Be Strong and of Good Courage
Edwin Pope will give the sermon this Sabbath, August 2, 2003. The title of the sermon is, “Be Strong and of Good Courage!”
The services can be heard at www.cognetservices.org at the appropriate time, just click on “Connect to Live Stream.”
by Dave Harris
In the latter times–spoken of as the end of this age–it is prophesied that people will give themselves over “to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). Paul further warns in verse 2 that the consequences of this way of thinking would lead many to “having their own conscience seared with a hot iron.”
For those who are being called into the true pattern of living which is based on God’s laws, Paul taught the following: “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Ephesians 4:17-19).
In the very next verses we find this powerful reminder for all Christians in all generations: “But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:20-21).
Is our conscience “seared,” and are we “past feeling”?
If we are not ever-mindful and if we don’t stay close to God, it is far easier to fall into step with this world. However, Christians are to be different. Our difference is summed up in the example left for us by Jesus. Philippians 2:5 states: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
Even though He faced rejection and violent hatred, Jesus was filled with compassion for the multitudes (compare Mark 8:2). His reaction to His enemies who were in the act of putting Him to death is recorded in Luke 23:34: “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’ “
David speaks of God in this way: “But You, O LORD, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth” (Psalm 86:15). James tells us, “[T]he Lord is compassionate and merciful” (English Standard Version, 2002).
So, those of us who either are already begotten children of God, or whom God has called to become His begotten children, should be tender hearted, filled with compassion, forgiveness and eager to let the light of godly love emanate from us! Let each of us who understand these things go beyond just knowing what is true, and let us be moved to actually live in this way.
Let us remember the inspiring words of Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
It may be good advice to really concentrate on handling everything with compassion and in a tender hearted way. All of us need to think about what we do before we do it, and then do it in a way that is pleasing to God.
This Week in the News
HOMOSEXUALITY AND THE BIBLE
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a Texas ban on consensual gay sex, and Canada’s highest court ruled Ontario could allow same-sex marriages (USA Today, 7/31/03). Vermont and some European nations — including Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands and Belgium — have “civil union” laws giving same-sex couples rights and responsibilities comparable to the laws of marriage (USA Today, 7/31/03; Der Spiegel Online, 7/31/03).
On 7/31/03, the Vatican began to launch a global campaign against gay marriages. The “Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith,” which is led by German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, issued a 12-page set of guidelines with the approval of Pope John Paul II, strongly opposing same-sex marriages. The document states, amongst other things, the following, showing an interesting mixture of truth and error:
“Marriage is not just any relationship between human beings. It was established by the Creator with its own nature, essential properties and purpose. No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman, who by mutual personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves, tend toward the communion of their persons… In the first place, man, the image of God, was created ‘male and female’ (Gen. 1:27). Men and women are equal as persons and complementary as male and female… There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law… Under no circumstances can they be approved. Sacred Scripture condemns homosexual acts ‘as a serious depravity’… (cf. Rom. 1:24-27; 1 Cor. 6:10; 1 Tim. 1:10). This judgment of Scripture does not of course permit us to conclude that all those who suffer from this anomaly are personally responsible for it, but it does attest to the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered… Nonetheless, according to the teaching of the Church, men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. They are called, like other Christians, to live the virtue of chastity. The homosexual inclination is however objectively disordered and homosexual practices are sins gravely contrary to chastity.”
The reaction to the Vatican’s document was swift and divided. According to USA Today of 7/31/03, President Bush said that marriage “should be between a man and a woman, and the White House lawyers were looking at legislation that in effect would deny gays and lesbians the right to marry. But Bush also called on Americans to be tolerant of gays and lesbians. ‘I think it is very important for our society to respect each individual, to welcome those with good hearts, to be a welcoming country.’… Bush was also asked about his view toward gays. ‘I am mindful that we’re all sinners, and I caution those who may try to take the speck out of the neighbor’s eye when they’ve got a log in their own,’ Bush replied, paraphrasing from the Bible.”
USA Today continued, “Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., sent a letter to the president complaining that he ‘seemed to equate homosexuality with sin. While you may not approve of homosexuality, as the leader of all Americans, you have no right to make such judgments.'”
As Der Spiegel Online reported, Guido Westerwelle, leader of Germany’s Free Democrat Party, said that the declaration of the Vatican exemplified “a totally obsolete understanding of society.” He continued, “If the Catholic Church were to listen to their own believers, it would be doing much better.”
