Saturday, September 22, 2012

2 Peter 2:4-9

2 Peter 2:4-9
"For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; And spared not the old world but saved Noah, the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing the flood upon the world of the ungodly; And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; and delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked; (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:"

In the last post, I mentioned a false teacher in the Church today with a very popular book that promotes a denial of eternal punishment. Rob Bell denies the eternality of hell in his latest book, "Love Wins", while also proclaiming a universalist gospel. His message of "good news" is that eventually everyone will be accepted into heaven even if they do not repent of their sin. My last post inluded the impending judgment of these false prophets who deny the Lord Jesus Christ. Their judgment and damnation will not tarry long, but it will last for eternity. There are many false prophets in the vein of Bell who deny the existence of hell altogether, so they don't see any form of judgment in their future. 2 Peter 2:4-9 shows how these false prophets are in serious error and if in error, then trouble as well. 

God did not spare the angels from judgment for their lies and contempt, and He did not spare the old world for their wicked imagination but brought a flood of judgment upon them for their imagination which never ceased to conjure up wicked ideas. Nor did God spare Sodom and Gomorrah, but made an example out of them, to anyone desiring to live offensively towards God.
But in both the example of the judgment of the antediluvian world and the cities Sodom and Gomorrah, there were righteous men who found grace and mercy in the sight of the Lord. The apostle here is pointing out the great truth that the Lord knows just how to deliver the godly and save the righteous out of temptation. 

For the antediluvian world God spared Noah, who for one hundred and twenty years preached the good news that there was room in the Ark for anyone who repented of their sin and came to God seeking forgiveness. 

The same treatment was given for Lot who Peter graciously describes as godly. The story of Lot’s life is characterized by worldliness and yet he was preserved from judgment. As a result of yielding to his carnal nature, Lot’s righteous soul was vexed daily in sight and sound of the perverse acts of his neighbors the dwellers of Sodom and Gomorrah. For many christians today rather than seperating from the world like Abraham, they set their eyes on the plain of the world and it reminds them of their own sinful past. 

The abiding principle that the apostle is presenting here in the ninth verse is that the Lord knows and will reserve the godly out of judgment while at the same time reserving the unjust for judgment. The rapture of the Church is the primary doctrine taught today among those who believe that the Lord will deliver His heavenly people out of the path of judgment as He did with Noah, Lot, and countless others. 

There is, I believe, a practical, temporal application to this passage as well. If the Lord knows how to deliver the just out of temptation, why should that not include earthly trials as well as the wrath of the Lamb? For 1 Corinthians 10:13 says: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; But will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” Now, the Greek word for “temptation” in both 2 Peter 2:9 as well as 1 Corinthians 10:13 are the same. So when Paul was writing this letter to the Corinthians, he wanted them to know that first, the temptations they were experiencing were common and secondly, God would be faithful to not allow them to suffer more than they had the strength to. On the contrary, He will provide a way of escape for those in temptation. The major difference in the two verses is that Paul was talking about something earthly, temporal and Peter was referring to the final judgment that would envelope all inhabitants of the world who call not Christ their Savior. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Issues in Dispensationalism and Covenant/Reformed theology continued

Millenial and Eschatological views
When it comes to any verse pertaining to prophecy, Reformed and Dispensational christians are split on the issue. Reformed scholars tend to be either Amillenial or Postmillenial, while Dispensationalists are unequivocally Premillenial. This is no mere difference of opinion. It affects a believer's involvement in politics, missions, and also outlook for the future. An amillenialist or postmillenialist believes that it is their job to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven. In order to do this, they must make the world look as much like it will when Messiah comes to establish His kingdom. This includes many social outreach programs such as feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and caring for the enviroment. While each of these things are nice in and of themselves, they do not save souls. For the Premillenialist, especially the one who believes in an imminent rapture, sharing the gospel with the destitute along with a meal and clothing to show them the love of Christ, is our priority. The premillenialist does not do it to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven, only the King Jesus Christ has the ability to bring down His kingdom. The premillenialist goes out preaching the gospel because Christ could come back any second-- perhaps while you are reading this sentence. 

