Tag Archives: pharisees

The Long Dark Hour Of Testing

As we must be careful with orthodoxy, so must we be with orthopraxy.

Our words and actions must at all times be carefully applied. Carefully so as not to burden or make demands that harm the tender link of faith to the Christian. For faith, it is tender; and we face great gulfs of terror if we risk with our zeal the faith of even one.

There is a deep darkness awaiting our little selves. When we are alone, sometimes even feeling safe in our solitude, we are not safe. And the burdens that we encounter, even those of the well-meaning and conscientious wise, hoary-heads, are not all ours to bear. They are not always ours to know when to cast off or hide away until another time.

And there is another solitude, that of being carried in the sweeping course of the mass, which is no less dire. One may not realize the insidious, intangible pull of the current that injects more, sometimes less, than can be metabolized. Until far, far beyond the current horizon when a miniscule trip reveals a rent in the flesh more extravagant than all the flagrant insanity of a cult-of-blood.

The darkness is an hour of testing, and it is a lurking thing. It is not well with my soul when I am faced with the things of nightmares. The rising tide of loss and worldly misery may well strengthen my faith. The building-blocks of that same faith may well fail to weather the polish and buttressing of refinement when I am unsteady as often is the case.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
A song in the night, oh my soul!


Comments on the Collision

After five days of following the blogosphere’s Jason Stellman whirlwind, I just have a couple of comments to make.

I got in to work early on Monday, so had a chance to cruise around a couple of my regular favorites. At creedcodecult I had to do a double-take, I assume like many, at what appeared to be a very untimely April-Fools post or maybe an update on the FV-war. Of course, like many found, it was quickly clear that Stellman had in all seriousness communicated his changed convictions regarding Scripture and Faith.

My first reaction was a rather gut-wrenching sort of feeling. I think that, before I really understood the implications of the announcement (or maybe I actually grasped the real implications first), I simply grieved for a man I really don’t know.

Stellman is a semi-famous figure for a few reasons, though I can’t comment much on that. I’m 2k-ish, so I sort of get where he’s big there (I don’t get all the meanings and implications of 2k, so a lot of the details of his writing are beyond me). I’m fairly clear on the Federal Vision problem (as much as anybody can when it often seems there isn’t anything completely clear in the first place) and don’t agree with it, so I was supportive of his work to oppose Leithart’s position as a teacher and so on. But I’ve mostly followed Stellman’s blog because he seemed down-to-earth and, being new to the Reformed/Covenantal/Presbyterian world, I attached to whatever source was discussing the topics in language and imagery I could at least digest. Stellman has been that sort of good reading more often than not.

What does all that mean? It means I don’t have a great amount of attachment to the man himself. He is (was) himself a minister in the PCA, which is very significant. He was closely tied to WSCAL and some of the circles in which I found myself upon encountering my church and the PCA. So I think that, to a guy who’s only a year old in the Reformation, it weighs a lot when a highly regarded minister departs from his flock, his religious ties and ultimately two key threads that bind the faith that I understand to be Christianity.

I grieve for this man, because it appears he’s turned away. I don’t entirely understand his conflicts, but I think if he’s spent the last few months consulting the great and small in the faith for solutions and guidance, I bet he’s pretty squared with the facets involved. I don’t even think I can hazard a guess as to what secret key there is to unlock things for Stellman. Prayer, I guess.

What brings me to grieve the most is the miasma of darkness that has flowed from the blogosphere in only five days. The explosion wasn’t even a trickle. I swear it was like a dog-pile in a football cartoon. One after another just jumped on the man with the ball. And they somehow all succeeded in losing the man with the ball. I think Stellman just shot out of the mess like a greased pig. I wonder if, in all the horrid stabs, if anyone even touched the poor man’s heart with kindness or (Lord help us all) true help.

Sure, there were some real well-wishers and Lane Keister from Green Baggins was probably the most outspoken in compassion for Stellman. But overall, those who professed support and those who condemned very quickly turned upon each other in feral combat, often with little sense or sensibility. There was a flashmob of  slandering, pandering, stomping and biting with little care to Christian charity or even civility (there’s some 2k for you). Lost in the mix was a man who appears to have messed up somewhere, or has a huge chink in his theological framework, that everyone should clearly see needs help of some sort.

Pastors came out of the woodwork to use Stellman as a soapbox to condemn 2k or confessionalism. They analyzed and psychoanalyzed the Leithart trial and books and articles. They took opportunities to blast WSCAL theologians who have contributed immensely to my understanding of the Gospel and God’s revelation. And, to be fair, a couple from WSEAST too. The smear is broad and thick. The machine-gun staccato of “I could’ve told you so” and “That was so obvious years ago” echoed in the spaces between assaults.

So I can’t say I feel his pain because (from my humble perspective) Stellman is seeing a nuclear bomb going off in his heart right now, with all the people he’s interacted with (probably over a long period of time) turning on him or on each other with vitriol and spite. When I slipped quickly and quietly away from the faith in which I was raised and chose witchcraft for my religion, there was a fairly significant series of associated pains. My family and friends were pretty shocked and saddened by my defection. But I wasn’t the kind of person Stellman is. I wasn’t a pastor, theologian, trusted and known individual. I was just a little me with no influence and little credibility to start with . This kind of insanity, probably immense beyond what he could have predicted, is more than a decent man should have to endure – enough to bring the weight of age crashing down on him.

Granted, God is God and He deals with us as He wills. Stellman had a high office and calling. His suffering and trials must rate significantly more intensity than lil’ ol’ me. Especially if he is wrong. To depart from the faith at any time is huge, and to leave ministry under such terms is the biggest deal. Maybe he is wrong. Maybe he hasn’t made everything clear. Maybe he’s not clear on everything and this is (at the root) a long, dark teatime of the soul rather than defection from the Kingdom. I, personally, am inclined to trust that God will not depart from the servant He called to Himself, but that’s me and my little (often foolish) perception.

