The Controversy of Zion
Now in the “last days” (2Tim. 3:1) the God of Israel has a controversy with the people of his affection, whom He loves “with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3). These are the elect, the saved in Christ. There is a grave problem in the land where the elect live and worship. Twenty eight times in the Old Testament and once in the New, the LORD God of Israel directly speaks to “my people Israel.” Hundreds of other places the message is the same. The Bible is written to, for and about “Israel: because the LORD loved Israel for ever” (1Kgs. 10:9). But Israel of old, and Israel in the last days also, “have sinned against the LORD, and have not obeyed his voice” (Jer. 40:3). Now at the end time the LORD GOD of Israel pleads with his people, who have nationally rejected His call to repentance. He has therefore narrowed His call to the remnant elect in Israel, who have gathered and worshiped the LORD in a multitude of ways! The God of Israel pleads His cause to the elect today in the controversy of Zion. What is this controversy? How does this controversy of Zion affect to you and me today as the elect in Israel?

by Jerry Gentry

“Hear ye, O mountains, the LORD'S controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth: for the LORD hath a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel” (Mic 6:2).

The God of Israel pleads with his people Israel today, just as He did of old. He tells us, “Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land” (Hosea 4:1).

Here is described gross national disobedience to God’s covenant law. This is the general call of repentance for national Israel to return from iniquity to God. Hosea trumpets this message of God to “the inhabitants of the land,” top to bottom. That’s everybody. That includes the president and politicians in Washington D. C., every hometown mayor and city council, all the way down to every last single man, woman or child.

Nationally, God’s people have historically rebelled against and departed from their God, who sent prophets and pastors to sound the alarm and call the nation to repentance. The prophet calls: “Hear ye the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel” (Jer. 2:4). This is the call to national Israel to return from humanistic dialogue to the Words of God.

Hear ye! Hear ye! The call of God through the prophet is trumpeted to all, who mostly refuse that word, stop their ears and continue to live in sin. Therefore, God tells the prophet to narrow his message and to become more specific. The LORD tells Jeremiah: “Stand in the gate of the LORD’S house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all ye of Judah, that enter in at these gates to worship the LORD” (Jer. 7:2).

Jeremiah pleads God’s legal case not only against national Israel, “the inhabitants of the land,” as did Hosea. Jeremiah more specifically pleads God’s law suit against all church goers, who “enter in at these gates to worship the LORD.” There is no question at all that this message of Jeremiah is narrowed to those gathered with the elect in Israel, the very church of God, where people come specifically “to worship the LORD.”

National Israel rarely hears and turns back to the LORD en masse. Most never darken the doors of a church. Therefore God’s call is narrowed here to those who “enter in at these gates to worship the LORD.” Who are these? These make up God’s church in all her assemblies. This is where God becomes specific to those who gather “to worship the LORD,” which is a tiny number in respect to the nation at large. This group of called out ones, the church, is told: “Wherefore come out from among them [national Israel, who refuse to hear the call], and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2Cor. 6:17). God narrows His call and places it upon a remnant body in the earth, which is referred to eight times specifically as the church of God, also referred to as “a remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom. 11:5).

It is within this remnant, called the church of God specifically, where we find the controversy of Zion. To understand this particular controversy, we must understand the various terms God uses in reference to the people of His affection.

Jesus speaks about “Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King” (Matt. 5:35). This is the capital city of God’s coming kingdom, of which Abraham “looked for. . . which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebr. 11:1). Jerusalem foreshadows “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). We know the bride is the church, “which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9).

Within the walls of this Jerusalem, “the holy city,” we find mount Zion, the very place where the temple of God was anciently built, where Jeremiah called to those who “enter in at these gates to worship the LORD.” At the second coming, Jesus Christ is “a Lamb [who] stood on the mount Zion” (Rev. 14:1), of whom the Psalmist declares, “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion” (Psa. 2:6). Prophetically, mount Zion is the very apple of God’s eye, and represents the elect in Israel.

Just as physical mount Zion lies as a small place within the walls of the great capital city of Jerusalem, spiritual Zion is a small called out remnant group standing within the whole body of Israel. When we read about the controversy of Zion, we are reading about God’s controversy with His bride, His elect, the very remnant church of God, who must come out of deception, as the apostle Paul proclaims to the church: “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2Cor. 6:17).