To help the reader remember the three prevalent millenial views better, let us look at the prefixes and suffixes of each one. The suffix for each one is the same: "-millenial". This comes from the latin word "mille" which means thousand and is used in other words such as millisecond, millimeter, millipede, etc. The prefix "a" means "without, lacking". So an amillenialist is someone who believes that there is no literal, earthly millenium. The prefix "post" means "after, later" and is where we get terms such as posthumous, or in sports, "post-game coverage". Postmillenialists believe that there is an earthly millenial reign, but that Christ will come after the millenial reign is through. The prefix is "pre" is means "before, prior" and is the reason why it is used in the term prefix to connotote that some words have an attachment to them that goes in front of the word itself. Premillenialists believe that there will be a literal, thousand-year reign of Christ on earth and that Christ must come down from heaven and establish it in order for the millenium to begin. 

Amillenialists and Postmillenialists while in disagreement on the literality of the millenium hold vital thing in common: they both either blur the line that seperates Israel and the Church, or they deny that such ever existed. It is of utmost importance to recognize the distinction of Israel and the Church that if one does not, then they could not possibly be a premillenialist. The reason why is because the millenium is a time for Israel, not the Church. The Church will reign at Christ's side yes, but they will reign in Jerusalem which will be the seat of Christ's earthly empire in the millenium (Isaiah 24:23; Joel 3:16,17). The millenium will bring in the complete fulfillment of the Abrahamic, Palestinian, Davidic and New covenants as they relate to Israel, its chief benefactor. If a believer sees no distinction between Israel and the Church, then the above covenants would be fulfilled in the Church which Covenant theologians see as one with Israel. 

Some of the teachings of amillenialism is that any verse referring to the earthly reign of Christ refers to this present age. The belief is that in this present age Christ is ruling from Heaven through His Church on earth. Verses in Revelation that refer to Satan being bound and thrown in the Abyss, the bottomless pit, are spiritualized to mean that at Calvary Christ's vicarious sacrifice caused Satan to be imprisoned. If Satan is bound in this present age through Christ's sacrifice, why did Peter warn in his first epistle that "your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour." (1Peter 5:8)? As one pastor comically put it, "if Satan is bound and imprisoned today, then he certainly has a long leash." What is meant by this is that Satan's influence today is apparent and widespread. So widespread in fact, that in 2 Corinthians 4:4 he is called the "god of this age", and Ephesians 2:2 calls Satan "the prince of the power of the air". A prince has a certain degree of authority; If a prince be bound, they have no power. The belief that Christ's kingdom is today and that He is ruling it from Heaven through His Church is where we get the false teaching that the Church is the Kingdom and also what is called Dominion Theology. 

The other view that stands in contrast to Dispensational premillenialism is postmillenialism. Unlike amillenialism, postmillenialists do believe in a literal thousand-year reign of Christ, but they believe that He will not return until after the millenium is finished. Many postmillenialists also believe in Dominion Theology and reject the belief of the rapture in favor of the Church enduring the Tribulation. According to postmillenialism, Jesus will return in His glorious Second Coming at the very end of this present earth's history after the Theocratic Kingdom (i.e. the Millenium) has been restored to earth through human effort. This teaching makes up the bulk of what Dominion Theology is; It is Postmillenial in nature and outlook. 

The premillenial view is not a novel view. Early Church fathers such as Justin the Martyr, Ireneaus, Polycarp, Tertullian, et. al held a premillenial view. It was not until sometime in the 3rd-century that the theologian Origen developed a new system of theology called Alexandrian theology. Greek philosophy, especially the gnostic Greek philosophy such as Neo-Platonism, played an important part in Alexandrian theology. Much of Greek philosophy advocated that anything which is physical or material is inherently evil, and only the totally spiritual is good. Through this influence the Alexandrian scholars developed the idea that an earthly, political Kingdom would be an evil thing, and that only a spiritual, nonphysical Kingdom would be good. This idea prompted Alexandrian theology to reject premillenialism and its physical, political precepts in favor of amillenialism.6

