A Comparison of the Hermeneutics Concerning Covenant Theology & Classical Dispensationalism (Part Two)

FeaturedA Comparison of the Hermeneutics Concerning Covenant Theology & Classical Dispensationalism (Part Two)

In a previous article, a common criticism raised from Covenant theologians brought forth from promoters of Dispensational thought is Covenant theology promotes what some would call “replacement theology.” An article, promoting Covenant theology, brought forth a counterargument that the term “replacement theology” is alien to Covenant theology arguing that Dispensationalism promotes an Israel-centered grid when reading the Scriptures. However, it was noted that the term “replacement theology” is used intentionally, and was shown that there were theologians throughout the centuries that promoted the idea that the church had either superseded or replaced Israel when it came to future promises. It was shown by the biblical text there are exclusive promises that are given to national Israel that have not yet been completed, and if God fails to give these promises to the people whom He had addressed, then God’s glory is nullified.

In this same article, the writer commented that Israel was only an instrument God used to bring about what God prophesied to the serpent in the Garden of Eden

[Dispensationalism] assumes that the temporary, national people was, in fact, intended to be the permanent arrangement. Such a way of thinking is contrary to the promise in Gen. 3:15. The promise was that there would be a Savior. The national people was only a means to that end, not an end in itself. According to Paul in Ephesians 2:11-22, in Christ the dividing wall has been destroyed. It cannot be rebuilt. 

The Hidelblog.com. Covenant theology is not replacement theology. Retrieved from: https://heidelblog.net/2013/08/covenant-theology-is-not-replacement-theology/

Does Ephesians 2:11-22 prove that Israel was only a “means to an end?” A brief exposition of the Ephesians 2:11-22 will be examined below.

In the broader context of Ephesians chapter two Paul summarizes the Ephesian saint’s life before Christ, and that by God’s mercy they have received forgiveness (vs. 1-6). Paul also told them that in the future they will be displays of God’s grace, and how all of these benefits that were given to them was not based on any merit of their own but was all a work of God (vs. 7-9).  Due to this reality, they were to complete the good works that God had laid out before them to complete (v. 10).  Paul, in the next verse, discusses how the Gentiles (i.e., non-Jews) were excluded from the “commonwealth” (this refers back to the back to the theocracy found in with Israel in the Old Testament, as the Law was specifically given to the Israelite people). Paul also wrote they were strangers (lit. “aliens”) to the covenants of promise (these are the promises that are associated with the commonwealth of Israel such as land, seed, blessing, king, and kingdom). Paul writes they were without hope and God in the world (as far as these personal promises to national Israel are concerned).

Paul then explained they had been brought (or “made near”) by the blood of Christ and continued the metaphor of this spiritual reality by bringing up the dividing wall that surrounded the Temple of God. The dividing wall was a physical structure that was around the temple of God and separated Jew and Gentile. The non-Jew could not cross past this wall as it resulted in death to the gentile who crossed over it. Paul wrote due to the work of Christ these two groups that were once separated would be unified. Paul then underscored this truth by quoting from the Old Testament and gave the result of the work of Christ for the non-Jew: They are strangers and aliens no longer, but fellow citizens with the saints in God’s personal household. Paul also spoke of the foundation of God’s household which was built on the apostles and those prophets that spoke in the early church, and that the Gentiles are being built up in the Lord.

There are several qualities to note about this epistle. Paul could have made it very clear that the church is spiritual Israel or the new Israel as some past theologians have written. However, Paul in verse 14 used the word εἷς (“one”). Paul then further specifies what this number signifies in verse 15 by using the Greek phrase εἰς ἕνα καινὸν ἄνθρωπον (“into one new man”). If Paul wanted to express the church were one new nation he would have written εἰς ἕνα καινὸν ἔθνος (“into one new nation”) or εἰς ἕνα καινὸν Ἰσραὴλ (“into one new Israel”). In addition, Paul uses other terms in this particular passage to describe the unification of Jew and Gentile such as οἰκεῖος (“household”), οἰκοδομή (“building”), and naos (“temple”). In other epistles, he uses the word σῶμα (“body”) to describe the spiritual unity of the church (c.f., 1 Cor. chap 12). However, Paul when talking to the Gentiles in explaining the reality of the Church never uses the word nation, or Israel, to describe such people.

