The Ever-Present Danger of “Soft” Preaching | The Voice 9.12: March 24, 2019

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

The Ever-Present Danger of “Soft” Preaching

I charge thee in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables (2 Timothy 4:1-4)

One of the common jeremiads often heard proclaimed in pulpits warns against the dangers of “soft” preaching. “Soft” preaching is then associated with these teachers who tell those with “itching ears” what they want to hear and thus depart from the faith. Sometimes such “soft” preaching is defined as “all positive” preaching; many times it is negatively defined as preaching without discussing “hard” issues. Those “hard” issues tend to be defined in terms of matters of doctrinal distinctiveness: emphasis on the proper plan of salvation, proper functioning in the assemblies, and/or proper church organization and functioning. These days, “soft” preaching is extended to included unwillingness to preach against abortion, homosexuality, or other hot-button cultural and social issues.

These concerns are legitimate. One road to large churches and equally large church treasuries is paved with soothing self-help messages masquerading as preaching. Moralistic therapeutic deism, the belief in a god who is out there with some standards easily relaxed, who wants people to be happy and to have high self-esteem, and who will save all good people, is quite prevalent in our age, and is promoted vigorously with a “Christian” veneer. Meanwhile, the people of God remain tempted to dispense with that which makes them distinctive so as to be like everyone else. Israel wanted a king like the other nations (1 Samuel 8:1-22), and served other gods like the other nations (2 Kings 17:7-23). Some early Christians minimized the resurrection and promoted doctrines more consistent with Hellenistic philosophy than the apostolic Gospel (1 Timothy 6:20-21, 2 Timothy 2:17-19, 2 John 1:7-11). How many in “Christendom” today have fully or partially embraced modern cultural norms regarding science, gender, and sexuality? Proclamation regarding God’s plan of salvation, the proper way to edify and encourage in the assembly, and the authorized organization and work of the local congregation according to the New Testament is not appreciated in some places. We do well to show concern about these trends and to continue to preach the Gospel in its fullness.

Nevertheless, we also do well to consider whether it is advisable or wise to define “soft” and “hard” preaching so strictly and with such a limited application. Neither “soft preaching” nor “hard preaching” are Biblical terms. When Paul wrote to Timothy, the immediate dangers were for Jewish Christians to “turn aside” to listen to a gospel emphasizing Judaism and its cultural traditions (reflected in what would become the “Ebionite” sect) and for Gentile Christians to “turn aside” to listen to a gospel conforming to Hellenistic philosophies and an anti-Semitic bias (reflected in Marcionism, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the various Gnostic sects). These “gospels” would accommodate the listeners’ existing biases and grew into the heresies which were opposed so virulently during the first four hundred years of Christianity.

While early Christians were so fixed on opposing these heresies, changes were introduced in church organization (a bishop over the elders in a local congregation with Ignatius), and the very arguments used to defend the faith and to oppose heretics would become the basis of false doctrines: the appeal to Christians’ old covenant heritage in Israel in order to gain legitimacy led to Judaizing tendencies in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy; appealing to unbroken lines of authority figures in the church in Rome to show that “orthodox” Christianity predated the “heresies” and thus was more legitimate would eventually be used to justify Roman Catholic claims to legitimacy despite the fact that what the church in Rome taught in the first century is vastly different from what the Roman Catholic church taught in 600 CE, 1000 CE, 1500 CE, and today.

These early Christians were very concerned about the promotion of heresy and zealously defended their faith in Christ. Yet while they stood firm on many aspects of the faith and vigorously defended them, they let other aspects of the faith slide. Unforeseen consequences involving incremental changes in church organization and the inferences drawn from arguments defending the faith would eventually overwhelm the good which had been done in the defense of the faith.

Hopefully this example can show us the dangers of single-minded focus on particular issues to the detriment of others and putting too much faith in our arguments versus the explicit message of the New Testament. Strict definitions of what comprises “soft” and “hard” preaching can contribute to this focus and thus its inherent danger: if “hard” preaching involves proclaiming the distinctive aspects of our faith, and we constantly emphasize those distinctive aspects in our preaching and teaching, and everyone is affirmed in those distinctive matters, we can be lulled into complacency, convinced that we are “holding firm” to the faith. Meanwhile, other, less addressed, issues may creep into the church and lead to ungodliness. If the preacher dares to preach on these new challenges, he might find the audience has developed hardened hearts on the issue. Or perhaps Christians make bad or unintended inferences from arguments to defend the truth or use those arguments in unintended ways and begin promoting distorted doctrines. In such circumstances, “hard” preaching has become “soft” preaching, what was once derided as “soft” preaching proves necessary as “hard” preaching, and false doctrine has sprouted from previous attempts to advance the truth.

Paul wisely did not specifically mention which lusts people would want satisfied, which myths they would accept, and what precisely these teachers would teach: specific identification would lead to apathy and complacency in terms of other issues! There are all sorts of ways in which people develop itching ears and seek teachers to satisfy their desires. Yes, it is true that some people seek teachers to talk only about positive matters and focus only on how to be good people, and want little to do with doctrine and the distinctive truths of New Testament Christianity. Yet those very issues could themselves become “soft” preaching for a group who has itching ears to feel content that they adhere to the true doctrines of New Testament Christianity but want little to do with those parts of the Gospel that demand changes in their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

“Soft” preaching as preaching designed to make everybody feel better about themselves as they are without any demand for repentance has no place among the people of God (cf. Matthew 4:17, Luke 6:26, 1 Timothy 6:3-10). The preaching of the Gospel of Christ is always designed to convict the hearer of their condition before God and should always exhort toward faith, repentance, and godliness; it should always be “hard” in the sense of challenging and faithful to the standard of God’s holiness (Matthew 4:17, Acts 2:37-38, 2 Timothy 4:1-4, Hebrews 4:12, 1 Peter 1:13-16). We should be wary of fixed definitions beyond these which focus upon certain aspects of the Gospel over others, for the danger always exists that the issues deemed “hard” preaching today prove to be “soft” matters tomorrow, and matters we take for granted today are considered as “hard” preaching tomorrow. Instead, we do better to proclaim the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). The whole counsel of God includes the distinctive doctrines of New Testament Christianity yet constantly reinforces the life, death, resurrection, and lordship of Jesus of Nazareth as the centerpiece of the faith and the basis of its standard of the righteous and holy life (1 Corinthians 15:1-58, John 2:1-6, Jude 1:3). Doctrine and practice are to complement each other, not stand in contrast. The whole counsel of God involves positive encouragement of commendable thoughts, feelings, and actions as well as exhortation away from ungodly and unholy thoughts, feelings, and actions (Galatians 5:17-24). The whole counsel of God demands believers to speak truth to society today without romanticizing an illusory past (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:10). The whole counsel of God demands the recognition of the distinction between what God actually said and the arguments we use to defend that truth, and to never allow the latter to be used or misused to contradict the former.

We humans like to quantify things, and the more objective the quantification, the better. On account of this Christians have always been tempted to quantify “soft” vs. “hard” preaching, or “sound” vs. “unsound” doctrines, on the basis of certain, easily quantifiable beliefs, doctrines, or practices. As Christians, we should certainly affirm sound doctrine and encourage preaching and teaching on the distinctive doctrines of New Testament Christianity. Yet we must always be wary about limited definitions of “soft”/”hard” preaching or “sound” doctrine. Focus on certain doctrines to the neglect of others is not healthy, or sound, at all; what constitutes “soft” preaching for “itching ears” in one context may prove to be “hard” preaching in others, and what constitutes “hard” preaching to some may actually be “soft” preaching for “itching ears.” After all, whoever actually, consciously believes they are departing from the truth and holding firm to myths because of their itching ears? Paul does not suggest that this problem only exists “out there”; his very concern is that it will become true of those “among us, right here”! Let us continually check our ears to see whether they itch to hear certain things over others or whether they are always ready to listen to the truth of God in Christ Jesus no matter how much that truth may ask of us, and seek to proclaim the whole counsel of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Understanding Covenant, IV | The Voice 9.11: March 17, 2019

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Understanding Covenant, IV: The New Testament Covenant

From days of old God has interacted with His people through the medium of covenants, agreements with mutual benefits and obligations. God made such covenants with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, all Israel, and David. Yet all of these covenants were looking forward to the One who was to come and inaugurate a new covenant in His blood, Jesus of Nazareth.

