Paul's Passing Thoughts

Fundamentals of American Christianity, Calvinism, Covenants, and Election: The Potter’s House: 4/7/2013

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on April 9, 2013

Chart illustration for discussion at 00:45:31

Covenants 2

If you are much like me as an average American Christian, you are pretty foggy on God’s overall plan for mankind involving Old Testament and New Testament tenets. Perhaps due to laziness, we accept broad generalizations concerning the differences between the testaments. For example, “Old Testament saints were saved by keeping the law—we are saved by grace,” “God gave the law to show us we can’t keep it—to drive us to resting in Christ alone,” etc.

There is no doubt that it takes diligent study to understand redemptive covenants, election, and sanctification paradigms. The complexities of these issues have not been taught in the American church. Why? Our American Christian heritage comes from the Puritans who arrived on our Eastern shores from Europe. They were Calvinistic, and part and parcel with European Calvinism comes theocracy and orthodoxy. Like ducks searching for bodies of water, European Calvinism will eventually head in this direction. There are no exceptions, and it is only a matter of time. If Calvinism is ultimately deprived of theocracy and orthodoxy, particularity the Puritan breed, it will die. Lesser forms of pure Calvinism can survive well on orthodoxy alone, but the more pure forms like Puritanism will die without theocracy. Hence, Puritanism today is merely folklore propagandized with spiritual sound bites.

What is orthodoxy? It’s the antithesis of Acts 17:11. It assumes a spiritual caste system where some are preordained to understand things that the average saint cannot understand. The average Christian searching the Scriptures to determine if a pastor is teaching truth was, and still is an unacceptable construct in European Calvinism. It is thought to prideful, unsubmissive, and a rejection of God-appointed authority. Orthodoxy is what the spiritually enlightened prepare for the unenlightened in creeds, confessions, and counsels. One advertisement I saw for a seminary announced that it was “confessional.” What does that mean? It means that it teaches and holds to historic confessions of faith. These confessions have authority, and were written by the, for example, “Westminster Divines.” Problem is, this passes a traditional interpretation from generation to generation on an assumptive basis; i.e., to rethink orthodoxy would be arrogantly reinventing the spiritual wheel.  This is our heritage, and why we don’t know much. Creeds, confessions, and counsels do not deliver in-depth analysis on the aforementioned issues; primarily, they tell us how to think.

Therefore, the Potter’s House is a journey, and there is no looking back. We have learned astounding things from the book of Romans that Susan and I have never been taught in our combined eighty years of being Christians. But most importantly, what we have learned are building blocks that are keys to understanding more of God’s counsel. I think it is time in our study to look at some of these fundamental building blocks. Some speak directly to the chapter we are in. But first, let’s review some former ones:

1. The “gospel” is the good news of God’s full counsel for life and godliness. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the gospel of “first importance” or “first order of importance.”  “Word,” Scripture,” Gospel,” “holy writ,” etc., are all used interchangeably throughout the Bible.

2. Paul categorizes all people into two categories: under law, and under grace. Those under the law are enslaved to sin, provoked to sin by the law, and will be judged by the law. Those under grace are enslaved to righteousness, provoked to do good by the law, and will not be judged by the law.

3. The importance of angels in administering God’s covenants.

4. Salvation is Trinitarian, not Christocentric.

5. A major key to understanding the book of Revelation is Exodus 19-24.

6. The Bible interprets itself and identifies its own methods of interpretation.

7.  The law is completely separate from justification, but informs our sanctification.

8. The difference between justification, definitive sanctification, progressive sanctification, and final sanctification.

9. The difference between salvation and justification.

10. Why Christians are truly righteous in the here and now.

11. Why Christians still struggle with sin.

12. The difference between our redeemed hearts and our mortality.

13. Motivation to share the gospel and better ways to do it.

14. Divine Anthropology: what makes mankind tick?

Other things are becoming clearer in our study concerning election and covenants which brings us closer to the issues at hand in chapter nine. I will save election for last because once that is discussed it will be all anybody is thinking about. I would like to use Ephesians 2:11-16 for our first point:

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

This passage makes separation from the covenants of promise synonymous with being alienated from God. There is also more than one covenant of promise.
“Covenants” is in the plural. So, we don’t want to think of Old Testament Covenants as being replaced by the New, but rather we want to think of all of these covenants as building on each other. Also, the covenants will have future elements, abolished elements, and elements that are being phased out with time. Paul states what part of the Mount Sinai Book of the Covenant was “abolished,” the ordinances regarding sin offerings since Christ fulfilled the propitiation for sin (vv. 14, 15).

To be separated from Christ is also likened to being separated from the “commonwealth” of Israel (v. 12). This speaks to Israel as a nation. As we discussed last week, this doesn’t mean that all of national Israel will be saved. They were an elect nation with elect people, but not all in the nation are elected individually. Allegorically, some are descendants of Hagar and others are from Sarah. This symbolizes slavery to sin versus heirs of the promise. Paul wanted to make sure the Gentiles at Rome understood that rebellion within Israel didn’t mean that God had revoked His promises to Israel as a nation.

As yet, none of the covenants have been abolished. Again, some elements are yet future, some are fading away, and some elements have been abolished. Even the New Covenant has such elements. Jeremiah 31 states that the law of God will be written on everyone’s heart and there will be no need to teach anybody about the Lord. Obviously, that is future. We read the following in 1Corintians 13:8-10;

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

Prophesies, tongues, and knowledge are all under the New Covenant (past, present), and when the perfect comes knowledge will pass away. Nobody will have need to be taught as Jeremiah predicted. That’s future. The “perfect” is what Peter said we are ultimately looking for: the new heavens and new earth:

1Peter 3:13 – But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

The “promise” is another name for the Abrahamic covenant which, as we looked at last week, included the Gentiles from the beginning.

