Sunday, March 02, 2014

Did Christ Take upon Himself Human Nature or Fallen Human Nature?

For most of Church History there has been a general  belief among all groups of Christians that Christ took upon Himself the Nature of Man in a pre-fall state. I state this in the beginning because the historical connection of doctrines can be important, especially with regards to doctrines which are crucial to salvation. Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit would guide His people into all truth in John 14. While this promise does not unconditionally, in general we do see a preservation  and restoration of truth as we follow Church History.   If a doctrine requires you to consider almost all of the previous church to be considered in a serious error or even damnable heresy then it is only on the strongest irrefutable Biblical evidence that you should proceed. The hallmark of a cult such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they believe there was no true church essentially from the time of the apostles until they were founded.
I realize that I am making some strong statements, but when you see someone applying a verse like, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2Jn 1:7 ) to those who teach that Christ came in human but not fallen human nature is to call them deceivers and antichrists. Those are very strong words! Not only that, but who will you be calling deceivers and antichrists, the majority of historical Christians, men as varied as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Menno Simons, John Wesley, Charles Finney (who denied sin nature in general), Charles Spurgeon to name just a few. Were all of these men deceivers? Were they all antichrists? If you believe so speak plainly, and anathematize most of the Church that has gone before.

This verse has a historical context, and as early as can be observed in Church History we see Gnostic groups who like Platonists and Neoplatonists believed that the body was always sinful, because it was matter. Terms like “mortal coil” are platonic and result from the belief that the body is a prison to the soul. Since such beliefs were common Gnostic teachers held that Christ only appeared to come as a man, and there were false Gospels written claiming that Jesus felt no pain on the cross, because pain was associated with mutability in the Greek mind. What these antichrists denied though was that Christ had any humanity at all, not that He had sinful humanity.

Even though the Church fathers rejected and fought against these doctrines, they did influence Christian thought. This is one of the reasons for the prominence of amillenialism as well as a lack of focus on the resurrection of the body and severe asceticism in the first few centuries. It all flowed from a belief that created matter and the human body were evil because they were matter, and therefore a bodily resurrection and physical millenium were not attractive, even though the bodily resurrection was never fully denied, it became less stated with people talking more about souls going to heaven than what transpires after that.

So historically there is no question that the early church taught that Christ took humanity on Himself there is great reason to doubt that they thought it was fallen humanity.

With this in mind I would like to look at some Scriptures and show why there is no support for the belief that Christ took fallen nature on Himself, but it is clearly taught that He took human nature on Himself.

1.      Luk 2:21-24  And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.  And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord") and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons."

These verses are supposed to show that Christ had a fallen nature since the offering of the sacrifice was a sin offering (Lev. 12:6-8), however while the Levitical Law is  a strong indication that man is born in sin, using the offering in Luke to show that He had a sin nature proves far too much. If this offering was for the sin nature of Christ, was it effectual or ineffectual? If it was effectual for Christ we can only assume it would have been effectual for all others for whom it was done, and there would have been no need for Christ to come and die since the bird offering dealt with our sin nature. This is directly contradicted by Hebrews 10:4 “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

On the other hand if it was ineffectual then it does not prove He had a sin nature any more than His baptism proves He had actual sins. Jesus did many things that were types of His sacrifice to come as a Jewish Man, and yet we do not imagine that He was in need of the spiritual realities they foreshadowed. He ate the Passover Lamb as well, but that did not mean He required a participation in His own sacrifice as we do in it.

There several other verses sometimes quoted all of which speak of Christ coming in the flesh and as the seed of Abraham and David. I am not going to look at those because they are not at issue here. No one who accepts the incarnation denies that Christ had a Jewish body and was David’s offspring, what we deny is that He had a fallen nature from Adam. The Type of flesh He had is shown clearly from several other verses and we will look at these.

2.      Rom. 8:3 “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”

This is the only time the term sinful flesh is used in Scripture and what is said is very interesting. Paul’s term is very specific as is pointed out in Vincent’s word studies:

Lit., of the flesh of sin. The choice of words is especially noteworthy. Paul does not say simply, “He came in flesh” (1Jo_4:2; 1Ti_3:16), for this would not have expressed the bond between Christ's manhood and sin. Not in the flesh of sin, which would have represented Him as partaking of sin. Not in the likeness of flesh, since He was really and entirely human; but, in the likeness of the flesh of sin: really human, conformed in appearance to the flesh whose characteristic is sin, yet sinless. “Christ appeared in a body which was like that of other men in so far as it consisted of flesh, and was unlike in so far as the flesh was not flesh of sin” (Dickson).

He is not the only one who makes this distinction clear , Adam Clarke wrote on this passage:

He, in whom dwelt the fullness of the Godhead bodily, took upon him the likeness of sinful flesh, that is, a human body like ours, but not sinful as ours.

John Gill:

This sending of the Son, designs the manifestation of him in human nature; as appears from the form and manner in which he was sent, "in the likeness of sinful flesh"; which expresses the reality of his incarnation, of his having a true real human nature; for flesh is not to be taken strictly for a part of the body, nor for the whole body only, but for the whole human nature, soul and body; which though it looked like a sinful nature, yet was not sinful: the likeness of it denotes the outward appearance of Christ in it; who was born of a sinful woman; was subject to the infirmities of human nature, which though not sinful, are the effects of sin; was reckoned among transgressors, was traduced as one himself by men, and treated as such by the justice of God; he having all the sins of his people on him, for which he was answerable...