Along the lines of Premillenialism, another distinguishing feature of Dispensationalism that stands in contrast with Reformed eschatology is the teaching of the Rapture followed by a 7-year period called the Tribulation. The term "rapture" is not found anywhere in scripture as it is Latin in origin. The Greek version is "harpazo", meaning "to snatch out of the way" and appears in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 which reads: "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." The phrase "caught up" translates as "harpazo" in the Greek, which in turn translates into "raptura" in Latin where we get the term "rapture" today. Now it should be noted in the Dispensational camp there is some disagreement about the timing and/or extent of the Rapture. Some postulate that the Rapture will occur after the Tribulation but before the Second Coming of Christ and the installment of the Millenium. Adherents to this theory are called Post-Tribulationists. Another view is that the Rapture will take place sometime in the middle of the Tribulation, and those who hold to this view are called Mid-Tribulationists. A lesser held view is the Partial Rapture, the belief that when Christ comes for His Church, He will only take the faithful, devoted ones leaving the carnal, immature believers on earth to face the Tribulation. The view that is held by this author as well as the majority of believers that identify with Dispensationalism is known as the Pre-Tribulation Rapture view.

In order to understand the nature of the Rapture and thus, have an understanding of when it shall occur, and to whom, one needs to understand the nature of the Tribulation and the subjects of it. The Tribulation is referred to in the Old Testament in Jeremiah 30:7 as "the time of Jacob's trouble", a reference to Israel. Daniel 12:1-2 makes reference to the Tribulation calling it "a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time". Revelation 3:10-- often cited as a verse which gives strong support for a Pre-Trib Rapture-- states: "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." From these references and others, we can deduce who the subjects of the Tribulation are and other important details. According to Jeremiah 30:7, Israel is a main subject of the Tribulation. This passage and the one in Daniel show that the primary purpose of the Tribulation is to prepare Israel for her Messiah. God's purpose for Israel in the Tribulation is to bring about the conversion of a multitude of Jews, who will enter into the blessings of the kingdom and experience the fulfillment of all of Israel's covenants. And according to Revelation 3:10, the second main purpose of the Tribulation is to pour out judgment on unbelieving man and nations. The verse in its entirety reads : "Because you have kept the word of my patience, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation which will come upon the habitable world, to try those who dwell on the earth." (MKJV) By studying these significant passages that deal with this period of time known simply as the Tribulation, we can understand more fully its purpose and scope. 

Because the scope of the Tribulation is clearly towards Israel and the nations, one has to recognize that there is a distinction between Israel and the Church in order to accept the doctrine of the Rapture. One cannot hold to Covenant Theology and believe that the Church is going to be taken in the twinkle of an eye. The Rapture is for the Church and it is our hope that our Lord Jesus Christ will return someday in His physical Person for His Bride. It is not a mere escape plan the christians invented as Reformed theologians charge; It is our hope that we will see our Savior face to face as He picks us up to take us to His Father's mansion. It is a Heavenly blessing for a Heavenly people, whereas Israel is God's earthly people and God has not by any means cast Israel off (Rom. 11:1-5). Israel must endure a time of affliction to be brought to their knees in repentance. The Church (the true Church that is), on the other hand is made up of those who have put their faith in Christ for forgiveness of sins. They accept Christ's payment He made on their behalf at Calvary. For believers who make up the true Church, judgment has passed over them.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

mostly spiritual musings: Dispensationalism and Covenant/Reformed Theology

mostly spiritual musings: Dispensationalism and Covenant/Reformed Theology: (So I am suffering from a case of writer's block on having anything meaningful to say about 2 Peter or Jude. I wrote this article for a br...

Dispensationalism and Covenant/Reformed Theology

(So I am suffering from a case of writer's block on having anything meaningful to say about 2 Peter or Jude. I wrote this article for a brother at the assembly I go to, Northwest Bible Fellowship in Omaha, Nebraska)

Dispensationalism and Covenant/Reformed Theology

Theologically speaking, christians tend to fall into one of two categories: They either identify with and interpret scripture according to the Dispensational method, or according to the Reformed method. On the surface, one might not be able to tell the difference between a dispensational believer and a reformed believer. There are believers from both camps who love the Lord and have a zeal for the gospel and witnessing to others. Dispensational christians as well as Reformed ones name Christ as their Savior. So what's the difference between the two? Does it matter how you interpret the word of God? And, perhaps most importantly, can believers who adhere to one method of interpretation work alongside believers who adhere to a polar opposite method in proclaiming the gospel? The group of christians I meet with interpret scripture according to the Dispensational view, so in answering these and other questions in this article, I will be promoting Dispensational theology and its method of interpretation of scripture. 

