Saturday, December 22, 2007

Comments Appear!!

Readers may wish to recheck the 12/05/07 blog post on Israel and The Church (pt.2). Some new comments have appeared. They are worthwhile and I hope they are not ignored. Thanks to those participants for their contributions.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Grace, Truth, and Incarnation

As a gift for the Remember-the-Incarnation-Season, here is a brief section from D.A.Carson on John 1:14. Can reading good Bible commentaries bless you? I hope this reading will.

-The words "full of grace and truth" may be descriptive of the Word, especially if "pleres" ('full'), is understood to be nominative, agreeing with "logos" ('Word'); but because 'full' is irregularly declinable (that is, it does not formally 'agree' with any particular word form), it seems best to take the expression as a modifier of 'glory'. The glory of God manifest in the incarnate Word was "full of grace and truth". In that case John is almost certainly directing his readers to Exodus 33-34. There Moses begs God, 'Now show me Your glory' ( Ex.33:18). The Lord replies, 'I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim My name, THE LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion' ( Ex.33:19). God's glory, then, is supremely His goodness. So Moses stands on Mt.Sinai, and, we are told. 'the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there before him, and proclaimed His name, THE LORD. And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "THE LORD, THE LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin" '( Ex.34:5-7).

LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS spell out the nature of the goodness which is God's glory. The two crucial words in Hebrew are "hesed" (variously rendered 'steadfast love', 'mercy', 'covenant love' - but it has recently been shown quite clearly that it is the GRACIOUSNESS of the love that is at stake), and "met" ('truth' or 'faithfulness'). This pair of expressions recurs again and again throughout the Old Testament. The two words that John uses, 'full of GRACE and TRUTH', are his ways of summing up the same ideas. The glory revealed to Moses when THE LORD passed in front of him and sounded His name, displaying that divine goodness characterized by ineffable grace and truth, was the very same glory John and his friends saw in the Word-made-flesh.-

Now, as the old saying goes, 'if that doesn't light your fire, you're wood is wet!'. The glory revealed to Moses was "the very same glory" John saw in Christ!! The glory of Christ, the glory which is "full of grace and truth".

May God shine in your heart to give you "the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2. Cor.4:6).

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Truth and Relationships: A Distinction?

I've been asked to write about what I will call a "perceived distinction" between doctrine and relationships. I don't really like doing this because it should not be necessary to "reconcile friends". The question I've been asked to address is, "Which one of these two is higher?". Ideally, the question should not have to be asked. But, we do not live in ideal situations, even in churches, so it evidently takes some work to understand how the friendship between these two works. So, here goes! (I've learned over the years that a lot of patient participation is needed to have this discussion, so I hope there will be a few comments).

Two Bible passages have inevitably been used whenever I have been in this discussion: John 1:14 (grace and truth) and Ephesians 4:15 (truth in love). Somehow a dichotomy gets superimposed over these verses. The dichotomy gets expressed in ways like this: (1) "There are 'truthers' and there are 'lovers'", or (2) "There are 'gracers' and there are 'truthers'", or (3) "We need to keep truth and love (or grace and truth) in balance" (kind of a 50/50 thing). The assumption seems to be that people who are more focused on truth do not tend to be loving or gracious, and, conversely, people who are grace/love oriented are not very concerned about truth (usually meaning doctrine). I suspect the reason for the imposition of the dichotomy is that there ARE people who tend to neglect one side or the other. Then the idea of "balance" is suggested as the answer to the problem. But "balance" actually makes bad matters worse because it implies the lessening of one for the increasing of the other ( i.e. "Don't be so concerned about doctrine - you need to become more relational" - which is usually the way it goes these days; or "Don't be so involved with people - you need to be studying/reading more"). In reality, both sides of these verses are to be viewed as one whole, not a dichotomy. If there is a "balance" it better be a 100/100 one - to be 50% truthful suggests that the other 50% is something other than love. The believer in Christ should never seek to be less than completely truthful, loving, and gracious.

Another way to reveal that there should not be a dichotomy would be to juxtapose terminology in our common usage. We could (and should) refer to the mass of biblical data on relationships (like most of the book of Proverbs, Ephesians 4:25-6:9, Matthew 5-7 as examples among hundreds) as "The Doctrine of Relationships". Wouldn't this be great as a necessary part of the systematic theology curriculum (instead of dividing it off into counselling or some other department)? Or, as we live out friendships, why do we not think of our times together as "theological occasions" ( what a great name for a party! - OK, you may think I've gone too far now:-))? In this light, check out Section Four of my book "Childlike Faith" dealing with communal interpretation <>.

