Presiding Bishop Wade H. Phillips, September 7, 2019
I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s Holy Word. I promise to read and study it, and by the grace of God to obey it. I will make it a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. I will hide its words in my heart that I might not sin against God.
I promise to walk together with my brothers and sisters in Zion Assembly according to the light we have received together in our General Assemblies. I will be faithful to our commitment to proclaim the “whole counsel of God,” and will work together with my fellow members under the church’s divine government and discipline. I will strive always to keep and promote the faith “once delivered to the saints”–one God, one Faith, one Mind, and one Church for all. Amen.
“Ye are My witnesses, saith the LORD [Jehovah]”
The Story of Christ and the Church
“Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD [Jehovah], and My servant whom I have chosen that ye may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He: before Me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after Me. I, even I am the LORD, and beside me there is no savior. I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed when there was no strange god among you: therefore, ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, I am God” (Is. 43.10-12).
“Thus saith the LORD . . . I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? And the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them . . . Ye are even My witnesses. Is there a God beside me? Yea, there is no God; I know not any” (Is. 44.6-8).
“I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me . . . I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things . . .Tell ye . . .who hath declared this from ancient time? Have not I the Lord? And there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Is. 45.5-7, 21, 22).
“Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure. Calling a ravenous bird from the east . . . the man that executeth my counsel [namely, the Persian king, Cyrus, see 44.28, whose name and actions God predicted 150 years before he was born] . . . yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it . . . I bring near My righteousness . . . My salvation shall not tarry: and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory” (Is. 46.9-13).
What we see in these prophetic passages and a hundred more like them is that the LORD [Jehovah] desires to be known and honored as the one and only true God: and worshipped for His mighty acts—miracles and gracious providences; but especially for His infinite wisdom, mercy, compassion and willingness to forgive and save His people from their sins and wickedness. He indeed punished them for their iniquities, but He did not utterly forsake them and cast them away; rather He brought them to repentance through chastisement and much suffering to restore and reconcile them to Himself with joy and victory. This is the story of God and His people, of Christ and the church.
“And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove [test]thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep my commandments, or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live. Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years. Thou also shall consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the LORD thy God chasteneth thee” (Deut. 8.2-6).
Jehovah is a savior! He is not like any imagined god conjured up by men. There is in fact no god like Jehovah, and no God but Jehovah! And there is no story like the one between the LORD and His people. He has proven Himself to His people for thousands of years: that He is a Rock; one who can be trusted. He keeps His covenant and mercifully endures His people’s stumbling failures to save and redeem them! Through all Israel’s backslidings, He continued to love them and intervene for their salvation. Even His heated wrath and chastisements were to train and discipline them, and reconcile them in His righteousness—to restore a right relationship with Him: to perfect them in His love, holiness and truth!
Make no mistake, however; God is no pushover. [He “is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness”] (2 Pet. 3.9). He in fact warns those who continue to adamantly disobey Him and rebel against His will and purpose, saying,
“Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you . . . For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that [if you do evil and corrupt yourselves] ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it . . .And the Lord shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen . . .” (Deut. 4.23-27).
The Good News is that the LORD is always working to redeem and save His people: to bring them back into a right relationship with Him:
“But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; (For the Lord thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them (vv. 29-31).
See, this is the wondrous story of God and His church, from ancient times till now. There is no other story like it in all the earth! No other religion or nation or tribal people has a story like it.
“ For ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live? Or hath God assayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation, by temptations, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by a stretched out arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? Unto thee it was showed, that thou mightest know that the Lord he is God; there is none else beside him. Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might instruct thee: and upon earth he shewed thee his great fire; and thou heardest his words out of the midst of the fire. And because he loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them, and brought thee out in his sight with his mighty power out of Egypt; To drive out nations from before thee greater and mightier than thou art, to bring thee in, to give thee their land for an inheritance, as it is this day. Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the Lord he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else . . .” (vv. 32-39).
God’s purpose from the beginning was to call and transform for Himself a peculiar people with whom—in the image of a husband and wife—He could have the most intimate relationship.In Isaiah’sprophecies, the LORD is saying to His people: You are My counterpart in the world. I AM the Shepherd, you are My fold; I AM the King, you are MY queen [Ps. 45.9-13]; I AM the Vine, you are the branches; I AM the Head, you are MY body; I AM the Husband, you are MY wife; I AM the Captain, you are My army; I AM the Governor; you are MY holy nation; I AM God, you are My temple, MY habitation, My dwelling-place, My house, My dove, My beloved, My spouse, My bride! (Song 4.1; 5.1-2; Rev. 19.7-8).
There is coming a time when our opponents and critics will acknowledge that we are His witnesses, His special people. The prophet says: “The sons also of them that afflicted thee shall come bending [bowing] unto thee; and they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet; and they shall call thee, the city of the Lord, The Zion of the Holy One” (Is. 60.14). Again the ascended Christ Himself said, “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee”. The inspired prophet also declared that the onlooking world in astonishment will one day ask, “Who is she that looks forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?” (Song 6.10).
See here; God desires to be known; for to know Him is to love Him and those who love Him highly exalt His name and deeply reverence and worship Him. And the more deeply we learn to love the LORD, the more deeply we admire Him and praise and exalt His name.
He loved us from eternity—having foreknown and foreseen all things, including the fall of man in Eden and his restoration by the grace of God, and the formation of His people into one body of Christ. Thus, the apostle Paul wrote,
“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace, Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us, the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself; That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him . . . that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints . . . And hath put all things under [Christ’s] feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1.4-12, 17-23).
“How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery . . . Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel . . . to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God. According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3.4-11).
But how was the LORD to do this? What was the divine strategy to bring about the desired end for Him and His people? Only one way according to His infinite wisdom: namely, through trials and tribulations and judgments! One historical and prophetic step at a time our fathers in the faith learned who Jehovah is. He progressively revealed Himself to them which culminated in the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is Himself Jehovah: for the whole Godhead [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit] is embodied in Him (Col. 2.9).
“Now Moses . . . came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb [Sinai]. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover, he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God . . . And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, the Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever and this is my memorial unto all generations” (Ex. 3.1-6, 13-15).
Significance of the name Jehovah
“And God spake unto Moses, and said . . .
I am the LORD: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob by the
name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.
And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan . . . wherein they were strangers” (Ex. 6.2-4)
Now observe; Almighty God, the Creator [El Shaddai, Elohim] “came down” to us as Jehovah God [Ex. 3.8; Gen. 11.5] a name implying a deeper and more intimate revelation of Himself to His people [note, the significance of the prophet Elijah’s name, the combination of El/Elohim and Jehovah]—a revelation which culminates finally in Jesus, that is, God has “come down” to us in the flesh in Christ [Emmanuel, Mt. 1.23; Jn. 1.1-3, 14; Phil. 2.5-8; Col. 2.9; Heb. 1.8; Rev. 1.8].In great wonder and magnanimity of His person and mission in this world, the prophet exclaimed His name shall be called “Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Is. 9.6).
See, the LORD was working from the dawn of creation to prepare us to be His special witnesses—Jehovah’s Witnesses. There is a group out there who call themselves “Jehovah’s Witnesses” who according to their own testimony prove they have no idea who Jehovah is. They deny, like Mormons and Muslims that Jesus is God Almighty (Rev. 1.8); and they deny, like Hindus and Buddhists, that He is with the Father and the Holy Spirit the one and only true God! (Mt. 28.19-20; Jn. 10.1; 17.20-23; Col. 2.9).
It is for this reason that the two questions posed by Jesus in Mt. 16.13 and 22.42—“Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” and “What think ye of Christ? Whose son is he?” embody in their significance the very purpose of the whole Bible—the history of God being revealed to His people, and His people proclaiming that revelation to every nation under heaven!
Though Jesus was God in the flesh, still His deity remained hidden from men: for the things of God are “spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2.14). Natural men cannot see nor hear the hidden things of the Spirit (Jn. 3.3-8). And why is this? That our “faith should not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2.5).
The revelation of Christ’s deity and Godhead came only by special disclosures from the Father Himself. Thus when Peter declared, “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God” in response to Jesus’ question—“Whom do men say that I the Son of man am”, the Lord said, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed this to thee but My Father which is in heaven” (Mt. 16.17; see also the special disclosures to Thomas, Paul, and John (Jn. 20.24-29; Acts 9.1-6; Eph. 3.4-11; Rev. 1.1-3; 21.2-3, 9-10), and the disclosures to the whole church collectively (Jn. 7.17; 15.15; 16.12-15; Eph. 1.4-12, 17-23).
The Story of God and His People
Jews and Gentiles grafted together in one Body
The witnesses of Jehovah are a growing body of believers, visibly incorporated together by covenant and a prophetic vision [revelation] that has been disclosed one step at a time through history, rooted in the Old Testament and more clearly manifested in the New. It is the story of Christ and the church! Zion Assembly is heir to this glorious legacy. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses and the prophets are our fathers in the faith (1 Cor. 10.1-5; Heb. 11.1-12). A foundation for the church in type and shadow was laid down in these elders (Gen. 28.10-22; 1 Cor. 10.1-6; Col. 2.17; Heb. 3.5-6; 8.5; 10.1; 11.1-7). It is a single story rooted in the Old Testament and unfolded more gloriously in the New as the door was opened for the Gentiles to become part of the captivating story.
Hear what the Lord says, [“I have disclosed Myself to you in many ways. I have ‘declared’ (revealed) Myself to you; I have ‘saved’ [redeemed] you; I have ‘showed’ [caused you to discern, perceive], caused you ‘to know’ and ‘believe’ and ‘understand’ the truth and Who I AM. I caused you to hear. [“You have lived out the story with My guidance and direction”]. [Note. Jer. 18.1-6: ‘Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear My Word’], that is, I will providentially put you in a place to help you hear My voice and know My will. “The secret of the LORD is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant!” (Ps. 25.14; see also Prov. 3.32; Jn. 7.17; 15.15-16; 16.13-15). But He especially reveals His secret to His prophets and ministers (Amos 3.7; Gen. 6.13; 18.17-19; Eph. 4.11).
[“You have heard My Word, felt My power and seen My glory! You have been with Me from way back, even in Egypt: and even before that on the other side of the Flood (Heb. 11.1-7)! You are through faith and covenant the descendants of the ‘ancient people’ (Is. 44.7). By faith and sacred pledge, you were incorporated into the story of God and His covenant people (Ex. 19.5-8; Is. 41.14-16, 22-24; 42.6-9). There, in the beginning your fathers witnessed My mighty works and have passed on to you the wondrous story and made you a part of it!”]. Hear what the psalmist says,
“I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, showing unto generations to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That in the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78.2-7; see also vv. 12-72).
God’s peculiar people saw the plagues upon Egypt . . . hail, frost, hot thunderbolts, lice, frogs, flies, death . . . and the “snakes” of the Egyptian magicians, Jannes and Jambres, being devoured by God’s miraculous power [Ex. 7.9-13; Ps.78.43-48; 2 Tim. 3.8]. They witnessed the crossing of the Red Sea/ the crossing of the Jordan River/ the miracles in the desert—manna from heaven, water out of a rock, clothes and shoes that for forty years in the wilderness never waxed old nor wore out! (Note: Deut. 4.32-37; 8.2-6; Ps. 78.12-48; Is. 43.15-17). God has done it over and again through history for His people (Is. 43.19-21): and He will continue to do it with whomever [Jew or Gentile] is willing to call upon the name of the LORD and to “show forth His praises” (vv. 20-21): and this will continue right on up to the Second Coming of Christ and the glory of the Millennial Kingdom (vv. 20-28; 44.1-8). We are His witnesses. A faithful remnant has always been raised up to perpetuate God’s plan and purpose (Is. 1.9; Rom. 9.29; 11.5; Rev. 12.7). It is now the story of every believer, Jew or Gentile, who has been incorporated together with other believers by covenant in one body in Christ (Eph. 2.11-19; 3.5)!
The LORD says, [“I made you to know and understand. The knowledge of Me has been handed down to you. It has been bequeathed to you as a sacred deposit (Ps. 78.1-72; 1 Cor. 10.1-12). You are My witnesses! You are My ‘Israel!’ (Rom. 2.28-29; 9.1-8, 27-33; Rev. 2.9; 3.9; Gal. 3.16, 29; 6.16). You are My body, My people, the [“body of Christ”]. And we are to pass on this special knowledge, this divine revelation, and our special relationship with the LORD to others (Ps. 78.3-6; 2 Tim. 2.2); incorporating the converts of the nations into this glorious story (Is. 49.1-12; 60.1-5; Mt. 28.19-20)!