There are many others that could be quoted, but the sense of the verses here is clear. Christ came in real human flesh, but not sinful human flesh. He bore the likeness of that.

3.      You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. (1 John 3:5).

Robertson’s word pictures states this well:

And in him is no sin (kai hamartia en autōi ouk estin). “And sin (the sinful principle) in him is not.” As Jesus had claimed about himself (Joh_7:18; Joh_8:46) and as is repeatedly stated in the N.T. (2Co_5:21; Heb_4:15; Heb_7:26; Heb_9:13).

John Gill:

and in him is no sin; neither original, nor actual; no sin inherent; there was sin imputed to him, but none in him, nor done by him; and hence he became a fit person to be a sacrifice for the sins of others, and by his unblemished sacrifice to take the away.

Vincent’s Word Studies:
In Him is no sin (ἁμαρτία ἐν αὐτῷ οὐκ ἔστιν)
Lit., in Him sin is not. He is essentially and forever without sin. Compare Joh_7:18.

As all of these commentators bring out Jesus is clearly taught to be not only free from actions of sin, but the nature causing those actions. If this verse is not enough to carry the point that is fine there are two more I will quote though other Scriptures could also be cited.

4.      “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me” (John 14:30).

This is as emphatic a statement as can be made that Christ had not fallen nature which was bent towards sin and temptation in Him. Let’s look at a few commentaries on this.

John Wesley:

The prince of this world is coming - To make his grand assault. But he hath nothing in me - No right, no claim, or power. There is no guilt in me, to give him power over me; no corruption to take part with his temptation.

Albert Barnes:

Hath nothing in me - There is in me no principle or feeling that accords with his, and nothing, therefore, by which he can prevail. Temptation has only power because there are some principles in us which accord with the designs of the tempter, and which may be excited by presenting corresponding objects until our virtue be overcome. Where there is no such propensity, temptation has no power. As the principles of Jesus were wholly on the side of virtue, the meaning here may be that, though he had the natural appetites of man, his virtue was so supreme that Satan “had nothing in him” which could constitute any danger that he would be led into sin, and that there was no fear of the result of the conflict before him.

Christ had nothing in Him that inclined Him to respond to Satan’s temptation. He was able to overcome and that is why we can overcome because we have been given the nature of Christ, the second Adam.

5.      “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Every fallen human being knows sin, even when we do not commit sinful acts, we have the carnal mind inside of us which is an enemy of God. If Jesus had a fallen nature then He knew sin, because He had a carnal mind of which it is said, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). That is clearly an error. Jesus did not have the inward nature which actively and constantly rebels against God. If He did He would have known sin even if He never committed sin.

Concluding points

It is not possible to make a distinction between someone’s nature and their behavior. It is a distinction without a difference. If I said to someone I am not saying that you are a liar, I am just saying you have a lying nature, how would they interpret that? To have a lying nature is to be a liar, and in the same way to have a sinful nature is to be a sinner. Men are subject to death and all of its penalties from the moment of birth, because we are treated as sinners from the moment of birth. God can do this with justice because we have a sin nature. Just as we impute animal behavior from the adult prototype to its offspring, God imputes Adam’s behavior to us. A lion cub is not housed in a chicken coup since it is innocent of killing chickens and might turn into a vegetarian. From the moment of birth a lion is a killer by nature, it only awaits the right circumstance to show what is already inside. We know this and reckon every lion cub as a killer and deal with it accordingly. In the same way God sees every son and daughter of Adam as a sinner and deals with them accordingly because of their sin nature. Sinful acts necessarily follow given opportunity.

We are called to put on the mind of Christ. There is no question which mind this is, it is a mind of love and union with God and His thoughts - a mind of humility and obedience. This presupposes that Christ did not have the carnal mind in Him.

We are called to put on the New Man. That New Man is in the image of the Second Adam, Jesus Christ. If He has a new nature now and we are able to put that on, when did He obtain it, if He was not born as a perfect man without the corruption from the first Adam?

To say that Christ could not be fully human unless He had a fallen nature is to say that Adam was not fully human until he fell, this is the opposite of the truth, since the fall turns man into more and more of a beast instead of what God intended for him to be. If Adam was fully a man before the fall, why would Christ need to have a fallen nature to be a true man?

Some state these doctrines because of a desire to show that Christ could be tempted, yet Adam was tempted effectually without having a sinful nature. If Adam could fall without a sin nature why would Christ need one in order to be tempted?

There is more that could be written, but since the hermeneutical principle states that what is unclear must be interpreted by what is clear, and Christ is clearly shown to have had flesh, but not had an internal knowledge of sin, He must be concluded to not have had a sinful nature. That is why we can put on the nature of the Second Adam and have victory over Adam’s nature, because He overcame every temptation, and having overcome the roots of sin which felled Adam overcame every branch and fruit of sin within us.