I guess the flash was inevitable. I suppose this is a miserable mess that must happen and maybe it’ll stir up something wonderful in the end. But for the time being? I haven’t gained much esteem for many in the Reformed world through this. I have lost respect for a few that, up until this week, I have held in fairly high regard. A couple of pastor/theologians I’ve enjoyed studying are not very enjoyable any more because of the opportunistic salvos they’ve released. Were they just rash leaps, I’d probably forgive and forget, but true colors were revealed and that’s enough for me.

It leaves me with this. I will continue to pray for Mr. Stellman and his family, though I don’t know them and probably won’t. I will pray for my own pastor and our elders, as I perceive anew the intensity of their burden and efforts. And I will pray for me and my family too. Closest to my weak little heart is the memory of “changing my religion” and this all reminds me of the hurt it causes. I had a little tweak of fear to realize that I am too easily swayed by the winds of doctrine and words of men. It could happen to me. Just look at the progression I’ve made in the faith since 2004.

I wish I could give encouragement to Mr. Stellman. I wish I could tell not a few pastors and laymen to get back to their church and think about how Christian they’ve been this week. I’ll finish off here with just one observation: Most of the people in the comboxes out there might need to be put back in the cage or whatever their particular tradition calls it.

Pax.


How To Get That Old Time Religion

Based on yesterday’s LONG post, here’s a shorter one.

Remember this part?

A few weeks ago, I put up a little bit about how painful it must have been to be one of the convicted Pharisees at Peters Big Sermon at Pentecost (I should rename the post “Cut To The Heart Thrice“). Think about this:

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”

Those Pharisees were almost certainly thinking of what they had done to their families! When Peter said this (emphasis mine):

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

We know what happened:

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Look again at Peter’s response:

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Imagine their response to Peter. Here, I’ll help.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved

But think about this. If I’m right and the Pharisees were deeply grieved in their awareness of the vast curse they’d brought upon their families, how much more the impact on their souls when Peter gave them the absolution they so needed to hear. They changed radically because the seeds were already planted. Their lineage (think Abraham and how important that theme means) was saved! That is, if you understand the covenantal undergirding of this exchange between Peter and the Jews.

Now,

Think about this: We can best understand how Christ saved us by this very same covenantal perspective. How can He save us if there is no such thing as the covenant that Adam broke, Abraham received, Moses continued, Prophets and Judges and Kings and Priests maintained and returned to year after year? It’s The One Thing that best explains all this. God imputed Christ’s righteousness to His Children! He has died for us and our children – all those God has chosen for His Son.

Now how do we deny the same thing for our children? They’re God’s to do with as He pleases. According to the Bible and its covenants He pleases to have them brought to the sacraments of our church and to be a part of the covenant community.

How did Moses think about the prediction God gave him at the end of his days?

Then the Lord appeared at the Tent in a pillar of cloud, and the cloud stood over the entrance to the Tent. And the Lord said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your fathers, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and difficulties will come upon them, and on that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?’ And I will certainly hide my face on that day because of all their wickedness in turning to other gods.

Maybe he was a covenant type? I wonder what he thought about the demise of Israel?


Let’s Presuppose A Few Things

Courthouse

Part 3. The first two in this line of thoughts on covenants, community and our relationships are here: Anti-Covenant and Individualism  and I Might Just Need To Be A We

At first, this may appear to be more of a formal apology for Covenant Theology, but bear with me. Also, I’m quite sure this has all been said before, so I can’t claim any originality here. That’s safer anyway since any time we deny the last 2,000 years of church history, we’re claiming that our current religion is the only one that is Christian throughout all history. Scary thought, eh? And what I’m about to discuss reaches back just a bit farther than Tertullian or Irenaeus or even Pentecost. Maybe a few thousand years past that. This is long, but I hope it has good returns. And I hope I’ve portrayed this accurately and understandably.

This doctrine of covenants is not pure theology. It’s not a tight, air-less doctrine that we can take or leave and not be deeply affected by the ramifications of the choice. It is hugely important. Once the barrier of modern presupposition is torn down, the other conflicts will start to resolve themselves fairly easily. That’s my own experience, at least.

Let me make the claim about this presupposition thing. There’s all sorts of discussion about presuppositional hermeneutics and theology. And it is absolutely correct to presuppose there are presuppositions required in the study of the Word. Which presupposition, or assumption if you will, is correct is vital, of course. And here’s the basic premise: The Bible is not speaking in the context of the 21st Century, modernity, the Reformation or even back in the days of Augustine. The Bible’s context is the Biblical eras. Get that and you’re on your way to 1st base.

Next, the Bible itself is filled with assumptions. Do you know the importance of Boaz heading out to the city gate when he’s checking on the status of Ruth’s availability? The Bible doesn’t add a footnote or aside comment to plumb the depths of this significant event. It assumes the reader knows what’s going on. The history and cultural importance of what’s going on at the city gate amongst the elders of the community is far more than what some consider just a civil affairs court setting.  Lot’s story was another one with that gate thing going on. But let’s put all that in the back of our minds. We’ve got to go deeper to make better sense of this.

The Bible assumes Covenant Theology. Really. No joke. It assumes the stuff I’ve been writing about in the last few days. We’ve heard all the debate over baptism, the Lord’s Table and Israel’s future so many times. There are conflicts that are so persistent they’ve lasted hundreds of years. I think they’re more heated today than ever. And it’s because, primarily, we have lost the sense of community and covenantal relationships that are assumed in the Bible.

Look at this language:

The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.

When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

And then look at this list: And Your Children and Household

Everybody wonders or fights over these sorts of passages. The Covenant guys extrapolate a connection to things like baptism of infants and the Baptist guys extrapolate the non-existence of infants. All sorts of ideas come up to try to explain this. Sometimes, I wonder if some of the Covenant guys are just as disrespectful of the text as the Baptists when trying to explain their position through use of household and your children. Does the Bible explain what is meant by these sorts of terms? No, not any more than with the gate-court thing in Ruth or Genesis.