One of the primary differences between Dispensational and Reformed theology is how scripture is to be interpreted. Dispensationalists interpret scripture in the literal sense or the more accurate term, the normal sense. Reformed theologians on the other hand, interpret scripture in the allegorical sense, spiritualizing the text. The result of a normal interpretation versus allegorical can be enormous. First, let us consider the allegorical method. Charles T. Fritsch summarizes the allegorical method thus: "According to this method the literal and historical sense of Scripture is completely ignored, and every word and event is made an allegory of some kind either to escape theological difficulties or to maintian certain peculiar religious views...".1 In regards to the creation account, the traditional Reformed view was a literal, chronological view. However, in recent years, many Reformed pastors and theologians have been interpreting even the creation account in an allegorical way. Now, this does not mean that some truth of an allegorical nature can not be gleaned from the creation account. For in that account we have Adam, a type of Christ being given a bride, Eve, a type of the Church from out of his side. From this perspective, the creation account presents a very beautiful truth about Christ and His Church. But this is only a secondary interpretation. The primary interpretation is that God put Adam into a deep sleep, and formed a woman out of his rib, and this woman would be called Eve. In order for the secondary allegorical interpretation to be true, the primary literal interpretation must be true. If the primary interpretation is not true in its literal sense, then the secondary interpretation can not be true in its allegorical sense. It is very important for all serious students of the Bible to not make an allegorical interpretation the primary interpretation unless scripture dictates otherwise. For example, the wisdom and poetry books of the Bible (Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Job) employ many similes and metaphors. These grammatical devices are allegorical by their very nature, so the primary interpretation ought to be understood in an allegorical context. Although the majority of Reformers do interpret the creation account in its proper literal context as its primary meaning, they are not consistent when it comes to their understanding of passages addressed to Israel. 

All or most Reformed theologians are in agreement about Israel and the Church in that the Church either replaced Israel ( a type of Reformed theology called replacement theology), or that the Church existed in Old Testament times as Israel. The latter view is the more common view, and as such, Reformed theologians disregard Acts 2 as being the start of the Church. Instead, they look in the OT to Genesis 15 where God establishes a covenant with Abraham as being the birth of the Church. The great danger to interpreting the word of God this way is clear: there is no way to test whether the conclusion makes sense. The authority of scripture is removed from itself and placed upon man and his often times fanciful interpretations. Take for example, the verse Isaiah 65:25: "The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD." The entire chapter of Isaiah 65 is prophetic of the Millenium yet to come. There is no reason to spiritualize the meaning or try to give this verse some mystical, meaning that is not apparent in the text. Now, consider John Wesley's interpretation of Isaiah 65:25: "The wolf, &c. - God here promises to take off the fierceness of the spirits of his peoples enemies, so that they shall live quietly and peaceably together. And dust - God promises a time of tranquility to his church under the metaphor of serpents eating the dust, their proper meat, Gen_3:14, instead of flying upon men: it signifies such a time, when wicked men shall no more eat up the people of God."2 Here, Wesley applies metaphors to the subjects of the verse, isolating the verse from the rest of scripture thus making it impossible to validate his interpretation.

Now, we will take up the literal, normal method of interpretation. David Dunlap says this of the literal method of interpretation: 
"The literal method of interpretation is often called the historical-grammatical method because it gives to words their normal meaning according to accepted grammatical rules and historical usage. It will be immediately recognized that this tends to lead to simplicity and clarity. In the grammatical sense, we read the Bible the same way as we do any other book. The literal method does not rule out the use of type, allegory, and symbol, but it does not make these the basis for interpretation."3 In other words, the literal method makes room for an allegorical interpretation, or the use of a type, shadow, or illustration, whereas the allegorical method does not make any room whatsoever for a literal method of understanding the text. Even when the literal method applies a metaphor in understanding a passage of Scripture, the meaning of the metaphor is to be taken literally. An example of this would be John 1:29 where John the Baptist cries out: "...Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world." John the Baptist was not referring to an actual, literal lamb-- he was referring to Christ who, like a sacrificial lamb would literally bear the sins of the world. Finally, Scripture itself asserts the plain, normal interpretation for in 2 Peter 1:20: "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation." 

