What is the New Testament (Part 1)

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in the New Testament (Part 1)

crossBy Rev. Steve M. Schlisselbread and wine

The New Testament is the Old Testament — come into its own. Though I learn all the components of the covenant curriculum in the Old Testament, it’s in the New Testament that they reach critical mass, historical realization. The Scriptures of the New Testament are most necessary.

After all, would you be content to take a highly touted mystery book and, before reading it, rip out the last chapter? Could you happily read along knowing the last chapter had been excised? “Wow, this is very interesting,” you say to yourself as you read. “So many characters I am getting to know! I am getting to know Detective Moishe Epstein. I am getting to know Schlemiel the butler and Ethel the nosey neighbor, and Dr. I. Yankum the dentist; I am getting to know where they live and what they are like. I know about the players and the plot and the progress — everything I need to know.” Except how it ends! You don’t know how it ends. Are you satisfied with that? Hardly. Yet that is what it’s like — after Messiah has come — to read the Old without the New.olivet discourse

The New Testament is not to be read as a separate book, but as the final chapter of the book you’ve been reading. I can now say to you, “All I really need to know I learned in the New Testament” without contradicting our last letter because the New Testament is the last chapter of the Old Testament.

Yes it is. And that’s why its very first sentence is a crochet loop, hooking what is to follow with what is past. “This is the genealogy of Jesus Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” A seamless connection. You need Exodus to understand Leviticus and Genesis to understand Exodus. Each builds on the other. It’s that way through all the Law, all the Prophets, all the Writings. Last of all comes the New Testament to tell us how everything works out, everything concerning “OT David” (the father of the kings of the Jews) and “OT Abraham” (the father of all the Jews), and all the rest. The NT is going to tell us how it all resolves, how it devolves, how it all comes together in a particular person and work in history. Luke goes back to Adam. John goes back even further. It’s all wrapped up in Jesus Christ. The NT brings it all together.

The New Testament never presents itself as a contrary testament. It doesn’t compete with the Old, but completes the Old. It supplements rather than supplants. It makes the Old obvious, not obviated. That is the way the New Testament itself insists it is to be read. “The (Old Testament) Scriptures,” says our Lord, “are they which testify of me” (Jn. 5:39).

So, what’s new in the New Testament? We can answer that in two words: Nothing and Everything. Why is nothing new? God — he doesn’t change. Why is everything new? Gentiles — they’re about to.

Nothing New?

The New Testament does not reveal a new God, though many modern Christians, alas, seem less than convinced of that. Their errant reading of the New Testament as something other than the last chapter of the Old appears to have led them to regard the OT God as mean, hung up on law, vengeful. The NT God, in contrast, is (in their minds) nice1 and hung up on grace. But the one Bible reveals just one true God (Dt. 6:4; Mk. 12:29; Ja. 2:19) in whom alone justice and mercy meet. He’s the one in whom they’ve always met.

The New Testament does not reveal a new way to God. Since the Fall, the way to God has been, could only be, through the blood of Christ, the God-appointed substitute. The pious mind recoils at even the suggestion of another way, for that would make the death of Christ unnecessary. Such a thought is not only full of blasphemy; it is full of theological chaos.

The New Testament does not reveal a new way to please God. God’s law, found throughout the Scriptures — “Old” and “New” — is the perfect disclosure of what pleases him. Even our Lord’s “new command” (Jn. 13:34) is acknowledged by all reasonable commentators to be, in the words of Matthew Poole, “strictly no new commandment.” Indeed, no commentator is needed to know this, for John himself (1 Jn. 2:7, 8) tells us that the “new commandment” is “no new commandment, but an old commandment.”

Truth be told, the New Testament does not even reveal a New Covenant. That is, it does not reveal anything concerning the gracious relationship between God and his people on earth that was not already enjoyed in the Old Testament.

What, after all, is covenantally new in the New Testament? Salvation by grace through faith? Hardly! When Paul argues that justification is had through faith and not through human merit, whom does he enlist as a witness? Peter? Lydia? Archippus? No. Abraham! See Genesis 15:6 and Romans 4:3. Paul quotes no words of Jesus in support of this doctrine; he doesn’t need to. It was always true. What too many regard as the summary teaching of the New Testament exclusively, is introduced there as an “as it is written” teaching (Rom. 1:17). Yes, “The just shall live by faith” was only quoted by Paul; it was penned by Habakkuk (2:4). Nothing new here.

What about forgiveness of sins? Is that new to the New Testament? Don’t tell that to David — at least not before you read Psalm 32. Indeed, when Paul sought testimony concerning this, the supreme covenant blessing — the forgiveness of sins — he went directly to David (Rom. 4:7, 8; see also David’s testimony in Ps. 51).

Well, perhaps it was reserved to the New for sinners to have the right to be called friends of God? Oops! Don’t tell that to Abraham (2 Chr. 20:7; Jas. 2:23)!

But surely in the New Testament men can know God better; they can be more intimate with him than in the Old? Don’t let Moses hear you say that (Ex. 33:11; Nu. 12:6-8)!

But can’t New Testament-era men have a better relationship with God than was possible in the Old? Oh? Who in your circle is closer to God than Enoch? Or Asaph? Does not the most ardent “New Testament devotion” but repeat what was before? Listen to the passion of a saint captivated by Christ: “I am continually with Thee: Thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is none on earth I desire beside Thee. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

“Well,” you say, “though none of these be new with the New, yet surely this is: In the Old Testament one received the Law externally, but in the New Testament one receives the power to obey it.” Oy vey! Nope. That won’t work, either. Who of us obeys the Law better than Abraham (Gen. 26:5), or better than the Psalmist (see Ps. 119), or better than Zechariah and Elizabeth (Lk. 1:6)? No, this suggestion is as untenable as it is today common. For not only do we find myriad examples of OT saints rendering powerful obedience to the Lord in faith (see Heb. 11!), we also find NT-era saints falling just as far from perfection as their OT counterparts. If it’s “newness” you’re looking for, it will not be found along this path.

The newness will not be found in the God of the covenant, nor in the intrinsic benefits of the covenant, nor in the ethics of the covenant, nor even in the experiential “spirituality” of the covenant. The newness is in the administration of the covenant. The Westminster Confession is right on target when it says, “There are not two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations”2 (VII, vi).

The New Covenant in Christ’s blood is the same covenant enjoyed by the saints in the Old Testament. Now it is administered in a different manner, a manner which recognizes, honors and glories in the accomplishments of our Lord Jesus Christ in history, and which accords with God’s purposes through Him.

What are those purposes which called for a new administration? In a word: Gentiles.

The Gospel Goes Global

The gospel, since the Fall, was always present in the world, but for many centuries it was, in effect, confined to the Jews. In the New Testament era, however, the gospel goes global. That’s what’s new in God’s covenantal dealings. All other changes are viewed properly only when viewed in relation to — one might even say, as subordinate to — this grand change. Changes in administration, changes in worship, changes in the Spirit’s work, are to be referred back to this: in the New Testament, the gospel goes global.

This is a dominant theme of the four Gospel accounts; it is the very outline of the Book of Acts. The apostolic letters are self-evidently a handbook instructing Gentiles how to be true Jews. (The Book of Hebrews forcefully reminds Jewish believers what a real Jewish Jew is.) Then the Book of Revelation reveals the epochal shift in world centers, from the Jewish Jerusalem on earth to the universally accessible New Jerusalem in heaven, a fitting place in part because it is equidistant to all the families of the earth. Behind and under all changes in covenant economy is this single idea: the covenant is moving out under Christ to encompass the world.

Gentiles: Godless and Hopeless

The Old Testament Scriptures testified that the Gentiles would be coming to God through the Messiah. Simeon showed himself “a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the Word of truth” when he, holding the infant Jesus in his arms, called him the “light to lighten the Gentiles.” Simeon had read about the calling of Abraham and he knew that from the moment our father was called out to be the fountain of a new people, God intended by this to assuage the thirst of the Gentiles. “All families on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3), said the Lord. In the very act of covenanting to be the God of the Jews, God had in view his long-term plan of saving the Gentiles.3

In general, however, during the period from the call of Abraham to the death of Christ, relatively few Gentile individuals (and no Gentile nations to speak of) entered into the covenant. God, at the birth of the nation, did make provision for those who so desired: “An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land” (Ex. 12:48). The way into full covenantal participation was by circumcision.

While no doubt many availed themselves of this privilege (believing Gentiles appear throughout the pages of the OT), the Gentile nations as a whole remained “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). To Israel belonged the adoption as sons, the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. The Gentiles, “Godless and hopeless,” were out; the covenanted Jews were in.

Israel: The First Christian Nation

What many seem not to notice in Ephesians 2 is a powerful implication in Paul’s argument. If Paul, in contrasting the Gentiles to the Jews, says that heretofore the Gentiles were without Christ, the manifest implication is that the Jews were with Christ, or, better, that Christ was with the Jews, even prior to his incarnation. Paul thought of OT Israel as a Christian nation. If there is any doubt of that it ought to disappear on reading 1 Corinthians 10:3, 4: Our forefathers “all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” The Bible, then, clearly teaches that Christ was covenantally with Israel (but not with the Gentile nations) in the Old Testament administration.

Prior to his incarnation Jesus was present to Israel in diverse and sundry ways. Throughout their history he was their Savior. He birthed them, freed them, protected them, disciplined them, blessed them, nourished them, refreshed them, taught them, and provided atonement for them. When he — the word who in the beginning was with God and who was God — became flesh and dwelt among us, he came first unto his own. Amazingly (the New Testament records) his own would not receive him! Though he longed to gather Israel’s children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing, they were not willing.

Let’s Do the Twist

That is the first element of the astonishing Old Testament plot twist found in the New Testament Scriptures. The story itself, the story of the gracious God redeeming, had begun thousands of years before. The New Testament “twist” is not the disclosure of some new way of salvation. It is the story of how the only way of salvation had been rejected by the people who should have known it best! It is the story of how the people who had been accepted in the Beloved rejected the Beloved and in turn were no longer accepted.

The point cannot be made too strongly that in rejecting Jesus Christ the Jews were not rejecting, as it were, a new covenant, and (again) they certainly were not rejecting a new way of salvation. No, the bitter irony is that they were rejecting the very embodiment of all they should have known and practiced. Their rejection of Jesus was the clearest possible proof that they, in heart and fact, rejected Moses and the Prophets.

Think of it this way: Major premise: In the beginning was the Word of God. Minor premise: The Word of God (the same Word by which the worlds were created and Israel was redeemed; the same Word written in stone at Sinai, and on other media throughout Israel’s history) became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. Conclusion: To believe in Jesus Christ entirely is to believe in the Word of God entirely. Conversely, to reject Jesus Christ is to disbelieve and reject the entire Word of God.

You might well say, then, that the first element of the plot-twist found in the New Testament is the story of the Jews’ rejection of the Old Testament. The second element, a recurring theme to the end of the Book, is how their rejection became the occasion for the reconciliation of the whole world!4

The Gospel in the Gospels

Matthew’s Gospel, considered by many to be the most Jewish,5 puts a teaser at the beginning by telling us that the Incarnate Word, born of the Jews and announced by angels as David’s Son, was worshiped first by Gentiles (Mt. 2:11). This is as a token of what would eventually come to pass.

In chapter 10, Matthew recounts Jesus’ instruction to his apostles that they “not go among the Gentiles,” but “rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” Yet, by the time we get to chapter 21, we find Jesus telling the Jewish nation, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” Their rejection of him is a rejection of Abraham and Moses and David — it is a rejection of God himself. But God will not be left without a people! Christ’s work will be victorious and glorious.

After his resurrection, Jesus invokes his universal authority in commanding the apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations.” The nations are to be incorporated into the covenant not by circumcision, but by baptism in the Triune Name. This will become the issue in all that follows in the New Testament (as we shall presently see). Henceforth, Gentiles will fully participate in the covenant without becoming Jews. After the Jewish rejection of Jesus, Gentiles won’t need to move to Israel because Israel will “move” to include them, wherever they are! Wherever Christ is receivedwherever he is owned as Lord, wherever everything he has commanded is taught and obeyed, there is the Kingdom of God.