Here’s why it’s confusing in the New Testament: When these terms are used, they’re repetition of Old Testament Language. And no, that’s not to “bring” the Old Testament way of thinking back to these Jews of the first century. It was to remind them of the significance of events past that correlate to current events. In all that was changing around in the New Covenant, there was going to be some conflict. Pharisaical law, gentile inclusion, realized forgiveness and justification, missionary trips, diaspora – all these things were new and scary and confusing. People needed to, get this, hear that everything hadn’t just stopped or fundamentally altered!

Peter and his fellow apostles were using this language because the Jews understood it. This means that we cannot presuppose our own 21st century opinion, which is grounded not in the Scriptures but in modern, pagan, non-covenantal thinking. We must look at this language as the Jews did. That’s why we don’t get an explanation in the Bible about what gate-courts, households and your children mean. And that’s why we don’t get a greater development of what the Table and Baptism mean right out of the text. It’s in there, absolutely, but in a, wait for it… presupposition.

I’ll say it again. This is all so hard because we aren’t looking in the right place. The Bible started out its narrative in the context of covenants – relational, promise-keeping, life-sharing, trust-bearing covenants. We are the ones who have changed over the millennia, not the Bible and not at the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ whose birthday celebration we are fast approaching. We have lost the perspective the Jews had.

I’m not calling for a return to Judaism or tossing our technology so we can wear robes to tear each time we’re cut to the heart. I’m not interested in raking dust for a few measly rows of fava beans and wheat sheaves. I like my Pollo Loco too much and I’d much rather have easy access to the last 2,000 years of theology right here on my infernal machines. I’m calling for us to look at Scripture in the historical, cultural frame in which it’s set. No helicopters in Revelation. No civil affairs court for the young moabitess. No ditching of infants until they’re old enough to say they believe.

Side comment: Refusing baptism of our kids is telling them that they are no different from the other kids across the block (the ones who have Wiccan parents right over there). We’re destroying their identity in a Christian family! No sacraments = no sense of being in the family of God.

A few weeks ago, I put up a little bit about how painful it must have been to be one of the convicted Pharisees at Peters Big Sermon at Pentecost (I should rename the post “Cut To The Heart Thrice“). Think about this:

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”

Those Pharisees were almost certainly thinking of what they had done to their families! When Peter said this (emphasis mine):

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

We know what happened:

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Now look again at Peter’s response:

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

That’s reaching all the way back to things like:

They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them.

The OT said this in Deuteronomy 12:

Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the LORD your God.

Here’s what changed when Christ fulfilled the Law, died in our place and rose again: I’ll grossly paraphrase this:

Be careful to believe this good news I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the LORD your God.

Nowhere is the concept of covenants, community and our relationships altered in the New Testament. It’s ratified by simply not changing the language.

End of story? We have to look at the Bible and realize that our presuppositions that make us unwilling to include our children in sacraments, unwilling to include them in worship are modern insertions to the Scriptures. Also, equally important are the concepts of family solidarity, congregation solidarity, discipline, submission, faithfulness and loyalty to our heads, elders and rulers. These things are assumed to be normal in the Scripture even more than they are overtly commanded. Dropping the concept of covenantal theology kills more than just National Israel’s future and sprinkling babies. It can kill our faith, folks – by confusing the message and hiding the promises God has made to us (and our children).


Cut To The Heart – Twice

I was just reading Sunday while waiting in a line. I had a little tract sized NIV John, courtesy of our Elder from church. When Jesus was dealing with the Pharisees (for instance, in John 8) I wanted to sympathize with them a little. I don’t know if this is a correct view, but maybe the way the badguys have been portrayed is not entirely complete:

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

It struck me while taking in these verses anew: what were the Pharisees thinking at this point? I can’t help but wonder if some of them were cut deeply by Christ’s words. But many of them at the time did not give in, rather they must have, with great anguish, turned away from the dialogue. Probably wrenched themselves almost physically from the choice before them to return to their murderous shcemes of false teaching and hypocrisy.

And we could guess that some of these were doubly wounded at Peter’s sermon in Acts. Enough that they could not bear it (“cut to the heart”) and repented. It brings new depth to the thought that they were “cut to the heart” doesn’t it? I can relate to this in my own face-down with the Gospel message and perspective on my own denial or slander of Christ before He dragged me into the light.

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

I keep thinking about how that must’ve been for them, those who turned away and those who finally repented. It must have been a peculiar agony for both.

But one thing is most poignant. Those who turned ’round and believed at Peter’s proclamation must, more than many, many after them, have seen an immensity in their belief, in the realization of Christ’s work and assumption of His throne.

Surely it was a significant contribution to the great power with which the Gospel spread in the first churches. Those thousands who were made disciples could probably witness to the intensity of the change in the priests who repented. Much like Paul?

That’s reason to Glorify God. May the same sort of thing happen to the faithless preachers in lots of churches today. May they be cut to the quick with these words of Christ and see their error.

Your thoughts? Don’t assume that I’m condemning or criticizing Jesus’ position or that the majority of the Pharisees in this discussion weren’t precisely and only as Jesus generally described them. Consider yourself in this position, knowing the truth and yet the conviction of it, the power of Christ’s message, is still clouded over with the overwhelming voice of the crowds.

I think about the year 1992 when I turned away from the faith in which I was raised, knowing the truth and yet unable to believe it. I can connect my memory of those days of rather violent struggle with the Word and the Truth right to what I think some of these Pharisees might have been experiencing. There is the potential for some serious depth here, in the text. Something that helps us understand the fog of war that overcomes the chances for someone to finally bite into the real truth.

