Saturday, February 7, 2009

Lack of New Testament Support for Multigenerational Faithfulness

In an earlier post, I listed all of the Scriptural “proof texts” that those from Vision Forum use to support their teachings on multigenerational faithfulness. As stated earlier, most of them pertain to the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants, detailing how the Israelites were instructed to relate to God under the Old Covenant. According to the writings of Paul and the Book of Hebrews, those under the New Covenant, whether Jew or Gentile, received a Better Covenant than the Israelites did. They lived under the law and were subject to all its penalties. Those who follow the New Covenant live under grace and are not subject to the condemnation and curses of the law, as Jesus paid all the penalties that sin demanded. The Old Covenant was the Gospel concealed, a foreshadowing of the Gospel, and the New Covenant was the Gospel revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Until we come to faith, the Law serves as our schoolmaster or teacher, but when we receive the Holy Spirit by faith and experience new birth in the Spirit through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, the Law becomes written on our hearts.

The Consequences of John's Sin....???
But if John gets it right, he had blessings for 1000 generations. Generational thinking is the KEY.
(Listen HERE.)

Again, I would like to draw attention to the idea that we can draw encouragement, instruction and wisdom from the Old Covenant, but it is only a foreshadowing. God showed grace and favor to the people of Israel. They rejected the Messiah because the minds of some of those in Israel’s hearts were hardened to the truth and their vision clouded. That produced an unexpected blessing for the Gentiles, for through the Jews’ rejection of the Messiah, grace was offered to the Gentiles. And Paul says in his Epistle to the Church at Rome that it is through the grace and mercy shown to the Gentiles that mercy might again be extended to the natural Israel. In the end, the grace and mercy is shown to all people, both Jew and Gentile. Each group who rejects the truth becomes God’s unexpected instrument of mercy to the other. God uses all things, working them together for good for the righteous and to bring Himself greater glory as all circumstances work perfection in us.

Grace is a complex thing to understand, and God’s profound forgiveness of our sins through the Blood of Jesus is not only miraculous, it is truly a miraculous thing to even understand what God has done for us. Our human nature prefers and understands reciprocity. We do not get things without them requiring something of us. When we give, we generally receive something in return for that giving, whether it be payment or love or some intangible benefit. Understanding just how profoundly miraculous God’s pure, unmerited grace and favor towards us proves to be work, and so the author of Hebrews describes it as a striving to enter His rest. The author laments that we as believers apparently find it difficult, often clinging to what I believe is a rudimentary understanding of grace beyond equitable exchange of forgiveness for good works. We have institutionalized this understanding with indulgences and confessions and pardons, clinging to the milk of the faith when we should be masticating the thick meat of maturity. I believe this is because of our nature which tends to cling to the understanding that most exchanges rest on reciprocity. Christ’s atonement and imputation (Him with all of our sins and us with all of His perfect righteousness before God in holiness) violate the natural order of reciprocity under the Spirit of Love as opposed to the Letter of the Law.

Perhaps this explains multigenerational faithfulness and the reliance upon primarily Old Testament Scriptures that describe man’s relationship to God and with one another under the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was easier to understand as it established the principle of exchange – how our sins cry out for blood atonement. We learn early, when Adam and Eve leave the Garden of Eden that blood must be shed to cover their nakedness with animal skins. The blood of the innocent cries out to our Holy God from the ground. So in that sense, the even exchange of punishment for transgression and blessing for adequate or excellent performance comes much easier to the mind of man. In that sense, when we become born again or born of the Spirit of God, it makes the process all the more profoundly miraculous, for our natural minds do not understand that there is no even exchange. We then spend our Christian lives deepening our understanding of how profound God’s love for us really is on so many levels, for He so willingly offered Himself in our stead because of love. That love breaks every rule that we understand in the natural sense, and that kind of love worked into us and lived out separates us from the natural state of the exchange in kind and measure. We tend to cling to the Old Covenant because it is, in many ways, much easier for our natural minds to understand. It seems to be a way that seems right to us, and it preserves a sense of our dignity and an illusion of our inherent goodness.

In addition to the Ephesians 6 reference, I did find another statement today that also sites Ephesians Chapter 5 as an additional NT support or proof text for multigenerational faithfulness. And I’ve found the two verses in Peter’s Epistles. I would like to examine them specifically to see whether they tell us that we as Christians are Abraham’s physical seed or whether we are just his spiritual heirs to the Better Covenant that God intended in Jesus Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Covenant in the form of the New and Better one. Does the New Covenant teach that God visits sins of parents to their forth generation? Does the Bible teach that we are to honor our physical progeny as more significant than sharing the Gospel with unbelievers who are dying in their sins? Does the concept of God’s elect mean that we restrict care and the sharing of kindness and resources so that those we esteem as non-elect should be shunned as the whole scope of multigenerational faithfulness teaches through unstated assumption and vague implication and the “unwritten rules” conveyed through context clues?

