Saturday, June 26, 2004

Polygamy and Wine

Some time back an anti-alcohol Baptist acquaintance of mine argued that wine is like polygamy. He said they are both something allowed by God in the Old Testament, but they are items that are no longer applicable for us today. He commented that "We don't live in Israel; we live in America." This person believed that the analogy he made between ancient Israel and modern America is a valid analogy on the subject of wine and polygamy. I believe his inference is not a legitimate one, and it shows, on his part, a lack of biblical understanding on both polygamy and wine.

Let’s begin at the beginning. At the end of the creation God ordained monogamy one man (Adam) and one woman (Eve). We were created to be monogamous from the start. In Genesis we read "The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed" (Gen 2: 21-25). Notice, in the whole account of the creation of Eve in the Bible is oriented toward monogamy. Man it to cleave to his wife (singular) the two become one flesh (its impossible for three or more to be one flesh). The first account of bigamy (2 wives) in Scripture is found in the line of Cain’s decedents — Lemach. Lemach was fifth in the line of Cain. It is very likely he is the first bigamist in all history, because the Scriptures makes such a point about it.

We know the pagan people in Abraham’s day practised polygamy. Remember Pharaoh tried to take Sarah for his harem. Abraham too becomes a bigamist when he doubts God’s Word and takes Hagar as a concubine to help God do what He had promised. This, as is every case of polygamy or bigamy that the Scriptures give details about, was a family disaster. Because of Sarah’s jealousy (and his weakness), Abraham casts his own son, Ishmael, and Hagar out in to the wilderness. The implications of Abraham’s sin of bigamy are still felt today. The Arabs count Ishmael as their father and the Jews count Isaac. The animosity that existed in Abraham’s tent between Sarah and Hagar and their sons (who were half brothers) still exists today, some 4,000 years later.

If you do a study on bigamy and polygamy in the Scriptures you will find that, in every case were we are given information, such multi-partner marriages are a disaster. In those cases the wives despise one another and most times so do the children. If you don’t want to go through the whole Bible than just take look at the families of Jacob and David (just two polygamist in the Bible). Their polygamy lead to violent sibling rivalries—kidnapping, rape, murder, rebellion are all linked to these families because these two men had multiple wives.

The Kings of Israel were, by God’s law, to have only one wife. The same is true of those who are ordained officers (elders/bishops and deacons) in the Church of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament God does regulate polygamy. In this since polygamy is comparable to slavery. It is an evil that God regulated, but did not altogether outlaw. Just as we should not desire to be a slave, neither should we desire to be involved in polygamy. Like slavery it is never recommended to man, and the Scriptures seem to go out of their way to accentuate the destruction that such relationships naturally carry in their wake for those families where it was practiced.

Much more can be written on this topic, but I do believe that above is a fair presentation of the Scriptural view.

When we go to the subject of wine we find the Scripture are very clear. The misuses of wine (i.e. drunkedness) is strongly and constantly condemned in both the Old and New Covenant Scriptures. But in numerous places in the Bible God clearly blesses (even commands) the use of wine and strong drink. Wine (and other alcoholic beverages) is a good gift to us from God. When used rightly, as are all God’s good gifts, wine is clearly proclaimed to be a blessing from the Lord.

Love, sex, food, wealth, health etc… are all very good gifts from God that sinful man distorts and through sin pervert and the distortion of these good gifts are all very ugly things. But this does not mean that these gifts are not good after all. The gifts from God remain very good gifts and true blessings to God’s people.

Wine is the same. It is a good gift when used lawfully. God has made this obviously clear throughout the Scriptures. When used unlawfully, wine, like the abuse of the gifts mentioned above, can be very destructive. Still that is the fault of the sinner and is not to be blamed on God’s gift, because to do so is to impugn God.

Wine is a good gift from God and to deny this is to claim greater wisdom than God who gave and blessed the gift.

Coram Deo,

Friday, June 18, 2004

Three times in my life I have raised my right hand and taken an oath to serve this country in her armed forces. The first time was at the age of eighteen when I joined the United States Navy, next was to serve as a member of the Louisiana Army National Guard and the last time for the Navy Reserves.

This is the oath I took "I, [my name], do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."

I meant those words when I said them. I was proud to take this oath then and I would do so again today if I were needed to. I am sure most Americans would do the same. I believe every American should be willing to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic" even if it means loosing ones own life in that struggle.

I dearly love the Constitution of these United States. I’ve read it many times. Sadly most Americans have failed to read our nations covenant document even once. I especially love reading the often heated debates which the Founding Fathers had over the Constitution’s ratification. These men on, whichever side they took, were passionate about it. The ratification debates are a wonderful treasure and if you want to know what the Founders actually meant in this great document you must read their debates about it.

Now I wish to write about a popular oath that I cannot recite with a clear conscience. It has been news lately and we all know this oath very well. It is called the Pledge of Allegiance. Someone reading this maybe asking him or herself "How can he proudly take the first oath and not repeat the pledge?"

