One of the bits of advice I got during marital counseling and also via websites and gurus of relationships and marriage, was the importance of sex to the strengthening of the marital bond. And the standard advice at the end of the day was couched one way or the other in this form – each marriage is different, but so far as is possible for the couple, they should have sex regularly, probably a number of times each week.
Now of course that was brilliant news for a couple pining away to be with each other, and when the marriage was finally entered into, we certainly did our best to have as much of it as we can, leading to two children as we speak (the most recent one giving us red and tired eyes from sleeplessness). But it’s become obvious to me the value of that advice – sex between a married couple is indeed a reminder of their bonds with one another i.e. it is a covenant reminder. No matter how couples fight, if they still agree to have sex, it means there is still hope for the union.
And so my recent ruminations on the relationship between the Great Commandment and Communion has lead me to wonder why we are not applying the same “wisdom” to communion. Think about it. In my previous post, I came to the conclusion that the command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Mt 22:37-38 NIV)” is a covenant reminder. Hence it is not surprising that Yahweh instructs the Israelites to find ways to daily remind themselves of that covenant via all sorts of ingenious means (writing them on door frames, as symbols on hands, talking about them daily etc). If that is the case, then I have a few questions for Christians to ponder on this subject.
Why have most Protestant churches (including those I identify with i.e. historically Anabaptist) so regimented Communion to a once-a-month affair? I know most of the excuses, but I sincerely don’t buy it because the Roman Catholics are able to do it every Sunday, so if we wanted to, we could. If communion is a covenant reminder like in marriage, would our marriage counselors be satisfied to hear that we (the church community) only “have sex” with our husband once a month? Why can’t we do this more often?
Why have we (most Protestants) made communion into an exercise in reflection on personal piety, when it’s primarily a reminder of our relationship with God and with one another? Somehow we’ve ignored the real point that Paul was addressing with his instructions to the Corinthian church (the issue of disunity, captured succinctly in 1 Cor 11:17-22, but visible all throughout the letter), and hence have interpreted v 23-34 as a diatribe on personal holiness. Can we get back to a communal-covenant theology instead of an individualist-legal theology when talking about communion?
On the other hand, why have the Roman Catholics so mystified communion to the point where there is no real connection to the event? Yes, I know they view the wine and bread as the literal blood and body of Jesus, but for the love of peace can we get past those pagan notions and pay attention to the Jewish context of Passover, why it existed and why Jesus would transform that into his own meal for his disciples?
Most importantly, and this one applies to almost all Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. Why have we implanted the idea in the heads of our congregants that 1) communion can only be administered by clergy and 2) that it can only be had in the 4 walls of a church building. I’m sure most churches will disagree with this accusation, but I’m yet to see any visible efforts at encouraging Christians to have communion in their homes with one another – that’s probably because most of us place no real value to meetings in homes anyway, unlike the early Christians. This attitude is akin to a marital counselor telling the about-to-be-married couple to only have sex in their bedroom. Well, some of us will be going to hell if that was the case, but I know that God is more imaginative and fun than that, considering he want his commands on door frames and the like.
So those are my 4 short and sweet questions. I know I’m rocking a few boats, but that’s what boats exist for – to be rocked.
Let us remember that there is a good reason for New Testament’s imagery of Jesus Christ and his church being depicted as a marriage. Prophets like Hosea started the trend in regards to Yahweh and Israel, and the NT simply followed in that direction. If we want our marriage (as a community) to Jesus to be as exciting as we want human marriages to be, let us reconsider the importance of the one tool of covenant renewal – sex. Let us have more of it, more regularly. (Oops sorry, I meant communion).
I have a confession to make – I’ve developed a deeper appreciation and interest in the Old Testament, and it’s deepening my reading and understanding of the New, especially of the Gospels and of Paul’s letters. It has also radically re-aligned my understanding of one of the most important practices within Christianity since it’s foundation – the Communion or Eucharist. This is partly because I’ve been reading a lot of OT scholars of late, but also because of Richard Hays’ enlightening work in “Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels” about making use of metalepsis when reading OT quotations one finds in the NT. By metalepsis, Hays simply means that when one sees a verse of the OT quoted in the NT, do not just look for the corresponding verse in the OT and be satisfied, but rather read the whole OT chapter or chapters from which that one verse was obtained and quoted in the NT. Following that advise has wrecked my theology of Communion – but only for the better. So let me share with you how metalepsis has challenged my understanding of Communion.
