Exploring the interplay between ortho-doxy (right belief) and ortho-praxy (right action)...

...and encouraging a life where these intertwined thoughts and deeds simply happen... by default.

30 January 2007

covenental confusion (2-1-07)

A friend and I was checking out the various ministry booths at a Christian music festival this past weekend. We encountered two ministries that were very similar. Both of them were what you could call 'pro-Israel' ministries. Now, I don't think we should be 'anti' Israel, but I do think their understanding of the covenant(s) is reflective of the 'covenental confusion' right through Christianity.

If you are not familiar with the topic, the 'pro-Israel' position emphasises all things Jewish. They do so with good intent and with the appearance of good reasons. After all, Jesus (and most of the early church) was indeed Jewish.

The 'pro-Israel' people will usually teach (or encourage) the observance of various Jewish festivals and rituals (Passover, Sabbath, Days of Unleavened Bread, and much more). They will often point to the various examples of the Jewish-ness of the early church (Synagogue attendance, etc.) and various verses of the New Testament to demonstrate that the early Jewish simply carried on in their Jewish-ness, and to support their suggestions that Christians today need to do these Jewish things as well.

This discussion is vast, (and I'm generalising to keep it short) but I'll try to explain my understanding of it as simply as I can.

Part of the difficulty is that the Bible wasn't written in the same style as, for example, a theological encyclopedia. Since the New Testament is not a Covenant Theology handbook, we often see the details of Covenant as we read in-between-the-lines of what the writers are communicating (having said that, you don't have to read between the lines much in the epistle to the Hebrews!). Another thing to remember: we can see from Acts 15 and Galatians 2 that the Apostles didn't always see eye to eye about everything. Paul disagrees with Barnabas and Peter at various times.

Having said that (and trying to keep this short), let's look at the issue further.

Everyone agrees that Jesus ushered in the New Covenant, but the question is this: How is the New different from the Old? What changes to the lifestyle/belief of believers did it make?

OK. Here's how I see it.

God is a covenental and promise-making God. He doesn't break His covenants or His promises. As for any and all of the promises of God, Paul is emphatically clear (and I make a point not to be this dogmatic very often) that they are 'Yes' in Jesus. In other words, God keeps all His promises, and He keeps them in His way - namely, the Jesus kind of way.

As for the covenant(s), the way I like to say it is this: the 'Old' covenant was 'baptised' and became the 'New' Covenant. Baptism is, of course, a symbol of death and resurrection - of dying and rising. There are too many points of detail, but basically, all of the various aspects of the Old Covenant (the Land, the Temple, the Sacrifice, the Passover, the Sabbath, the Law, etc.) were 'baptised' and raised anew. All of their meaning and significance was now found in not a place, time or event, but a Person - namely, Jesus.

The implications of this were huge. Gentiles could 'come to Jerusalem' by simply 'coming to faith in Christ.' Their circumcision was not of the flesh, but of the heart, and so on...

The Old system was tired, worn and fruitless. God was bringing judgement on Israel. This judgement, however, was going to be like no other. But thankfully, with God, judgement always is one side of the 2-edged sword... the other being blessing. Judgement for fruitless and nationalistic Israel, and Blessing for believing/spiritual Israel.


12 January 2007

for we know in part (1-13-07)

"Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will be abolished; whether there are other languages, they will stop themselves; whether there is knowledge, it will (also) be abolished. For we know in part and we prophecy in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end... For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known." 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, 12

How true.

A friend of mine and I have been studying biblical eschatology (the study of 'last things') in the past few months and I must say, though it's been worth it, it's been very challenging.

The extremes of belief and interpretation (even among those who love, serve and follow Jesus) are quite far apart! Some expect a universe-ending event to come in our future and point to current events as bringing this event to pass (of course, some have gone as far as predicting the very year in which this 'end' will come... and have been quite wrong!). At the other end, some interpret the 'end' having already happened when the Temple was destroyed in the year AD70 (including 'resurrection', 2nd 'coming' of Jesus, 'new Heaven and new Earth').

This current 'study' of eschatology is just one area of biblical debate I've listened to in my few years as a Christian. Personally, I find such debates to be very helpful and educational. I'm committed to the goal of interpreting the Bible as faithfully as possible (being as aware of my biases as I can be), and such debates are great ways of observing how a particular pattern of interpretation stands up to scrutiny.

As an aside, if a person gets angry or abusive in a debate, it can often be due (as my Dad and I both have observed) to the fact that his/her position (or at least his/her grasp of it) is less than strong.

As another aside, for me, 'debate' is not a dirty word, and I lament that levels of respect and relationship/trust are often not high enough for constructive debate to take place as much as I think it ought to.

Which leads me to my point. If we take on board the truth in the above verse (the truth that we 'know in part') it doesn't mean that we are so ignorant that we shouldn't bother debating with one another, but rather we ought to do so with appropriate humility. This humility can guard against someone thinking for a moment that their knowledge is anything more than 'in part'...

Furthermore, I would desperately like to see more (to coin a phrase) 'interpretive humility' in Christian circles. I am weary of people saying 'this verse clearly says'... or 'it is obvious from this verse'... etc. If it were so 'clear' or 'obvious' then why have so many people seen it in different ways? I'm not talking about pagans or atheists either! I'm talking about people that love the Lord and want to be faithful to Him in all of their lives! We simply need to be less arrogant in the assertion our interpretations.

In my experience, the most dogmatic 'scholars' end up being far less credible than those whose qualifications would justify them being dogmatic, but who still choose not to be.

In closing, there is a certain amount of urgency needed in the pursuit of this humility. When Christians are unable to debate respectfully, they become more and more isolated from one another. This is bad. We end up only talking to those whom we agree with, which simply results in the exchange of a few 'high-fives' and produces absolutely no growth or sharpening.

If iron is to sharpen iron, then both pieces of iron must agree that they merely know in part.

Happy sharpening.