Saturday, July 15, 2006

Why Can I Eat Pork, etc…
No one can doubt that Jesus and His disciples all kept the dietary laws of the Old Covenant. To my knowledge that has never been questioned by any Christian. But Christians who are the followers of Jesus Christ do not keep the dietary laws of the Old Covenant.

Why is this?

Many Christians point to Peter vision in Acts where a sheet is let down. On the sheet were “footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air.” God says to Peter “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” but Peter responds “Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.” Then Peter hears a voice from heaven say, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”

This text by itself is not a good argument for the end of the dietary Laws of the Old Covenant. It can play a part but all by itself, it is not a strong argument for the passing away of the dietary laws. So, while the passage is often used by Christians to explain why we are not under the dietary laws, it should not be used as the definitive argument, because food is not what the passage is really about. It is really a passage about bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles.

During the first century the Gospel went from Israel, to Samaria and then to the pagan Greek and Roman World. There was a great cultural divide between Israel and the pagan world then, because God had put that divide in place by means of the ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant. The laws were. As we learn in Hebrews, during the life time of the Apostles passing away. In Hebrews 8:13 we read, “In that He says, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. Now what is what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” The Old Covenant Ceremonial laws were coming to an end.

Those vestiges of the Old Covenant that were “shadows,” which pointed to the reality that is fulfilled in Christ, were then passing from the scene and were finally done away with when Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD.

During the Apostolic age, as the Gospel went into the Pagan world, there was a good deal of tension between Hebrew and Gentile Christians. They were culturally very different people, because God had caused Israel to be different. Many Hebrew Christians thought Gentile believers should become fully Hebrew and come under and observe the “laws” of the Old Covenant as most of the Jewish Christians still did.

Paul vehemently opposed those that promoted that idea. Eventually there was a Council in Jerusalem of the apostolic leaders of the Church. The Council, headed by James the brother of Jesus, was to decide the matter. Many Jewish Christians believed the Gentile Christians should observe the ceremonial laws as they themselves did, this included the dietary laws.

In the Roman/Greek world of the first century pigs were commonly used in sacrifices and as food. This is why the decision of James at the Jerusalem Council is so telling. He instructs Paul, who is accused of doing away with the law, to go through the Jewish purification rites, which were even then “becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” The reason for this was “many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses…

James tells Paul to keep the ceremonial laws to placate the Jews (Christian and non-Christian). Next he says, “But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.”

James, and all at the council, knew that pork was a common part of the Gentile diet and yet he limits his decision affecting food to things offered to idols, blood, and things strangled (because the blood would not be drained from the meat as it usually is).

It should be noted that the restriction against eating blood predates the ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant. This law goes back to Noah. It is to Noah that God first gives permission to eat meat. In Gen. 9 we read “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” So James in his statement at Jerusalem reaches back before the Ceremonial law is given and stresses what God said to Noah in Gen. 9. Notice that there is no restriction against pork in the pre-mosaic statement on meat and that is what James repeats for the eating restrictions of the Gentile Christians.

It is clear in the second century that the Church had no aversion to Christians eating pork. A number of the church fathers comment on this fact, including Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and St. Augustine.

This understanding was true for the whole Christians era even until our own time, but there are today “Messianic Christians” and cults that have arisen lately that try to deny these things. Such people are putting people in bondage. If any Christian wants to bind himself to the ceremonial restrictions of the Old Covenant -that is between him and the Lord - but if he tries to bind his neighbour then he is committing a grave sin that Paul addressed in his writings.

Coram Deo,

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Bible and Race
I am amazed when people use the Bible to argue that it is a sin to marry someone from a different race. The Scriptures have a great deal to say about the inter-marriage of different peoples. In the Law of God the Israelites were commanded not to inter-marry with the peoples that lived around them, but this was not a law to maintain racial purity. Instead, the laws were there so that the Covenant People of God would maintain theological and religious purity.

My very early years were spent in the segregated South and my teenage years were spent in a South that was dealing with foul fruit of racial segregation, after it was “officially” ended. I, like many (most) of my friends, believed it was “wrong” to for a white person to marry a black person. That is the way we all (most of us) thought back then.

In my early twenties, after I had started studying the Scriptures, I began to have trouble with my views about race and marriage. I remember reading an article about a mixed race couple who, after they had married, had been converted to the Christian faith, and so I began to look at the subject.

