Having just experienced the pain of separation; I can personally attest to the fact that, no matter the reason for separation ( which God hates ), no matter how much you might feel relief for being freed from the situation: it hurts, it is not right, and it is not the answer!
In too many instances today, and for the past 50 years or so; divorce has become almost as common-place in the Church ( not just the institutional church ) as in the 'world' around us! If a husband or wife, for whatever reason, cannot 'get along', then divorce, rather than reconciliation, has become one of the first options that we naturally think of. The Church, the Body of Christ, has, for the most part, remained silent, and permitted this to go on. One of the reasons for this, I believe, is that a good understanding of covenant is lacking. To be sure; there are some out there who have begun to explore the whole concept of God's holy Covenant, and, applying it to every aspect of life, including marriage, are seeing the actuality of the reconciliation that the Christ gained for us, in their own lives and the lives of those around them. These have implemented the blessings of the Covenant, and these blessings, although not always correctly understood ( if they're really comprehended at all ) are flowing through them, and as I have often pointed out from Revelation 22, are healing the 'nations' around them, although this 'healing' is not always appreciated!
A good friend of mine ( Timothy P Martin @ truthinliving.org ) has recently begun a sermon series on the book of Hosea, and reading through the book; one can see many similarities between the adultery, harlotry, and idolatry for which God had symbolically put away ( divorced? ) His typical old covenant people, His 'wife' of old, Israel 'after the flesh', and His new covenant people, the Church. Now before I dig myself into a hole, here; let me just remind myself and you, my readers, that, as the Christ finalized and fulfilled that 'first' covenant, His people have been 'changed' ( I Corinthians 15:52 ), and transferred into His Kingdom ( Colossians 1:13 ). This all occurred, as can be ascertained from an honest reading of Scripture, in the first century AD, so 'why', you may ask, 'should we worry about the Church today?'
Well; first of all, we shouldn't worry about the Church ( or 'church' )! We need to be actively concerned, yes, and to do what we can to correct the situation, to begin to root out, to expose ( even mock ) the idolatry, and downright spiritual harlotry which has become so prevalent among those who claim the name of Christ!
We read, in the book of Hosea, what happened to the old covenant people of God when they committed such adulterous acts; can we, as the new covenant people of God, expect any better treatment at the 'hands' of a holy and sovereign God? Praise God; we can! Although God is immutable, and is jealous for His Wife, as we too should be concerned ( horrified ) with the spiritual harlotry and adultery of His people; because of the New Covenant in Christ, His people no longer linger under the 'sword of Damocles', under the threat ( promise ) of eternal separation from God! Should we then do nothing; allowing our brothers and sisters in Christ to suffer the natural consequences of their actions, or inaction, since we need not fear the eternal consequences, as did those 'under' the 'first' covenant? Won't they just learn their lesson the hard way, and come out stronger Christians for it? They may, and sometimes this is what has to happen, when because of their stubbornness or just plain refusal to hear good counsel, they do find out the hard way that God's way is best, but do we really, if we can at all convince them to change their headlong course into 'hell' ( on earth ), wish to see them go through this 'hell'? Do we really want to ( re ) present the Christ ( God ) as a 'whore'?
Secondly, and I believe I just covered, in part, the main reason that we should concern ourselves with the wickedness going around today among many of those who claim the Name of Christ; we must realize, as ambassadors of God, indeed the very Body of Christ Himself, that as we remain silent about, or even partake, to whatever extent, in the harlotrous idolatry that is all around us, we show those that have not yet accepted the invitation to 'Come', and 'Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely' ( Revelation 22:17 ), that we are no different than they are, that Christ is nothing but an idolatrous whore, who, rather than reconciling as He claimed in the Revelation of God's Word, divorces at the drop of a hat!
Speaking of eternal consequences; I shouldn't say that there are no 'eternal consequences' for the people of God, those who name the Name, who do misrepresent the Good name of Christ, because if they do so continually, despite being reminded of their unfaithfulness to the Covenant, if they do continue in their adultery ( spiritual or otherwise ); I believe that they will, as long as they live in their biological bodies on this earth, suffer the natural consequences of their actions, or lack thereof!
We read, in Paul's second letter to the Corinthians that 'This punishment which [ was inflicted ] by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you [ ought ] rather to forgive and comfort [ him ], lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.' ( II Corinthians 2:6 & 7 ). Paul recognized that, while consequences are necessary, the purpose of punishment is not to cause separation forever, but rather through that punishment to bring about reconciliation, to bring back into communion one who had strayed from the Body. Paul has much to say on the subject of the marriage covenant, though not, maybe, in so many words, in I Corinthians 7:1-16. Although, again, not in so many words, he reveals the idea, or purpose, of separation ( for a time, even within the marriage ); it is so that they may come together again, reconciling to each other after taking a step back, so to speak, to prayerfully re-examine their commitment, both to God and to each other.