Praise His mighty name! Amen.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Romans 8:12-29

Romans 8:28 is a very familiar passage. Many Christians know it by heart. "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." However these verses are only true in the light of the surrounding chapter. Sickness is not a good in itself, and healing cannot be taken for granted in sickness. This is true of many other things we experience in this life, they only work for good in the sense that they work towards God's ultimate purpose for humanity and for creation, which is what the preceding verses refer to. All things work together for good, because God is going to release the old creation from the bondage it is now under when He inaugurates the new creation and reveals the sons of God (Rom. 8:18-22).

It is important to understand this because it has to do with a major purpose in God's redemptive plan. When we consider mankind and the fall from God's perspective we have disappointment and heartbreak. The crowning glory of His creation, made with the social capacity to love Him and love each other instead hates God and hates each other. In the second generation from the fall we have the first murder, and humanity only gets worse from there. Thousands of years of history, most of it composed of man doing unspeakable things to his fellowman. This is our history as humanity.

That is not the end though. God has purposed through Christ to restore and actually improve everything that was lost in the fall. God has purposed that Christ is to be the firstborn among many brethren who are conformed to His image (v.29). This is greater than a mere restoration of man to Adam's state before the fall because Adam was morally neutral, whereas the nature of Christ has a positive bent towards doing the will of God. Since mankind will no longer have the fallen nature of Adam the curse which restrained that fallen nature will also no longer be necessary.

The curse was never an unmitigated evil, it is a good thing given the current condition of man. Death is the last enemy which God will defeat, yet death serves a purpose in this current world. Mankind becomes very accomplished at what it practices, and when you consider how wicked man can become in the relatively short lifetime he has now, it would be truly frightful to imagine how much worse he would be given a longer lifespan, especially an eternal one if his character was unchanged. That would hardly be a good thing. Likewise sickness is useful in this present condition since all pain tends to soften humanity and remind us of our mortality. The aging process is another thing which is often disliked by people, but which serves a useful function in this current order. When we are young we are more energetic and one of the byproducts of that is that we can misuse much of our time. As we age we are forced to decide what is really important to us and focus on that as we no longer have as much energy as we did when we were younger. This is a blessing, if we lived our full term and yet never felt any aging and then suddenly departed when it was time, we would have much less impetus to focus on things that really matter.

Nevertheless even though these things serve a purpose now, they are enemies. They will not be with us forever. When mankind has lost the nature of sin, and is fully redeemed with the redemption of the body (Rom. 8:23), then there will be no need for these burdens, since man will desire to do the will of God without the sin nature that used to fight against himself. Christ will then have completed His work of redemption having brought man back from the fall and forward to something far better than was ever lost and beyond what we can really conceive. Then He shall see the labour of His soul and be satisfied. Even so come Lord Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

My first post in a long time

It has been a while since I have blogged on anything and there are several reasons why. In the time between posts I have moved from Malawi to Tanzania as well as being involved in other things which did not encourage blogging. In all honesty though, then main reason is probably closer to what the old monks would have called Accidie. This morning though I was encouraged by someone listening to a sermon I preached that I need to write my sermons out. He was right I should and when someone is in a rut they only get out by beginning to attempt movement. So with that in mind I am going to do a post on he sermon I preached this morning and hopefully begin to post more frequently from now on. :)

Monday, March 04, 2013

A look at Biblical Authority – Part 2 – What submission to authority is not

Usually I do not like to give a merely negative definition of something, but sometimes it is helpful to do this. Some of these examples I will give are personal misconceptions that I had and now realize were wrong. One of the reasons I am writing these posts is to give myself perspective on what does and does not constitute submission to authority. These wrong perceptions I had were partially due to my personality type, but also partially due to an overreaction which the American church especially had to the 1960’s revolt from every type of authority. My generation, growing up in the 80s and 90s often were taught too much emphasis on obedience with little to bring balance to it. The key to a proper balance on something is not to do the opposite of the world though, but rather to find what God actually teaches and follow that.