The Greatest Commandment
The Gospels record a time when Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment in the Torah. Jesus responded by saying
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Mt 22:37-38 NIV)
Years ago I simply thought of this as an injunction to strengthen my personal relationship with God via much bible study, prayer, church activities and a zeal to be obedient to God’s laws as found in the Bible. Of course, having been brought up a Pentecostal, such an individualist interpretation of this passage is well within acceptable bounds and will be common to many readers of this post. But going back to read and reflect on Deuteronomy 6 where Jesus quotes this from yields a much more interesting interpretation than most will be used to.
The Shema, Ancient Israel and the Ancient Near East
If one reads the above passage from any good bible, one might see a footnote that points to Deut 6:5 as the source of Jesus’s quotation in Mt 22:37-38. What many readers of the bible may not know however is that Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is the foundation of a famous prayer called the Shema which was recited by Jews in Jesus’s day and is still recited by modern day practicing Jews as well. You can find out a bit more about it here. The fact that Jesus was quoting from the Shema is more obvious if you read Mark’s account of the interaction (Mk 12:29-34), which starts off with “Hear, O Israel…”, exactly as the opening line of the Shema.
Reading the whole of Deuteronomy 6 however, I found that the primary concern of Yahweh giving that commandment to love him so wholly was tied to something I’m discovering more and more all over both the OT and subsequently, seeing it’s footprints in the NT – Yahweh had a covenant relationship with Israel, who in their Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) culture were surrounded by many neighbouring nations who worshiped many other gods. Therefore this injunction to love Yahweh with their heart, soul and mind was a covenant reminder – a reminder not to go chasing after those other gods. Check out some subsequent verses in Deut 6.
“It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you – for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God – lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.” (Deut 6:13-15 NIV)
Note that the consequence of following those other gods were not just personal. This injunction was about the fate of the nation Israel, not about an individual’s own punishment.
I also began to notice that many of the commandments in the Torah are prefixed or suffixed by a reminder that Yahweh was the one who delivered them from Egypt (or the one who created the world) and hence the only one they were to worship (Ex 20:1-3; Deut 5:6-7; Lev 26:13-14).
Many of us modern readers may miss the seriousness of this injunction because we tend to have separations between our religious convictions and our day to day interactions with people around us, but in the ANE world, everybody’s religious beliefs were part and parcel of their lives and all activities, including how they related to other neighbours. Having one’s “personal” or “family” gods in addition to national gods was the norm, not the exception amongst ancient Israel’s neighboring nations with whom they interacted regularly.
Hence what Jesus calls “the greatest commandment” was a commandment to Israel mainly to remind them to avoid unfaithfulness to Yahweh and switching their loyalty away from him to other gods. It was a covenant reminder. In a culture that was surrounded by many gods, an intentional effort was needed to remind them of the one Creator god with whom they had a special relationship as a nation. Hence the encouragement not just to love with all their minds, heart and soul, but additionally to “impress them on your children”, “tie them as symbols on your hands” etc etc. As with all outward showings of belief aka rituals, doing these things were not a guarantee of one’s love for Yahweh, but a means to remind oneself of who one was vis-a-vis one’s God. Unfortunately as with all outward expressions of inner belief, sometimes the rituals themselves gain a life of their own, leaving what it was supposed to remind us of itself behind. This is exactly the case by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, but in addition this has been the bane of all religions, Jewish, Christian, Islam, you name it. Too many of us find our comfort in our symbols rather than what they are supposed to represent.
The Wine as a Covenant Reminder
Having been directed to the importance of covenant in understanding the death of Jesus Christ by Michael Gorman of which I wrote about here, my mind immediately saw the link between “The Greatest Commandment”, and the wine of communion. When Jesus picked up the wine to share with his disciples, he called it “the blood of the covenant” (Mt 26:28 NIV) and “new covenant in my blood”. In this process, Jesus was not only evoking the “blood of the covenant” in Ex 24:8, he also invoked Jeremiah’s prophecy of a “new covenant” (Jer 31:31). Mulling this over, I came to the following conclusion.