Called Out to be a “Peculiar People”
Compliance with the ‘Royal Law’ of Christ distinguishes God’s People
We are transformed by the Lord to be a “peculiar people” united with Him and one another in a visible and corporate fellowship (Ex. 19.5-8; Eph. 3.9-10; 1 Pet. 2.9); distinguished as the “people of God” according to the law of God: in spirituality, in looks, dress, manner of speaking faith, and our walk (conduct) through life. We are taught by the Lord and formed together by His laws and principles (Ps. 78.1-7). The Old Testament saints were such; and so also the New Testament saints according to the laws and principles of Christ (1 Cor. 9.21; Jas. 1.21-25; 2.8, 12).
Today people want to be called a peculiar people without being peculiar! See, it is the laws and principles of the Lord regarding how we look, dress, and behave ourselves that make us unique. We are not to think like, look like, talk like, walk like, nor act like the “Egyptians” and “Canaanites”—peoples who stood as symbols (poster peoples) for worldliness (Ex. 23.2, 23-24, 32-33; Lev. 10.10; Deut. 7.1-9; Is. 3.16-18; Ezra 9.1-4; Rom. 12.2-5; 1 Tim. 2.8-10; 1 Pet. 3.1-5; 1 Jn. 2.15-17).
We are not to conform to the fashions and lifestyles of this present age (Is. 3.16-24; Rom. 12.2-5). Significantly, the “daughters of Zion” in Isaiah’s prophecy signify all the inhabitants of Zion—male and female. For the whole church as a bride is depicted in the feminine [note Is. 3.25-26 and 32.9-20]. Humility and meekness must mark the children of Zion in distinction from the pride and snootiness of the children of men (Is. 3.16-24; 1 Tim. 2.8-10; 2 Tim. 3.1-9; 1 Pet. 3.3-12).
Notwithstanding the plain admonitions of the LORD, the church often in history backslid and fell away from a right relationship Him and began again to look and act like the world. But a remnant always arose to purify and restore the standards of holiness (Is. 1.9; 37.31-32; 46.3; Rom. 9.27-29; 11.7, 14-23); so that God would have a true witness in the earth, a lighthouse shining out in a dark world!
See here: the holiness standards of the LORD not only bring the haughty down from their prideful and fashion-setting spirit but raises up the penitent from their slouchiness and the vulgarities [commonness] of the world around them. It pulls the haughty down from pretentious pedestals and pulls up the lukewarm and shabby-looking from the gutters (Rev. 3.14-20). Accordingly, God’s people are called and spiritually conditioned to be “peculiar” (Ex. 19.5-8; 1 Pet. 2.9).
“That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2.15).
There is a big difference between saying, “Hey, look at me as an ambassador and representative of Christ” and just saying “Hey, look at me!” Our spirituality and modesty will show forth God’s glory in holiness!
We are not like other peoples: worshippers of dumb idols strange “gods that witness against themselves” (Is. 44.9-20): gods that are blind, deaf, lifeless and “profitable for nothing.” The “new-age” gods are more philosophical and psychological, but still conjured up in vain imaginations: products of scientology and Eastern mysticism! Our God, the God of the Bible, is not so: He is a “living God!” He hears, speaks, thinks, and acts; and His church is His witnesses. Hear Peter’s declaration, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!” And Jesus’ answer, “Upon this rock I will build My church!”
Unbelieving Jews “cut off”:
Believing Gentiles Grafted in by Faith
Called to be one Body in Christ
[Eph. 2.11-19; 3.6]
See here: only those who have a revelation of Christ and believe in Him are now justified and are being called together to form His church. It is true that the story began with the Hebrews [Jews] and that Jesus desired to continue the story with them under the New Covenant. That’s why He commissioned His Twelve Apostles at first to “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and to any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt. 10.5-6). But when the Jews as a national entity rejected Christ as their Lord and Savior, the door was opened to the Gentile nations (Acts 10.34-47; 13.44-46; 14.27; 15.6-28).
The Jews who refused to believe were “cut off” from the story (Mt. 21.33-46; Jn. 1.11; Rom. 10.1, 21; 11.18-24); and the Gentiles who believed were “grafted into” the story (Rom. 11.1-5, 20-24). A true “Jew” and the true “Israel of God” is now defined and identified by faith in Christ and obedience to His Word and His government [Rom. 2.29; 3.1-12; 9.1-26; Gal. 3.16, 29; 6.16; Rev. 2.9; 3.9]. The true “Israel of God”, the church, is now identified under the terms of the New Covenant. Note: Is. 43.18-28; 44.1-8; Rom. 9.25-26; 1 Cor. 10.1-13.
“What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?” (Rom. 3.1). It is this: the Jewish nation (with roots in Abraham) was established by the LORD to lay an historical foundation for the true faith, which came to be embodied first in the LORD’s Zion under the Old Covenant then in Christ more intimately and efficaciously under the New Covenant! (Is. 2.2-4; 35.10; 51.3-11; 52.1-8; 60.14; Mt. 21.33-44; 1 Pet. 2.4-9; see also Ps. 2.6-8; 9.10-11; 20.2; 48.2-14; 87.2; 102.13-16; 132.13; 149.2). The Jewish nation is distinguished in history on this basis. But what does Judaism now profit any natural Jew outside of Christ and saving faith. When the Jews in the time of Christ on earth refused to believe on Him and accept the Gospel they became as nothing in the sight of God! (Mt. 8.12; 21.43-44; Jn. 1.11-12; Acts 13.44-46). They were “cut off” and the believing Gentiles were grafted in (Rom. 9.25-33; 11.23-26). Religion without Christ profits absolutely nothing! (Eph. 2.10-22; 3.1-11; Col. 2.6-23; 3.1-11). It was thus that John the Baptist warned the Jews,
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said to them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Mt. 3.7-8).
Believers are grafted in by faith and covenant to be the people of God, beginning in Abraham [family/kingdom of God] and thereafter incorporated together as God’s holy nation [“church in the wilderness”] by mutual covenant at Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19.5-8; 24. 6-8; Acts 7.38; 1Pet. 2.9). Significantly, believers must stand in agreement together in a church covenant to be rightly indentified as His church (Ex. 19.5-8; 24. 3-8; Jn. 14.6, 8, 14; Heb. 9.19). Yes, we must publicly pledge ourselves [covenant together] to keep the Book of the Covenant, the Bible! (2 Kg. 23.1-3). There is no other way to form the visible church of the Bible!
Walking with God
Accordingly, we walk hand in hand with God. We walk with Him, and He walks with us. Hear the LORD through the prophet, “How can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3.3). You are only truly God’s church “if you continue in the faith grounded and settled and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel . . .” (Col. 1.23); and again, “But Christ as a son over his own house, whose house are we, “if” we hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (Heb. 3.6). That was the covenant deal that God made with His people from the very beginning. Remember the covenant He made with our fathers at Mt. Sinai: “Now therefore ‘if’ ye will be obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, ‘then’ ye shall be a peculiar people unto Me above all the people: for all the earth is Mine”: and the people all stood to the covenant (Ex. 19.5, 8). This “if” and “then” is everywhere found in the Scriptures.
Thankfully the LORD does not easily “cast away” His people (Deut. 4.23-31, 37-40; Rom. 11.1-5). They sometimes go astray, but as a “Good Shepherd” seeks to save and restore them (Is. 43.12; 45.5-8, 22; 48.12-17; Amos 3.1-2, 11-15]. As pointed out above “a remnant” always emerges to restore His people to His good graces and thus to preserve and perpetuate the prophetic vision of God’s church [Amos 3.12; 5.3, 13-15]: and to bring us finally to Christ and the church under the New Covenant: so that “every man [may be presented] perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1.28)!
Stepping Out of the Story
Hear what the LORD says, [“I’m bringing all this evil upon you to bring you back to Me—back into agreement with Me”] (note Ps. 78.30-72; Amos 4.1-12; 5.1-14; Hab. 1.5-11; 3.2-19; Deut. 4.23-27). Look! You can’t be in right-minded and just walk out of your covenant with the church, without displeasing and straining your relationship also with God! You can’t commit sedition and make a schism in God’s house and remain justified! You can’t change His laws and pervert His government and discipline without offending Him! One may stumble in the covenant [or while in covenant with the church], but you can’t stumble out of it. No! to leave the church is a conscious and deliberate act of rebellion against the Head of the church and His governors and elders appointed to rule and guide His church (Acts 15.2-4, 6-28; 16.4-5; 1 Thess. 5.12-13; Titus 1.5; Heb. 13.7, 17). To rebel against duly established authority and the government of God through anointed leaders is a work of the flesh—sedition, heresy, schism, dissensions, with self-serving ambitions (Gal 5.20; see also Rom. 16.17-18; 1 Cor. 1.10; 12.25).
The great majority of contemporary “Christians” have stepped out of the prophetic story of God and His people revealed in the Bible to write their own stories—thousands of men-made stories! But this is nothing new: it is exactly what happened to the Jews in old times (Ps. 78.9-11, 30-41, 59-63), and later in the centuries leading up to the coming of Christ, whom John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles sharply reproved in their days (Mt. 3.7-10; Mt. 23.1-39; Jn. 8.31-59; Acts 15.1-28). The Jewish leaders perverted “the old, old story” and began to write their own story in the days of Constantine the Great. That era has been rightly called “Constantinian Christianity.” The divine government, doctrine, and discipline of God laid down in the Bible was supplanted by Emperor Constantine and the doctrines and traditions of men.
It is also the tale of the denominations that emerged out the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Each denomination or sect wrote its own story and even admitted that its origin was in the sixteenth century or seventeenth, as the case may have been. They failed to see themselves as part of a single story that God began at Mount Sinai, rooted in Abraham, and continuing through the prophets unto the coming of Christ. The exception to this were certain “radical” Anabaptists in the sixteenth century who claimed to be seeking to restore the church based on the story of God and His people revealed in the Bible. But in the final analysis they also failed to fulfill the prophetic vision which they had at first embraced.
Today there are tens-of-thousands of independent churches that have no identity nor affinity with the church of the Bible nor continuity with the story of God and His ancient and prophetic people. The great majority seem to believe that God’s church just spontaneously combusts into existence here and there at the whims of men. They even irreverently name their “churches” and “sects” after themselves—“Jake Jr.’s ministry”, “Linda Lou’s ministries”, “Copen-Haglin Family ministries”, etc.
There are also some members in Zion Assembly who have learned a lot about themselves while being tried and tested. They learned they really didn’t believe or understand the government and discipline of the church of which they were a part. And thus, when “proven” by various adversities and circumstances, they departed from the government and discipline of the church; being carried away by seducing spirits and false teachers into heresy and spiritual perversion. Hear what the apostle John says: “they went from us [because] they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not of us” (1 Jn. 2.19).
The Good News is that the door is open for those who desire to make restitution and come back home to the Father’s house. And wondrously and victoriously they often come back with a better understanding of what the church really is; and with a deeper commitment to it. This is the lesson of the “prodigal son” in Luke 15. After having wasted his inheritance on “prostitutes” and “riotous living” and ending up in a “hog pen”, he “came to himself.” [This expression by Luke, a physician, may well be meant in a medical sense, indicating that the prodigal was somewhat in a coma and “came to himself” and repented]. In any case, he said [paraphrase, “I will go back to the stability and security and discipline of my father’s house!”]. And this was cause for great rejoicing, music and dancing!
“Thru the flood, and thru the fire”
Men and women transformed by the power of God and incorporated together by sacred covenant and holy “ordinances” are the true witnesses of the Lord!— sanctified, Spirit-baptized and pressing forward to fulfill the prophetic vision of the church, laboring together also in the yoke with Christ to proclaim “every word of God!”
“Tis the old ship of Zion,
the hope for the lost and dying
It’s been thru the flood and been thru the fire
But one of these days the church is gonna move up higher
“It’s the church triumphant oh Lord
and it’s built by the hand of the Lord
“Been thru the storm but the wind couldn’t turn it
Been thru the fire but the fire couldn’t burn it
Fed to the lions but the lions couldn’t eat it
Been thru wars but never defeated
Well it’s the church triumphant oh Lord
and it’s built by the hand of the Lord”
Behold the mercy and mystery of the LORD: We are His witnesses through trials and tribulations; through chastisement; through suffering; through difficulties and hardships; through redemption and more redemption; through restorations and reconciliations (Deut. 4.23-31; Ps. 78.2-72; Is. 44.21-28; 45.5-13). God is in control! We are His people, on a journey with Him through many perils and pitfalls; being purged along the way and being tried and tempered in the fire; delighting ourselves in Him—the blessed People of God: whom Jesus said shall “ . . . endure to the end! (Mt. 24.13). But hear the prophet:
“But who may abide the day of His coming? And who stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant (pleasing) unto the Lord, as in the days of old and as in the former years. And I will come near to you in judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers . . .” (Mal. 3.2-5).
