Sunday, March 16, 2014

Brian Orchard's Bible Study on Repentance

Last Friday night, Mr. Brian Orchard gave a good Bible study on the subject of repentance.  This subject is appropriate as we near Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread.  I do not disagree with any major point he made in that Bible study, but I would like to add something to what he has said.  I encourage you to listen to his Bible study before reading the rest of this post.  Here is a link to the webpage that lists his Bible study - look for the recording titled "Repentance Part 2 by Brian Orchard", dated 3/14/2014 near the bottom of the "Bible Study" list:

It is not my intent to take away from the good points Mr. Orchard made, and the comments I will add here are not intended as a criticism of that message.  It may be that the point I will add is something Mr. Orchard plans in a follow-up message.  In fact, he may have made this point in his Bible study briefly, but I want to add emphasis to it.

Mr. Orchard pointed out that repentance involves two steps.  The first step is the acknowledgement that we have done wrong.  But the next step is to realize deeply that not only have we done wrong, but that we are wrong, that our very nature is wrong as human beings.  We have to reach the point that we abhor what we are.  Mr. Orchard brings this out with examples from Job and David's psalm of repentance.

But godly repentance, with faith, involves something else that is also important.  We need to acknowledge we have done wrong.  We need to acknowledge we ARE wrong.  But also, we need to acknowledge that God is right. 

This was part of Job's problem he had to repent of.  His problem was that he trusted in his own righteousness more than in God's righteousness.  But there are two sides to that equation (or more correctly, an inequality).  He had to repent of his confidence in his own righteousness.  But he also had to learn to believe in and trust God's righteousness.  Because, part of his problem was that he felt God had treated him unjustly.  He implied injustice on God's part.  His lack of trust and belief in God's righteousness was as much a part of his problem as his belief in his own righteousness, and maybe the greater part of his problem.  What Job had to learn was that his righteousness, though real (even God called him blameless and upright - Job 1:1, 8), was limited, while God's righteousness was perfect, complete, and infinite.  It is impossible for God to commit unrighteousness.  Job had to learn and accept that God's decision to allow Job to be afflicted in spite of Job's living righteously was a just decision on God's part.

You probably know the story of Job.  God asked Satan if he had considered Job, a man who was upright and blameless, and Satan accused Job of fearing God for selfish reasons, to obtain God's protection and blessings, so God allowed Satan to afflict Job.  Then Job's three friends came to comfort him (Job chapters 1 and 2).  Then began a dialogue between Job and his three friends in which Job complained about his affliction and his "friends" accused him of wrong doing, though they didn't know of anything specific that Job had done wrong, and this dialogue is described in chapters 3 through 31.

After Job's three friends stopped answering him, another man, Elihu, began to answer Job.  And unlike the things said by Job's three friends, God did not rebuke Elihu afterwards as He rebuked the other three men, which implies that Elihu spoke correctly (Job 42:7-8).  Elihu in a sense prepares the ground, softens Job up a bit, in preparation for God answering Job in a whirlwind.  Notice:

"So these three men ceased answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.  Then the wrath of Elihu, the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, was aroused against Job; his wrath was aroused because he justified himself rather than God.  Also against his three friends his wrath was aroused, because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job" (Job 32:1-3).

Notice that Job's problem, or part of it (or all of it), was that he justified himself rather than God.  This involved belief in his own righteousness, but also a lack of faith in God's righteousness.  Job had said, "As God lives, who has taken away my justice, and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter, as long as my breath is in me, and the breath of God in my nostrils, my lips will not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit.  Far be it from me that I should say you are right;  Till I die I will not put away my integrity from me.  My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go; My heart shall not reproach me as long as I live" (Job 27:2-6).  By accusing God of taking away Job's justice (verse 2), Job stated or implied that God was unjust and therefore not perfectly righteous.  And by saying that his heart would not reproach him as long as he lived (verse 6), he implied that his human righteousness was perfect, that he did not need to improve, that there was no hidden fault in him that he would have to repent of later.  Of course, his statement that his heart would never reproach him was proved false when he later came to a deeper repentance and said that he abhorred himself (Job 42:6).