As previously discussed, the Greek word for covenant is diatheke. It originally referred only to a testament or will; the translators of the Hebrew Bible essentially added a new definition to diatheke by using it to translate the Hebrew berit. The vast majority of the time diatheke is used it conveys the primary definition of berit, covenant, as in Hebrews 9:15:

And for this cause [Jesus] is the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

God has thus established a new covenant in Jesus of Nazareth. This covenant proves revolutionary, for within it God shows no partiality: anyone can come to faith in Jesus and enjoy the benefits and shoulder the obligations of the covenant, not just the physical descendants of Abraham (Acts 10:34-35, Romans 4:1-25, 9:1-11:36). Thus the new covenant God has made in Jesus is with all mankind, and mediated by Jesus Himself, who is both fully man and fully God (1 Timothy 2:3-7). Within this covenant God has promised to reconcile to Himself those who would put their trust in Jesus: they receive forgiveness of sin, standing before God, fellowship with God and with His people, and all so that they can become more like God as made known in Jesus so as to share in eternal life with Him in the resurrection (John 17:20-23, Romans 5:1-11, 1 Corinthians 15:1-58, 1 John 1:1-4). In the new covenant humans are exhorted to become one with God and one with one another as God is One within Himself, to participate together in the work of God, turning aside from sin and becoming more like Jesus through repentance in love, humility, holiness, and righteousness (John 13:35, 17:20-23, Romans 8:29, Titus 2:11-14). The sign of the new covenant is baptism, immersion in water in Jesus’ name for the forgiveness of sins, the means by which one dies to sin, puts on Christ, and walks as a new, cleansed creature (Matthew 28:18-20, Romans 6:3-7, Galatians 3:27, Colossians 2:11-15, 1 Peter 3:21).

We can therefore see many parallels between the new covenant in Christ and the covenants which came before. Nevertheless, the new covenant in Jesus maintains its distinctiveness, and is superior, to what came before. All previous covenants looked forward to what God would accomplish in Jesus, and most find their fulfillment in Jesus and His Kingdom, as was predicted long before His birth (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Deuteronomy 18:15-19, Isaiah 2:1-4, Hosea 2:23; compare Hebrews 8:8-13, 1 Peter 2:10). The new covenant saw the inauguration of the reign of God in the Kingdom of Christ: a spiritual kingdom, one which transcends all nations, and not exclusively limited to one or a few (John 18:36, Ephesians 6:10-18). All are welcomed into the Kingdom of God in Christ, for in Christ all have equal standing before Him, no matter their gender, race, culture, or ethnicity (1 Timothy 2:4, Galatians 3:28). No covenant will replace what God has done in Jesus; it will endure forever (1 Corinthians 15:20-58). Until the He returns to judge the living and the dead, and death is finally defeated on the day of resurrection, Jesus continues to reign as Lord and Christ; God continues His eternal purpose He has purposed in Him in the church, the representation of God’s Kingdom on earth; all mankind is called to participate in God’s Kingdom in Christ if they would obtain eternal life in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Ephesians 3:10-21, Hebrews 13:8).

Thus the covenant between God and all mankind in Jesus Christ is the ultimate covenant, one for which we ought to praise God and give Him all glory and honor. As noted, Greek diatheke also has a meaning which goes beyond “covenant” to refer to testament or will. It seems to be used as such in Hebrews 9:16-18:

For where a testament is, there must of necessity be the death of him that made it. For a testament is of force where there hath been death: for it doth never avail while he that made it liveth. Wherefore even the first covenant hath not been dedicated without blood.

We understand the nature of a testament (or will): it represents the contractually authorized decree of the testator establishing the right of inheritance of his estate. As long as the person who made the will or testament lives, the promise might be alive, but the contractual obligations within it cannot be carried out. It is only when the testator dies that his or her heirs can inherit the testator’s estate. Such is why the attitude of the “prodigal” son is so shocking in Luke 15:11-13: he was essentially declaring that his father was dead to him!

All of us, like the “prodigal” son, have squandered our inheritance from God in the riotous living in the sin in which we participated, and found ourselves alienated from God (Ephesians 2:1-3). In Christ God has granted the ability to be adopted as sons, to become joint-heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him (Romans 8:12-18). In Christ God would provide us with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3); yet all of this required His death for it to be inaugurated in force. For this reason we celebrate the inauguration of the new covenant every Lord’s day in His Supper, a joint participation in Jesus’ body, grounding our life in Christ in His cross, celebrating the hope of life in His resurrection, and doing so together to reflect His body in the church (1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 11:17-34). Without Christ we are alienated from God and one another and have no hope in the world; in Christ we have a restored relationship with God and one another as His people and the hope of the resurrection of life. May we participate in the new covenant between God and all mankind in Jesus, and obtain its benefits and blessings!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Day of YHWH’s Sacrifice | The Voice 9.10: March 10, 2019

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

The Day of YHWH’s Sacrifice

The people of Judah persisted in idolatry. Even though disaster had overtaken their Israelite brethren to the north, they imagined they would be spared on account of the Temple. Nevertheless, judgment was coming. Many prophets were sent to warn Judah about what would soon take place; one such prophet, often neglected, was Zephaniah the son of Cushi.

All we know about Zephaniah comes from the book that bears his name. He prophesied in the days of King Josiah (Zephaniah 1:1; 640-609 BCE); the portrayal of Assyria as relatively prosperous might suggest a message declared in the earlier days of Josiah (cf. Zephaniah 2:13-15). “Zephaniah” means “YHWH hides” in Hebrew. “Cushi” could simply be a first name, or it could denote a place of origin: a Cushite, from Cush, modern day Sudan in Egypt; the continuation of the lineage with Gedaliah, Amarah, and Hezekiah suggests the former is more likely than the latter. Some have suggested that the Hezekiah who is Zephaniah’s great-great-grandfather is King Hezekiah of Judah, but this is also unlikely. Zephaniah’s indictments portray a Judah still saturated in idolatry and immorality, in strong contrast with the general presentation of the faithfulness of Josiah (cf. 2 Kings 22:1-23:30): perhaps Zephaniah prophesied before Josiah’s reforms took hold in the land, or perhaps Josiah’s reforms went unheeded by many within the land.

Zephaniah focused on the imminent day of YHWH coming for Judah (Zephaniah 1:2-18). YHWH would consume everything: man and beast, birds and fish, the stumbling-block and the wicked, and man would be cut off from the face of the ground (Zephaniah 1:2-3). Such should not be taken to its extreme; it suggests a complete devastation of the land of the people of God on account of the idolatry they have committed, as Zephaniah would explain: YHWH would stretch out His hand against Judah and Jerusalem to remove Baal, the priests installed to serve the idolatrous images of YHWH (the real meaning of chemarim; cf. 2 Kings 23:5, Hosea 10:5), those who prostrated themselves before the host of heaven on their roofs, those who swore by Milcom (also known as Molech), those who had turned back from following YHWH, and those who did not seek YHWH or inquire of Him (Zephaniah 1:4-6). Many of the Judahites had become like all of the nations around them, serving all sorts of gods; even those who may not have served other gods, yet did not seek YHWH and His purposes, would share in the same condemnation.

