Posts Tagged ‘New Covenant’

There is a saying making the rounds in certain circles of Christianity today that both excites me and bothers me at the same time. That saying is…

“Jesus is perfect theology.”

Most people who use this expression love it, frankly because, who could possibly argue with it? How could Jesus ever not be perfect theology?

Just so we’re clear, I believe this statement is true—Jesus is perfect theology. He was, is, and (always) will be perfect theology—and therein lies an additional and important insight.

You see, what always bothered me about this saying wasn’t so much the saying itself, but how people used it, in other words what people who said it said next. Because whether they realized it or not, they were using this catchphrase as a kind of binding maxim, that is, “an established principle or proposition,” and (again, whether they realized it or not) were counting on this “established principle” to preempt any dissent from their next statement.

The next statement varies, but one of the most common ones is, “I’ll take the words of Jesus over the words of Paul any day.” And now we have a problem, a big problem, because that statement is simply bad theology, hence the need to preface it with what appears to be an unassailable truism.

First, the statement “I’ll take the words of Jesus over the words of Paul,” ignores the orthodox hermeneutical principle that “holy men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). The same Holy Spirit that “moved” Peter, also moved Paul, and also moved Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. A statement in scripture is not somehow “more inspired” because Luke (for example) is quoting Jesus as compared with Paul receiving revelation and writing “the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations but has now been manifested to His saints” (Colossians 1:26).

Second, as is almost always the case with biblical issues, the statement “Jesus is perfect theology” must be put in context. Was Jesus “perfect theology” five minutes after he was born? Hmm? Or did he grow in wisdom as the scripture says? (Luke 2:40.)

Finally, these combined statements essentially ignore the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost—one of the most extraordinary and significant events is scripture and in the history of the world, and the profound changes that occurred as a result. Very simply, the rules changed at Pentecost. Jesus himself anticipated this and spoke to his disciples during his earthly ministry to be ready for it when it came.

You see, Jesus was perfect theology is his earthly ministry and he is perfect theology now in his ascended ministry. But the Gospels do not represent his ascended ministry—the Church epistles do.

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In general terms all world religions have at least three, and usually five, foundational components in common. Last week I posted The Sacred Space—this week, The Holy Man.

What Do We Mean When We Say “Holy Man”?

Like the sacred space, all religions have a holy man or woman. Some religions exclude women from being religious officials, some religions exclude men from being religious officials, and some religions embrace both as religious officials. The holy person can therefore be a priest or priestess, rabbi, imam, guru, shaman, etc. Frequently there is an entire specialized group of religious officials that are delineated into a tiered hierarchy with some type of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at the top. The names or labels may vary—but there is always some type of high priest or priestess who is “more holy” than the other religious officials and (especially) the common man. Like the sacred space, the primary point is that this person or persons, is somehow special and set apart from “other” persons for God’s use or God’s work. The separation between the holy man and the common man is where we get the idea of clergy and laity. The clergy are the religious experts while the laity is comprised of non-experts, or commoners.

The Holy Man in the Old Testament-

In the Old Testament, the holy people included the twelve tribes of Israel, the Levites, the Aaronic priesthood (sons of Aaron), and the High Priest.

The Priests are Still Human (Look What Can Happen)-

Last week we mentioned that a literal geo-physical sacred space can be damaged or destroyed, or the people can be prohibited access in a variety of ways, thereby potentially compromising a system of atonement that relies on a geo-physical sacred space. Likewise, holy men and women are still human and therefore susceptible to human weaknesses and failures as well as external conditions.

What if an enemy captured or killed all priests? (All the first-born male children? Exodus 1:16.) Or, what if the priests were unavailable to officiate (for a variety of reasons). Or, what if the priests, although present, were corrupt?

Follow the Money-

What if the reason that the priests and Levites were unavailable to officiate sacrifices in the Temple was because they were out working “secular” jobs to feed their families because they were not being paid as stipulated by the sacred code—the Torah?

One of the purposes of the tithes (yes, tithes, plural), under the Old Covenant was to pay the Levites and Aaronic priests for doing their jobs—officiating in the tabernacle, Temple and Levitical cities—in other words—for being religious officials, or “holy men.” If the tithes weren’t paid, the Levites weren’t paid, and if the Levites weren’t paid, how were they to feed their families and “pay their bills” so to speak?

I also discovered that the portions of the Levites had not been given {them}, so that the Levites and the singers who performed the service had gone away, each to his own field. [Nehemiah 13:10 NAS]

One of the main purposes of tithing under the Old Covenant was the maintenance of the mediating priesthood (Levites and Aaronic priests)—without whom, the system of atonement could not function.

