Saturday, March 24, 2012

On ignorance

Hodge's word's struck me.
There are different kinds of ignorance. 
  1. There is the ignorance of the idiot, which is blank vacuity.  In him the statement of a proposition awakens no mental action whatsoever.
  2. There is the ignorance of a blind man, of color.  He does not know what color is; but he knows there is something which answers to that word and which produces a certain effect on the eyes of those who see.
  3. There is the ignorance under which the mind labors when it can prove contradictory propositions concerning the same object, as that the same figure is both square and round.
  4. There is the ignorance of the imperfect knowledge.
Animals possess the first. To them the concept of God is beyond understanding. The atheist holds the third type, God is like a square circle to them, they are first unwilling, then unable to grasp His nature.
The Christian as a fallen creature moves us into state two, being that we are a ruin but we have within us the inherent knowledge of God, because we have a knowledge of ourselves. We can draw a straight line out and see that if we are moral, personal, intelligent, then God must be all those things to a greater degree. It's imperfect, but it's not wrong.

Four however is the interesting one, because that is in essence the definition of a human- a finite, limited, dependent creature, because if we were not ignorant, and we did have perfect knowledge then we would be God.
Derek over at Theoparadox has made this his theme, his lens that he celebrates as the foundation of his knowledge.  For myself, I wouldn't pick it (well obviously), but reading Hodge I think I understand now what he meant with it. He didn't mean that difficult things resolve as a paradox to us, he meant that as Christians we live in type four knowledge, and to deny that there is a limit to our knowledge is to demand that we are God.  It's not a denial of knowledge, it's a confession of reality, it's like saying water is wet or plants need sunlight to grow.
But when the perfect comes, then we shall know Him as He is.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Proverbs always has the response

Today I see this in my inbox:
From: Tonya
Subject: My husband just left.
I didn't bother opening it up, it's obviously a SPAM advertisement for some site I don't want to visit from someone I don't know. What struck me upon reading it is how this is temptation is so clearly an invitation to hell. Behold the identical temptation:
 Proverbs 7:19-20,18- "For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; he took a bag of money with him; at full moon he will come home." "Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love."

Solomon's answer to it is thus: "And now, O sons, listen to me,and be attentive to the words of my mouth. Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death"

Proverbs is sobering medicine for the believer to keep them from the paths of sin. And it's remarkable how exactly relevant it is in the small things of life.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Israel, churches, during the judges

There is a tremendously sad statement that happens in the judges and really in nowhere else, "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." Judges 17:26, 21:25

As I thought about this it became clear to me that because there was no king everyone decided what was best for themselves. There was no standard, no meaningful enforcement or national standard, so as a consequence everyone was their own king. Now, it wasn't really that there was no ruler, it was just that the mob ruled, or the local strong man ruled, typically by oppression and cruelty.

This is life in the Church of Christ. Everyone believes what is right in their own eyes.

When Campbell and Stone picked up anchor and launched away from the traditional creed based denominations they intended to forge the bonds of unity between presbyterians and baptists, "let's just focus on what we have in common." But pretty soon, with no guardrails or moor to tether their theology to, they began to drift, with the final result being that creeds and confessions became their enemy.
Everyone believes what is right in their own eyes. Some are open theists, others Pelagian, Liberal, or outright heretical as it strikes their fancy. Most speak nothing of the Spirit and few understand the cross other than it has the power to save those who believe. They speak of the Bible as fascinating stories with important moral lessons, but rarely of the inerrant word of God breathed out and handed down without error by the Apostles.

And so, because there is no standard of confession to train young minds to, they learn that everyone is for himself. The story will end the same way it did with Israel.  In the beginning they did what was right in their own eyes and in the end the best were deported to safety while the rest were obliterated. The Lord will save the Lots among His faithful and take away His lamp-stand from among the rest. Without them even being aware of it. This is a call to prayer.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

What's Wrong With Dispensationalism I

The Covenant of Works – its Nature

The central tenant to a proper Biblical understanding of Salvation is what the theologians call the Covenant of Works, which states that because God is holy, in order to have a relationship with Him we must be holy (Heb 12:14) as well. God, therefore, in desiring a relationship with Adam set up a way for him to enjoy his creator forever through rules that he could keep to be holy.  In other words, God gave Adam the Covenant of Works so he could be holy, and thus have fellowship with Himself, and the command given amounted to “obey Me and live” (Genesis 2:15-17).