Paul outlined the blessings that the Gentiles have been given by God in chapter one of Ephesians. The Gentiles had been made holy and blameless before God (v. 4), they had been predestined to adoption to be sons and daughters of God the Father (v. 5, 11). Redemption through the blood of Christ to be reconciled to the Father (vs. 7-8). He had given them “the mystery of His will” through the apostles (v. 9). There is an inheritance that the Gentile saint would receive (v. 11), and the sealing of the Holy Spirit guaranteeing the inheritance we will receive (i.e., their glorification) (v. 14). These details outlined in chapter one are important because in none of these blessings that Paul mentioned in chapter one are the physical promises Israel is to receive (i.e, land, seed, blessing, king, and kingdom).

Furthermore, Paul used the temple as a metaphor to describe the reality of the spiritual unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ Jesus. However, this does not mean that Paul is making an argument national Israel is a means to an end. From the context, observing the words in their plain sense Paul is arguing that the ministry of Christ brings these two different people groups together and unifies them. The dividing wall, as Paul wrote metaphorically has been destroyed between the two groups, but to claim this passage is an argument that the promises directly given to national Israel are now obsolete when the words Paul uses in the text do not express this idea, is overstepping the bounds of the author’s intent.

The author in the article above seemed to imply that dispensational thinkers observe Israel as an end in itself. This writer would have to respectfully disagree with his analysis of dispensationalism. The end of all things according to the dispensationalist is the glory of God, not the nation of Israel. As stated previously the reason Israel figures prominently is that there are still promises that are given to Israel personally by God that He must fulfill. If God does not give these promises to the people He said He would give them to this will, in effect, minimize the glory of God.

Israel and the church are not juxtaposed beside each other.  As Scripture has revealed there are physical blessings that are personally given to Israel, and they are spiritual blessings that are given to the church. Ephesians 2:11-22 show that the Gentiles are unified with Jews (which was not seen in the economy of the Law). The Gentiles are fellow sharers of the spiritual blessings outlined in chapter one of Ephesians, and this is all a working of God’s multifaceted plan, for His own glory. Amen.

In Covenant theology, it is expressed that the body of Christ was seen through Israel, which served as a type and shadow that the church has always existed. In the next article, this author will contend that is not the case.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

A Comparison of the Hermeneutics Concerning Covenant Theology & Classical Dispensationalism (Part One)

A Comparison of the Hermeneutics Concerning Covenant Theology & Classical Dispensationalism (Part One)

In greater evangelical Christianity there are two major systems of theology: Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. Although there is a common thread between the systems (i.e., the glory of God), there is a major difference in how the glory of God is ultimately displayed. For the Covenant theological system, the glory of God is primarily redemptive. This redemptive plan according to Covenant theology is observed by God establishing two (or possibly three) covenants with mankind: The covenant of redemption, the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace. In Dispensationalism, there are three qualities that govern the system: the doxological purpose of God (which this author would argue governs the two other  qualities), consistently observing the words of Scripture in their plain and normal sense (i.e., the consistent normal historical-grammatical reading), and the distinction between Israel and the Church (in plan and purpose). From a dispensational view, the glory of God in all of His works is the focus and not only the salvation of mankind. 

One of the common criticism from those who adhere to Covenant theology is dispensational thinkers have an Israel-centered hermeneutic rather than Christocentric hermeneutic, as one such website notes

The very category of “replacement” is foreign to Reformed theology because it assumes a dispensational, Israeleo-centric way of thinking. It assumes that the temporary, national people was, in fact, intended to be the permanent arrangement.

