Letter to the Brethren: July 12, 2018

Dear Brethren and Co-Workers in Christ:

Greetings from the Five Cities region of California.

We hope and pray that you are growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18) as we all deal with the opportunities, challenges, and difficulties in this age.

Circumcision

Since anti-circumcision protesters have popped up again (see ‘Love ALL of him’: Billboard asks parents to rethink circumcision), this seems to be a good time to address this matter.

Circumcision is an ancient practice and God told Abraham to do this thousands of years ago (Genesis 17:9-14).

Modern science supports the view that male circumcision is a wise decision (see also Health Benefits of Circumcision):

  1. Male circumcision lowers human papilloma virus (HPV) in female partners.
  2. Male circumcision confers an element of protection from HIV (and he cited a USA study)
  3. Uncircumcised males can get their foreskins swollen, sometimes in a dangerous fashion called paraphimosis.
  4. Uncircumcised males are more likely to get a urinary obstruction called phimosis.
  5. Uncircumcised males are more likely to get urinary tract infections.
  6. Uncircumcised males are more likely to have hygiene problems.
  7. Male circumcision provides protection against developing cancers of the penis, prostate, and cervix.

The New Testament neither requires nor prohibits male circumcision.

Related to it, Jesus once stated:

22 Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. (John 7:22)

Now, although the New Testament teaches that Gentile adult males do not have to be circumcised in order to be Christians (Acts 15:24-29), the Apostle Paul had Timothy circumcised anyway (Acts 16:3).

Even though the apostles ruled that adult Gentiles did not have to be circumcised in Acts 15 (as well as Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:18), my own reading into early church history suggests that many Christians continued to circumcise their male babies after this declaration.

The early 20th century theologian J.J.L. Ratton reported:

The early Church at Jerusalem, retained most of the distinctive customs of the Jews, such as circumcision, kosher meats, the Jewish Sabbath, the Jewish rites, and worship of the Temple. Our Lord, Himself, lived the exterior life of a Jew, even so far as the observance of Jewish religious customs was concerned. The early Church of Jerusalem followed His example. The Jews looked upon the Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem simply as a Jewish sect, which they called the sect of the Nazarenes. (Ratton JJL The Apocalypse of St. John: a commentary on the Greek text, 2nd edition. R. & T. Washbourne, ltd., 1915. Original fromt he University of Michigan. Digitized Jun 12, 2007, p. 4)

The historian E. Gibbon wrote:

The first fifteen bishops of Jerusalem were all circumcised Jews; and the congregation over which they presided united the law of Moses with the doctrine of Christ. (Gibbon, Edward ; Eckler, Peter. History of Christianity: Comprising All that Relates to the Progress of the Christian Religion in “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” and A Vindication of Some Passages in the 15th and 16th Chapters. Published by P. Eckler, 1916. Original from the New York Public Library. Digitized Jun 19, 2006, p. 117)

Now, it should be mentioned that in the second century, non-Nazarene professors of Christ, like the heretic Justin, did not practice circumcision.

According to the fourth century Catholic historian Eusebius, starting in the first century:

James, the first that had obtained the episcopal seat in Jerusalem after the ascension of our Saviour…The first, then, was James, the so-called brother of the Lord; the second, Symeon; the third, Justus; the fourth, Zacchæus; the fifth, Tobias; the sixth, Benjamin; the seventh, John; the eighth, Matthias; the ninth, Philip; the tenth, Seneca; the eleventh, Justus; the twelfth, Levi; the thirteenth, Ephres; the fourteenth, Joseph; and finally, the fifteenth, Judas. These are the bishops of Jerusalem that lived between the age of the apostles and the time referred to, all of them belonging to the circumcision. (Eusebius. The History of the Church, 2005 Book III, Chapter V, Verses 2,3.& Book IV, Chapter 5, Verses 2-4 . Translated by A. Cushman McGiffert. Digireads.com Publishing, Stilwell (KS), pp. 45, 71)

But circumcision was not just the practice with the first and second century bishops of Jerusalem. Epiphanius wrote of this group from the time of 69/70 A.D. until his day, that he called the Nazarenes:

All Christians were called Nazarenes once…They were so-called followers of the apostles…they dedicate themselves to the law…However, everyone called the Christians Nazarenes as I said before. This appears from the accusation against Paul…[Acts 24:5]…For they use not only the New Testament but also the Old…For they also accept the resurrection of the dead and that everything has origin in God…Only in this respect they differ from the Jews and Christians: with the Jews they do not agree because of their belief in Christ, with the Christians because they are trained in the Law, in circumcision, the Sabbath and the other things…(Epiphanius. Panarion 29 as cited in Pritz R. Nazarene Jewish Christianity. Magnas, Jerusalem, 1988, pp. 30-34)