Now the corollary to such an arrangement is immediately obvious: if you do not obey me then you will not live; and here the Bible is explicit in it's affirmation of this point, “On the day you eat of it you will surely die.” This was proved out for Adam ate and was banished from God’s presence for violating the terms of his covenant, because in rebelling he made himself (and because he acted as a representative for humanity) and all of his future descendents unholy. It was be holy and live, Adam chose to be unholy, therefore Adam chose to reject God and His blessings.

The good news however is that because God’s promises are eternal and indestructible, the Covenant of Works is too, and since God made it with our spokesman the offer still stands for us. Thus if any man be blameless before God He will be welcomed into His presence, and here again the Bible is explicit in this re-affirmation of the Covenant being for everyone, particularly the Jews (Exodus 19:5, 1 Kings 6:12) and like Adam, chose to rebel (Hosea 6:7).

The clearest assertion of the nature of the Covenant of Works is found in Romans 2:6-11 - “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.”

Keep every one of My commandments, do all of My will, obey Me in all things and you will live, says the Lord, for this is my first and greatest Covenant with you.


The Covenant of Works- its Intention

It hardly needs to be mentioned then (but this important for later, so I’m going to do it anyway) that the intention of this Covenant was to make men holy so they could be with God in paradise. It was a mechanism, a tool, a highway, that would enable us to come to God.
And really, isn’t the question, ‘how may I be right with God?’ the most important thing we can ever answer considering our immortality in the next life?


The Covenant of Grace

Adams act of rebellion in the garden instantly transformed him into a sinner, rendering him incapable of keeping the Covenant of Works from that point on, thus forever excluded Him from God’s glorious presence. Even assuming Adam was able to keep a perfect record from then on out his obedience wouldn’t be enough since the Covenant blessing is only available for the holy and spotless, and he already had a single sin again his record.  Likewise with Adam’s original sin tainting us we are no longer capable of meeting the divine requirements for eternal life, no matter how hard we try (Rom 8:8).

What was to be done then if God could not abrogate His original eternal agreement and His creation was rendered forever incapable of meeting His standard? God in His mercy decided to give a second covenant (Jer 31:31-32) whereby He would send a savior who would keep the original Covenant of Works perfectly and merit a heavenly reward, yet this messiah would not keep the blessing for Himself, but would freely offer it to mankind. Through this act of grace God would raise us up to have us fulfill His original Covenant terms and so save us (Jer 31:33, Eze 36:25-27).

The theologians call this arrangement of mercy which fulfills the terms of first covenant without compromising it the Covenant of Grace


The Covenant of Grace and Works together- it’s fulfillment

As Christians we understand how these two Covenants come together in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the spotless lamb of God (1 Peter 1:19) who lived a sinless life and fulfilled the terms for the Covenant blessing (Rev 5:12) for us. He is the second Adam, the one who passed the test in the garden and now gives the fruit of His labor to His people (Romans 5:12-20).

He is our sympathetic savior who was just as human as we are, yet was without sin (Heb 4:15).
He lived the perfect obedient life (John 5:19) but died on the cross when God counted Him as a sinner (2 Cor 5:21) so that having a common humanity with us when we have faith in Him God counts us as righteous (Rom 4:24). Having kept the terms of the original Covenant He gives His righteousness to us, and it's as if we had not sinned and lived a virtuous life ourselves (2 Cor 5:19). By His righteousness then we are justified in the sight of God and saved from His wrath (Rom 5:9) which comes from not being perfectly holy. The blessings that accrue under the Covenant of Works are ours in Christ, even though we did not ourselves earn them.

This is the message of the gospel, the good news that we are to take to the whole world: we have fallen but He has rebuilt, with man it was impossible to keep the covenant and live, but with God, all things are possible (Matt 19:25-26). And this is why no man can come to the father except by Christ (John 14:6), because there are none righteous enough to do it (Rom 3:10). Therefore without Christ bridging the gap between God's requirements for perfection and our fallen state, we will never be able to keep the law and live (1 John 2:23).