Mark’s Gospel ends with a similar universal vision, Jesus commanding, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes [Jew or Gentile] and is baptized [not circumcised] will be saved.”

Luke reiterates the story of the tenants who killed the heir of the vineyard. In response, “the owner of the vineyard will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” Parables and explicit teachings abound in Luke, wherein our Lord makes it clear that God’s covenant will never die, but covenant-breakers will. Jesus predicts the destruction of Jerusalem and associates this with the beginning of the “times of the Gentiles.”6

Of course, at Luke’s end we find some of the most explicit teaching confirming the unity of Scripture and its message. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus rebuked the dizzy disciples: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” For the prophets spoke of Christ. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scripture concerning himself.” Then, as with the other disciples, “He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” Not so they could disregard the “Old” in light of the “New,” but so that they could understand that what we call the New was in the Old all along! Jesus explained the Old Testament Scriptures: “This is what they teach: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead.7 But that’s not all. Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

That’s the teaching of the Old Testament. Now it’s going to happen universally. The gospel that was enjoyed virtually exclusively by Israel will now go forth, in suitable form, from Israel to the world.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come.                                                                                                                          Again he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited; “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”                                                                                                                          “But, they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.        “But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned-up their city.                                                                         “Then he said to his servants, the wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore, go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding. “So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.                  (Matthew 22: 2 – 10)

“Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” (Matthew 21: 43)

*****

Next😦Part 2).

Notes on Part 1

  1. For a sermon on modern “Nice-ianity,” send a donation to Messiah’s Ministries and request the sermon, “Your Father’s Ears.”
  2. The WCF uses “dispensations” in the sense of economies or administrations. The Confession has zero tolerance for “Dispensationalism.”
  3. In bringing the Gentiles into covenant in the new economy, God has precisely the same long-term intention toward the Jews. That is Paul’s crystal-clear argument in Romans 11:11ff.
  4. We must note that included in the New Testament story is clear revelation concerning the restoration and re-ingrafting of that ancient people of God. Joseph’s brothers shallbe reconciled to their Chosen Brother; though he now rules over “Egypt” (the Gentiles), Israel, too, shall behold him in truth (Zech. 12:10).
  5. I vote it #2 in Jewishness. It seems to me that John’s Gospel enjoys the unique distinction of being simultaneously both the most universal and the most Jewish.
  6. It should be noted that Luke 21:24 overthrows hyper-preterism. Hyper-preterism asserts that all prophecies in the NT were fulfilled by or in A.D 70. Yet Jesus here says that unbelieving Israelites “will be taken as prisoners to all nations. Jerusalem will [then] be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Since the times of the Gentiles officially(as it were)began in 70 with the destruction of the city, the times of the Gentiles could not also have then been fulfilled. Hyper-preterists are forced to say that the times of the Gentiles ended in 70, whereas our Lord says that’s when they began. And Paul, presumably referring to this same “times of the Gentiles,” links its conclusion with the future softening of Israel and their re-ingrafting (Rom. 11:25-32).
  7. I regret that it is needful to stress this, but stress it I must: What Jesus says here, Paul calls “the gospel” itself in 1 Corinthians 15. The gospel, it needs to be emphasized over and over, is found in the Old Testament. The writer of Hebrews says it was preached in the Old. It is not new to the New Testament.

 

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What is the New Testament? (Part 2)

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in the New Testament (Part 2)

crossBy Rev. Steve M. Schlisselbread and wine

Go, Johnny, Go

The universality of John’s Gospel must be read in the light of all I said previously. If it is, many silly controversies could be avoided. For example, when John says, “To all who received Him, to those who believed on His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (1:12), he is not telling us of a new soteriology, but a new people! John sets this fact in the context of Jewish unbelief. Verse 11: His own pretty much rejected him. Verse 12: But don’t let that get you down. That only means that now anybody can become “one of His own.” Verse 13: It doesn’t matter where you were born, in or out of Israel, if you’re born of God.

Similarly, John 3:16 sometimes tortures those who take their starting point in electionolivet discourse rather than in the covenant. Poor souls! Just read it with all that’s been said in mind and there is no need to twist or be twisted. “God so loved the world [not just Israel] that He gave His only begotten Son [his word, his covenant — cf. Is. 42:6], that whosoever [not just Jews] believes in Him [apart from circumcision] should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world [all nations, indiscriminately; not all individuals] through Him [the word of God made flesh].”1

For our purposes, however, the most important Johannine passage is 12:20-32. Jesus had already performed his most dramatic “sign” (raising Lazarus) and had entered Jerusalem for his final week of ministry there. Some Gentiles want to see Jesus, apparently interested in becoming disciples. Andrew and Phillip tell this to Jesus. Jesus uses this as an occasion to highlight the essential difference between his pre- and post-crucifixion ministries. Jesus replies to the Greeks’ request for access, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds.”

What a seemingly strange way to answer the door! But not when the New Testament theme is kept in view. Jesus is saying, “It won’t be long now. As long as I remain on earth, I am sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. But,” he adds, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men [that is, all kinds of men, men from all nations] to Myself.”

When the kernel of wheat (Jesus) dies in old Jerusalem and ascends to New Jerusalem, he sends his life-giving Spirit to produce many seeds, enough for the whole world.

Where the Action Is

The Book of Acts, naturally, chronicles the course of this Christ-predicted and Christ-directed covenantal progress. Its first page finds the apostles thinking out of sequence. “Let’s talk about Israel,” they say. “Let’s not and say we did,” replies our Lord, “You attend to the work I assign you. Stay here until the Holy Spirit comes upon you, making you into the first batch of ‘many seeds’ for the world. Then be my witnesses in Jerusalem [all Jewish], in Judea and Samaria [half-Jewish] and to the ends of the earth [non-Jewish].”

In chapter 2, the miracle of Pentecost is illustrative of the New Testament theme: the gospel heretofore spoken in Hebrew will now be spoken in all languages on earth. The curse inflicted at Babel will now be reversed in Christ.2

And that’s the story that follows: not of a new God or a new ethic or a new morality, but of the Old Testament God, the Old Testament ethic, the Old Testament morality overtaking Jews (chapters 1-7), then half-Jews (chapter 8), then non-Jews (9-28), gaining entrée to the hearts of men by means of the two-tined message of repentance and forgiveness of sins.

Many questions, of course, were still to be answered. You must remember that until this time, though Gentiles had been welcome to join themselves to the covenant people, to do so as full participants, they had to be circumcised — and then some. Would that continue to be the case? Would the message brought to the furthest corners of the world be, for example, “Good news, everybody! You can join the covenant. But, according to Deuteronomy 26, you will become obligated to journey to Jerusalem three times each year”? If that was to be the case, conversion rates — even among travel agents — would have been abysmally low.

No. The gospel to be delivered unto the ends of the earth was a complete gospel and a completely portable gospel. Some laws governing Israel would change, but none would be abolished. The differences in the New Testament administration are practical differences which have come about because of the inclusion of all nations in the one covenant through Christ. The ethics of Israel, therefore, are not reversed. God does not begin to love what he hated or hate what he loved. Thus — Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude, put to rest disputes by simple appeals to any part of God’s law-word.3

Even the so-called ceremonial laws fully mature in Christ and become ripe for universal application. Are the laws governing a woman’s body abolished when she weds, conceives, bears and nurses? No, they are fulfilled! So too, the older rites and ceremonies are fulfilled in the “New World Order” brought about by Christ’s completed work.

Great administrative changes would take place because Christ has appeared as the Temple; Christ himself has performed the work of the Great High Priest (in the order of Melchizedek); Christ himself has become the once-for-all Great Offering. All of these had always set forth the Christ-to-come. Apart from his work, they had no efficacy. That is the message of Hebrews. He was in them, preparing the way for himself in history. But now that he has come, and now that he has performed a work sufficient for all the nations of the world, the place of worship, as prophesied by our Lord, would certainly not be Mount Gerizim, nor would it be Jerusalem. Rather the time had now come when Malachi’s words would be fulfilled: “My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to My name,4 because My name will be great among the nations!”

The Gentile Question

But tell that to the Jews in what we call the First Century. Old St. Pete had trouble comprehending it (Ac. 10), but finally got the point: “If God gave uncircumcised Gentiles the same gift as He gave us, who was I to think that I could oppose God?” (Ac. 11:17).

Others, either couldn’t or wouldn’t get it. And so the most important controversy of the New Testament soon came center stage: Must Gentile converts to the covenant first become Jews? Will the covenant after Christ remain provincial or will it go to all peoples, requiring of all only what God required of Abraham, that he trust and obey?

Believers from the Jewish Christian center of power (Jerusalem) went down to a Gentile Christian center of power (Antioch) and said, “Excuse us, but aren’t you guys forgetting something? Uh, if you wanna be one with us and our God, get rid of those foreskins.” Ouch! The apostles and elders met to consider this question in Acts 15.

This was the $64,000 question. It would forever affect the character of the gospel being preached. It is important to understand, therefore, what the question actually entailed. The question was not dealing with circumcision per se. After all, the assembly determined that circumcision could not be compelled of Gentile converts, yet the first thing we find Paul doing after delivering the decision to the churches, is circumcising Timothy, a half-Jew. No, circumcision, as Paul says later, is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing. The question was, must a Gentile become a Jew in order to become a Christian?

To that question, the assembly of Acts 15, guided by the apostles and the Holy Spirit, gave a resounding “No!” It was contrary to the very work of Christ to seek to confine it to the Jewish nation. It was written (in the “Old Testament”!) that Gentiles would “bear God’s name,” James told the assembly. That time had obviously come. Therefore, let us show consideration for them and let them show consideration for the Jews from whence the gospel comes (Ac. 15:15-21).

The degree of antipathy held by unbelieving Jews of that time toward Gentiles is hard to measure; it was off the scale. One can get an idea from reading Paul’s speech in Acts 21-22. The Jews (by no means the only ethnocentric people in history!) were shouting, “Away with him,” until they heard Paul speak their language (22:1). He then gave a powerful and explicit testimony to the work of Christ in his life and, amazingly, they listened politely until he reported, “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'”

Bam! That was it. “Rid the earth of him!,” they shouted. “He’s not fit to live!”

Not fit to live? What was his crime? It was the mere suggestion that God had kind intentions toward those outside the covenant. Why, they reacted even more violently than some modern hyper-Calvinists do at the same thought! Nevertheless it was true. God’s grace was on a boundary-breaking course throughout the world. The New Testament records the story of the astonishing covenant-breaking on the part of the Jews and the equally astonishing plan of God: to leave unbelieving Israel in the dust while bringing his holy covenant, bound up in Christ, to the world. Thus the last words of Paul (in Acts) to the Jews in Rome: “I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”

The Beat Goes On

And listen they did, as the diverse destinations of the New Testament epistles testify. A careful reading of these letters supports our contention that the main difference between the Old and the New is the inclusion of the Gentiles in the covenant without requiring them to become Jewish.

The theme of the Book of Romans, commonly thought to be justification by faith, is actually the relationship of Jews and Gentiles in view of Christ’s completed work.5 Paul’s argument in Chapter 4 is one of the most brilliant to be found anywhere. After proving that Gentiles (1:18-2:16) and Jews (2:17-3:20) stand alike in their need of justification, Paul asks what Abraham’s experience was in obtaining justification. The covenant blessings are said to have come to Abraham by faith (4:1-8). Moreover (and this is Paul’s entire argument here), Abraham was justified when he was physically still a Gentile (in Genesis 15; he wasn’t circumcised until Genesis 17). So the father of the Jews was a Gentile when he was set free from sin and brought near to God. He is thus a fit figure to be the father of all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile.6

Space forbids an exhaustive elaboration here of the centrality of “the Gentile Question” in the literature of the New Testament, but do read the NT yourself with this theme in mind. For now, let’s just summarize the ways in which the administration of the covenant changed, for the nations’ good, after Christ’s earthly work was completed: Realization, Concentration, Expansion.