This scenario brings into focus two interrelated concepts that will be discussed in detail in future work. The first is the role of money in supporting the Old Covenant system, which sets the stage for understanding the role of money in the New Covenant economy. The second is the nature, and therefore consequences of, a human mediating priesthood.

The knowledge that “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10) has given birth to a modern proverb—if you have suspicions about the integrity of an endeavor, “follow the money.” A mediator is a person specifically positioned between two or more people in a dispute in order to bring about an agreement or reconciliation. In religion, religious officials are usually mediators who stand between God and mankind (a.k.a. the “common” people, as opposed to the religious leaders/mediators, who are “holy”) for the purpose of overseeing the rituals that symbolize reconciliation—and they usually are paid to do so. Given the weakness of human nature and the corrupting power of money however, when one class of people officially stands between the rest of the believing community and God, and is paid to do so, the inherent integrity and stability of such a system is not the first thing that comes to mind. Human mediation combined with financial gain is a recipe for corruption and abuse, not stability. We’ll examine this scenario again on the other side of the cross.

The Weakness Inherent in the System-

These kinds of disruptions to the key components of the system of atonement could and did occur in the Old Testament and were a source of great consternation to God’s people, and help inform our understanding of how these concepts come into play on this side of the cross. Frankly, what good is a religious system that could so easily be disrupted? And if it could and did become disrupted, what does that say about God? If worshipping Him is so important and we need a system in order to worship Him properly, shouldn’t that system be a little more stable and secure? Shouldn’t God be protecting the system a little better?

But, what if no matter how “perfect” the system is—the weakness inherent in the system isn’t actually the system—but people?

The Role of Hierarchy-

We should also take note at this point of the fact that the whole notion of hierarchy, historically and etymologically, originates exclusively from religious structures, and only secondarily over time from civil structures. The English noun hierarchy is a derivative of the Greek verb hierarchia, which is a compound of the Greek words hierus (Strong’s #2409), which means “priest;” and arche (Strong’s #746), meaning first, beginning, or origin. Etymologically, hierarchy literally means “government by a group of priests,” and clearly refers to a religious order of authority. The higher one was on the religious ladder, the greater the access to the inner courts of the sacred space, and thereby closer to the presence of God. Frankly, the phrase religious hierarchy is almost redundant.

Understanding these components in the Old Covenant economy, how they point to and are fulfilled in Christ, and their new creation realities under the New Covenant is crucial to understanding and actually walking in the freedom and liberty Christ has called us to.These kinds of religious authority structures have been in place in the world’s religious systems for millennia. And although our so-called modern enlightened mindset may consider this notion antiquated and quaint—the idea was that the higher one was in the hierarchy, the holier one was.

Did We Miss the Point?-

The primary purpose of the mediating priesthood under the Old Covenant was to point to the person of Jesus Christ as our only human high priest and mediator.

Being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. [Hebrews 5:10 NAS]

(The “Order of Melchizedek” means that Jesus Christ is an eternal high priest, without beginning or end. See “The Everlasting Covenant.”)

Again, There’s More…

The Old Covenant mediating priesthood was a model of Jesus Christ as the only human mediator between God and man. No longer are certain persons set apart from “others” for God’s work. In Christ there is no more clergy-laity dichotomy, but all believers are priests unto God. As we are in Christ, so are we all priests unto God under the only human mediator and High Priest, the man Christ Jesus.

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. [1 Timothy 2:5 KJV]

But ye {are} a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: [1 Peter 2:9 KJV]

You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. [1 Peter 2:5 NAS]

Take note that the above verse (1 Peter 2:5) mentions three of the five components—sacrifice (a future post), sacred space, and holy man—all three now a reality within every believer.

The Pastor: Christianity’s Holy Man-

The “Pastor” (or Senior Pastor, Apostle, whatever) is the Christianized version of the Holy Man/CEO that sits atop an ad hoc religious hierarchy. But the scriptures clearly teach that as members of the body of Christ and partakers of the New Covenant, all believers are priests unto God under the only high priest, Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:9, Hebrews 5:10, et al). Despite seemingly orthodox and historical practices, scripturally, there is no hierarchy in the body of Christ. Every believer is a priest with no other mediator between himself and God than the man Christ Jesus. Despite the fact that the clergy-laity dichotomy was destroyed at the cross, literally millions of Christians teach and/or follow this paradigm as orthodox doctrine. Furthermore, even among certain segments of Christianity that “proclaim” the end of the clergy-laity dichotomy, the practice is intellectually and theologically rationalized and continues unabated. But according to the New Covenant every believer is a priest unto God that ministers to God in the holy place of his own heart.