Drinking of the communion wine is primarily an act reminding us that we the gathered people together are in a covenant relationship with God. It is a reminder to uphold the 1st great commandment – to not follow any other god but Yahweh, who has revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ.
The Bread as Community and Unity Reminder
Which brought me then to the subject of the bread. I’m yet to find any Old Testament linkage of Jesus’s use of the bread to signify his body. However, looking at Paul’s epistles and his statements about “the body of Christ”, it seems to be that the bread then stands for the unity of the participants gathered as one people of God. Paying better attention to the full context of Paul’s injunctions in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 then, one sees Paul’s rebuke of disunity in the body of Christ at Corinth as manifesting itself in how they actually didn’t have “the Lord’s supper” , but rather were eating individual meals (v 20-21). And given that the whole NT is emphatic that love of God must lead to love of brother, I came to the second conclusion.
Eating the communion bread is primarily an act reminding us that we who are gathered are one in the body of Christ, accepted by grace and of equal worth before God. Just as the unleavened bread used in the Passover during Jesus’s last supper with the disciples, we are indeed holy and set apart for his purposes – that of being a royal priesthood and a holy nation for the benefit of the world. We are made up of Jews, Gentiles, slave, free, male, female, Ewe, Akan, Dagomba, Fante, American, Chinese, Yoruba, Igbo etc. Nothing must divide us, because nothing can separate us from the love of God which we already confess by taking the wine. It is a reminder of the second greatest commandment – love your neighbour as yourself.
Rethinking Christian Unity
Following from these 2 conclusions on Communion, it became more obvious to me the futility of building Christian unity without prioritizing what Jesus explicitly commanded we must do regularly – communion and its associated Christian fellowship. As I put on my Facebook wall recently, Jesus never said “when you meet, have bible discussions in remembrance of me”, but rather speaking of communion, he says “do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me”. As Scott McKnight pointed out recently whiles reviewing Christian Smith’s “The Bible Made Impossible” (a book I enjoyed myself and highly recommend), it is impossible to build unity around unity of biblical interpretations, and the abundance of divisions between many churches all claiming to obtain their authority from “Scripture only” is clear evidence to that fact. Unity built on “doctrine” and biblical interpretations is only possible among those who hold the same thoughts on these kinds of matters, which renders the concept of Christian unity quite unattainable.
So, I’ve come to some conclusions after such re-arrangement of my mental furniture regarding communion, Christian unity and the Great commandments. Whiles I continue to vigorously pursue improving my understanding of Jesus via the study of scripture, of theology and cultural/historical backgrounds of the biblical text, I’ve resolved that the pursuit of fellowship takes precedence over the pursuit of theological “rightness”. I’ve found myself having communion in some “unapproved” locations with some “unapproved” friends, and we’ve enjoyed doing so tremendously. This has not dulled my interest in learning one bit, but has rather led me to understand Jesus better – he was more interested in gaining a “negative” reputation for spending time eating and drinking with the “unacceptables” than he was pleasing the theological gatekeepers of his time. He didn’t have to compromise any of the truth he knew, but he knew that truth has a purpose – that in him (Jesus Christ) “God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor 5:19)
Isn’t it genius of Jesus to use the one practice he commanded us to do regularly to also serve as a means to remind us of the 2 Greatest Commandments?
I’ve been meaning to do a series on common statements that Ghanaian Christians make on a day to day basis which have become accepted, but where what we actually mean by such statements are totally unrelated to how those phrases are used biblically, or a sheer abuse of the phrase for a parochial interest. I start off with one that is very popular among Ghanaian Christians, but which has a very negative effect on our ability to actually follow in the example of Jesus.
Twi: “Enfa wo were enhye nipa mu”
English: “Do not put your trust in man”
What Ghanaian Christianity Means By This Phrase
This is probably the most used and abused phrase by Ghanaian gospel musicians and preachers alike. It is typically meant to convey the idea that when one has a problem, it is useless to actually seek help and advise from any human being about it, including even one’s brethren in Christ.
This way of interpreting the above scriptural statement is further aggravated by the incidence of gossip that is so rife in many churches. As a result, church (in a lot of Christians’ experience) is no longer a safe place for one to find brethren who can be of help in one’s journey of faith and in whom one can confide. Finally, it has led many Ghanaians to anachronistically now put their faith in so called “men of God”, because they are the ones whom God listens to, so God can solve their problem.