The Hidelblog.com. Covenant theology is not replacement theology. Retrieved from: https://heidelblog.net/2013/08/covenant-theology-is-not-replacement-theology/

Even though the word “replacement” has not been used in the past, this particular use of the word has not been without reason. There have been theologians throughout history that have stated that Israel as a nation, in comparison with the church, is now irrelevant. Justin Martyr (130-202 A.D.) in Dialogue with Trypho wrote:

Then is it Jacob the patriarch in whom the Gentiles and yourselves shall trust? or is it not Christ? As, therefore, Christ is the Israel and the Jacob, even so we, who have been quarried out from the bowels of Christ, are the true Israelitic race.

Justin Marytr. Dialogue with trypho. Retrived from https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.iv.cxxxv.html.

Tertullian (160-220 A.D.), another early theologian in his work An Answer to The Jews made a similar comment about Israel, using the historical narrative of Jacob and Esau he commented:

Accordingly, since the people or nation of the Jews is anterior in time, and greater through the grace of primary favour in the Law, whereas ours is understood to be less in the age of times, as having in the last era of the world attained the knowledge of divine mercy: beyond doubt, through the edict of the divine utterance, the prior and greater people — that is, the Jewish — must necessarily serve the less; and the less people — that is, the Christian— overcome the greater.

Tertullian. New Advent. An answer to the Jews.  Retreived from http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0308.htm

Those who subscribe to Covenant theology connect their hermeneutic back to the early church fathers (e.g., Justin Martyr, Tertullian, etc.), as one author noted:

In the history of theology, the elements of what we know as covenant theology; the covenant of redemption before time between the persons of the Trinity, the covenant of works with Adam, and the covenant of grace after the fall; have existed since the early church…Indeed, Reformed readers who turn to the early church fathers (c. 100–500 AD) might be surprised to see how frequently they used language and thought patterns that we find very familiar.

Clark., S (2006). The history of covenant theology. Retrieved from https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/history-covenant-theology/

However, when a person observes Scripture in its plain meaning there are promises that are explicitly given to national Israel. For example, God promised Abraham’s descendants physical land that stretches from Egypt to the River Euphrates (as far as Egypt to what is now modern day Iraq) (Gen. 15:18). 

future-map5
The future borders of Israel outlined in Gen. 15:18. Retrieved from http://www.ahavat-israel.com/eretz/future.

In addition, God promised David a physical King that would come from his line and rule Israel on his throne to usher in an everlasting righteousness (2 Sam. 7:8-14). Furthermore, the promise of the new covenant is given specifically “to the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Ezek. 31:31). The future promises that are given to national Israel are associated with the consistency of creation itself described by the prophet Jeremiah!

Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar;
The Lord of hosts is His name: “If this fixed order departs From before Me,” declares the Lord, “Then the offspring of Israel also will cease. From being a nation before Me forever.” Thus says the Lord, “If the heavens above can be measured And the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel For all that they have done,” declares the Lord

Jer. 31:35-37 NASB

How would a Covenant theologian explain the land promise found in Genesis 16:18? John Calvin in his works does not even comment on how much land Abraham’s descendants would receive but he comments the covenant in this specific text is essentially a shadow of the sacraments of the church. John Gill, another prominent theologian mentioned in his commentary that the River Euphrates was the boundary line during the rule of King David. However, there has never been a time in history where Abraham, nor Abraham’s descendants have received land by the Nile River in Egypt. The Covenant theologian, based upon a predominant “ecclesiastical” hermeneutic at the most replaces the promises given to Israel to the church, or at the least supersedes the promises of God that are given to Israel to the church.

By contrast, the dispensational view, consistently observing Israel in the plain normal sense, would recognize that these things mentioned above (land, king, and spiritual renewal) are given directly to this nation whom God has promised these things to. If God fails to give these things to those whom He has addressed, or if He exclusively transfers these promises to another group of people in effect this would diminish His very glory.  In short, the method a person uses to read the Bible (i.e., hermeneutic) is how one is going to explain the Scriptures.