1. Submission is not keeping absolutely silent under false accusation
Personally I always thought it was, or at least acted like it and there were a few times in school when I got into trouble for something I had not done. One time when I was 5 or 6 a teacher was giving an announcement; another classmate was trying to talk to me so I told her to be quiet. The teacher thought I had said that to her and I ended up in the principal’s office. Since I was never asked for my side of the story I didn’t give it and was punished. At that time and for a long time after I thought this was the right way to handle things. It is only recently I realized that it is not.
Hannah when she was thought to be drunk by Eli corrected his misconception. She did not insult his intelligence or berate him at all, but she did point out that her symptoms were symptoms of deep grief, not of drunkenness (1 Samuel 1:1-20). Not only was she not reproved for this but God heard her prayer.
Even Jesus, of whom it is said that He was lead as a sheep to the slaughter and did not open His mouth (Isaiah 53:7), that does not mean that He literally said nothing. In fact when asked concerning His doctrine, He asked them to summon witnesses (John 18:20-21). This was an appeal to Jewish law and showed the illegality of the proceedings in the most respectful way possible. When He was struck for saying this, He mildly said, "If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?" This was not a lack of meekness but again a mild rebuke of the illegality of their actions.
Since God also for His own purposes once even enabled a donkey to testify in its own defense when receiving an unjust beating, it is hard to imagine that He has a one size fits all always grin and bear it approach to receiving injustice. That is actually patently false.
2.  Having a complaint is not automatically a sin
In Numbers 27 the daughters of Zelophehad brought their cause to Moses. As fatherless women who had no living brothers, they would have received no allotted land and would have been left in very difficult circumstances. God allowed them to inherit the same portions as a son would have. Later the elders of their tribe ask for a review of this previous ruling since it could over time cause a very confused patch work division of the tribes through intermarriage (Num. 36:1-12). Moses did not view this request for review brought with a plain reason for alteration as a threat to his authority or an attempted insurrection. Instead He took it to the Lord and God agreed that the law should also stipulate that those women who did inherit property should marry within their own tribe to preserve the territory of each tribe.
In the book of Acts there arose murmurings (a word usually used in a very negative sense in the New Testament) because it appeared that the Hellenized Jewish widows were not being treated fairly (Acts 6:1-6). How was this handled? What the apostles did not do:
1.                  They did not tell the Greeks that this unfairness was an opportunity to learn meekness.
2.                They did not complain about how these uppity Greeks were always whining.
3.                They did not quote Numbers 11:1 and tell them that complaining displeases the Lord.
What did they do?
1.                  They listened to the substance of the complaint.
2.                They appointed 7 men to prevent future problems all of whom in addition to being of good repute all had Greek names. Thus they destroyed any plausible appearance of favoritism.
To be honest in similar situations I have heard a lot more of the top 3 attitudes reflected than the bottom 2. This is sad. The church is to show forth the wisdom of God, and that wisdom is easy to be entreated.
The complaints and murmuring which angered God had more to do with things which were clearly circumstances God had brought Israel into in the desert, like lack of water, no meat, etc. These were normal realities of travelling through the desert which God had told them they would go through before their deliverance. It was not genuine complaints of oversight or unfairness on the part of leadership. Job pleaded his personal innocence of deserving his trial by stating that he had not ignored complaints that his servants had against him (Job 31:13-14). While a complainant should strive to do so with a good attitude, even if he does not that does not absolve the one above him from doing what is right.
 3.  The Bitterness Card
Anyone who has been involved in an even mildly authoritarian group will recognize this one. Any negative emotion or word displayed against a course of action chosen will result in a Heb. 12:15 quotation warning you against bitterness. The problem with that is manifold:

Firstly, Heb. 12:15 is a reference to the LXX translation of Deut. 29:18, “Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the LORD our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit.” The root of bitterness refers to idolatry and immorality as the next verse referencing Esau shows. It is likely in the sense as it was applied to false prophets in the Old Testament that Peter tells Simon he is in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity. Simon desired the gifts of God for personal gain and was willing to pay for them, he was not bitter in the usual sense we use the word at all. Rather it was his desire of the things of God for his own ends to draw people after himself which was the bitterness mentioned, which was and always has been a mark of a false prophet/minister (Acts 20:29-30).

Secondly the words translated “bitterness” are used 38 times in the Old Testament and 4 times in the New Testament, and in most of these cases bitterness is describing an emotion or an experience and is not used in a bad way but a neutral one. The usual translation for this is bitter of soul (Job. 3:20, 1 Sam. 1:10, Isa. 38:15), but sometimes it is translated as bitterness of heart (Eze. 27:31), discontented (1 Sam. 22:2), chafed in mind (2 Sam. 17:8), or even angry (Jdg. 18:25). A reasonably good English approximation would be agitated, or aggrieved. This feeling is not sinful, and if you are in this state you should do what all the saints of old have done and pour out your soul to God.

The preceding things are not to say that bitterness is never used in the traditional manner in Scripture. Certainly Scripture does speak about the necessity for forgiveness, and there are some verses that without doubt do use bitterness, especially bitter speech such as Eph. 4:31, Psa. 64:3, as well as Romans 3:14 (a quotation of Psalms 10:7, which uses the words deceit and fraud, so even here it may have more to do with slander).

Saying every person who brings up a grievance is bitter and offended has another side effect. If every person so labeled really is so, and the condition was created by you, then it is hard to avoid the force of Christ’s words in Matt. 18:6. My suggestion would be if that is you, you should start learning to tread water with some weights attached.

To fully round off this section on the use of bitterness as an excuse to silence people, it should be noted that Paul’s behavior was radically different. When someone was offended not only did he not warn others not to take up the offense, he took up the offense and got angry. “Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?” (2 Cor. 11:29). Jamieson Fausset and Brown have this to say concerning the phrase, “I burn not — The “I” in the Greek is emphatic, which it is not in the former clause, “I am not weak.” I not only enter into the feeling of the party offended, but I burn with indignation at the offender, I myself taking up his cause as my own. “Who meets with a stumbling-block and I am not disturbed even more than himself” [Neander].” I like Paul’s method of leadership, which is patterned after Christ’s, it actually works.

4.    Behavior Paul did not tolerate from leaders

In 2 Corinthians 11:19-20 that Apostle Paul makes it clear that the Corinthians were not only bearing folly, but tolerating behavior that should never be tolerated in a Christian Church.

“For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.”