Zephaniah then envisioned the upcoming Day of YHWH against Judah as the day of YHWH’s sacrifice (Zephaniah 1:7-11). All were summoned to hold their peace, for the Day of YHWH had come, and He was about to make His sacrifice, and His guests were consecrated (Zephaniah 1:7). YHWH’s sacrifice would be His people and land! Punishment would come to the authorities who had grown fat and rich and imbibed foreign customs (princes, king’s sons, those wearing foreign clothing; Zechariah 1:8). Punishment was also decreed for those who “leap over the threshold”; some suggest Zephaniah spoke of the service of Dagon among the Philistines (cf. 1 Samuel 5:5), but it seems out of place here; he most likely referred to those who would enter into the property of others to steal, filling the houses of their employers with violence and deceit (Zephaniah 1:9). The Day of YHWH would lead to great lamentation: the cry of lamentation would be heard throughout the city of Jerusalem, at the Fish Gate, in the Second Quarter, in the hills, at the Mortar (the meaning of maktesh), for many would have died, and the traders would have been cut off (understanding ‘am canaan here not as “Canaanites” but as traders, specifically Judahite traders; Zephaniah 1:10-11).

YHWH’s judgment would search out those who proved complacent, those convinced that YHWH would do neither good nor ill: their houses would be plundered and laid waste, and thus even if they would build a house, they would not live in it, and if they would plant vineyards, they would not drink wine from them (Zephaniah 1:12-13). Some Judahites therefore lived as if YHWH or His purposes had little do with their lives, and presumed that all would continue as it always had, and depended on it. They would soon learn the gravity of their error.

Zephaniah would then recapitulate and emphasize what had been decreed (Zephaniah 1:13-18). The Day of YHWH was near, and coming soon: a bitter day, a day of wrath, distress, anguish, devastation, gloom, clouds, thick darkness, the blast of trumpets, and war (Zephaniah 1:13-16). The people would suffer great distress and would go about as blind people, disoriented in darkness, for they had sinned against YHWH, and their blood would be poured out on the dust and their flesh made like refuse; all visceral imagery describing the folly of Judah and its horrific consequences (Zephaniah 1:17). They might believe their wealth could save them, but neither silver nor gold would deliver them from the day of YHWH’s wrath, for the earth would be consumed in the fire of His jealousy, and an end for its inhabitants is decreed (Zephaniah 1:18). We should not get distracted by a maximized interpretation of Zephaniah 1:18, for the Day of YHWH came against Judah and Jerusalem, and yet the earth remains. To the people of Judah and Jerusalem it would certainly have seemed like the entire earth was being destroyed; their judgment would be like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, and their end was nigh.

Zephaniah’s message was not pretty or likely appreciated, yet pointed and quite necessary. Zephaniah, as many other prophets before and after him, condemned the idolatry of the people and warned about the imminent judgment of God. Yet Zephaniah’s imagery is compelling: YHWH is about to make a sacrifice of His people, for they have transgressed and rebelled, and refuse to repent. Judgment is not just coming for the idolaters; those who have become wealthy and cosmopolitan at the expense of others and those who do not seek YHWH or His purposes, having become complacent in the status quo, would suffer just as terribly.

Within a generation the Day of YHWH had come for Judah, and all of Zephaniah’s frightful portrayals became reality. As Christians we do well to learn from the past experience of the people of God. Many today persist in idolatry in some form or another, giving the service due the Creator to some of the things He has made (cf. Romans 1:18-25); many others do not seek God or His purposes, and do not inquire of His will. Many prove complacent, living their lives as if there is no God, confident He will do neither good nor ill for them. All of these delusions can be sustained for a time until they no longer work. We do well to repent and seek God and His purposes in Christ, lest we experience wrath on the final Day of YHWH!

Ethan R. Longhenry

A Culture of Life | The Voice 9.09: March 03, 2019

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

A Culture of Life

God is love (1 John 4:8); in God is life indeed (John 1:4).

In love God created the heavens and the earth, and He created them to facilitate and cultivate life (Genesis 1:1-2:3). The anthropic constants which allow for life to exist are mind-boggling in their complexity and precision. Indeed, it requires far more faith to believe it all just happened to work out than it does to confess the existence of a Creator. Yet there is much more to this truth than mere apologetics: God has made the universe for life to flourish. Earth bears witness to God’s provisions for life: the diversity of life on Earth is astonishing, and every creature has its place and its niche.

God has not merely created all life; its continued existence is entirely dependent on His provision, will, and sustenance. All things consist in Jesus; in God we live, move, and have our being (cf. Acts 17:28, Colossians 1:17). God is not portrayed as some remote Architect who set things up and then left it alone. God created life and He remains deeply involved with the perpetuation of life.

In His refutation of the Sadducees Jesus set forth a profound truth: God is not the God of the dead, but of the living (Matthew 22:32). In God is life; God is about life; God’s purposes for us involve obtaining eternal life in Jesus (John 10:10).

It should therefore be no surprise to discover that God esteems life highly, and wishes for humanity made in His image, after His likeness, to value life highly as well. As the people of the living God who gives life, Christians ought to embody a culture of life.

The fundamental principle of a culture of life is the confession that life is a gift. God gives life to all things (1 Timothy 6:13); existence is a manifestation of God’s love and grace. We must receive life as a gift and treasure it as such. It is not our possession; we do not have complete control over it, demonstrated in our inability to choose when it starts, and, for most, when it will end. Life is a powerful force beyond our abilities to fully manipulate and control; life tends to find a way.

Life is not just any kind of gift; it is a gift of exceedingly great value. Life is precious; there can be no dollar amount given to establish the worth of a life. This is true about our lives, but it is therefore also true about the lives of others. The lives of all people are precious and valuable in the sight of God (John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9).

Since life is a gift, we must not trifle with it. If we honor and respect life as a gift, and seek to live in subjection to our Creator and the Giver of life, we will only take it when authorized to do so and it proves needful. God has authorized the taking of plant and animal life for food (Genesis 9:3). A reckoning exists for the taking of life: those who shed blood are to have their blood shed for the crime (Genesis 9:6). Provision is also made for the killing of beasts who threaten and endanger human life (cf. Exodus 21:28-29, 1 Samuel 17:34-37).

God did indeed give mankind dominion over the earth; life on Earth is in man’s hand (Genesis 1:28, 9:2). Yet it does not automatically follow that God intended for mankind to do whatever he wanted to life on earth! Life is a gift and a stewardship: since we will be held accountable for how we have lived our lives before God (Romans 14:10-12), we should not be surprised if our stewardship of life on earth will also be brought into judgment in some way or another. God has concern for the sparrow (cf. Matthew 10:29); should not man made in God’s image also have concern for the valuation of non-human life on earth?

And if we as Christians are to have some regard for non-human life on earth, how much more should we honor and uphold the integrity of all human life? We are not to take the life of our fellow man because he is made in God’s image (Genesis 9:6). God has sent the Lord Jesus to die for all mankind: no one is beyond the reach of forgiveness in Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 1:12-17). God has embodied love for everyone in Jesus; He therefore expects Christians to love everyone, even their enemies, and do good to all (Luke 6:30-36, Galatians 6:10). Christians therefore ought to uphold the value and integrity of all human lives, even those whom the world may find dispensable: the unborn, the chronically and terminally ill, the disabled, the elderly, those with mental difficulties or impairments, and many others. The Christian’s enemy is never his fellow man in flesh and blood; it is the powers and principalities over this present darkness who have deceived his fellow man (Ephesians 6:12). Christians must thus uphold the integrity of the lives of those who might stand against them, those who engage in criminal conduct, those who look and live differently than they do, and those of lesser means, and never give into the temptation of dehumanizing other people or thinking their lives are worth less in any way. In truth we are all worthy of condemnation; none of us deserve anything else; we only stand by the grace of God, and God would pour out His grace on the other as much as He does for us (Romans 5:6-11). The ways of the world thrive on divisiveness and tribalism; God’s manifold wisdom is made evident in His people when they are able to transcend all forms of worldly division to associate with one another and privilege one another in the faith, and all because Jesus’ death killed the hostility which existed among us (Ephesians 2:11-3:12).