I should also point out that among certain subsections of Christianity that believe in the “five-fold gift ministries” listed in Ephesians 4:11, some teach that these are in fact hierarchical offices, usually citing 1 Corinthians 12:28 as their proof text. This is an extraordinarily difficult argument to prove however since the explicit context of 1 Corinthians 12 is that all members of the body of Christ perform certain functions, and that all are equally necessary for the body to function properly, which speaks strongly against the idea of hierarchy. In addition, the word office is never even used in the New Testament (at all—let alone in relationship to the five-fold gift ministries), and the five-fold gift ministries are never defined or described in a hierarchical fashion. Finally, we never see Paul, Peter, James, John, etc, establish a hierarchy, or teach others to do so. Jesus’ admonition concerning hierarchy is abundantly clear.

(42) But Jesus called them to {Himself} and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. (43) Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. (44) And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. (45) For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” [Mark 10:42–45 NKJ]

The so-called doctrine of “covering” is one of the most egregious and oppressive lies currently being pedaled to the body of Christ. The scriptures make no claims that a member of the church of Christ needs to be under the covering of a pastor or group of elders in order to have right standing before God. Those who make such a claim are simply repackaging the old creation mediation model and teaching false submission in order to control others for their own ends.

Follow the Money (Again)-

Under the Old Covenant the majority of the believing community owed tithes (plural) to a minority of the believing community (the Levites and Aaronic priests) for the express purpose of performing the functions of mediators. One of the preeminent accomplishments of Christ’s completed work on the cross and explicit purpose of the New Covenant is unmediated access to the presence of God. (No human mediator other than the man Christ Jesus.) Therefore, the notion that the majority of a New Covenant believing community (the so-called “laity”) should pay religious officials (the so-called “clergy”—a minority subset of the believing community) to perform the functions of a mediating priesthood is exclusively an old creation model. The sad reality however is that through a combination of ignorance and obfuscation literally millions of New Covenant believers believe they are obligated to “give” (how’s that for an oxymoron?) money to their “Christian leaders.”

Ask Yourself These Questions-

How much time, energy, and money does your local assembly devote to teaching and practicing the priesthood of every believer as opposed to emphasizing the “vision of the house/pastor”? Your “pastor” is no more a priest than you (nor are you more a priest than him). He does not have a greater anointing than you, and he is definitely not your covering (mediator).

Do you and/or your local assembly, both individually and corporately have a heart-felt, intellectually established, life-changing, practically applicable revelation of…?

  • All believers are priests. There is no hierarchy in the body of Christ. We all have unmediated access to the presence of God.

There is an enormous difference between those men and women who function as pastors (apostles, prophets, teacher, evangelists, etc.) and those who believe, (either as a so-called “leader” or follower), in hierarchical offices in the body of Christ and that we are validated by our “proper understanding” of how these offices work together. Such doctrines and practices are nothing more than conforming to a hierarchy and a form of false submission that is conspicuously absent from the New Testament.

When Christianity is practiced properly—taking life as it comes and interpreting (or reinterpreting) each moment or each event in the reality of an indwelling relationship with the Lord of Life—each and every individual believer, is a holy man or woman with unmediated access to the presence of God.

On the journey from religion to relationship, one of the obstacles we must deal with is our innate desire for significance.

On one hand, it is only natural for a devoted Christian to want to “do something significant” for God—but ironically, therein lays the rub. At the risk of being blunt, doing “something significant for God” more likely than not is an indicator of a performance-based mindset foreign to the New Covenant. As followers of Christ and members of his body our significance derives from our identity—who we are in Christ—not from what we do, regardless of how “significant” it may appear to be.

One of the consequences of the fall is shame. And by shame, I do not mean feelings of simple embarrassment—I mean an innate sense of inadequacy, insecurity, and low self-worth. Deep down we do not feel we have any value. Hence, it is our sense of shame that drives our desire to perform or produce. The reasoning becomes, “If I do something that has value, then I am valuable—If I do something significant, then I am significant.”

Unfortunately, religion doesn’t heal our sense of shame, but rather exploits our desire for significance by providing a method for achieving significance that we are told “comes from God”—and this is a powerful motivation indeed. If we believe that we achieve God’s approval (acceptance, affection, affirmation, etc.) by doing something significant (whatever that thing is, especially biblically sanctioned activities like prayer, Bible study, fasting, evangelism, etc.), then we are going to keep doing whatever that thing is, since the more I do it, the more significant I must be.