Realization

Christ Jesus our Lord is the realization in history of all that preceded him. The “thousand points” of Old Testament light meet in him. As a diamond reveals light in new and stunning ways, so does our Lord reveal the light that was always in the Old Testament. Jesus is the Old Testament in the flesh. John never recovered from the thought: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled . . . WE TOUCHED THE WORD OF LIFE!”

The Word is not abolished in him! Perish the thought! It is made flesh!

Yet we do read in Ephesians that certain laws have been taken up in that very flesh, and are not in force as they once were. These are the laws which externally (not morally) distinguished Israel from the world. “Now in Christ Jesus you who were formerly far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances [i.e. those ordinances which heretofore separated you], that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.”

We also know that the “laws of approach” (to God) remain as valid today as ever, yet in different forms. No one, for example, can ever hope to be justified without blood. This is the great travesty of post-A. D. 70 Judaism. It is a religion completely at odds with its own premises. For in the Law of the Jews it says, “It is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11). This is still true. The message of the NT is that the only blood ever required has now, in fact, been shed. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, our sacrifice, and be saved, all ye ends of the earth!”

Blood is still required. So, too, the Tabernacle-Temple is still most necessary, only now we see it in Jesus, not Jerusalem.7 And we need a priest today as much as priests were ever needed — Christians have one! The Great High Priest, Jesus. As our Belgic Confession says, “We believe that the ceremonies and symbols of the law ceased at the coming of Christ, and that all the shadows are accomplished; so that the use of them must be abolished among Christians; yet the truth and substance of them remain with us in Jesus Christ, in whom they have their completion . . .”

If “the laws of approach” remain alive, how much more that moral code revealed as the perfect expression for man of the Divine mind on justice? We could not do good without it! The Heidelberg Catechism reminds us that good works are “only those which proceed from true faith, and are done according to the Law of God, unto His glory, and not such as rest on our own opinion or the commandments of men.”8

Concentration

With the realization of all things in Christ, we find a concentration of form in the New Testament period, along with the introduction of bloodless rites.9 The Westminster Confession expresses it this way: “Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament.”

Here is what you read in the New Testament: Jesus Christ has realized all the Old Testament threads. Everything is a tapestry in him. Without him they are just threads — in him they form one gorgeous whole. And now that he has come and done the work, the Gospel can expand and go to the rest of the world.

Expansion

Which brings us back to where we started. It’s realized in him, condensed in form, then distributed to the world. All I really need to know I learn in the Old Testament. But I need to know it in the form in which it is found in the New Testament.

*****

Notes on Part 2

  1. Your donation, if it is simply humungous, entitles you to request our sermon entitled, “Is John 3:16 the Greatest Verse in the Bible?” (Yes, we answer in the affirmative.)
  2. All attempts at global reconciliation apart from Christ are necessarily anti-Christ. He is the only way appointed by God.
  3. e.g., 1 Cor. 14:34; 1 Pt. 3:10-12; James 4:6; 1 Jn 5:3; Jude 7.
  4. viz.,God will be acceptably worshiped around the world.
  5. The Mystery of Romansby Mark D. Nanos, Fortress Press, 1996, is a provocative and fresh look at the structure and theme of the book; a must read, whether or not one agrees with Nanos’ conclusions. Fascinating!
  6. It is worth noting that Paul’s argument in Romans 4 is a powerful justification for the baptism of covenant infants. Antipaedobaptists typically argue that infant circumcision was OK because it only made you part of a physical people, but baptism is a sign and seal of a spiritual reality which must precede the rite. Paul, however, says that circumcision was for Abraham “the sign [and] a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith” (v. 11). Thus, Abraham firstbelievedthen received the sign. His progeny, however, first received the sign, then were under obligation to believe. If the order in the Old was spiritual reality (faith), then sign (circumcision) for adults entering the covenant, but sign then faith for those born in the covenant, that order ought to be regarded as perfectly reasonable in the New administration.
  7. John 2:18-22.
  8. Q&A #91.
  9. A strong proof of the truth of the Christian religion as against rabbinical Judaism. For Judaism, the rivers of blood found in the Old Testament just suddenly, and without Divine explanation, cease! The New Testament, on the other hand, explains that the end of blood rites was in no way arbitrary. On the contrary: the real blood, of which all other blood was a mere witness, was shed by the Son of God unto a complete remission of all his people’s sins.

 

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Pentecost’s Power: Subversion and Victory

depiction of SadeCultural Subversion

By P. Andrew Sandlin

Because culture is religion externalized, every attempt to alter the structure and content of a culture constitutes a form of religious subversion. The ancient Greek philosophers were well aware of the possibility of cultural subversion; and Plato, a devout statist, singled out the arts as a field potentially hazardous to the commonwealth which should never be reluctant to suppress artistic expression.social idiot

What we term the status quo of any culture is always dynamic, never static, always with internal (and often with external) forces committed to cultural change. From the standpoint of the status quo, “cultural change” is a euphemism for cultural subversion. We should have no illusions about this fact, and the most devout advocate of “democracy” cannot escape the force of its logic. To argue, for example, that democracy (however defined) is merely a mechanism to assure that the majority’s will can peacefully prevail in a society is thereby to acknowledge the successful subversion of all non- and anti-democratic programs of society and politics. “Democracy,” therefore, is not merely a political mechanism; it is, has always been, and must always be, a form of cultural subversion.

satanWhen our Lord spoke parabolically of His ministry as binding “the strong man” (Mk. 3:22-27), He was asserting that in the prime struggle of the ages — that between the Triune God and covenant-keepers on one side, and Satan and covenant-breakers on the other — transformation from covenant-breaking to covenant-keeping is not possible apart from the suppression of the former. While this suppression begins with the individual, it works its way outward to affect and reshape every area of life and society. Christ’s expulsion of demonic forces did not merely set the stage for His spoiling of Satan’s power over individuals; it was an act of cultural subversion — the subversion of Satan’s iron stranglehold not merely on particular individuals, but on the culture itself. Just as Satan, under the inscrutable decree of God, had temporarily subverted divine culture in the Garden of Eden, so Jesus Christ permanently subverted Satanic and humanistic culture in His earthly sojourn, culminating in the great redemptive complex of His sacrificial death, bodily resurrection, glorious ascension, and victorious session at the right hand of the Father; where He presently sits in anticipation of all His enemies being made His footstool (1 Cor. 15:24-28). The subversive effects of this redemptive complex are no less cultural than individual, and cultural precisely because they are individual.

Cultural Subversion an Inescapable Concept occupy-4

In R.J. Rushdoony’s language, cultural subversion is an inescapable concept: individuals and forces within a society are constantly working to subvert that society’s culture. Different societies legally permit certain forms of subversion, though no society legally permits the subversion of its basic structure. This is why blasphemy of the Triune God is forbidden in a Biblically ordered society (Lev. 24:16) but permitted in a humanistic society, while suppression of homosexuality is permitted in a Biblically ordered society (Lev. 20:13) but forbidden in a humanistic society. The issue is never unfettered free speech, but that no society permits certain selected forms of speech immediately subversive of that society. As the United States has become increasingly homosexualized, gay paradecensure of homosexuals has been labeled “hate speech,” already forbidden on many “politically correct” campuses and gradually in other areas of society. In a Biblically ordered society, blasphemy is culturally subversive and therefore forbidden; in a humanistically ordered society, suppression of homosexuality (and several other sins) is culturally subversive and therefore forbidden. Just as cultural subversion is an inescapable concept, so the political suppression of certain basic forms of cultural subversion is an inescapable concept. The political structure of every society works to preserve certain basic cultural tenets, and when we observe an alteration in laws respecting particular subversions, we are in actuality seeing the success of some particular subversion itself.

Today’s Cultural Subversion 

The present cultural status quo of the United States reflects the successful subversion of a anti libertybland and liberal cultural order regnant roughly since the 1870s, an order which itself had subverted the older Puritan, Trinitarian order first brought to these shores in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The culture of the United States we observe today is an extension of the 60s revolution to virtually every area of modern life. [For example] This was especially evident in the former President Clinton impeachment debacle, and I refer not merely to the White House. To the extent that there existed any genuine conflict, it was a conflict between certain Republican politicians who retain a vague sense of Christian morality and, on the other side, the entrenched perpetrators of the 60s revolution. It was a conflict of decades—between the predominant cultural vision of the 60s revolutionaries, and the vastly outmanned and outgunned vision of the successors of the 40s (era) patriots. picassos loverGiven the cultural dominance of the 60s revolutionaries, it is not surprising which decade’s champions won out. As E. Michael Jones perceptively argued, this recent debacle was indeed about sex—about the dominance of the sexual revolution and about the revolutionaries’ rabid commitment to preserving it at all costs: “President [Bill] Clinton is going to defend Dionysos to the death; he can’t afford to back out now. Like Ahab he is willing to take the whole country down to make a point.”1 What the 60s sexual revolutionaries were fighting for in the late 90s was the perpetuation of the cultural status quo, and the fact that the President’s approval ratings increased with every Republican revelation of his philandering, adultery, perjury, deception, and obstruction of justice indicates that the Republicans, in this particular case, were occupying a subversive role. Their ultimate failure stems from the resiliency of the 60s revolutionary culture that dominates American society. This resiliency, as Joseph Sobran effectively notes, is a part of the liberals program, constantly reshaping itself to push toward greater cultural depravity: “I gnash my teeth whenMLK4 conservatives argue that `affirmative action’ violates `the spirit of Dr. [Martin Luther] King’ —`colorblind justice,’ and all that. Nonsense. If King were alive today, he’d certainly support state-imposed racial preferences. He was a Marxist, always moving leftward. Liberals are right to claim him as their own; conservatives who appeal to his `spirit’ only make fools of themselves. . . . In the maze of history, today’s conservatives are nearly as lost as the liberals. That’s why their critique of liberalism is fundamentally weak: more than they realize, they are liberals too.”2 Even as today’s status quo, the Left is subversive.

Subversives on the Right

freedom rallyThe so-called Religious Right, so active in the 70s and 80s and so fragmented and misdirected in the 90s, has not learned the lesson of culture and cultural subversion. Its champions have been seduced by the popular but pathetic illusion that politics is central to life and have assumed that we can “clean America up” by electing Christian and Christian-influenced candidates. They have tended to assimilate the mechanism of this vision from political liberals for whom political power has always been the prime implement of social engineering. The more astute political liberals, however, are aware that politics is only a single cultural phenomenon, one among many, and that the fundamental issue in society is culture, that is to say, religion. All cultural wars are in reality religious wars. The Religious Right, unfortunately, is often less culturally astute than politically active. Thus, it fails to recognize that any fundamental change in society must be a cultural, a religious, change. The Religious Right and other Christian organizations as well as individual Christians disturbed by the overt depravity of modern culture would be better served in penetrating and transforming the fundamental culture itself than in electing individual Christian candidates and passing individual Christian legislation, vital though these activities are. In modern democracies, the culture is eventually the manifestation of the will of the majority. The broad religious perspective of the populace at large creates a culture which in turn shapes political outcomes.