Life, therefore, is not merely about the individual; no one person or even species exists within a vacuum. Jesus’ metaphor of the vine and the branches in John 15:1-11 is apt: life is perpetuated and sustained through connection with others. As Christians we have spiritual life through our connection with God in Christ; we are made in God’s image, and God is One in Three Persons, manifesting relational unity (Genesis 1:26-27, John 17:20-23). A culture of life therefore cannot privilege the individual over all things; in a culture of life we recognize not only the dignity but also the value of every other life and our need for shared connection and association to truly flourish.

Christians, therefore, ought to be champions of life, upholding the integrity of all and doing whatever they can to provide assistance and care (Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 10:25-37). It is not given for us to be the judge, accuser, or adversary of our fellow man; Satan makes accusations, and God will judge everyone in Christ (John 12:48, James 4:11-12). We must show them Jesus, the Word of God Incarnate, the light and life of mankind. We can only do that when we have decided to share in the love God has for mankind, and to value life as God values life.

In the process we will have to give up our lives in order to find it (Matthew 16:24-25). To take hold of that which is life indeed we will be called upon to suffer as our Lord did (Romans 8:17-18). We must build a culture of life, but we must never make an idol out of it. A life well lived is one of purpose, with the goal of glorifying God in Christ in all we do. A life well lived is good preparation for eternal life to come in the resurrection (1 Peter 1:3-12).

In this way we fully honor life as a gift from God: we did nothing to deserve it, but we prove thankful and honored to be able to enjoy it, acting as good stewards of this gift we have given, and willing to offer it back to the One who gave it so we can share in life eternal. A culture of life honors the life as a gift and does not arrogate to itself the presumption of being able to control and manipulate life. A culture of life respects the authority of the God who gives life, and seeks to live under that authority. A culture of life celebrates life everywhere it is found and seeks to facilitate its flourishing so as to honor its Creator. May we seek to embody and uphold a culture of life, glorify God as the Creator and Sustainer of life, and in Christ obtain eternal life in the resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Restoration Plea | The Voice 9.08: February 24, 2018

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

The Restoration Plea

Jesus of Nazareth is the way, the truth, and the life, the only way to the Father, and the anchor of the hope of the resurrection of life, according to those who saw Him in the flesh (John 14:6-9, 11:25). Ever since His resurrection and ascension God has called all men to put their trust in Jesus as Lord if they would obtain eternal life (Acts 16:33, 1 Timothy 2:4).

People today may seek to find the way of truth in Christ, but where? Hundreds of organizations and untold thousands of churches are spread around the world, and all teach and practice in different and contradictory ways. Most such groups will agree that the Bible is the Word of God, and the New Testament is authoritative for Christian faith and practice; nevertheless, many interpretations and conclusions have been drawn from the Scriptures, and some presume to maintain authority figures beyond what God has made known in the Bible. Is all of this what God really had in mind for the body of His Son Jesus Christ?

God would have those who follow Jesus become one with Him and one another as God is One in Himself (John 17:20-23). Most who profess Jesus recognize the importance of unity, yet most seem satisfied with the pretense of unity without any of its substance. Many would suggest that as long as we agree that Jesus is Lord, we are sufficiently united, and other doctrinal or practical matters are of lesser importance. Yet where has this been said by God anywhere?

The Apostle Paul spoke of the existence of one God, one faith, one Lord, one baptism, and one body, the church (Ephesians 4:4-6). At no point did Jesus, Paul, or anyone else in the New Testament suggest that the one body of Christ could be denominated; in fact, Paul condemned the denominational party factionalism in Corinth, dividing into groups based on Apollos, Cephas, Paul, and Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10-4:13). The body of Christ is substantively one; its members are one with God and one another as God is one in Himself (John 17:20-23).

How, then, can Christians find unity? We contend that Christians in the twenty-first century will find the ground of unity to be the same as the ground of unity which existed in the first century: in the faith which is in Jesus as Christ, made known by the Apostles and their associates in the Scriptures (Jude 1:3). Jesus of Nazareth, after all, lived, died, was raised from the dead, and ascended to the Father only once (Hebrews 9:24-26); the Apostles and fellow eyewitnesses saw these things, and no one else since has been able to (1 John 1:1-4). Thus, what could be meaningfully added to the witness of what God accomplished in Jesus beyond what the Apostles and their associates already have made known? In this way Jude can speak of “the faith” as having been “once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3): Jesus has not changed, His authority has not been compromised, and what has been made known about Him and His Kingdom is sufficient for all Christians for all time (Ephesians 3:10-11, 2 Timothy 3:14-17, Hebrews 13:8).

For this reason, therefore, we make the plea to restore the ancient faith proclaimed by the Apostles and their associates. The need for restoration should not surprise us. The people of God throughout time have manifested a terrible tendency to conform to the nations around them and not according to the purposes of God. Israel in the flesh followed the idolatry and innovations of the nations, and despite the prophetic plea to return to the ways of the Torah, most persisted in their rebellion and were condemned (cf. Jeremiah 6:16). Paul warned about the pervasive influence of those who would teach falsely, and events would prove him sadly accurate (1 Timothy 4:1). The Gospel of Christ would be continually watered down by conformity to the ways of the nations until the churches of “Christendom” would become agents of the state. Traditions would accrue which were not grounded in the apostolic faith but in the innovations of men, however well intended or sincere they might have been. Throughout the past 1700 years many have seen the need to move away from the innovations of men and return to the apostolic faith, critiquing the depravity of compromised churches and summoning people back to the faith as manifest in the New Testament. Many reforms were made; unfortunately, many innovations and traditions persevered.

Shall we therefore find the faith which God has established in Jesus through the organizations and institutions formed and shaped in these cauldrons of compromise? Shall we seek communion with the Bishop of Rome? We have seen the corruption of his rule and organization, and the depredations of the church in the medieval era; such did not glorify Jesus. Shall we find it in the maze of denominations which have arisen since the sixteenth century? They have simply brought more division, not unity. Should we just try to act as if God has “baptized” the tempestuous history of the past 1700 years and act as if any church is as good as another as long as they confess Jesus as Lord? Israel’s history was never thus justified or commended, and so why would we expect God to be honored by persistent contentiousness, factionalism, sectarianism, and division? No! The ground of unity for Christians is in the Spirit of God, not in any earthly organization (Ephesians 2:17-22, 4:3). And how can we find unity in the Spirit of God if that unity has nothing at all to do with what He has made known about the faith in Christ Jesus (John 14:26)?

God is faithful; He has always preserved a remnant of His people. In the darkest days of Israelite idolatry, a remnant was found faithful (1 Kings 19:18). After devastation and exile, a remnant of Israel returned (Isaiah 37:32). Likewise, we maintain the conviction that a faithful remnant has always persevered in Christ, seeking to practice the primitive faith laid down by the Apostles and their associates. Their voices are faint, drowned out by their often victorious persecutors; their testimony can still be heard, and they lived and died to glorify God according to His purposes in Jesus. They sought to be one with God and with one another as God is One within Himself (John 17:20-23).