Volker Beck, a lawmaker from Germany’s Green party (Green party member Joschka Fischer is Germany’s foreign minister), described the Vatican guidelines as “a document of narrow-minded fanaticism.” He stated, “Cardinal Ratzinger’s application of his understanding of sin, stemming from the Middle Ages, is deeply undemocratic.” (USA Today, Der Spiegel Online).
Other opposition to the Vatican’s document came from the Green Party in predominantly Catholic Austria. As USA Today reported, “Ulrike Lunacek, a party spokeswoman, said Catholic politicians should follow human rights conventions, ‘not the old-fashioned views of the Vatican.’ ‘This hierarchy, which also rules on other issues like forbidding the use of condoms to avoid AIDS, is far from reality,’ she said in a statement.”
That the Old and the New Testaments strongly condemn homosexual conduct as sinful cannot be denied. Leviticus 18:22 tells us, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” Homosexuality must be overcome. The good news is that with God’s help, it CAN be overcome — as can be ANY sin. Notice Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators (those who engage in pre-marital sex), nor idolaters, nor adulterers (those who engage in extra-marital sex), nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such WERE SOME OF YOU. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS AND BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD.”
We are told that if we don’t repent and give up wrong habits, replacing them with God’s righteousness, we will not enter the kingdom of God. Homosexuality is most certainly a SIN that must be overcome — but it is NOT the ONLY sin that must be overcome. Notice Revelation 21:7-8:
“He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be my son. But the cowardly [those who know better, but are afraid to change and stand up for what is right], unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and ALL LIARS shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Those who know better, but WILLFULLY and with HATE AND ANGER permanently and irrevocably REFUSE to repent of their evil conduct will end up in the lake of fire. They will NOT enter the New Jerusalem. Revelation 22:14-15 states:
“Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs [compare Phil. 3:2] and sorcerers and sexually immoral [including homosexuals, AS WELL AS those who engage in other sinful sexual conduct, such as fornication and adultery] and murderers and idolaters, and WHOEVER LOVES AND PRACTICES A LIE.”
For some, it is easy to see that homosexuality is sinful. At the same time, it is very difficult for them to see that lying or killing (even in war) is sinful and must be repented of as well. God calls homosexuality an “abomination.” Note, however, what else is an “abomination” in God’s eyes:
“These six things the LORD hates, Yes, seven are an ABOMINATION to Him: A proud look, A LYING tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A FALSE witness who speaks LIES, And one who sows discord among brethren”(Proverbs 6:16-19).
The Biblical teaching is clear and consistent: EVERY SIN that we REFUSE to repent of will keep us out of the kingdom of God.
A WALL IN THE WEST BANK?
As USA Today reported on July 29, “Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rebuffed a request from President Bush on Tuesday that he consider abandoning the construction of a fence separating Israeli and Palestinian territory on the West Bank… Bush called the fence ‘a sensitive issue.’… Palestinians fear the fence will cut deep into West Bank territory and set borders for a future Palestinian state. The peace plan is intended to establish an independent state by 2005.” Zenit reported on July 30, that “Israel continues to deny visas to religious [people] wishing to enter the Holy Land,” according to Catholic priest Giovanni Battistelli. “Commenting on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Tuesday visit with George W. Bush, the Franciscan… expressed his opposition to the construction of a wall in the West Bank that would separate the Palestinian territories. ‘It would distance these two peoples even more and would cut the center of Bethany, where many Christians live…,’ he said.”
RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION IN EUROPE
On July 26, 2003, Zenit published a synthesis of a 2003 Report, stating that there is still religious persecution in some European countries. According to the report, most prominent violators are Turkey and Russia.
Regarding Turkey, Zenit points out: “In spite of the reforms approved by the government, in view of joining the European Union, there are no signs of liberalization for religious freedom. The state persists in invoking the 1936 legislation to confiscate ecclesiastical property. Although the Turkish Constitution admits freedom of worship, religious services are only permitted in ‘buildings created for this purpose.'”
Regarding Russia, the article states:
“The U.S. State Department said 2,095 religious organizations risk being disbanded in Russia; many others have already de facto been forbidden. Yet, there have been legal successes for religious movements, such as the Constitutional Court’s verdict overturning the Russian authorities’ decision to disband the Moscow Salvation Army group.”
Zenit also reported that the “Russian President [Vladimir Putin] is scheduled to make a State visit to Rome on November 5-6, following a European Union-Russia summit.” The article indicated that it is hoped that Mr. Putin’s visit will improve the rights of the Catholic Church in Russia. It pointed out that “following the creation in February of 2002 of four Catholic dioceses in Russia, a Catholic bishop and several priests were expelled by the country’s authorities without giving any reasons.”