Now observe, He is speaking here of the church under the headship of Christ, not under the headship of Moses. This is precisely the same message that John the Baptist preached in preparation for the purging ministry of Christ which was imminent, being ushered in even as John preached.
“Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all of Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance. And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Mt. 3.5-9).
John warned the Jews:
“And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore, every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner: but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (vv. 10-12).
God’s church didn’t just pop up on Burger Mountain in June 1903 or at Barney Creek in August 1886; nor at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost; nor even on Mount Hattin with Jesus and the Twelve (Mk. 3.13-16; Lu. 5.12-17). No, this story began in Abraham [family of faith] and his descendants who were later incorporated as a holy nation [“the church in the wilderness”], “a special treasure” unto the LORD at Mount Sinai [Ex. 19.5-8; Acts 7.38; 1 Pet. 2.9].
See here; the moment you were saved and afterward publicly accepted the Bible as God’s Word and agreed to live in harmony with the government and discipline of the church, you were grafted into this holy nation and became part of the story of God and His “ancient people” [Is. 44.7]—a 3500 year-old institution and tradition! We [“who were not a people . . . are now the people of God!”] (Is. 42.6-7; 49.6; Hos. 2.23; Acts 15.16-18; Rom. 3.29; 9.25-30; 1 Pet. 2.10).God is your Father and Jesus is your Lord and the Holy Spirit your Guide; and Moses and Elijah and Elisha and Samson and Rachel and Rahab and Naomi and Ruth are your brothers and sisters. You are in the same church they were in! You have been grafted into the incomparable story—“the old, old story” that began 3500 years ago, and with roots deeper than that: a glorious story conceived in mystery in the mind of God before the foundation of the world! (Eph. 1.4-6; Rom. 8.28-30; 2 Thess. 2.12-17; Rev. 13.8).
See, there has been no “god”, no sorcerer, no diviner, no philosopher, no historian, no founder of any religion that ever conceived or told such a story as this. For no story could be so rich and profound in wisdom and knowledge as this story. Hear what the LORD says,
“For ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live? Or hath God assayed [tried] to go and take a nation from the midst of another nation, by temptations, by signs, by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by an stretched out arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your yes? Unto thee it was showed, that thou mightiest to know that the LORD he is God; there is none else beside him” (Deut. 4.32-27).
It was the revelation of this very mystery that moved the apostle Paul to lift his pen in exultation and exclaim:
“O the depth of the riches both of wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or hath been his counselor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11.33-36).
One Church for All!
Paul is speaking here particularly of the mystery of Jews and Gentiles being grafted in by faith together into the same olive tree. See, there are not two stories as the dispensationalists hold—one for the Jews and another for the Gentiles—but one glorious church for all. Israel under the Old Covenant was the “church in the wilderness” and the church under the New Covenant was established first with twelve Jews who worshipped and followed the Lord. So the church is still the “Israel of God” and every believer is added to it by faith and covenant. In Christ the “middle wall of partition” in the temple was broken down and both Jews and Gentiles were called into one body! (Rom. 11.13-24; Eph. 2.11-22; 3.6). All who are saved are justified only by “the blood of Christ”, and it is His will that all blood-washed believers be incorporated together in one visible body of Christ! (Jn. 10.16; 11.49-52; 17.20-23).
Yes we may be in one sense, essentially, baptized [immersed] by the Spirit into this story but not without also being incorporated together instrumentally into one body by covenant! Thus, Paul says, “I have espoused you [joined you together] to one husband, that I present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11.2; see also Ex. 19.5-8; 24.3-8; 2 Kg. 23.1-3; Is. 62.5; Jer. 50.5; Ezek. 16.8; Hos. 2.19-20; Eph. 5.23-32; Rev. 19.7-8; et al).
By the grace of God we have been quickened and transformed and “made to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” [Eph. 2.6]; have “tasted of the Word of God and the powers of the world to come” [Heb. 6.4-6]; and continue steadfastly in “the apostles doctrine and fellowship”; holding also to the faith “once delivered to the saints” [Acts 2.42; Jude 3]. We are now fellow heirs with the ancients—with our fathers and mothers who came out of Egypt by a mighty hand; who crossed the Red Sea on dry land, and survived a waste howling wilderness filled with beasts of every sort, thirsty, hungry, and weary: but delivered by the almighty hand of God and enabled to cross the mighty Jordan River to inherit the promised land!
This is our story and our song! A story rooted in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and continued through the Judges and Kings amid struggles and imperfections; a story continued through the Assyrian and Babylonian Captivities and the Restoration of Jerusalem, and on through the 400-year interval between the Old Testament and the New; a story foreseen through the inspired prophecies until the descendants of the ancients came to Christ! And since then, the story has continued to be lived out by believers under the terms of the New Covenant laid down by Christ and the apostles. Yes there have been backslidings and apostasies [“dark ages”], but these things also formed part of the story: for the church always rose from the ashes purged and renewed according to the testimony of God; with a newly inspired zeal and illumination to fulfill the prophetic vision of the Lord’s Zion (Ps. Is. 37.32; 46.3; Amos 5.15; Zech. 8.12; Ezra 9.8; Neh. 1.3; Rom. 9.27; 11.5; Rev. 12.17).
Living out the Final Chapter
We here today are the generation “upon whom the ends of the world are come.” It may very well be that we are called to fulfill the final chapter of the story. In any case, it is certain that “the old, old story” has been bequeathed to us in Zion Assembly, and we must go and tell it to every nation on earth!
“I love to tell the story. . . Of Jesus and His glory
. . . It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do
I love to tell the story, ‘Twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story Of Jesus and His love”
We are heirs together of a deep and on-going relationship with the Lord: one that has been forged historically through trials and tribulations, high moments and low moments, and struggles; but also of glorious victories and times of rejoicing; we have been sanctified and baptized by the Spirit together in expectation of being “presented to Christ as a chaste virgin!” (2 Cor. 11.2; Eph. 5.27; Rev. 19.7-8). One prophetic step after another has brought us to where we are: and going forward we will surely see “the mystery” ever more clearly and learn more deeply who JEHOVAH is, and who we are—His glorious bride in-the-making (Rev. 19.7-8; 21. 9-10)!
What an infinitely rich legacy has been handed down to us! We can look back in the sacred record 3500 years and see the beginning of our story, and even 6000 years ago and witness the planting of the first seeds for the old, old story—back to Adam and Eve and Abel and Enoch; being privileged also to be carried away in the Spirit with the great apostle to behold the bride, the Lamb’s wife in her glory! Accordingly, we are called to preach “this gospel” in all the world—to be witnesses of Jehovah unto all nations; “and then shall the end come.”
Reflecting on and Reevaluating the Ordinances of the Church
Our pioneer fathers and mothers in the very beginning of the restoration of the church in 1886, under the oversight and guidance of R. G. Spurling, taught and practiced three divine ordinances—baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and footwashing [the latter also referred to as “washing the saints feet”] (see R. G. Spurling, The Lost Link, p. 44). Later under the general oversight of A.J. Tomlinson (1903-1943), and still later under the successive tenures of M. A. Tomlinson (1943-1990), Billy D. Murray Sr. (1990-2000) and Fred S. Fisher Sr. (2000-2004) the church continued to teach and practice these three ordinances (see Phillips, Quest to Restore God’s House, pp. 332-340). Since 2004 Zion Assembly has continued to teach and practice these three ordinances.
It is noteworthy that in adopting these ordinances in 1886 we were following in the radical tradition of the Reformation that had begun in the sixteenth century. In doing so, we were standing in contradistinction of the Roman Catholic tradition on one side and the mainline Protestant tradition led by Luther, Calvin and Zwingli on the other. Thus, our early pioneers were identifying with the tenets of faith and practice of certain Anabaptist groups—Mennonites, Brethren, Dunkers and other marginalized and persecuted groups (see Quest, pp. 323-332).
The Roman Catholic Church [and later most of the Greek Orthodox Churches] adopted a system of seven “sacraments” beginning in the fifth century, particularly under the guidance of Augustine (354-430) which culminated in the thirteenth century under the influence of the scholastics [schoolmen], particularly Peter Lombard (ca. 1100-1160) and Thomas Aquinas [1225-1274). The seven sacraments of Roman Catholicism are “baptism”, “confirmation”, “Eucharist” [Lord’s Supper], “penance” [reconciliation], “anointing the sick” [extreme unction], “marriage”, and “holy orders” [ordination].
Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli in the sixteenth century based their reformations on only two sacraments—baptism and the Lord’s Supper [Eucharist]. Zwingli and his followers [Swiss brethren] differed however with Luther and Calvin in holding the Lord’s Supper to be merely a “memorial” of Christ’s death and accordingly denied the “real presence” of Christ in the Lord’s Supper and the doctrine that sacraments confer grace upon the recipients.
In studying the historical development of this subject in our own tradition, it is obvious that our forefathers in Zion Assembly in the nineteenth- and early twentieth century did not give much thought to the nature, characteristics, and number of church ordinances. They simply accepted the status quo handed down from the sixteenth- and seventeenth century radical reformers. I can still recall as a young minister in our Bible Training Institute in the early 1970s asking the question, “Why three ordinances—why not two as some groups teach or seven as some others teach?” The instructor admitted that he did not know but said he would get some counsel on the subject and get back with me. He never got back with me.
I have considered for many years now—beginning in the late 1970s—that understanding the nature and number of the divine ordinances of the church is fundamental to our faith and therefore of paramount importance. Accordingly, it would seem wise for us make a careful study of the Scriptures on the subject. Since I was not in a position during most of my ministry [in our former fellowship] to impose upon the church my thoughts on the subject, I remained relatively quiet speaking only on occasion with a few friends on the subject. In my capacity as Presiding Bishop since 2004 the subject has continued to agitate my mind and spirit so much so that I believe it is time for the church to look more deeply and thoroughly into the Scriptures on the subject.
I am sure a fresh and thorough study of the ordinances will be profitable for the church, especially the ministers, and we all will be illuminated and strengthened by any additional light received on the nature and number of the ordinances. Any additional light can do nothing but add weight and support and a deeper sense of worship and reverence for the very doctrines and institutions that we are endeavoring to restore and establish in these last days: for example, the authority and infallibility of the Bible; the nature, authority, and government of the church and its ministry; and the sacred and indissoluble bond of marriage. We may discover that we have several teachings and practices in the church that should be raised to the level of divine ordinances, and incorporated as such into our worship, practice, and discipline.
Since the ordinances are foundational to the very nature and function of the church, both for internal edification and to give light and witness to the outside world, we will do well to search for additional light to more perfectly carry forward God’s perfect plan and order.
Nature and Characteristics [Traits] of the Ordinances
Denominations and various Christian groups have differed with each other on the nature, character and number of the ordinances [“sacraments”], but they have generally held through the centuries that the ordinances were instituted by Christ during His earthly ministry and practiced thereafter by the universal church under the apostles’ oversight and guidance. Our forefathers in the Church of God did not dispute this viewpoint, nor have we in Zion Assembly. We hold therefore that the ordinances of the church were instituted by Christ either in word [explicitly or implicitly stated] or by example during His earthly ministry and afterward were given further emphases and clarity by the apostles, and, accordingly, practiced by the New Testament churches.
The ordinances belong properly to the church; however, in the present dispensation of God’s unfolding plan, when most regenerate believers [“other sheep”] have not received the light on the Bible church and remain scattered in denominationalism and independent churches (Is. 60.1-5; Jn. 10.16; 17.20-23; Eph. 1.10; 4.11-16), the Lord is patiently accepting the imperfect observance and administrations of the ordinances until the “perfect day” comes: “For the path of the just is as a shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Prov. 4.18; see also Num. 11.26-29; Is. 60.1-5, 7, 10, 14; Mk. 9.38-41; Lu. 9.49-50; Acts 18.24-28; 1 Cor. 3.1-2; Eph. 1.10; 2.11-18; 4.11-16; 5.26-27). Accordingly, Zion Assembly invites believers outside the church to receive the ordinances under its administration on condition that they “[show] forth fruit meet to repentance” (Mt. 3.8; 1 Cor. 5-1-12), that is, have openly confessed Christ as Lord and Savior and have given evidence of a life changed by His grace and power.