In summary then, this phrase has come to mean simply “Everyone for himself, God for us all”. The Ghanaian Christian usage of this phrase is akin to a picture of many people gathered in a building and each person taking their own telephone line and making a call to God to tell them their personal problems. At the end of the day, we all say goodbye and we go home.
What The Phrase Means in Context
Ps 146:3 “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save”
Ps 118:8-9 “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.”
Is 2:22 Stop trusting in mere humans,who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?
One of the easiest clues to what the authors meant is by asking why apart from skepticism about “trust in human beings”, they almost always add skepticism about trust in “princes”. This alone should sound the alarm bells that the authors of the Old Testament were not talking about refraining from telling your brother that you are hungry and broke.
You see, the people of Israel had a covenant relationship with Yahweh, which required that if they are faithful to their side of the covenant, Yahweh will remain faithful to his. One of the obligations of the covenant on Yahweh as captured in Torah (the books of Moses) was that he was to be the protector of that nation, in so far as the nation stayed faithful to him. This reciprocal relationship is what is captured in Deut 28-30, in what people sometimes describe as “blessings and curses” of the Law.
Yahweh in many ways forbid Israel from having a standing army, so that the people of Israel will rely on him to save them, not on their military might. A clear example of this is how Yahweh orders Gideon to reduce the size of his army by so using methods like asking them to drink water at a river and choosing those who did it right, etc etc. (Judges 6-7). But as usual the nation sometimes got scared when an enemy was at their gates, and some of their kings refused to rely on Yahweh for salvation, but to form alliances with other nations for their protection. The problem with such alliances was that since every nation in the Ancient Near East had it’s own god/gods, this presupposes that Israel was no longer relying on Yahweh but on the god of whatever nation they were looking up to, which was the functional equivalent of idolatory and sin. Therefore the prophets never ceased to criticize these alliances and the kings/leaders of Israel who forged them with their neighbours, warning that such alliances are an idolatrous breach of the covenant with Yahweh and will bring negative consequences. An example of such criticism is Is 30.
Is:30:1-2; “Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the Lord, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin; who go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge.”
In context then, these warnings are to ensure that Israel should not abandon trust in Yahweh to defend them and to keep his promises, and has very little to do with listening to and helping one another.
If we are going to extrapolate what lessons this holds for us today, we should rather be realizing that God is questioning the Christian church’s and it’s membership’s faith in political institutions, rather than preventing us from sharing our concerns with one another in church.
Have we not noticed how Christians, even church leaders, feel so frustrated with government after government for not “fighting corruption” or “fixing the economy” or proposing to “solve dumsor in 3 months”? Have we not noticed our churches holding “thanksgiving services” (whatever that means) for our political parties et al? Is it not a sign that we have put our faith in “princes” and “human beings”, when we should be putting our faith in Jesus? Or is it because paying attention to Jesus actually means when times are hard we should actually be caring for our church members instead of asking more money from them and complaining that “the bad economy has affected our collections”?
Ironically, there’s a Ghanaian saying that “the one who sells his sickness finds a cure for it”. Can we go back to selling our sicknesses to one another as the New Testament shows, that we may be rid of this abuse of scripture and stop doing harm to the body of Christ?
A few days ago someone asked me a question that I’d been asked quite a few times before, and this time I couldn’t bring myself to give him a direct answer to his question. This is because over the years, my own understanding of the issue had grown beyond “is it this or that” to questioning the assumptions behind that question. Since my alarm deceived me and made me wake up at 3 am instead of 5am this morning, I thought to make good use of the time and share here the question and how I now approach it.
“Is it possible to lose one’s salvation or is it ‘once saved always saved’?”
This is typically asked by someone who tends to be worried that a fellow brother or sister may be taking their “salvation” for granted and not living according to what the questioner expects them to live as a Christian. The legalist in us then seeks to warn the “sinner” that they may loose their salvation as the New Testament would seem to suggest in different places, whiles the “sinner” will also strongly hold to the libertine stance of “there is no condemnation for me” also found in so many other places in the NT.
How to resolve it? Challenge the assumptions.
