The Willies and the Fantods

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One of the things I do from time to time is draw lessons for the United States from the history of Israel in the Old Testament. I know that this must exasperate some good folks, making them dance beside their computers in frustration, exclaiming to their ceiling fan that I clearly don’t know that America is not the chosen nation, that the old covenant is not the new covenant, that baptism is not circumcision, and so on.

But actually I do know, appreciate, embrace and love all those distinctions. Yay for all of that. Something else is going on, which I will touch on briefly. Then I will say something about how we can, at the very least, still talk this way on the basis of story. And then I will apply a lesson from ancient Israel to the current cultural morass we find ourselves in.

The church is no longer “confined to one nation, as before under the law” (WCF 25.2). This does not mean that God’s Word in the Old Testament now applies to no nation, but rather that it applies, through the gospel, to every nation. To apply the fulfillment of all the blessings purchased by Christ to a modern nation is only a theological violation if we tried to limit that to one nation, as in “our own”. But the Deuteronomic blessings have already been enjoyed by multiple nations, and, as the gospel progresses, will be enjoyed by many more.

But let us say that you have not (yet) been persuaded to drink the postmill circus water. Let us say that the thought of baptizing babies still gives you both the willies and the fantods. Let us grant that you don’t want to get swept up in an overrealized eschatology. I mean, who wants that?

We can still take the lessons we need to take from the Old Testament because God is still the same God, and people, at their best, are still the same old dufflepuds. At the very least, we should still be gaining wisdom from the older Word in the same way that we can learn from Wormtongue and Theoden, from Shift and Puzzle, and from the dragon and St. George. We are so far gone that we don’t believe in the authority of stories anymore.

“The Lord will smite thee with the botch of Egypt . . . The Lord shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart: And thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness, and thou shalt not prosper in thy ways” (Deut. 28:27–29).

This is where we are. Our seers, our pundits, our analysts, our brainiacs, are all specialists in groping at noonday.

The verses that follow this indicate why I have been emphasizing, for many years, the importance of rejoicing in God — and rejoicing materially in Him. The joy of the Lord is our strength, and it is a lamentable fact that Christians have by and large been guilted into abandoning their strength.

“Moreover all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee, till thou be destroyed; because thou hearkenedst not unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which he commanded thee: And they shall be upon thee for a sign and for a wonder, and upon thy seed for ever. Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things; Therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things: and he shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck, until he have destroyed thee” (Deut. 28:45–48).

We are to stand for the gospel, and for the honor of Christ, rejoicing in a thick creation. We are not to use our piety as some kind of creational paint thinner, pouring it into the bucket so that “the things of earth might grow strangely dim.” No — Israel was judged because of her refusal to serve God with joyfulness, with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things. Christians need to learn how to fight with their stuff by being grateful for it.

And when God delivers, it will be with a fiery law from His right hand (Dt. 33:2), followed by a fiery gospel, tongues of flame resting on the heads of His people.

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Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
8 years ago

Thank you for encouraging the cheer & joy we alone own in and from Him! You rightly balance insight into and criticism of the negatives swirling down to toilet around us with the good stuff we have ready to displace. Do you plead an exception to WCF 25.2 (the visible Church … the Gospel … confined to one nation … before … under the law), what given Abel & Noah & Hiram & Jethro & Nineva …? Was there argument from the Westminster divines on this point? — that the Gospel has always been catholic & universal, including before &… Read more »

john k
john k
8 years ago

At the time of Jacob, the visible church of the Old Testament became confined to his descendants, the “commonwealth of Israel,” and those who joined them (Eph. 2:12). Not all of these were saved (Acts 7:51). Non-Jews could be saved (such as Jethro), but they confessed God as the God of Israel/Jacob (e.g. Naaman). The language of “fearing the Lord” or “God-fearers” can refer to them (Pss. 22:23; 135:19-20; Acts 10:22; 17:4).

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
8 years ago

John, are you saying that the divines’ observation was about a restriction they understood to occur from Jacob to Christ? — namely that God chose to save only Israelites, and perhaps a few converts? Would you consider this largely a restriction according to race (descendents, being your term)?

