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Monday, March 30, 2009

Challenged by Covenants!

I was born to and raised by parents who were Baptists. But in my mid-twenties, as I studied the scriptures, the Lord lead us out of Baptist circles and associations and eventually lead us into association with brethren assemblies. Continual study of the Bible and comparison of my practices with the scriptures were again used of the Lord to lead us out of brethren assemblies (when I was 41). It was then that the Lord gave Judy and me a deep longing to visit a number of congregations (of different denominations) with which we had never been closely associated before.

At this point in our journey, we purposed to visit congregations where various homeschooling friends of ours were members. We purposed to visit each one for at least 6 weeks in order to get a "feel" for what each congregation believed and practiced. The majority of the congregations we visited over the next 3 years or so belonged to a variety of "Reformed" denominations.

As strange as it may seem, the greatest impression that was made on my mind as we attended services, listened to sermons, read literature and got to know people in these Reformed congregations was this......during the first 41 years of my life I could not remember hearing any teaching at all on the subject of covenants in scripture, but in Reformed circles I was hearing about covenants all the time! The covenants that were most commonly referred to by Reformed speakers and writers were "the covenant of works" and "the covenant of grace".

At that point in my life, I knew little about covenants and would have been hard pressed to even give a definition of the word! I knew that a covenant was "something like a contract" but that was the extent of my knowledge of the subject! Thus I became curious to learn more and to find out exactly what the Bible had to say about covenants.

As I began looking up and studying all the references to "covenants" in scripture, I was amazed to realize just how much the Bible had to say about them! Although I could not find either “the covenant of works” or “the covenant of grace” anywhere in the Bible, I did learn that covenants were promises, as were oaths and vows. But covenants made by God are promises (or series of promises) which are signified by visible tokens which last as long as the covenants which they signify. Do you recall the very first covenant in the Bible? It was God's covenant with Noah and all flesh after the flood (Genesis 9). It was His promise never again to destroy the earth with a flood and it was signified by the token of the rain bow. We know that that covenant was an everlasting covenant because God said so (Gen.9:16) and also because the rainbow, the covenant token, is still with us!

Covenants were unnecessary when there was no sin affecting relationships and no curse marring relationships between creatures or their relationship with their Creator. But after God began bringing judgment upon the wickedness of men in the earth, He also began instituting covenants with men. These covenants would serve to progressively reveal God’s purposes and ways to man and ultimately remove the curse entirely. (Rev.22:3)

The Old Covenant and the New Covenant

Although there are at least 8 covenants which God has made, the two major covenants in the Bible are the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Unfortunately, Bible translators have used two different English words (testament and covenant) to designate one word in the original languages. But these two words are synonymous. Another unfortunate designation (one which is not supported in the scriptures themselves) is the designation of scriptures which were given prior to the Lord Jesus` incarnation as "The Old Testament" and the scriptures which were given after as "The New Testament".

But contrary to this common notion, the Old Testament or Old Covenant is not the 39 books of the Bible from Genesis to Malachi! Rather it is the covenant which God made with the nation of Israel at Sinai. Specifically, that covenant is the Ten Commandments! (Deut.4:13 and Hebrews chapter 8) This covenant was signified by the sprinkling of the blood of animal sacrifices (Exodus 24:4-8) and was brought to an end with the death of the Lord Jesus and the rending of the veil of the temple.

Contrary to popular belief, the New Testament or New Covenant is not the 27 books of the Bible from Matthew to Revelation but rather a series of 7 divine promises prophesied by Jeremiah, recorded again in Hebrews 8, dedicated by the blood of the Lord Jesus, Himself , and signified by the cup which the Lord Jesus commanded His disciples to drink in remembrance of Him. (Matt.26:27; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:19,20; I Cor.11:24-26)

So Matthew's Mark's, Luke's and John's gospel accounts up to the death of the Lord Jesus are about people who lived under the Old Covenant! New Covenant times commenced after the death of the Lord Jesus at Calvary!

While we and our ancestors have lived in New Covenant times since the Lord Jesus died at Calvary, it is a sad fact that most Christians today have memorized the Old Covenant but could not tell you what the New Covenant is! Sadder still is the awful truth that the vast majority of Christian gatherings/congregations, their “services” and “ministries”(even those which claim to be “New Testament Churches”) function NOT according to New Covenant principles but according to those of the Old Covenant!!!

I’ll go into more detail on these matters in the next post….

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Dispensational End-Times Errors Stem from Rejecting Sound Principles!

Dispensationalists generally follow excellent principles of understanding scripture. They hold that:
-A. scripture is to be rightly understood by means of literal, normal or plain interpretation,
-B. one must clearly distinguish things or groups of people which differ. i.e. Israel is to be distinguished from the nations or Gentiles and both those groups are to be distinguished from those who are justified or made right with God, and
-C. prophesies of scripture are to be understood literally, plainly and normally.