Another truth about the Old Covenant is that it was a will. It was like the inheritance that your parents leave you in their will. The inheritance is eternal life, and Christ, the testator, had to die for the will to be executed:

Hebrews 9:15 – Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood.

And like any will, the inheritance is promised. In this sense, sin was bound up or imputed to the covenant until Christ came:

Galatians 3:15 – To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified.

Galatians 3:21 – Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

These are building blocks; neither do I have a full understanding about how all of this works together, but apparently sins were imputed to the covenat/will until Christ died. To be saved in the Old Testament was to acknowledge that you were an heir of salvation through Christ. So, Old Testament saints would have definitely been looking for the coming of Christ. Soon after Christ died, the Gentiles received the good news that they were part of the inheritance as well.

Furthermore, outside of the covenant there is a principle of reaping and sowing as well as a principle of reaping and sowing in the covenant as well. This is abundantly clear as Paul cites the Old Covenant in regard to blessings in this life:

Ephesians 6:1 – Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Hence, promises of spiritual wellbeing through obedience are an undeniable part of the Old Covenant and most definitely still in effect presently. There is a lot going on in these covenants and confusion in our day is not lacking. Nevertheless, the Scripture explains all of this in further detail, but it takes diligent study to show ourselves approved. The following chart may be helpful in encouraging you to study these things for yourself.

Covenants 2

Lastly, the relationship between covenants and election. I get my share of grief over my present understanding of election. I take a paradoxical position. Election is 100% true and is crucial for keeping justification and sanctification separate as well as eternal security. Paul, as we saw last week, states the purpose of election is no uncertain terms: to exclude works from justification.  On the other hand, I believe free will is also 100% true. I believe this because it is what I see in the Scriptures. It comes with special privilege as well: I get accused of being both a Calvinist and Arminian. But Calvinists don’t believe in election, that’s a myth. For example, though Israel was clearly elected by God (DEUT 7:6-8), most of them hold to Supersessionism. That’s the belief that God replaced Israel with the church because they violated their covenant with God. This is a denial of election. The promise is not contingent on anything we do. It’s not conditional. Blessings and cursing/reaping and sowing is conditional, but not election. This same Reformed take on Israel applies to the individual as well: we are elected to participate in the race, but must be faithful to the church in order to not be disqualified from the race of faith. Calvinists don’t believe in election. As if their doctrine wasn’t goofy enough already—you can add that: the supposed sultans of election don’t even hold to it.

Besides, this paradox can be seen in real life. We implore people with all passion to be reconciled to God, especially Arminians. Yet, Arminians always credit God with saving the person. Few Arminians will ever be heard crediting themselves or the redeemed person for his/her salvation. Nor have I ever heard an Arminian pray to God that anyone would save themselves.

In additon, to satisfy my John Locke Christian friends, its science. Susan and I have a friend who is in the process of writing a book on God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. I will share a small portion of his manuscript to make my point:

Of course, it must be admitted that finite mankind has a limited capacity for understanding the workings of our Infinite Creator.  Consequently, one practical way to resolve this challenge to our faith is to face up to the reality of our finite ability to understand God’s workings.  In this approach, it is necessary to accept by faith those things that seem beyond any rational understanding.  For many, this may be a satisfactory solution to the dilemma.  In fact, a similar approach is sometimes followed in the field of science.  Consider, for example, the physics of light where two seemingly contradictory theories are used side-by-side to explain its different properties.  The wave theory is used to understand the oscillation aspects of light (e.g., Polaroid sunglasses), while at the same time the particle theory is employed to explain other applications (e.g., photoelectric solar panels).  Although these two theories are totally incompatible, each provides useful information in certain technical applications.  To date, scientists simply use the appropriate theory as needed for a particular design problem.  There is no worry about whether light actually exists as a wave, or as a particle, just because it is not yet fully understood.  This same approach may be taken in the spiritual realm and is probably the best stance to take in dealing with the apparent contradiction between individual free will and God’s total sovereignty.

As an avid reader of the Bible since my conversion in 1983, I began to take this position in 1986 and have not abandoned it yet. The apostles and others evangelized like it depended on them, but yet made strong statements regarding the sovereignty of God in salvation.

paul

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7 Responses

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  1. paulspassingthoughts said, on April 9, 2013 at 10:02 AM

    Reblogged this on Clearcreek Chapel Watch.

    Like

  2. Argo said, on April 9, 2013 at 10:24 AM

    Paul,
    I really enjoy your site and learn much. However, I do need to know if my comments disagreeing with you on points will be deleted. And if so, at least why. This will be a help to me.

    Like

    • paulspassingthoughts said, on April 9, 2013 at 11:23 AM

      Argo,

      If any of your comments have not passed through, it’s an accident. This blog is not afraid of apposing views. The exception is when people start wasting my time by being stupid.

      Like

  3. Argo said, on April 9, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    Paul,
    I apologize then. I have posted a short response to the wave/particle analogy on my site. If you are interested.

    Like

    • paulspassingthoughts said, on April 9, 2013 at 12:27 PM

      Argo,

      I did notice at one point where you made three comments on a post that seemed to be of a different subject: ie, you commented on the wrong post.

      Like

  4. trust4himonly- Faith said, on April 9, 2013 at 4:23 PM

    Argo I commented a couple times too and I did not see them on Pauls posts, so I think somehow they don’t get through sometimes.

    Thanks Paul for this great post…..

    Like

  5. Argo said, on April 9, 2013 at 5:02 PM

    Paul,
    Knowing me, that is possible.

    Like


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