The Gospel Redeems Culture for the Sake of the GospelWednesday, May 04, 2005
At our monthly leadership meeting the other night, we had a lively and enjoyable interchange about the topic of childhood education. Most of you know are familiar with the debate, and perhaps know some of the arguments. It is not the purpose of this blog to deal with those, but only to ask a few questions and make a few connections between the gospel and its redemptive purposes and effects on the culture around us.
The chief question a couple of nights ago centered around which method of school was the most biblical: homeschooling or outside schooling (whether that be privatized, Christian or government/public education). To this question can be applied the two standardized methods of argumentation. First, according to the regulative principle (which states that we are only to do what the Bible explicitly teaches, no more and no less), the Bible only reflects a homeschool model, based on texts like Deut. 6:4-6, and others. To be sure, this would seem to pass by the synagogue models which were prevalent after the return to exile. And to be surer, this model may have been influenced in some way by the pagan system of education in Babylon where the Israelites had spent so many years. (I'm not a scholar on this, so correct me if I'm wrong). Nevertheless, the OT model God intended did in fact stem from the father's responsibility to teach the children in the home, and nowhere is that more clear in Scripture than in Proverbs where the father and mother are the teachers.
Second, according to the normative principle (which states that unless the Bible forbids it we are permitted to do it, as long as it does not contradict the plain teaching of Scripture, of course), the Bible does not expressly or explicitly command us to homeschool, but only provides a reflection of that model (again, right alongside an outside system of childhood education). Therefore, any model of childhood education is permissible, as long as it does not violate some other portion of Scripture, cause us to sin, cause others to stumble, etc.
In light of these argumentations which were on the table the other night, I threw out two considerations. Ruminate on them for yourselves because they apply not only to the issue of childhood education, but to every single area of life.
First, how does Colossians 1:120 apply to the situation? There we read, "And through Him [Christ, see v. 19] to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of the cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven."
1. Jesus Christ, through His blood and through His death on the cross, has made peace. That peace is a new friendship with God. "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ..." (Rom. 5:1). It is a peace that has come through being justified, that is, being declared 'not guilty' before the Father. 'Not guilty' of what? 'Not guilty' of disobedience to His holy and righteous law. We could not measure up to any of it. So God measured up to it for us in the person of His Son. And in so doing, those who believe in Him are found in Him, part of His family, and are therefore treated by the Father as He is treated by the Father, 'not guilty' of any violation of His holy law. Jesus Christ came to fulfill the Law of God on our behalf because we could not (Matt. 5:17). This puts believers, united in Christ, under a New Covenant, no longer under the Old Covenant.
Therefore, we must ask ourselves this question: if the thing we appeal to as being explicitly biblical and therefore binding, is found in the Old Covenant, are we bound by God to follow it any longer, since Christ has forged a New Covenant with His blood and put His children in that covenant? I know the immediate response: Are you saying we are not to follow things like the Ten Commandments any more? Of course not. But aren't all but one of the Ten Commandments repeated under the New Covenant? Further, aren't there ceremonial and sacrificial and levitical laws in the OT that are not carried over into the NT? We don't follow this any longer do we? And why? Because Christ has fulfilled them. But Christ did not just fulfill them, but He fufilled everything in the Old Covenant for us, and not just the parts that had to do with sacrifices. What is carried from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, therefore, is what is binding on us today.
To make the application more specific, thus priming the mental pump for more examples to follow (like worship forms, music, dress codes, hair styles, men wearing earrings, you name it), even if homeschooling were explicitly commanded as the only means of childhood education (and I do not see it as such, though you may emphatically disagree, and that's okay), that is undeniably part of the Old Covenant, and therefore has been fulfilled by Christ for us, which puts us now under the New Covenant. And the question to be asked then is: Which method of childhood education (or whatever else) is explicitly stated or implied under the New Covenant?
Apply worship to this and you'll see the point perhaps more clearly. The OT was very specific about worship, including forms, dress, sacrifices, etc. It was all very detailed and there doesn't appear to be much 'squirming' room and few, if any, loopholes. Jesus Christ fulfilled all of those forms of worship for us. They were forms which God demanded of His people, yet forms which His people could hardly measure up to. But because of the Father's great love for us and His strange yet sovereign desire to have us a part of His eternal plan, He took pity on our inability, sent His Son to do what we could not, and made peace with us.
