Giving attention to … the Nation-State of Israel, Presbyterians, & The Voracious News Cycle!

Because truth matters, friends asked, and I lack sense to avoid paths where angels fear to tread (!) ~ I will consider current events pertaining to the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church, United States of America) and Israel from the perspective of covenant theology. I will appreciate hearing your wisdom on this subject, and perhaps give our friend Rev. Stephen Atkinson (Christian Witness to Israel) a platform for deeper drilling on this. Pause: C.W.I., for 170 years, has been energetically reaching out to the Jewish people around the world with the gospel of Jesus the Messiah, from a Reformed and covenantal foundation. http://www.cwi.org.uk/http://www.cwina.org/. Our own denomination (RPCNA) on a smaller scale conducted a mission in Philadelphia.

Recent actions of the PCUSA (distancing themselves from the nation-state of Israel, mandating that church funds no longer be invested there, and considering changes to old hymns which refer with affection to Israel and Jerusalem) have nothing to do with covenantal/reformed theology. The PCUSA is a liberal Protestant denomination with all of the infamous regress on matters of twisted sexuality, a full generation ago falling in love with communist versions of social-justice in their missions and politics. Divesting from Israel, for the PCUSA, has everything to do with radical pacifism and getting sucked into the U.N.-driven agenda of shaming the strong, sympathizing with Islamists, and ignoring that there are offenses at every hand. Christ Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church in Lawrence (https://christcovenantchurchrpc.org/) is not part of the PCUSA; we have no formal or informal connection.

That said, we should separate (if only for the sake of strategy) the modern nation-state of Israel (reborn in 1948), the Israel that stands for 13-million-plus Jewish people in many nations, & the way Scripture refers to all of God’s people (Jewish and Gentile) as His Israel. We can love all three versions, specifically, giving what we owe to each one, under God ~ controlled by Spiritual wisdom. We can love Israel without endorsing every action and decision of the modern nation-state (which is officially secular, by the way). We can love our own nation too, and out of that love, rebuke our own leaders for their folly and sin.

There is an old kind of dispensationalism which I hope passes away soon. From my perch as a reformed-covenantal Christian, that dispensationalism held out to ethnic Jews another way of salvation other than through faith in Jesus alone. The impression was given that a Jew ~ faithful to Yahweh, to the law, and to the ceremonies ~ on the basis of the blood of Abraham coursing through his veins ~ is already in the eternal family of God, with an elder-brother status in that Kingdom compared to the many Gentiles who really do need Jesus’ blood. My evangelical friends, this theology is the one that hates Jews, refusing to point them to their and our only hope ~ Jesus-Messiah. The gospel is for the Jew first.

Erwin Lutzer (on his radio program last week) answered well an accusation about Martin Luther, anti-Semitism, and Hitler. A questioner was ready to throw out all of the accomplishments of Luther (and other reformers) due to admittedly hateful things some of them wrote against the Jews. There is a need for great nuance here, but wisdom calls us to mark ye the perfect man, practice bone-spitting, grasp that 99% of the Medieval Church was complicit in this, and understand that Hitler was not a faithful Lutheran, Catholic, or etc. The Gentile-dominant church of most eras must repent before God with respect to our sinful attitudes about and our mistreatment of the Jews. Lutzer gave a written response to a similar question in the past; of course, Erwin is responsible for his own words as I am for mine: http://www.moodymedia.org/ask-pastor-lutzer/archives/question-149/

This covenantalist avoids the term “Replacement Theology” because it suggests that Gentile bullies are shoving Jews out of the House of God. Paul the Jew has much to say in Romans against such pride. But the solution is not to suggest that there are TWO houses of God, separate forever, each with its own gospel terms and conditions. No, Jesus the Jew ~ for Jews and Gentiles ~ has knocked down in His own Person the dividing wall of controversy, making one new people in one enormous house, comprised of families and individuals from all of the ethnes (people-groups). It is no disrespect to ethnic Jews that I highly treasure my own inclusion in the ancient Jewish covenants … by adoption through the perfect life and atoning death and glorious resurrection and present reign of Jesus the Nazarene. My zeal? That our unnatural engrafting stirs holy and fruitful jealousy in the original covenanters. Amen? So may it be.

Giving attention to … Psalm 118. We must pay much closer attention!