Furthermore, religion deftly camouflages itself by using “spiritually correct” terminology (kind of like “politically correct” except “spiritually correct”), while the substance of the matter remains quite different.

While most Christians are sincerely interested in “saving the lost,” or “advancing the kingdom,” sincerity is not a guarantee of truth. It is all-too-easy for these labels to be a clever disguise for a deeply entrenched performance-based system of acceptance that we are using to placate our need for approval and soothe our sense of shame.

The irony and the tragedy however is that this quest for significance is not necessarily “evil,” just human. Who doesn’t want their life to count for something? Who doesn’t want to be involved in something bigger than themselves? And as hinted at earlier, “doing something for God” and believing that you are racking up points with the Man Upstairs is big medicine. But the key of course is in how this all gets worked out—by human wisdom and man-made systems? Or by relaxing into the reality of Christ’s completed work?

Confusing the matter is unfortunately easy to do. The scriptures clearly encourage Christians to engage in a wide variety of “authorized” activities (such as prayer, Bible study, assembling together, evangelism, etc.), but the question we must ask ourselves (and be prepared for a potentially uncomfortable answer) is: “Am I doing these things to earn God’s approval (and thereby be deemed significant), or am I doing these things from a place of approval and significance—my position in Christ?” Christianity is rife with well-intentioned believers endlessly searching for that “new thing,” or “fresh word,” that sets them apart from others (and hence, more makes them more significant).

The distinction is between performance and relationship. True significance must be understood in the context of relationship. As soon as we define significance by performance we put it in a context that is impossible to understand and even harder to live up to. Furthermore, when significance is determined by a system, it isn’t actually “real,” since it is based in a thing and not a Person.

I cannot think of a single example in scripture of Jesus affirming anyone’s need for performance-based significance, in fact exactly the opposite. Whenever a person postured for performance-based significance He disarmed them—and those who could not posture for significance He exalted simply because He loved them. And this is precisely the point. There is little doubt that Jesus’ life was significant and that the people He loved felt significant. But Jesus’ ministry (despite what some may attempt to claim because of the “good works” He did) was not performance-based. Jesus never gave his followers instructions on how to perform properly—He spend the entirety of His earthly ministry teaching His followers how to live in relationship to Him as he lived in relationship to the Father. Jesus’ good works flowed from His relationship with the Father, not from an agenda to do good works, or even “advance the kingdom.” On several occasions people questioned Him, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?” And yet Jesus was not the rabbi of a synagogue, was not the mayor of Nazareth, or a priest in the Temple. Jesus did not operate from any recognizable position of authority, influence, or significance apart from His relationship with the Father.

So we can see that significance in and of itself is not a bad thing—but whose definition of significance? Our desire for significance is the driving force behind many personal agendas designed to deliver us from our insecurity by finding value in achievement.

What makes this even worse however is that the value of achievement is always relative and comparative—I have achieved more than you, or you have achieved more than me—turning relationship into competition. Furthermore, our old man/fallen nature does not allow for the “win-win” scenario but insists that significance by achievement means only a few, or one, can rise to the top.

It is in this context that we can begin to understand why so much of Christianity is merely an Old Covenant paradigm with New Covenant labels.

The Law of Moses is the perfect example of a performance-based system of acceptance. Just keep all 613 ordinances and one achieves right standing before God—and if one has right standing before God—one is valuable. Furthermore, even if “I” cannot keep all 613 ordinances perfectly, if I can keep more than “you,” then I can conclude that I am more valuable than you.

The Old Covenant was an external law written on tablets of stone—in other words—a religious system. But the New Covenant is an internal “law” written on the tables of the heart—in other words—relationship.

But in practice, much of Christianity is just as performance-based as the Old Covenant.

Although we no longer (are supposed to) have a physical temple, our church buildings are our sacred spaces. We compete with each other over who can build the most lavish “church”—all “for God” of course. We spend literally millions of dollars on bigger and better buildings that can hold larger audiences, and have better sound systems and spectacular multi-media displays. Bigger and better equals performance, which equals achievement, which equals greater value.

Within a performance-based system of acceptance, bigger is always better, because “bigger” equals more value, and more value equals greater significance.

In addition to the size and beauty of our buildings, and the numbers in attendance, how much money we contribute to the building fund demonstrates levels of achievement and therefore, greater value and significance. This is despite the fact that under the New Covenant, the temple of God is people—valuing relationship over performance.

