace.
    Paul wrote of the almost overwhelming delusion in the last days concerning Antichrist. “God will send them strong delusion” (2 Thess 2:10). The reason for the strong delusion is because people will refuse to “receive the love of the truth” but instead find their “pleasure in unrighteousness” (v 12). Pleasure takes place in the mind. The “pleasure of unrighteousness” takes the place of the pleasure of Christ and His righteousness.
     The term antichrist is made up of two words anti which means “in place of” or “against” and Christ. The end-time “Antichrist” is against Christ and His righteousness. He does this by presenting himself as Christ and the only means of salvation. Historically, the Papacy’s teaching was essentially that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Pope Gregory I (cited above) wrote, “The holy universal Church … asserts that all who are outside of her will not be saved.”[6] Given the fact that only 17.2% of the world population is Roman Catholic, this position seems to say about 83% of the world is condemned.
     The gospel of salvation by grace is at stake here. God’s word says that those who do “not receive the love of the truth” will not be saved. While it is true that Christ is “the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14; John 4:42; 1 Tim 4:10), those who refuse the love of this truth “as it is in Jesus,” as the only Savior of the world, reject this gift of salvation in Him. The delusion is that those who believe the lie about salvation choose Antichrist and his spirit of unrighteousness. Those who receive “the love of the truth, that they might be saved” will not be deceived. Have you received the “love” of the truth, the truth as it is in Jesus? To receive this is to be protected from the strong delusion that will overwhelm every person in the world who refuses the love of truth.
     The “Pleasure in unrighteousness” can be likened to a psychotropic drug such as alcohol that acts on the mind by giving an illusion of pleasure. Some people like the false feeling alcohol gives them. Habitual use of alcohol leads to stronger desire, even compulsion, to use it along with other drugs. Criminal activity can result because persons under the control of the power of alcohol can produce unpleasant or even dangerous behavior.
     There is a spiritual drink called the “wine of Babylon,” of which the book of Revelation warns. This metaphor represents the false teachings of Antichrist. Those who partake of these mind altering doctrines enjoy false feelings of “peace and safety.” They become drunk, dangerous, devilish. The “Loud Cry” message as recorded in Rev 18:1-4 declares the fall of Antichrist. Rev 17:2 specifies leaders of nations along with “the inhabitants of the earth (who) were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” The whole world becomes drunk by imbibing this wine. “All the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”
     And Rev 18:23 says that “all the nations” are deceived by her “sorcery.” In the original language the word “sorcery” is pharmakia from which comes the term pharmacy. Remember, Antichrist is a drug pushing dealer of illicit pharmaceuticals – the mind blowing doctrines of spiritually fallen and occult infested Babylon.
     But Before its destruction (2 Thess 2:8), God’s people will be called to separate from this Antichrist system by the true Christ through His message of grace and righteousness (Rev 18:4).
-Jerry Finneman

[1] Cited by Robert Godfrey in the “What Still Divides Us?” debate and in his chapter in the book Sola Scriptura:     The Protestant Position on the Bible edited by Don Kistler (Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995), p. 14.
[2] Gregory I. Registrum Epistolarum, Book XIII, Letter 1. The Catholic Encyclopedia.
[3] Emma H. Adams, John Wycliffe, Pacific Press Publishing Association, Oakland, 1890.
[4] The Great Controversy, 1888 edition, p. 86.
[5] (Samuel J. Cassels, Christ and Antichrist, p. 12, Presbyterian Board of Publication, Philadelphia, 1846; extracted from De Resurrectione Carnis, ch. 24).
[6] Gregory the Great, quoted in Summo Iugiter Studio; The Papal Encyclicals, Vol. 1 (1740-1878), p. 230.

Friday, September 07, 2012

“Church Life”

Insights #10 Sept. 8, 2012

Third Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
Church Life
For the week of Sept. 8, 2012
Church Life  (1 Thess. 5:12-28)    
The 1888 Message of the “Matchless Charms of Jesus Christ”, and the power of the Gospel to forgive and cleanse from sin has tremendous ramifications for our participation in and attitude towards the church, fellow church members, and the work of the Gospel. 

Our attitude towards our leaders, as well as towards all, is based on the truth that Jesus Christ died for all, and desires all to repent, to experience an abundant life, and unity in the body of Christ.  While we hold leaders accountable, we ought more to intercede in prayer for them, to assist them in their important work, to blend our spiritual gifts with theirs, and to learn the important lesson of learning to live under authority, as we are obviously all under the authority of God.

Leaders are to truly lead, to admonish, exhort, to discipline, to make spiritual decisions, to listen carefully to God, and to maintain the standards and integrity, as well as bear witness of the Christian Church. 

Leaders are to work carefully with people, to study them, to find effective methods, to “bathe” all that they do in the Gospel and the character of God’s “agape” love.  Leaders are to understand that their work is largely a personal work.  Leaders are to examine themselves, and to keep the goal before them of disciplining people into the fullness of the Christian experience. 

Leaders are to provide ministry to all types of people, because the Gospel is applicable to all kinds of people.  Discouraged people need mild treatment; the weak and defenseless need support and encouragement.  Leaders need to handle disagreement and criticism in such a way that it reflects that they were rightly motivated by unselfish love and a deep concern for others.

The Church should be marked by mentoring and building people up into the Body of Christ, into the fullness of character and faith that God envisions.  The Church is more than encouraging, it is developing, strengthening, equipping, and focused in a holistic way towards the development of everyone’s physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, evangelistic, social, and psychological health.

Members need to be accountable and to hold each other accountable.  We need to accept the conviction of the Holy Spirit and to be willing to invest in and become involved in the lives of others.  This is all to be done in the spirit of rejoicing, as we are called often to rejoice in the Lord always.  We thus rejoice in tribulation and discipline as well as blessings.  They are all founded in and stem from God’s love. 

We need to benefit from the prophetic gift, and from the proclamation of God’s Word.  We are to test all things to ensure they are truly accurate and Biblical.  We are obviously to obey the revelations of God through His Spirit, and to incorporate those truths into our lives, assuming of course that they are Biblical. 

Paul shares his theology of sanctification, and desires that through the indwelling of Christ, we become fully sanctified in every respect, believing most of all that Christ can do as He has promised. Paul exhorts us to prepare for the Coming of Christ and the destruction of this present world.  He reminds us that believers have not been appointed unto wrath, but unto being reunited with Christ.  The Gospel is the basis of all our experience, promises, and ultimate fulfillment. 

Paul longs for the church to have the total experience God promises, including full surrender to His love and character of mercy.  He wants our experience to flow naturally outward in love and service to others.
-Tom Cusack