This controversy of Zion is a cause, a legal suit or indictment, which God has made against the church of God, who “enter in at these gates to worship the LORD.” It is within this very remnant church of God, spiritual mount Zion, that worshippers must do two things. Worshippers must: 1) Come out, and, 2) touch not. Those within that church are told to “Come out from among them. . . and touch not the unclean thing.”

Anciently, the LORD’s house was the temple on mount Zion. God abode in that temple, which foreshadows His very elect: “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1Cor. 6:19). The church is made up of a remnant of individuals, called from the foundation of the world, “that enter in at these gates to worship the LORD!” This is the elect in Israel, the body of Christ, the church of the firstborn, the very place where we today find the controversy of Zion. Once we come out of the world and are assembled together in “the LORD’s house,” we learn that there is an “unclean thing” we are commanded not to touch. This is the very same message of Jeremiah, who delivered the “words of the Lord” (Jer 36:6) to them that “enter in at these gates to worship the LORD” (Jer 7:2).

The controversy of Zion clearly involves these two actions. . . “Come out” and “touch not.” James tells us, “know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). What does this mean? The world worships her gods in a multitude of ways. Jesus tells us: “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:15). He prayed that His church would be kept from the corrupting influences of the world. Coming out “from them” is clearly understood to mean from the world, including national Israel who lives in sin and rebellion. We “come out” by no longer going where we once went and doing the things we once did. We turn from the world when we “enter into the gates of the LORD’s house!” Jeremiah calls all Christians to become churched, as the apostle Paul confirms: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebr. 10:25). Those who are “churched” take on additional responsibility. Those who “come out” are also enjoined, albeit commanded (!), to “touch not the unclean thing.”

It is to “the righteous,” elect, not the worldly masses, with whom Jeremiah pleads specifically: “But, O LORD of hosts, that triest the righteous, and seest the reins and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them: for unto thee have I opened my cause” (Jer 20:12). The prophets never call the nation righteous, for it is “a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me” (Ezek. 2:3). Jeremiah speaks clearly to the elect within the church of God, “the righteous,” when he calls to the church at the time of the end. Isaiah calls this time “the day of the LORD’S vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion” (Isa. 34:8).

This is mount Zion, the very apple of God’s eye, called “the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven” (Hebr. 12:23). As we might suspect, it is among the very elect of God, where Satan does his most deceptive work. What is this “unclean thing” the elect in Israel are warned against even touching? As physical mount Zion is today given over to heathen, fictitious worship, much of the spiritual Zion, the church, is given to heathen, fictitious worship. The scripture calls man made worship, which God has not commanded in his Word, “strange fire” (Num. 26:61). For surely, God has left nothing in worship up to fallible men. What He has not revealed and commanded in his Word amounts to nothing less than “strange fire,” now as it did in the days of old, when the sons of Aaron were visited with sudden death, due to one small insertion of a man made item of worship, an “unclean thing,” about which the LORD said “I have not commanded” (Deut. 17:3).

What is this controversy of Zion, which specifically concerns those of us today who “enter in at these gates to worship the LORD?” This controversy of Zion is God’s call to “worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Nothing else is acceptable at all. All else is condemned as abomination, no sweet incense at all, to Him. What does this mean? It means we must bring our worship of God into compliance with the Word of God. We must learn how to worship Him “in spirit and in truth,” and in no other way. We must depart from all fictitious worship of God!

But you say, “How can we know for certain, that we are not offering ‘strange fire,’ when we ‘enter in at these gates to worship the LORD?’” We can know for sure, when we bring an offering not of our own making, but of things God has already given us in his Word. Will all the daughters of Zion, or modern churches, hear this message of Jeremiah, who cried, “Hear the Word of the LORD!” Largely, they refuse to hear. They say: “With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?” (Psa 12:4). The daughters of Zion have mostly refused the Words of their Lord. Hosea speaks to this very problem in the modern church, when he commands: “Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips” (Hos 14:1-2). The issue here is words, nothing else. Which words will we bring in worship?