Here are some things Elihu said to Job.

"Surely you have spoken in my hearing, and I have heard the sound of your words, saying, 'I am pure, without transgression; I am innocent, and there is no iniquity in me.  Yet He finds occasions against me, he counts me as His enemy; He puts my feet in the stocks, He watches all my paths.'  Look, in this you are not righteous.  I will answer you, for God is greater than man" (Job 33:8-12).

"For Job has said, 'I am righteous, but God has taken away my justice;  Should I lie concerning my right?  My wound is incurable, though I am without transgression'  What man is like Job, who drinks scorn like water, who goes in company with the workers of iniquity, and walks with wicked men?  For he has said, 'It profits a man nothing that he should delight in God.'  Therefore listen to me, you men of understanding:  Far be it from God to do wickedness, and from the Almighty to commit iniquity.  For He repays man according to his work, and makes man to find a reward according to his way.  Surely God will never do wickedly, nor will the Almighty pervert justice" (Job 34:7-12).

"Moreover Elihu answered and said: 'Do you think this is right?  Do you say, "My righteousness is more than God's?" ' " (Job 35:1-2).

"Elihu also proceeded and said: 'Bear with me a little, and I will show you that there are yet words to speak on God’s behalf.  I will fetch my knowledge from afar; I will ascribe righteousness to my Maker' " (Job 36:1-3).

Then God answered Job from the whirlwind, and in the end, Job experienced a deeper repentance (Job 42:1-6).  He not only learned that he was not as righteous as he thought, but he no doubt learned to believe in and trust God's perfect righteousness.  He learned the lesson God wanted him (and us today) to learn, and after Job learned the lesson, God blessed him again (Job 42:10-17).

Does the realization that we are wrong automatically mean that we acknowledge that God is right?  I don't think so.  Those are two different things, and that is why I am emphasizing this point. 

There are people in the world, even some religious people, people who are not called and do not understand or believe God's word, the Bible, that at some time in their lives acknowledge that they are wrong, deep down inside wrong.  Some people abhor themselves.  Some hate themselves.  Alcoholics and drug addicts sometimes "hit bottom" and feel a sense of personal worthlessness and powerlessness, and sometimes despair.  Some people commit suicide.

But what is absent in these people is a willingness to believe and trust what God says in the Bible.  Even if they are religious and say that they believe and trust God and believe 100% in His righteousness, they really don't, because they don't believe God means what He says.  They don't believe God - they don't believe what God says in the Bible.  They claim to believe Him, they may think they believe Him, but their lives and their doctrines prove that they do not believe Him, and if they do not believe what God says, how can they believe in His righteousness?  If they cannot trust God to tell them the truth, how can they trust God to be righteous?  And how can they believe in God's righteousness while they believe that God condemns billions to be tortured forever in an ever-burning hellfire because they never had a chance, because of circumstances of birth, to hear the gospel and be saved? 

It is not enough to acknowledge our evil nature.  We have to commit ourselves to believing in God's righteousness and His word and trusting Him to always tell us the truth in the Bible.  That is part of repentance, and it is also the major part of faith.

Faith and repentance go together - you can't have one without the other, like two sides of a coin.  Faith is an aspect of repentance and godly repentance, the kind of repentance that leads to conversion, leads to faith.  Likewise, faith leads to repentance.

True repentance requires faith.  Why?  Repentance includes repentance from dead works, from sin (Hebrews 6:1).  Sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4).  Does the law require faith?  Yes it does.  Jesus said that faith is one of the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23).  If faith is a weightier matter of the law, then the law requires faith, and if we do not have faith, if we do not believe God and believe in God, we have violated the law.  So to repent of breaking God's spiritual law includes repenting of our lack of faith, repenting of our disbelief of God's word.  A man or woman who says, "I repent of breaking the ten commandments, but I do not repent of disbelieving what God says - I repent of adultery, stealing, Sabbath breaking, but I refuse to trust God and believe everything the Bible says", has not fully repented.  Repentance includes a commitment not only to obey the ten commandments but to believe and trust what God says.  And since God says He is righteous, we must believe it.

