Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Paul Manata and the Exclusion Priniciple (Part II)

Manata continues his argument around the relationship between Deuteronomy 17 and 1 Corinthians 5 with this argument:

“At this time there are only two covenants men are said to be in. The (granting certain reformed assumptions) (i) Covenant of Works and (ii) the New Covenant (this could get more detailed depending on how one understand the Covenant of Grace and its relationship to the New Covenant, but for my purposes this discussion does not affect my argument). Since Paul is not talking about removing the Corinthian from the Covenant of Works(!), he must therefore be referring to a removal from the New Covenant. Since I Corinthians 5:1-13 presents the Church with general instructions for excommunication, then anyone excommunicated can be said to have been removed from the New Covenant. Since Paul (and the rest of Scripture) would not allow that someone who has Jesus Christ as their high priest could be removed from the New Covenant, we must view this removal to be removal from a visible or external aspect of the New Covenant. If the one excommunicated is regenerate (this is rare, but it can happen for myriad reasons), he is only removed from the external aspect of the New Covenant. If the one excommunicated is removed (while, for sake of simplicity, he doesn’t ever return), he is only removed from the external aspect of the New Covenant; but he was never in the internal aspect of the New Covenant (where the benefits of Christ’s death are given). Since excommunication is an undeniable fact, then one cannot argue that this is merely a “hypothetical warning, intended to keep the elect in the covenant.”

I agree that all men are either under one of two covenants. They are either under Adam or under Christ, what reformed Baptists call the Covenant of Works or the Covenant of Grace, the New Covenant. I also agree that Paul is not ordering the Corinthian community to remove the man from the Covenant of Works. But Manata commits the fallacy of bifurcation. He assumes that removal is limited to only two choices: CoW or CoG. Paul orders the community to remove the man arthe ek messou humon, from the midst of you. We have already said that the New Covenant is not like the Old Covenant. The New Covenant’s main distinction is its unbreakable nature due to it being written by God Himself on the heart of the members. Where one could be removed from the Old Covenant because it was different from the standpoint that it was breakable, such is not the case with the New Covenant. Additionally, Paul had already complained to the Corinthian Church that they must not associate with immoral people that claimed to have fellowship with Christ. Even after that imperative, Paul discovers the Corinthian Church has completely ignored his instructions. 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 is Paul’s reaction to the blatant contempt and disregard the community displayed by refusing to follow apostolic doctrine. There is no indication here, or anyplace else in the NT that any apostle considered any man like the one at Corinth to be a legitimate member of the New Covenant.

Manata’s argument borders on running contrary to the perseverance of the saints. If taken the wrong way, one may conclude that Christians can indeed, after conversion, lose their salvation. But we know Manata does not want to go anywhere near that ground. Nevertheless, Manata insists not only that there are two components of the covenant and that there is somehow official entrance into both. This concept is nowhere inferred in the New Testament documents. It is the product of paedobaptism covenant theology. Excommunication is nothing more than a community shunning an individual. A formal covenant was not necessary for excommunication to exist. This seems to be another unproven assumption that Manata makes. Excommunication existed in this culture apart from religious covenants. The removal of the Corinthian man was not removal from a covenant, but rather, the practice of social shunning, something common in that time. The focus of ancient people on honor and dishonor or shame means that they were particularly oriented toward the approval and disapproval of others.[1] The practice of public shame was something that the Gentiles in the Corinthian church would have clearly understood without additional instruction. Honor within the Christian community was sought by adhering to the values of the Christian group. Pleasing God would be the central focus of such a value system. To behave dishonorable brought shame not only on the individual but also on the group. But this group is supposed to be the light of the world, something the Apostle Paul took very seriously. For this reason, we can reject the idea that Paul was actually ordering the Corinthian man to be removed from the New Covenant and embrace the idea that he was following a practice well-known in the culture, albeit, one that had become reshaped by Christian values. With this in mind, we can reject Manata’s claim that Paul was removing someone from the New Covenant.

[1] David Arthur deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 35.

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