In much Biblical and ancient literature, the center of a document, poem, or essay is where we should look for the main point. So … do you know the center verse of the entire Bible?! Did you know that the longest and shortest chapters in the Bible surround that same text? Did you know that Israel closed their most important feast each year singing its themes? When the crowds applied the words of that same chapter to Jesus, they set in motion a series of judgments which led to His crucifixion five days later. The thoughts of the same chapter were on the mind of our Lord as He went out to die. But in fact ~ to be saved forever ~ you must agree with the simple truths found in that same brief text. Are you somewhat interested?!
Psalm 118 is between the shortest chapter (Psalm 117) and the longest (Psalm 119). The Bible’s center verse is Psalm 118:8 ~ It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. Passover feasts for centuries included the singing of Psalms 113-118, closing with 118, so its themes were on Jesus’ mind and lips as they sang a hymn, and left for the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus quoted Psalm 118 at the end of His long diatribe against the scribes and the Pharisees in Matthew 23, answering for them the great question: How can hypocrites escape God’s judgment of hell? When the Palm Sunday crowd chanted: “Hosanna!” (Matthew 21:9), they were quoting Psalm 118:25 (Save us now, O Lord)! So for these five reasons and many more, we must pay much closer attention to Psalm 118, and so to the Lord Jesus!
The scribes in Matthew 21:15 demanded that Jesus shut up the little children as they praised Him, referred to Him as “Lord,” and pleaded for His salvation. This is a bit disguised to us by the word “Hosanna” … but the anger of Jesus’ judges indicates how they were hearing it (and notice that Jesus did not correct any mistaken understanding there). No, Jesus received their praise, even though only God can save: Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord (quoting Psalm 118:25-26). Jesus refused to quiet the children, claiming in a sense that it was impossible, because it was so fundamentally true that even the stones would cry out the same thing! And at the end of Jesus’ anti-hypocrisy sermon, His application? The only way for hypocrites and sinners of all kinds to escape hell is to cry out the same thing that the kids were saying, while looking at Jesus: Save us now, O Lord! Blessed is He who comes in the Lord’s name … with God’s approval … the One who is pleasing to His Father.
So once Jesus takes our minds back there into this ancient worship song … Psalm 118:15-16 makes much of God’s strong Right Hand (where the Lord Jesus Christ is sitting/standing/serving today). In Psalm 118:17-18, the Singer expresses confidence that He will live to tell of the Lord’s great works, even though He was under God’s chastening discipline. Psalm 118:19-20 refers to the Gate of or from the Lord, through which the righteous must enter (or maybe the very act and process of entering through that Gate makes us righteous?)! Psalm 118:22-23 is about a Stone the builders cast aside, but then the Chief Architect gives it a different evaluation, establishing this rejected Rock as the chief Cornerstone of all His great work. Psalm 118:27 refers to festal sacrifices, and Psalm 118:1,29 opens and closes this song with words of thanksgiving to the Lord for His everlasting mercy. But whence comes mercy for sinners?! Do you see?

Giving Attention To…The Most-Forgiven People In The World

I am grateful that my Doctor of Ministry pursuit at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) has me reading some great books … AND I am grateful that some of these books are already familiar to me! One of these familiar books was The PeaceMaker (by Ken Sande, a Reformed elder and Christian attorney). Proving the value of reading good books twice, I came across this phrase last month which I did not recall from my first reading nine years ago. Listen ~ and register an amen (or otherwise): Christians are the most forgiven people in in the world!
If you said and nodded amen, that means you agree ~ and so you regard this as true. Well, is that true?! If you are a Christian (and according to your public professions, most of you are Christians), do you often think of yourself as the most forgiven person? Just as critically, is this how the world thinks about us, that we are and we think we are the most forgiven people in the world … or do they think something else about our self-perception?! Since I am in the mood for great questions (sneaking in three of them already!), I may as well keep on charging ahead. Ask and answer these ones in your personal mental space:
· As part of that most-forgiven club, what is it you are forgiven of/from? There is a hidden, assumed word there, one which we must highlight: sin(s). So the most forgiven people in the world must have been great, low, chief sinners?
· Forgiven … by Whom? Surely not by the self, or by energy or a simple force. Forgiveness must be by a Person; Who?
· Why have you been forgiven? That is, on what basis? Who paid? What price?
· Forgiven … how much? … how often? … how deeply? That is, what does true and full and free forgiveness mean? What does that feel like ~ inside you?!
· Forgiven … for what purpose? Any reason, beyond mere guilt-clearance?
· Are you merely forgiven ~ or are you more-than-forgiven? Is “Forgiven-Sinner” the only label you wear now? Is that your best label? Did Jesus pay for more?
· Consider Bible connections between forgiveness, law, repentance, faith, and grace.
· Is there any Bible relationship between forgiveness and love? How about: God’s love produced your forgiveness which produces your love for God, for His gospel, and for other offenders, even those who have sinned against you? Especially since Jesus Christ put it thus: She who is forgiven much, loves much. And since we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” … is all of this true in your case?
· Does it follow in you (and in most Christians) that the most forgiven people are also the most forgiving people? Would there be evidence for or against this in your own trial?
· And what difference does all of this make concerning assurance of salvation, family and church life, on the job and at school, for your life in the community, in your dealings with this sinful world, and in your Christian witness?