I think it speaks to God’s perfect timing. His perfect Holy Spirit who is able to flip the switch from seeing the world through world-eyes to seeing the world through His eyes. Is this yet another way to see our doctrine of depravity – that our sinfulness is so thorough that we can be slashed, mortally even, by the truth of Scripture and know we are sinners, know we need Christ, but without the help of Him, the One we need, we can still be trapped, in despair or anger.

And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” – Mark 9:23-24


Slightly More and Less Specific Discussion Regarding The Law Including Puritans This Time

Puritan FolksTo continue on my lines of thought (when have I ever had just one at a time?), I have a bit on the awesome Puritan question.

Note: What follows is my synthesis and impression of the whole thing based on a lot of reading and thinking. That does not imply that I’m speaking authoritatively or even accurately. If I’ve boned it up in here, I’d like to know, especially since some of my impressions of this are probably not going to receive much happy-claps from theonomists or historians. I don’t think I’ve come up with anything original, just my own opinions and words on what’s probably been hashed over by better men than me. What I did conscientiously attempt to do is avoid the ad-hominem and straw-man thing that seems to be the theonomists’ biggest beef with their detractors.

So did the Puritan utopia work out?

Nope. Here’s why I think so, and I have some references to back this up.

Something that sort of fits, a session with Albert Mohler on his Thinking In Public podcast entitled Christianity and Worldview on the Geopolitical Stage: A Conversation with Walter Russell Mead
And another is Peter Leithart’s “Defending Constantine” to which I’ve referred a little before.
And the White Horse Inn gang on The New Covenant

I understand that these are all recent, but I see that often my studies sort of circle around each other and providence is most likely involved in the curious ways external source themes arise that apply to what I’m working on.

First, the utopia ended. There must be a reason. Some will say that it was a breakdown of the covenantal union of the people in the society. Some might say that they were repressed into failure. I think, based on my reading, that more likely the system, honorable and well-intended as it was, was doomed to fail. And had it not failed in the way that it did, we’d have a little sister version of the Roman Catholic Church in our backyard. I can’t back up this last statement much, but if you read the Leithart book, you just might see the hints therein. I suspect that, rather than lending credence to the idea of theonomy being good for society, the fallout lends itself to indications that it is not feasible. Notice that I didn’t claim theonomy is outright wrong as a system of government, just that it isn’t going to work.

As Christians, we are to be peacemakers.

John 18:36: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

Matthew 5:38-52 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God”

God has demonstrated this policy even in the “horribly warmongering” Old Testament. He visited peace and mercy on many, many of His enemies and taught Israel the same thing. His directives for conquest and violence were not the only way our God dealt with His creation. Keep this thought in mind as I go along.

My thought here is that the colonial “theonomic” form of government failed because of doctrines, conflicts and plenty of other things that eroded the unity and integrity of the society. It proves (to me) the inability of a state of Christendom to sustain itself. If not internal strife and error, there is no question of the capitulation of leaders who had to maintain peace with their neighbors. I refer directly to the ideas discussed in the Mohler piece above. Christians of particular traditions have had to change their theological language, practice and priorities in order to coexist with the surrounding friendly, yet different groups. They have been dispersed by disease or war over and over again. Sometimes disease or war caused by their own systems.

I’d hazard a guess that, in fact, to militantly adhere to the idea of theonomic society is to promote conflict. The idea that God’s law should be the standard for a secular government implies a call for Christians to “bear arms” for their faith-society which results in Christians dying for their faith – sort of. I mean that martyrs in the Biblical sense won’t be made, rather something more similar to extremist “martyrs” today. I do not write this in order to stir up or provoke, it is frankly how I see it. If you take unregenerates, give them God’s Law, they at most become a legalistic system that unavoidably has a skewed understanding of the what-and-why of the whole thing. Compare to what happened in Oslo recently. Extrapolate to what other, non-Biblical cultures have developed for their systems of law and the philosophy of action that ensues (extremists are not all that extreme if you take the Biblical concept of total depravity).

Look, Christians are pictured as humble, suffering people who are at peace, as much as possible, with all and who submit to not only their elders but the states to which they belong. It should not be wrong to think that a Christian can fight to defend his land and people from danger – nobody has said he cannot do this. But for him to arm and fight against politics and philosophies? Are those not the battle of the church, whose weapon is the Word of God?

Romans 12:14-21 “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

In reading Leithart’s Constantine, it is apparent that in creating a society that is entirely under God’s law, both cult and culture – church and politics, war is going to erupt or compromise is going to be engaged. It is apparent that the theonomic ideology is flawed, not because God’s Law is abrogated or obsolete, rather because it was not codified as a government system with the pagan world in mind. In fact, the only way for God’s law to work might be if one loks to the millennium of dispensational theology wherein, after the tribulation, 1,000 years of the good-life is happening on Earth as a “restored” literal kingdom under Christ the King (which, of course, is not restored in any sense, since there hasn’t been a literal physical kingdom of Christ anywhere in temporal history).

Let me say it again. The failure of theonomy is not that God’s Law is wrong. It is actually the fact that God’s Law is prescribed in morals for all of God’s children. The penal system was for Israel. There is, however, a corresponding penal system for the Church which is known as church discipline which is carried out in the context of the church, never the state, nor from the church to the state.

Another recent discussion of the Law issue is this one from the White Horse Inn: “Why Can’t I Own Canadians?”


Still Thinking On Theonomy

Crusaders from the Middle AgesI dealt with some initial thoughts on theonomy last week. I have refinements and more questions today.

Simply for reference (and fun), I found this site that has A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments). This is not to indicate that I’m about to “prove” the silliness of theonomy or some such foolishness. In fact, I think I’m closer to agreeing with at least a semblance of theonomology (did I make that up just now?) after a bit more consideration.

Here’s what I find myself agreeing with:

God’s moral law, that which has been around all along in the hearts of men is not to be discarded in light of Christ’s New Covenant. The NC validates the Law in this respect. Christ didn’t teach a new law, rather spent plenty of his time (most of it) giving further explanation of what it means to obey as well as know what is really being commanded.