(Note: The exception to this is marriage: for marriage is a holy and honorable estate even if the man and woman [the covenant partners] are not spiritually regenerated and sanctified. The inspired writer of Hebrews says, “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13.4). In other words, marriage symbolically sanctifies procreation and the sex act between those duly married before God and recognized as such by the church. It is not salvation therefore that sanctifies procreation and the sex act but the ordinance of marriage. The apostle Paul says, “What? Know ye not that he which is joined to a harlot is one body? For two, saith he, shall be one flesh” (1 Cor. 6.16). Significantly, the Greek word translated here “joined” is perfectly equivalent to the Hebrew word translated “cleave” in the original marriage in Gen. 2.24. Again, the apostle emphasizes and strengthens this point by indicating that children born of unsaved parents are made positionally holy and clean by virtue of marriage (1 Cor 7.14) and again, “it is better to marry than to burn [with passion]” v. 9; see sub-topic “Marriage” below).
We thus stand in Zion Assembly between “open communion” and “closed communion” on a “guarded communion.” This means that we do not carelessly invite everyone indiscriminately to participate in the ordinances, but neither do we restrict participation to Zion Assembly members only. Accordingly, the overseers and watchmen over God’s house are responsible to give biblical counsel and guidance in spiritual matters and to make certain judgments before administering the ordinances to those who present themselves: for we are called and ordained to “bind” and “loose” and “remit” and “retain”, that is, to judge and discipline God’s people (Mt. 16.19-20; 18.18-20; Jn. 20. 23; 1 Cor. 5.1-12; 6.9-11; 2 Cor. 6.14-18; 1 Tim. 4.13-16; 2 Tim. 2.14-26; 3.1-5, 14-17). We counsel our pastors and ministers, however, to use love, wisdom, and discretion in refusing to administer the ordinances to known fornicators, adulterers, extortioners, idolaters, drunkards, thieves, revilers, etc.
There is no single word that perfectly captures the meaning of an “ordinance”, for each ordinance has certain peculiar traits. Still, however, there are several common traits that may be deduced from passages that deal with specific ordinances enabling us to identify and define them as a collective body. These common traits are not equally prominent, that is, one trait may be more pronounced in one ordinance than in another; for example, the symbol of forgiveness and cleansing is more pronounced in baptism than in footwashing; but the symbol of humility and servanthood is more pronounced in footwashing than in baptism. Again, baptism and marriage are normally observed but once in the lives of believers, whereas the Lord’s Supper and footwashing are expected to be observed often by believers. It comes within the purview of the church’s responsibility therefore to identify and define the ordinances and develop a sound theology of them.
The ordinances are rites that furnish the church with something material or tangible to help build and sustain the spirituality of the individual believer and the corporate identity and fellowship of the church universally, as well as the local churches. Ordinances are thus outward “signs” or “witnesses” with sacred and deeply held spiritual meanings—signs that point to the hidden mysteries of the Gospel. In another sense they may be considered “helps” and “governments” that unite and nourish the church (1 Cor. 12.28; Eph. 4.16; Col. 2.19).
It is critical that the church holds to the symbolic view of the ordinances rather than to the idea that in the act of administration the elements [bread, wine, water, oil, paper and ink, laying on of hands, etc.] somehow have an independent and intrinsic power of their own—a self-inducing power to regenerate, sanctify, and heal believers. The error in this doctrine is especially pronounced in religious traditions that hold to baptismal regeneration [that somehow regeneration happens when one is sprinkled or submerged in water by a duly appointed minister], or that saving grace is bestowed upon the recipient of the Eucharist because somehow the elements of bread and wine are miraculously converted into the real flesh and blood of Christ in the act of administration; or that the “real presence” of Christ is in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper [Eucharist]; or that in the case of footwashing the element of water somehow efficaciously produces humility and cleanses the recipients; or that the power of healing is intrinsically present in anointing oil; etc. Rather the ordinances and their elements are symbols and “signs” that have no efficacy of grace within them nor any real objective virtue except in their divine design as signs, symbols and memorials of the Gospel mysteries.
Ordinances signify [“sign-ify”], that is, point to the hidden mysteries of the Gospel in Christ. In this sense they may be “a means” to confession, consecration, and strengthening grace, that is, the Holy Spirit may use the ordinances as vehicles or channels to do a supernatural work in the heart of believers. As such, the ordinances give occasion and opportunity for confession and consecration and for the Holy Spirit to bless and reconcile and strengthen believers: and they serve at the same time as visible witnesses to an onlooking world of the invisible grace and power of Christ. It is important therefore to maintain that the ordinances do not have any redemptive grace and quality in and of themselves. They do not work ex opera operato, as Roman Catholicism teaches, that is, they do not have any intrinsic or peculiar power within themselves to work independently of the Holy Spirit to change a recipient’s heart. To put it another way, ordinances [“sacraments”] are never the “cause” of redemptive grace and salvation; thus the observance of an ordinance is not necessary to obtain justification [regeneration] and sanctification: for spiritual transformation is essentially the work of the Holy Spirit through personal faith on the part of the believer. The repentant thief on the Cross in Luke 23.43, the Spirit-baptized believers in Acts 10-44-47, and the believers before Abraham’s time provide indisputable evidence of this truth.
Ordinances symbolize divine principles and mysteries that are vital to the church’s worship, unity, and outward structure. As such, they have practical value as well as spiritual value, that is, they give witness to the outside world of the intrinsic, dynamic power of the Gospel working within the church, and in the same instant help to identify the visible church and to solidify and edify her corporate union and fellowship. Inward spiritual experience calls for an external witness! It is important to maintain, therefore, that the mysteries signified by ordinances are essentially in the operations of the Holy Spirit not in the elements of the ordinances [water, bread, wine, oil, flesh and blood, etc.] nor in their administrations and performances, nor in their administrators and dispensers. That was the powerful deception that gradually led to Constantinian Christianity in the fourth century that plunged the church into darkness and apostasy!
Since the ordinances have symbolic meaning as well as practical, they are ceremoniously observed (some more so than others, as in the case of baptism, the Lord’s Supper,footwashing, and marriage). In this way, though the very essence of ordinances is spiritual in significance the outward observance of them gives witness to the outside world and serves at the same time as channels through which grace by faith may be ministered to the church—to the “members in particular”. They are therefore signs and symbols but also acts of obedience in conformity with the divine order of Christ for the church on earth. This is important to grasp, for otherwise—since we hold that the elements [water, bread, wine, oil, flesh and blood, etc.] of the ordinances symbolize rather than embody the “real presence” of God—the ordinances would fade in significance and inevitably cease to be observed. It is incumbent upon God’s church therefore to establish a proper biblical estimation of the ordinances as well as to correct any overestimation of them. In other words, we should not exalt nor idolize the “baby” [the elements and ceremonial exercises], but we should be just as careful not to “throw away the baby with the bath water”.
The ordinances thus have several essential characteristics or traits. We have seen that they 1) were instituted or affirmed by Christ during His earthly ministry; 2) serve as signs of the very “mystery” of the life and transforming power of the Gospel; 3) symbolize the mysteries of the Gospel; 4) memorializethe mysteries of the Gospel; 5) provide tangible aids to reenact [“show forth”] the mysteries of the Gospel; 6) provide channels or mediums for forgiveness, cleansing, reconciliation, and consecration. We see these characteristics in baptism, the Lord’s Supper, footwashing, marriage, the ministry and proclamation of the Word of God, anointing with oil, laying on of hands, etc. [Jn. 13.8-10; Acts 10.44-48; 1 Cor. 7.9-16; 11.27-33; Eph. 5.26-27; Heb. 4.12; Jas. 5.14-15); and, thus, we should expect to see a symbol of cleansing represented in any divine ordinance of the church; 7) finally the observance of the ordinances by the church is commanded by the Lord and the apostles (Mt. 26.26-28; 28.19-20; Mk. 16.16; Jn. 13.14-15; Acts 12.38; 0.48; 1 Cor. 11.23-25; Jas. 5.14-15).
“Ordinance” preferred over “Sacrament” or “Mysteries”
Several terms have been used in Christian history to identify what we refer to now as “ordinances.” Included among these are “mysteries”, “sacraments”, “ceremonies”, and “witnesses.” By the third century the term “sacrament” became the predominate term in the Latin-speaking churches, whereas the Greek-speaking churches preferred the term “mysteries”. Among the radical reformers in the sixteenth century the term “ordinance” came to be preferred over against “sacrament” because the Early Church soon after the passing of the apostles began to corrupt the meaning of a sacrament.
“Sacrament” is derived from the Latin sacramentum [“vow”, “oath”, “pledge”] and was substituted in lieu of the biblical word, mysterion, “mystery”, e.g., in Eph. 5.32. The term was not offensive at first and was even helpful so long as it implied simply the element of a sacred commitment as it was originally used in military circles in the Roman world. In those days it signified a solemn pledge to duly appointed authority and principles, and in that sense was an appropriate and fitting term to encourage a sober and sacred pledge of consecration and commitment to the government of Christ and His church in the observances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But once the term was perverted to mean that the mystery or hiddenness of the Gospel was infused into the recipients of the sacraments, for example in Communion via the priest claiming to act in the person of Christ and invoking and “calling down” the Holy Spirit to miraculously change the elements [bread and wine] into the body and blood of Christ, making them thus inherently efficacious, then the term and the whole sacerdotal [priestly] system was to be rejected.
These ideas were kernels of heresy sown in the early centuries that eventually germinated, took root and grew up to corrupt and divide the church. Augustine in the fifth century, following in the steps of Tertullian and other second- and third century Church Fathers, lent his powerful influence to the developing sacramental and sacerdotal system, defining a sacrament as “the visible form of an invisible grace”, and, after the manner of Greek Mystery religions, thought of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as initiatory rites into God’s kingdom and church. The door into the Dark Ages was thus thrown wide open. Thomas Aquinas, following in this tradition in the thirteenth century, defined a sacrament as a “Sign of a sacred thing in so far as it sanctifies man”. The church of the Dark Ages thereafter increasingly believed that the “sign” and “visible form” of the sacrament automatically and mechanically bestowed grace upon the recipients. It was thus that the dynamic and spiritually powerful church that we see operating in the New Testament—“a habitation [dwelling place] of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2.21), whose ministers were quickened and sanctified and charged with the power of God (Acts 1.8; 2.1-4, 15-18, 31-33, 37-47; Heb. 1.7), became a static organization composed in large part of empty forms, Christ-substituting rituals, and spiritually dead [unregenerate] members (Mt. 5.20; Col. 1.21-23, 27-29; 2.4-15, 18-23; 3.1-6; 1 Tim. 4.1-3; 2 Tim. 3.1-8; 2 Pet. 2.1-3, 14-19; Jude 3-8, 11-19; Rev. 1.9-11, 20; 2.5, 13-17, 20-23, 26-29; 3.3-6, 11-13, 15).
Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Anglican churches agree today that some form of “transubstantiation” takes place in the administration of the Eucharist [Lord’s Supper]: that is, that the elements in the Lord’s Supper are somehow mysteriously changed into the real body and blood of Christ; and others, e.g., Lutherans, teach that the “real presence” of Christ is in the elements of the sacraments, particularly in the Lord’s Supper.
As early as the second- and third centuries, certain Church Fathers [Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Irenaeus, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian, Ambrose, Methodius, et al.] began imagining
that the effects of the “Paschal Mystery” of Christ—His suffering, death, and resurrection—were somehow conferred upon the recipients of the sacraments through duly ordained priests speaking “consecrated words” invoking the Holy Trinity and transforming the elements into “another reality.” The mysteries or “hidden things” of God were thus believed to be infused into believers through participation in the “sacred rites”. It was in this way that, soon after the passing of the apostles, old pagan temple rites and superstitious concepts became mixed with Christian teachings and found their way into the church.
We have noticed that the infusion of Greek Mystery religion with its forms of magic and superstition had begun to be associated with baptism and the Lord’s Supper very early in the worship and practice of the church in the second- and third centuries and was later more fully developed in the Roman Catholic tradition. During the Middle Ages, Roman Catholic scholars [scholastics/schoolmen] in the eleventh- through the thirteenth century had come under the influence of Aristotle’s philosophy, particularly his metaphysics, and accordingly developed a crafty and sophisticated distinction between “matter [substance]” and “form” in an attempt to defend and explain the mystery of “transubstantiation”. As such, it is said that the “substance” of the bread and wine in the Eucharist is mysteriously converted [“radically changed”] into the real body and blood of Christ while the “accidents” of the bread and wine [their weight, texture, color, shape, etc.] remain the same. Moreover, the celebration of the Mass began to be perceived as a “sacrifice” early on in Christian history [third century] but was more craftily developed during the scholastic period. In the process the priest was exalted as one acting in the person of Christ to “make” the “sacrifice” effective! The “miracle” happened as the priest lifted upward the “host” (bread) and uttered the Latin words, Hoc est enim corpus meum (“for this is my body”).