As I mentioned earlier; I believe that one cause of this 'Great Divorce' within even the Body of Christ, is the fact that we have, as a covenant people, lost touch with the reality of covenant, and too often failed to realize the implications of 'Christ in us'. One of these implications, which many have 'grasped', rather loosely, is something I mentioned before, in passing, you might say. We, because of 'Christ in us', not only ( re ) present Christ to a 'lost and dying wold'; we, for all intents and purposes ( not discounting the absolutely necessary work of the Spirit of God ) ARE Christ to them. Aside from a supernatural intervention; we are the only Christ they'll ever physically witness, so we had better start acting like it! ( I say this to myself more than to anybody else! ) If we truly understood the concept of covenant, in particular, the Covenant that God instituted and established with His people, that of 'Christ in us' ( I'm not claiming to understand or live it perfectly ); I believe that a physical reformation would begin within the Body of Christ, one that could not help but have an even greater impact on the 'nations' around us!
Covenant Context: The Meta-Narrative
As I wrote above; I believe that, in large part, maybe primarily, the reason that the Church is in the straits she is, is because she has, either knowingly or ignorantly 'divorced' herself from the bigger picture of Scripture. Since some teach, for instance, 'Replacement Theology', that the Church has replaced Israel as the covenant people of God, then one might end up thinking that the Church is a plan B of sorts, since, because Israel didn't work out; God divorced them and married the Church. After all, as my friend pointed out recently; that is what we read in the book of Hosea, that God is a divorcee! On the other hand; if you believe and teach that the Church is plan B, and that we are a parenthesis ( 'till the fulness of the Gentiles comes in' ), and that national, physical Israel is still God's wife, then you have God being a polygamist, or worse!
If however, you thoughtfully and truthfully take into consideration the covenant context of Scripture; you may begin to realize and understand that God's Plan from the beginning was to foreshadow His Church through His Old Covenant 'children'; in fact, that the Church is true Israel! Paul wrote as much to the Church in Galatia ( 6:16 ) referring to the 'Israel of God'. As we've noted in previous articles, the name 'Israel' has traditionally meant 'ruler with God': maybe that's the problem with much of the Church today; she doesn't see herself as ruling with God, but as waiting for Jesus to come back!?
One big problem that some have noted, and we believe this to be of grave importance, is that translators of the Scriptures, for whatever reason, have seen fit to insert that nearly blank page in the center of our Bible, separating what is referred to as 'The Old Testament' from what is commonly called 'The New Testament'. This action puts the wall of division, the separating curtain, if you will, in place again; only the names are changed. On one side, we have the Hebrew Scriptures that have to do with Israel, and on this side of the veil we have God's dealings with the Church. But it doesn't end there; according to this futurist paradigm, at least, in some circles, God has yet to deal, once again, with His Old Covenant people, physical, national Israel, who will resume relations with God, along with the Church: this is where God's polygamy rears it's ugly head! ( not really ) As of now though; God is only courting, or engaged to the Church, and Israel is just waiting in the background to resume her place as the wife of God. If, according to this paradigm, particularly the dispensational version, the Church, at the end of this age, will be wedded to God, I mean Christ, then at some point; Israel will resume her marriage relationship with God. Whew; no polygamy there! Wait: aren't Christ and God One and the same'?
Too many gaps........
Another problem that we have noticed, and maybe you've noticed this as well, is all the unnecessary, and un-called-for, 'gaps' that have been created in the Scriptures. The problem that was mentioned above is a glaring example of this. When it comes to the realm of 'Fulfilled Eschatology', and the fact that believers in this paradigm are viewed as heretics, and most often 'divorced' from 'the communion of the saints' because of it; we must go to Daniel's prophecy of 'The Seventy Weeks' in Daniel 9. Most reviewers of this passage will readily admit that those 'seventy weeks' have seen their fulfillment, at least as far as the 69th week, the so-called 'first advent' of Christ, including His crucifixion! The 'problem' is, that Daniel's heavenly apocalyptic gives no indication of any kind of a 'gap' between the 69th and 70th week!
Gabriel told Daniel that 'He shall confirm a covenant with many for one week' ( remember; this is after the 69 ( 7+62 ) have been fulfilled, and Messiah 'cut off, but not for Himself' ), but that, 'in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering'. I don't see a gap there; do you?! In fact; I see what Jesus described in Matthew 24:22, 'unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened'. Looking at Josephus' 'Wars of the Jews', you may well note, as I seem to remember, that there was a certain leader, whether inside or outside, that did make a covenant for a short time, with the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and that in the midst of that short period of time, he did bring an end to the normal Temple routines, and reneged on that covenant, or agreement, but ultimately, I believe, we have to admit that it was God Himself who brought an end to these useless sacrifices that did nothing but cause a stench in His 'nostrils'!
This 'gap' has caused an even wider 'gap' ( usually on the part, sadly, of the 'gap theorist' ) between believing Christians. Because the Church has been unwilling, especially of late ( past couple hundred years or so, at leas ), to realize, to admit that Christ actually meant what He said in place like Matthew 24:34; a 'divorce' of sorts, has happened, and seems to have spread quite far, between much of God's Church, and their Head! As I mentioned before though, I believe; there are those out there who truly follow their Master despite their eschatological 'leanings', and simply 'love the brethren', as they are commanded. Of late; it seems that this, sadly, is not as often the case, as believers of 'Fulfilled Eschatology' are being presented with more and more 'speedbumps'!