Now, having said all that, I cannot come to agreement on the penal system. This is difficult to argue because of the blanket either-or arguments that Bahnsen & co. present. It comes from my presupposition of how Christians interface with the pagan world, which I also perceive is analogous to some extent with Israel’s interface with the rest of mankind. Namely, only in a Bible-believing theocracy can the law of God be enforced in the manner in which the Torah describes. Only Israel could enforce, via the penal code of the Law, the Law on Only Israel. They could not hold outsiders to the Law. They could certainly proclaim the Law and call all men to repentance, faith and obedience, but they could not start waving the rod in disciplinary action. Furthermore, in the days of Israelite exile (or occupation as with the Romans), Israel couldn’t even execute discipline on her own people due to local rules.

The church of Christ is in the same position today and has been all along, with periodic exceptional circumstances (such as Puritan colonists). We are not a theocratic government/country. We are an embassy to a foreign government. In order to execute corporate discipline such as defined in the OT, we would need to extradite Christian offenders to Heaven (current country from which we hail) for said punishment. And we cannot, as ambassadors, demand that our government’s laws be copied by the government to whom we are ambassing (I made that word up too). 

Here is an ideal reference for Church Discipline as it is to occur today. I’m referring to the PCA Book of Church Order:

27-4. The power which Christ has given the Church is for building up, and not for destruction. It is to be exercised as under a dispensation of mercy and not of wrath. As in the preaching of the Word the wicked are doctrinally separated from the good, so by discipline the Church authoritatively separates between the holy and the profane. In this it acts the part of a tender mother, correcting her children for their good, that every one of them may be presented faultless in the day of the Lord Jesus. Discipline is systematic training under the authority of God’s Scripture. No communing or non-communing member of the Church should be allowed to stray from the Scripture’s discipline.

Boiling this down to what should amount to a reality check, I am still convinced that we can only compel our own household to adhere to God’s Moral Law and that only by the instituted discipline in the New Testament (I.E. what we recognize as Church Discipline today – teaching, exhortation, excommunication). No beatings or stonings, eye-for-eye or monetary restitution. We can’t do that because it is not given to us by the government that is hosting us. We’re not free from the law of the world in this sense. Though our freedom in Christ lifts us from the penalty of sin and also frees us from the compulsion of this world’s rule that we must break God’s Moral Law (sin), we are not “not of this world” as the bumper sticker goes. We’re in it and stuck with it ’til Christ returns. And He is going to engage the sword to punish lawbreakers.

Final argument: sin twists the Law to its own end. The unregenerate will not comply with the law in a manner that is positive. He hates God and God’s Law (see how it is written on his heart and how he strives to break it every moment of every day?). The godless is lawless in the sense that he denies the truth and authenticity of the moral law. Since this is so, demanding that he obey it, let me time-travel into the future where there is a reconstructed theocratic society as Postmil folk seem to expect will happen. That lawless man will benefit nothing from the penalty communicated to him because he denies the validity of the law he broke. He doesn’t recognize the authority therefore will not accept the punishment, whether you kill him, beat him, take his money or his left hand.

Christian martyrs do the same thing. We deny the punishment of this world’s laws when they are ungodly. Paul, James, Peter and all the others got the sword of this world and counted it as no punishment. Their torture and deaths were invalid from a worldly perspective. Similarly, a Wiccan will take the punishment that a Christian deals and count himself a martyr for his faith – death for his beliefs. Look, here is an equation:

God’s code is written (hard code) on the hearts of all men.

All men have hearts that are twisted, dead in sin.

God’s code has been twisted in the twisted hearts of men.

The unbeliever will use the essence of the Law, taking all the commitment, submission, integrity and glory of a righteous, obedient life in Christ and point it at himself. He will not accept punishment for disobeying the Law because it is not his law and he did not convict himself of breaking the law. It is alien and cannot compel. Only the Word of God, with the power Spirit of God will change the lawless man to view and accept the code as it was originally written. Which then changes the equation above.

God’s code is written (hard code) on the hearts of all men.

Some men have hearts that are twisted, dead in sin renewed, dead to sin.

God’s code has been twisted in the twisted  validated in the renewed hearts of  those men.

Okay, so in closing this session on theonomy, I think I have said that Christians are morally obligated to uphold the Moral Law. I have not said Christians are to uphold all the particular details provided to Israel in further episodes of lawgiving (I.E. the 10 Commandments in their root form is all I’m discussing at this point). I have said that the world of unbelievers is not to be compelled by Christians to adhere to the law. I have not said Christians cannot teach the law or encourage obedience. I have said that we cannot punish in accordance with the OT penal code. I have not said we cannot punish Christian lawbreakers at all, only that we may punish via prescribed church discipline.

I hope this brings me closer to a fair view of the Law and kinder approach to theonomy. I’ll continue study as I’m working my way through Bahnen’s books.

Here is another Theonomy reference I discovered
And here is one on Church Discipline from Reformed.org.


Are We Still Responsible to The Law's Demands?

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. – Galatians 3:16-18


JSYK
Don’t get me wrong,

I’m not even touching on the possibility
that we can keep the Law for our salvation -
Sola Fide, dude.

So, I don’t doubt that my argument here can be refuted by someone more educated and intelligent than I am. I’ll go with it anyway though I insist that readers not treat this as an exhaustive coverage of my position. I’m not entirely situated on a side, nor am I filled to the brim with decisional data for either side. It’s time to at least start squaring the corners and so…

The question has been itching in my head for some time and it needs scratching. Is the Law, in its specific directives and consequences, the norm by which Christians should live and how governments should operate?

Or are believers to look to the New Testament words of Christ for our guidance in moral and ethical activity. In Bahnsen’s “Theonomy In Christian Ethics” the argument is presented that Christ (and following apostles) intended to reiterate the Old Testament Law in its original particulars.