The critique that dispensational thought employs an Israelological grid to explain the Scriptures is false. The system of dispensationalism has at its very core a doxological focus. It must be noted that Israel does figure prominently in the Old Testament and even the New Testament Scriptures. However, this is due to the promises God gave to them as a nation, and these promises are directly associated with His glory. 

There is no denying God’s redemptive work for mankind. Both Covenant and Dispensational systems acknowledge this. Both systems also recognize the glory of God as the ultimate end. How God’s glory is understood in relation to human history is determined on the method that is employed by each system. For the Covenant theologian due to the hermeneutic they use they observe the glory of God primarily in the salvific act of Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. For the dispensationalist, the glory of God is observed in all His works, and this includes not only the salvation of those who are part of the church but God fulfilling the future promises to the people who will receive them, which is Israel.

Yet there are those who subscribe to Covenant theology that believe dispensationalists juxtapose Israel and the church. In the next article, this author will demonstrate from the Book of Ephesians that this is not the case.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

 

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Did God Really Say? A Challenge To An Observers Analysis of Leviticus 18

Did God Really Say? A Challenge To An Observers Analysis of Leviticus 18

Within Western culture there has been an increase to legitimize and validate what has become known as the LGBTQ movement, which has several objectives: To promote and advocate for equal rights for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, and queer individuals, to change and nullify what was known as sodomy laws, which prohibited homosexual acts between men and women, and to end discrimination (and stereotypes) in social interactions in various institutions (e.g., business, academia, etc.). In addition, this movement, particularly, desires to challenge what promoters of this movement describe as “archaic and traditional social constructs” that are found in the body of Christ. As as result this has led to a translation of the Bible that alters the passages that discuss homosexuality, promoting the homosexual clergy in the church,  and establishing what is being labeled as “inclusive” churches all over the world.

There are others who have chosen to take their pen and write against what they perceive as prejudices attempting to make their case from the Scriptures that homosexuality was a sanctioned practice in the Old Testament. One such scholar by the name of Dr. Idan Dershowitz, in an opinion piece titled, “The Secret History of Leviticus” asserts that chapter 18 of Leviticus, the chapter that prohibits homosexuality, was not written by the same author, but by several authors of a long period of time:

Like many ancient texts, Leviticus was created gradually over a long period and includes the words of more than one writer. Many scholars believe that the section in which Leviticus 18 appears was added by a comparatively late editor, perhaps one who worked more than a century after the oldest material in the book was composed. An earlier edition of Leviticus, then, may have been silent on the matter of sex between men.

D.I. (2018). The Secret History of Leviticus. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/21/opinion/sunday/bible-prohibit-gay-sex.html

He attempts to provide an even stronger argument that earlier editions of a law found in Israel allowed this behavior. He adds there were “editorial interventions” in this chapter due to what he believes is a sudden break in the flow of the chapter involving what he refers to as “incest laws,” as he notes below

Each verse in Leviticus 18’s series of incest laws contains a similar gloss, but the others are merely emphatic, driving home the point. (For example, “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law; she is your son’s wife, you shall not uncover her nakedness.”) Only in these two cases — the father and mother, and the father’s brother — do the glosses alter our understanding of what is prohibited. A law prohibiting sex with one’s father fades away, and a law against sex with one’s uncle is reinterpreted as a ban on sex with one’s aunt…What we have here is strong evidence of editorial intervention.

D.I. (2018). The Secret History of Leviticus. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/21/opinion/sunday/bible-prohibit-gay-sex.html

Based on Biblical evidence, I am convinced there are several counterpoints that make his argument concerning the explanation “editorial intervention” in the Book of Leviticus a risible explanation. They are described below:

  • The divine authorship of Leviticus: All throughout the Old Testament we observe the authoritative speech of God (i.e., “The Lord said” or “the Lord God said”) the term Lord (i.e. YHVH in Hebrew, usually written in all capital letters) is the divine personal Name of God Himself, and this name in particular highlights the supreme authority of God and His word. This personal name for God occurs 273 times in the book of Leviticus, and occurs five times in chapter 18:1-30. In this text, God makes it clear to the nation of Israel that it is Him who is passing down these commands on how the nation of Israel should conduct themselves before Him, not several authors over a period of time.
  • The consequences of the other nations due to these practices: The Lord, in outlining these prohibitions mentioned the overall reason why God does not desire this behavior. It is found in the proceeding verses in this chapter of the Book of Leviticus:

24Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled25 ‘For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants

Lev. 18:24-15 NASB emphasis mine.