One of the greatest achievements of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century was to put grace front and center of the Christian life and doctrine, and we can all be thankful for that. However, this achievement was not without a fair amount of “demonization” of 1st century Judaism by interpreting the letters of Paul in a certain angle.
The Roman Catholic church had taken up the payment of penances and indulgences as a means of giving one’s favourite dead grandmother a quick passport to heaven instead of her spending a few hundred years in purgatory (after all who doesn’t love their adoring grandmother). This practice became an issue of concern to Martin Luther, John Calvin and the other leaders of the protest movement, and to buttress their arguments against an obviously wrong practice, they harnessed Paul’s writings on grace against law to finally break away from the Catholic church. In this scheme of things, the Roman Catholic church were cast as Paul’s 1st century “Judaizers” who thrived by “works” aka penances and indulgences, whiles they the reformers represented Paul, wielding one thing only – grace. The rest as they say is history.
Unfortunately this has coloured the way a lot of us read the Old but especially the New Testament, and even the gospel itself has been reduced to a question of grace as opposed to what it is about – that Jesus is Lord of the world.
What the past century is teaching us though is that Judaism was not quite the “works” religion that we thought it was (or at least not as defined by the Reformation). And in fact if we are to pay better attention, we might realize that Christianity and 1st century Judaism have a lot more in common, and maybe we have been asking the wrong question about salvation being lost or not for quite a while.
The Reality – Grace In the Old Testament
A closer attention to the Torah seems to yield the fact that Israel was a chosen nation by grace. They didn’t work for it, they didn’t have to pay any penances or indulgences to be a chosen people of God. They were chosen because their forefather Abraham had shown faith in God’s promise to remake the world through him. Simple and short.
In fact, Moses had to remind them how they become a chosen people: because he loved their ancestors.
Deut 7:6-8 “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand …”
Deut 10:14-15 “To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today.”
Do you realize the similarities between this and Paul’s statements about being chosen, being saved, grace etc not because of our “works” but BECAUSE GOD LOVES JESUS and Christians who are in Christ are also loved and saved?
Rom 8:1 “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”
Eph 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast”
Eph 3:6 “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”
These similarities should tell us 2 things.
There is very little doubt that the principle of favouring a people because of someone else’s status before God is what runs through both the Old and New covenants and these 2 people are Abraham and Jesus Christ. In the case of the Old covenant, being born an Israelite was all it took, in the case of the New covenant, being born of Christ is all it takes.
The point about grace is about election – who are the chosen people of God. An individual may be added to the people of God (aka saved by grace), but the covenant is not just about their individual selves but about God’s intent for the corporate entity called “the people of God”. In the latter, it is Israel, in the former it is the church.
Therefore if the old covenant only required being born an Israelite, then one needed to somehow declare oneself not an Israelite anymore for one to be outside the grace of God. I believe the same applies to a Christian. Once saved, they are indeed “under grace” forever unless they choose not to be.
The Caveat – Covenant Faithfulness
But the point of being the chosen people of God was always meant to achieve something beyond themselves. The point of being a chosen people was so they could point the rest of the world to Yahweh. To enable them do this, Yahweh gives them a set of laws to obey which if they obeyed, it will be well with they themselves as well as draw others to be attracted to this god called Yahweh.
Deut 4:6-7 “Observe them [the Torah] carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’. What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?”
The above harkens back to God’s promise to Abraham
Gen 12:2-3 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; … and all peoples on earth will be blessed THROUGH you.”
What was the consequence of covenant unfaithfulness? Not that they will no longer be considered God’s chosen people (people of grace), but even whiles still being considered so, will suffer judgment, great loss and ultimately exile, as documented in Deut 28-30. Of course we know that these judgments did come upon them with the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, and the evidence for that is well documented in the stories of the kings and prophets.
What do we find in the New covenant? Jesus launches his ministry and calls many to follow him. He tells people that being children of Abraham is no longer enough, but rather following him is. Behaving strikingly like Moses giving the law to Israel, he also takes his place on a mountain and delivers what most scholars refer to as his Torah in the Sermon on the Mount. Even while delivering it he places down his warnings as well, just like Moses.
Mt 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
Elsewhere in John 15 he says he is the vine, and his followers are the branches. But they will be judged if they don’t bear fruit.