I have a couple of problems with this. First off, the practical/reasonable issue: Too much cultural correction has to be made in order for the OT system to endure outside the Jewish world of yesteryear. I don’t think I need to go into specifics – just read through Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

Also, if the Law is still the guiding principle of practice and ethics for believers, has this theme held up consistently throughout history after Christ instituted the church. If it hasn’t, then in light of this disparity it seems very difficult to accept claims that entire swaths of the last two thousand years’ churches are a-scriptural or antinomian. Granted, my reading of Church history is still barely getting underway, but so far I haven’t heard much about this particular trend of Law remaining.

Next, clear direction from Scripture. I don’t see where we can still be under the Law and its penal system when Christ taught in Matthew 5 that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” – we should be dealing out the penalty to just about every man alive. I know this may sound silly, but think about it. Christ throws the law in our face just the way it should be thrown: in order to convince us that we’re in a hopeless state unless He is our Savior.

Granted, the basic laws of the Decalogue stand as proper guidance. Don’t murder, don’t steal etc. Those are DUH items and Christ reiterates them (with frosting). Note that, however, He does not maintain the penalties associated with these laws. Christ instead pays the penalties on the cross and then offers us sweet release from the continuing penalties: we confess our sins now, and He forgives us (1st John 1:9).

Here’s where I’m thinking: Those laws and penalties are not explicit for today because

  1. We’re not in a theocracy ruled by religious heads.
  2. Christ handed out the keys to His kingdom church-wise – in otherwards, access through the Gospel, not through enforcing the Law.
  3. Christ also directed authority to the secular government, not restoring the Law as His opponents had hoped (Luke 20)

Can we expect the secular world to comply with God’s Old Testament Law? Can we demand that the government take its cues from Moses and tailor the penal code to match that of a theocratic society? I don’t think so. The Law, specifically the OT Law was given to the Jews in their own context, in their part of the Bible narrative. It was their guardian and judge. We saw (and see today) what comes of Pharisees and their ilk. The Law is doomed to be misapplied and twisted in the hands of men. Well intentioned or not, it does not endure as a valid system of ethics and practice, either for justification or for obedience. I suspect that there’s a hermeneutical error in here somewhere: In missing the big contextual picture of the story of Israel, there’s a literalistic approach to the Law (at least, it appears to me).

It’s a great check-and-balance for Christians today, as far as the relevant parts go (Decalogue), but are we bound to the actual wording and particular instances of the Old Law? Applying it to worldly governments is certainly not workable – since when do pagans want to or care about the Law? In an ideal world that was Christian in culture, the Law would be workable and the government could mete out the penal system; unfortunately for the Law, in an ideal world we would not need to worry about the penal system because we’d all be Christians and obedient. 

The argument that makes claims based on Christ’s words in Matthew 5:17-20 doesn’t fly well either: It’s looking at the Law in regards to justification. Reword here, if I may: “If you choose to claim the Law as your path to righteousness, it will not ever go away nor will it change. You’ll be bound to it and do much better than the Pharisees if you think it’s going to get you into Heaven. How much better? As good as ME, The Son Of God.” If I read this passage in error, correct me ASAP, but if I read it correctly, there’s nothing that says the OT Law continues today as our conscience-binding LITERAL operating procedure.

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. – Galatians 3:21-26

As a sort of closing comment, I think that we need to look at hope. In Christ is our hope. We need that hope. I think that, to remain under the particular Law as our unmoving standard for practice and ethics is to dance too near the edge of hope. We hope in Christ and His righteousness and the demands of this brand of Law, especially with the requisite penalties, I think ask too much. Better to heap burning coals on their heads, Paul style. Moral? Yes. literal? No.

____________________________________________

Here is some resource material I’ve scanned:

Applying The Old Testament Law Today

The Covenant of Grace: A Key To Understanding The Bible

Preach Only To Some? An elderly blog post from a good friend at church who has been encouraging me to work through this whole issue carefully.

Theonomy from Third Millenium Ministries

The Westminster Confession of Faith: A Theonomic Document? By Dr. Ligon Duncan. 

Monergism has tons of stuff to wade through.


My Progress In Theology 5

From my paper “Covenant Theology As Grasped By A Regular Guy”

I think this section is pretty important. I never really thought much about it until I was drawn into CT thought. I suspect it’s a sort of low-level misconception (meaning people sort of tend to assume without really thinking carefully) that our religious practices save us, or at least play a part in salvation in some vital sense. Most commonly, I believe, this is a problem with historical Israel and ceremonial law. Now, it’s an easily corrected view, by pointing to salvation by faith alone, but simply reading the OT isn’t gonna clear this up. That is the NT, the fulfillment of the OT promises in Christ, which explicitely fixes things. If the message were clear enough in the OT, the pharisees should’ve made a very different progress and definitely been a very different group in the NT.

Now, it must be understood that God’s covenants are not administered in a way that saves His people. People are saved by the person and work of Christ. This presents a problem for us when we look at the Law and the Church. Covenant is the promise; Christ is fulfillment of that promise. In whatever administration of whatever covenant (circumcision, nation, ceremony, Law, church), the center of all is Christ Himself.

We tend to assume or presuppose that the Elect comprise all of God’s covenant community. Especially in the New Testament where fulfillment, if taken incorrectly, seems to say that salvation is the mark of the church. This is simply not so. God’s covenant community consists of both regenerate and unregenerate people. Not all of OT Israel was elect, nor are all members of the NT church elect. Not even all of Christ’s 12 disciples were elect (Judas). This situation is because both Israel and the church are houses of people who are in covenant with God, not explicitly regenerate. God expects something from these people (belief and obedience) and so He has dealt with both spiritual conditions equally throughout history. In other words, elect and non-elect within the covenant community are dealt with through judgment.