But their end-times doctrines such as the “imminence of Christ’s return”, “the seven year tribulation” and the “pre-tribulation rapture” have been adopted NOT by following their own principles but rather by departing from them!

A. If any one of these three doctrines was arrived at by literal, normal or plain interpretation of scripture there would literal, normal, and plain statements of scripture which would state them. But Bible students which search the scriptures for such statements have not found them and will not find them for scripture simply does not teach them! Just as the doctrines of “purgatory” and “infant baptism” cannot be found in scripture by following literal, normal or plain interpretation, neither can these dispensational end-times doctrines be found there by following literal, normal or plain methods of interpretation!

Rather, literal statements of scripture correct each of these doctrines:
(1) The “imminence of Christ’s return” is corrected by Acts 3:21. (See the word “until”.) It is also corrected by II Thessalonians 2:1-3. (See the expression “except….first”).

(2) The “seven year tribulation” is corrected by Daniel 9:24-27. In this passage literal, normal or plain interpretation requires that “weeks” be understood literally, normally and plainly just as the word week” (Hebrew SHEBUAH) is understood in every other place where it is used in scripture, i.e. as a normal week of seven days! Also dispensationalists do not take the information regarding Daniel’s 70 weeks literally either! Daniel 9 speaks of three periods which total 70 weeks (i.e. 7 weeks, 62 weeks, and one week) However, dispensationalists assume (with no scriptural evidence for such an assumption) that the first two periods ran concurrently. Thus they speak of a time of “69 weeks” which scripture never does! They acknowledge a time of indefinite duration between the 62 and the one week but fail to acknowledge that there is every reason to see such an indefinite time between the seven and the 62 weeks!

(3) The “pre-tribulation rapture” teaching is corrected by…
-II Thess.1:3-10 which shows that the Lord only gives believers rest from trouble when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God and obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
- Luke 21:25-28 which shows that the events at the close of the tribulation are the signal for us to lift up our heads knowing that our redemption draws nigh!
- Matthew 24:29-31 and Mark 13:24-28 which place the gathering of God’s elect from earth and heaven after the tribulation, NOT before it! In order to believe that believers of the church are caught up prior to the tribulation, we must believe that two such gatherings take place!! (i.e. one before and one after the tribulation!)

B.Dispensationalists are generally careful to distinguish between things and groups of people which differ one from the other. For example, in the NT epistles, they are careful to distinguish between Israel, the church and the Gentiles, and rightly so.

However, when it comes to the Books of Daniel and Revelation, they are not so careful but rather confuse and equate Daniel’s people, Israel, with “the holy people” or “saints”. Thus they mistakenly conclude that “the saints” of Daniel 7:21-27 are Israel! Thus in Revelation chapter 12 they also conclude that this time of trouble is centered around Israel rather than around saints, as scripture explicitly teaches! They seem to ignore entirely the people, “the woman”, who flees to the wilderness where she has a place prepared of God where she is fed and nourished for 1260 days from the face of the serpent. It is rather the saints who are given into his hand and over whom he prevails, NOT Israel!

This same error has caused dispensationalists to confuse the time of great tribulation ( a period of 1260 days) with the “time of Jacob’s trouble” which is ONE DAY! True, there are a couple of similarities between the two times, but many crucial differences as well! (Observations of the scriptures dealing with these two events will be shared in another post.)

C. Dispensationalists generally recognize that scriptural prophesies are fulfilled literally, i.e. that specific time periods that are mentioned in scriptural prophecies are always fulfilled literally in the very same time periods in which they were prophesied. Every Bible prophecy containing specific time periods which has been fulfilled has been fulfilled literally in exactly the same time period in which it was originally prophesied. But in order to accommodate the wisdom of men which has invented the “seven year tribulation” doctrine, dispensationalists must depart from their own stated principle regarding the literalness of the fulfillment of scriptural prophecies! They thus expect us to believe that of all the other prophecies of scripture which are fulfilled literally as they were prophesied, Daniel 9:24-27 is the only prophecy in the Book which violates this scripturally consistent pattern! They expect us to believe that a prophecy which was given to be fulfilled in weeks (a term that refers to weeks of 7 days every single time it is used in scripture) will actually be fulfilled in periods of seven years!!!!

So it is evident that the generally accepted principles which dispensationalists stand for would lead them, if they applied them consistently, to reject their doctrines of the “imminent return of Christ”, the “pre-tribulation rapture” and “the seven year tribulation”! The only way that they can embrace such doctrines is actually by denying and turning away from their own stated principles of interpretation of scripture! Handling scripture consistently would bring them to realize that (1)many prophecies of scripture must yet be fulfilled BEFORE the Lord Jesus can return from heaven, (2) the covenant spoken of by Daniel in Daniel 9 will be made for ONE WEEK, not for seven years! and (3) the Lord Jesus will return from heaven and we will be caught up to meet him in the air AFTER the close of the time of great tribulation and not before!