No room to see that ANYONE (Jew or Gentile) without Christ = aliens from the commonwealth of Israel (= not a true Israelite), but ANYONE (Hottentots of Botswana too) with Christ IS with God in the world, with hope, and is, in fact, a friend to the commonwealth of Israel?

john k
john k
8 years ago

Eric, I would take the confession as it says “under the law” to refer to the provisions of Sinai. At that time the church was confined to the nation of Israel. I mentioned Jacob because the messianic line through Judah did not exclude Jacob’s other children from an ongoing place in the church/congregation of that time. Ishmael and Esau were circumcised, but it does not appear that their descendants as a whole continued in the things reserved for Israel. The nation of Israel had a familial foundation, but not exclusively racial. Converts from some outside nations and races could also… Read more »

john k
john k
8 years ago

Correction: the definition of the visible church that reflects a systematic approach is in Larger Catechism 62, not 25.

katecho
katecho
8 years ago

Israel was called to be an abiding priestly people in the Old Covenant, but Gentiles were intended to be able to approach together, alongside Israel, to bring their prayers and sacrifices. Jesus (a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek [not an Israelite]) says the temple was intended to be a house of prayer for all nations, even in the Old Covenant. In other words, Gentile converts were not required to become Jews first. Similarly, Jesus said that God could raise up children of Abraham (Old Covenant) from stones, so presumably God could do so with gentile converts as… Read more »

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
8 years ago

Scythians had no knowledge of God? The moon nor daisies nor minds of men aren’t pouring forth of his speech then? Nature doesn’t preach Christ alone? So did Abraham gain his knowledge as a jew? Melchizidek the jew?

john k
john k
8 years ago

There was blessing and salvation for Gentiles in the Old Covenant, but the laws of separation meant more than simply dividing priests from people. When Paul says the uncircumcised were “strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God,” he says this was due to the Law’s ordinances themselves, not simply Jewish failure, and Gentile intransigence. Israel’s temple as a house of prayer for all nations was too high an an ideal, and became part of the hope associated with the future Messiah. It was at the point of highest blessing, under the messianic types David and… Read more »

Mike Bull
8 years ago

Excellent stuff. And based on Deuteronomy 28 (and some other texts) I reckon human beings do have the power today to change the weather.
http://www.bullartistry.com.au/wp/2013/11/21/always-take-the-weather/
And, I know I’m boring, but paedobaptism naturally leads to nationalism. It starts at the tribal level just as Abraham did. David Goldman understands this as the reason for many European wars after the Reformation – apparently even the French at one point considered themselves the chosen people. Imagine that! Goldman, a secular Jew, understands baptism and its consequences better than the Reformed do.
Baptism relates to everything, so we need to get it right.

john k
john k
8 years ago

Eric,

General revelation, which the Scythians had, reveals God’s glory, power, and Godhood, but not Christ (Ps. 19:1-6; Rom. 1:18-21).

Special revelation is needed to reveal Christ, and to establish the visible church in a covenanted relationship with God (Psalm 19:7-14; Rom. 3:1-2). Abraham and Melchizedek knew God by special revelation.

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
8 years ago

But all poor Abel and gentile Melchizidek had available … was Christ.

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
8 years ago

John, is it special revelation that teaches us that only special revelation shows Christ?

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
8 years ago

In the beginning, and ever since, the Word — Christ, I think — has been shining bright to ALL men generally. Special revelation, the Word’s words, adds clarity and so further guilt or joy, but no saving content.

Only Spirit adds the saving, which He can to any revelation.

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
8 years ago

I think it was given to us by special revelation that Abraham will be regarded as father to the many nations because of whom he was in Christ as Abram — prior to any Israel?

john k
john k
8 years ago

The 16th and 17th century wars of “religion” had less to do with supposed chosen nation status, than with pride, greed, the will to power, and a desire either to establish religious uniformity across national boundaries, or to protect religious minorities.

john k
john k
8 years ago

Eric, Revelation in nature does not come in words. We are the ones who put into words what we see and intuit, but our words are fallible. God’s words from special revelation are infallible and trustworthy. Abel’s parents taught him God’s word about Christ crushing Satan’s head (Gen 3:15). Melchizedek was a royal priest and prophet. Yes, the only special revelation now available to us–the Bible–directs us exclusively to itself to learn about Christ, who he is, and what he does. The Scriptures make us wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. The knowledge of God from creation does… Read more »