Elect are judged via Christ’s substitution and non-elect are judged via the absence of Christ’s substitution but both are called, warned, disciplined and served within the covenant framework. Note that Isaac’s sons were absolute indications of this consistency: both sons were included in covenant administration and yet Jacob was loved while Esau was hated. The New Testament includes a similar situation wherein Peter and Judas both betrayed Christ. One was forgiven and the other condemned but both were in the position of disciples of Christ.

I think we tend to be unwilling to accept the idea that God sovereignly chooses those who will believe in Him because of the tension between human responsibility and God’s sovereignty. Though God knows all and directs all, we are still responsible for our failure to uphold His standards. An aside here, we are likewise commended for our good works, which I think is grossly forgotten in this age of false humility and unwillingness to accept this tension. Shoot, I am increasingly amazed at how it seems many of our problems with theology stem from the fear or dislike of the tension maintained in the Scriptures. Already-not-yet and man’s need vs. God’s requirements are biblical but many times we persist as if they are not.

So, back to the subject at hand, election is the name applied to those who are chosen by God to be the recipients of His mercy. Regarding Jacob and Esau, the classic example of election:

This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but salso when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— Romans 9:8-11

I heard not too long ago about the term used in John “draw”

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:44

The actual word in the original language is “drag” as in forcefully pull. Christians are not, ultimately, given a choice between God and Hell. Here’s that tension again, choice and sovereignty, but in the end, sovereignty trumps all. Any time it comes down to salvation or destruction, forgiveness, atonement, condemnation or regeneration, either on an individual or gross level, God has the action. He saves, He renews, He destroys, He judges.

God makes His people. This idea validates His promises, unconditional promises that “I will be their God and they shall be My people” which are found throughout the Scriptures, NT and OT.

How does this work in the problem of covenants and whether they are salvific (in whole or in part)? We’ve established that God is sovereign and that His promises are because of His own work. Christ’s atonement, God’s drawing (dragging), those are divine works and only those are ultimately saving works. We don’t contribute to salvation (well, we contribute sin to the equation, but that’s not really part of this mess right now).

So, covenants, specifically those instructions that God has provided within the framework of covenants, do not save. God never once set things in motion that made Him dependent on the proper observation of the ceremonial law in order to save any Jews. To say the Jews were saved by their keeping of the Law is just wrong. God set this up just as a parent sets up rules in the home. Both knew, absolutely, that the ruled would not keep the laws in front of them.

The end of Deuteronomy explains God’s perspective on His chosen nation:

Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel. For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give.” – Deuteronomy 31:19-21

Here’s what saves: Christ. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Everything that God instructs and promises must point to Christ.

Okay. Done with that. The next part: The outside of Election. By the outside, I must now define two terms. Visible and invisible. The visible church is all persons who are within the covenant. Israel was the “visible church” of the Old Covenant. Today, the visible church is quite similar: entire families are partakers of the New Covenant. Not everyone in the New Covenant (the church) is saved. That’s demonstrated in Israel, in Jacob and Esau, in the New Testament, throughout history. There is still a place for a “personal relationship with Jesus” which is that relationship which places one in the invisible church.

This is how I can believe that infant baptism is acceptable practice. This is how I can believe that someone who claims to be and acts like a Christian can “fall away” later in life to the extent that he actually condemns his faith and the truth of God. It’s simply too much to assume that everyone who is a baptized member of a local church is a bona-fide regenerate Christian. I sure wasn’t, though raised through 18 years in Christian churches, baptized, “walked the aisle” and everything else. I fell away, into neo-pagan Wicca (plain old witchcraft) for 10 years, denying my heritage and the church.

I do not believe my spot was “reserved” in the pews of a future church. When I apostatized, that was a demonstration of my unregenerate condition. I was still a child of God’s wrath, not a backslidden Christian. My baptism was one pointing to judgement. So what does this mean? It means that covenants are God’s picture frame around His particular people. He has promises and commands built into His covenants as well as signs and seals of membership, of participation, in that frame. It doesn’t mean that those in the frame are all regenerate, but that they enjoy access to all the benefits of the temporal institution of God’s Chosen People. Works the same way today in the NT church as it did in the OT nation of Israel. It looks different, yes, regarding operation of ceremony, administration and symbolism, but membership and status are still the same.


My Progress In Theology 2

Apologies for the frequent shifts in LAH’s visual theme. My longest lasting layout died on me, producing numerous quirks that are probably due to some of the recent WP updates. I think I’m settled on this one, Dialogue, and hopefully it’ll stick well.

From my paper “Covenant Theology As Grasped By A Regular Guy”

Continuing on, from last time, we get down to the tacks and tape of CT: covenants.

My conviction is that God has dealt with His creation, throughout eternity, in the framework of covenants. From the first breath of Adam, God has operated within a covenant relationship with Man. Before that, God in the three Persons of the Trinity even made the Covenant of Redemption. Ephesians 1:3-14 illuminates this concept using the terms “before the foundation of the world,” “predestined,” “His will,” “purpose.” As an aside, this passage also affirms the Trinity as a fact, that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which is fundamental to the Christian faith.

So CT can be divided into three basic covenants. Redemption, Works and Grace. Redemption is the governing covenant, made within the Trinity, wherein God would create a people to redeem for Himself. Following are the two subordinate covenants. Works is the covenant made first with Adam and actually satisfied in Christ’s obedience unto death. Grace is the covenant that, based on Christ’s satisfaction and atonement, is made with all who are predestined to believe.

Within the two subordinate covenants are other supporting covenants from God, including the Noahic, Mosaic, Davidic and so-on. These, if taken as relative to Grace and Works, are connected either to God’s requirements for His people (law/works), which will be accomplished in Christ, or as related to promise of the advent and accomplishment of Christ Himself. All of this finds its fulfillment in Christ in the New Testament (New Covenant) wherein the covenants are restated from the perspective of that fulfillment (as opposed to the hope and expectation looking forward to God’s fulfillment of redemption in the OT).