If Christians wish to alter the political landscape, they should devote themselves toleap of faith altering the cultural (religious) landscape. This means training and commissioning a greater number of culturally astute orthodox, Bible-believing ministers, educators, musicians, poets, theologians, novelists, disc jockeys, film makers, journalists, and so on. The predominating attitudes of a society are more fundamentally shaped by its university professors, film and TV personalities, pastors and theologians, popular musicians, and journalists than it is by its politicians, who generally are little more than an echo or reflection of the prevailing cultural ethos—particularly in modern democracies. In simpler terms, [current movies and television shows] are more culturally significant in the United States than the President and members of Congress. The former are religious statements that shape cultural norms; the latter tend to be products and therefore reflections of the culture itself.

pagan powerCultural subversion of some sort is always occurring in a society. As long as men remain in a sinful state, cultural subversion is inescapable. Not until the eternal state will all cultural subversion disappear. Revelation 20:7-10 discloses that, even at the conclusion of the earthly millennium, Satan will stir up his followers in an attempt to subvert Christ’s kingdom. God will effectively and decisively quash this cultural subversion, but the fact that it could occur even within a predominately Christian society evidences the inevitability of cultural subversion in all human society. The commission of Christians, in fact, is to be godly subversives in every area of life. It is, by the power of the Spirit of God, to subvert the indwelling sin in our own lives. But the subversion does not stop there. It is designed to move outward to every area of thought and life. Of this subversion, Cornelius Van Til states:

The individual believer has a comprehensive task. His is the task of exterminating evil from the whole universe. He must begin this program in himself. As a king reinstated it is his first battle to fight sin within his own heart. This will remain his first battle till his dying day. This does not mean, however, that he must not also seek to destroy evil in his fellow Christians and in his fellow men while he is engaged in destroying evil within himself.…

We must go one step further. It is our duty not only to seek to destroy evil in ourselves and in our fellow Christians, but it is our further duty to seek to destroy evil in our fellow men.…

Still further we must note that our task with respect to the destruction of evil is not done if we have sought to fight sin itself everywhere we see it. We have the further obligation to destroy the consequences of sin in this world as far as we can.…3

To argue that Christians are simply one competing interest among many “options” in thePentecost modern pluralistic culture is to talk nonsense. Christianity is designed to be a dominant faith, like all faiths, including the faith of democratic pluralism. Modern pluralism is the natural outgrowth of Enlightenment liberalism which sees “reason” as the arbiter of all claims. Differing and conflicting religious views are permitted (even encouraged), for what is really important is maximum freedom under the guidance of reason. The emergence of postmodernism has exploded this myth of reason, and it is expressed no more baldly than by Stanley Fish:

But what if reason or rationality itself rests on belief? Then it would be the case that the opposition between reason and belief was a false one, and that every situation of contest should be recharacterized as a quarrel between two sets of belief with no possibility of recourse to a mode of deliberation that was not itself an extension of belief. This is in fact my view of the matter …. [L]iberalism is tolerant only within the space demarcated by the operations of reason; any one who steps outside that space will not be tolerated, will not be regarded as a fully enfranchised participant in the marketplace (of ideas) over which reason presides.4

Liberalism itself, he implicitly acknowledges, is a subversive faith, subversive of all views that do not conform to the dictates of reason as shaped by liberalism.

The Church’s Great Miscalculation 

sunset churchA prime theological error of the church in the United States in the last century and a half which has effectively translated into its prime tactical error is the assumption that cultural subversion is not inevitable, that covenant-keeping and covenant-breaking can peacefully coexist in a single society. Since Genesis 3, however, there has been no possibility of cultural détente between covenant-keeping and covenant-breaking — and there never can be. Virile, Biblical Christianity works at all points to subvert covenant-breaking — in the individual, the family, the church, science, art, education, technology, and the state. While sinless perfection can never be achieved in any individual, institution, or sphere in this life, Christianity is not in principle compatible with covenant-breaking. It works, in other words, to subvert covenant-breaking wherever it is found. It works to gradually transform prodigal sons into obedient sons, and prodigal cultures into obedient cultures. It would be an event of nothing less than epic proportions were the church of Jesus Christ to recover not only a recognition of the inescapability of cultural subversion, but a restoration of its calling as cultural subversives. By the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the application of His law-word, the Bible, to all areas of life, Christians must commit themselves to subvert and replace evil in all individuals, institutions, and spheres. While Christ definitively bound the “strong man” in His earthly ministry, the calling of His people is to translate this redemptive victory into every area of life.

*****

Notes

  1. E. Michael Jones, “The Nomenklatura Calls for a Referendum on the Sexual Revolution,” Culture Wars, November, 1998, 14.
  2. Joseph Sobran, “Media and Mythology,” Sobran’s The Real News of the Month, November-December,1998, 1.
  3. Cornelius Van Til, Christian Theistic Ethics(Phillipsburg, NJ, 1980), 86-87.
  4. Stanley Fish, There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech (. . . And It’s a Good Thing Too), (Oxford, 1994), 135, 137, emphasis in original.
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Corrupt Minds, Destitute of the Truth

occupy-3Men Destitute of the TruthLiberal gods

By Mark R. Rushdoony

If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;  He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,  Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness; from such withdraw thyself. (1 Timothy 6:3-5)plato

Hell is full of brilliant men. It is not the quantity of what we know that matters; it is the essence of what we understand. We make fools of ourselves when we feign knowledge of things beyond our expertise. We realize this when we talk to someone who is a true expert in his field.

10 commandments...By God’s standard, we play the fool whenever we try to wax eloquent on matters settled in Scripture, “doting about questions and strifes of words” is intellectualizing the faith in order to make it understandable only to the initiate few.

This is not to say God’s word is not worthy of intellectual discussion; it only means that it is not to be intellectualized by the “proud” (v. 4) who teach men what is contrary to sound doctrine (v. 3).

The starting point of all higher criticism, within or without the church, is the humanistic assumption that man is an autonomous, rational being. Once you believe that man’s reason can understand all, then all must be subject to man’s reason or it may be dismissed as irrational. Rationalism, including much textual criticism of Scripture, places all within the understanding of man. “Man is the measure…” the rationalist holds.

But man is not the measure of all things; God is the Sovereign Lord and Sustainer of all things. Any scholarship or intellectualizing which makes man’s mind the measure of truth follows after the rebellion of Adam. In its pride it puffs itself up in “perverse disuptings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth” (v. 5).

God is Truth. He reveals his truth to man by his infallible, inspired word. He details his truth in historical narrative, prophecy, poetry, and in encouragements between believers. He shows us its proclamation to many generations and the consequences of their responses. Revelation is intended, as its name implies, to reveal. God revealed secrets and unknown truth so man could understand; he did not give a mystical book only a few innovators could expound. This would give priority to a few human minds. Scripture would then become their revelation, not God’s.

Paul condemns all teaching that is not sound, especially by those who enjoy argument, disputes and speculation in the name of religion. Doctrine must be “according to godliness” (v. 3). True teaching about Scripture must accomplish what its Author intended: confirming us in the fear of God, building up our faith and patience, and educating us in our duties before God. If teaching does not increase our understanding of Scripture, it is not according to godliness. It must profit the Faith or it is so much vain babbling. Paul charges profitless teachers with pride — a pride that is foolishly empty because they know nothing. He also instructs us to withdraw ourselves from them. At times that will mean withdrawing ourselves from the most respected teachers and movements of our day.

The harm of these profitless teachers is real. They destroy others and themselves. Their “doting” and “strifes” lead them to enjoy the process of argumentation as a child enjoys his play. The truth becomes their first casualty in their logical and scholarly but irrelevant word play. If they cannot say why their lofty teachings are of consequences to understanding God’s revelation, we must leave them to their own foolishness. Answering them will accomplish no more than entanglement.

God’s word must be viewed as his revelation. It is to be accepted, not argued. It is a profane use of Scripture to use it as a mental exercise. But even this probably gives too much credit. Many argue over Scripture because as long as something is in dispute, it is not settled. As long as they can make Scripture a series of questions, it will not be words of instruction. Here again, the autonomy-seeking mind of man denies Scripture as authoritative by using it as a basis for argumentation.

If we approach Scripture as a curious riddle we will always seek to outwit it. God commands us instead to hear, repent, and obey in humility.

*****

“In a time of universal deceit—telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”… Even if the whole world has gone mad, speak the truth anyway. It’s the revolutionary thing to do.”(George Orwell)

***

Rev. Mark R. Rushdoony is president of Chalcedon and Ross House Books. He is also editor-in-chief of Faith for All of Life and Chalcedon’s other publications.

 

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“Are Evangelicals Helping the enemies of Christ?”

AEvangelical Political CompromiseA

By William O. Einwechter

Rethinking Political Strategies

The Nature of Political Compromise

We have been told that politics by its very nature requires compromise. If those on the opposite sides of a political issue are to avoid endless stalemate, make headway in draftingwashington dc necessary legislation, and generally get on with the business of governing the nation, it seems as though compromise is not only useful, but essential to the political process. J. I. Packer says, “Give-and-take is the heart of political compromise, as compromise is the heart of politics in a democracy.”1 Since evangelicals have been very diligent in seeking political compromises with those on the other side, one might think that we ought to praise evangelicals for their prowess in the art of political compromise and for the good that this has brought to our society. Praise would be due if compromise in politics is always a virtue. However, Clarence Carson gives a penetrating analysis of how political compromise often works:

Politics, we are told by what is now the “conventional wisdom” of political science, is the art of compromise. This is a most plausible idea. If men differ from one another about what to do, how are these differences to be resolved? The most obvious alternatives are compromise or a resort to force. Surely it would not be good for people to resort continually to armed combat to settle their differences. It would appear, then, that compromise is the great imperative — even virtue — of statecraft.

U.N. BuildingBut this doctrine of compromise is more complex than the above reasoning would suggest. Compromise suggests that both sides yield ground, that they “split the difference,” as it were. In fact, however, this has seldom been the case in political matters. Let us take an example. Suppose that the country is divided into two parties over an issue — say, the tariff. One party favors free trade, and the other wants a protective tariff. The protectionists introduce a bill into Congress which provides for protective duties on certain imports. A “compromise” is worked out between the free traders and protectionists. It would involve lower rates than those originally proposed, and perhaps fewer items on the protected list. This would appear to meet the qualifications for a “compromise,” but it is far from a splitting of the differences. The party of free trade has agreed not only to a quantitative compromise, but it has yielded up its principle as well. The protectionist party has begun the establishment of its principle and has, presumably, yielded ground temporarily on the amount and degree of the tariff. In brief, compromise can be made to work entirely to the advantage of one side. It is my contention that it has usually done so in the United States in the twentieth century.2

As Carson points out, political compromise is rarely an even split, but usually involves the surrender of principle by at least one side in the debate. It is our contention that the compromises of evangelicals in the political sphere have consistently been the surrender of Christian principles. In so doing, evangelicals have actually helped the enemies of Christ establish their ungodly principles in society. The political compromises of evangelicals, therefore, do not deserve praise, but, rather, condemnation; for their compromises have worked to undermine the kingdom of God and have contributed substantially to the ongoing advance of the kingdom of darkness in the politics of our nation.

The Nature of Evangelical Political Compromise

The particular instances of evangelical political compromise can be summed up and explained by their surrender of two essential Biblical doctrines in the political sphere: 1) the Lordship of Jesus Christ — the doctrine of Christ’s mediatorial reign over all things in heaven and earth; and, 2) the authority of Biblical law. This compromise of Biblical truth did not take place overnight. Evangelicals today are living out the compromised political philosophy of previous generations of Christians who, for the sake of pluralism, discarded the authority of Christ in the political sphere and traded Biblical law for natural law.3 The fundamental political viewpoint of modern evangelicals is based on the surrender of God’s authority (i.e., the authority of his Son and the authority of his law-word) over the sphere of politics. Of course, if you were to read or hear what contemporary evangelicals are saying in regard to politics, you would be confronted with many appeals to “Biblical justice” and statements about the lordship of Christ in politics. But in spite of honoring Christ and the Bible with their lips, their political philosophy and practice are often far from both Christ and the Bible.