I never pretended that my views against inter-racial marriage were based on the Bible, and up until that time I had little knowledge (if any) about what the Bible said on the subject. As I began to work through this issue I realised that my views were totally cultural based had had no theological foundation.

As I read the Scriptures I realised that Law of God forbade the people of God from marrying peoples who worshipped false Gods, and the laws against inter-marriage with other peoples were based on faith and not on race. There are a number of accounts in the Bible where Covenant people married non-covenant people.Sometimes this is serously condemned, but it was ok if the non-Covenant person converted before hand and joined the Covenant people of God.

Rahab the Harlot, of Jericho, helped the Israelites conquer that Canaanite city. I think it is clear in the text that Rahab was a Canaanite. She had her own home in Jericho and she, and her extended family with her, were the only people spared when the Israelites conquered the city. Then we read that “And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father's household, and all that she had; and she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.” (Joshua 6:25) Rahab a Canaanite, and her people were grafted into Israel. Rahab made it to the Faith hall of Fame in Hebrews 11:31.

Christians, like Old Testament saints, are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. That is what we are not to do; we are not to marry non-believers. Racial separatist groups, that try to defend their position from the Bible, do great harm to the Faith of Christ and distort the Gospel of our Lord Jesus, who had Rahab, a Canaanite, as one of his ancestors.

I am proud of my Southern heritage and I will defend it any day of the week, but when heritage differs from the Scriptures we must follow the Word of God.

Deo Vindice,
Ps. God save the South (and the whole world).

Monday, July 03, 2006

Early Christian Apologists and the Trinity

One of the subjects that interest me is the development of Christian doctrines. One doctrine that is important to me is the Biblical teaching about the plurality that exists in the one true God, what we refer to as the Trinity.

I've read some Oneness Pentecostal teachings on this subject. What I’ve found is they tend to ignorant of how the Early Church saw this subject. Some of them believe that the Trinity was invented at the Council of Nicea (325 AD). This is a big mistake. Nicea was called to deal with the Arian heresy, which centered around whether or not Jesus Christ was God or a creature. (The Arians were similar to the modern Jehovah Witnesses.)

The term Trinity was first coined by the Tertullian (155-230), but the idea that there is a plurality in the God head goes all the way back to Geneses. The Trinity and the Old Testament is addressed here: The Trinity in the Old Testament.

Trinitarian and as was the very early Church. Below are some items from the early church that show how the early defenders of the Christian Faith understood the oneness and plurality of the one true God. Justin Martyr and Athenagoras are early Christian apologists (i.e. defender of the faith). What is written below are examples of Christians trying to explain the Christian teachings of the Trinity long before Tertullian coined the word.

Justin Martyr was Platonic philosopher who converted to Christianity. He and a number of companions were martyred for the faith in the 160s. He wrote the following items in the 150s.

This is from Justin Martyr’s First Apology:
Chapter XXXII: And what is spoken of as "the blood of the grape," signifies that He who should appear would have blood, though not of the seed of man, but of the power of God. And the first power after God the Father and Lord of all is the Word, who is also the Son; and of Him we will, in what follows, relate how He took flesh and became man.

In Chapters 37,38 and 39 Justine speaks of the “person” of the Father (37) in 38 he speaks of the “person” of the son and in 39 Justine speaks of the Spirit as “He” and differentiated from Father and Son.

In Chapter LXI on the subject of baptism we read, “For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water.”

In chapter LXIII of his first Apology Justin Martyr said this about modalistic teachings “For they who affirm that the Son is the Father, are proved neither to have become acquainted with the Father, nor to know that the Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God.

This is from Justin Martyr’s Second Apology:
Chapter VI: But these words, Father, and God, and Creator, and Lord, and Master, are not names, but appellations derived from His good deeds and functions. And His Son, who alone is properly called Son, the Word, who also was with Him and was begotten before the works, when at first He created and arranged all things by Him, is called Christ, in reference to His being anointed and God's ordering all things through Him

Now let’s look at Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho. In this book Justine is speaking to Trypho and his companions, all of who are Jews. Main thrust of the book is to show them that Jesus is the Christ and He is truly God. There is much in the book that is clearly Trinitarian in its thrust. I would especially point to Chapter CXXIX. In this Chapter Justin is pointing out that the Old Testament Scriptures show that there is a plurality of being in the one true God.

Athenagoras wrote A Plea for the Christians to Emperor Marcus Aurelius around 177 AD.