In both Reformed and Dispensational theology, there is a ultimate goal, or program, of history; A goal God from eternity past designed and planned. With both theological systems the chief end of the program is the glory of God. However, in the Reformed system, God acheives this goal only through the redemption of the elect who He sovereignly chose for salvation from before the foundation of the world ( Note: this belief is not only Reformed but also Calvinistic, which the two share a close relation and we will address that down the road). In Dispensationalism, God acheives His goal of attaining glory for Himself not only through the redemption of repentant sinners, but in many other aspects. Renald Showers writes: "Although the redemption of elect human beings is a very important part of God's purpose for history, God not only has a program for the elect but also a program for the nonelect (Rom. 9:10-23). In addition, God has different programs for nations (Job 12:23; Isa. 14:24-27; Jer. 10:7; Dan. 2:36-45), rulers (Isa. 44:28-45:7; Dan. 4:17), Satan (Jn. 12:31; Rom. 16:20; Rev. 12:7-10; 20:1-3), and nature (Mt. 19:28; Acts 3:19-21; Rom. 8:19-22). Since God has many different programs which He is operating during the course of history, all of them must be contributing something to His ultimate purpose for history. Thus, the ultimate goal of history has to be large enough to incorporate all of God's programs, not just one of them."4 Covenant theology is a branch of Reformed theology, so throughout this article the two terms will be used interchangeably. Because Covenant theology places such a large focus on the redemption of the elect, it only sees two, or at most three covenants that God made with mankind throughout history. Dispensationalism with its broader scope, sees eight covenants in all. The covenants that are given according to the Reformed tradition are: the covenant of works, the covenant of grace, and the covenant of redemption ( the covenant of redemption is the covenant that most Covenant Theologians differ on). When one follows the literal method of interpretation, these covenants do not manifest themselves so clearly which is why Dispensationalists see eight covenants, all of which can be seen when the text is interpreted clearly and plainly. 

The covenants given by Dispensationalists are as follows: 1.) The Edenic Covenant (Gen. 2:16) conditions the life of the man in innocence. 2.)The Adamic Covenant (Gen. 3:15) conditions the life of fallen man and gives promise of a Redeemer. 3.) The Noahic Covenant (Gen. 9:16) establishes the principle of human government. 4.) The Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:2) founds the nation of Israel and confirms, the Adamic promise of redemption. 5.) The Mosaic Covenant (Ex. 19:5) condemns all men "for all have sinned." 6.) The Palestinian Covenant (Dt. 30:3) secures the final restoration and conversion of Israel. 7.) The Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:16) establishes the perpetuity of the Davidic family and of the Davidic Kingdom over Israel and over the whole earth, to be fulfilled in and by Christ. 8.) The New Covenant (Heb. 8:8) rests upon the sacrifice of Christ and secures the blessedness, under the Abrahamic Covenant of those who believe.5

Of these eight covenants, there are four that are hotly debated amongst Dispensationalists and Reformers. They are the Abrahamic, Palestinian, Davidic, and New Covenants-- all of which are directly and primarily related to Israel. For the Reformer, these four covenants are conditional and allegorical. The Dispensationalist on the other hand, sees them as unconditional and literal, which makes all the difference in the world. In the Abrahamic Covenant, God promised Abraham that through his seed, all the nations of the world would be blessed. Now if this promise was conditional, then we Gentiles can forget about receiving any kind of blessing because Abraham and his sons as well as the whole nation of Israel disobeyed God multiple times. If it were allegorical, then it is impossible to reconcile the fact that there are other promises God made with Abraham and his seed that literally came true. If the fulfilled promises and prophecies of scripture have come true in a literal sense, then it proceeds that the unfulfilled promises and prophecies of scripture will come true in a literal sense.