  •  No Christian or any church should tolerate any leader making slaves of them. This is done when they are made to refer all major decisions to leadership. As a master in the Old Testament was given disposal over the type of work, area of labor, and even marriage of a slave to give anyone other than Christ power to veto these things is to have a master other than Christ and be enslaved by them. 
  •  No Christian church should ever tolerate avaricious behavior by their leadership. Long manipulative collections with “words of knowledge” are entirely unacceptable.
  • No Christian church should allow self-exaltation of their leaders. When leaders allow themselves flattering titles, or claim that they have a unique perspective based on their office which means that they must be implicitly obeyed they have overstepped their bounds. This is compounded if people are forbidden or discouraged from judging their doctrine and practice by Scripture. No man is immune from the bar of Scripture and to act so is to play the fool and the madman.
  • No Christian church should ever tolerate public humiliation of the flock. Almost universally the strike on the face is more than violence, but is the ultimate insult and indignity. While it would include literal striking, it would also include public shaming of many forms.
 Paul was clear that this behavior currently being accepted by the Corinthians was not to be tolerated. 

 5.     Some misused Scriptures

Before ending this post I would like to look at some Scriptures I have heard misused to provide a bolster for authoritarianism. These misuses may not seem like a big issue to the reader, but I was born with a low blasphemy threshold. I despise anything that takes away from the Lordship of Christ in His Church, and I make and by God’s grace never shall make an apology for attacking those who commit the treason of seating another on the throne of Christ.

a.     Psalm 119:165 “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.” This is a wonderful verse in the middle of a Psalm which specifically deals with the goodness of God’s Word. It is misused when the law here is glossed to include the law of the pastor. I heard this done with my own ears. That is a clear No-No. Human law even religious human law (actually especially religious human law) can never be elevated to the level of divine law. God’s law is eternal having existed in Him as character prior to utterance. When He spoke it was out of the abundance of His heart. Human utterances are born in time and not eternal. I am required to love the law of God because it is an expression of His heart and to love it is to love Him for who He really is. The Word is also the incorruptible seed by which I was born again (1 Pet. 1:23). A human command even if reasonable and good cannot be held up as a necessary object of love. It can require obedience though even that is not absolute, but not love. Joab hated David’s command to number the people though he obeyed it (1 Chron. 21:6). Pastors have a responsibility to guide the flock of God and that of course does require them to make rules. I have no problem with that as long as the rules do not overextend the authority Christ gave them and reserves for Himself and these rules are not viewed as objects of love placing them on equal footing with Scripture.

b.    Heb. 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” This verse is misused when the concepts in it are extended beyond the bounds God has ordained.

John Wesley says on this verse, “And submit yourselves - Give up (not your conscience or judgment, but) your own will, in all things purely indifferent.”

Obey means to be persuaded and this is the main means God uses to bring us into compliance. The apostles when faced with recalcitrant congregations did not assert their blanket authority and chastise the flock, but instead wrote Epistles to persuade them (3 John, and the Corinthians). Submission is to be given to leaders, but it is limited in scope. Their giving of direction to the church and ordering of things in it is limited only to that which does not violate Christ’s precepts. It is more limited when it comes to personal decisions made by the flock in things where there is no command of Christ violated. If someone desires to change employment that does not fall under the rule of the leaders unless the employment entered into is wrong in itself, or God gives a specific prophecy, vision to the leadership, in that case the person should test the prophecy, but it should have due weight in their decision. The same rule would apply to marriage as well as what studies to pursue and other like things. 1 Cor. 7:39 gives widows (and by implication widowers), a group especially prone to make rash decisions especially in that time where it was very difficult for a woman to support herself, the right to choose any husband they desired provided it broke no law of God. Paul apparently did not desire supervision of their choice and gave no direction for leaders to “help out” either. To go beyond the call God has given us as leaders is also to go beyond our own competence, and we and our people will know the consequences of our hubris.

Even those who teach the doctrine of absolute obedience do not really believe it as they teach it. Most of them have at one time or another belonged to another church which they left for one reason or another (sometimes valid doctrinal reasons). If they really believed this verse in the way they use it on others they could not have done that. It is ironic but people that teach an absolute submission often are the cause of church splits. When they have a strong conviction about something which the pastor does not share they leave and take many with them. Also if they come to a new church with differing beliefs they try to change them. The problem is their submission is to someone far away and not the pastor of the church.  A healthy balance on the obedience and submission is the best way to preserve respect for leaders with whom you disagree. Just remember that pastors were set in the Church by Christ, in the church their arrangement is to be accepted as long as they are not violating Scripture. They also have a limited authority over your outside life to guide you when you stray and to strengthen you, etc. It is only when it crosses into a controlling of decisions which God has left in the hands of each individual that it is a problem. The head of every man (no matter how stupid, rebellious or foolish you may personally think him) is Christ.

c.     Another common passage first used by Catholics against Protestants and later by Lutherans against Anabaptists and still in vogue today is Matt. 23:2-3.

"The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you--but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice.”

As Menno Simons replied to the Lutherans who used this verse to upbraid the Stillen im Lande for their absence from state church services, these words were spoken of the Pharisees and are not applicable at all unless the Lutherans were willing to claim that they were those who killed Christ and were subject to His woes.

Granted there is somewhat of a principle here taught by Christ of submission to bad leadership. It still is limited to what is in the Law – Moses’ seat. This has been the interpretation of Protestantism throughout its history until the fundamentalists began resurrecting the teaching of the Jesuits. That Christ only taught submission to things in accordance with God’s Word is clear by His own practice. He had no compunction about not following ceremonial washings, the Sabbath observance and many other things that were preached by the Pharisees, but came not from Moses’ seat (Mark 7:1-13, John 9:14-16).

d.     Before concluding this lengthy post I would like to look at some points regarding the patriarchal family model:

Pro 23:26  “My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.”

