Two Examples of How the Gospel Redeems Culture for the Sake of the Gospel

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Two Examples of How the Gospel Redeems Culture
for the Sake of the Gospel


Bouncing off the last post, consider two examples of how God reconciles all things, whether in heaven or on earth, to Himself through Jesus Christ.

First, consider the issue of slavery. Under the Old Covenant, slavery was allowable, but not necessary. A household was permitted to have slaves (more like endentured servants, and not at all a system to be even remotely compared to the slavery system which took place from the 18th to 20th centuries), but households were not commanded to have slaves. Slaves were those who voluntarily became such, or who were forcibly detained by war (Deut. 20:10-11; Gen. 14:21; Num. 31:9; 2 King. 5:2; 2 Chron. 28:8); by purchase (Lev. 25:44-45; Gen. 37:23-28); by debt (2 King. 4:1; Exod. 22:2-3; Lev. 25:39, 47-48; Deut. 15:12; Neh. 5:1-5); by birth (Exod. 21:4; Gen. 17:12-13; Eccl. 2:7; Jer. 2:14). Sometimes foreigners were conscripted and forced into labor (2 Sam. 12:29-31; Ex. 1:11-14; Josh. 9:22-23; 16:10; Judg. 1:28; 1 King. 9:20-21). They were always regarded as property (Lev. 25:39-42, 46; Exod. 21:32). The Old Testament was very clear, however, about how slaves were to be treated by their masters.

Now if the regulative principle is in place (the principle that tells us we may do only what the Bible commands either explicitly or implicitly), Christian families today would be permitted to have slaves, and would be (and should be) able to obtain them or detain them. But obviously they do not, and probably would not, though some Christians of the theonomist stripe would probably sign on the dotted line for this one!

But look what happens when the New Covenant enters the pages of history. What is different is that the gospel entered cultures which also had slavery. But did the gospel seek to enjoin those cultures to follow the Old Covenant laws on slavery? No. Instead, upon entering the Graeco-Roman culture, the gospel utilized the culture of slavery to further the gospel. The gospel message didn't demand all households to have slaves, and it didn't demand the release or manumission of slaves within Christian households. If it did, surely the case of Philemon and Onesimus would have shown us that.

The gospel, however, becomes the method by which God reconciles all things, including slavery, for the furtherance of His glory. First, it transformed the status of slaves. According to 1 Corinthians 12:13, slaves were just as much a part of the Spirit's baptism as freemen. In Galatians 3:26-28, Paul taught that "you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Second, as a result of their new status in Christ, they were to work as unto the Lord, not as unto their masters, with the hopeful result that their masters would see the gospel living and breathing in them through the person of the Spirit of Christ Jesus, and ultimately embrace Christ themselves (Eph. 6:5-8; Col. 3:22-25). And conversely, Christian masters were to treat their slaves with fairness, righteousness (Eph. 5:9; Col. 4:1), even as brothers and sisters in Christ (Philemon). What this shows us is that the Graeco-Roman culture of slavery, which was very different from the Old Covenant slave culture, was reconciled by God through the cross, and therefore utilized to further the gospel. The New Covenant never required the slavery of other cultures to conform itself to the slave culture of the Old Covenant. Instead, it was redeemed, reconciled, and utilized for something greater than conformation to a code. It was utlilized for the overall transformation of the world.

Second, consider the issue of gender differences. This is an example of where a particular truth must be carried over from the Old Covenant into the New, because it was restated in the New. Therefore, it serves as a primary example of how to interpret and apply the Old Covenant in light of the gospel.

I'll be honest up front and state that I'm a complimentarian and not an egalitarian. I'm a complimentarian because I believe that God reconciles all cultures with their respective views on gender. Clearly God had established an order of men as the head of their wives since creation. And this contrasts with the illustration on slavery, for in this issue, this truth was carried over from Old Covenant to New Covenant (see 1 Tim. 2:9-15, esp. verse 13).

But what is different is the value and treatment of women in society. Women were treated like slaves, for the most part, in the Graeco-Roman culture. They had few rights and could be married and disposed of for almost any reason. Incidentally, this very trait was pinpointed by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount as being common to even the Jewish culture, which in the case of the latter was an obvious violation of the spirit of the law which they claimed to cherish so dearly.

When the gospel enters the picture, marriages are called to return to an Old Covenant perspective of male headship because that perspective, being restated in the New Covenant, transcends all cultures and times. And more than that, the gospel captures the marriage and reconciles it to God through Christ so that now, there is an element of equality within the marriage that is not found in the Old Covenant. In other words the New Covenant introduces an new element of equality to an old element of subordination. The equality factor doesn't change the subordination factor, and the subordination factor doesn't change the equality factor. Man and wife are equal with one another under the cross, both having been baptized by the same Spirit into the same body of Christ (applying the same texts on the slavery issue above). But there is still a subordination that exists, according to Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18, 1 Timothy 2:9-15, 1 Peter 3:1-6, and 1 Corinthians 14:34 ff.

So the gospel in this example, reaches back into the Old Covenant and reapplies it's truth on gender to all cultures today (subordination), and it adds a new element not previously known or applied (equality). The old element seems mainly applied to women in the New Covenant, but with more gospel-motivated emphasis, of course. And the new element seems primarily applied to men, probably because the old element had mutated into very ungodly treatment of women and wives. For this reason, and in this way, the gospel enters other cultures and instead of condoning continuance of the old cultural way of treating women and wives, husbands are now to love their wives like Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25), sanctifying and cleansing them with the Word of God (v. 26). Indeed, they are taught to love their wives as much as, or in the same way as, they love their own bodies (vv. 28-29). Further, the gospel teaches them not to become embittered against their wives, for whatever reasons (Col. 3:19). Instead, they are to live with their wives in an understanding way, treating them as "fellow heirs" in the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7).

Summary

Getting a bird's eye view here, slavery as a system was not something the gospel tried to conform to the Old Covenant standards, nor did it try to abolish the system. Instead, it entered the culture, and God used its message of Christ to reconcile that system of slavery to Himself for the furtherance of His own glory. So while the system of slavery wasn't something the gospel was out to change, the hearts and souls of slaves and masters were objects the gospel sought to change. In the case of slavery, God's reconciliation of this culture is seen in the gospel coming alongside the system of slavery to change the hearts and minds of those involved in it.

But in the case of gender differences, God's reconciliation of all cultures on this matter is reflected in the gospel seeking to change te system of marriage itself. What changes is that no longer should a man have more than one wife, and no longer should a man treat his wife as if she were of lesser value than her husband. What does not change is that women are to continue in a subordinate role their husbands, albeit in a more Christ-like fashion, especially in light of passages like 1 Peter 3:1-6, where God's reconciliation of pagan cultures of marriage is best reflected in subordination with joy for the furtherance of the gospel in their husbands' lives. thus, gender differences and marriage is an example of where the gospel changed both the system of marriage and the hearts and souls of husbands and wives.

I trust this has served to better illustrate how the gospel of the New Covenant redeems culture, as well as when it does and does not require adherence to truths found in the Old Covenant. And I trust that it has not just muddied the waters even more for you!

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