We should pause here to say that, though the Roman Catholic Church propagates many doctrinal distortions and a great deal of practical corruption, there were during the Dark Ages, even as there are now, many wonderful and dedicated Catholic Christians in the world—believers whose hearts God has touched and transformed by grace through faith in spite of the corruption of the institution of which they are a part. We can be thankful moreover for the many good works that has been done [and is being done today] in the name of the Lord among Roman Catholics. Accordingly, we are not judging the hearts nor the sincerity of Roman Catholic individuals nor the individuals of any religious group (only the Lord can do that); but we are divinely instructed to discern and test through the Holy Spirit the “spirit of error” and judge right and wrong by the rule of God’s Word in Holy Scripture (Mt. 22.29; Jn. 20.9, 23; 1 Tim. 4.13-16; 2 Tim. 3.15-16; Rom. 15.4; 2 Cor. 5.1-13; 6.2-5; 2 Pet. 1.16-20; 1 Jn. 2.18-19; 4.1-6). Further, we should pray for our brethren in other religious groups that their heads and not their hearts may be charged for any errors and deceptions and intercede for them with our Lord in saying, “Father forgive them for they not what they do.” And we can hope and pray that they will hear that prophetic “voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18.4).
During the early Middle Ages, the superstitions associated with transubstantiation and priestly powers captured the imagination of lay Catholics and ordinary people everywhere in the Western World—especially in European states and in the British Isles. This phenomenon was the more enhanced by the priests administering the sacraments in Latin idioms [a language spoken and understood almost exclusively by educated priests]: for it seemed to the average person—in an age of widespread and prevailing illiteracy—that the sacramental ceremonies were performed not only under peculiar mystical powers but under a transcending sacred canopy—“the Holy Mother Church”. Liturgies spoken in Latin provided a convenience which the institution tended to manipulate to control the people.
Many “miracle stories” associated with the Eucharist were fanciful and sensationalized. Theologians and priests described the Mass in fantastic and metaphorical ways, for example, the priest washing his hands at the altar supposedly reflected Pontius Pilate washing his hands of the judgment of Christ. Though the priests had no power to manufacture deity nor to “call down the Holy Spirit”, yet it was made to seem so especially in the imaginations of the biblically illiterate and ill-informed. The faithful were taught to tip their hats in reverence and “gaze adoringly” upon the host [bread] as the priest performed the mysterious ceremony. It was not uncommon for people to run from church to church to capture the moment in the Mass when the priest lifted up the “host” and the chalice [wine cup], for it was commonly believed that beholding the Eucharist helped to preserve youthfulness and heal the sick. There was also a proliferation of Masses privately celebrated for the dead and for wealthy recluses. Remains of the consecrated hosts [Communion bread] was often held back and given to the sick, based on the popular superstition that the bread, having been consecrated by the priest, contained miraculous healing powers.
Since we know that such “hocus-pocus” does not actually change the bread, how then is such a practice not plain and simple idolatry? For the bread has no more deity in it than did the wood and stone idols of the Egyptians, Canaanites, and Babylonians (Is. 44.9-20). The “blest bread” can no more see, hear, and speak than the graven images and dumb idols of pagan Persia, Greece and Rome. For transubstantiation or salvation is not in the hands and words of priests but in the souls of believers who receive into their hearts and confess with their mouths the Lord Jesus Christ: having been quickened to newness of life by grace through faith and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 3.3-8; Rom. 4.17; 5.5; 8.9-11; 10.6-10; Eph. 2.8; Col. 1.13). Accordingly, what needs transformed is not the bread and wine but the person observing the ordinance as he/she recalls the symbolic meaning of the bread and wine.
The Roman Catholic Church continues today to teach that Jesus’ one bloody sacrifice on the Cross is repeated over and again in an “unbloody manner” so that every generation of Roman Catholics can miraculously have the full benefits of Christ’s historical death and resurrection in present space and time. Accordingly, Christ is offered up as a sacrifice thousands of times on any given day—an irreverent fiction and heresy contradicted plainly by the Scriptures and reason (cf. Rom. 6.9-10; Heb. 9.24-28; 1 Pet. 2.24; Rev. 1.18; see also Is. 53.4-12). But the more subtle danger of this teaching is that it inevitably tends to substitute the sacrament and its priestly administration for the dynamic ministry of the Holy Spirit and personal, regenerating faith on the part of the participating professing believer.
“Beware lest any man spoil you [take you captive] through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments [principles] of the world, and not after Christ” (Col. 2.8).
The doctrine of “transubstantiation” was taught in the Lateran Council in 1215, reinforced in the Council of Trent in 1551/1562 and reaffirmed in Vatican Council I (1869-1870) and Vatican Council II (1962-1965). It continues today to be a cardinal teaching of Roman Catholic faith and practice, and a primary pillar of that ecclesiastical institution (cf. Mt. 15.3, 6; Mk. 7.6-9, 13; Col. 2.6-8 Thess. 2.7-12; 1 Tim. 4.1-8; 2 Pet. 2.1-3, 10, 14, 17).
Salvation Plain and Simple
It was thus that the plain and simple teachings and practices of Jesus and the apostles regarding how salvation is received were superseded by the doctrines and practices of the sacramental and sacerdotal [priestly] system of Roman Catholicism during the Dark Ages, and spread thereafter through the East by the Greek Orthodox Church after the “Great Schism” in 1054, and throughout the British Isles and the American Colonies by the Anglican Church in the sixteenth- and seventeenth centuries. The whole of Western Civilization was thus permeated with a sacramental and sacerdotal view of Christianity.
In contrast to this sacramentalism and sacerdotalism, the simple Bible steps to justification and spiritual transformation which were taught and illustrated by Jesus and the apostles are as follows: 1) by the anointed proclamation of the Gospel via preachers, lay witnesses, and/or directly by the Holy Spirit speaking to one’s conscience (1 Sam. 3.4-10; Is. 52.7-8; Jn. 10.16; Acts 1.8; 2.36-37; 9.4-5; Rom. 1.15-16; 10.8-9, 14-16; Eph. 4.11-16; Titus 2.11-12; Heb. 4.12); 2) by outwardly and inwardly hearing the Word of God (Acts 2.37; Rom. 10.8-9, 14-17; Gal. 3.2-5); 3) by being convicted [reproved] by the Holy Spirit of one’s sinfulness (Jn. 16.8; Acts 2.36-37); 4) by sensing the guilt of one’s transgressions (Ex. 34.7; Deut. 21.9; Lev. 5.3-5; Ps. 51.1-4, 6-10; Acts 2.36-37; 7.51-54); 5) by “godly sorrow”, confession and repentance (Mt. 3.1-2; 11.21; 12.41; 26.75; Rom. 10.9; 2 Cor. 7.8-10; 1 Jn. 1.9; 2 Sam. 12.13); 6) by opening one’s heart to receive Christ (Rom. 10-8-10; Eph. 4.18; Rev. 3.20); 7) by regeneration [“born again”] (Jn. 3.3-8; Titus 3.5; 1 Pet. 1.22-23), that is, by personally receiving Jesus into one’s heart by “grace through faith”as Lord and Savior, being transformed thereby into a “new creature” in the image of Christ (Rom. 8.9; 2 Cor. 3.18; Eph. 2.8; Col. 1.13; 3.10).
It is of paramount importance to maintain that these steps may be taken and salvation experienced fully without priest or sacrament (Jn. 1.12-13; 3.5-8; 5.24; 6.29; Acts 10.44-47; 16.30-31; Rom. 8.8-11; 10.8-11; 2 Cor. 5.17; Gal. 3.26; Eph. 2.8; Col. 3.10; 1 Jn. 1.9; 4.7-9). This is not to discount the importance and place for an ordained ministry and ordinances in the church, but simply to put things in proper biblical perspective. As such, pagan superstition and “any-thing-goes” liberalism may be avoided on one hand and legalism and rigid religiosity on the other.
It was inevitable that the “doctrines of demons” and “damnable heresies” embedded in sacramentalism and sacerdotalism would be substituted in lieu of a true and efficacious transformation of one’s life through faith and the Word of God: for natural [unregenerate] man desires salvation without true spiritual transformation (Mt. 23.23-29, 37; Mk. 8.34-38; Rom. 1.16-32; 1 Cor. 1.18-31; 2.1-16). Sinful men desire justification without regeneration; religion without righteousness; glory without suffering; heaven without holiness. It was thus that, according to the prophecy of the Holy Spirit, religious forms (sacraments, etc.) were instituted to fill the vacuum of the absence of the dynamic and supernatural workings of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men.
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils [demons]; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron . . . If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. But refuse profane and old wives’ fables and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things . . . Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands by the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear before all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing so thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4.1-16).
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be . . . covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers . . . unholy . . . Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof . . . Ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith . . .” (2 Tim. 3.1-8).
The heretical illusion that somehow the Paschal Mystery of Christ transforms a believer through a sacred sign or “visible word” and material element administered by a priest led Jerome in the fifth century to purposely render the Greek term mysterion, “mystery” as sacramentum in his Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible (see Eph. 1.9; 3.2-5, 9-10; 5.32; Col. 1.26; 1 Tim. 3.16; Rev. 1.20; et al). But, as noted earlier, sacramentum was first substituted for mysterion by Tertullian in the third century and this led later to the corruption of the “sacraments” and ultimately to the fall of the church in the fourth century.
Zion Assembly stands between Two Extremes
Some of the radical reformers in the sixteenth- and seventeenth centuries—after they had been awakened to the evils of the sacramental and sacerdotal system—gave a great deal of thought to this subject but tended to overreact against the Roman Catholic view of the efficacy of the sacraments as inherently containing grace and being able to bestow grace upon the recipients. In many cases these reformers either completely spiritualized the sacraments or abolished them altogether [e.g., certain Anabaptist groups led by men like Hans Denk, Jacob Kraus, and Hans Bunderlin, and later George Fox and the Quakers], while others like Zwingli and the Swiss brethren maintained the need for sacraments but saw them as mere symbols. On the other hand, Pilgram Marpeck [d. 1556] of the South German Anabaptists insisted that the ordinances should be observed but that they were more than “mere symbols” [in contrast to Zwingli], yet they did not “contain” nor especially “produce” grace [in contrast to Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy]. He developed a theology of the ordinances that gave the observance of them deep meaning yet denied that they contained and/or produced grace and salvation. Accordingly, the “real presence” of the Lord could indeed be experienced in the life of the believer during the administration of the ordinances, but not automatically or in any mechanical sense nor as a natural consequence of the observance; rather it was through faith and reverent obedience to the divine order of things appointed by the Lord. The ordinances simply provided the form, the Holy Spirit and the faith of the believer produced the spiritual dynamic and divine blessing. Thus, without the active agency of the Holy Spirit and the faith of the recipient the ordinances were merely external acts, empty forms, without any real meaning—mere perfunctory bodily exercises (cf. 1 Tim. 4.6-8; 2 Tim. 3.5-7; Titus 1.16; and cp. Amos 5.21-26).
Marpeck maintained that Communion [Lord’s Supper] was basically a memorial meal and held “for the renewal, strengthening and comfort of the soul, and for nothing else.” The members of the church were to examine themselves earnestly to see whether they stood in love and harmony with their brothers and sisters in Christ, and if they were loving their enemies and loving the Lord enough to be willing to give up their lives for Him. As such, the ceremony of Communion is to give place for consecration and for reconciliation, if need be, both for the individual member and for the members of the church collectively. Ultimately, the aim of a disciplined observance of the ordinances is to cultivate and maintain a pure church.
Ordinances Distinguished from Commandments
The divine ordinances of the church are distinguished from and contrasted with commandments, precepts, and statutes. In the broad sense, the meaning of “ordinance” is almost synonymous with “law” and “commandment” (Ex. 18.20; Lev. 18.4; Num. 9.12; Eph. 2.15; Col. 2.14). But in the stricter traditional sense ordinances came to signify religious rites that represent and symbolize the most vital and fundamental principles of the church. As such, they are foundational pillars of the church and less in number than commandments and statutes in general. Another distinction is that ordinances involve two or more persons or members of the church, whereas commandments, precepts, and statutes apply axiomatically to each member or believer individually; and thus, as already noticed, the ordinances belong properly to the church as a corporate body [though, as noticed earlier, are observed and administered imperfectly outside the church].