Democratic Pluralism

Pluralism, in the epistemological sense of the term, “maintains that there is no single meaning or truth; meaning varies as the consequences vary for the individual, and truth is the expedient way of thinking.”4 All evangelicals would take strong issue with epistemological pluralism and affirm that truth is based on God and his revelation. However, when it comes to the theory of political pluralism, evangelicals are fully supportive. Political pluralism “is a concept that describes the heterogeneity of groups that share power in public policy making. The theory of democratic pluralism asserts that the public interest emerges from the democratic competition of diverse and changing elite groups, none of which are able to become dominant.”5

Evangelicals are champions of this democratic pluralism. J. I. Packer argues that pluralistic representative democracy is “fitter and wiser” than any other form of civil government. He says that Christians ought to recommend democracy because it is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people and best expresses the God-given dignity of every individual because it allows full participation in the political process for all. Packer believes that democracies like the U. S. that are philosophically and religiously pluralist are healthy because societal balance comes out of political conflict as compromise is reached by the various parties in the debate.6 Kantzer explains that democratic pluralism is a vital part of the American tradition and evangelicals strongly support that tradition:

Strong evangelical affirmation of democracy and especially of the American principle of separation of church and state ought not to be surprising. The original framers of our Constitution in 1787 went out of their way to insure that our government would not be a Christian government, and not even a religious government. This is in spite of the fact that, almost without exception, the framers of the American Constitution considered themselves religious persons. The vast majority identified themselves as Christian…. From its very inception, therefore, the United States has been a pluralistic democracy committed to the separation of church and state…. [T]he basic reason for the strong evangelical commitment to separation is rooted in Biblical teaching about the role of civil government….7

For evangelicals, the ideal political economy in this fallen world is that which allows all views, religious or secular, theistic or atheistic, Christian or anti-Christian, an equal voice in the political debate and equal access to the political process and political offices of the nation. They abhor the thought of any one group’s seeking to dominate politics, particularly the thought of Christians striving for dominion in the politics of the nation.

What evangelicals want is “a place at the table” so that they can provide the all-important religious perspective to the process of democracy; a place at the table, nothing more, nothing less. Ralph Reed states this succinctly:

If we are to reaffirm the role of religion in public life, we must also encourage those with strong spiritual values to re-enter politics after too many years of self-imposed retreat. Religious believers must become full citizens, with a place at the table we call democracy…. Their participation is not a threat to democracy but is essential to it.8

Evangelical commitment to democratic pluralism also means that they believe that the state must be religiously neutral,i.e., should not favor, protect, or promote any one religion over another. Kantzer believes that the founding fathers “went out of their way to insure that our government would not be a Christian government, and not even a religious government,”9 and he and other evangelicals are committed to keeping it that way. Monsma advocates what he calls the “politics of justice” because it is both liberating and pluralistic. For Monsma, true liberty requires the state to be religiously neutral and to enforce a pluralistic order that allows for “mosques as well as churches, nudist camps as well as Bible camps, hateful, racist literature as well as the writings of a C. S. Lewis or a Martin Luther King, Jr.”10

Complete religious liberty for all sects, isms, and religions must be the creed of the state. Of course, if the state is to uphold religious pluralism, then the state itself must be officially neutral in regard to religion. How else can the state avoid giving special status to any one religion? Thus, the evangelical, in being true to his pluralistic creed for civil society, rejects all attempts to establish Christianity as the religion of the state — no religious test for political office, no national covenant with God, and no official recognition of the Bible as the law-book of the nation.

Natural Law

Evangelicals are passionate defenders of democratic pluralism because it allows equal access for all views in the public policy debates of the democratic process, but reject epistemological pluralism because it says there is no ultimate standard of truth or justice. How do they reconcile the acceptance of one and the rejection of the other? It seems that an acceptance of democratic pluralism would naturally entail the acceptance of epistemological pluralism as well. The evangelical answer to this seeming contradiction is natural law: natural law provides the social glue that enables a pluralistic society to unite in pursuit of the common good; natural law provides pluralism with a transcendent standard of right and wrong, and of civil justice.11 Geisler states:

A society cannot function without some kind of common moral code that binds people together in a social unit — a kind of moral cohesive. Without this ethical cohesive, there would be no unity in a society. But it is obvious that not every society accepts a divine law, such as the Bible or the Koran. This being the case there is evident need for some kind of naturally available moral code to bind people together.12

For Geisler and his fellow evangelicals, natural law is the common moral code. Following Aquinas, Geisler defines natural law as “the rational creature’s participation in the eternal law,” and the “eternal law is the divine reason by which God governs the universe.”13 Evangelicals make a distinction between Biblical law which is only for the church and natural law which is for all men. Therefore, according to evangelicals, it is wrong for Christians to espouse the standards of Biblical law for civil society — society’s only standard of moral principles is natural law, and these principles are discerned through man’s reason. As Packer says, “The Christian citizen must accept that in politics no black-and-white answers are available, but God wills simply that all be led by the highest ideals and the ripest wisdom that they can discover.”14 In other words, “Christians, put your Bibles away when you enter into the political realm.”

The Antidote to Evangelical Political Compromise

In their advocacy of democratic pluralism and natural law, evangelicals have deeply compromised the Christian message in the political sphere. Instead of the lordship of Christ in the politics of the nation, they preach the virtues of democratic pluralism, which is nothing less than the virtue of a religiously neutral state15 that grants every false religion and cult, and every anti-Christian philosophy, full participation in the political process.16 Instead of the authority of Biblical law to determine justice in civil affairs, they proclaim the authority of human reason to discern eternally valid principles of justice. There is nothing explicitly Christian about their fundamental political philosophy at all; it is the surrender of Biblical truth and God’s covenant in history for a mess of pluralistic pottage. The fruit of the evangelical compromise17 has been bitter — a nation that was founded in the seventeenth century by God-fearing men and women (e.g., the Puritans in New England) who were intent on establishing a civil covenant with God to honor him and be governed by his Bible-revealed laws is now a nation at war with God and his word, rapidly descending into moral and social chaos. The antidote to the evangelical political compromise is repentance and a return to the Biblical truth of the lordship of Jesus Christ over all nations — his mediatorial reign,18 and the authority of Biblical law — theonomy.19

Instead of democratic pluralism and natural law, Christians must advocate the crown rights of Jesus Christ in the political sphere.20 By virtue of his death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God the Father, Jesus Christ is now Lord of all in heaven and earth (Ps. 110:1-2; Dan. 7:13-14; Acts 2:33-36; Phil. 2:9; Rev. 2:27;12:5). The risen Christ has been granted dominion over all the nations; they are his inheritance, and he has been commissioned by his Father to bring these rebellious nations into submission to his reign (Ps. 2:4-9). He is King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 17:14; 19:16), the Prince of the kings of the earth (Rev. 1:5), and all kings and rulers are commanded to bow before him and confess him as their Sovereign and serve him and promote his kingdom in their capacity as civil rulers (Ps. 2:10-12; Phil. 2:9-11). As Sovereign, his law-word must be the basis for civil law (Mt. 5:17-19; 28:20).

The political implications of Christ’s current mediatorial reign are enormous. William Symington summarizes these:

  1. It is the duty of nations and their rulers to have respect to the glory of Christ in all their institutions and transactions.
  2. It is the duty of nations, as subjects of Christ, to take his law as their rule.
  3. It is a duty which nations owe to Messiah the Prince, to have respect to the moral and religious qualifications in those whom they appoint over them.
  4. The nations ought to have respect to Christ, in their subjection to those who rule over them.
  5. Nations, as the moral subjects of Messiah the Prince, are under obligation to recognize his rightful authority over them by swearing allegiance to him.
  6. It is the duty of nations, as such, to have respect to [the Christian] religion.21

All nations belong to Christ and he is the only rightful Sovereign of every nation. Therefore, Christians should labor for an explicitly Christian civil government that stands in covenant with God through Christ.22 Christians must bring the politics of their nation under the dominion of Christ, the Lord. The evangelical political compromise of democratic pluralism and natural law is a repudiation of the Biblical doctrines of Christ’s present reign over the nations and of the authority of the word of Christ; it is an offense to King Jesus.

*****

Notes

  1. J. I. Packer, “How to Recognize a Christian Citizen,” Christianity Today Institute, in Christianity Today, vol. 29, no. 7 (April 19, 1985), 7.
  2. Clarence B. Carson, The Fateful Turn: From Individualism to Collectivism 1880-1960(Irvington-on-Hudson, NY, 1963), 148-149, emphasis added.
  3. For a summary of the history of this compromise see John A. Fielding III, “The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Failure of Retreatist Strategies,” in Explicitly Christian Politics, ed. William O. Einwechter (Pittsburgh, 1997), 17-46. For a more extended treatment see Gary North, Political Polytheism(Tyler, TX, 1989).
  4. Donald Gotterbarn, The 1995 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Packer, op cit., 6-7.
  7. Kenneth Kantzer, “Summing Up: An Evangelical View of Church and State,” Christianity Today Institute in Christianity Todayidem., 28-29.
  8. Ralph Reed, “Religion and Democracy,” Imprimis, vol. 25, no. 4 (April 1996), 6.
  9. Kantzer, loc. cit.
  10. Stephen Monsma, “The Moral Limits of Government,” in Piety and Politics, eds., Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Cromartie (Washington, D. C., 1987), 227.
  11. The evangelical answer of natural law does not solve the logical contradiction of accepting democratic pluralism while rejecting epistemological pluralism. Epistemology is foundational to practice. The acceptance of the political system of democratic pluralism will eventually lead to the acceptance of epistemological pluralism. This is exactly what is happening in the United States today; and evangelicals, in spite of their natural law doctrine, are helping to speed the process. The tragedy of evangelicalism is that, though it wants to retain a place for God’s authority in politics through natural law, it is actually surrendering God’s authority and any concept of higher law for political theory, and aiding in the triumph of complete relativism in politics by support of democratic pluralism.
  12. Norman Geisler, “Human Life,” in In Search of a National Morality, ed., William Bently Ball (Grand Rapids, 1992), 117.
  13. Ibid., 116.
  14. Packer, op. cit., 7.
  15. But there is no neutrality. Civil government is either for Christ or against Christ; it either gathers for Christ and his kingdom in the civil sphere or scatters abroad (Mt. 12:30).
  16. In Biblical law, all who resided within the boundaries of Israel were to be given equal protection and justice, including foreigners and those who did not confess faith in the God of Israel (Dt. 1:16-17; 24:17-18). However, only the people in covenant with God were able to participate in the political processes of the nation (Ex. 18:21-22; Dt. 1:13; Dt. 17:15). Therefore, Christians must not be content with a place at the table, but remember that Christ owns the table and invites only those who acknowledge him as Lord to sit at the table; all others are usurpers.
  17. A compromise that stretches back to the latter part of the eighteenth century and extends down to today.
  18. For the most comprehensive treatment of this important doctrine, see William Symington, Messiah the Prince(Edmonton, 1990 [1884]).
  19. See R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law(Phillipsburg, NJ, 1973); Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics(Phillipsburg, NJ, 1977), and By This Standard (Tyler, TX, 1985).
  20. See Andrew Sandlin, “The Crown Rights of Jesus Christ: The Comprehensive Character of the Faith,” in Explicitly Christian Politics, 47-59.
  21. Symington, op. cit., 231, 234, 241, 249, 256, 262.
  22. This labor is part of the church’s duty to bring all men and nations under the authority of Christ and his word as commanded in the Great Commission. An explicitly Christian civil order is founded on the regeneration of the populace, strong Christian families, and strong Christian churches; it is not based on a few seizing power and imposing a Christian order on the masses by means of the civil sword.

William O. Einwechter serves as a teaching elder at Immanuel Free Reformed Church in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. He is also the vice president of the National Reform Association and the editor of The Christian Statesman. He can be contacted at weinwechter@dejazzd.com.

Article from http://www.chalcedon.edu

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J.I. Packer’s Sloppy Analysis of Reconstruction Revisited

boardwalkMisrepresentation Is Easy — The Truth Is a Little Harder

By Rev. Brian M. Abshire, Ph.D.

In a [previous] interview with Christian Renewal magazine, one of evangelicalism’s preeminent authors and theologians, J. I. Packer, was asked for an analysis of Christian Reconstruction (CR). With Dr. Packer’s reputation as an evangelical scholar, one would have expected and hoped for an insightful and profitable critique. Alas, this did not happen. As much as we have appreciated Dr. Packer’s many significant contributions to the kingdom over the years, in this interview he did a great disservice church-a-floatto Christian Renewal’s readers and his Christian Reconstructionist brothers. Throughout his assessment, he consistently misrepresents, misinterprets, and makes errors in fact about Christian Reconstruction. These errors are so pervasive that one MUST conclude that Dr. Packer has no first-hand knowledge of Christian Reconstruction at all. For no one who had actually read any of the more than 300 books, countless essays, or journal articles written by Reconstructionists could ever have arrived at the conclusions he made.

