June 30, 2014.
Yesterday’s post (God and time, part one.) was the first in a two part series to try to understand a how God fits in and out of time and the implications we can draw from it. If you have not read yesterday’s post, I would suggest you do so now to get some background before you jump into today’s post. Time is a difficult concept to grasp when we are trying to think outside of it and I think my last post will at least help some.
Yesterday, we tried to wrap our minds around how God views time. Today we will discuss what that means for us. I think a good place to start is a short passage that we looked at yesterday:
“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”
We see from this passage (and from others) that God is unchanging. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. What does that mean about his word? There are a few passages that deal with this very concept:
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
“All flesh is like grassand all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”
(1 Peter 1:24-25)
The word of the Lord remains forever. Now there’s a statement. Why is this so? Because God is outside of time and defines right and wrong. When the Lord speaks, it is true and cannot change. You might ask “Then why was there a change in the Old Law?” The answer to this question takes a deeper understanding of the purpose of the law, which you can read about in an earlier post (the maturation of mankind). The Law was never meant to be permanent. It was meant to be a tutor until Christ came to lead us into a better way.
“What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”
Was the Law sin then? “By no means!” so says the apostle Paul. The Law served its necessary purpose and when Christ came, it’s purpose was completed. So there was a change in the law, as now we are under Christ.
“To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.”
(1 Corinthians 9:21)
So what does that mean? What does it mean to be under the law of Christ? The simple answer is that we live by the words of Christ and the New Testament. This is a good answer, but I don’t think we all believe it. Have you ever heard the argument “Well, that was just their culture back then…”? I have, and I have a problem with cultural arguments. I believe there may be a few legitimate “that was their time” arguments that can be made judging straight from the text (such as the apostolic age of miracles and certain styles of preaching/teaching that might to be the best fit for every time and culture, though this is somewhat subjective), but I do not believe that their are very many, especially when it comes to direct commands. Why? Because the word of the Lord abides forever.
Let me elaborate. We have discussed in times past the vast nature and power of God. We have discussed how God exists outside of time and knows all that has happened and ever will happen. Thus, when God gives a direct command through an apostle, how would that be bound to that specific time period? There are several common arguments as to why that I believe to be drastically flawed. Let’s take a look at a few of these arguments.
1. The early Christians had a strong Jewish background, so they didn’t understand the gospel as well as we do.
Whereas it is very true that the early Christians did have a strong Jewish background, I believe that it is dangerously arrogant of us to believe that we understand the gospel more clearly than first century Christians, especially when it comes to the apostles who were inspired by the Holy Spirit. I have actually heard someone say “well yeah, I think it is very clear that the early Christians believed that baptism was necessary for salvation because they were just coming off the law and were used to a works based salvation. But they were just wrong.”
This may sound correct at first, but it crumples under further investigation. What is this statement implying? It is implying that we have more wisdom today than the apostles did in the first century. It is implying that we are smarter than those guided directly to write by the Holy Spirit. It is also ignoring the fact that the New Testament writers spent a lot of time fighting against the Jewish mindset. To say that something they wrote doesn’t apply to us because they were mistaken about Christianity is to say God made a mistake in writing the New Testament. That is not something I want to say. Remember what our Lord said:
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
He said the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth, not just some. They knew what they were talking about. Paul was given his knowledge of the gospel directly from Christ himself, not from the earlier apostles (he didn’t have time to learn it, he immediately started preaching).
“I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.”
(2 Corinthians 12:1-4)
So how can we say that we know more than the apostles? I believe this is dangerous indeed.
2. The first century (and before) was a male dominated society, thus women were not considered in the correct light.
This statement comes up a lot when we discuss men and women’s role in the church. The truth of the matter is that the first century was a male dominated society. But honestly, Christianity treats women in a completely different (and better) way than this society did. Christianity emphasized the importance of women (and men) and welcomed them into the kingdom with open arms, because they are people just like men.
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Yet there are still roles set up in the church. This does not mean one gender is in any way superior to the other. Roles we’re set for specific reasons, and these reasons were not cultural.
“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”
(1 Timothy 2:11-14)
This is where people start to get upset. But let me ask you a question. If you were a Roman solider in 246 AD, who was created first and who sinned first? Adam and Eve. If you were a Jewish Rabbi living in 308 BC, who was created first and who sinned first? Adam and Eve. If you are a college student in the year 2014, who was created first and who sinned first? Adam and Eve. There are no time or cultural ties here. This will undoubedly make some mad, but that doesn’t change what is written, nor does in change God. Society’s norms do not defined God’s word, no matter how strong they are. And contrary to popular believe, roles do not define superiority/inferiority. Perhaps I’ll write on this later.
3. The apostles and disciples who wrote letters to Christians were writing specifically to that church or that people and it doesn’t apply to anyone else.
The letters in the New Testament were indeed written to specific churches (well, at least most of Paul’s letter are, the others are written to broader groups of Christians). But does that mean they don’t apply to us today? I don’t think so. There are specific things that don’t apply (such as when Paul asks Timothy to bring his cloak to him or when Paul tells the Corinthians to accept back a specific member who had repented, though this sets a good example for us), but most of the things in the letters are very applicable to us today. We can’t just call something “inapplicable” because we don’t like it and then quote another part of a letter for something we do like. That’s not how things work. Why would something be true for a Christian in the first century and not for a Christian in the twenty first century? Has God changed? Is His outlook on certain sins different now that society is okay with them? Certainly not. “For I, the Lord, do not change.” What was sin in the first century is still sin today. Were the things written in the letters commandments?
“Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.”
(1 Corinthians 14:36-38)
Were they to specific churches only?
“I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:27)
“Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.”
There is a reason that the letters are preserved in the New Testament. We should not let our arrogance make us forget about that.
4. The first century church did not deal with the same problems we do.
This is simply not true. Mankind has struggled with the same overall problems since the fall. If you take a step back and look at history, you will see the same problems and struggles amongst humans. The only thing that has changed is the material world around us. Whereas we might have a problem with gun shootings now, the Romans had the same problem with daggers. Whereas we have a problem with nations trying to take over nations now (think Russia and Crimea), border wars have been fought all throughout history. Whereas adultery and divorce may seem rampant in America today, Jesus himself taught about these two subjects 2,000 years ago. Humans really haven’t changed. “Thou shall not covet.” Jealousy is all around. “Thou shall not steal.” Theft is one of our biggest crimes. “Thou shall not have any other gods before me.” Well, America is defined by gods put before the Almighty. Our stuff has changed, but we are the same.
If you are still reading to at this point, I thank you for your time and dedication. Some of the implications of God being outside of time are hard to hear because they go against society’s norms. I hope I haven’t turned totally enraged you, but I am not going to apologize for the word of God. If you disagree, I ask that you at least consider these points. The word of God is living, sharper that a two-edged sword. Let us hear the word of God and forego the word of man.
Suggested Daily Reading: Jeremiah 31, Romans 6, 10, Hebrews 8.
Grace and peace.
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