Orthodox Christianity for more than 1800 years has regarded this verse as God, especially as personified wisdom, addressing His child. To interpret it as requiring a child to give their heart to a parent is blasphemous, because it is a creature demanding what belongs only to the Creator. It is also against the context as it is God’s ways, and pleasing the Lord that keep a person from immorality not affection for a parent (Ecc. 7:26).

Ironically patriarchy fails in the very areas where it prides itself. It intends to bring children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). However, let alone the high rate of apostates it produces, even among those who do not reject it, it actively prevents their being brought up to maturity. Christ was a morally responsible individual at the age of 12 and as such entered the Temple doing His Father’s business. He recognized a higher authority to be obeyed than His parents though He was still subject to them. After He entered His ministry attempts by His mother to influence His course of action were all met by polite refusal (John 2:3-4, Luke 8:20-21). It is ungodly for grown children to be required to clear everything with their parents as a superior, instead of to counsel with as an equal individual whose experience and position should be given weight, that is honor, in the decision making process. There is more I intend to write on certain aspects of this, but right now I will only say that this is a result of the sin of unbelief. It is against the whole tenor of Scripture, and it retards the Church and cripples Christ in His members.  

One final error which patriarchy often teaches that men as the head of the home should have absolute control over the finances and a woman should make almost no decisions without consulting her husband. Proverbs 31 teaches otherwise (v.16). It actually implies a large degree of freedom and responsibility on the part of the wife. Not only was she to not do evil to her husband but she was to do him good (prov. 31:12).  In essence that requires responsible freedom. Prisoners do society no evil, because they are restrained, however other than manufacturing license plates they do little good. Doing good requires freedom. This principle goes far beyond marriage, but into every aspect of human life. If churches had more influence on Christian freedom and responsibility to God instead of solely trying to restrain congregations from evil, the Church might actually become what Christ intended a mature bride doing good works out of love to Christ.

May God grant us to be so! Amen.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A look at Biblical Authority – Part 1 – Bounds to Human Authority

In this post I would like to look at a few points concerning authority in a biblical perspective. I would like to look at the Old and New Testament to get a full perspective of what is , because this is one area where the church especially in America has gone off balance in many ways. The laxity on one side is more than offset by a sort of Protestant ultramontanism on the other.  With this in mind I would like to look at some aspects of the Jewish government which will elucidate the proper Biblical perspective.

Human authority is never absolute

When Joshua received the leadership of Israel from Moses the people promised loyalty to him, saying, “And they answered Joshua, "All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.  Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the LORD your God be with you, as he was with Moses! Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous" (Josh. 1:16-18).  They accepted him as leader and were willing to count disobedience as treason, however they reminded him that it was God who was the true ruler and it was necessary that He be with him. God Himself reminded Joshua that even though he was a recipient of the promise of the land of Canaan and was to lead Israel into it, God was neither for him nor his adversaries, but for God, and if he desired victory he had to follow God’s orders (Josh. 5:13-15).

When King Saul gave order to kill the priests at Nob, not a single one of his soldiers moved. The execution only occurred when a sycophantic foreigner stood forth to do it (1 Samuel 22:16-18).  The idea of the divine right of kings as put forth by the Stuarts is entirely unbiblical, and history itself shows that God who pours contempt on princes does not always uphold monarchs, especially pompous, overbearing ones. The Israelite soldiers knew that an order from a superior did not absolve their conscience before God. The English Non-comformists had it exactly right when they petitioned the monarch stating that they were his loyal subjects in all lawful matters, but he had no authority to bind their conscience in religious matters.

Even with prophets the authority was never absolute. Elisha though a great prophet had no idea why the woman of Shunem was in distress until told because God had hidden it from him (2 Kings 4:25-37). Even a prophet is only enlightened as God gives light, we know in part and prophesy in part (1 Cor. 13:9). All men no matter how godly are dependent on God for true knowledge, the more godly the man the more he realizes this and does not move in presumption. God gives office, but proper use of office flows from grace and acknowledgement of dependence (Gal. 2:7-9).

Jeremiah’s own natural inclinations would have lead him to agree with Hananiah, but he tested the prophesy, laid it before the Lord and went away, until God spoke to him to give the true word (Jer. chapter 28). The opinion of a man of God is just that an opinion, it has no more authority than what can back it up. If the opinion is based on a sound reading of Scripture than it has all the authority of God’s Word, however, if it is based solely upon a man’s own reasonings than it has no more authority than those reasonings.  While God can and does speak through evil men at times, such as Balaam, Pharaoh Necho, and even Caiaphas, to follow such men in most of their speech would lead a person to hell. Authority always comes from God and ultimately only goes as far as it agrees with or at the least especially with secular authorities does not countermand Him.

Sometimes Samuel is used as an example of how a man of God can have absolute authority in what he speaks, but Scripture does not say that God did whatever Samuel said, but rather that God let none of his words fall to the ground (1 Sam. 3:19). God is and remains always over the prophet, it is only as they faithfully deliver what is right that He honors their words and brings them to pass. Prophecy comes not by the will of man (2 Pet. 1:20-21).    