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
8 years ago

John, Thanks for the dialogue. Your position seems to say that reception of some infallible verbal cognitive propositional information-content is necessary for salvation (accompanied by the Spirit, of course) to occur. You imply Abel got that by means of his parents — so I assume you require that they quoted God rather than merely “put into words” what they recalled? About Melchizedek’s access to those propositions, you don’t say. But must have been some gift of special revelation, right? Whether the recipient of that verbal info needs to be capable to comprehend it, you don’t say, but presumably so. So… Read more »

katecho
katecho
8 years ago

john k wrote: “We need the Spirit’s special revelation–actual information content about Christ.” I agree. I believe the special revelation, and the actual information content about Christ was this: “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.” — Genesis 3:15 This is a special and explicit covenant promise to bring a Seed to deliver God’s people from Satan. This special revelation divides the future covenant people from those outside; the seed of the woman from the… Read more »

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
8 years ago

ketcho — well said. But the question here is whether one must have a cognitive linguistic presentation of the infallible authoritative version of that Truth you outlined to a receiver or “hearer” (maybe signer if the use sign language) in a language that person understands, for that person to be able to be saved.

john k
john k
8 years ago

Eric, we have moved from “Who is in the visible church of the Old Covenant?” to “What knowledge is necessary for salvation?” Okay. I’m content with the Westminster Confession 10, sections 3-4. There are “elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word,” such as elect infants. These “are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth.” Everyone else needs enough knowledge to profess “the Christian religion” because the light of nature and non-Christian religion cannot save. All of us by nature suppress whatever revelation… Read more »

john k
john k
8 years ago

Katecho, I don’t object to viewing Gentiles as grafted into Christ even under the Old Covenant. But their connection to the visible church under the Sinai administration is the question. Was that visible church “all saved Jews and Gentiles”? Or was it only the Jews? The covenant tree since Sinai had only natural branches. The possibility of grafting in unnatural branches was a conundrum, because it seemed they had to become Jews to be grafted in. It was difficult for Gentiles to give up their paganism and syncretism at a time when God’s own setup kept them at arm’s length.… Read more »

katecho
katecho
8 years ago

john k asks: “Was that visible church “all saved Jews and Gentiles”? Or was it only the Jews? The covenant tree since Sinai had only natural branches. The possibility of grafting in unnatural branches was a conundrum, because it seemed they had to become Jews to be grafted in.” Fair questions. I’ve had some very persuasive teaching around this topic and I’ve come to believe the “visible church” or covenant people (in the broadest sense of the covenant promise from the garden) included all Jews and Gentile believers in history. The Jew/Gentile distinction came later, in the unfolding of the… Read more »

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
8 years ago

Being content with the Confession on this is good. It says NOTHING about anyone needing any knowledge. In fact, it says we’re entirely passive — cogitations not required. 10:3 says that general revelation + Spirit is sufficient for salvation. All elect who don’t have access to preaching are not in the least kept from salvation when the Spirit moves on folks with just general revelation. Both general and special revelation speak the Word. John 1 = the Word Christ shines to all. Who is in the visible church? — ALL saints, whether they were brought in via Christ + special… Read more »

Elisa
Elisa
8 years ago

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john k
john k
8 years ago

Eric, I think WCF 10:3 shows that the concern of the divines was with aninnate incapacity, to respond to an outward call of the Word, not the providential distancing of people away from the times and places of Gospel preaching. Regarding those without the Gospel, the Confession asserts that living by general revelation (the light if nature), and/or their own paganism, will not save them. In other words, the Spirit will not save them using only general revelation and their own religions. I realize that many want to maintain a hopeful agnosticism that multitudes are saved by Christ without hearing… Read more »

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
8 years ago

We agree that general revelation without the Spirit enlivening leads to hell.

Do we agree that special revelation without the Spirit enlivening leads to the same place?

john k
john k
8 years ago

I would agree with that, with or without a threat to sleep with the fishes.

jammy
jammy
8 years ago

“Willie and the Fantods” would be a great band name.