We can also be part of that faithful remnant, those who seek to serve God as revealed in Jesus according to what the Apostles and their associates have said about Him and His Kingdom in the Scriptures. We can seek to faithfully serve the Lord Jesus as part of His church, the temple of the Holy Spirit, according to what the Spirit has made known about the Lord (cf. Ephesians 2:11-22). We can continually strive to restore the truth of God in Christ in Scripture, clearing away the innovations and traditions of men which hinder the apostolic faith, individually and collectively seeking to conform ever more closely to Jesus the Lord (Romans 8:29). May we take up the restoration plea, seek the Lord Jesus as He has made Himself known in Scripture, and through Him obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Understanding Covenant, III | The Voice 9.07: February 17, 2019

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Understanding Covenant, III: Jesus, the Old, and the New

For our benefit and protection God has interacted with mankind through covenants. Covenants represent agreements between two parties with mutual benefits and obligations; for various reasons God inaugurated many covenants with mankind revealed to us in the Old Testament.

And yet, within those covenants, God extended hope and promises regarding One who was to come. This One would be the Seed of Abraham, through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 22:18). He would be the prophet like Moses to whom Israel ought to listen (Deuteronomy 18:18-19). He would sit on the throne of His father David, and of His Kingdom there would be no end (2 Samuel 7:13-16). Furthermore, the prophet Jeremiah extended hope to Israel and Judah for a new covenant, superior to the one YHWH had made with Israel at Sinai (Jeremiah 31:31-35).

At His birth, Jesus of Nazareth was proclaimed to be this Christ, the descendant of David, the hope of Israel, and in whom the Gentiles would trust (Luke 1:5-2:38). Despite many attempts to de-Judaize Jesus over the past few centuries, the Scriptures unabashedly confess Him as a Palestinian Jewish male in the latter days of the Second Temple, a descendant of David, Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham according to the flesh (Matthew 1:1-18). Jesus’ ministry in life was centered upon His fellow Israelites (Matthew 15:21-28): interactions with God-fearers among the nations feature prominently in the Gospel narratives, but most likely because of their infrequency.

Jesus set forth His relationship and standing relative to the Law of Moses, the Torah, the covenant obligations of Israel, in Matthew 5:17-18. He affirmed their continuing force and relevance, and even indicted the Pharisees and scribes for how they relaxed certain commandments (Matthew 5:17-20). According to Jesus, the creation itself would be overthrown before a single jot or tittle (or, as we would say, a dot of the “i” or crossing of the “t”) of the Law would pass away, until all is fulfilled. Many have misunderstood this statement to be an affirmation of the continuing power of the Law, for they have missed the power of the limiting temporal statement at the end: until all things are accomplished (Matthew 5:18). Jesus affirms the continuing power of Torah until all things are accomplished; therefore, Jesus lived and died under the Torah, the Law of Moses, the covenant between God and Israel established at Sinai.

What are the things which needed to be accomplished? Righteousness needed to be fulfilled. Jesus would live without sin, and die for sin; then all things would be accomplished (John 19:30, Hebrews 4:15, 5:7-8). Jesus would embody the story of Israel: born as a child of Jacob in Canaan, exiled to Egypt, tempted in the Wilderness, ministered in the land of Israel, died in exile, allowing the story of Israel to reach its climax and culmination in Jesus’ return in His resurrection. As God in the flesh who lived fully according to the Law, Jesus could bring Torah and Temple together in Himself, to which He indirectly alludes in John 2:13-22, 14:6-12. Therefore, all of the promises YHWH made, and the hope of Israel, were manifest and fulfilled in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, or reaffirmed as part of the confidence in hope of His eventual return (Luke 24:44).

Meanwhile, another purpose of Jesus’ life and ministry featured the proclamation of the “Gospel of the Kingdom”: the good news of the imminent reign of God (Matthew 4:17, 23). If there is a founding charter of this Kingdom, it would be Jesus’ proclamation in Matthew 5:3-7:29, the “Sermon on the Mount,” in which the basic demands of the Law and the higher way of the Kingdom are often strongly contrasted. This Kingdom would not feature cosmetic window dressing alterations to the existing status quo: it is a new garment, a new wineskin, leading to a new covenant (Matthew 9:14-17). Jesus would empower His disciples during His life to go out and proclaim the good news of the coming reign of God (Matthew 10:1-42). This reign of God would be manifest after Jesus ascended to the Father after His resurrection and He was given an eternal dominion which would never end, and reign with all authority over heaven and earth as their King and Lord (Daniel 7:13-14, Matthew 28:18-20). His disciples were made into Apostles by their commission to go and proclaim this reign of God in Jesus the Christ beginning on the day of Pentecost in the year 30 of our era (Acts 1:1-2:36).

It would be tempting to mark off the day of Pentecost as the firm date on which the old covenant between God and Israel was brought to its full conclusion in the reign of God in Jesus and the first day of the new covenant. Many do, and for a host of reasons draw out inferences about covenant doctrines, suggesting that whatever was proclaimed before Acts 2:1 belongs to the old covenant between God and Israel and has no more or less direct relevance to Christian faith and practice than anything in the Law or the Prophets, or suggesting that the old covenant ended immediately and fully on that day.

And yet what God has made known about Jesus and the proclamation of the Kingdom in the first forty years after Jesus’ ascension does not sit well with such simple, clear-cut distinctions. To the Pharisees looking for when the reign of God would be manifest, Jesus declared that it was in their midst (Luke 17:20-21). Throughout His life and ministry Jesus exercised authority over the spiritual forces of evil and was able to remit sin, and drew the appropriate conclusion for the Israelites: the reign of God had come upon them (Matthew 12:25-32, Mark 1:39, 2:1-12). At no point do we hear of major alterations in the proclamation of the good news of the reign of God between what Jesus proclaimed in His life and what the Apostles would proclaim after His death and resurrection: the Apostles would add to what had already been proclaimed what God had done through Jesus in the meantime (Luke 24:44-49, Acts 2:14-36). At many points in His teaching Jesus freely went beyond the Law or proved willing to specifically contradict it: the expectations of Matthew 5:21-58 go beyond what the Law required (including matters of divorce, in which the contrast is made explicit in Matthew 19:3-9), and in one stroke Jesus declared all foods clean in Mark 7:14-19, envisioning the elimination of the dietary restrictions mandated by the Law. In many such instances what Jesus proclaimed would be closely repeated by the Apostles and their associates later on (e.g. Romans 12:17-21, 14:14, 1 Timothy 4:1-4, James 5:12). In terms of marriage and divorce Paul would carefully distinguish between what was said explicitly by the Lord Jesus from what he as an Apostle was now setting forth in expansion, underscoring the relevance of Jesus’ instruction to His later followers (1 Corinthians 7:10-16). Thus the power of God was present in Jesus during His life and ministry, and His proclamation of the good news of the reign of God and all it would entail would become the founding charter of the new covenant between God and all mankind in Jesus, even if it happened to be originally proclaimed while the Law of Moses remained in force.

After the day of Pentecost the good news of the reign of God in Jesus the Christ went out into all the world, first to Israel, then to all people (Acts 2:1-28:20). Paul could say the message went out to the whole world by the time he wrote to the Colossians around 60 (Colossians 1:6). Yet many Jewish Christians remained zealous for the Law of Moses throughout the first forty years of the new covenant in Christ (Acts 21:17-26). Their zeal would inspire some of them to bind the Law on Gentile Christians, for which they were condemned (Galatians 1:6-5:15); yet they were not condemned for their own zeal for the Law. As long as the Temple stood, and Torah could be followed, the covenant between God and Israel was only becoming obsolete. Then, forty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, He was vindicated as the Son of Man, and all He prophesied upon Judah and Jerusalem came to pass (Matthew 24:1-36, Luke 17:22-37). Israel according to the flesh was no longer in possession of the land; they did not have a place to offer sacrifice according to the Law; they did not have an operational priesthood to intercede before God for the people. As it had been foretold to Daniel, the land of Israel and its people had its seventy “weeks”, including the coming of the Messiah, but ending after a final “week” (Daniel 9:24-27).