It is in worship that “we render the calves of our lips,” where else? And what specific words are commanded that we bring? God has left nothing to human invention. When He commands “take with you words, and turn to the LORD” he means just that. There are acceptable words, and there are words of iniquity, the words of man’s devising. He has not left our worship of Him to human device. Our offerings of praise must be “be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 15:16). Which words are “sanctified by the Holy Ghost?” Jesus tells us: “the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). This amounts to all the words of holy scripture, nothing else. It is presumptuous beyond belief to think that puny man could come up with acceptable words, not already given by the Holy Spirit. God seeks “true worshippers [who] shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (John 4:23). Will we be among the few “true worshippers” today, when we assemble together in holy convocation?

The historic positions of churches regarding worship contrast the following two opinions. The popular position of the “broad way” church states that acceptable worship of God is found in anything He has not specifically forbidden. The opposing “narrow way” position is that acceptable worship of God is found only in what God has expressly commanded, with nothing added. The “broad way” position, embraced across the board by nearly every modern church, is that what God has not specifically forbidden in worship, man is free to bring. The “narrow way” position, commonly called the regulative principle of worship, is that what God has not specifically authorized, man is forbidden to bring. Only a few reformed churches today follow this latter “narrow way” principle, though it was the predominant position of the puritans and reformed churches historically.

The “broad way” position places fallible men in charge of what goes on in worship. The “narrow way” position places God in full charge of all offerings brought in worship. The “broad way” position is permissive, in that everything goes unless God expressly forbids it. The “narrow way” position is restrictive, in that nothing goes, unless God has clearly authorized it. From these opposing two views are formulated two mutually exclusive systems of worship. These mutually exclusive systems of worship will never have the same end results.

The scripture enjoins: “Now be ye not stiffnecked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the LORD, and enter into his sanctuary, which he hath sanctified for ever: and serve the LORD your God, that the fierceness of his wrath may turn away from you” (2Chr. 30:8).

The question then is, who is in charge of our worship, God or man, when we “enter into his sanctuary” to worship the LORD? This is the very question that God pleads through the prophets. This is the controversy of Zion, short and simple. This is God’s legal suit against His worshippers. This is God’s message to His church about acceptable worship. Will we follow the exclusive word of God, sola scriptura? Or will we appeal to sources man made?

God pleads this controversy of Zion with all who “that enter in at these gates to worship the LORD.” He pleads today with his church, through Jeremiah, who further commands: “Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these” (Jer 7:4). How many preachers do you know who make such a cry? You see, “All men are liars.” (Ps. 116:11). How can the words of “liars” be rightly brought into “The temple of the LORD?” The words of “liars,” no matter how good, equate with “strange fire.” Only the words spoken by the Spirit of God, found in the Holy Bible, qualify worshippers to worship Him “in spirit and in truth.”

This is not to imply that there is no time for other words. Other circumstances than worship call forth other responses. Our conversation and fellowship, one with another, outside of “holy convocation,” need not be limited to scripture alone. But when we come together in formal worship, in God’s commanded assemblies called “holy convocation,” we must limit our offerings to what He commands.

Within holy convocation, preaching is commanded to be according to the word “as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). Extemporized public prayer is commanded by Jesus to be “after this manner therefore pray ye” (Matt. 6:9). The Lord’s Prayer is our pattern for prayer. Our singing must be restored to “the book of Psalms” (Luke 20:42), as James declares, “Is any merry? let him sing psalms” (James 5:13). Otherwise, we bring “strange fire.” When we follow this regulative principle of worship, we can be assured of two things. God’s promise to us is the same as His promise to Moses. When we follow God’s commanded pattern we are assured: “there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee” (Exod. 25:22). God’s promise here is that He will come into our presence in worship. Further, he will talk with us. These two factors are largely missing from the worship services of nearly every church in the land. Certainly, our whole purpose of assembling in holy convocation is that we may experience God’s presence in our lives, and hear from Him. He has given us His formula for doing just that. Will we follow His pattern, or will we make up our own?

He pleads this very controversy of Zion yet today. Nothing else, nothing man made, no matter how good and historic, constitutes acceptable worship. Christian, hear and heed the message God pleads with His worshippers throughout history. The controversy of Zion constitutes God’s plea through the prophets that we abandon all “strange fire” and return to His words, whereby we “worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.”

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