Another such 'gap', is supposedly found between verses 27 & 28 of Matthew 16. Jesus told His disciples, in verse 27 'For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works', and continuing in the same theme in verse 28, 'Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom'. Again; no gap, except what man, in his finite 'wisdom', has placed there!
Inserting such 'gaps' serves only to separate the Body of Christ, not only from each other, but in many, if not most cases, from their Head, since they are still waiting for Him to descend and be united ( except in Spirit ) with His waiting Bride, the Church! I think all would readily agree that God dwells with His people, that Jesus lives in our 'hearts' ( John 14:23 ) through His Holy Spirit, but that at some point; Jesus is going to return to this humble existence on earth, set up an earthly reign, and rule on a physical throne from an earthly Jerusalem ( this varies a bit, I believe, from 'gap theorist' to 'gap theorist' ). At this point, as the story goes, physical tears, sickness, and yes, even biological death itself will cease to exist. Where animals, who are natural enemies of certain domesticated animals, will feed, even lie down together, children will play around the dens of poisonous snakes without fear of harm, and God will walk, in the cool of the evening with Adam & Eve: all will be at peace! Wait...................
Matthew 24:3, holds, according to some, the same sort of 'gap'. When the disciples asked Jesus, in their usual manner, 'Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?', according to these futurist speculators, they were asking two, maybe three different questions. First, 'when will these things be?' To satisfactorily answer this question; we don't have to look very far. At least; it would seem that way, but look at the preceding chapter, remembering that these chapter divisions are man-made, and not inspired. After pronouncing His 'woes' against the scribes and Pharisees; Jesus tells them 'Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation'. The disciples, no doubt, having just heard this; when commenting on the beauty of the earth tabernacle, or Temple, realized that when Jesus said 'Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place'; He meant that the same 'generation', or group of people, against who He had just levied His judgment, was the same 'generation' that would not 'pass away', or die off, until all the things He had mentioned had taken place.
Secondly, when they asked 'what will be the sign of Your coming'; Jesus answered, first of all, 'Take heed that no one deceives you', and after warning them about false 'messiahs' to come and signs in the heaven and in the earth; He finally told them 'Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory' ( Matthew 24:30 ). You can see that these are very much like His words in Matthew 16:28 ( remember what was said about the chapter divisions? ).
Thirdly, and this is almost so ridiculous by now, that it hardly bears worth mentioning, but I think this needs to be pointed out, 'and of the end of the age?' If one knows anything at all about sentence structure, you know that one must have, at the very basis, a subject and a verb. You might see a subject there ( okay, I'm a bit rusty ), 'the end of the age', but that is hardly a question in and of itself. It only makes sense if you combine it with the first subject, and 'what will be the sign'. Secondly, and thusly; if the coming ( Parousia ) of Christ has not occurred yet, then neither has the end of the age! What age? Certainly not the New Covenant age, for that age, this age, which we are presently in, will admittedly never end! The disciples knew this, and unquestionably referred to the 'age' ( aion ) in which they currently were living, under the administration of the old covenant economy, or system!
Me, Me, Me............
No; I'm not warming up to sing an operetta, or aria; we are taking a look at yet another problem that has plagued the Body of Christ for the past hundred years or so. It's name is 'individualism'! You may have noticed in many of the newer hymns especially, but even back as far as several hundred years or so, this individualistic attitude of 'it's me and Jesus'. Songs like 'No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus', 'O, How I Love Jesus', 'When I can Read My Title Clear', and 'I Want To Be Like Jesus', to name just a few, are indicative of this lack of covenantal understanding that I mentioned at the beginning of this article. Now don't get me wrong; we are, each one, individuals, but as members of the corporate Body of Christ ( Paul put it like this, 'Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually' ( I Corinthians 12:27 ); it is not just 'me and Jesus'. Jesus did not come to save Charles Shank from his sins; He came to save His people from their sins. Did Jesus save me from my sins? Yes, of course! But it was not 'for me He died' as one newer song expresses. Even good old hymns like 'Amazing Grace' betray this 'individualism', with lines like ''I once was lost, but now am found, was blind , but now I see'. True enough, but where is the rest of the Body, without which we cannot live?! I must say though, that the fifth verse, 'when we've been there ten thousand years', somewhat redeems itself, though I cannot agree with its presumption still.
This separation, about which we have been reading, is loosely, if not largely, based on God's Word to His people, in II Corinthians 6:17, where Paul quotes from the Septuagint, 'Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord'. There are times when the believer must separate himself from others, as when they are going down the wrong path, doing that which is against the Law of God, and not in accordance with the Law of Love. When Paul quoted the words of God above, he had in mind a different kind of separation than we seem to focus on today. Paul was not telling believers to separate from other believers, just because they believed differently on certain minor matters. Paul's issue was doctrinal, yes, but it was a major, THE major doctrine, that Jesus was the Son of God.
Were there other issues that Paul had in mind, issues that we might be facing today?
I will, however, let my readers think, and act, on these, though!
Charles Haddon Shank