Jesus of Nazareth represents the ultimate transitional figure in terms of God’s covenants with mankind: in Him the hope and promises of the old are fulfilled and satisfied, and in Him the new covenant is inaugurated. God’s reign is manifest in Jesus during His life; the covenant between God and Israel was only rendered finally obsolete when the message of the good news of Jesus’ reign had been proclaimed throughout the known world and Israel had a chance to repent. May we put our trust in Jesus as Lord and obtain the resurrection of life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

A Famine of the Word of YHWH | The Voice 9.06: February 10, 2019

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

A Famine of the Word of YHWH

YHWH had persistently encouraged Israel to repent of their idolatry, their oppression of the poor, and their faithlessness toward Him through Amos of Tekoa (Amos 1:1-8:3). Israel believed they were entering a new golden age; they were actually enjoying a last moment of glory before their end would come. YHWH would now bring to an end His word to Israel through Amos: imminent judgment for the rebellious, a famine of His Word, and yet hope for restoration in the future (Amos 8:4-9:15).

Judgment and disaster were again foretold for those who committed oppression and injustice in the land: those who swallow the needy, bring failure to the poor of the land, yearning for the new moon and Sabbath observances to end so as to be able to yet again use corrupt weights, cheating the poor, giving them stalks as opposed to the real wheat (Amos 8:4-6). Amos has indicted the wealthy for their oppression of the poor man times before (Amos 2:6-7, 4:1, 5:7-17); this time he seemed to focus on the merchant class and their exploitation of the disadvantaged through false weights and inferior foodstuff, abominations in the sight of YHWH (Leviticus 19:36, Deuteronomy 25:13-16). We should not imagine that anyone would really be so bold as to think or say such things, but the rhetorical force of the message remains compelling, for whatever the merchants intended, such was the functional result. YHWH would remember these works, and the land would tremble on account of them: Amos compares the land to the Euphrates River or the Nile in its flood and the “River of Egypt,” either the Nile, in which case the comparison is precisely parallel with the Euphrates or redundant, or the wadi on the border between Egypt and Philistia called the “River of Egypt,” which would flood during the rains and then fully dry out; the latter is likely in view, and well describes the tumult the land would experience (Amos 8:8). In apocalyptic language Amos described the day which would come: the sun would go down at noon, the land would be enveloped in darkness, and all Israel’s feasts would be turned into mourning (Amos 8:9-10). The merchants might not think much of their extortion and deceit, but YHWH took it very seriously, and would rise up in judgment against them.

Amos then warned about a famine which would come into the land: not a famine of food or drink, but a famine of the Word of YHWH (Amos 8:11). The people would travel across the land to hear the word of YHWH, but would not find it (Amos 8:12-13). Those who called upon the idolatrous golden calves would fall and never rise again (Amos 8:14). Israel had come to depend on the prophetic message of God to know what to do; they would find themselves like Saul, unable to hear from YHWH, and their doom would be sealed (cf. 1 Samuel 28:1-25).

Amos was then granted another vision: he saw the Lord beside the altar (ostensibly in Bethel; Amos 7:10ff), who commanded for its capitals to be struck so that its thresholds would shake, and the temple would fall on those within it, and none would escape (Amos 9:1). God would pull them up from Sheol and down from heaven; if they climb Carmel, the highest mountain, or go down into the depths of the sea, YHWH would find them and seize them: if they were taken captive, the sword would come for them, for YHWH’s eyes would be upon them for evil and not for good (Amos 9:2-4). Amos again spoke of YHWH causing the land to rise and fall as the (Nile? Euphrates?) River, and the River of Egypt; He has made the heavens and its chambers; He caused the waters of the ocean to rise and rain on the land; YHWH is His name (Amos 9:5-6). Tempest and judgment were coming; none would be spared.

Israel had prided itself on its election as the people of YHWH, Creator of heaven and earth. And yet YHWH asked them: are they not as the Cushites to Him? YHWH brought Israel out of Egypt; did He not also bring the Philistines out of Caphtor (= Greece), or the Arameans from Kir (Amos 9:7)? YHWH saw Israel as a sinful kingdom, and it would be judged; yet God would not make a full end of the house of Jacob (Amos 9:8). Truly Israel would be sifted like grain in a sieve among the nations, and all the sinful people who believed themselves safe and secure from disaster would die (Amos 9:9-10). Israel’s election did not justify their transgressions; all the nations were in YHWH’s hands, and He would not preserve the sinful and unjust.

And yet Amos extended a glimmer of hope for Israel; YHWH would not make a full end of Jacob. In that day, in a later time, YHWH would raise up the tent of David which would have fallen and would rebuild it to possess the remnant of Edom and those called by YHWH’s name (Amos 9:11-12). In the days of John Hyrcanus the Edomites would be compelled to serve the God of Israel and become as Israelites, although as Idumeans they would be seen as half-breeds by the Jews (cf. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 13.9.1). In the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible, “Edom” is rendered “men” (edom vs. adam, with the same consonantal spelling); on this basis James the brother of the Lord understood how God had raised the House of David up again in Jesus, and called all the Gentiles to Him in Christ (Acts 15:13-19).

Amos’ prophecies ended on a hopeful note: YHWH would bring back Israel out of its captivity, and they would rebuild their cities, vineyards, orchards, and fields, enjoy prosperous harvests, and would remain planted in their land (Amos 9:13-15). This prosperity would prove elusive for Israel according to the flesh, but found abundantly in the spiritual riches with which God has blessed spiritual Israel in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).

And so Amos proved faithful; he proclaimed the message of YHWH to Israel. History would abundantly vindicate Amos: within a generation the Kingdom of Israel would be decimated, and then fully destroyed, by the Assyrians (2 Kings 15:27-31, 17:1-23). Its people would be dead or exiled; few would ever return. YHWH is a God faithful to His covenant, both in terms of its blessings, but also in upholding the consequences of persistent rebellion. Yes, God has now raised up the tent of David again in Jesus of Nazareth, who reigns for the rest of the age as the Risen Lord (Acts 2:36); God is faithful to His covenant in Christ, and will redeem those who trust in Jesus, but wrath is stored up for those who do not know Him or obey His Gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). May we soberly consider the example of Israel in the days of Amos, and not fall by the same pattern of disobedience, but in humility seek justice and righteousness in the ways of Jesus of Nazareth and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Salvation: Now and Not Yet | The Voice 9.05: February 03, 2019

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Salvation: Now and Not Yet

If there is one thing which everyone knows about the message of Jesus of Nazareth, it’s that “Jesus saves.” Yet, tragically, the nature of salvation in Jesus Christ is often a matter of bitter disputation.

There are many who emphasize salvation as a present reality: a person can be saved now in Christ. Such people place great emphasis on what is called “initial” salvation, the point of conversion from the world to being in Christ through faith: God accomplished the work necessary to secure this salvation long ago, and many who emphasize the “now” of salvation are easily induced into suggesting that it will endure no matter what a person may or may not do in the future. Those who emphasize the “now” of salvation point to John 3:16, Romans 5:6-11, 8:31-39, and Ephesians 2:1-10, among other passages.