There is also a distinction of things that may be said to have sacramental traits yet lack the status of an ordinance and accordingly should not be celebrated as such: for example 1) personal and corporate [communal] prayer [Mt. 6.5-15; 1 Cor. 16.15, 19]; 2) church covenant [Ex. 19.5-8; 24.6-8; 2 Kg. 23.1-3; Mt. 18.18-20; Jn. 17.6, 8, 8]; 3) anointing with oil [Ex. 29.21; Lev. 8.12; 14.18; Ps. 92.10; Mk. 6.13; Jas. 5.14-15; 4) right hands of fellowship [Gal. 2.9; see also 2 Kg. 10.15; Ezra 10.19]; 5) assembling together
[Ps. 122.1; Mt. 18.15-20; Lu. 4.16; Acts 1.13-14; 2.42; 15.2-4, 6-19, 22, 25; 1 Cor. 1.10-13; 5.4-13; Heb. 10.25]; 6) laying on of hands [Num. 8.10; 27.18; Mk. 5.23; 16.18; Acts 6.6-7; 8.15-17; 9.17; 13.3; 19.6; 1 Tim. 4.14; Jas. 5.14]; 7) holy kiss/kiss of charity [Rom. 16.16; 1 Cor. 16.20; 2 Cor. 13.12; 1 Thess. 5.26; Acts 20.37]; 8) devotional covering/veiling [1 Cor. 11.1-16], 9) singing of hymns and spiritual songs [Ps.95.1-2; 96.1-4; 98.1-2; 105.1-2; Eph. 5.19; Col. 3.16]; 10) fasting [Neh. 9.1; Ps. 35.13; Joel 1.14; 2.12, 15; Mt. 6.16-18; 9.15; Lu. 2.37; 2 Cor. 6.5; Jas. 4.9]; 11) solemn thanksgiving [Ps. 1.14; 95.2; 105.1-2; 106.1-2; 1 Thess. 5.18]; etc. It will be noticed that most of these practices are observed in connection with the church as the ordinance proper.
The following institutions and practices seem to bear all the marks of an ordinance (sacrament) and therefore should perhaps be recognized and observed as such. Among those to be considered are: 1)the church itself [see below]; 2) ministry/ordination [see below]; 3)marriage [see below]; 4)public Bible reading [see below].
Number of Ordinances
We have seen that baptism, Lord’s Supper, and footwashing were accepted in the very beginning of the restoration of the church in 1886 and have never been questioned; and therefore need not be reviewed here. The question is: are there other ordinances that we should be practicing and celebrating? If so, how many? In my estimation there are at least seven common practices of the church that should be considered and possibly recognized as divine ordinances. I raise this point not to create controversy nor because we have nothing better to do, but because I can see where these practices might significantly stabilize and nourish the church and enhance her ministry and outreach to the nations. And, further, it may help support our claim that God directed our actions in 2004 and raised up Zion Assembly to be the prophetic “city set on a hill” to shine forth the light and truth of Christ to the nations (Is. 2.2-4; 49.6, 23; 60.1-5, 14; Mt. 5.14; Eph. 5.14; Phil. 2.12-15; 1 Tim. 3.15; Rev. 19.7-8; 21.2-3, 9-11).
Foremost in our consideration and reevaluation of divine ordinances should be the church itself. For the church is not only a divine institution but bears all the marks of an ordinance. First, the mysteries of the Gospel are embodied in the church, the “body of Christ”, and are proclaimed [preached] by the church (Mt. 29.18-20; Jn. 17.6-14; 2 Cor. 3.23; Eph. 1.2-9, 15-23; 2.11-22; 3.6, 9-12; 4.1-16; 5.24-32). The church is therefore avisible sign and witness to the world of the grace of God and His transforming power, and a channel through which that grace may be obtained (Song 6.8-10; Is. 60.1-5, 14; Mt. 5.13-14; 2 Cor. 3.2-3; Eph. 3.3-6, 9-10; Heb. 11.7; 1 Tim. 3.15; Rev. 12.1-17; 19.7-9; 21. 2-3, 9-11).
Second, the church owes its life and being to the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ: for as Eve was formed from the rib of Adam, so the church came from the broken side of Christ and was purchased by His blood (Jn. 19.34-37; 20.27-29; Acts 20.28; 2 Cor. 11.2-3; Eph. 1.14; Col. 1.26-28; Heb. 9.11-17; 1 Pet. 18-23). Indeed, the church is crucified and resurrected with Christ, and “[sits] in heavenly places in Christ” (Rom. 6.4-6; Eph. 1.3; 2.5-6; Phil. 3.20; Col. 3.1-2). In one sense the church is an extension of the Incarnation (2 Cor. 3.2-3; Col. 1.24), which is symbolized in the metaphors “Body of Christ”, “City of God”, “House of God”, “Temple of the Holy Spirit”, etc. (Mt. 5.14; 1 Cor. 6.19; 12.24-27; Eph. 1.23; 2.16, 21-22; 3.6; 4.4, 12-16; Col. 1.18; 2.17-19; 1 Tim. 3.15; Heb. 12.22; et al).
Third, to more impactfully emphasize the mysterious union between Christ and the church, the apostle compares it to the divine institution of marriage, saying, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Eph. 5.31-32).
In that the church embodies in its very soul and spirit the “real presence” of Christ, it may be said that the church is the most fundamental ordinance [“sacrament”] for mediating salvation (Gen. 28.10-22; Is. 49.1-6; 60-1-5, 14; Mt. 18.17-20; Jn. 17.20-23; 1 Cor. 12.12-27; 2 Cor. 3.2-3; 5.17-20). For the very life of Christ is reenacted through the life and experiences of the church, that is, the church is dead [crucified] with Christ; suffers with Him; is resurrected with Him; labors together with Him in the ministry; will ascend with Him in the Rapture; will return with Him in the Second Coming; and will rule and reign on earth with Him in the Millennium (Dan. 7.14, 18, 22, 27; Mt. 19.28-29; 20.23; Lu. 19.12-19; 22.29-30; 1 Cor. 6.2-3; 2 Tim. 2.12; 1 Pet. 2.21-25; 3.14-18; 4.1; Rev. 2.26-27; 5.10; 12.5; 19.11-16; 20.1-6).
What the apostle Peter said of obedient wives regarding unbelieving husbands therefore may be said of the church as an ordinance: “that if any obey not the word, they may also without the word be won by the [chaste conduct] of the wives” (1 Pet. 3.1-2), that is, the embodiment of Christ in the church is a powerful witness to a watching world. Indeed, the Word of God lived out is sometimes more powerful than preaching! (cf. 2 Cor. 3.2-3). The apostle Paul speaks along these same lines, saying, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now they are holy” (1 Cor. 7.14), that is, the church may serve as a channel as well as a sign and symbol of the grace of God. Again, Paul says in 1 Cor. 14.23-26 when “the whole church be come together into one place” in an orderly fashion and “all things be done [in an edifying way]”, and one comes into the meeting who is an unbeliever or unlearned he will be convicted and judged by all that he sees and hears and “the secrets of his heart [will be] made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.”
We have stressed that the ordinances do not contain nor especially produce grace in and of themselves. It is so also with the church. The Roman Catholic view that sacraments are effective ex opere operato—that is, as valid and efficacious works of saving grace in and of themselves—therefore cannot be maintained. As we have noted elsewhere, the ordinances cannot be effective except on the bases of personal faith and the dynamic operations of the Holy Spirit working within the recipient believers. The presence and power of the kingdom of God working within the church is necessary and of paramount importance to validate and energize the church as a vehicle or channel for grace (Lu. 17.20-21; 22.18-20; Jn. 3-8; 20-23; Acts 1.6-8; Rom. 1.16; 8.16; 14.17-18; 1 Cor. 2.1-5, 7, 10-16; 4.20; 1 Thess. 1.5; Rev. 2.5, 17. It was thus that Jesus, upon making His famous declaration, “. . . upon this rock I will build My church” then immediately emphasized, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 16.18-19). The obvious implication is that the church’s actions on earth must be in harmony with the will of God in heaven. The “binding” and “loosing” by the church on earth is authorized and validated only by the headship of Christ working through the Holy Spirit in accord with the Word of God (Jn. 14.26; 15.26; 16.7, 12-15; Acts 1.8; Rom. 8.1, 10-14; 1 Cor. 2.7-10, 12-13; 12.3-11; 2 Cor. 3.17-18; Eph. 2.17-23; 4.1-7; Col. 1.12-29; et al).
The ministry of the church was divinely instituted by Christ during His earthly ministry: in fact, at the very founding of the church under the terms of the New Testament (Mt. 5.1-7.28; 10.1-5; Mk. 3.13-16; Lu. 6.12-17; 10.1). It is noteworthy that the ordination of the Twelve Apostles served as a symbolic representation of the twelve tribes of Israel, “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7.38), which was founded at Mount Sinai under Moses (Ex. 19.3-8; 24.3-8; Deut. 4.5-10; 26.17-19: Is. 2.1-4). As such, Jesus simply brought the Old Covenant church to terms under the New Covenant (Jn. 1.1-5, 14-18; Heb. 3.1-16; and compare Ex. 19.5-8 with 1 Pet. 2.9): and then purchased it “with His own blood” (Acts 20.28). The “Sermon on the Mount” (Mt. 5.1-7.28) was virtually an exposition of the teachings and principles of the New Covenant upon which Jesus newly founded the church in contrast with the teachings and principles of the Old Covenant that had been established under Moses (Heb. 3.1-6; 8.1-9.28; Col. 2.6-15).
A significant part of Jesus’ work on earth was to establish the authority and divine nature of the ministry of the church; which significantly formed the very foundation of the church, Christ himself serving as the “chief cornerstone” (Mt. 16.15-28; 18.15-20; Mk. 13.34; Jn. 20.23; Acts 2.42; 1 Cor. 3.9-15; 12.28-31; Eph. 2.20; 4.1-16). As such, the ministry is “set apart” for special services, having been planted in the womb of the church by the very seed of God. Divine authority and ordination are thus derived essentially from God himself (Mt. 28.19-20; Mk. 13.34; Rom. 13.1-3). Still, it is important to maintain that there is no sharp separation between the “clergy” and “laity”. This was in fact a grave error fostered by the apostate church of the Dark Ages, which led to extravagant views of ecclesiastical power. After the passing of the New Testament apostles, the church began to “fall away” and “depart from the faith” (Acts 20.29-31; 2 Thess. 2.1-12; 1 Tim. 4.1-3; Jude 3; Rev. 2.4-5; see also Is. 60.2). Gradually the church espoused and maintained that God had bestowed upon the ordained priesthood the power to forgive sin and to open and close at will the gates of heaven. Further, this priesthood morphed into a pyramidal hierarchy of authority that ascended into the solitary office of the pope, whom it was claimed was by virtue of his office “the supreme head on earth of the universal church” and “vicar of Christ”. Accordingly, the pope often exercised authority and made declarations that contradicted the headship of Christ and His teachings.
Significantly, many of the church fathers in the second- and third centuries opposed the idea of an exalted distinction of overseers, bishops, and priests over against the laity—for example, Hippolytus [d. ca. 236) and Cyprian (d. 258). They emphasized the connection of the ministers with the whole community of faith and the whole church’s involvement in the selection and appointment process of overseers and ministers. Nevertheless, the view of ministry as a static institutional structure won out in the long run over against an anointed, gifted, and Spirit-guided ministry.
This apostate view of the government and discipline of the church is why our forefathers in the Church of God in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth century established a rule of order in which a candidate for the ministry is first recognized and endorsed by the local church of which he/she is a member, and thereafter is examined by the presbytery [the representatives of the universal church], composed of the presiding bishop and national/state overseer [and on occasion a whole body of assembled elders with the people of God] (see, e.g., Numb. 8.9-14). Further, only after the presbytery is fully convinced that the candidate is spiritually fit and divinely gifted (1 Tim. 5.22), is he/she fully endorsed and “set apart” for ministry by the “laying on of hands” (Numb. 8.10; 27.18; Acts 6.3-6; 9.11-17; 13.2-3; 1 Tim. 4.14). Accordingly, the church simply recognizes the gifts and callings of God upon the men and women whom He has sovereignly chosen (Mk. 3.13-19; Lu. 6.12-16; 10.1-11; Jn. 17.6-19; 1 Cor. 1.1; 12.18). Thus, just as the church proceeds from Christ so also does the ministry.
