Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Interacting with Paul Manata’s Why I am not a Baptist (again)
In this post I will continue my interaction with Manata on the subject of a mixed community in the New Covenant. Manata writes, The EP, as presented in the New Testament, provides extremely strong support for a continued external dimension to the New Covenant community. Only in the new heavens and earth will the covenant community be a pure, unmixed community. Here I think Manata presents his weakest argument. The exclusion principle is not unique to the Ancient Hebrews. The practice was commonplace in the Mediterranean world. Second, to be excluded from a local fellowship does not imply one is a bona fide member of the New Covenant. Nowhere in the NT do the writers ever imply that there are two components of the New Covenant. John’s words serve as an excellent reason for us to reject this idea immediately.
If we are to accept Manata’s argument that the New Covenant will not be written on the hearts of all those who are members in it, we run into a number of problems. On the one hand, is the New Covenant made with all of Israel and Judah? If it is as like the Old Covenant as Manata suggests, then we must admit that national Israel is a member of the New Covenant. But I don’t think Manata would go that far. After all, what is the basis for membership in the New Covenant? Moreover, what are the benefits of being in the New Covenant. Is there any material difference between the Muslim and the Jew in terms of being under the wrath and disfavor of God for their rejection of Jesus Christ? I would think not. At best, this sort of understanding of the New Covenant reduces membership in it to a meaningless status. Manata cannot have it both ways.
The New Covenant is expressly identified by Jeremiah as that activity of God where He writes His law on the hearts of the covenant members, the elect, true Israel. Those who are in the New Covenant have God as their God and they are God’s people. They will not need to teach each other how to know God because all the members in the New Covenant will know God. Jesus quotes this passage in John 6 in the context of all those that are His. Jesus says that everyone who is taught of God, something Jeremiah reserves for the recipients of the New Covenant, will come to Him. The idea that one could be a member in the New Covenant and not come to Christ is simply not true. John echoes Jeremiah’s words twice more when he informs his church that they have an anointing from the Holy One and do not need a teacher. Why? Because they have been taught of God just as Jeremiah said the New Covenant members would be and Jesus Himself interpreted Jeremiah this way as well.
Romans 9-11 provides excellent material to understand membership in the New Covenant. It is those elect Jews and Gentiles who have faith in Christ. The Gentiles have been grafted into the Covenant by faith in Christ. Unbelief excludes people from the covenant regardless of race, gender, social status, or relations. Only faith in Christ results in membership in the New Covenant community. This is clear when Paul says, “And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” (Rom. 11:23)
The writer of Hebrews tells us that Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant, a better covenant. What Christ mediates is efficacious. He offers up for members of the Covenant a better sacrifice. Would Manata say that Christ is the actual mediator for the non-elect? Does Christ offer up sacrifice for those who actually reject Him, those who are not His sheep? The writer goes on to say that the blood of Christ is efficacious, being offered through the eternal Spirit, to cleanse our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Heb. 9:14) This is the mediator of the New Covenant mediating for members in that covenant. The writer then says, “For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. (9:16) Is Manata claiming that Christ’s death included those who were not elect? It is only those who have been called that will receive the promise of the New Covenant. (v. 15) This accords perfectly with Jeremiah 31, John 6, Romans 9-11, and 1 John 2. The New Covenant is established in the blood sacrifice of Christ. This sacrifice takes away the Old Covenant in order to establish the New. (Heb. 10:9) It is by this sacrifice that the members in the New Covenant have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Heb. 10:10) It is by this offering that He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. (10:14) It is here that the writer to the Hebrews references Jeremiah 31:33. The writer of the Hebrews connects those who have been sanctified, perfected, washed in the blood of Christ and cleansed with the same ones that Jeremiah describes as having God’s laws put upon their hearts and their minds. It is the same audience. These are the objects of the New Covenant arrangement. This is why Paul says that (we) New Covenant members are not of those who endure for a while but then withdrawal to perdition. (Heb. 10:39) These are those who were never really of us. The parable of the sower presents this clearly. The good soil, the New Covenant members, Christ’s sheep, those whom God has actually called, are the members of the New Covenant, in the body of Christ, the Church, in Christ by faith and they will endure to the end. The ones that withdrawal were never really of us.
If the writer to the Hebrews is correct, then members in the New Covenant have been perfected forever, having been sanctified by the blood of Christ once and for all. This sacrifice has created a mixed, but entirely pure community. Mixed in that she is ethnically diverse but one in that she is spiritually pure, sanctified, justified by the one eternal sacrifice of Christ her mediator. The writer of the Hebrews does not use language that implies that the New Covenant is yet to be enacted. The New Covenant has been fully enacted. Christ said it is finished, not it has begun. We are living in the New Covenant arrangement today and the purity of our communities is of utmost importance if we are to be the light we are called to be. This is why church discipline is so critically important. It is why Paul insisted that the Corinthian man be removed immediately. We are not a community of moral and immoral people. Even though wolves are around us along with the hypocrites, they are not of us. They are not in our community. They are not members of the covenant because only God can make someone a member of the covenant.