I think I have a very sound constitutional reason for my position. In the first oath I am pledging to defend something that is well defined and has clear limits. It is a patriotic oath to defend the system of government handed down to us by our forebears. It is an oath to defend ideas.

The pledge to the flag is very different. First the original author of the pledge, Francis Bellamy (1855 - 1931), was a socialist. This fact alone should give us some hesitation. Next there are points in the pledge that are not historically accurate. The United States was not founded as a single nation state, but as a federated republic of states (nations). The founders did not create the union to be indivisible. In fact eleven states did legally divide themselves from the union but were forcibly reattached to the union by the point of a bayonet after the bloodiest war in our history.

But those reasons are minor and are not the main reason why I can’t say the pledge. The main reason I can not in good conscience say the Pledge of Allegiance is the pledge is a nationalist pledge. It is not a statement of patriotism, though it is often confused with patriotism, but an oath to follow the flag wherever it goes for what ever reason. That is nationalism and not patriotism.

There is a famous toast from 1816 by a young naval officer named Stephen Decatur that epitomizes what I mean by nationalism as opposed to patriotism. Decatur said "To our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right, but our country, right or wrong!" His loyalty was first to the nation even if she is wrong. That is not a Christian concept.

John Quincy Adams responded to the words of Decatur this way. He said "I can never join with my voice in the toast which I see in the papers attributed to one of our gallant naval heroes. I cannot ask of heaven success, even for my country, in a cause where she should be in the wrong. Fiat justitia, pereat coelum. My toast would be, may our country always be successful, but whether successful or otherwise, always right." [The Latin phrase translates this way "Let justice be done though heaven should fall" - anonymous, circa 43 B.C.]

The only entity deserving of our unquestioned loyalty is God. If our nation seeks to do evil then it is our duty to God and country to stand against the evil. Meanings ascribed to a flag can change and does change. Our allegiance to symbols may have to change as well, but our loyalty to the triune God of the Bible.

The oath I took to defend the Constitution is clear. It is not an unquestioned oath to a symbol, but an oath to an idea that is clearly stated. Lawyers and others have done a great deal to muddle the meaning of those words, but you and I can read them and the writings and speeches of the men who ratified them. We can know what they meant and what it means.

Nationalism is a very dangerous thing. It can be used far great evil so it is important that we never give blind allegiance to an earthly government.

Patriotism is noble and good and it is kin to familial loyalty. Christians especially need to be able to understand the difference between nationalism and patriotism. The difference is vast and the Pledge of Allegiance is, like it or not a nationalist pledge.

Coram Deo,

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Today, after venturing off on a number of essays, articles and books quoted by Mathison work, I finally finished reading The Shape of Sola Scriptura by Keith Mathison. It is a truly great read.

This is the most important book that I have read in a least five years, and very likely a number of years more than that. Mathison’s book is vital for the Christian today. Most importantly, to my mind, Mathison places the classical Protestant teaching of Sola Scriptura in an historical context, that is vital to a right understanding of it. Just as importantly, He contrasts the classical Protestant teaching of "Sola Scriptura " with the truncated modern evangelical distortion that passes as "sola scriptura" in the minds of most Evangelicals today. The modern position is a far cry from the historic view of the Reformers.

On page 280 Mathison writes “How can we proclaim the perspicuity [i.e. clearness] of Scripture and at the same time promote doctrines that no one in the Church ever taught for eighteen or nineteen centuries? Evangelicals criticize Roman Catholics for the creation of new dogmas unheard of in previous centuries, yet Evangelicalism has created far more novel doctrines than Roman Catholicism.” The Evangelical criticism is valid, but hypocritical, when Evangelicals too are doing similar things; the invention of dispensationalism in the 1820's and it’s subsequent wide acceptance by evangelicals in the 20th century is a case in point.

I believe his dealing with the modern evangelical distortion of sola scriptura to be one of the most important aspects of this book, because the view that has gained the majority position in evangelical circles is a far cry from the Sola Scriptura that was taught by the Reformers and it is very dangerous.

The modern distortion that passes for Sola Scriptura is radically individualistic and takes place in an historical, theological and doctrinal vacuum. This view of Scripture makes biblical doctrine to be highly subjective, relativistic, and in so doing it virtually makes each individual to be his/her own Pope who infallibly interprets the Scriptures in his or her own subjective vacuum.

In the book Mathison also deals masterfully with the Roman Catholic views of Scripture and tradition. He points out that the view of the Protestant Reformers (the classical Protestant teaching of Sola Scriptura) clearly harkens back to the view of tradition and Scripture that was held by early Church and most of the Church during the early Middle Ages. This is plainly seen in St. Vincent’s Commonitory , which I wrote about earlier.

Mathison also sets his sites on the Eastern Church's views in this book as well, and handles their arguments handily.

I can not recommend this important book to strongly.

Dominus Vobiscum.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

How many New Covenants?

We are blessed to be partakers of the New Covenant that was promised long ago through the prophet Jeremiah. "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah."