I was thinking on all this today and how the Bible ties everything in, building and refining all at once. You see Adam and Eve as the first “holy people” of God in creation’s history. Then there is Noah, then Abraham, then Moses and Joshua and David and so-on. Ever notice how it all expands, in the Old Testament, that manner in which God deals with His holy people? It starts out in a garden and ends in a garden. Starts out with simple fellowship and worship, service and relationship between God and His humans. Then it all ends up with the same thing, only more majestic and glorious than before, but still just like the beginning. The complexity of God’s relationship with us and the manner in which we relate to Him, approach Him grows over time. There is a basic sacrificial system at first (Cain and Abel) which eventually turns into an entire system of ritual worship with specific guidelines for everything from sacrifice to utensils in the elaborate worship facilities. Worship grounds grow from a tabernacle, or tent structure all the way to a massive temple that is fascinatingly complex in architecture as well as proper use. God developed the Old Testament system of worship over time, mounting work upon work to increasingly expose our inability to worship Him in righteousness, faithfulness and truth while repeatedly demonstrating His grace and mercy upon all His people.

Repeatedly found throughout the Bible is this statement: I will be their God and they shall be my people. This is what makes me convinced of Covenant Theology. God hasn’t changed His message. He’s promised something and it translates right through the OT to the NT and it applies not to specific nations or nationalities but to one specific type of people: God’s Holy People — those people who are redeemed by Christ. Though God speaks in context of Israel in the OT, His prophets are not supplied with Old Covenant speech flavors, but New Covenant language.

Jeremiah and Ezekiel are flooded with the idea. Ezekiel, which we are studying during Sunday evening services, is especially awesome because of the temple that is entirely built in Ezekiel’s vision to point the hearers to Christ. Christ is that awesome, perfectly measured and full temple that is the Glory of God. It’s amazing. And it’s only feasible to have this “temple” in the New Covenant.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33)

They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 37:23 ESV)

What happens throughout the progression of God’s redemptive plan in history, and I have to maintain here that this redemptive plan is the center that finds its own epicenter in Christ, is a continual building up of the complexity of a Holy view and handling of God. What I mean by view and handling is a holistic, life-long and life-deep approach to all of God. His worship, glorification, provision, all of it, including His created things. God is complex in that He created complexity. I think in some respects, our Creator is very simple, in the way a tree is simple (roots, trunk, branches, leaves, fruit and that’s it). But the immensity of His qualities is like the immensity of a vast mountain forest, which is like a life-form of its own kind. Some scientists, I read, classified the sequoia forest as a living organism that is way more than just a bunch of huge individual trees. That’s more God-like in my mind.

So this complexity bore down, gradually and ever more in detail upon God’s people. And yet God’s covenant promise remained essentially the same: I will be their God and they shall be my people. He made the new covenant from the start. Later on, that complexity became the death-march of Israel as the pharisees and legalism finally set like the mortar round a set of mobster boots. It dragged the people down until there was nothing left but the ritual. God always designed for us to worship Him in thankfulness and lovingkindness, but we, even today, fail to see that most of the time. So as the complications persisted, the undercurrent, the melody of God’s will remained: I will redeem you. Read it in Ruth, read it in Genesis, read it in Isaiah, in the Psalms.

So in the New Testament, Jesus arrives on the scene. For us it’s not surprising — we saw it coming while reading the OT. And He appears to shake the foundations of the whole system God built up. In all reality, He did not. He revealed, over and over again through four different Gospels, the simplicity of God’s message. He came to claim His people, just as promised from the very beginning. What was shaken was the system Israel had built up, like hard-water deposites on a spigot, of rules within rules and rulings within rulings. Christ challenged the Pharisees not because the OT was wrong or too much or a failed system but because they turned the teacher into a law. The Law was the teacher, paving the way. I hope that makes sense.

Jesus didn’t change God’s message. God was and is sovereign and He never changes. He set about to redeem a people for His own satisfaction and glory and did just that, in the course of thousands of years of history. Sometimes this was a slow building of a message and gathering, but there were the lightning-strike moments like the Exodus and conquest of Canaan, the flood and return from exile. And the biggest strike hit in Jerusalem just 2000 years ago, when Christ did what God had all-along promised. He died to redeem us. It’s entirely covenantal what was promised, followed, worked on and done. And now we’re in a slow-phase again, waiting for that last lightning strike that takes fulfillment to a final conclusion which is inevitable as an avalanche in the Rockies: Christ’s return in full glory to claim us, wipe the entire slate clean and get what He’d originally designed just the way has been ordained all along.  The promise is kept.

I feel such sorrow now for those who do not believe and come to the Sovereign of the Universe in repentance and faith, for they will not be a part of that clean-slate. The unbelievers will receive the other promise: eternal punishment for their sins for they did not trust Christ for the satisfaction of their debt. And there hasn’t been a day past in almost 8 years that I haven’t looked for, wished for, prayed for a way to communicate the warning of Christ’s judgment and the blessing of His forgiveness to many friends and family of mine. I still do, today, have a long list of those I’d love to drag with me into paradise. But that’s ultimately God’s will and business. I’m just here, trying.

See how many times God promises in the Scripture? How many times He promises redemption? That’s the center! Promise = Covenant. It’s not a series of dealings or phases of plans, it’s one plan, one people, one universe and one Savior with one kind of salvation.

I think this is enough for one night’s work. I really love writing about this and I hope it serves up some good thinking and even more hopefully some encouragement and mud-clearing. If God is glorified here, then my work is done (at least until next time).

Recommended by my pastor, and something I’d really like to read real soon is G. K. Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission. It apparently does a great study on the idea of the types of temple throughout the Bible.

Oh, one more thing. A notable from this morning’s sermon, which was on Luke 23:32-38: Pastor said this:

This is the place where Jesus is crushed.
No,
This is the place where the serpent’s head is crushed.


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