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.

2 comments:

Joe said...

I'd like to add, Luke 16:16: "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it."

Add to this passage the weight of Paul's teaching against "Judaizers" in just about every epistle he wrote -- specifically, that the law only condemns and we are condemned if we place ourselves under it, but that Christ's grace redeems would seem to shout that we are not bound by Judaic customs and law.

dale said...

Thanks Joe,

Good verse to note. I continue to learn more and more on this subject, and perhaps would phrase a few things slightly differently now (even though I only wrote that article about 6 months ago!).

I'm reading N.T. Wright's 'The New Testament and The People of God', and though he is convinced like most about Paul's insistence that Gentiles could become equal covenant members apart from Torah observance, he suggests (and I think it makes sense) that Paul (or Jesus?) would not ever have asked the Jews to 'stop being Jewish' (meaning, 'stop circumcising your children,' or 'stop going to synagogue on the Sabbath', etc.). What he wanted --which is crystal clear in his epistles-- was for believing Jews/Gentiles to be one together in equality, unity and faith.

Thanks for stopping by and posting!

-d-