The Prophet said that the New Covenant would be with the houses of Israel and Judah, but you and I, like most Christians since the end of the apostolic era, are more likely Gentile extraction. How can it be that the overwhelming majority of those that have been the recipients of the New Covenant promise made to Israel and Judah are Gentiles and not Ethnic Jews.

Before I attempt to answer that question I should mention the fact that old-line dispensational theology denies that we Christians are part of the New Covenant promised by Jeremiah, because if we are than their theological system implodes on itself. The founder of Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS), Lewis Sperry Chafer, says in his eight volumes Systematic Theology that there are two New Covenants: one with Israel, and also another New Covenant, not even hinted of in the Old Testament, that is with the Church (Vol. IV, 325 and Vol. VII, 98,99).

Chafer is not alone in this view. It is part and parcel of dispensational thought. John Walvoord, the president of DTS after Chafer, held to the two new covenants view, as does Dwight Pentecost. Pentecost wrote of his dispensational view "This view holds that there are two new covenants presented in the New Testament; the first with Israel in reaffirmation of the covenant promised in Jeremiah 31 and the second made with the church in this age."

I have mentioned elsewhere (before blogging) that dispensationalists must deny that the church fulfills Jeremiah 31. If Jeremiah 31, in anyway, applies to Christians and the church, the whole dispensational system of biblical interpretation collapses. This is something that they readily admit. Former DTS theologian Dr. Charles Ryrie wrote, "If the church is fulfilling Israel’s promises as contained in the new covenant or anywhere in the Scriptures, then [dispensational] premillennialism is condemned." Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost said of the New Covenant "If the church fulfils this covenant, she may also fulfil the other covenants, and there is no need for an earthly millennium." (both men are premillennialist, as is every dispensationalist.) Again, as I have said before they believe as did Darby, Scofield and Chafer that the Church age is a parenthesis in redemptive history and the real new covenant is yet future in a future millennium.

This view of two new covenants is based not on a reading of Scripture, because the Bible no where speaks of two new covenants. The idea of two new covenants becomes a necessity for dispensationalism, due to the fact that in the New Testament the new covenant is clearly applied to the Church. Historic dispenstional thought maintains (since its invention by John Darby in the 1820’s) that no prophecies in the Old Testament can apply to the church, because the OT Scriptures give no hint of the church age. They maintain that the Church is only a "parenthesis" in God’s plan for Israel.

Jeremiah 31:31, if it applies to the church, destroys their system. The system is predicated on the idea that all prophecy must be interpreted literally. The fact that Jeremiah says the new covenant is made with the houses of Israel and Judah, must be understood literally, and therefore it can not be applied to the church. When John Darby devised this idea, it was a radical departure from how all of Christendom had understood Jeremiah 31 for the previous 1800 years. The church had always understood the New Covenant promises in Jeremiah 31 to apply to us Christians (Jews and Gentiles) and not to a future millennial Israel.

The basic hermeneutic for the dispensationalists is the belief that all prophetic Scripture must be interpreted literally. This view is imposed on the Word of God and not drawn from it. Certainly the Bible is clear that some prophecies had to be interpreted literally, but I believe I can indicate that this is not true of all prophecy. Some of it is clearly not to be understood literally. If this is indeed the case then the dispensational hermeneutic fails completely.

I believe the way the New Testament writers deal with the new covenant is enough to discredit the dispensational position, but since that is a point in question here, we will look elsewhere to see if prophecy is ever fulfilled in a non-literal way. Ryrie makes the point "Consistently literal or plain interpretation is indicative of a dispensational approach to the interpretation of Scripture."

In Malachi 4.5,6 we read that Elijah (Elias) would come before Messiah. The angel references this prophecy when he speaks to Zacharias (John’s father) in the temple. "And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1.17).

In Matthew Jesus says plainly that John the baptiser is the fulfilment of the Elijah prophecy: "For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come."(Matt. 11.13,14) Jesus confirms John’s fulfilment of the Elijah passages elsewhere. Lets look at Matthew chapter 17. "And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist." (10-13)

We see this also in Mark 9.11-13. "And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him."

Malachi said clearly that Elijah would come before Messiah. The scribes and Pharisees, like our despensational brethren took this prophecy very literally. That is why they asked John if he was indeed Elijah (see John 1:21). John was not literally Elijah, and he told his questioners as much. Yet Jesus tells us in several places that John is the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecy of Elijah coming as a forerunner to the advent of the Messiah.

The prophecy of Malachi is clearly fulfilled in John the Baptist, but it is not a literal fulfilment. John is not a reincarnation of Elijah, but he is the fulfilment of this prophecy, because he came in the spirit and power of Elijah.

Dispensationalism is wrong when it imposes a literalism where the Bible does not. The Scriptures must be allowed to interpret themselves. John, according to Christ, fulfilled the prophecy of Elijah. According to the New Testament, we in the Church, are in the New Covenant. The Church is the house of Israel and Judah, spoken of by Jeremiah. We are now in the New Covenant, and there is only one not two New Covenants as Chafer and other Dispensationalists were forced to argue for in order maintain their system. The idea of two New Covenants is not biblical and neither is dispensationalism.

Soli Deo Gloria,