We are clearly told in Ephesians as well as in the Gospels that we should show lovingkindness to unbelievers and to those within the Body of Christ. We are told to bless those who curse us and to pray for those who despitefully use us. We are to not reward evil for evil or even indifference, but we are to return evil with good. Though we might be at odds with our civil authorities who rule over us unjustly, we are to submit to them, carrying the burden of a soldier for two miles instead of one. We are told to clothe the naked and feed the sick, and we are not instructed to assess the likelihood of a “return on our good investment” prior to showing this generosity. Only the religious abusers who claim to be our fellow believers who continue to teach falsehood and who receive no correction are we to mark and avoid. We should depart foolishness, but we are to be generous and good, never taught to reject unbelievers in favor of “covenantal succession.” I remember how profoundly influenced I was at a young age when my mother read the account of Acts 16 to me. The incarcerated Paul remained in custody, even though the earthquake allowed for his freedom, thus sparing the life of the jailer who was so moved that he came to faith in Jesus that night because of this testimony. How many believers would do such a thing today? It would likely break my heart to know.

First, we are offered Ephesians 5 and 6 as proof texts in support of covenantal succession and a preferring of natural flesh to support multigenerational faithfulness. But do these references support this teaching in such a way? Voddie Baucham draws many references from Ephesians, specifically from Chapters 4, 5 and 6. I applaud him if he is teaching merely what is written within these chapters concerning order within the home, loving care of those for whom one is responsible and for provision for one’s family. Does it teach that women are to have no individual callings or giftings that do not directly serve the patriarch of the home to further his vision, or that husbands should rule over their wives like they rule over small children? Does Ephesians state anywhere that young women must never leave the sphere of the home or the protection of their patriarch when they reach adulthood, or does that doctrine come exclusively from Vision Forum’s novel interpretation Numbers 30 in the Old Covenant? Does it teach, contrary to Paul’s writings and the author of Hebrews, that Christians will be punished to the third and fourth generations for their parents’ shortcomings, or does it say that they are made to be individually new creatures in Christ who follow the guiding of the Spirit and are made to be free from the consequences of the law?

Does Ephesians speak about building one’s temporal legacy, or is it focused on spiritual edification for the benefit of the whole Body of Christ? I find themes of genuine love, forbearance, forgiveness and mutual edification of both one’s family and the larger Body of Christ. I’ve already addressed Ephesians 5 in some detail here, noting that many patriocentrists believe that husbands play an active and wllful role in the spiritual sanctification of their wives, but prior to this section, I see the theme of mutual submission and sober, faithful living. Ephesians 6 admonishes us to submit peaceably to those who are our designated authorities in love and respect so as to bring honor to the Lord. And chapter 6 concludes with the instruction of how our warfare differs from how war is waged in the natural world.

I don’t know that I personally see a parallel between the fifth and sixth chapters of both Deuteronomy and Ephesians as I hear parroted in discussions of multigenerational faithfulness apart from the admonishment of children to obey parents. But my question remains: does this portion of Scripture advocate the core beliefs of Vision Forum’s concept of multigenerational faithfulness? How do these chapters in Ephesians teach anything new or different from that which has been traditionally understood from the passages? Why is all of this information presented as new or special under the multigenerational interpretation?Certainly, these passages speak to properly raising children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, so I they absolutely do apply to our modern issues of how to educate our children. Depending on your presuppositions about gender, this section of Ephesians does address interaction within a family as well as how we are to respond to authorities in general. Obedience is addressed, though I personally argue that it demands an unquestioned obedience without credulity (under all circumstances) or what some refer to as “First Time Obedience.” I do not see First Time Obedience as always being an issue of rebellion that is supported in Ephesians, though that is another tether of multigenerational faithfulness for discussion on another day. Actually, I find the focus of Ephesians on mutual edification and submission or what some call “one anothering” to argue against a rigid and authoritarian demand for unquestioned obedience and as something that dulls discernment of individuals.

Though I must say that unlike many that I know who follow patriocentricity, I disagree that the book of Ephesians speaks primarily to male headship and hierarchy in the family and thus the church. The central theme of the book is not family for me at all. For me, I speaks of God’s love and care of us through His redemption of us with example of how we are to love and care for one another in a spirit of mutual submission and consideration. It instructs us in how our warfare and means of loving and caring for one another differs dramatically from the world’s means of accomplishing all of these things in it’s own power and reason.

Looking at the passages in Peter’s Epistles that are cited by those who promote multigenerational faithfulness, what can we glean from these passages?