Likewise, faith leads to repentance, because if we have faith in God, we will believe His word, and if we believe what God says in the Bible, we will repent of our sins and begin to obey what God says.  If we don't repent, we don't really believe, we don't really have faith.

And both repentance and faith are requirements for conversion and receiving the Holy Spirit.

Was Job converted, did He have the Holy Spirit before he was afflicted?  I do not know.  Perhaps he was not.  If he was converted, then God brought him to a deeper repentance and a deeper conversion.  But if not, it might not have been because he obeyed only the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law.  To a degree at least, and perhaps to a great degree, he obeyed the spirit of the law.

What passage in the Bible comes to mind when we think of the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law?  Is it not the sermon on the mount? 

"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.'  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28).

Did Job understand and obey this principle?  Yes, he did.  "I have made a covenant with my eyes;  Why then should I look upon a young woman?" (Job 31:1).  If you read Job's discourse in Job chapters 29 through 31 you will find many examples where Job obeyed the spiritual intent of God's law.

In fact, there are religious people in the world who understand this principle.  I was taught the spiritual intent of the law growing up Catholic, at least to the extent that Catholics are able to understand it.  They know that it is a violation of the spirit of the law of God to lust after a woman.  They know that it is a violation of the spiritual intent of the law against murder to even hate your neighbor in your heart.  I am not saying that Catholics in general obey the spiritual intent of the law, but some do, at least with some (not all) of the commandments.

But where they fall short is in believing what God says, as do all people in this world who are not called into God's Church at this time.

So there are three important steps in repentance.  We have to acknowledge we have done wrong.  We have to acknowledge that we are wrong by our very nature.  And we have to acknowledge that God is right, that He is perfect in righteousness, that He can be trusted, and that His word can be trusted and believed because God cannot lie to us.

One last example in the Bible.  Mr. Orchard used the example of David's repentance in Psalm 51.  The first four verses show that David acknowledged that he had done wrong.  Verse 5 shows that David also acknowledged his sinful nature, that he not only had done wrong but was wrong.  But also, look again at verse four, which showed David's belief in God's righteousness and desire to justify God:  "Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight - that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge" (Psalm 51:4).  In fact, this particular psalm is full of David's praise of God for God's righteousness, as many of the psalms are.

Was David unconverted before his repentance?  I don't see how, for in this very Psalm He begs God to forgive him, clean him up, and not take His Holy Spirit from David (Psalm 51:11).  In other words, David was converted and had God's Holy Spirit even while David was repenting and asking God to forgive him.  So he must have been converted, even before this time, or else He would have been asking God to give him the gift of the Holy Spirit if he never had it before.  As far as Job is concerned, I do not know, but if he was converted in the beginning of the account, he reached a deeper level of conversion by the end of the book.  But he may not have been converted before God afflicted him.

What I will say next may seem a little off-topic from the subject of Mr. Orchard's Bible study, but I mentioned believing the Bible, and I want to discuss a point about that here.  Also, it will tie in again with something else in that Bible study, which I will comment on.

We come into God's truth in different ways.  Some of us grow up in the Church and some come into the Church from other religions or no religion.  I remember that in various sermons and Bible studies Mr. Orchard has given, he has talked a bit about how he came into the Church and how he was called.  In one of his messages, not the Bible study last Friday, but a different one, he said that he read the Church's literature and understood it - it made sense to him - and he accepted it as truth because God was working in his mind and calling him, opening his mind to understand and be able to accept the truth.  This sounds very similar to an account I heard from Mr. John Ritenbaugh, pastor of Church of the Great God, when he related how he came to believe the truth.  He also read Mr. Armstrong's literature or heard him on the radio and it made sense to him and he accepted it as truth.