God was removing all of the former inhabitants of the land that was given to the Israelite people because there were nations that were defiling themselves by doing these behaviors. This included all of the actions that were described above passage. In fact, God tells them that they were not to practice these customs and traditions that would defile them, or the land they were to live on,  five times in this chapter (vs. 24, 26, 28, 29, 30). In addition, they were not to do these customs because He is their God, the Lord (YHVH). The reason why the nations that lived in the land were removed prior to the Israelite people because of their acceptable use of these practices, which were against God.

  • The word usage in the Septuagint in Leviticus 18 and the New Testament: The Septuagint is the translation from the Hebrew Old Testament to the Greek language. The word that is used for “one that lies” in Lev. 18 is the word koite (κοίτη) meaning “to bed.” (an idiom used for sexual intercourse). This same word is used of Paul, who was a proficient scholar and teacher of the Old Testament (c.f., Phil. 4:3-6). When addressing the churches of Corinth he writes:

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate , nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God 

1 Cor. 6:9-11 NASB emphasis mine

The Greek word used here for “homosexuals” is the word arsenokoites (ἀρσενοκοίτης), which means “to bed men.” Paul used the same word found in the Septuagint and uses it to tell them that those who identify with this behavior will not inherit the kingdom of God.

  • An omission of historical precedent In his observation: In the context of Leviticus, the Lord was prohibiting behavior from the nation of Israel that was already a common practice in the ancient world. For example, there is history that the ancient Egyptians were involved with same-sex acts. This was not only true of Egypt but all of the other nations as well (as observed in the Leviticus passage above). In short the Lord was prohibiting them from conducting themselves with activites that were considered socially acceptable. This was also true of Corinth in the New Testament. The act of a male engaging in sexual acts with another was permissible during the time of the Roman Empire. Observing the context it does not make any sense that the Book of Leviticus would have an “editorial intervention” in an attempt to hide this behavior when it was acceptable and moral among the known world at that time. 

This argument presented by Dr. Idan Dershowitz is similar to the serpent who deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden. The serpent approached Eve and the first statement to come out of the serpent’s mouth was the question, “Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the Garden?” (Gen. 3:1) (before the serpent could undermine what God communicated to Adam and Eve the serpent had to place a lack of assurance in their minds regarding the veracity of God’s word). This narrative Dr. Idan Dershowitz is presenting is not about homosexuality or tearing down traditional social constructs in society. This argument is really about the authority of God’s word and how one can undermine what God has clearly said to affirm or validate what God has not sanctioned. Tragically, it is these arguments within the culture that prevent an unbeliever from hearing and recieving the grace of God in the gospel that Christ has died for the sins listed in Leviticus 18 (and 1 Cor. 6:9-11). Furthermore, it may lead a believer to lack assurance in God’s eternal word concerning where one’s identity comes from, much to their own grief.

Let us as believers be confident in the word that God has revealed. promoting the truth as He has given it to us, knowing that by the promotion of this truth God is truly glorified. Amen.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

Hebrews 6:4: A Brief Exposition

Hebrews 6:4: A Brief Exposition

There are many verses in Sacred Scripture that bring various perspectives about the life and position of the believer. One such verse is Hebrews 6:4-6, which states the following:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame (NASB).

There are those who make the case that if one who claims they are saved, and they who have fallen away were not really Christian. One such podcast, making a connection with the Book of Hebrews and connecting it with the Lord’s Supper mentions that the verbs (i.e., actions) of those who the author of Hebrews has addressed are in this past tense stating that “they tasted, but they did not eat.” The author then completes his thought by expressing the following statement

“…So church members who forsake the ministry of the word and the sacrament really fall away from something important, the gracious operations of the Holy Spirit united to these means. So, dangerous thing.”