The Apostle Paul was pleased with those who did not take what he taught on his own authority but compared his doctrine to the Scriptures (Acts 17:11-12). Every Christian is to try prophecies and every teaching and doctrine (1 Thess. 5:21). This is not possible if people are lead to accept authority without question, since to try not only implies examination against some standard, but also a rejection of that which does not conform.  

There is more that could be written on this subject, but I think this is sufficient to show that all human authority secular and religious has boundaries. In follow up posts I will look at some boundaries and also consequences of ignoring these boundaries.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Jewish Law and Government as viewed by a Protestant – Part 5– Dietary Restrictions

One area where Christians are sometimes reproached with regard to our use of the Old Testament is in our non-compliance with the dietary rules. That Christians do not and since the Jerusalem conference of Acts 15 have never as a body followed the Jewish dietary customs is indisputable. The issue here is, is this mere caprice on our part or is there a reason for our doing this. This post will if successful, show that there is a reason and furthermore show that it is found in the Old Testament itself.

Jesus when given questions concerning marriage responded by referring to the original creation of man and woman showing clear intent and plan on God’s part, subsequent deviations were the result of man’s rebellion not God’s design.

In looking at the dietary restrictions we see that initially man’s food was limited to plants with only one type forbidden. The specific fruit forbidden is not now known and probably extinct. Though durian-haters might point a finger in that direction, most balk at allowing it to be good for food or pleasant to the eyes, let alone producing wisdom in the eater, so we don’t really see any prohibition that could be applied today in the original creation.

After the flood God made a covenant with Noah and all his descendants forever. This covenant gave unto man the right to eat all moving animals even as all plants had been previously allowed. The distinction between clean and unclean animals was already in place prior to the flood but held little meaning while man ate only plants. This covenant is still in effect since the signs accompanying it are still in place (Gen. 9:1-17). It is also in this covenant that the prohibition of eating blood was put in force, as well as the demand for retribution for the life of a man slain. This is the reason why many Christians support the death penalty for murder, because the Noahic covenant has never been abrogated and unlike the Mosaic covenant it was meant to be perpetual.

In this covenant every living thing that moves was given as food to man, and the descendants of Noah have pretty much followed this as they have spread throughout the world. In some places with regards to seafood especially, it is not even necessary for it to cease to move before consumption.

When the Mosaic Law was given the Jews were given dietary restrictions which had not been given to the patriarchs, which God expected them to keep as part of the covenant. While these restrictions were an integral part of the Law, it is interesting that they are not at all referenced in the Decalogue itself. Christians have always accepted the 10 Commandments as binding for all time and much of the Law of Moses is devoted to description and elucidation of these commandments showing what constituted theft, adultery, murder, and what did not, and varying punishments depending on the severity of the offense. The dietary code, however, is not contained or alluded to in the 10 Commandments. This is a telling fact as to its subordinate nature even in the Old Covenant.

One purpose it clearly served was to separate the Jews from all other groups of people. Fixed dietary and dress rules which are somewhat unique to a group are a definite barrier to assimilation. Since Moses had warned them in Deut 28:37 that if they did not keep the covenant they would carried away captive, one definite use of these rules was to keep the Jews as a distinct nation during their time in Babylon and even to this day during their longer diaspora until Israel again became a nation.

Another purpose which these dietary laws served was for cleanliness. In the Middle Ages Jews were often blamed for starting plagues, this was due both to anti-Semitism and to the fact that they were often less affected than their neighbors. So while ancient Egyptians used donkey dung as a poultice and gave themselves tetanus in the process, Hippocrates denied that diseases were infectious, and Semmelweis in the mid-1800s was ostracized for his attempts to show that doctors infected fresh patients with child bed fever by not washing after doing autopsies on the previous victims, the Mosaic law with its washings, quarantine for lepers and other precautions kept Jewish populations relatively healthy.

With the coming of Christ, dietary laws were totally removed. Christ Himself made this clear in Matt. 15:10-20, where He stated that it is not what we put into our mouths which makes us unclean but rather what is already in our hearts that comes out of us that is defiling. The Gospel of Mark in chapter 7 tells the same event and interestingly enough since Mark was the Gospel most influenced by Peter and his recollections contains the Evangelists own understanding of the import of this saying at the end of verse 19, “He said this, making all food clean.” Peter had heard this teaching but apparently prior to the vision of Acts 10, but in much the same way as with the Great Commission only then realized the full import of the teaching.

When there was contention in the Church regarding what was to be required of Gentile converts there was a conference held in Jerusalem which is recorded in Acts 15. Sometimes it is referred to as a compromise position, but this is hardly the case. There were 4 things forbidden to the Gentile converts, and Paul had never advocated any of them, so he did not give up anything. The Pharisaical Christians had advocated the observance of the whole Law and were disaffected to say the least with this outcome. When liberal critics try to make people like James, Peter and Paul to be pragmatic people, they show their own preconceptions. The reasoning for these 4 prohibitions and none other is very straightforward. The Holy Spirit had shown by miracles and through His falling upon the Gentiles as they were that He had accepted them. Paul, Barnabas and Peter attested this. James then quoted Amos  9:11-12 from the Septuagint showing that it was prophesied that God intended the Gentiles to seek Him, it being implied that they were to seek Him as Gentiles. With this being made clear by Scripture and miraculous evidence all that remained was to declare 4 things which were morally repugnant which they would have to avoid:

1.      Food sacrificed to idols

Idolatry was not a problem in Noah’s day and was not mentioned in the prohibitions, but God is and was always a jealous God and any man who approached Him had to acknowledge Him as the only true God. Job who was not a Jew recognized the great sin of sun and star worship, as well as confidence in wealth instead of God (Job 31:24-28). Abraham, called while uncircumcised, forsook whatever idols his fathers had worshipped when God called him (Jos. 24:2, 14-15). Naaman after being healed of his leprosy renounced any other god, apparently without even having been told to do so (2 Kings 5:15-18). Eating the food sacrificed knowingly was an act of fellowship with the idol and thus an act of idolatry (1 Cor. 10:19-22).

2.    Sexual Immorality

The attitudes and actions around the time of Christ with regards to sex were roughly equivalent to what we face today, as can be seen by even a modest perusal of the history of the time. Various of the Church Fathers writing in the succeeding 2 centuries show that the moral climate did not improve afterwards either. As already stated Jesus showed God’s intention for man from the creation of one male and one female who were to be joined and become one flesh. Perversions of this intent came early. Lamech, a descendant of Cain, was the first known to practice polygamy (Gen. 4:19). Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for their sins, immorality being one of the prominent ones (Gen. 19:5, Ezek. 16:49-50, Jude v.7). God’s standards with regard to sexual immorality are very clear and Christ elevated them to extend tour thoughts not only our outward actions (Matt. 5:27-28).

3.    Things strangled

This prohibition like the one following it flows from Gen. 9:4, when God allowed the use of animals for food but forbade the eating of blood. The death by strangulation would not allow for proper bleeding of the animal and thus violated the 4th prohibition which was:

4.    Blood

God forbade the eating of blood to Noah and all his descendants. The breaking of this prohibition has often been associated with idolatry.

To wrap things up, essentially the only dietary restrictions placed upon Christians are bans on eating blood, and idol sacrifices. These are not mere temporary concessions to the Jews in Paul’s time, but are binding on us today, as is the prohibition of immorality. Christians are encouraged to enjoy God’s gifts of food in moderation and give thanks to Him for them (1 Tim. 4:3-5). Thank God for His wonderful bounty!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jewish Law and Government as viewed by a Protestant – Part 4– The Law concerning rebellious children

One common Scripture portions which is objected against the law of Moses in these times is Deut. 21:18-20  "If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them,  then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, 'This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’  Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”

Viewed by itself this portion may give a false understanding to a reader, however when this portion is compared with the ancient laws of other nations it is actually seen as limiting parental power rather than establishing an easy means for parents to control children.

In the Semitic patriarchal system which Israel shared in common with many neighboring lands prior to the giving of the law, the father had absolute authority in his home and the power of life and death within it. Thus when Laban reproved Jacob for leaving without his knowledge, he refers to his patriarchal power over Jacob in saying that he had the power to do him hurt (Gen. 31:29). Jacob by marrying Laban’s daughters and staying with Laban had become part of his group and thus was under his power even though he was by this time a father himself. The patriarch would often serve as judge, jury and executioner, and could be very rash and unjust. Judah pronounced a hard and rash sentence exercising his patriarchal rights only to be left with great shame himself after the facts were fully known (Gen. 38:24-26).

The Mosaic legislation limits this power in a few notable ways:

1.      It required the consent of both parents to take effect, not the father alone.
2.    It was done publicly before the elders. This would imply that if the charges were not true there was some sort of recourse if the son could produce character witnesses.
3.    The crimes for which this was allowed were repeated drunkenness and gluttony not any and all offenses.

Thus this law was a limiting of former patriarchal rights. Indeed it gave the son far more rights than he had in most ancient lands. In ancient Rome fathers had absolute power of life and death over unmarried children, and in some places in France where the Justinian Code formed the basis of legislation this continued until superseded by the Napoleonic Code.

It is noteworthy that there is no instance recorded in Scripture in either Old or New Testament of any son being executed under this statute, however, there are several examples of sons who would have qualified. The two most notable instances would be King Manasseh and the unnamed Prodigal Son. In both those instances the withholding of punishment produced a changed heart which made any punishment unnecessary. Again God’s constantly stated desire is not the punishment of the wicked but their repentance.

As Augustine noted when writing his work Against Faustus, many times the first offense against a divine command was punished with much greater severity than subsequent ones. Sodom was destroyed to show God’s hatred of the sin of homosexuality, it’s destruction never needs to be repeated. This and other judgments show God’s hatred for the particular sin judged. This is the purpose of the law to show each individual that we are sinners who are dying and also deserving of death because of our own sins. Once we acknowledge this and repent coming to Christ as our atoning sacrifice the law has served its purpose. It does continue to show us where we are contrary to God, but it never is a method of justification, its purpose is to condemn those who break it so they will acknowledge guilt and ask for God’s freely given mercy.

To conclude when Jews and Christians begin to use these verses to perpetrate “honor killings” then it would be right to compare us to other religions which allow them. The fact that these have historically never been prominent in either Judaism or Christianity shows that the practice even as instituted in the law was a last resort and involved a public acknowledgement of failure as parents by the parents. God’s desire is and always has been for repentance and not punishment, which is why this has historically hardly if ever been used.