1 Peter 5 has been offered as a proof text for multigenerational faithfulness, but I believe that it follows from a presumption of aberrant submission doctrine. Bill Gothard as well as those who established this twist on this section of Scripture in the Shepherding/Discipleship Movement use this particular chapter to support the concept of submission without credulity. Though the passage starts with an admonishment to shepherds to properly care for their sheep, pastors who care for their parishioners, the Shepherding doctrines use this passage to support the idea that one earns “grace points” by meriting power and success through good works of the law, primarily through submission. I recently discussed this teaching in some depth in this previous post.

1 Peter 5:1 - 11:

The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.

Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “ God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

The only other New Testament multigenerational faithfulness proof text that I can find offered by the advocates of the ideology comes from 2 Peter 1:5 (though I have included some context here to help us understand how this verse applies):

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I’m not sure how this section of Scripture applies specifically to multigenerational faithfulness. The verses do speak of “making one’s call and election sure,” but I think that this speaks more to an individual responsibility to the truth as opposed to an automatic status of spiritual position. It also states that God calls us by His glory and virtue through His divine power, not through earned merit of our own or the merits of birth. It mentions that some forget that they have been cleansed from old sins and develop a type of blindness that they were offered unmerited forgiveness. This argues against working the law to obtain status or to merit power. The passage sets brotherly kindness and other virtues as a standard, and it does not instruct that these virtues should be shown to one group as opposed to another. Virtue should be shown to all in a spirit of kindness that glorifies God, and it does not teach us that covenant children or those who follow in covenantal succession as a virtue of birth receive more of that virtue or should taste of the first fruits of those blessings of kindness.

So in summary, clearly, the New Testament does stress the love and responsibility that the love for family requires of believers, offering examples of God’s great love and care of us as the standard for the love that we should have for others. This is particularly true of those who belong to us through the intimate and mysterious connections of marriage and family. But I see that theme emerge above all others – that by walking in love and sober wisdom, we bring glory to God through His witness and spiritual power in us – something that we do not and cannot merit. Paul and Peter both give us instruction in how we can best submit to those who have authority over us in a way that brings honor to God. I take no issue with that, and I see the beautiful admonishment Paul brings to parents to lovingly care for their children without provoking them to anger. (I could argue that a demand for “First Time Obedience” could easily become a provocation to anger in many instances, particularly if credulity and discernment conflicts with the abuse of power or authoritarianism.)

But do these Scriptures support all of the core concepts of multigenerational faithfulness?

Core Concepts of Multigenerational Faithfulness:

  • Subjection to the curses of the Old Covenant (as opposed to freedom from the Law under the New and Better Covenant under the Blood of the Lamb)
  • Covenant blessing comes through the physical seed of believers, with those who profess faith in Christ replacing physical Israel. Therefore, these new Covenant Christians live as though they must procreate to fill the earth as opposed to first observing the Great Commission of Jesus Christ to make disciples through conversion of sinners.
  • Legalistic interpretation of covenant keeping through instructing children.
  • Developing inheritance (spiritual, intellectual and material) through human striving.

Do these Scriptures support the entire web related concepts associated with multigenerational faithfulness? Though I do not share the Vision Forum interpretation of gender hierarchy, the general topic of obedience (including First Time Obedience), and concerns related to training children (spiritually and academically), these topics are discussed in Ephesians and in 1 Peter 5. Though I believe some of these interpretations echo the aberrant teachings of cultic Christianity consistent with the Shepherding/Discipleship Movement, some of these topics are touched upon in these New Covenant Scriptures cited by the advocates of the concept.

(Click to Enlarge Graphic)

But what of the remaining concepts that are taught in conjunction with this view of multigenerational faithfulness?
  • Obedience to Eldest Male in Husband’s Extended Family
  • Election Through the Covenant Community and Birth
  • Militant Fecundity
  • Law Keeping to Merit Grace
  • Replacement Theology and Dominionism
The writings of Peter and Paul do not support these claims, but I find that the New Testament Scriptures actually counter these concepts as they are promoted under the overarching concept of multigenerational faithfulness. Peter and Paul addressed the very issue of the merits of one’s birth and the traditions associated with the Old Covenant, speaking against an “all or nothing” perception of the Old Covenant traditions beyond moral law. Both spoke against meriting favor with God through following the Law. These concepts come primarily from an aberrant overfocus on gender, family and childbearing as God’s primary means of establishing the Kingdom of God on the earth. Yet Jesus said that His Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven, is not of this world. We are called to build spiritual legacies, not exclusivist and elitist ones that focus on intolerance. The perverse and extreme interpretation of replacement theology as manifested in the special status gained through the covenantal succession of birth speaks more of Darwinian evolution and the spiritual eugenics of religious purification. These concepts are absent in the New Testament, let alone those listed as proof texts for the multigenerational faithfulness concept.

Did the FBFI get it right?
Do they prefer and Old Testament legalism in favor of New Testament ecclesiology?