Remarkably, the church shares in the very priesthood and kingship of Christ; mediating salvation, disciplining believers, and ruling and reigning with Christ in His throne (Is. 49.1-6; Dan. 7.22, 27; 12.3; Mt. 10.1, 8; 16.18-19; 18.18-20; 19.28-29; Lu. 9.1-2; 19.12-27; Jn. 20.23; 2 Tim. 2.12; Rev. 3.21; 20.4-6). Ministers are indeed not only “laborers together with Christ” and “ambassadors for Him” on earth in this present age (2 Cor. 5.19-20; 6.1), but, astonishingly, “kings” and “priests” of God and “joint heirs with Christ” of all the glorious promises of God in the Gospel (Rom. 8.17; Rev. 2.26; 3.21).
As such, the ministers of the church are channels for salvation and divinely gifted instruments appointed “for the perfecting of the saints” (Eph. 4.11-16). Thus Paul could say, “I have begotten you through the Gospel” (1 Cor. 4.15) and again “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Gal. 4.19); and yet again, “Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given me for you, to fulfill the word of God; even the mystery which . . . now is made manifest to his saints . . . which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1.25-28).
We see then that the church—the very “apple of God’s eye” (Deut. 32.10; Zech. 2.8)—cannot be formed nor nourished nor perfected without the various gifts and offices of the ministry: overseers [elders/administrators], evangelists, pastors-teachers, and deacons (Acts 20.28; 1 Cor. 12.28; Eph. 4.11-16; Col. 1.28; 1 Tim. 3.1-13; Titus 1.5-9). We are admonished therefore to “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in word and doctrine” (1 Tim. 5.17) and to “know [recognize/honor] them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their works’ sake” (1 Thess. 5.12-13); and again, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they must give account . . .” (Heb. 13.17; see also vv. 7, 24).
Recognizing and maintaining a biblical view of the ministry as an ordinance of God is necessary for the formation and discipline of the church. This has perhaps never been truer than it is today in view of the universal resistance to duly established government and authority, secular and religious. There is indeed a spirit of “lawlessness” in the air. As God’s church—“a city set upon a hill”, we are to set the example of how to govern and to be governed with grace and harmony and in love, holiness, and truth, manifesting disciplined lives, individually and corporately as God’s “holy nation” and “the body of Christ” (Ex. 19.5-6; Lev. 10.10-12; 20.22-26; Deut. 4.5-8; 26.17-19; Is. 2.1-5; 1 Tim. 2.15; 1 Pet. 2.9; Rev. 20.4-6).
Marriage is a holy institution ordained by God for the benefit and sustenance of humankind (Gen. 2.18, 22-24; 5.2; Mal. 2.14-16; Mt. 19.4-6; Mk. 10.2-12; Eph. 5.23-33). God is its author both for the mutual benefit of the covenant partners and for an orderly rule in the church and the whole of human society (Gen. 1.27-28; Heb. 13.4). Jesus honored and exalted the institution of marriage by attending with His disciples the celebrated marriage at Cana and performing His first miracle there. He thus honored it with His presence and participation (Jn. 2.2-11). The apostle Paul indicates that the very “mystery” of marriage points to the Gospel and one’s initiation into the very life of God (Eph. 5.29-32).
Matrimony has three primary objectives in the divine wisdom: 1) To reflect in the sacred union of man and woman the divine image of God; which is to say, the union of the genders [masculine and feminine] reflect together the wholeness of God; but also marriage reflects the union of God with His people. This is why the Lord calls His union with His covenant people a betrothal/marriage (Deut. 20.7; 22.23-27; Jer. 3.14; 31.31-33; Ezek. 16.8; Mt. 1.18-25), an image that is perpetuated and perfected in the New Testament under the sacred union between Christ and the church as bridegroom and bride (Jer. 31.31-33; Eph. 5.22-32; Rev. 19.7-8; 21.1-2, 9-10). 2) To create a divine order in which the genders [male and female] mutually edify and sustain one another: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually; for each is the counterpart of the other (Gen. 1.27-28; 2.18, 22-25; Mt. 19.4-6; Mk. 10.6-9; Eph. 5.23-33). 3. To establish a hallowed and pure way to populate and perpetuate the race of man on earth—“be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth” (Gen. 1.28; 2.22-24; Mal. 2.14-16; 1 Cor. 7.2-5, 9-11; Eph. 6.1-4).
It is not our purpose here to explain and defend our view of the sacredness and indissolubleness of the marriage bond [covenant]: for this has been well established among us in our tradition of faith. We believe that death alone dissolves a marriage which has been ordained by God and recognized as such by the church (Mt. 16.19-20; 19.8-12; 22.23-30; Mk. 10.6-9; Rom. 7.2-3). What we are endeavoring to do here is establish that the divine institution of marriage bears all the marks of a holy ordinance of God and therefore should be adopted as such by the church.
The sacramental traits of marriage include the following: 1) a biblical marriage is a reflection of the sacred unity within God himself (Gen. 1.27; 2.22-25; 5.2; 1 Cor. 11.3, 7-12; Eph. 5.22-32); and is a symbol of the sacred union between God and His people as bridegroom and bride (Ex. 19.5; Song 5.1; 6.2-9; Is. 49.14-18; 62.5; Ezek. 16.8; Jn. 3.29; Mt. 22.2; 2 Cor.11-2-3; Eph. 5.25-32; Rev. 19.7-8); 2) Jesus and the apostles honored and exalted marriageas a divine institution and sacred ordinance. The apostle Paul intimates in fact that the very “mystery” of marriage points to our spiritual union with Christ in the Gospel and our corporate union together with Him in the church (Eph. 5.23-32; see also Mk. 10.6-9; Jn. 2.2-11; 1 Cor. 12.12-28; Heb. 13.4); 3) it is entered into by a sacred covenant between two eligible persons [male and female], God himself authorizing and witnessing to the sacred union (Gen. 1.27; 2.22-25; 5.2; Mal. 2.14-16; Jer. 3.14; 50.5; Is. 62.5; Ezek. 16.8; Mk. 10.2-12; 1 Cor. 7.2); 4) it is sustained by grace and a sacred commitment [sacramentum] (Gen. 2.24; Deut. 10.20; 11.22; Jer. 13.11; Mal. 2.14-16; Mk. 10.2-12; Rom. 7.2-3; 1 Cor. 7.2-5, 10-14); 5) it is a universal witness of God’s divine order for the human race (Mal. 2.14-16; Mt. 19.4-5; 1 Cor. 7.2-5, 14; Hebrews 13.4; Eph. 5.22-32; Rev. 19.7-8); 6) it is a channel through which the human race, and more particularly the church of God, is divinely ordered and sustained in holiness, truth and divine order (Mk. 10.6-9; 1 Cor. 7.14-16; Eph. 5.22-32); 7) it is universal in its scope, expected to be entered into and honored by all men (Gen. 1.27-28; 2.22-24; Mk. 10.6-9; 1 Tim. 5.14; Heb. 13.4; Rev. 21.2-3; 9-10), excepted only by those who by “the gift of God” remain unmarried and celibate [born as such “from their mother’s womb”] and others “which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” (Mt. 10-12; 1 Cor. 7.7-9).
Public Reading of the Word of God
The Bible, the written Word of God, is a visible sign and witness pointing men to the Gospel of Christ. It is inscripturated prophecy centered on the work and glory of Christ (2 Pet. 1.19-21; 1 Tim. 4.1-3): for “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19.10; see also Lu. 24.27; Jn. 5.39). The Bible is thus a sacred record or witness of Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, ascension, glorification, and on-going intercessory work in unity with the Father in His heavenly throne (Acts 7.55; Rev. 3.21). The sacred Book is a written revelation of the saving work of God in Christ, and thus analogous to God’s Word inbreathed into the hearts of believers.
“Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in the fleshly tables [tablets] of the heart” (2 Cor. 3.2-3).
Note the contrast in this Pauline passage between the Word of God written with “ink” in v. 3 and “engraven in stones” in v. 7 with the Word of God written by the “Spirit of the living God” in the hearts of men in vv. 3, 6, 8. The apostle’s words thus reflect the words spoken by Jesus in Jn. 6.63: “. . . the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (see also Gen. 2.7; Ps. 119.93, 130; Mk. 1.22; Lu. 24.32; 2 Tim. 3.16; Heb. 4.12; 2 Pet. 1.20).
Most professing Christians, including a great many preachers and teachers, read the Bible selectively: choosing certain scriptures to support some hobby horse or traditional bias. But God’s church is bound by a sacred covenant to read, study and obey “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Deut. 8.3; Mt. 4.4; see also Ps. 119.6, 13, 128, 151, 160, 172); 1) to proclaim “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20.27); 2) to teach believers in all nations “to observe all things whatsoever that [Christ has commanded]” (Mt. 28.19-20; 2 Tim. 3.16.); and 3) to“rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2.15).
Finally, the written Word in Scripture is a sign and witness of the living Word of God and leads us to the living Word (Jn. 1.1-3, 14). Thus, Jesus said, “My doctrine is not mine but His that sent Me” (Jn 7.16). It is the living Word of God through the Holy Spirit that brings conviction, invokes godly sorry and repentance, produces saving faith, and transforms sinners into saints (Jn. 16.7-15; Rom. 10.17; 2 Cor. 7.8-11; 1 Pet. 1.22-23).
“This Book contains the mind of God; the state of man; the way of salvation; the doom of sinners; and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy; its precepts are binding; its stories are true, and its decision are immutable. Read it to be wise; believe it to be safe; and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you; food to support you; and comfort to cheer you. It’s the traveller’s map, the pilgrim’s staff; the pilot’s compass; the soldier’s sword; and the Christian’s charter. Here is paradise restored; heaven opened; and the gates of hell disclosed. CHRIST is its grand object; our good its design; and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, a river of pleasure. It is given you in life, will be opened at the judgment, and remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the laborer, and condemn all who trifle with its contents!” [Anonymous]
Where observed with sobriety, sincerity, and gravity the Reading of Scripture can produce revival, restoration, and reconciliation (Ex. 24.7-8; Josh. 8.34-35; 2 Kg. 23.1-20; Neh. 8.1-8, 14-18; 2 Cor. 5.18-20). As such, the reading and on occasion responsive readings of the Sacred Scriptures bear all the marks of an ordinance, and thus should be observed as a divine order of worship, ministry, and theocratic administration.
Public Reading of the Word of God is pure proclamation, allowing the Word to speak for itself (Ex. 24.7; Deut. 17.18-20; 31.10-13; Josh. 8.34-35; Jer. 23.29; Jn. 6.63; 7.16-17; Lu. 11.28; Acts 7.38; 1 Tim. 3.13; 2 Tim. 3.15-16; Heb. 4.12; 5.12; 1 Pet. 1.22-23; 4.11; Rev. 1.3). When asked about defending the truth and reliability of the Bible, Charles Spurgeon once answered, [“The Bible is like a lion, it doesn’t need defending; just let him out of his cage and he will defend himself”].
The Reading of Holy Scriptures is commanded and encouraged in both Old and New Testaments, and otherwise taught by precept and example by Christ and the apostles and prophets (Deut. 31.10-13; Josh. 8.34-35; 2 Kg. 22.8, 10-13; 23.1-3; Neh. 8.1-8, 14-18; 9.3-6; Ps. 119.11; Is. 34.16; Jer. 36.6-8; Lu. 4.16-22; Acts 13.13-15; 17.2-4; Tim. 4.11-13; 2 Tim. 3.14-16; Rev. 1.3); and it was practiced in the New Testament churches (Acts 15.13-17, 21; Rom. 15.4; Col. 4.16; Rev. 1.3; 22.10, 18-19).
The significance and result of the act of Public Reading: 1) revelation (Neh. 8.8; Ps. 119.27, 105, 130; Acts 15.6-8, 13-17, 21); 2) cleansing [personal and corporate] (Ps. 119.1-2, 9; Jn. 17.17; Jn. 15.3; 17.19; Eph. 5.26-27); 3) consecration (2 Kg. 23.1-3; Ps. 1.2; 119.11, 80, 88, 117, 156); 4) healing (Ps. 107.20; 119.159; Lu. 4.16-22; 5.17); 5) edification (2 Tim. 3.16; 2 Pet. 1.16-21; 3.1-2; Jude 17, 20); 6) comfort (Josh. 8.32-35; 2 Chron. 34.30-33; Rom. 15.4; Eph. 3.3-10; Col. 4.15-18); and 7) corporate union (Ex. 24.3-4, 7-8; Josh. 8.34-35; 2 Kg. 23.1-3; Acts 15.15-28; Eph. 4.4-6, 11-16; Col. 4.15-16).
The practice of public Bible reading and—as occasion may warrant—congregational responses is at the very heart of the Gospel of Christ; and therefore should be considered a sacred discipline of the church. It demonstrates a sober reverence for the Bible, the written Word of God, the latter being “the record [documented witness/testimony] that God gave of His Son” (Jn. 1.32, 34; 19.35-36; Jn. 20.31; 1 Jn. 5.9-13; Rev. 1.1-3).