Here or some items from this work.
Chapter III: But, since our doctrine acknowledges one God, the Maker of this universe, who is Himself uncreated (for that which is does not come to be, but that which is not) but has made all things by the Logos which is from Him, we are treated unreasonably in both respects, in that we are both defamed and persecuted.

Chapter X is a great example of an early attempt to explain the plurality and unity of the true God of the Christians. Athenagoras says “That we are not atheists, therefore, seeing that we acknowledge one God, uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, illimitable, who is apprehended by the understanding only and the reason, who is encompassed by light, and beauty, and spirit, and power ineffable, by whom the universe has been created through His Logos, and set in order, and is kept in being--I have sufficiently demonstrated. [I say "His Logos"], for we acknowledge also a Son of God.” And then he says, “The Holy Spirit Himself also, which operates in the prophets, we assert to be an effluence of God, flowing from Him, and returning back again like a beam of the sun. Who, then, would not be astonished to hear men who speak of God the Father, and of God the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and who declare both their power in union and their distinction in order, called atheists?

I am about out of time, but I can add more when I have a few more minutes to spare.

Coram Deo,

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Christianity and the First Amendment

The United States of America were established as a Christian federalist republic made up of Christian States. There was no established church in our federal Republic of states and any attempt to establish a church on the federal level would have destroyed the chance for the Constitution to be ratified.

The states that ratified the Constitution were all “Christian” states (i.e. nations), most of them overtly so. Some of them had established churches, some had recently disestablished their official churches and some had never had official “state” churches but all were still Christian republics.

At least four of the original states that ratified the Constitution and the Bill of Rights had established churches when they voted to approve the Constitution and the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, which contains the "establishment Clause."

No one saw this as odd or in conflict with either the Constitution or the First Amendment to the Constitution. Even those states that had recently disestablished their official churches still saw themselves as Christian. North Carolina is a good example of this.

In 1776 North Carolina (then a state and no longer a colony of Great Britain) adopted a new state Constitution, which remained in use until after the War Between the States. Prior to 1776 the Anglican Church was the official church of North Carolina. The Anglican establishment ended with the Constitution of 1776, but North Carolina remained Christian.

Here are some excerpts from her Constitution:
XXXII. That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State. (Note: In 1835 the term Protestant was broadened to the word Christian.)

XXXIV. That there shall be no establishment of any one religious church or denomination in this State, in preference to any other; neither shall any person, on any pretence whatsoever, be compelled to attend any place of worship contrary to his own faith or judgment, nor be obliged to pay, for the purchase of any glebe, or the building of any house of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry, contrary, to what he believes right, or has voluntarily and personally engaged to perform; but all persons shall be at liberty to exercise their own mode of worship:-- Provided, That nothing herein contained shall be construed to exempt preachers of treasonable or seditious discourses, from legal trial and punishment.

North Carolina’s constitution was clearly Christian and no one called into question that this was unconstitutional.

New Hampshire disestablished the Congregational Church a few years after she ratifed the Constitution. This was voluntary on her part and even with the disestablishment the state constitution remained overtly Christian.

Here is a section from the 1784 New Hampshire Constitution:

VI. As morality and piety, rightly grounded on evangelical principles, will give the best and greatest security to government, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to due subjection; and as the knowledge of these, is most likely to be propagated through a society by the institution of the public worship of the DEITY, and of public instruction in morality and religion; therefore, to promote those important purposes, the people of this state have a right to impower, and do hereby fully impower the legislature to authorize from time to time, the several towns, parishes, bodies-corporate, or religious societies within this state, to make adequate provision at their own expence, for the support and maintenance of public protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality…

… And every denomination of christians demeaning themselves quietly, and as good subjects of the state, shall be equally under the protection of the law: and no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another, shall ever be established by law.

The New Hampshire constitution remained valid, even after the state ratified the U.S. Constitution, and again no one saw any contradiction between the N.H. Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. New Hampshire did not allow non-Protestants to hold office until she changed that provision (on her own) in the 1870’s.

Now let's move on to an early commentary on the U. S. Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story (Justice from 1811-1845) is one of the giants of the Supreme Court. In his 1833 Commentaries on the Constitution he writes a good bit on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Every American should be read all that he wrote on this important clause, but let me quote one part. Justice Story said “The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. It thus cut off the means of religious persecution, (the vice and pest of former ages,) and of the subversion of the rights of conscience in matters of religion, which had been trampled upon almost from the days of the Apostles to the present age.”

That is one of the most succinct and accurate statements on the amendment that has ever been made.

Coram Deo,