History

For example, Dr. Packer said “the reconstructionists have made quite a bit of noise in the past 40 years.” Granted, R. J. Rushdoony first used the term “reconstruction” as early as 1965, but at that time it was not a movement so much as a task — the necessity to restore Christian civilization. R.J. Rushdoony’s The Institutes of Biblical Law, normally considered the “seminal” work of Christian Reconstruction, was published in 1973. Hence the Christian Reconstructionist “movement” was more like 25 years old (at that time), not 40. Granted, this is not a great error, but if Dr. Packer makes such an easily verifiable mistake in fact on something as fundamental as when the “movement” began — can we really trust him on more arcane matters? It appears not, especially when he makes the following comments.

Presuppositionalism

He says, “It is equally true that Rushdoony has among his roles taken it on to himself to expound the presuppositional apologetics of Cornelius Van Til. But I don’t think that those presuppositional apologetics have any integral relation to Reconstructionist theology.” Again, one wonders if Dr. Packer has ever read ANYTHING by an actual Reconstructionist author. Rushdoony and those influenced by him made presuppositional apologetics one of the defining marks of the CR movement. The Creed of Christian Reconstruction (frequently printed inside the front cover of the Chalcedon Report) lists presuppositional apologetics as one of the five defining criteria of a Christian Reconstructionist.

In fact, Van Til’s premise that there can be no neutrality is the very reason why Reconstructionists posit Biblical law as fundamental to a Christian culture. It was Van Til himself who stated that there are only two alternatives, autonomy or theonomy (though granted, he did not develop this in the way CR has done). If there is no “natural” law by which the nations can be governed, by what standard will they be judged? CR says that the answer is the Bible — all of it — especially the bits that run counter to modern humanistic culture. Rushdoony and other Reconstructionists ALL make presuppositional thinking fundamental to everything else they write. Van Til’s presuppositional thinking is so paramount in EVERY SINGLE BOOK that there is simply no excuse for Dr. Packer’s statement, unless of course, again, he has NEVER read the books.

Precedence

Dr. Packer then says, “They say that for nations which have ventured to identify themselves as Christian, the Old Testament legislation (at every point where it hasn’t explicitly been canceled by the New Testament), should be held still to apply, and we should be reconstructing our legal, political, economic, and social systems in the specific light of (that) legislation. That’s a twist which I don’t think anyone had thought of prior to the Reconstructionists.”

This comment by Dr. Packer is revisionist to say the least. Surely Dr. Packer is familiar with the Scottish Covenanters. Surely he has heard of the New England Puritans. I dare say, has he never read Gillespie and the other Scottish delegates to the Westminster Assembly? All these men required the state to enforce BOTH tablets of the law! He would do well to read and interact with James Jordan’s Calvinism and “The Judicial Law of Moses” (published in The Journal of Christian Reconstruction) which demonstrates that the “theonomic” position has a long and respectable history within the Reformed camp. Or he might have consulted Theonomy and the Westminster Confession: An Annotated Sourcebook, compiled by Martin A. Foulner (Marpet Press, 1997, distributed by James A. Dickson Books, 12 Forrest Road, Edinburgh, EH1 2QN) which demonstrates the very view that Packer sees as a “new twist” is as old as the Reformation!

For a scholar of Dr. Packer’s reputation to make such a fundamental gaff is astounding. Granted, this belief is NOT common today in Reformed circles. But it was three hundred years ago. The only new addition that Reconstructionists make is to apply Van Tilian presuppositional thinking to social and cultural matters. But we already covered that, did we not?

Dr. Packer goes on to say, “Historically, Reformed and Evangelical Christians have held that the law of God in the Old Testament, which turned Israel into a theocracy, was for Israel specifically.” [Then why did God condemn and judge other nations for violating His law?] Is not the good doctor familiar at all with the Westminster Confession (and the Larger Catechism) that, in chapter 19, requires ALL men and ALL nations to submit to the law of God? Granted, the Confession makes a distinction between the ceremonial, moral, and judicial laws (distinctions also made by Reconstructionists), and that the judicial laws are not binding except for the general equity thereof. But anyone familiar with seventeenth century Reformed theology should know that the very term “judicial law” referred to civil penalties applied to violations of the ceremonial law. But even so, the general equity clause states that the underlying principles still apply. Rushdoony’s Institutes is an in-depth analysis of just how all the other Old Testament laws are subsumed in the moral law. There really is NO excuse for a scholar not knowing these things.

Slander and Libel

Dr. Packer goes beyond simple ignorance and enters into the world of slander and libel. The sheer outrageousness of what comes next has to be seen in full to appreciate the magnitude of error. He says:

…They bring in what one would have to call a presupposition which they never allowed fully to break surface — the Messianic presupposition regarding American identity. [In this view], the United States of America, founded by the Pilgrims who fled old England and brought with them the ideology that God wants a redeemer nation, came to the States because they could no longer see England in this redeemer nation role. They then implanted this Messianic mindset into American culture. But this puts the Reconstructionists into the Anglo-Israelite camp.

This charge is simply beyond belief. First, he makes an incredible error of fact. The Pilgrims were a small separatist group who had little or no lasting influence on the development of American history. It was the PURITANS who established the New England Commonwealth and contributed so much to a distinctive American culture. John Cotton, Increase Mather, Cotton Mather, and Jonathan Edwards were PURITANS, not Pilgrims. Perhaps Packer can be forgiven this mistake, since as an Anglican, it was his party that drove the Puritans OUT of the Church of England. But surely, a scholar should know better.

But even more importantly, his identification of Christian Reconstruction with British Israelism is simply unwarranted and inexcusable. Over the past twenty years, I have read every single book, essay, and article written by Rushdoony and the other authors who are the acknowledged intellectual leaders of the Christian Reconstructionist movement. Never, I repeat, NEVER have I ever seen one indication of the above heresy of British Israelism. Never, have I read that the United States has any special place in God’s plan above that of any other nation. I have read much about the blessings the United States received because of its Christian heritage. I have read much about how we have lost those blessings through apostasy, heresy, and unbelief. But never have any of these authors equated the United States with Israel, past or future.

Dr. Packer has thus revealed that he does not really know what Reconstructionists believe and, again, at the risk of being redundant, one must therefore assume that he has simply never read the books. Otherwise, he would be guilty of intentional misrepresentation. Granted, the type of messianic thinking he criticizes might have been true of some seventeenth century New England Puritans, but it is not, and never has been, part of twentieth century Christian Reconstruction. And therefore, with all due respect, Dr. Packer simply does not know what he is talking about.

Dr. Packer then says:

They certainly don’t see themselves as fitting into that camp, but that’s properly where they belong. I had to do with the `British-Israel’ movement when I lived in Britain, and I recognize the same kind of thinking. [Reconstructionists] of course don’t affirm that they’re the `lost tribes of Israel’ in the way that the founding Anglo-Israelites did, but they are saying that the mantle of Old Testament Israel has fallen on the United States of America. It follows then that the U. S., just as Jonathan Edwards thought, is to be the centre of worldwide evangelism producing the converted world to which Christ would come back. This implies that America must rise to the height of its vocation as a godly nation in its legislation, culture, and political procedures.

Do you get the point above? Even though Reconstructionists don’t think of themselves as being British Israelites, they really are! Why? Because Packer says so! Where, is the documentation for this claim? There is none. It cannot be documented because the allegation is blatantly false (and slanderous). Reconstructionists do NOT believe that America has inherited the mantle of Old Testament Israel. No one ever said this. No one ever believed this. Why then does Dr. Packer accuse us of this?

Furthermore, he says that, “This leads to Reconstructionist backing for all manner of attempts to take political control in the management of the country.” Nonsense and double nonsense! Opponents often throw this canard at Christian Reconstruction accusing us of wanting to substitute politics for the gospel. But EVERY leader in the movement has stated again and again ad nausem that the key to cultural reformation is the proclamation of the gospel and the discipling of the nations to obey Christ (remember, the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20?). The nations will be reformed, not by political activism, but by regeneration. God’s law cannot be imposed from the top down, but must be embraced from the bottom up. These accusations have been repudiated so often, in so many books, essays, and articles, that it is simply irresponsible for any serious scholar in the field to repeat them. Again, one could make these statements ONLY if one had no personal knowledge of the literature, but instead, based one’s assessment on hearsay, gossip, and rumor. One would hope for better things from a man of Packer’s stature. One would hope, it seems, in vain.

He then says, “They are trying to turn the United States into a Christian nation so the country can inherit the mantle of Old Testament Israel.” One question, Dr. Packer: where has ANY Reconstructionist ever said this? You repeated this charge several times. Either give us a citation, or offer an apology. You have seriously misrepresented our position. You have slandered your brothers by equating them with a well-known heretical group. You have accused us of saying things we have never said, and believing things we do not believe; things that we have gone to great pains to refute time and time again in books, magazines, and journals. You have borne false witness and thus you have broken the ninth commandment.

Packer also adds, “But I am against the notion that the Lord has His favourite nation in any sense.” You might be surprised, Dr. Packer, but I think all published Reconstructionists would agree with you. And since we all agree with you, why would you say we do not?

Dr. Packer was asked to comment about the distinction between Christian Reconstruction, which he thinks is fundamentally wrong, and Kuyperianism, which he thinks is fundamentally right. The sad thing is that he does not seem to know that most Christian Reconstructionists embrace some sort of Kuyperianism! Sphere sovereignty is a widely used and presupposition written about in many of Rushdoony’s works. The one major critique of Kuyper is in his use of natural law, the SAME critique that Van Til made!

Evangelical scholarship has come on hard times when one of the leading theologians of our day can make the kind of assessment that J. I. Packer does and be taken seriously. Without meaning to be disrespectful, quite frankly, he simply does not have a clue. His major criticisms are invalid, because they have nothing to do with what Reconstructionists actually believe or teach.

How could he make such erroneous remarks? Dr. Packer is probably simply repeating things he has heard. For any number of reasons (see my Chalcedon Report essay “Why Do Other Reformed Christians Hate Reconstructionists?”), Packer has heard some bad things about us, integrated that “knowledge” with his own broad understanding of Reformed theology and history and formed an opinion, an opinion formed without apparently ever consulting the original sources. If one of his students had done such sloppy work, surely he would have flunked him! But a man in his position, with his reputation and influence, bears greater responsibility. Before he speaks in public about his brothers, he ought to check his facts first.1

Christian Reconstruction can and should be critiqued, but surely it should be critiqued for what it actually believes and teaches, NOT for accusations based on rumor and hearsay. Theonomy is NOT a new idea: it was held by Bucer (Calvin’s teacher), Beza (Calvin’s successor), Gillespie, many of the delegates to the Westminster Assembly, the Scottish Covenanters, and the New England Puritans. Postmillennialism WAS the dominant eschatological system of both the early Presbyterians and Puritans right up to the end of the nineteenth century. The only really “new” idea is Van Til’s presuppositionalism, a position regarded by a great many contemporary Reformed scholars to be an essential development of Reformed philosophy. Christian Reconstruction simply takes these elements and puts them together to offer a comprehensive, Biblical worldview.

In essence, Christian Reconstruction believes that in God’s timing, as the gospel goes forth and wins the nations, that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The only thing “radical” about Christian Reconstruction is the call to start the hard work now of determining WHAT the content of that confession will require in the arts, sciences, literature, education, politics, and every other area of life. Granted, other brothers may sincerely disagree with HOW we put these things together and their critique is welcomed and encouraged. And in one respect, Christian Reconstruction will have had a significant ministry if we are successful in motivating our brothers to do just this kind of rigorous, Biblical thinking about how to apply the Faith (to all of life).

Apology Owed

Therefore, Dr. Packer, with all due respect for your many contributions to the advancement of the kingdom, you owe us an apology. We do not believe the things you accuse us of believing. You have done us a great disservice by repeating baseless canards. Simple Christian integrity requires you to recant your false accusations and report the truth. And because you ARE a great man, we believe you will do the honorable thing.