Michael Horton (2018). Does Hebrews 6:4 Teach We Can Lose Our Salvation? Core Christianity. Retrieved from https://corechristianity.com/resource-library/episodes/losing-your-salvation-in-hebrews-6

In the notes concerning the show he also writes the following paragraph:

There is a difference between tasting and eating. When we come to worship and we hear Christ Himself say, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, I will give you rest,”when we’re baptized, when we come to the Lord’s Supper, Paul says “This bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? This cup that we bless is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?” And so, [the question is], are you really participating by faith? Are you really receiving Christ with all of his benefits? Or are you just receiving the means, going through the motions but rejecting the reality offered to you? The real thing that should be encouraging to people is [Hebrews chapter 6] verse 9, “Though we speak in this way yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things, things that belong to salvation.”

Michael Horton (2018). Does Hebrews 6:4 Teach We Can Lose Our Salvation? Core Christianity. Retrieved from https://corechristianity.com/resource-library/episodes/losing-your-salvation-in-hebrews-6

In the general context of Hebrews the author, in the last part of chapter five, has just given the Jewish believers an admonishment stating that they ought to be teachers, but because they are “dull of hearing” they need a recap of the doctrines they were taught previously (Heb. 5:11-12). The author then explains they need milk, like an infant because they are still not accustomed to solid food (v. 13). The author then tells them what the solid food is, that they would have their senses constantly trained to discern truth from error (v. 14). It is on the heels of this thought that chapter six begins.

The author at the beginning of chapter six stated the Jewish believers needed to press on to maturity, not laying a foundation of repentance from dead works to serve a living God (the audience the author was addressing was already standing on this foundation of repentance) (Heb. 6:1). He then mentions some of the doctrines they discussed: The washings (more likely the washings refer to identification: being sanctified  by Christ and His Holy Spirit; c.f. 1 Cor. 6:7; Tit. 3:5), laying on of hands (perhaps an ability to manifest the Holy Spirit for the common good that came by this practice (c.f., 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6)), the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment (eschatological teaching) (v. 4). The author then expressed that they would continue to teach these things as God permitted them to do so (v. 5). 

Then the author of Hebrews then began to lay out an argument by telling the Jewish believers it is impossible (lit. “not possible”) to have been illumined by the truth of God’s word, namely the gospel of Jesus Christ,  have been indwelt with the Holy Spirit and made alive in Christ (i.e., the powers of the age to come) and fall away to renew them again to repentance (due to the fact they believed the message of the Messiah and His work for them) when they crucify themselves to the Son of God putting Him to open shame. The author then gives an example found in the culture with farming. When rain falls on soil that is tilled and cultivated, it brings forth vegetation that is useful to all, and this results in a blessing from God (v. 7). By contrast, the author brings up if the ground produces weeds and things that are not beneficial then they will be cut down and burned (v. 8).

The intent of the author of Hebrews is not making a case for saints forsaking the ministry of  Lord’s Supper in this text (matter of fact the term “Lord’s Supper” is not even mentioned here). He is making the case for effective works among God’s saints. The author of Hebrews is telling them to leave the elementary teachings of Christ and press on to maturity (this word in Greek is τελειότης (teleiotes), and this is associated with being full grown or complete). In addition, the author of Hebrews affirmed they are saved from God’s wrath. They know the elementary doctrines of Scripture, and now the deeds they were to do were to be fueled by the doctrines they were assured. The Jewish believers were to be effective in their serving others, and in the end, this would result in a reward from God at the proper time. However, those who are believers who do not labor well, end up giving a “black eye” to the message of the gospel, their works become ineffective to all who are around and ultimately will result in loss of rewards from God.

This point the author of Hebrews is making is underscored in the proceeding verses noted below:

9 But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. 10 For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. 11 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (Heb. 6:9-12 NASB emphasis mine).