Notice the following, by the scholar B. Pixner:

…after Jerusalem was rebuilt as a Roman city named Aelia Capitolina — to obliterate any associations with the Jews — and Hadrian was succeeded by a much milder emperor named Antoninus Pius (138-161 A.D.), the Judeo-Christians drifted back to Mt. Zion. (Pixner B. Church of the Apostles Found on Mt. Zion. Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1990)

Their adherence to Jewish customs, especially circumcision and observance of Jewish holy days, naturally alienated the “Nazarene” Christians from the church that distanced itself away from many practices it considered to be Jewish.

Here is some of what the Catholic scholar Bagatti wrote about some of the gentile Nazarenes in the fourth and probably fifth centuries, that were sometimes derisively referred to as Minim by some Jews:

In fact some Minim of gentile stock, following St. Paul, taught that the Law had been abolished with the exception of the Decalogue…Some Jews…intensified the observance of the Law…especially regarding circumcision and the Sabbath. The Judaeo-Christians in this were in accord with the Jews…(Bagatti, Bellarmino. Translated by Eugene Hoade. The Church from the Circumcision. Nihil obstat: Marcus Adinolfi, 13 Maii 1970. Imprimi potest: Herminius Roncari, 14 Junii 1970. Imprimatur: +Albertus Gori, die 26 Junii 1970. Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem, 1971, p. 108)

While it was not a required practice, throughout history, many “Nazarene” Christians have practiced circumcision, not as a commandment, but as a biblically-based concept, knowing that God’s statutes were good (cf. Nehemiah 9:13).

One of the inquisitors in the Middle Ages found that a certain type of “heretic” (in his mind) uniformly observed the Sabbath and sometimes (though apparently not always) observed circumcision (Davis, Tamar. A General History of the Sabbatarian Churches. 1851; Reprinted 1995 by Commonwealth Publishing, Salt Lake City, p. 88).

Thus, it seems that circumcision was (and still is) often practiced by many trying to be faithful Christians. And because of “Judeo-Christian influence” (like from the Bible), this may be why there have always been a relatively high proportion of circumcised males in the USA (though this may be changing).

While the Bible does not list health benefits that come from circumcision, it would make sense that the Creator of the universe would only recommend physical practices that were beneficial for His human creation. And this practice seems to have many health benefits.

We in the Continuing Church of God, recommend, but do not require, that male infants be circumcised when they are eight days old (Leviticus 12:3). The Church of Rome has tended to be more negative towards male circumcision. Science supports the CCOG view.

Our recommended sermonette this week is about circumcision: Circumcision: Good or Bad?

Almont, Michigan

As mentioned before, I plan to visit the small group we have in Almont, Michigan for services at 2:30 pm, July 21, 2018.

Terry LaFrance said the plan is to meet at the following location:

844 Van Dyke
Almont, Michigan

If you have any questions, please feel free to email Terry LaFrance at: terrylafrance22@gmail.com

I look forward to seeing people who normally attend there as well as any visitors who may come.

World News Items

Over in the UK, its government finally somewhat agreed on a Brexit plan (see UK hopes a weakened proposal may prevent a hard Brexit). However, this resulted in the resignations of the UK’s Foreign Secretary and its Brexit negotiator. Plus, the European Union has not embraced this proposal yet. By the end of March 2019, the UK is supposed to be out of the EU. There is not too much time remaining for negotiations and there are many outstanding issues. The EU is upset with the UK because of Brexit and no matter what happens in the next 8 or 9 months, the EU will one day move to takeover the UK.

The bulk of the mainstream media in the USA seems to be up in arms that a Supreme Court nominee, who is a practicing Roman Catholic, may somehow reduce access to abortions (see Might a Supreme Court decision spark civil war coming to USA?). Abortion is wrong and it would be nice if the Supreme Court of the USA considered that unborn babies are people and should have the right to life. Notice something from the US Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

One would think that US Supreme Court justices would agree with the nation’s Declaration of Independence. Aborted humans do not get life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness.