Christ stands at the center tying the Old Covenant to the New, assuring us that we cannot do it on our own but that if we trust in Him He will do it for us. Just as the cross is the fullest most perfect expression of the holiness demanded by God and the graciousness He gives to save us from it, Christ is the most perfect and beautiful expression and fulfillment of these two Covenants together.


Foundations First

Now all of this is about as basic as it can get, nothing here is new or unusual, nothing here was profound in any way, and every Christians can agree that all of this is true.
In part 2 then I will endeavor to show how an agreement with these principles ends the case against  dispensationalism.

What's Wrong With Dispensationalism II

Having laid a foundation for the case against dispensationalism in part one, I will now take up proving why dispensationalism is untenable and incompatible with the gospel message.

The Jewish Mistake One – The nature of the Covenant Of Works forgotten

We changed after the fall, but the Covenant of Works didn’t. As a result Covenant which promised life now guarantees death, for it offers no grace. There’s nothing kind or gentle about it- it’s do this and live, keep every word, don’t do wrong.  There is no mercy for failure, no second chances, no redemption, and since we already have a stain on our record there remains now only a fearful expectation of judgment rendered against us (Ps 139:7-8).

We found this new state of affairs intolerable, so we decided to fix it by playing God and unilaterally re-issue the terms of the Covenant (to ourselves) in a fashion more to our liking.  Of course this amounted to little more than an absurd demand that heaven is ours because of who we are, or that we get in because we’re still good people (Luke 18:18). 

The Jews made this mistake repeatedly, demanding entrance to heaven based on their own perceived self righteousness, or bloodline. John the Baptist argued the Pharisees who argued that they were chosen by God through Abraham and Isaac- they had the promises, the covenant, the favor of God, and so were immune from condemnation. John reminds them that perfect righteousness is what matters, God's not interested in our counter-offers (Luke 3:8-9).

Jesus also takes up this theme and points out to the Pharisees that the righteousness they clung to was not sufficient to save (John 8:39-40), and Paul labors in Romans to point out that it’s not who you are but what you are that matters to God, (Romans 2:25-29). A Child of Abraham is someone who has the righteousness and good standing before God of Abraham, not his physical bloodline. 

Mistake Two - The Intent of the Covenant Of Works Forgotten

Moreover, thanks to our indwelt sin not just the nature, but intent of Covenant was twisted from “this is how I may see and know God” to “God wants me to be righteous.” At first glance that reduction may look identical to the original, but in actuality they are night and day different- the original intent terminates on the person and nature of God, in the mistaken case it terminates on the creature as supreme. The goal moves from making it to heaven to becoming more righteousness than my neighbor.

And here again the Bible is not deficient in its correction of our mistaken notions on this very thing. In a number of places it reminds us that because God is spirit (John 4:24) the intent of the Covenant was a Spiritual one (John 6:63), and the Kingdom was a Spiritual one (John 18:36).  Abraham was given the promise of the land, but this promise was in fact a spiritual one, and Abraham was looking for a better country in heaven (Heb 11:16). Moses left Egypt because he was looking forward to a better spiritual reality (Heb 11:26). The redemptive history of the Jews stands as a type and shadow that we may use to understand the real spiritual reality in everything from Adam (Rom 5:14) to the tabernacle (Heb 8:5). The promise land, the wilderness wanderings, are instructive for us (Heb 4:2) about how heaven works.

In forgetting why God gave them the law in the first place they forget that His intent was to save their souls before Him. The Jews then crassly reduced everything to their own physical reality. The promised land became about a physical plot of ground, the rules for Sinai guided how you may have your best life now, and ultimately the Messiah became a political ruler who would make Israel great. Jesus in turn constantly reminded them that the real intent of the Covenant was to keep you from Gods wrath in the world to come (Matt 5:29-30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:33).

Mistake Three - The Rejection of the Covenant of Grace

In forgetting or rejecting the fallen state of man the covenant of grace becomes superfluous and collapses under the weight of a works based righteousness, for why must we now wait for a savior from our sin if we are already pre-qualified for heaven?