There are others who emphasize salvation as a future promise: a person is not fully saved until after this life has ended and the resurrection of life has been obtained. Such people place great emphasis on what is called “final” salvation, the fullness of all what God promises to believers in Christ: to overcome sin and death in an incorruptible and immortal resurrection body, dwelling in the presence of God without hindrance or veil, no longer enduring pain or suffering. Many who emphasize the “not yet” of salvation are easily induced into questioning the ability for a present believer to have much confidence in their present salvation since it cannot be fully known what he or she will do in the future. Those who emphasize the “not yet” of salvation point to Matthew 10:22, Romans 8:18-25, 1 Corinthians 9:24-28, and Philippians 3:8-15, among other passages.

For generations those who emphasize the “now” of salvation have argued and disputed with those who emphasize the “not yet” of salvation; such arguments endure to this day. Many Christians end up feeling very confused by such argumentation, and for good reason. In the New Testament salvation is not a matter of “now” or “not yet,” but is both “now” and “not yet”! “Initial” and “final” aspects of salvation are not at odds with one another; the Apostles and associates hold them both as true in the tension of life in the world in the light of the resurrection of Jesus.

Christians can see the interplay between “initial” and “final” salvation in a passage like 1 Peter 1:3-9. Peter blessed God because He had already begotten Christians to a living hope in Christ; Christians have an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance guarded for them through faith (1 Peter 1:3-5). These promises speak to a current relationship and form of standing before God: initial salvation, salvation in the here and now. Yet Peter expected the inheritance to be obtained when salvation is “revealed in the last time”; the outcome of their tested faith is the salvation of their souls (1 Peter 1:5-9). And so the promises speak to something which awaits the Christian: final salvation, salvation not yet fully obtained. Peter did not seem to note any irony or internal contradiction in his encouragement to the Christians of Asia Minor.

Many Christians find this kind of tension uncomfortable. Why has God left us in this awkward transitory space, in the “now” but “not yet”? We understand the impetus of the question, yet it is vanity, a striving after wind: we cannot know the ways of the Almighty. Nevertheless, we can at least perceive that yes, we are in this transitory space according to what God has made known in Jesus. We can maintain confidence in God, for if He was willing to give of His Son to secure our salvation now, He will most assuredly bring to pass all that is necessary to bring salvation to a complete end.

We do well to understand salvation in relational terms. God is one in perichoretic relational unity: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are “in” each other, yet remain distinct persons (cf. John 17:20-23). Jesus prayed for believers to become one with God and one with each other as God is One within Himself (John 17:20-23). Yet humanity has become separated from God and alienated from one another on account of sin and its consequences (Isaiah 59:2, Ephesians 2:11-12). If left on our own, we humans could never atone for the sins we have committed: our good deeds cannot outweigh the guilt we bear for transgressing God’s commands, and we would be justly condemned (Romans 3:23, 6:22-23, James 2:9-11). In His great love, grace, and mercy, God sent His Son to become the propitiation of our sins, to show us the way of life and truth, and to obtain cleansing from sin and reconciliation in our relationship with God through faith in Him (John 14:6-11, Romans 3:24-38, 5:6-11, 8:1-7). Once we have died to our life of sin in baptism, we have new spiritual life, raised up spiritually to walk with Jesus (Romans 6:3-7, 8:10). We have become part of the household of God, and participate in the Body of Christ; we can call upon God as our Father; our relationship with God is restored (Romans 8:15-16, Ephesians 2:18-22, 4:1-16).

We confess that Jesus is Lord and serve Him in His Kingdom and recognize His death and resurrection as a transitional moment of new life (2 Corinthians 5:17, Colossians 1:13, 2:6-9). Yet this new life broke into the old world which is still subject to corruption, decay, and death. Jesus gained the victory over sin and death in His resurrection, yet His enemies, sin, death, and the powers and principalities still exist, and have not been fully conquered (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). Our salvation, therefore, is very much like ourselves once we have become Christians: a new creation of the Kingdom striving to grow and expand in an old, decayed world, until the contest is over and the victory is won. Today we live by faith and hope that what God began in Christ will be glorified in our lives and brought to its successful completion soon (2 Corinthians 4:7-18).

Indeed, what is gained by faith must be maintained in faith: if we turn away from our trust in Christ before the end comes, we have lost our ground of standing before Him and will suffer same condemnation as the world which we have chosen (Hebrews 10:26-31, 2 Peter 2:20-22). While we cannot know what will be, however, we can maintain confidence that God will do everything He can to save us and to continue to commit our lives to Him in faith (Romans 8:31-39). If we strive to be one with God and with the people of God as God is One in Himself now, we will enjoy the fullness of relational unity with God and His people for eternity. May we take hold of salvation in Christ now and maintain our faith in Him so as to obtain the fullness of salvation when He appears in glory on the day of resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry

New Testament Christianity | The Voice 9.04: January 27, 2019

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

New Testament Christianity

Many times we speak of “New Testament Christianity” or hear others speak of it. What is “New Testament Christianity?” Of what value is it? How could it be misunderstood?

Many who speak of “New Testament Christianity” refer to the desire to follow Jesus of Nazareth as Lord according to the testimony about Him and His Kingdom enshrined in the pages of the New Testament. In truth, “New Testament Christianity” ought to be redundant; the New Testament is to be the standard of faith and practice for Christians (2 Timothy 3:15-17, Jude 1:3). The term has only become necessary on account of the development of other forms of Christianity over the years: Catholic Christianity, Orthodox Christianity, Protestant Christianity, Evangelical Christianity, etc. New Testament Christianity involves the desire to practice simple Christianity, grounded in what God accomplished in Jesus, looking to the witness of the Apostles for guidance and direction in serving Christ as Lord (Romans 1:16, 1 John 1:1-4, 2:3-6).

Christians do well to remain firmly committed to grounding their faith and practice in the New Testament. What Paul warned has come to pass: many have been led astray by the doctrines of demons and have introduced all sorts of teachings and practices which did not originate in the witness of the Apostles (1 Timothy 4:1). Some introduced beliefs and practices from the covenant between God and Israel: while the Old Testament is profitable for our learning, and Christians are to maintain continuity with Israel of old as the people of God, the Apostles and their associates recognized the fulfillment of God’s purposes for Israel in Christ and insisted on a distinction between the covenants (Romans 15:3, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Galatians 1:1-5:15, Colossians 2:14-17, 2 Timothy 3:14-17, Hebrews 7:1-9:28). Others have introduced beliefs and practices from the pagan and/or secular world, seeking compromise between what God made known in Jesus and the prevailing cultural paradigm of the day. Paul warned about falling prey to deceptive claims of the philosophy of the world, no longer remaining rooted in Christ (Colossians 2:1-9); whereas all cultures have certain commendable commitments, Christians must always be on guard lest their faith conform to the ways of this world, and no longer transformed in Christ (Romans 12:1-2). Throughout all of these trends the New Testament has remained the constant witness of what God accomplished in Jesus and in His Kingdom, and the standard by which the Christian can test all the spirits, doctrines, and practices, to see whether they are of God or not (1 John 4:1).

Therefore, New Testament Christianity maintains great value, even in the twenty-first century: Jesus is still Lord; God still has His eternal purpose in Jesus which He is accomplishing in the church, the body of Christ; the means by which people can be redeemed from the world and transformed to conform to the ways of Jesus remain unaltered; God still cares for His creation and actively seeks for all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (Ephesians 3:10-21, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9). God’s work continues on in Christ, but the standard by which we come to know about Jesus also has not changed. All that was necessary to trust in Jesus and follow His purposes in His Kingdom was made known by the Apostles and their associates (Jude 1:3). We thus can practice New Testament Christianity to this day.