In multi-national news, we continue to see jostling in the trade conflicts between the USA, Europe, and China (see M&M: ‘EU Blinks First in Trade War with United States,’ China remains defiant, but concerned and DW: Beyond the trade war, US and China fight for economic supremacy). Europe is looking to cooperate more with China (see Germany and China want to unite against USA’s Donald Trump) and Russia (see Donald Trump, Europe, and NATO) and away from the USA.

The USA also keeps pushing Europe to spend more on the military (see Trump calls out Germany over Russia and predicts more European military spending). Today, US President Trump essentially declared victory in persuading the Europeans to increase their military spending (see Donald Trump declares victory with NATO, but . . .). This will not end well for the USA (cf. Daniel 11:39).

In other secular developments, there is some good news in part of Africa. A formal peace agreement is now in place between Ethiopia and Eritrea (see Ethiopia and Eritrea officially are at peace). While it may not last, it is possible that this arrangement will help physically improve the lives of some living in that area.

Speaking of peace, Pope Francis and various ecumenical leaders met to promote their hopes for peace (see ‘Pope Francis Visits City of St. Nicholas in Unprecedented Ecumenical Gesture for the Middle East’). Now, the reality is that one day there will be a TEMPORARY peace deal in the Middle East (Daniel 9:27). This will get many to believe that both the Europeans and ecumenists are on the right track–but that will be a mistake (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:3). Let me further add that most people, including most end time Christians, will NOT believe that the deal made will be the one  fulfilling Daniel 9:27 when we in CCOG say otherwise. But such a deal will happen and the non-Philadelphians are not expected to understand it (cf. Revelation 3:7-19, 12:14-17).

Suggested Sabbath Service

Here is a suggested Sabbath service for this week:

  • 2-3 hymns (our songbook, The Bible Hymnal, contains the materials from the 1974 Bible Hymnal from the old WCG with new covers, plus ten additional hymns; there is also some Choral Accompaniment online).
  • Opening prayer.
  • Sermonette, which for most who receive this letter via email will be a recorded one. The one suggested for this week is: Circumcision: Good or Bad? Other sermonettes are available at the Bible News Prophecy channel.
  • Announcements (if any; though for many it will be this letter) and one hymn.
  • Sermon, which for most who receive this letter via email will be a recorded one. The one suggested for this week is: Acts 3-5: Miracles, Trials, Proclamation, and Persecution. Other sermons are also available at the ContinuingCOG channel.
  • Final hymn.
  • Closing prayer.

Note: If you have a slow internet connection, you can watch these by starting the video, then below it (and towards the right) look for an outline of a gear–if you click on that, it will allow the YouTube video to be played with lower video quality, but at least it will not stop often–you can select a quality as low as 144p. If your internet connection is still too slow (as my home one is) and/or you prefer audio messages to audio-visuals ones, go to the YouTube link for the message, click on SHOW MORE related to the description. You will then see something that says, “Download MP3.” Below that is a link to an MP3 file. Most computers (and even some cellular telephones) will allow MP3 files to be downloaded and played. This is an option we have made available (but we are also looking into ways to improve that as well)–and, of course, we have written article options. Some people have found that if their internet connections are not fast enough, that they can simply listen to the messages that are found at the Bible News Prophecy online radio channel.

IN CASE YOU DO NOT RECEIVE A ‘LETTER TO THE BRETHREN’ FOR ANY WEEK, REMEMBER THAT THERE ARE MANY SERMON MESSAGES ON THE ContinuingCOG channel AND MANY SERMONETTE MESSAGES ON THE Bible News Prophecy channel. There are also some messages at the CCOGAfrica channel.

Concluding Comments

Wonder what you should do, spiritually, this week?

Zechariah was inspired to write the following:

6 So he answered and said to me:

“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel:’Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, ‘Says the Lord of hosts. 7 ‘Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain! And he shall bring forth the capstoneWith shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”‘”

8 Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying:

9 “The hands of Zerubbabel Have laid the foundation of this temple; His hands shall also finish it. Then you will know That the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you. 10 For who has despised the day of small things? For these seven rejoice to see The plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the Lord, Which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.”  (Zechariah 4:6-10)

Brethren, do not give up. God will do what needs to be done through His Spirit if you will always allow Him to. God’s work will be accomplished.

Sincerely,

Bob Thiel
Pastor and Overseer

Posted in Letters to the Brethren
About CCOG
The Continuing Church of God, which attempts to represent the most faithful remnant of the Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7) portion of the Church of God, bases its beliefs on the Holy Bible. Read CCOG's statement of beliefs for more information.