I can't think of a greater contrast between how these men came to believe the truth and how I came to believe the truth.

Not in the part about reading the Church literature and understanding it.  Not about it making sense.  I had exactly the same reaction when I first read the literature.  I was raised Catholic, pretty well versed in all the doctrines of the Catholic Church, but when I read Mr. Armstrong's literature and all the literature of the Worldwide Church of God, it made perfect sense to me.  It had a "ring of truth" to it.  It sounded right.  I sensed and felt, very deeply, that this was the truth.  In this way, I reacted the same way Mr. Orchard and Mr. Ritenbaugh reacted, if I understood their explanations correctly.

But what I did after that couldn't be more different.

I did NOT accept it as truth.  In spite of the fact that it seemed to be true and had a ring of truth to it, I refused to accept it.  This was a deliberate choice on my part.  I did not have an inability to believe it, quite the contrary, I wanted to believe the teaching of Mr. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God.  It seemed so right.  But I forced myself to be skeptical by an effort of will.  I made a deliberate, thought-out choice to refuse to accept it unless I could actually prove it.  And I knew that proving it meant more, much more, than looking up every scripture in their literature.  I had already done that, but that was not real proof, not for me anyway.


I knew from my Catholic upbringing in a strongly Catholic family (my sister became a nun) that people can strongly feel that something is true, yet it is not.  In other words, if I just accepted this new teaching because it seemed to be right and because I wanted to believe it, how was I different from millions of people who believe what they believe for the same reasons, yet believe different things?  If I wanted the truth and wanted to be sure it was the truth, I would really have to prove things.

And for me, proof was more than looking up scriptures referenced or quoted in the Church's literature.  That is only looking at one side.  Anyone can "prove" anything by selecting just certain scriptures to support their position.  I had to force myself into a frame of mind that was open to the possibility that Mr. Armstrong was wrong, and then study all sources and try to "get the facts" on all sides of these issues, to really prove if this was the truth or not.  First I had to prove God exists, then I had to prove the Bible is His inspired word, and then I had to prove doctrine by the Bible.  And that took a long time.  But in the end, I proved from the Bible all the major doctrines of the Church of God, and I knew I had proved them.

Now, that is a different path than Mr. Orchard and Mr. Ritenbaugh seem to have taken, but the destination - God's truth - is the same.  Mr. Orchard mentioned one time that we may take different routes to get to the same point of repentance, but the destination is the same for all of us.  God can work with us in different ways to bring us to where He wants us to be.  And I am not saying what I have said to try to invalidate or minimize the way God worked with these other men and how they responded.  In some ways, they responded better than I did because they began to obey God earlier probably and thus messed up their lives less than I did.  I took longer to prove the truth and made many mistakes during that time I should not have made.

But what I am trying to explain is a possible reason why Mr. Orchard and I have different views about things, namely, whether the gospel should be preached immediately or not.

While we take different paths to get to the same destination, that does not mean that the path we take does not affect our outlook and view of things after conversion.  We all have a lot to learn even after initial conversion, and we should never stop learning and growing for the rest of our lives.  How we learned the truth and the kind of background we had growing up can affect how much and in what areas we still have to learn things all our lives even after our initial conversion when we received God's Holy Spirit after baptism.  In a sense, if our ultimate destination is perfection (Matthew 5:48, Ephesians 4:11-13), we never completely arrive at the same destination in this life, but we should grow closer to God and to God's perfect knowledge and character, and as we do we will grow more and more like each other in knowledge and character. 

I never trusted my own "instincts", my own feelings, my own sense of what is true and what is not true when I was coming into the Church of God, not even when I read the Church's literature and it seemed right and true to me, and I still do not.  Even today, 32 years after my baptism, when thoughts come into my mind about right and wrong, no matter how true they may seem to me, I hesitate to attribute those thoughts to the Holy Spirit and be certain those thoughts are right, even if I prayed for the answer.  Why?  I know how some Catholics think.  I know how some religious people think.  And I know, absolutely, that there are people in this world who think that the Holy Spirit is leading their thoughts, yet they do not believe the Bible.

Even in the Church of God, I notice people sometimes believe God is leading them to this conclusion or that conclusion, and they feel absolutely sure about it, but their conclusions differ between them and they cannot prove their conclusions from the Bible.

Do I think God leads me by His Spirit, especially in understanding the Bible, in remembering scriptures, and in knowing how to apply the scriptures to daily issues and questions?  Yes, I think He does.  But He also allows me to make mistakes.  So if I pray for an answer and a thought comes into my mind, "do this", how do I know if it is God's Holy Spirit inspiring me or if it is my human mistake that God allows?  I can't, not for certain, unless I can prove it by the Bible.  My thoughts do not come pre-labeled, "this is from God" and "this is from your own faulty reasoning".  My only safeguard is the Bible.  If I can prove things in the Bible, I can have confidence those things are true. 

Can I make a mistake understanding the Bible?  Of course, but the more evidence for something I find in the Bible, the less chance there is that I am misunderstanding the Bible.  If I find one verse, I might misunderstand that verse.  If I find a dozen verses, there is less chance I have misunderstood every one of them.

We tend to trust things we have relied on in the past and have successfully helped us, and that includes methods, processes, and ways of thinking.  I proved the truth as thoroughly as I was able to do from the Bible, and that worked well for me and now I tend to trust that process.  Others may have found the truth because they sensed it was true and did not prove it more than looking up the scriptures in the literature, and that seemed to work well for them, and they trust that process.  So when they pray for an answer to a question, and they feel that God has put that answer in their minds, they tend to trust that the answer is from God, because that way of thinking brought them into the truth in the first place.

Mr. Orchard and Mr. Andrews are not preaching the gospel to the world.  I say that not as an accusation, but as a fact.  Maybe they will in the future.  They feel they have had good reasons for not doing it till now.  Besides their reasons why they feel that a certain degree of Church healing and reconciliation must occur before COGFC starts to preach the gospel, the only other justification I have heard from them is that they prayed and then came to an agreement in the January conference that it should be this way, and also later they fasted to know God's will.  They seem to be saying that because they met in an Acts 15 style meeting, prayed for agreement, and then, seemingly miraculously, were able to reach agreement after lunch on the last day when they were not able to agree before, and because they later fasted to know God's will, and because their reasons make sense to them, that God is leading their decision by His Holy Spirit, inspiring them to make the decision to heal the Church first and preach the gospel later.

I come to a different conclusion based on the Bible.  I consider the "beam in the eye" passage to see if that is a reason for not preaching the gospel until the Church is spiritually healed.  But I try to get all the scriptures on the subject.  I consider that God used people to preach warning messages or the gospel who had such beams in their eyes that they make most Church of God members seem righteous by comparison, such as Jonah and Judas.  I consider that there is not a single example in the Bible of anyone being told not to preach the gospel till they get their own lives straightened out - not since the Holy Spirit was given to the Church on Pentecost.  I don't just read the "beam in the eye" account in isolation, then reason in my head why it should stop us from preaching the gospel.  I try to get all the scriptures on the subject and let the Bible interpret the Bible.  I let the scriptures about Judas, about Jonah, and other scriptures interpret the "beam in the eye" passage to know if it applies to preaching the gospel, and when I let the Bible interpret the Bible, I see that it does not apply at all - Jesus never intended His beam in the eye teaching to mean that we should postpone preaching the gospel till we improve our own spiritual condition.