New Testament Christianity might easily be misunderstood as an uncritical or fundamentalist obsession with the New Testament, and disparaged as vaunting a mythic past. The goal of New Testament Christianity is not to recreate the first century world, acting as if everything were perfect while Apostles still lived, nor is it to enshrine a particular cultural expression of Christianity as superior to all others. The New Testament is full of examples which should not be followed: dividing into factions based on cults of personality, taking Christians to court over trivial matters, incest, and denial of the resurrection of the dead, and that is just discussing some of the issues among the Christians in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:1-15:58)! In that Corinthian correspondence Paul explained how events described in the Old Testament relating to Israel were written for our instruction and warning (1 Corinthians 10:1-13), and so it is for us with these events, ideas, and practices in the New Testament. It is therefore not enough for a belief or practice to be found in the New Testament: Christians are to believe and do that which the Apostles and their associates commended, and be on guard against all which they warned about or condemned.

Likewise, New Testament Christianity does not demand a return to wearing togas and speaking Koine Greek. The New Testament is itself a model of how God worked to communicate to people regarding what He accomplished in Jesus in their language, in their culture, so they could understand (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:18-23). The Lord Jesus made it known to Simon Peter how God would accept anyone from any nation who would trust in Him (Acts 10:1-48): Christians do not cease being “from the nations” in order to serve Jesus, but are called to serve Jesus faithfully in their specific nation, place, and time (1 Peter 1:13-19, 2:3-9, Revelation 7:9-10). All Christians, therefore, must set themselves to the task of applying the faith and practice made known in the New Testament to their specific context: we have seen in Jesus the way of life and truth, and we must discern how to most effectively embody the life and message of Jesus in our time and place (Matthew 5:13-16, Romans 8:29). We must cling to what is good and abhor what is evil (Romans 12:9); whatever is commendable and good in any time and place is only so because it conforms to what is good according to Jesus, and we perceive that from what has been made known about Him in the New Testament (John 14:6-9).

Christians from all across the world and time may not look exactly the same; the challenges they face and the points of agreement with their cultures may vary; yet they all may still practice New Testament Christianity. In a world full of questions, doubt, and insecurity, we can maintain great confidence in the witness regarding what God has accomplished in Jesus in the New Testament, and ground our faith and trust in God in Christ on that witness. May we seek God in Christ as revealed in the New Testament so that we may obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Understanding Covenant, II | The Voice 9.03: January 20, 2019

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Understanding Covenant, II: Old Testament Covenants

The Scriptures speak of God as loyal to covenant, faithful to those with whom He has made such an agreement. We have seen how a covenant is an agreement between two parties with mutual obligations and promises. We do well to consider the covenants into which God entered as made known in the Old Testament.

The Garden of Eden

The Scriptures do not explicitly speak of the relationship between God and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in terms of covenant, yet many markers of covenant relationship exist: the promise of living in the Garden and to enjoy its fruit as long as the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not eaten, and a curse if that guideline was disobeyed (Genesis 2:1-25). Adam and Eve partook of that fruit, and the curses became in force (Genesis 3:1-24).

The Noahide Covenant

The first covenant called as much in the Bible is promised in Genesis 6:18 and brought to its fulfillment in Genesis 9:9-17: a covenant between God and all the earth in the days of Noah.

God made an unconditional covenant with all the creatures of the earth to no longer flood the entire world with water (Genesis 9:11). This covenant is not conditioned on anything man would or would not do. The rainbow is the sign of the covenant: when God sees the rainbow, He will remember His promise to no longer destroy all flesh by water (Genesis 9:12-16).

God’s covenant with all flesh in the days of Noah is the last covenant in the Old Testament which maintains all mankind in view, not just the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It also remains in force until this day, and God has proven faithful.

The Abrahamic Covenant

Of all the people and families of the earth God chose Abram, whom He renamed Abraham, with whom to enter into a powerful covenant, promising blessings in Genesis 12:1-3, and establishing the covenant in Genesis 15:18-21, 17:1-14, and 22:16-18.

God entered into a covenant not only with Abraham but with all of his descendants after him: the promises would be ratified with Isaac and Jacob, and the blessings would eventually come to all who would share in the faith of Abraham through Jesus the promised Seed (Genesis 26:1-5, 28:10-22, Romans 4:1-25, Galatians 3:1-29). God entered into the covenant with Abraham on account of his faithfulness; many of its promises would only be maintained if Abraham’s descendants proved faithful to God themselves (Genesis 17:1-2, 9-10). God promised to make Abraham a father of many nations, to be his God and the God of his descendants, to give the land of Canaan to those descendants, and to bless all the nations of the earth through his Descendant, the Christ (Genesis 12:1-3, 17:1-9). Abraham and his descendants would have to honor God as their God and follow His ways (Genesis 17:9). Circumcision of every male over eight days old was the sign of this covenant (Genesis 17:10-14).

God proved faithful to His covenant with Abraham: Abraham fathered many nations, the Israelites overtook the land of Canaan, and in Jesus of Nazareth all the nations of the earth have been blessed and have been able to share in the faith of Abraham (Genesis 24:1-Joshua 24:28, Romans 4:1-25).

The Mosaic Covenant

God promised Abraham that He would enter into a covenant with Abraham’s descendants; He fulfilled this promise for Israel in the Wilderness, having led them out of captivity in Egypt, seen in Exodus 19:1-Deuteronomy 34:12.

God made this covenant between Himself and the children of Israel (Exodus 19:1-24:18); He made it known through His servant Moses, and so it is known as the Mosaic covenant. God entered into this covenant in faithfulness to His promise to Abraham; whether Israel would be blessed or cursed was dependent on Israel’s faithfulness to the covenant (Leviticus 26:1-46). God promised to be the God of Israel, to give Israel the land of Canaan, to bless them and give them victory over their enemies, and maintain Israel as His elect nation; the Israelites were obligated to keep Torah, instruction or law, as God set forth to Moses (thus known as the Law of Moses; Exodus 20:1-34:12). Circumcision remained a sign of the covenant, since the covenant between God and Israel was a continuation and fulfillment of the covenant between God and Abraham; the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle also functioned as signs (Exodus 35:1-40:38).

God proved faithful to His covenant with Israel despite Israel’s continual faithlessness. Israel would endure all the curses of the covenant on account of their disobedience (2 Kings 17:7-23, 2 Chronicles 36:15-16); their rejection of the Messiah God sent them meant the full end of the observance of Torah as written, and the people of God re-centered upon those following Jesus the Christ (Matthew 24:1-36, Galatians 6:16, Ephesians 2:11-18, Colossians 2:14-17, 1 Peter 2:3-10).

The Davidic Covenant

YHWH reigned as king over Israel until Israel sought its own king; YHWH would eventually choose a king according to His own desire, David, and would make a covenant with him (1 Samuel 13:14, 7:8-16, 23:5).

God entered into a covenant with David and his descendants; God entered this covenant because of David’s faithfulness, and its promises were dependent on his descendant’s continued faithfulness (2 Samuel 7:8-16). God promised to make a house, or dynasty, of David, who always would have a descendant on the throne; David and his descendants would have to serve God faithfully according to the Torah given to Israel. No sign was established for this covenant.

God faithfully maintained a man on the throne of David from Solomon his son until the days of Zedekiah son of Josiah; the continual disobedience of those descendants led to a diminished kingdom and then the loss of all temporal power (2 Chronicles 36:1-16). God’s promises to David met their complete fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of David who proved faithful and was given an eternal kingdom and dominion which remains to this day (Daniel 7:13-14, Luke 1:32-33, Acts 2:36, Hebrews 4:15, 5:7-8).

At various points in the Old Testament these covenants were ratified again for different generations; other evidence exists for covenants among men. Yet the covenants described above substantially represent the covenants in which God entered in the Old Testament. We have seen how they all ultimately point to Jesus of Nazareth and the work God has accomplished in Him. May we prove faithful to God in Christ and find salvation and the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry