Old Covenant Apologetics, What If?

Regarding Old Covenant apologetics, what if the covenant were layered from pure justice moving up to justice tempered by mercy; bare law-keeping moving up to obedience of faith?
As a covenant serving a nation often characterized by barbarity who lived among people who sacrificed their children to idols, the covenant would begin to address matters from the lowest common denominator. This would not be the end all by any means, rather this would primarily serve to keep an incredibly dysfunctional people in some semblance of order.
Beyond this, while not abandoning principles/laws in keeping with God’s nature or types and shadows or laws in keeping with the nature of humankind, the covenant would allow men and women to rise to amazing spiritual heights.
Considering that, unlike the New Covenant, the Old served all facets of national life, how else could it be constructed? If this be true, common objections to the Old Covenant are largely removed.

In The World, But Not Of The World

Jesus is our perfect model for being in the world, but not of the world.
He was found where people were found, ate what people ate, lived in a political world without being absorbed in politics, surrounded by a wide gamut of social issues yet never lost sight of His Father’s balanced agenda, always put God first while remaining amazingly approachable.

We need to examine carefully His example lest our good intentions distort the priorities of the Kingdom. God is not the God of our cause; He has his on agenda. Christ-likeness, therefore, is not just the best way to go, it is the only way.

OMMM, A “MANTRA” FOR EFFECTIVE CHRISTIANITY

OMMM, not really a mantra, but an acrostic to pursue successful Christianity.

OBJECTIVE (needing to be objectified), CHRIST-LIKENESS (Rom. 8:29; Phil. 2:5; Gal. 2:20).

MOTIVATION, JESUS (Jn. 14:15, 23; I Cor. 5:14-15).

MATERIAL, SCRIPTURE (II Tim. 3:16-17; Jn. 17:17)

METHOD(S), CHRIST-IMITATED (Acts 1:1; I Cor. 11:1).

These create a synergistic effect that is powerful in the most extreme way. Jesus, however, must be the key in this energizing of Christianity. He must shape it, define it, motivate it, supply it, lead it, and serve as its model in every way!
This will work if we are willing to make the commitment. It is in fact, how Christianity is supposed to function (Rom. 8:29; I Cor. 2:10-16; II Cor. 3:18; Gal. 2:20, 4:19; Eph. 3:16-17; 4:11-16; Phil. 2:5; Col. 1:24-29; I Pet. 3:15, etc.).

THOUGHTS ON THE CELEBRATION OF JESUS’ BIRTH

For those who believe in The historical reality of Jesus, the fact that He was born comes as no great revelation. Toward the end of every year, this reality gets a special boost as the subject becomes so unavoidable even the most ardent skeptic finds no escape. From the endless stream of increasingly cheesy movies to majestic, solemn cathedral presentations, Jesus’ birth hits much of the world right between the eyes!

This poses an interesting and awkward dilemma for many of us who ardently believe in the birth of the Christ. Those of us holding a restorationists point of view seek to take a fresh look at the nature of Christianity and revisit the revival of a completely biblical point of view in all we do.

On the matter of celebrating the birth of Christ, may of us may therefore feel somewhat  conflicted. We don’t want to throw cold water on efforts to honor the birth of Jesus. Nevertheless, we correctly declare that we neither know when Jesus was born nor have authority to bind any particular day for the celebration of His birth.

In this quest for biblical authority, however, we must not inadvertently slight the amazing fact of the incarnation. As with any biblical truth, we are privileged to praise and celebrate all God’s blessings any day of the year. Jesus was born and that is most worthy of praise and celebration at any and all times!

This post is therefore not another call to put Christ back in Christmas. My sights are set on much more expansive territory. I’m calling for a movement to put Christ back in Christianity.

THE MATURITY OF NEW COVENANT RULES

The Old Covenant is in many ways, but not in all, more elementary than the New. Therefore, we encounter more lists, more ceremony, and more regulations to restrain immature conduct.
The New Covenant is developed more along the lines of mature, abstract principles. By its nature it is a more “grown up” revelation (Heb. 5:12-14; 6:1-3; Gal. 3:21-4:7; Eph. 4:13-16).
Nevertheless, it is not the case that the principles of the New Covenant do not allow for inferences both concrete and abstract. Mature thought is expected. Such thought allows Christians to draw conclusions that lead to well-developed, specific actions.
As with the human growth process, there comes a time when warnings about playing in the street would be rather ridiculous. That time does not, however, give less shape to life. Maturity carries with it much more responsibility.
For my friends who are eager to move away from rules. Please remember adults have lives of greater definition than do children The Bible does not need to provide lists to present truths that can be listed.

HELPING IN TODAY’S CULTURAL CLIMATE

Helping people in need is imminently biblical. This is not even open for any rational discussion. Nevertheless, at the risk of being completely misunderstood, I want to address a matter of priority that seems to need clarification. I enter this post with caution, trepidation, and uneasiness, yet enter I will.

Though I am usually well behind most folks when trends dawn on me, eventually awareness makes its way into my head. Of late, a shift towards what was once styled the “Social Gospel” strikes me as an emphasis making a comeback. In the company of this return, I also sense a growing ascetic spirit floating around.

I get it that our culture in America is significantly materialistic and I also realize the need to do regular self-analyses to discover if I have become possessed by my possessions. As a Christian, these are not small matters. The Bible has much to say in this area. However, I think I see a baby headed out the window with its bath water in this one.

Maybe I am simply justifying that I have stuff. I have not sold my stuff to feed and house the unfortunate, though I have spent considerable time and money helping people in need. Not only that, I do not believe such a virtual total divesting of my stuff is supposed to be the defining mark of my Christianity. I do not believe Jesus came primarily to feed people and make them well. He could have done both of these things to every person in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, but He did not. What He did do was preach and teach as many people as He could about matters tied to eternity.

Yes, we should share our blessings. A lack of compassion cannot walk in fellowship with the Good News about Jesus. Yet, the Great Commission is about salvation. Granted, compassion can and will open doors, but only the Gospel can open the doors of Hades to free its captives (Rev. 1:18). Well fed and housed lost people eventually die without Jesus (cf. Jn. 6:49).

I don’t intend to be guilted into a quick fix “Christianity” that either substitutes being kind for speaking a good word for Jesus or liquidating my possessions for proclaiming truth. I reiterate; Jesus saves! Churches are groups of people primarily in the business of growing in Christ-likeness so they may help the lost become saved.

I appreciate congregations, such as the one I attend, which have very well thought out assistance initiatives. But, pardon what may seem to some as mere self-justification, let Christians in their compassionate sharing be known without apology for talking to people about the Christ.

 

LABELING IN THE RELIGIOUS CONVERSATION

Labels are an interesting way to categorise things into groups. They are particularly interesting when used to define groups of people in religion. Some of the more common broad-brush terms are: liberal, legalist, and conservative. Like it or not, and some just refuse to acknowledge any proper use of labels, they are not without value. Religious labels may certainly be misused, but religious people are not homogenous, they are different and their differences mean some have more in common with some folks than with others.
Essentially, once a biblical center is discovered, religious people tend to either over do, under do, or do. They bind where God has not, loose where God has not, or adhere to what God has revealed. I realise the trick is to find the biblical center and that everyone seems feel they are there, nevertheless, beliefs differ and the Bible does not necessarily teach what any particular person thinks is right.
With the acknowledgement that labeling takes us into hazardous and often rancorous territory, we need to venture into its risky environs. However, I want to venture into an aspect of the discussion not often entertained. Believing there to be a biblical center, I propose that both liberalism and legalism exist for one or more of the following reasons: pride, selfishness, loving the praise of men, or ignorance. Walking with Jesus, on the other hand, is the result of loving Him more than self, caring more what He thinks than what others think, and knowing Him as a friend.
I’m not a fan of labels myself. They are commonly misunderstood, misused, and all too easily employed. Yet, they do have a place in religious discussion. If we will remember what they really mean and why those characterized by them fall into the groups they do, we can begin to have more honest discussions. The only question then is, can we handle the truth (Jn. 17:17)?

THE WAY OF THE CROSS

It has been observed by many that Christianity involves the united concepts of Cross and Kingdom. N. T. Wright, in particular, has had many useful things to say about this inseparable combination. Church history, however,  has often severed the two, much to the detriment of Christianity.

If the Cross becomes a virtual “stand alone,” the life Jesus so powerfully exhibited in the Gospels becomes largely lost to the arena of everyday life. A reductionism sounding something like, “Jesus died and was resurrected and I am saved, hurry up Heaven,” results. People enter a holding-pattern just trying to wait out life so they can get out of here. A life Jesus intended to reflect both His values and the salvation/hope He won come to be hidden to those who most need to see them (Matt. 5:14-16; Jn. 13:34-35; Rom. 8:29).

Conversely, when , for all practical purposes, the Kingdom’s agenda for daily living pushes aside the atonement of the Cross, a form of social gospel develops separated from the power of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Right living as a virtual end in itself then isolates itself from the only true validation for a sanctified life (Rom. 6:20-22; Lk. 17:5-10).

By combining Cross and Kingdom, the full story is revealed. Then, both Jesus’ life and death/resurrection are released to cover the earth with  an influential example of Christ-like values and a manifestation of the power of God for salvation.

Currently, in the culture of the United States, many of those seeking to represent the Christ have, often with an apparent unawareness, fallen into an incomplete portrayal of the fullness of Christianity. Wagons are circled by some as they eagerly examine world events hoping they will testify that the end is near. Such positions often come to make the world an enemy to be avoided more than a group of people wandering like lost sheep in need of rescue. Others who, in principle, develop a similar distorted Kingdom view, largely ignore the world and take comfort in their fortresses of sacraments and religious lists, hoping bad things will somehow just go away if they behave like good people.

Alongside this inadequate, virtual escapism is an equally troubling, unbalanced engagement in repairing our world through primarily temporal “fixes” doomed to gain, at best, limited, inadequate results. The Cross, though mentioned in such expressions, comes to play a secondary role to human involvement. As a for-instance, politics, while an unavoidable aspect of American culture and political involvement certainly being a potentially useful exercise, at the end of the day, politics is not attached to a cross. Kingdom culture can and has thrived amid grossly immoral and unjust political systems. The power of the Kingdom is that, being tied to the Cross, it can triumph even in death. Our light must not be darkened by passions that appear to burn brighter over things destined to perish in the end.

The solution is a Cross-centered, Kingdom life. The Bible instructs and history confirms, when Cross and Kingdom unite in their mutually complimentary, divine partnership, the world has the opportunity to see what is vital to its victory (Jn. 13:34-35; 17:21-23; Gal. 6:14). In  seeing this, there is both a greater hope for more changed hearts in the decisions affecting this life as well as a greater expectation for more souls won for eternity.

THE BALANCE OF GRACE IN AN UNBALANCED WORLD

THE BALANCE OF GRACE IN AN UNBALANCED WORLD

            Some subjects that are supposed to bring peace and comfort wind up being twisted into controversy. One such subject is grace. There is one extreme involving a hyper-grace predestination that informs God about the limits of His sovereignty. In this humans are but pawns in a predetermined game. I find this lacking in biblical reason and ultimately self-defeating. At the other end of the discussion is a checklist proudly paraded while grace becomes but a perfunctory whisper.  In this the attention comes to be focused on our actions rather than on God’s goodness. This, too, has no Scriptural support.

            I seriously suspect an unbiased Bible student would find neither of these extreme positions a fair representation of the complete discussion. Extremes are easy; they demand little thinking and require a closed mind. Unbiased searchers would find such prerequisites insulting and unsatisfying.

Consider the following combination of grace, faith and works as a balanced alternative to the extremes just mentioned. A seasonal illustration may help.

            Your shopping has finally located the much sought after gift. The gift, wrapping paper, tag, ribbon, and stickers have all been purchased. The gift is positioned under the tree until the day for unwrapping arrives. But, what if the gift remains unwrapped? The answer is simple; the gift cannot be enjoyed.

Now consider a variation of the story. All the details remain the same, but this time the gift is opened and enjoyed. Did the person who unwrapped the gift supply a penny of its cost? This also allows for an easy answer, no.

             Another illustration may also contribute to the point I wish to make. Blinds are opened in a dark room on a sunny day. The room is filled with light. The same blinds are opened at midnight. The room remains dark.

            In both illustrations, the work of enjoying either the present or the light did in no way purchase or create the thing enjoyed. Presents unopened are not enjoyed. Light blocked does not light a room. For that matter, opening the blinds if there is no light is useless. The sun gives the light, not the blinds.

            I suggest a balanced, biblical view allows for the gift of grace apart from any human merit while providing a place for human reception. Therefore, any work that seeks to earn salvation cannot succeed. Grace is a gift. However, a work of faith is to be understood in a different context. The positive, biblical context of works is merely receptive in nature, never deserving.

            Therefore, rather than seeing Romans 4 and James 2 in conflict or developing convoluted “harmonizations” may we not see them as expressing different aspects or contexts of the place of faith and works. The faith that saves puts no trust in the purchasing power of our works. The faith that does not act, however, is dead.

            Let us glory in grace, God’s incomprehensible gift! Let us also appreciate that the obedience of faith, though always flawed and never deserving, is nevertheless part of the conversation (Rom. 1:5; 16:26; I Jn. 1:7).