John 15:5;16 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing … You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last”
The Answer To The Question
It would seem then that although the covenants may be different, the intended goal was and has always been the same. God chooses a people out of his love (grace) and not because of what they’ve done (works), and sets them on a journey beyond themselves to do WORKS because of his redemptive plan for the whole world. The same Ephesian letter says it quite succinctly.
Eph 2:10 “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”
Grace always goes with covenant faithfulness, and the disciples being normal 1st century Jews (and not 16th century Europeans) didn’t pretend about this at all even in the new covenant.
Its sad to note then that Martin Luther in his unfortunate attempt to demonize works, was actually in favour of removing the book of James from the Protestant bible because James said things like this
James 2:14 “Faith without works is dead”
That would have been a grave loss to the Protestant church if the other Reformation leaders had agreed to this proposal.
Salvation then (as put in the original question. Salvation means much more but we’re sticking to the above usage) is about inclusion into the people of God through the person of Jesus Christ. God has no intention of taking that inclusion away from you if you don’t exclude yourself. After all what shall separate you from the love of God (Rom 8:35)?
However, it is a recruitment call of those who are glad to participate in God’s redemptive work for the world. Non-participation, or false participation, will always go with severe judgment. The old covenant had it, the new is not getting rid of it anytime soon. Not even if Martin Luther wants to.
I find that one of the greatest confusions created by dominant Christianity today is the (un)intentional mingling and confusion of some of the foundations or truths of the covenants of the Law and that of Grace (or Old and New Testaments). I’ll try in this post to outline some of differences between them and how these understandings should influence our actions as Christians.
The New Testament is based on what God “promised to our fathers” (Ac 13:32; 2 Co 7:1;2 Pe 3:4,9). It is based on unconditional promises made to Abraham (Ge 12:2-3;15:4-21; Gal 3:14,16) and repeated his immediate descendants Isaac (Ge 26:24) and Jacob (Ge 28:13-15) and also to David (2 Sa 7:11-16;Is 55:3-5). However after 400 years of giving the promises he now creates a new covenant – one based on a conditional promise (Ex 19:5) to his favourite nation Israel (contained in all of Ex 19-24). Heb 8:6 says the New Testament is founded on better promises. You see why?
Both covenants had mediators, and the Old Testament’s mediator was Moses (Dt 5:4-5; Jn 1:17; Gal 3:19). However there is something unique about the New Testament. Because it is based on an unconditional promise, it means that one cannot appeal to any middle person to force compliance or fulfillment of that promise (it is self-maledictory – Heb 6:13-14,18). The delivery of that promise is based on the person’s own honour. God is forced to fulfill his sworn promise by coming down on earth himself in the form of Christ. And so Christ is the mediator of the covenant which He himself, as the word of God (Jn 1:1) covenanted with the fathers (1 Ti 2:5;Heb 12:24; 8:6; 9:15). This is what Paul meant when he said “A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one” (Gal 3:20). God himself is the keeper/enforcer of his own covenant through Christ – no middleman.
The promises made to the fathers contained elements for not only Israel’s attention but for the whole world at large. God tells Abraham that “all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you”. He reiterates it to Jacob as well (Ge 28:13-15). God tells David that his kingdom will be established and will rule the world forever. However note what Moses says in Dt 5:3: “It was not with our fathers that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today”. Ex 19:5 says “out of all nations you will be my treasured possession”. The Law was given for Israel and Israel alone to follow. It could be applied to a gentile only if they had been converted to Judaism.
In the Old Testament a tribe was set aside as the tribe of priests, the Levites. They alone were to offer prayers and sacrifices both on behalf of themselves and the nation under the leadership of a high priest. In the New Testament, the High Priest is Christ himself (Heb 8:1-2) who once and for all performed the sacrifice in the heavenly typification of the earthly temple with his blood (Heb 9:23-26). This is in stark contrast to the Old Testament where the chief priest had to offer blood again and again to cleanse both himself and the nation. Also the New Testament considers all its partakers priests. All these priests must act under the direction of the Holy Spirit and display different gifts and ministries in an equal brotherhood as children of promise (Joel 2:28; Jer 31:34; Eph 4:11;1 Co 12:7-11). There is no division between so called “clergy” and “laity” (1 Pe 2:4-5; 9-10) as this is just an attempt by self-serving men to use OT priesthood to confuse and therefore gain control over their fellow NT brothers (Gal 4:21-31). “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come – one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?” (Heb 7:11). No wonder Gal 5:1 says “do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery“.