In an age in which the great majority of professing Christians are biblically illiterate and falling away from confidence in the Bible as God’s infallible Word written in Scripture, and consequently from serious Bible reading and study, God’s church stands out like a “city set on a hill” holding forth the light of His Word! Like the noble Bereans over against the less noble Thessalonians, the ministers and members in Zion Assembly 1) “read” the Word (Deut. 32.10-13; Is. 34.16; 1 Tim. 4.13; Rev. 1.3), 2) “hear” the Word (Mt. 7.24; 13.16-20, 23; Lu. 11.28; Rom. 10.17; 1 Tim. 4.13; Rev. 1.3); 3) “believe” and “receive” the Word (Jn. 5.24; 8.46-47; Acts 17.11; Heb. 4.2) 4) “search” the Word (Jn. 5.39; Acts 17.11; Is. 8.20; 34.16), 5) “study” the Word (Ps. 1.2; 119.11, 97; 2 Tim. 2.15; 2 Pet. 1.16-21); 6) “love” the Word (Ps. 119.97, 113, 140, 159, 167); 7) “obey” the Word (Deut. 11.27-28; Ps. 119.59-60; Lu. 6.46-49; Jas. 1.22-25).
Observing the Ordinances with Spiritual Peace and Joy
It is expected that a sense of solemnity and gravity will attend the observance of the ordinances; yet since the ordinances are observed by members of the church and born-again believers who testify of being transformed by the grace and power of the Gospel, then it seems only fitting that they be celebrated also with a sense of justified peace and sanctified joy. It should not be odd to witness the recipients rejoicing in the Holy Spirit and manifesting the very graces and spiritual gifts that the ordinances signify, symbolize and memorialize. Moreover, since the ordinances are channels through which the members are called to self-examination, consecration, and obedience (1 Cor. 11.27-33), which on occasion may involve repentance, forgiveness, and cleansing, we would expect to see a renewed spiritual awe for the Lord and the government and discipline of the church, with reverence, diligence, “vehement desire”, zeal and vindication! (2 Cor. 7.5-11). We may assume then that Jesus’ words spoken in the context of footwashing are applicable to all the ordinances: “If ye know these things, happy are ye if you do them” (Jn. 13.17).
Finally, brethren, it seems certain that the significance and benefits of peering deeper into the subject of the sacred ordinances of the church and making any adjustments to our present system of government, worship, practice, and discipline will serve us to great advantage. For when it is realized that in observing these ordinances we are proclaiming [reenacting/ “showing forth”] in a unique way the Gospel of Christ, our ministers and churches will surely desire to commit themselves afresh to the Lord and the government and ministry of His church.
Future Ministers and Leaders
Zion Assembly is blessed with enthusiastic and vibrant children and youth ministries. We can be thankful for every hour spent working with our young people and for every dollar invested in the education and training of the next generation. It is impossible to quantify the impact that these outreaches will have on the future of Zion Assembly.
“Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2.1-2).
We need a long-term plan of training and education to develop in our young people the fundamentals of our faith and especially an ecclesiological [“church”] consciousness: for many of the future ministers of Zion Assembly are currently in our youth and children’s ministries. The Sunday School students of today will be our Sunday School teachers in the next 5-10 years. The young people testifying in services today will be pastoring churches in the next 10 years.
I recall a commercial on television that ran for several months about sixty years ago. It was promoting the superiority of Zenith television sets. That one-minute commercial burned its way into my mind and has stayed with me through all these years. In the concluding few seconds of the commercial a powerful bolt of lightning shot in a flash and entered the television, branding the name “Zenith” onto the face of the frame as it entered. In the same instant a strong and majestic voice declared, “The quality goes in before the name goes on!”
The quality of the church in the next generation depends almost entirely on the quality of the young men and women we are training today for future leadership in the church. A.J. Tomlinson wrote in his 1912 annual address:
“[The ministry] is the most important part of [our work] and should be guarded the most carefully. In the ministry is vested the very life of the church—a straight ministry, a straight church; a crooked ministry, a crooked church; an unwise ministry, an unwise church. Like priest, like people. A stream can never flow higher than its source. A church can never advance higher than its ministry.”
Since the enemy has not been able to weaken the resolve of us older ones here today who have taken a stand for the truth and refuse to compromise or give any ground to the adversary, he is turning his attention to the youth of this generation in an evil attempt to sidetrack the future course of the church.
“There arose another generation after them which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel” (Judg. 2.10).
We must commit ourselves therefore to thoroughly acquaint and instill in this generation of young people sound biblical doctrine and a genuine, transforming experience in the Holy Spirit. We need to breathe into our young people the spirit of courage and a resolute determination to continue to build the house of God according to the “blueprint” of our glorious Architect! (Heb. 8.5; 1 Cor. 3.10-15; Eph. 2.20). For God desires true worshippers, who will worship Him in Spirit and in truth. The devil thinks we will fail to train and inspire the next generation. He thinks he can wait out the old guard and lay claim to our children and grandchildren. But he is self-deceived. For we are bound and determined to train up our children in the way that they should go; for we have been promised that when they are old, they will not depart from the basic teaching and training they have received (Prov. 22.6).
We are confident that our sons and daughters in this last days’ Zion will arise and prophesy (Joel 2.28-29; Acts 2.17-18). They will continue the restoration vision that we restored in 2004, that our fathers and mothers had dug-out and established in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth century, the foundation of which Jesus and the Apostles had laid in the New Testament (Acts 2.42; Eph. 2.20). They may well fulfill the great commission and be living witnesses of the Rapture “caught up” together with the “dead in Christ” to meet the Lord in the air—“a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish!”
Finishing what we have Started
“So Solomon built the house [temple], and finished it.”
We rejoiced in announcing in the July edition of the Voice of Zion that the new addition to the International Ministries Complex was finally underway, after many years of dreaming, planning, and preparing. The construction crews had begun to move dirt and lay-out the foundation of the building on June 19th. This was the fulfillment of a vision that had been first cast in 2009 and more precisely planned out and perfected in the following years.
The building of God’s house in Solomon’s day was first cast in the mind and spirit of King David and was finally constructed under the oversight of Solomon. David had spent many years dreaming and planning the glorious venture, including collecting and preparing the building materials and raising funds for the massive project (1 Chron. 28.11-21; 29.1-9). We have done no less in principle than David and Solomon and in some sense our project is more grandiose and significant than the building of the Old Testament temple: for the church under the New Covenant is the true temple of the Lord—the very dwelling place of God (Jer. 31.31-34; 32.40; 33.14-16; 2 Cor. 3.2-3, 6-9; Eph. 2.19-22; Heb. 8.6-13; 9.1-15, 23-28). Still we have followed a similar pattern as the Old Covenant church in the sense of casting a vision, collecting materials, and raising funds and making financial arrangements for our noble project in this last days’ Zion. In fact, in the truest sense of meaning, we are involved in something much more glorious and significant than the building of the Old Temple: for we are building God’s house on the foundation of Christ and the apostles and the terms of a “better covenant” and a “better sacrifice” with “better promises” (Eph. 2.20; Heb. 7.22; 8.6; 9.23-26).
Remember Jesus’ words to His disciples regarding the “buildings of the temple”: “See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Mt. 24.1-2). On the other hand, this last days’ Zion shall be under the terms of the New Covenant gloriously “caught up” to meet Jesus in the air and dwell eternally with Him in the New Jerusalem. The glorious vision-casting that we will be doing in the facilities of our International Ministries Complex and the doctrine that we will be teaching will give life and spiritual power first to thousands around the world and then to millions and then to tens-of-millions. We will be teaching in the apostle words,
“ . . . the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles [nations]; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1.26-28).
Solomon had been called and consecrated for the special task of building God’s house and began the work 480 years after the children of Israel had come out of Egypt (1 Kg. 6.1; 1 Chron. 28.9-10, 20; 29.10-19). The house of God was seven years in construction. It’s intriguing to note how many times the phrase, “So Solomon built the house, and finished it” is repeated (1 Kg. 6.9, 14, 22, 38). The significance seems to be that Solomon and the children of Israel were diligent to finish what they had started, and what God had inspired and commissioned them to do. Recall Jesus’ admonition and warning in Lu. 14.28-30 in which He counsels us to [“sit down first, and count the cost, to make sure we have sufficient to finish what we have started].” A careful study of the Lord’s words here, however, shows that He has reference more to a heartfelt and willful commitment to the work of the Lord than to financial costs: the main point being that we must be fully committed to make the prophetic vision of the church become a reality: “for where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.” If your treasure is truly centered on fulfilling the church’s God-ordained mission in this world, then there will be your heart also—and your money!
It was this glorious vision of the church—inspired and articulated by King David—that created the positive and cheerful attitude in the people of God to make the vision become a reality. He first passed on the vision and zeal for the house of God to his son, Solomon, and then to the people. He admonished Solomon, saying,
“And thou, Solomon my son, [know God and serve Him with a perfect heart, and with a willing mind: for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands all imaginations of the thoughts . . . Take heed now; for the Lord has chosen thee to build a house for the sanctuary: be strong and do it. Then David gave to Solomon . . . the pattern of the house . . . of God” (1 Chron. 28.9-12).
And he encouraged him again,
“Be strong and of good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed: for the [Jehovah] God, even my God, will be with thee; He will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work for the service of the house of the LORD” (v. 20).
It should not be overlooked that David had “set [his] affection” [his delight/pleasure] for the house of God so much so that he gave of his “own proper good”, that is, his “own special treasure of gold and silver” (1 Chron. 29.3) which he had accumulated during his 40-year reign as king. It was an enormous fortune—a 100 tons of gold and 250 tons of silver! equivalent to about 10 billion dollars in today’s currency. His offering thus equated with his devotion to God; a sincere and heartfelt expression of his love and adoration for the Lord and His house.
And the leaders and people of God followed his example. Everyone gave liberally in proportion to how God had blessed them. David had admonished and encouraged the people, saying, “the work is great, and I have done all in my power to prepare for the building of God’s house . . . who then is willing to consecrate [himself and his service] this day to the LORD?” (vv. 1, 5). Then [the overseers and leaders of the people] “offered
willingly [and gave of their talents and material wealth—gold, silver, jewels and precious stonesinto the treasury of the house of God” [vv. 6-8].
Now notice carefully v. 9. This was the key to the success of building God’s house under the Old Covenant and it is the key today under the New Covenant.
“Then the people rejoiced, for that they offered willingly, because with a perfect heart they offered willingly to the LORD: and David the king also rejoiced with great joy.”
King David’s exaltation of the LORD and prayer of thanksgiving in vv. 10-19 is amazingly insightful and worth quoting here in full: for it reveals more plainly the key that opened the door to God’s favor and blessings on that building program. And since we are assured that these things were written and recorded for our learning and example (Rom. 15.4; 1 Cor. 10.6; Heb. 8.5) we may be assured that the same Jehovah God who was with the people of God in the glory days of David and Solomon will enable us to build His house in these last days and reach the whole world [every nation] with the glorious Gospel of Christ. We just need a joyful attitude and a perfect and willing heart to serve Him and build His house. May the LORD grant it to be so!
“Wherefore David blessed the LORD before all the congregation: and David said, Blessed be thou, O LORD God of Israel our father, for ever and ever. Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all. Now therefore, our God, we thank thee, and praise thy glorious name. But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? For all things come of thee and of thine own have we given thee. For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding. O LORD our God, all this store that we have prepared to build thee a house for thine holy name cometh of thine hand and is all thine own. I know also, my God, that thou triest the heart, and hast pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of mine heart I have willingly offered all these things: and now have I seen with joy thy people, which are present here, to offer willingly unto thee. O LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, our fathers, keep this forever in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of thy people, and prepare their hearts unto thee: And give unto Solomon my son a perfect heart, to keep thy commandments, thy testimonies, and thy statutes, and to do all these things, and to build the palace [temple], for the which I have made provision” (vv. 10-19).
This whole prayer is an acknowledgement that all we have materially as well as spiritually comes from the Lord and belongs to the Lord; and that He has given it all to us in expectation that a liberal portion of it be given back to Him–-“for all things come of thee and of thine own have we given thee.” In other words, we have nothing to boast of in our liberal giving, for all that we have has been given to us graciously by the LORD, that is, it all really belongs to the LORD. It is only fitting therefore that we give back unto the LORD cheerfully out of the abundance that He has given to us. Or to put in the words of David, to “offer willingly” with [“a perfect and affectionate heart and mind”] and to “rejoice with great joy” for the privilege of giving of our means to build God’s house (vv. 5-18).