NEW TERROR ATTACKS IN SIGHT?
USA Today reported on July 29, that the U.S. “federal government is warning of a potential terrorist plot similar to the attacks of Sept. 11… [T]he Department of Homeland Security outlined a possible al-Qaeda plan to use suicide hijackers who would seize control of airplanes and crash them into government, military or economic targets. The warning… said the attack could come by SUMMER’S END… Attacks could come in the UNITED KINGDOM, AUSTRALIA OR ITALY, or on the EAST COAST OF THE USA.” Bild Online commented that these hijackings and attacks are expected to occur SIMULTANEOUSLY in different parts of the world, including on the East Coast of the USA, in Australia or somewhere in Europe
Q: Would the ministry of the Church of the Eternal God and of its affiliates in Canada and Great Britain perform a marriage between a "believer" and an "unbeliever"? Would they officiate over a marriage between two "unbelievers"? What are the Biblical principles that would apply in these cases?
A: In order to properly answer this question, we need to go back and review the biblical basis for a decision that the Worldwide Church of God made under Mr. Herbert Armstrong in 1974, involving divorce and remarriage. Prior to 1974, it had been the understanding of the Church that every marriage was bound in God’s eyes. This included civil marriages, whether or not the married couple “invited God into their lives,” and — arguably, it included even marriages of persons who didn’t even claim to believe in the God of the Bible. Mr. Armstrong explained our growth in Biblical knowledge regarding this point in a member letter, dated May 14, 1974:
“God has revealed HIS LAW OF MARRIAGE — His TRUTH about marriage — God’s PURPOSE in marriage, its sanctity, its PERMANENCY — to His Church. And we applied that truth to ALL marriages, ASSUMING that God entered into every marriage, EVEN THOUGH GOD HAD NOT ENTERED INTO THE LIVES OF THOSE we SUPPOSED He had bound… Unconverted people have never let GOD enter their lives. They live APART from God — CUT OFF from God — because sin cuts one off from contact with God (see Isa. 59:2). When they have never let God come into their lives — have been CUT OFF from contact with Him — could He enter into their MARRIAGE and BIND them?… The unconverted are BOUND by the state, but NOT DIRECTLY BY GOD! Their marriages are LEGAL. Their children are LEGITIMATE — in no sense bastards — but the children of the unconverted are not HOLY.”
Mr. Armstrong reiterated this understanding in the Pastor General’s Report, dated August 21, 1979: “Jesus gave fornication (prior to marriage) as the grounds for nullifying a marriage. This clearly was a form of fraud. When discovered (in nearly all cases) immediately after the marriage, it simply meant God, knowing of this ‘fraud,’ had actually not bound the marriage — and what followed therefore was actually an annulment, not a divorce. However this did not apply in cases of marriage by unconverted people. God never bound them anyway — they were bound by man’s law, and any divorce and/or remarriage would be according to man’s civil law. But the church would not apply this annulment if the couple had continued living together for a period of time. There could be other types of fraud — such as a marriage enforced at the point of a gun.”
The Church of the Eternal God, and its corporate affiliates, concur with and apply the Worldwide Church of God’s teaching, as set forth above. God created marriage. He married Adam and Eve. Christ later said, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what GOD HAS JOINED TOGETHER, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6). A marriage BOUND by God is for life (notice Romans 7:1-3; 1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
When Adam and Eve sinned, God drove them out of the garden of Eden, and prevented their return whereby they could not eat from the tree of life and live forever (Genesis 3:22-24). Man was from that time forward CUT OFF from God. Man is, in general, still CUT OFF from God. Only those whom God specifically and individually calls out of this world find themselves in a different category. They respond to God’s call, and God DOES become a part of their lives. When THEY marry, they are making a covenant between themselves, AND with God, asking God to BIND their marriage. They WANT God to be a part of their lives, and they understand that their covenant is WITH God. If they divorce, they break their word and promise towards each other, AS WELL AS with God. (You may want to review our Q&A in Update #61, dated October 4, 2002, addressing the meaning of 1 Corinthians 7:14.)
A minister of Christ will be happy to perform and officiate over a marriage of those who UNDERSTAND God’s Way of Life, and who want to obey God. Both marriage partners should already have been baptized. It would not be appropriate for a minister of Christ to perform a marriage of a “believer” and an “unbeliever.” The Bible CLEARLY states in 1 Corinthians 7:39: “A wife is BOUND by law [Paul is talking here about God’s law, and he is addressing a marriage that had been bound by God] as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, ONLY IN THE LORD.”