The author of Hebrews says to the “beloved” (this word is only used for believers) concerning them and the things that accompany (or belong to) salvation that God will not forget their work as they have ministered to His saints. The author then expressed his desire: That they continue to be diligent due to the realization of their assurance, and not to be sluggish (the Greek word is νωθρός (nothros), which in this context lit. means “lazy”), not to fall away and thus be ineffective to the service of the Lord, but to imitate those saints who labored knowing they were destined to inherit these promises God made to them.

These verses, in context, are not discussing how a believer can lose their salvation nor is the author discussing dangerous territory if a believers do not take the Lord’s Supper (in fact from the text the author of Hebrews, in context, is making a case against this, nor is this verse discussing the consequence of denying the Lord’s Supper, which is not mentioned). This passage is meant to be an encouragement to the Jewish believers to continue to be effective in their labor for the Lord, not to slack, but to be diligent. In this work, the one who labors well honors the word of God and will be rewarded by God in the future.

Let us take the wisdom of God through the author of Hebrews to heart. Let us be effective for Him. In this, we serve our brothers and sisters in the faith and ultimately be rewarded for our service, for His glory. Amen.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

 

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi and Worship Music

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi and Worship Music

There is a statement in Latin I find helpful when it comes to the topic music sung among the believers of the faith. The statement is the Latin phrase: lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vevendi, which translated in English means, “the rule of worship is the rule of belief is the rule of life.” Jill Carattini, describes these phrases in more detail when the author notes:

There is a phrase in Latin that summarizes the idea that the way our minds and souls are oriented is the way our lives are oriented. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi is an axiom of ancient Christianity, meaning, the rule of worship is the rule of belief is the rule of life. That is, the way we are oriented in worship (whatever it might be that we focus on most devotedly) orients the way we believe and the way we live.

Simply put, in the case of worship music what we sing (lex orandi), is what we believe (lex credendi), and ultimately will come out in how we live (lex vivendi). Why does it matter what the saints sing in the Body of Christ?

The songs sung within the Body of Christ, should point us back to the source and bedrock of our faith, which is Jesus Christ. In fact, many of the songs in centuries past were written for the sole purpose of being “mini-sermons.” The songs were to reinforce the bedrock eternal truths of Sacred Scripture. In other words, they were to reinforce what the Christian believes, teaches, and confesses concerning the orthodox Biblical faith.  In these songs one would get good solid theology, and a rich emphasis on Law and Gospel. Some of the songs written came straight from Sacred Scripture themselves. Pick an old song throughout the history of the Body of Christ: Oxyrhynchus hymn, O Come Emmanuel,  Amazing Grace, The Old Rugged Cross, A Mighty Fortress (My personal favorite), The Solid Rock, etc. These songs you could take and preach from, telling of the Lord’s gifts of grace and mercy for the sinner, and causing one to fix their gaze on Christ and what He has done for them.

Because these songs are sung among the fellowship they highlight, and reinforce, what one as Christians are to believe. The effect of a Christian’s theology, which they have heard and sung in the Body of Christ, is lived out in the daily life of the Christians by good works, because one is reminded through the songs, as well as the preached word, which are sung among the congregation. There are several qualities of a song being worthwhile to confess among the fellowship that highlights lex ordendi, lex crendendi, lex vivendi, which is described below:

  • When the songs sung among the saints focus on aspects of theological doctrine: Do the songs you are singing focus on the Tri-unity of God? Do the songs you sing affirm the saint of the justification they have in Christ? Do the songs you confess highlight that we are sinners that have received the righteousness of God? Does the songs you sing tell you some aspect of the nature of God (All-powerful, merciful, glorious, etc.). If there is a song that is sung within the fellowship where it is very difficult to pinpoint any type of doctrine, then a possible alternative should be considered.
  • When the songs sung among the saints focus on an objective source, not emotional experiences grounded in subjectivity: Some songs that are written in this present time are penned to evoke some type of feeling, not to affirm the historic doctrines of Sacred Scripture. This is not to say that you cannot be moved by a particular song that is sung amongst the congregation. However the main objective of worship in song is not to have some type of experience with God, but it is a confession of the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints placed to music, to reinforce the objective truth that is found in an objective source, which is Christ the Lord. If after you sing the song, and I ask you what you learned from the song, and if your reply is,”All I know was that song was great, it really brought me into His presence!” Rather than,”That song taught me I am a sinner, and God, who is merciful, has died for a wretch like me,” then a possible alternative should be considered.
  • When the songs sung among the saints point us away from an subjective source, leading the believers to the objective truth of God’s promises: In my observation, this is one of the reasons why hymns are particularly helpful. They take the focus off of you and place them squarely on Christ and His Sacred word. In other words, I am not singing how faithful I am, how much I love God, and how dedicated to God I am (for I personally know in many ways I am none of these). What if I had a lousy week (which I often have)? What if I was distraught and discouraged by my own sin and shame (which I often am)? What if I feel “far” from God (which I often feel)? The “mini-sermon” reinforces the promises that God is always with me, that He will never leave me or forsake me, and every day I am continually being renewed unto glory by Him. Even if I have had a terrible week, and even if I feel He is “far” from me, I am comforted because I am reminded of His gifts of kindness and mercy, found in His Beloved Son. If a song points you to yourself and away from the promises of God for you, a possible alternative should be considered.

Lex orendi, lex credendi, and lex vevendi is seen in the Sacred Scriptures. Saints in the Old Testament were to memorize the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible) chanting it as if it was a song, thus the word of God they affirmed influenced how they lived. the Psalms found in the Old Testament were often put to music with a measure inbetween the stanzas (known as a selah) to reflect what was sung from the previous verses. Often these Psalms were used as prayers for the saint to model and repeat. Silas and Paul to encourage themselves when they suffered persecution on jail prayed and sung hymns to God (cf. Acts 16:22-25). There are news reports of saints who have died while they were singing hymns. Paul encouraged believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit speak to one another with Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, making melody with one’s heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:18-19), this is why music is the centerpiece of every service. Even when Christians are before the Lord, and has gathered the body of Christ to Himself, the Christians will sing (or observe) a new song (once more pointing back to the objective source of the faith). John records this event in Revelation 5:1-14, which the believer gets a future glimpse in Sacred Scripture to encourage the hearts of the saint.

This brings me to my final point: When it comes to music in the body of Christ style is different than substance. You can update various old hymns and melodies. You can take different hymns and mix them together. There can certainly be different styles of music sung within the congregation, but the substance must always be the same. If someone wants to play secular music as part of their praise and worship set (on Resurrection Sunday of all times of the year!) this should be avoided. Although the song may be a great song, it is not suited for divine service on a Sunday morning because it points people to the artist, or the song itself, but not to Christ.  Music sung amongst the congregation must always point back to the objective source of our faith, which is Christ the Lord, with clear words and sound orthodox doctrine. As the teaching elder serving at a particular fellowship, whenever someone requests a new song, or whenever I am searching for new songs for the congregation to sing I always ask myself these three questions:

  1. Since the Bible is authoritative (i.e., the highest source of authority) do the songs teach us to confess one (or many) of the major doctrines of Sacred Scripture?
  2. Do the songs I am observing point us back to Law and Gospel, and Jesus Christ, the objective source of our faith rather than ourselves?
  3. Do these songs fit with the general theme of the divine service? (I often try to associate the songs with the opening prayer, the Scripture reading, and the sermon. This way all the major theological themes in the service are touched on that day. This is not an required step, but it is one I personally like)

The way we position ourselves in the worship service (music, message, and ministry) may affect what we believe, and may ultimately affect how we think about God and how we live our lives in this world. It is important for Christians not to just be good Bereans in observing the message the elder teaches and preaches, but also observing the music that is sung among the fellowship as well. What we sing in the congregation, may become what we believe, and may affect how we live.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

L.S.