Although we no longer (are supposed to) have literal “sacrifices,” our church programs are our sacred rituals, and our financial giving and acts of service are considered sacrificial. Some local assemblies value “sound doctrine,” others value evangelism, and others still value “praise and worship.” Regardless of which (or all) programs a local assembly promotes, conformity to these programs is a measurable indicator of performance. Support for programs equals greater value and significance.

Although we no longer (are supposed to) have clergy and laity, and many “pastors” even preach this from the pulpit, most Christian “churches” function according to a hierarchy utterly foreign to the “priesthood of every believer/every member functioning” paradigm described in the New Covenant. Pastors, worship leaders, and other highly visible members of local assemblies become celebrities with loyalty and supporting the “vision of the house” translating into greater value and significance.

The presence of any performance-based system of achievement, by default, generates comparison and competition between members of the community. Each member is able to determine their own, as well as other member’s value based on obedience and conformity to the system. This is of course regardless of how well camouflaged the system is with “relational” vernacular. Plus, when we teach that such a system is God’s design, we up the ante. When we believe that we are validated in God’s sight by obedience to a system, genuine relationship is undermined if not down right impossible.

Furthermore, one does not have to have a genuine relationship with Jesus in order to be a “law-keeper”—in other words, someone who supports all the programs, is loyal to the pastor and the vision of the house, and pays his bills (so-called tithes and offerings). That’s just keeping a system. Unfortunately we are often taught that supporting these things either “is” relationship, or opens the door for relationship, or forms the basis of relationship, etc. This paradigm is precisely Christianity practiced as a religion.

Here’s another way of looking at it—God is first v. God is central.

In our quest to do something significant for God, many of us were taught to prioritize our activities according to “spiritual” priorities. Usually something like this:

1) God
2) Family
3) Church
4) Work
5) Friends

Whether you agree with this prioritization or not is not the point—the existence of such a list is the point. If we live according to a list of priorities, this is just another version of performance-based achievement and acceptance. If (according to the above list) I have a choice between a Bible Study at my church, or hanging out with my friends—if I believe in this scale of priorities, I had better choose the Bible Study in order to stay in right standing with God, and with others who follow this list. Furthermore, I (and others) can then use this list to judge who has greater value due to obedience to the list. This is a performance-based religious mindset.

Ironically, God never asks us to put Him “first” on any such list. What God asks, and what is relational, is that God asks us to keep Him central in all that we do—family, friends, work, church, recreation, etc. Imagine a children’s wind driven mobile. God is the central hub around which all other things rotate driven by the wind of the Holy Spirit. This way we are free to respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in our hearts as we engage all aspects of our lives with God at the center, instead of having to consult our priorities list that essentially makes the decision for you. When God is central however, unlike the list of priorities, there is no immediate answer to “which one is more important?” and instead becomes an exercise in following the voice of the Holy Spirit—“Where does God want me to be?”

Furthermore, when we follow a list of priorities, regardless of how right and godly it appears, the higher priorities compete with the lower priorities, which results in our neglecting the lower priorities so that I can feel good about myself. But when Jesus is central, He infuses all things with His life. He infuses my marriage, infuses my job, and infuses my church and recreational activities.

One is a system—one is a relationship.

But all that to say this. How does one transition from religion to relationship? Easy—die. Religion and performance-based systems of achievement are endemic to the old man, and he’s dead.

More to come…

So you’re sitting in a really boring church service and all of a sudden the pastor totally changes gears and prays, “Holy Spirit come!” Instantly the whole atmosphere of the meeting changes and there is excitement and many “outward”demonstrations and manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s “presence.”

So here are my questions…

· Where was the Holy Spirit before the pastor prayed, “Holy Spirit come?” What was He doing and why didn’t He respond earlier?

· Is the God of the Bible a deity that needs to be reached out to before He reaches out or responds to us?

· Does God just show up randomly when He feels like it? Is God aloof or capricious?

· Is God separate from us, and “out there” (pointing upward or outward) somewhere?

· Is God so transcendent that He is difficult to reach?

But now the real kicker—how do our answers to these questions correspond and harmonize with the clear teachings of the New Covenant/Testament?

· God loves us passionately.

· The Holy Spirit (the whole Godhead for that matter) is an indwelling presence.

· Where two or three are gathered in my name there am I (not there I might be if you pray hard enough) in the midst.

· God is for us (not against us or even neutral or impartial).

· Nothing can separate us from Him or His love.

· He does not leave us or forsake us.

Which leads me to my final question:

· Do significant numbers of Christians and significant portions of so-called mainstream Christianity actually live within an Old Covenant paradigm camouflaged in New Covenant terminology and labels?