Most everyone agrees that Paul’s statement refers to a marriage between two Christians. Paul is CLEARLY stating here that a Christian is to marry only another Christian. The Ryrie Study Bible comments, “… only in the Lord, i.e., only to another Christian.” The Living Bible interprets the passage in this way, “The wife is part of her husband as long as he lives; if her husband dies, then she may marry again, but only if she marries a Christian.” Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, state: “… only in the Lord — Let her marry only a Christian (II Cor. 6:14).” The “New Bible Commentary: Revised,” points out, on p. 1062, “But only in the Lord, i.e., to another Christian; for she is a member of Christ’s body (cf. 6:15).”
Although it is generally understood that Paul requires of a Christian to marry only another Christian, some argue that Paul is just explaining a principle, or that it is just Paul’s opinion, which is not a binding commandment. They may say that marrying outside the Church may be ill-advised, but they claim there is no Scriptural basis to refuse to perform the marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. Those who say this violate the clear Biblical COMMAND, as set forth in 1 Corinthians 7:39. To argue that Paul is just setting forth a principle is ludicrous. Paul says in verse 39, “She is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, ONLY IN THE LORD.” This is not just a principle that can be disregarded or neglected by the Church at whim — this is a clear and unequivocal COMMAND. To say that Paul was just uttering his personal opinion which can be disregarded or neglected by the Church at whim is equally ludicrous. With that rationale, we might as well tear out of the Bible whole pages of commandments set forth in Scripture, as they were communicated to us by God’s apostles, rather than by Jesus Christ directly. If we believe that Christ inspired the authors of the Bible to write down HIS WORD, then any argument that those words contain just personal opinions by those men is blatantly unbiblical.
Given the clear Biblical command only to marry “in the Lord,” the ministry of the Church of the Eternal God and its corporate affiliates will not conduct or perform a marriage between a “believer” and an “unbeliever.”
In addition, given the clear Biblical teaching that God does not bind a marriage between two unbelievers, the ministry of the Church of the Eternal God and its corporate affiliates will not conduct or perform a marriage between two unbelievers. You might want to read Judges 17:13, setting forth the example of Micah. Note the attitude Micah had in the midst of his idolatry, when he asked a Levite, perhaps a relative of Moses, to stay with him and to function as his priest: “Then Micah said, ‘Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, seeing I have a Levite as priest.'” We need to ask those who might want a minister of the Church of the Eternal God or of its corporate affiliates to perform their marriage, why they want them to do so. Is it because they want to live from now on lives which are pleasing to God, including the observance of all of God’s laws and statutes? If not, why do they want a minister of Christ to perform their marriage? If it is because of family approval or to just have a “nice wedding” with a “religious touch” to it, then this would not be sufficient reasons for a minister of Christ to perform such a marriage.
Worldly marriages are bound by the laws of the land. God’s ministry is not to wear the mantle of the justice of the peace. Jesus attended a wedding, but He did not officiate. Christ wants His ministry to administer matters within the Church — relating to those whom Christ calls out of this world. When the ministry of CEG and its affiliates perform a marriage, the following is stated during the ceremony: “Since marriage is a divine institution, and since we are asking God now to join you as husband and wife, it is fitting and right that each of you should faithfully promise before God to enter into the sacred marriage covenant according to the divinely-ordained conditions and laws enacted by God Almighty.” Later in the ceremony, the minister states, “Please now join your right hands and with the laying on of my hands, I will ask the Eternal God in prayer to unite you as husband and wife.”
As can be seen from the foregoing, it does not appear to be appropriate for a minister of Christ to say those words, and to ask God in prayer to “unite” an “unbelieving” couple as husband and wife, when we know that God does not bind such a marriage
Preaching the Gospel and Feeding the Flock
We have placed another Standing Watch program on our Webpage, titled, “Babylon the Great” Another program will be recorded on Friday and placed on our Web.
We have started a new French Webpage with several French articles. We have also placed several new German articles on our German Webpage.
The final text of our new booklet on baptism was sent this week to our graphics designer, Shelly Bruno.
How This Work is Financed
This Update is an official publication by the ministry of the Church of the Eternal God in the United States of America; the Church of God, a Christian Fellowship in Canada; and the Global Church of God in the United Kingdom.
Editorial Team: Norbert Link, Dave Harris, Rene Messier, Brian Gale, Margaret Adair, Johanna Link, Eric Rank, Michael Link, Anna Link, Kalon Mitchell, Manuela Mitchell, Dawn Thompson
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