In the Old Testament tithes were paid to the Levitical priesthood and they alone had the right to determine what to do with it – “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting” (Nu 18:21,24;Mal 3:8). Abraham paid his tithe to Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God (Ge 14:18-20). Tithing began before the Law was given and the first instance of it was not to a Levite, for they did not exist then. However, in the Law God redirected it to be paid to them. The New Testament, founded on the “promises to the fathers” and not on the Law requires that we pay our tithe to our High Priest whose priesthood is “of the order of Melchizedek”. As Heb 7:9-10 says, even Levi can be considered to have paid it even when he was still in the loins of his forbearer Abraham. Because the New Testament banishes the Levitical priesthood (v 11), the already illegal “clergy” has no right to claim tithes paid by Christians to Christ as theirs. We as a “people”, a “priesthood” and a “nation” of and belonging to Christ have the right to determine what we want to do with our tithes, which could include giving “double honour” to the elders whose work is teaching and preaching (1 Ti 5:17-18). They themselves cannot claim “Levitical priesthood” and do what they want with it. I hope they realise that “when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law” (Heb 7:12) and come to repentance. Our tithing as Christians is not paid to Old Testament Levitical priesthood but to the priest “of the order of Melchizedek” – Christ. Christians must wake up and stop being deceived by the so called “men of God”.
In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon men and women of God, such as his prophets, kings etc (Jg 6:34;1 Sa 10:10). In those times the Holy Spirit was an influence that came upon them to do the will of God. In contrast the Spirit lives with and in men and women of the New Testament (Jn 14:15-17;Jn 7:37-38;Joel 2:28;Ac 2:4;Eph 5:18). That is why Paul says we individually are a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Co 6:19) and as a group are also the temple of the Spirit (1 Co 3:16). The work of conviction of the unrepentant person is done by the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:8), therefore the Old Testament experience of the influence of the Spirit exist for anyone who comes into Christianity anew. But the new experience of the Spirit must be felt by him filling each and every disciple. He is our only source of power to do good works (Ac 1:8), the seal guaranteeing our inheritance (Eph 1:14), the One who leads us into all truth (Jn 16:13), teaches us the mind of God (1 Co 2:10,16) and binds us together into one body (1 Co 12:13) . Works done without the direction of the Spirit does not and cannot please God (Ro 8:6-8;Gal 5:16-18). His indwelling presence in every believing Christian cannot be overemphasized, failure of which only leads to “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Ti 3:5). No doubt the majority of the church today is guilty of this grave sin, with orthodox Christianity the most guilty.
The Old Testament had special days and times set aside for special events – Passover, Sabbath, Feast of Weeks, Feast of Trumpets, Feast of Tabernacles etc (Lev 23). However, all these were set aside with the coming into being of the New Testament, especially for us Gentiles (Gal 3:23-25). That is why Paul was concerned when he found the Galatians “observing special days and months and seasons and years” (Gal 4:10). The only sacrament of the New Testament covenant is that of The Lord’s Supper and no more. This is one reason why it is not a vital issue whether we meet on a Saturday or Sunday so far as we do not neglect gathering together to encourage and build up one another, and another reason why the early predominantly Gentile church decided to meet on “the Lord’s day” (Ac 20:7). However modern Christianity has burdened itself with all sorts of institutionalized Christmases and Easters and Lents etc. Observe that anytime God told Abraham to do something and he (Abraham) did something else in addition, trouble came out of such an action. Look at the trouble Lot brought him (Ge 13-14) when God gave a simple instruction – “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household …” (Gen 12:1). God promised him a son by Sarah, but being impatient he had to go for one from Hagar first and we all know how his descendants are suffering for that. Are we trying to write our own version of the Law? Now Christianity finds its “special days” hijacked by the world for it’s own pleasures and we are battling to explain to an unrepentant world the significance of our own self-instituted, non-scriptural “special days”. Santa Claus is going nowhere. We created him!
These are a few that I’ve discovered so far. Hope to flesh it up with more as the Holy Spirit gives the guidance. In the meantime ponder them in your head, and find out whether you are being “Lawful” or “Graceful”.