But, what happens when this is not working properly, which may be a lot of the time? I have asked myself many times, is there any biblical precedent/teaching for rightly sacrificing doctrinal truth in order to save relationships? I have not found any. I also have asked, is there any biblical precedent/teaching for rightly sacrificing relationships in order to save doctrinal truth? I have found, with tears, significant models for this. In a real way, the intent of this sacrifice of a relationship is ultimately to save the relationship too.

Titus 1:9 - 2:1 People who contradict sound doctrine are to be rebuked
Romans 16:17-18 People who cause division by differing from approved teaching are to be avoided
Proverbs 28:23 Rebuke is necessary to preserve relationships
II Corinthians 6:17 - 7:1 "come out"/ "be separate" - "having these promises"

There are negative examples, too, of times when a separation does not occur and one's life is damaged as a result (i.e. Lot not leaving Sodom in a timely fashion). Enough said about this for now.

The result of this line of thought is that doctrine and relationships must go together. But, when there is a breakdown in this whole, truth (including the Doctrine of Relationships) must assume the highest priority. One might ask, "But isn't love the greatest?" (1 Cor, 13:13). Yes, love is the greatest out of faith, hope, and love! But, love "rejoices with the truth" (1 Cor.13:6). Love is higher than faith and hope, but it must be governed by truth, which makes truth greater. The prophet Amos asked this question - "How can two walk together except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3). It is shared truth that builds shared love.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Israel And The Church (Part II) So What?

Having established that there is a distinction in the New Testament between Israel and the Church (while yet honoring a continuity), a good question would be, "so what?" I'll just mention a limited selection of implications, but the list really could be made quite lengthy.

First, here are some examples of failing to keep this distinction: Mormonism, which would so hold that they replace Israel that their official doctrine includes the establishment of the Kingdom and building of the Temple on the American continent (hmmm . . . would that influence Mitt Romney's presidential leadership??); Assemblies of Yahweh/Jehovah's Witnesses/other "Sacred Name" cults - all tend to think they are the new Israel and do Israelite-type-things in their systems, such as Jewish festivals, new moon celebrations, Sabbath observance; though not "Sacred Name", Seventh-Day groups whether "Adventists", "Baptists", have the same problem; Roman Catholicism (amillenialism) is also a "replace Israel" program with a new priestly class, buildings designed to replicate the tabernacle/temple with a holy of holies where only the priest is to go (Protestant amillenialism does the same thing in concept, but not in physical practice because of the "spiritualizing" tendency of their hermeneutic); I rather cringe when I see an edifice with the name "Baptist Temple" (and of course there are Mormon temples - is their a difference?). Keeping the distinction helps us keep God's people away from all such nonsense.

Second, this distinction should keep us aware that God yet has a future program for Israel. All of God's warnings and promises to Israel will come to pass. If this is "spiritualized" rather than "actualized", how would any believer of the current age be able to trust that God's promises will be actually fulfilled for them. There is an actual geo-political future for Israel promised by God (yes the Church will rule and reign in this too, but if it does not happen there will be nothing to rule!). This is what makes the Church (made up of both Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles) the strongest supporter of Israel on earth today. Because of the lack of keeping the distinction there is massive confusion among professing "evangelicals" as to what their posture towards Israel should be (see for example < > and <>). Even worse, some "evangelicals" are cuddling with Islam in a way that denies the very heart of biblical truth-claims (the Bible, the Trinity, etc.) and insults Israel (see <>). For a great example of how to get this right, see Randall Price - "Should Christians Support Israel? (available at <>).

Third, this distinction enables the believer in Christ to stay focused on the Blessed Hope, the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ. Post-tribulational, mid-tribulational, pre-wrath, and partial-rapture theories of eschatology all ignore the distinction between Israel and the Church. As a result, they project coming tribulational terrors and judgments promised to Israel (and the unregenerate world) onto the Church. Thus, they are more focused on tribulational events than the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, there can be pre-tribulational rapturists who forget that "signs of the times" are for Israel, forget that the rapture is a signless event, and thus are more interested in looking for signs (earthquakes, famines, etc.) than for Jesus - this too is problematic. The distinction between Israel and the church is essential for understanding the New Testament doctrine of the imminency of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ in the air to resurrect/catch-up His Church.

Fourth, this distinction produces a heart for Jewish evangelism. "To the Jew first" is taken seriously by those who love Israel. It is not that those who do not share this distinction may not have an interest in Jewish evangelism either. But it certainly is true that most ministries dedicated to the evangelism of Jews do.

Other blessings and understandings flow from this distinction as well. I hope this encourages your ministry and the thinking through of such issues for the glory of Christ.