In other words, in trying to decide if it is best for the Church to concentrate on feeding the flock, reconciling with God and the brethren, and being healed spiritually and drawing closer to God BEFORE preaching the gospel to the world, I do not pray, fast, and then believe my own reasoning, believing it is inspired by God's Spirit in response to my prayers and fasting, but I look to the Bible, proving, proving, PROVING what God says on the subject.  I rely on that process to reach a conclusion because that process, proving things from the Bible, is what got me into the Church in the first place.  Do I pray for understanding, and do I sometimes fast?  Yes, because I need the help of God's Spirit to put scriptures together correctly and to remember and find all the scriptures that apply.  But my focus is on the Bible.  I try to find scriptures on both sides of the issue.  And always I try to keep an open mind to be corrected by the Bible in case I missed something.

If that kind of in-depth Bible study has been applied by Mr. Orchard and Mr. Andrews to this issue, why has COGFC never published the results?  Why have they never answered the fact, plainly revealed in the Bible, that Christ, after the account of the sermon on the mount when he talked about the beam in the eye, sent Judas out to preach the gospel?

Mr. Orchard, in his Bible study last Friday, said that if we achieve a common attitude and frame of mind through the process of repentance, an attitude that says, "Not only have I done wrong, but I am wrong", that will give us something in common - a common mind, a common heart - that will help keep us in the Church bound together as a family.  But COGFC has just split.  They split off from COGaic, then almost half of their leading ministers split from COGFC to go to different groups, and no doubt they took some members with them because COGFC isn't sure they can fill 50 rooms to make the deal with the hotel to observe the Feast in Tucson as they planned to do before those ministers left.

So common sense would seem to indicate that one way of finding out if this will really hold the Church together is to find out why it so recently split.

Did the ministers and members who left COGFC leave because they never acknowledged before baptism or sometime in their Christian life that not only have they done wrong but that they, humanly speaking, are wrong?  Would this common mind of acknowledging that we have been and are, humanly speaking, wrong have held Church of God, a Family Community together and prevented Mr. Nathan and three other leading ministers from leaving COGFC?

Why did they leave?

COGFC never gave Mr. Bob Rodzaj an opportunity to have a question and answer session and publish his answers on the COGFC website, and while Mr. Peter Nathan did have the  opportunity to have a question and answer session, COGFC has not published his answers either, though many were able to hear Mr. Nathan live.  So it is hard to know the reasons for certain.  But from what I heard Mr. Nathan say, I think preaching the gospel could have been a major reason for the split.

Which brings this matter of getting our answers from the Bible back full circle.

Different ministers and different leaders of groups can have meetings.  They can pray.  They can fast.  They can ask God to lead them to the right answer by His Holy Spirit.  They can reason.  And they can reach conclusions.  And they can reach widely different conclusions and each feel that God has led them to the right conclusion by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

But if you focus on the Bible, trying to get all relevant scriptures on any issue, having an open mind, believing what God says, and letting the Bible interpret the Bible, you will reach one conclusion on the preaching of the gospel issue, not two different answers.

Mr. Orchard is right in saying that to hold the Church together requires we have a common mind.  It was a lack of that common mind that resulted in COGFC splitting only a couple of months after it formed.  He defined that common mind as two steps in his Bible study:  acknowledge we have done wrong, then acknowledge that we are by nature wrong.  I add one more step:  we have to acknowledge that God is right.  And we do that by looking to what God has said in the Bible and believing God.

That is the common mind that is lacking.  That is the common mind that has the potential to hold us together as a Church, when and if we have that common mind.

It is the Bible that must draw us together.  Not just prayer, not just fasting, not just "Acts 15" meetings, and not just human reasoning.

The issue of preaching the gospel is a divisive issue.  It can only be resolved by the Bible.  And as long as part of the Church does not look primarily to the Bible for its answers to this issue, there will not be unity between that part of the Church and the part that looks to the Bible.  And all the prayers, fastings, and meetings you can have will not change that.

One news item:  In Sabbath services yesterday, Mr. Orchard and Mr. Andrews ordained Mike McKinney and Matthew King as elders.

Here are links to posts in this blog related to this subject:

" 'Beam in the Eye', and Preaching the Gospel to the World", dated January 14, 2014, link:

"Was Job Self-Righteous?", dated June 28, 2012, link:

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