*****

  1. I have posted Dr. Abshire’s previous article not to slam Dr. Packer, but because many well known and well respected pastors have followed suit in repeating his false claims and analysis of Christian Reconstructionists’ without checking the facts and original sources for themselves. For this, they too become false witnesses, deceiving their flocks — instead of feeding them. Liberals, both Christian and secular have also picked-up on and repeated these talking points in slandering Christian Reconstruction and/or Dominion Theology or just orthodox Christianity in general. (GospelBBQ)

 

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Preparation for Pentecost

sunset churchPreparation for Pentecost

(Acts 1:1-26)

by Bob Diffinbaugh

Introduction1

Ben Hadad, the king of Syria, was threatening war against Israel and its King, Ahab.  He boasted of his victory over Israel, and we read,

The king of Israel replied, “Tell him the one who puts on his battle gear should not boast like one who is taking it off” (1 Kings 20:11).2

The point is that one should not boast before his victory, but should wait until after.  There is a great difference between “before” and “after.”

One of the popular themes in contemporary advertising is that of “before” and “after.”  There are the weight loss programs, which exhibit the most unflattering photo they can find to present as “before” their program was attempted.  Then follows a marvelous “after” photo, which displays a beautiful person, so different from the “before” photo.

In times past, though I have not seen this as much lately, we saw the “before” and “after” of advertising for weight gain. A photo of the proverbial “90-pound weakling” was followed by the “after” of an awesome, muscle-flexing Charles Atlas physique.  Who wouldn’t want to look like that?

The “before” and “after” theme is found frequently in the media. “Makeover” programs turn proverbial ugly ducklings into swans.  Now it has become popular to carry this theme over to homes, where pitiful or plain houses are transformed into palatial homes.

Long before modern advertising, the Bible had its own versions of “before” and “after.”  In Genesis, we have a picture of man “before” the fall and “after.”  In the Book of Judges, we have Gideon as a fearful and reticent man (“before”), and then we have Gideon “after” as the brave warrior.  In Ephesians 2, Paul contrasts the Gentiles in their unbelief with the Gentiles as saints, now a part of the church.olivet discourse

I believe the first chapter of Acts could be titled “Before,” because it precedes Pentecost in chapter two, and from there on it is definitely “after.”  While we may be eager to get to Pentecost, let us pause long enough to consider Luke’s introduction to the Book of Acts and to the transforming power of Pentecost.  Let us give thought to the way Luke prepares us for what is yet to come.

The Structure of Our Text

I would like to look at Acts 1 in three segments:

  • Verses 1-11 From Christ’s Resurrection to His Return
  • Verses 12-14 Waiting in Jerusalem
  • Verses 15-26 Filling the Vacancy left by Judas

Verses 1-11 describe what happened during that 40-day period between our Lord’s resurrection and His ascension.  In verses 12-14, Luke tells us what the apostles were doing while they waited.  Finally, verses 15-26 are the account of the selection of Matthias as the twelfth apostle, a replacement for Judas.

I must tell you that the most problematic passage in Acts 1 is the final paragraph which describes the selection of Matthias as the twelfth apostle.  Why does Luke spend as much time (12 verses) describing this one event as he does depicting the 40 days of our Lord’s appearances on the earth (11 verses)?  What is so important about the selection of Matthias that deserves this kind of editorial space?  That is what we shall seek to discover in our study.

FORTY DAYS OF PURPOSE ACTS 1:1-11

(1) I wrote the former account, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach (2) until the day he was taken up to heaven, after he had given orders by the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. (3) To the same apostles also, after his suffering, he presented himself alive with many convincing proofs. He was seen by them over a forty-day period and spoke about matters concerning the kingdom of God. (4) While he was with them, he declared, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait there for what my Father promised, which you heard about from me. (5) For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (6) So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (7) He told them, “You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. (8) But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.” (9) After he had said this, while they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud hid him from their sight. (10) As they were still staring into the sky while he was going, suddenly two men in white clothing stood near them (11) and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:1-11).

Luke begins by informing his readers that the Book of Acts is the second volume of his account of the life and ministry of Jesus. Volume 1 – the Gospel of Luke – is the description of “all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after he had given orders by the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen”(verse 1b-2a).  By inference, this second volume is the account of all that Jesus continued to do and to teach, through His apostles.  As the first volume ends with the Great Commission, the second volume begins with it (verse 8).  What I would like to underscore is the role of the Holy Spirit in our Lord’s giving of the Great Commission.  We are told in verse 2 that Jesus gave orders by the Holy Spirit. We are further told that the Great Commission was an order given to the apostles who Jesus Himself had chosen.

I believe that among the many things we see in these early verses, we find that the Holy Spirit’s ministry in Acts – a dominant theme in this book – is linked to His ministry through the person of our Lord.  Put another way, the same Holy Spirit who empowered Jesus as He gave the Great Commission is the One who will empower the apostles (and the church) to carry out this command.  The ministry of the Holy Spirit does not commence in Acts, it continues in Acts.  Its commencement is found in the Gospels.  My point here is that Luke links the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of our Lord in the Gospels to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church in Acts.

As I read the early verses of chapter one, I am also impressed with the realization that Luke provides us with some powerful evidences of the resurrection of our Lord from the dead:

To the same apostles also, after his suffering, he presented himself alive with many convincing proofs. He was seen by them over a forty-day period and spoke about matters concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).

Think of it!  Jesus waited 40 days from the time of His resurrection till the day of His ascension into heaven. During those 40 days, He provided them with “many convincing proofs” that He had indeed risen from the dead.  Only Paul matches Luke in the proofs he supplies for the resurrection:

(3) For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received—that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, (4) and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, (5) and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (6) Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. (7) Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. (8) Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also. (9) For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God (1 Corinthians 15:3-9).

The apostles were witnesses of our Lord’s resurrection (1:8, 22; 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39-41; 13:30-31).  Our Lord saw to it that these witnesses had more than enough evidence of His resurrection, and added to this was the witness of the Spirit to the resurrection:

(7) But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. (8) And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment— (9) concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; (10) concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; (11) and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned” (John 16:7-11, emphasis mine).

The Holy Spirit would internally indict sinners regarding the righteousness of Christ because He cannot be seen any longer.  The empty tomb and the absence of a body is further evidence of our Lord’s resurrection, and to this the Holy Spirit will bear witness.

A further matter of interest is that during this 40-day period, our Lord spoke with the apostles concerning the things pertaining to the kingdom of God (1:3).  We are not, however, given any indication as to just what things Jesus taught them.  Based upon Paul’s words in Ephesians 3, I am inclined to assume what a portion of this conversation may have been:

(4) When reading this, you will be able to understand my insight into this secret of Christ. (5) Now this secret was not disclosed to people in former generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, (6) namely, that through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:4-6, emphasis mine).

Somewhere along the line, the apostles were enlightened by our Lord concerning the mystery of the church. I would suspect that it may have been during that 40-day interval between our Lord’s resurrection and His ascension. What is of particular interest is that this revelation came about “through the Spirit.”

There is additional evidence that our Lord spoke to the apostles about the mystery of the church during these 40 days. When the apostles asked Jesus regarding the timing of the coming of the kingdom of God, they appear to indicate that they know the kingdom will be set aside for a time:

So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) Why did the apostles speak of the coming of the kingdom of God as its being “restored”?  I think it was because Jesus had revealed the mystery of the church to them.

There is a theme which dominates the 40-day period between the resurrection and ascension of our Lord.  If I were to summarize it, it would probably be like this:

“Your mission until I return is to preach the gospel to all nations. The Holy Spirit will come upon you shortly to empower you to carry out this task, so wait in Jerusalem until you receive this power.”

The coming of the Spirit is described as: (1) “the promise of the Father (verse 4); (2) that which the apostles heard from Jesus (verse 4); and, (3) that which John the Baptist foretold (verse 5).  The apostles sought greater knowledge.  Jesus informed them that they had (or would have) all the knowledge they needed.  What they needed was power, power to proclaim the gospel so that men would believe and be saved.  Pentecost was the occasion which God chose to bestow this power on His apostles.

When the apostles3 press Jesus to tell them the time when the kingdom of God will be established, Jesus graciously refuses by informing them that this information is outside their authority – there is no “need to know” so far as they are concerned.  This information, this timing, is something that falls entirely within the Father’s own authority.  To seek this knowledge is to go outside the boundaries of their authority.4

But isn’t Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit really a matter of authority, a legitimate matter of authority?  In the Great Commission of Matthew 28, Jesus claimed all authority, and He based His command to proclaim the gospel to all nations on this authority:

(18) Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (19) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, emphasis mine).

I believe that when the Spirit came upon the apostles, they received the authority they needed to carry out the Great Commission. They sought authority that was outside the boundaries God had established. Jesus promised authority within the boundaries of what God purposed, because the coming of the Spirit was “the promise of the Father” (verse 4).

Luke’s account of our Lord’s ascension is brief, but informative:

(9) After he had said this, while they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud hid him from their sight. (10) As they were still staring into the sky while he was going, suddenly two men in white clothing stood near them (11) and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9-11).

Luke’s Great Commission (unlike those in the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, and John) was given just prior to His ascension.  Our Lord’s last words sum up the focus of the first 11 verses of Acts:  They are to be His witnesses, beginning in Jerusalem and ending in the remotest part(s) of the earth.  They will receive power through the Holy Spirit to be witnesses.  Having said this, our Lord ascended into heaven.  They watched Him rise until a cloud obscured their vision.  They stood there, transfixed.

Two angels suddenly appear near them. It was a gentle rebuke, if a rebuke at all.  What were they standing there for, looking into the sky?  Jesus was coming back, just as they saw Him depart.  The inference is, “Don’t just stand here; get going!”5

In the midst of all of the “gnats,” let us not miss the “camel” of this text, namely that the Holy Spirit was soon (“not many days from now,” verse 5) to come upon them, empowering them to carry out the Great Commission.  They must not attempt to carry out the Great Commission without Pentecostal power.

WHAT TO DO WHILE YOU WAIT ACTS 1:12-14

(12) Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mountain called the Mount of Olives (which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away). (13) When they had entered Jerusalem, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying. Peter and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James were there. (14) All these continued together in prayer with one mind, together with the women, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers (Acts 1:12-14).

The apostles did as the angels implied; they returned to Jerusalem to wait. I do not think that verses 12-14 describe only the activity of the believers during the 10-day gap between our Lord’s ascension and Pentecost, however. I am inclined to think that verses 12-14 are an apt description of the apostles’ activity during the entire 50-day period preceding Pentecost.  Let me explain why I have reached this conclusion.

First, I note the wording of the first part of verse 13:

When they had entered Jerusalem, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying (Acts 1:13a, emphasis mine). It appears to me that this upper room may well be a place well known to the apostles, perhaps a room owned by someone close to Jesus.  It would further seem that this is the room where the apostles had been staying the previous 40 days.

Not only the wording of verse 13, but also what we know of these 40 days, suggests that this is where the apostles had been staying since our Lord’s death.  Prior to His death, the disciples were constantly with Jesus.  Some of the women mentioned in Acts 1:14 may well have been those who accompanied Jesus and His disciples, and who also contributed to His support (Luke 8:1-3).  When Jesus arose from the dead, He did not remain with them continually, as He once did. Instead, He would come and go. This is implied in Acts 1:3, but it is clear in particular instances, such as when Jesus appeared to the disciples who went fishing with Peter in John 21.  The apostles were all Galileans (see Acts 1:11; 2:7; see also Matthew 26:73), so they could not stay in their own homes.  I believe that this upper room became headquarters for them during the entire 50-day period after our Lord’s resurrection.

What we have in verses 12-14, then, is a description of where the apostles stayed and what they did from the time of our Lord’s death till Pentecost.  The apostles stayed in Jerusalem, as instructed, and they devoted themselves to prayer, along with those who were closely associated with Jesus in His earthly ministry.  We should also observe that among this group were the brothers of our Lord (Acts 1:14).  From this, we can infer that Jesus’ unbelieving brothers (John 7:5) had come to believe in Jesus, no doubt largely due to His resurrection.