This puts us under the New Covenant now. And what prescriptions of worship are there for those under the New Covenant? Very simply, worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24). Jesus, in fulfilling the Law, teaches clearly now that form is no longer the central issue (worshiping in this mountain or that), but rather function (worshiping in spirit and truth). In other words, performance in worship is no longer critical, but the heart is the most important thing. This is new and different from that prescribed under the Old Covenant. It allows a measure of freedom in our worship as long as we are worshiping in spirit (with the right affections) and in truth (with the right doctrine).
2. God is reconciling all things to Himself through Jesus Christ. To reconcile is synonymous with making peace, as indicated a few words later in the verse. And God is not just reconciling some things, but all things. This includes childhood education, worship forms, etc. And the means of God's reconciliation process is Jesus Christ. And that occurs whenever the gospel is preached thoroughly and applied exhaustively.
Included in the thought, all things, would be culture. Consider this point well: under the Old Covenant there was only room for one divine culture - Jewish. If you wanted in on God's plan, you had to become a proselyte, an adopted Jew, if you will. But under the New Covenant, there is room for every culture. This is the precise point at which the gospel made its worldwide impact. The gospel is not just for Jews, but also for Gentiles. This very issue is what consumed much of Paul's writing and ministry (e.g. Eph. 2; Romans, Galatians). Jesus' intention for His people is that they would be a light to the world, and salt to the earth (Matt. 5:13-16. The end result of His divine vision is the vision John caught in Revelation 5:9, men and women, boys and girls, purchased for God with the blood of Christ, "from every tribe and tongue and people and nation." Heaven will be filled with "a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the Lamb...and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb'" (7:8-10).
Under the New Covenant, God is using Jesus Christ as the means of reconciling all cultures to Himself. Under this better covenant, there is room for more than that which is Jewish. And God will reconcile them to Himself, notice, and not to His Law. Christ already fulfilled that, remember? In the end, this is probably the primary most consideration for why the regulative principle must be reexamined and considered further. It simply does not allow for the gospel of Christ and its necessary implications to have their full force upon whatever subject or method is being considered.
Being specific, this means that even if homeschooling were explicitly prescribed in the Old Covenant, God is not reconciling all things, including all cultures, to the Old Covenant. Christ already did that for us, which means God is reconciling all things, including all cultures, to Himself. Otherwise, we are dangerously close to the error of Judaism which Paul deal with in his day: trying to make believers return to the Old Covenant as if they would somehow be more complete or better off. That's the very thing the writer of Hebrews combats in his letter, also. New Covenant people cannot be supplemented in any way whatsoever by anything in the Old Covenant. They are complete in Christ.
Now for the conclusion, the long awaited 'therefore.' There are two of them and they are very important.
1. First, the process of reconciliation which God is performing through Christ is all about the glory of God as spread through the gospel. Think about it. If Christ is the means of God's reconciliation process, then wherever the name of Christ goes people are reconciled, including their cultures, languages, etc. Thus, the reason for the title of this blog: The Gospel Redeems Culture for the sake of the Gospel. In redeeming people and their cultures, they in turn become additional instruments in the hands of Christ to go out and redeem other people and cultures. So as you can see, the gospel cannot be about requiring its adherents to conform to something in the Old Covenant, something only Jewish. That defeats the entire point, purpose and plan of the gospel in the first place.
2. Second, if there is something within the culture of a person who has been redeemed and reconciled by God through Christ, something which can be utilized for the glory of God to reach others for the gospel, then it has in fact already been reconciled to God through Christ. Ours is the task to pray for illumination and perception to see what those things are so that we can use them for the glory of God through the furtherance of the gospel. If we suppress or reject or ignore it, then (a) we may be suppressing, rejecting, or ignoring something which God has reconciled and thereby be found to be opposing His gospel plan, and (2) we will certainly miss opportunities to utilize that thing to win others to Christ. Remember, the reconciliation process is about reconciling people to God through Christ, which happens through the gospel. The gospel plan will be humanly thwarted, though not sovereignly so, to be sure.
The New Covenant says that the people in every culture are precious to the Heavenly Father, such that He sent His Son to die for them. But this was part of His overall eternal plan to redeem from every culture a people for Himself. He did so, as stated in Revelation 5:10, "to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth." This implies that those whom God reconciles through Christ are to be rulers on the earth. And their rulership is centered on Christ, the author and finisher of our Faith, the substance of the New Covenant and the fulfillment of the Old Covenant. Therefore, let us take hold of those things in our culture which have already been reconciled to God through Christ, and utilize them for the furtherance of His eternal plan. It is in this way that we, like Paul, can, "become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it" (1 Cor. 9:19-23, a thorough reading of 1 Corinthians 9 as a whole would be fitting when considering an application of these truths presented here).