When God gave the Jews the law from Sinai and explained to them the way of righteousness more fully He was really raising the bar to show them that they weren’t and could never be good enough (Leviticus 11:44) because the Covenant curse stood against them still (Gal 3:10).  The law was not enough to save (Rom 2:23) because it was to show men their sins (Rom 3:21), from the very beginning (Rom 4:13) mirror to point them to Christ who could save them (Rom 8:3). In point of fact the law actually increased the trespasses (Rom 5:20, 7:8) because of our sinful nature (Rom 7:14). The honest ones admitted as much (Acts 15:10).

Instead of begging for mercy in humility at the weight of trying to keep this law, the Jews took its existence as a sign that God wanted to save them, and as a demonstration he gave them the law, so that they could keep the law and be saved.  No longer are we all sinners in need of a savior who will give us His righteous standing before God by faith (Acts 15:11) we are those who have a natural righteousness and those who don’t. And those who have this self righteousness need no physician. They have dropped the Covenant of Grace because they don’t need it.

The Great Mistake – Rejecting Righteousness that comes through Christ

As a consequence of dropping the offer of the second covenant Israel has failed to achieve what it was seeking, that is, righteousness, because they have pursued it as if it were based on works (Rom 9:32, 11:7) while the Gentiles have accepted the covenant of grace (Rom 9:30) and become righteous, for Christ is the end of the law for us who believe (Rom 10:4).

They have rejected the need for a substitute; they have appealed to justice based on their record.  They have rejected the offer of mercy, so they stumbled over the stumbling stone.
But no man comes to God except through Jesus (John 14:6).

Therefore the Jews had rejected Christ, turned down His righteousness, and discarded any need for the Covenant of Grace, for why should an innocent man plea for mercy?  They warped the nature of the Covenant of Works into a kind of ‘good enough works based righteousness’ and its intent into a ‘this physical life is all that matters.’ In every possible way they took the opposite approach to how the Scriptures teach us we must be saved, in humility and faith.

All that to say this: The unsaved Jews failed to honor the righteousness that comes by faith.


Mistake of the Dispensationalists same as that of the Jews

At last we are ready to make the argument against Dispensationalism, and it is this: it makes every mistake the Pharisees did with regards to the two Covenants. We call it dispensationalism, but it may as well be the Pharisaicalism, for it says that the Promised Land was physical, that God will save the Jews apart from Christ through because of their physical inheritance, and that righteousness doesn’t come from faith alone.

To prove this I will close with the words of Scofield, the grand daddy of Dispensationalism, from his original reference Bible: “As a dispensation, grace begins with the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 3:24-26; 4:24,25). The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ, with good works as a fruit of salvation” (Notice it does not say that the Covenant of Grace was fulfilled at the cross, but begins for all men at the cross, therefore the Old Testament saints were saved by their works righteousness, while Christians and men afterward are saved by grace through faith.

And having thus demolished their viewpoint I will add this: dispensationalists may be in error, but it’s not a crushing error. Unlike Hyper-Calvinism which makes the same mistake as the Pharsiee (I am right before God because I’m elect, I don’t need to be righteous) dispensationalism says I am a sinner in need of grace.  It’s point of failure is that it says others may be saved by something other than grace through faith. And that’s why they may be very confused brothers and sisters but they are certainly our brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Explination, or Reference?

Matthew 13:32- "Another parable put He forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof."

I've heard a number of commentaries saying that the birds of the air are emissaries of Satan because in the parable of the sower they come and take away the seed of the gospel. Therefore in this parable the meaning is that the birds are the invaders from Satan, making their home in the visible church.
I think this is a terrible interpretation.

It seems to me that Jesus is giving a reference to Ezekiel 17:22-24- "Thus says the Lord GOD: "I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain.On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it." 

The question then, is Jesus making a reference to the OT passage which would then flesh out His idea more fully, namely that He has taken the weak and smallest thing and made it to grow and thrive, or is His point to explain this tender gardening reference as a message of the power of the Gospel?
I don't know, but it seems that these are two verses that are very very similar and belong together.