It seems to me that these loyal followers of Jesus are at their finest in verses 12-14. While it is not plainly stated, it would seem that from a human point of view the events at Pentecost were partially a response to the prayers of these saints.

A REPLACEMENT FOR JUDAS ACTS 1:15-26

(15) In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty people) and said, (16) “Brothers, the scripture had to be fulfilled that the Holy Spirit foretold through David concerning Judas—who became the guide for those who arrested Jesus— (17) for he was counted as one of us and received a share in this ministry.” (18) (Now this man Judas acquired a field with the reward of his unjust deed, and falling headfirst he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out. (19) This became known to all who lived in Jerusalem, so that in their own language they called that field Hakeldama, that is, “Field of Blood.”) (20) “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his house become deserted, and let there be no one to live in it,’ and ‘Let another take his position of responsibility.’ (21) Thus one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time the Lord Jesus associated with us, (22) beginning from his baptism by John until the day he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness of his resurrection together with us.” (23) So they proposed two candidates: Joseph called Barsabbas (also called Justus) and Matthias. (24) Then they prayed, “Lord, you know the hearts of all. Show us which one of these two you have chosen (25) to assume the task of this service and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” (26) Then they cast lots for them, and the one chosen was Matthias; so he was counted with the eleven apostles (Acts 1:15-26).

This united prayer lasted for another ten days after our Lord’s ascension.6 It was during this ten-day period that a replacement was chosen for Judas.  The mystery of this paragraph is to explain why Luke went to so much effort (and space) to describe an event which appears to have little impact on the events that follow Pentecost.  Verses 15-26 immediately precede Pentecost, but do not appear to have any profound impact on the apostles or on the community of believers.  Why, then, does Luke include these verses?

Let us seek to answer this question by observing what happened. We know that unified prayer preceded this process (1:14); indeed prayer was a part of the process (see 1:24-25).  We learn that it was Peter who provided the leadership (1:15).  The search for Judas’ replacement was prompted, at least in part, by the consideration of some Old Testament Scriptures (Psalm 69:25; 109:8).  From Psalm 69, they recognized that Judas’ betrayal was part of the divine plan.  The betrayal of our Lord was no accident, and it did not catch God off guard.  In particular, Judas’ death was seen to be a part of the divine plan.  The events surrounding Judas’ death7were interpreted as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Psalm 69:25. The decision to proceed with the process of replacing Judas was seen as obedience to Psalm 109:8, thus leading to its fulfillment.

In days gone by, I have sided with those who found the selection of Matthias as an example of fleshly action hastily taken. Like others, I have pointed to Paul as the most likely candidate for Judas’ replacement.  Like others, I have called attention to the fact that after this account, the name of Matthias is never found again in the New Testament.8 I also called attention to the fact that Jesus told His apostles to wait until the coming of the Spirit.9

Others have sought to justify this action on the part of the apostles. They remind us that most of the twelve apostles disappear in Acts and the Epistles, and not just Matthias. They call attention to references to “the twelve” after this (Acts 6:2; 1 Corinthians 15:5). They also point out that Luke’s account depicts this selection in a favorable light, and that nothing negative is said about the action taken here.

In the end, I think we must acknowledge that we must “read between the lines” a great deal to conclude that the replacement of Judas was wrong.  I think there are two things that are clear, and that should dominate our thinking. First, the replacement of Judas occurs prior to Pentecost.  And second, the replacement of Judas is carried out in a way that is very “Old Testament.”

After Pentecost, the selection of leadership (as well as the seeking of divine guidance) is heavily dependent upon the presence and power of the Holy Spirit:

But carefully select from among you, brothers, seven men who are well-attested, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this necessary task (Acts 6:3, emphasis mine).

Here, “the twelve” addressed a problem of inequity in the care and feeding of their widows.  They determined that others needed to be appointed to oversee this ministry.  They left the selection of these leaders to the people, but they did set the qualifications. One of these qualifications was that each man manifested evidence of the Spirit’s presence in his life.

(1) Now there were these prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen (a close friend of Herod the tetrarch from childhood) and Saul. (2) While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (3) Then, after they had fasted and prayed and placed their hands on them, they sent them off. (4) So Barnabas and Saul, sent out by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus (Acts 13:1-4, emphasis mine).

In Acts 13 while those at the church in Antioch were fasting, the Holy Spirit indicated that Barnabas and Saul should be set apart and sent out as missionaries.  The church acknowledged the leading of the Spirit and laid their hands on these men, and then sent them off.  Luke then tells his readers that these two men were sent out by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit designated Barnabas and Saul. No lots were cast here, nor did they need to be.

(9) But Saul (also known as Paul), filled with the Holy Spirit, stared straight at him (10) and said, “You who are full of all deceit and all wrongdoing, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness—will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? (11) Now look, the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind, unable to see the sun for a time!” Immediately mistiness and darkness came over him, and he went around seeking people to lead him by the hand. (12) Then when the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, because he was greatly astounded at the teaching about the Lord. 13 Then Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia, but John left them and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:9-13, emphasis mine).

Barnabas and Saul arrived at the island of Cyprus and had traveled as far as Paphos. There they encountered the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. He was interested in the gospel, but a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus (or Elymas) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the truth. Up until this point, Paul (known as Saul until now) was clearly Barnabas’ assistant.  But the Holy Spirit enabled Paul to see what this false prophet was doing and prompted him to pronounce a curse on Bar-Jesus. From this point on, with very few exceptions (Acts 14:14; 15:12, 25), it was always Paul and Barnabas, or Paul and Silas, or “Paul and his companions.” It was evidence of the Spirit’s working through Paul that seems to have triggered this exchange in roles of Paul and Barnabas.

(28) For it seemed best to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place any greater burden on you than these necessary rules: (29) that you abstain from meat that has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what has been strangled and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from doing these things, you will do well. Farewell (Acts 15:28-29, emphasis mine).

When the Jerusalem Council met to determine what should be required of Gentile converts, they determined that Gentiles must not be placed under the law, and that they observe only a few restrictions.  And when they reached their decision, they made it clear that their decision was guided by the Holy Spirit.

28 Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son (Acts 20:28, emphasis mine).

In his last face-to-face meeting with the Ephesian elders, Paul spoke to them about their responsibilities as shepherds. He made it clear that the Holy Spirit played a key role in their appointment.  Thus, whether it was the selection of leaders or making important doctrinal distinctions, the Holy Spirit played a key role from Pentecost on.

Conclusion

Our text has much to teach us, which is why Luke designed this chapter as his introduction to the Book of Acts.  Let us consider what some of these lessons might be.

I began this article by suggesting that it is an example of a “before and after” presentation. The selection of Matthias as the twelfth apostle is clearly a “before,” clearly an Old Testament method of seeking God’s will. This process will never be seen again in the rest of the New Testament.  After seeing how God works through His Spirit in Acts 2 and beyond, who would ever want to go back to the old?  As the writer to the Hebrews constantly emphasized, the New Covenant is vastly superior to the Old.  In 2 Corinthians 3 and 4, Paul makes the same point, showing how much more glorious the New Covenant is to the Old and that New Testament ministry is to the old, because of the Holy Spirit.

(4) Now we have such confidence in God through Christ. (5) Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, (6) who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (7) But if the ministry that produced death—carved in letters on stone tablets—came with glory, so that the Israelites could not keep their eyes fixed on the face of Moses because of the glory of his face (a glory which was made ineffective), (8) how much more glorious will the ministry of the Spirit be? (9) For if there was glory in the ministry that produced condemnation, how much more does the ministry that produces righteousness excel in glory! (10) For indeed, what had been glorious now has no glory because of the tremendously greater glory of what replaced it. (11) For if what was made ineffective came with glory, how much more has what remains come in glory! (2 Corinthians 3:4-11) Let us never consider going back to the old.

Our text also reminds us that whenever God commands us to do something, He will provide all that we need to carry out His command. Our Lord gave His apostles the Great Commission, appointing them as witnesses of His resurrection, and as His ambassadors, to proclaim the gospel to all the world.  Not only did Jesus give them 40 days of continual confirmation of His resurrection; He also gave them His Spirit, who likewise bears witness to the resurrection through them.

The Great Commission was not only given to the apostles; it was given to the church. We can be certain that He will provide us with everything we need to carry out His command.  In the context of Acts (and the Epistles), we should see that the Holy Spirit is a significant part of the enablement we need.

Acts 1, consistent with the rest of the Book of Acts, reminds us that it is not about us; it is about God.  Acts is not the account of God choosing the best and most talented and godly people on the face of the earth, so that He can accomplish the Great Commission. Acts is the record of how our Lord is fulfilling the Great Commission by using weak and fallible men.  The religious leaders were quick to take note of the limitations of the apostles, and yet had to reluctantly acknowledge something powerful about their ministry:

(13) When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and discovered that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized these men had been with Jesus. (14) And because they saw the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say against this (Acts 4:13-14).

It isn’t about us, my friend; it is about God.  It is the Spirit of God working through weak and even foolish (in the eyes of the world) men that reveals the power of God, and brings glory to Him, not us:

(26) Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters. Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were born to a privileged position. (27) But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. (28) God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, (29) so that no one can boast in his presence. (30) He is the reason you have a relationship with Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, (31) so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

Let me last observe that Acts 1 is the beginning of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in Acts. Consider these elements:

First, we find the doctrine of the Trinity in the first chapter, which speaks of the Father (1:4), the Son (1:4, etc.), and the Holy Spirit (1:2, 5, 8, 16).  Before long (Acts 5:3-4), the Holy Spirit will be identified as God.  This should come as no surprise because the Great Commission of Matthew also referred to all three members of the Godhead:

(18) Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (19) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, emphasis mine).

Second, we learn that the Great Commission, which our Lord commanded His apostles, was given through the Holy Spirit (1:2).

Third, Luke makes it emphatically clear that the power to carry out the Great Commission is the power that the Holy Spirit will bestow (1:4-5, 8).  The Holy Spirit confirms the apostles’ testimony, especially their claim that they have seen Jesus Christ risen from the dead.  We see this confirmed in Acts 5:

“And we are witnesses of these events, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:32).

Fourth, the Holy Spirit is portrayed as the Author of the Old Testament Scriptures.He is the One who inspired the words of David in the psalms:

(16) “Brothers, the scripture had to be fulfilled that the Holy Spirit foretold through David concerning Judas—who became the guide for those who arrested Jesus— (Acts 1:16).

This truth is buttressed by John 14-16, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, and 2 Peter 1:20-21.

Acts 1 is the “before” section of this great book.  Things will only get better from here.  Let us eagerly look forward to the changes Pentecost will bring for the “better.”

*****

1Copyright © 2005 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 2 in the Studies in the Book of Acts series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on September 25, 2005.  Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.  The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word.  The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.

2Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version.  It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts.  The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk).  Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study.  In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others.  It is available on the Internet at:www.netbible.org.

3You will note that I do not use the term “disciples” to refer to the eleven here, or the twelve elsewhere in Acts.  The reason is that Luke ceases to use the term “disciples”to refer to the eleven or twelve in the Book of Acts.  He now consistently refers to them as “apostles.” The term “disciple” is now employed when reference is made to new believers in Acts.

4This is much like Adam and Eve, who sought knowledge outside of the boundaries of their authority.

5In this regard, it is similar to the words of the two angels to the women at the tomb, as seen in Luke 24:4-7.

6We can easily deduce this since Pentecost was 50 days after Passover.  Jesus was appearing to the apostles for 40 days until His ascension, and so there had to be 10 days left until Pentecost.

7The apparent contradictions between this account and that of Matthew 27:3-10 are not insurmountable.  If all the facts were known, I believe that these two accounts would perfectly compliment each other.  It is not my purpose here to allow these matters to sidetrack our consideration of the argument of this text.  Other scholars have tackled this problem and have proposed solutions.

8We do, however, find a reference to “the twelve” in both Acts 6:2 and 1 Corinthians 15:5.

9He does not forbid taking any action until Pentecost; He merely forbids the apostles to leave Jerusalem (in carrying out the Great Commission) until after Pentecost.

***

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