Are Adventists Old-Covenant Christians? (Part 3)
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In the previous post we examined the oldest systems of Protestant covenant thought.

Image © Justinen Creative from GoodSalt.com

The two systems to emerge we labeled as belonging to “Category A: Covenantalism.” They include both the Westminster Confession and the Second London Baptist Confession. We also had the opportunity to see that Adventist theology has a lot of similarities with these two systems of thought. Most interesting is that we agree in both the perpetuity of the law and the continued validity and relevance of the Sabbath command. In the next post we will explore those similarities more closely, but for now we will turn our attention over to the alternate covenant views present in Category B.

Category A
Category B
Covenantalism
1) Westminster Confession
2) 2nd London Baptist Confession
(Embrace Perpetuity of Law and Sabbath)
Alternate views to Covenantalism
1) Dispensationalism
2) New Covenant Theology
(Reject Perpetuity of Law and Sabbath)


“Dispensationalism & New Covenant Theology”

Dispensationalism 1 was the next development to emerge in Protestant covenant thought and was popularized in the United States during the 1830’s. Dispensationalism owes much of its development to Futurism – a method for interpreting Bible prophecy that was developed in the mid to late 1500’s by the Bible teacher John Nelson Darby (1800-1882)2. Dispensationalism affirms Sola Scriptura, holds to Trinitarian doctrine and all the principles of the Protestant Reformation. While it does not claim a specific theology of salvation, it was initially popularized among Arminians3. It also contends that the imparted and imputed righteousness of Christ are essential elements of the gospel and that good works are the natural outflow of genuine faith. Unlike Covenantalism it rejects the interpretive priority of the NT over the OT and is committed to a distinction between Israel and the church. In addition, unlike Covenantalism which unites the story of Scripture via the covenants (with the Covenant of Grace being the unifier of the redemption narrative), Dispensationalism strings the story of Scripture via dispensations (different administrations of grace throughout different ages). “It considers Biblical history as divided deliberately by God into defined periods or ages to each of which God has allotted distinctive administrative principles4.” From here this system takes two routes. Classic Dispensationalism and Progressive Dispensationalism5. Due to the the minor differences between the two systems we will only review the classic view below.

Classic Dispensationalism 

Salvation: Classic Dispensationalism does not have a particular theology of salvation. Calvinists, Arminians and those who believe in “once-saved-always-saved” are all proponents of this view.

Covenant Narrative: In order to fully comprehend Dispensationalism we must first realize that it is best defined as having a “Dispensational story” as opposed to a “Covenant story.” To put it simply, while Covenantalism breaks the story of Scripture down from covenant to covenant, Dispensationalism breaks the story down from one period of administration (dispensation) to the next (note that in Dispensationalism the terms administrate and dispensate are interchangeable). As a result, Dispensationalism sees God administering His saving grace in different ways (dispensations) throughout human history. However, the New Covenant is the covenant in which grace can be said to administer, or dispensate, itself.

Because Dispensationalism divides redemptive history via dispensations (rather than covenants) all of which took place at different intervals in human history,  it is necessary to see what these “dispensations” are. Dispensationalism divides them into seven distinct categories6:

1) Innocence – This is the period of time, or dispensation, in the Garden of Eden. During this time mankind was responsible to obey Gods commands in childlike innocence. It was through obedience that they maintained their relationship with God. 
2) Conscience – This is the dispensation from the Edenic expulsion until the flood (approximately 1600 years). During this time men follow their conscience in order to do right and the end result is the need for God to destroy the world with a flood. 
3) Civil Government – This is the post-diluvian period from the re-entry of Noah’s family into the world until the tower of Babel was built (approximately 320 years). This is also the time in which the Noahic Covenant was instituted. 
4) Promise – This is the period from God”s call to Abraham, continued through the patriarchal age, and ended at about the time of the Exodus (about 430 years). During this dispensation, God developed the nation of Israel as a partial fulfillment of His promise to Abraham (Abrahamic Covenant) that his descendants would be as the stars of the sky.  
5) Law – This is the period of time from the Exodus up until the death of Jesus (approximately 1500 years). This dispensation is basically the period of time in which the Mosaic Covenant was in effect (followed by the Davidic Covenant). During this time God dealt with the descendants of Abraham (Israel) via the law.  
6) Grace – This is the period of time from the death of Jesus up until the rapture of the church. After the rapture, a period of seven years of tribulation will commence on the earth in which God pours out His judgments. Those who were not raptured will have a second opportunity to place their faith in Christ and be saved when He returns again. 
7) Kingdom – This period of time begins with Christ’s literal return to earth and will last a millennium (1000 years). It will end with the final judgment of Satan and all who have rejected Christ, even with the second chance of the seven-year tribulation.
 

Covenant Continuity/ Discontinuity: 

Due to Dispensationalism separating the covenants into temporary/ local administrations that pass away with the arrival of a new administration, they do not see any continuity from Old Testament covenants into the New. For example, whereas the law may have been that which administered grace in the Mosaic Covenant, in the New Covenant grace is administered via the finished work of Jesus. As a result, Dispensationalism sees the New Covenant, not as a different method of salvation, but as the clearest and fullest dispensation of God’s redemptive grace. Because of this, there is no longer any need for the other covenants which are essentially “lesser administrations” of grace during different periods of time. The greater administration is now here, and it’s Christ Himself. 

As a result, Dispensationalism denies infant baptism. It also denies the continuity of the 10 Commandments into the New Covenant. The only nuance would be that, unlike Covenantalism which holds that any command not explicitly nullified in the NT remains, Dispensationalism argues that any command not explicitly repeated in the NT is automatically cancelled.

Likewise, Dispensationalism does not distinguish between moral, ceremonial, or civic law. According to Dispensationalism, the Mosaic law is one unit and the abrogation of this law at the cross includes the entire thing. In addition, Dispensationalism does not see the law as existing before the covenants. Therefore, the abrogation of the law in the New Covenant means it has been completely cancelled for anyone under the New Covenant. However, this does not mean Dispensationalism is in favor of sinful living. The Dispensationalist camp still maintains that the imparted and imputed righteousness of Christ are essential elements of the gospel, and that good works are the natural outflow of genuine faith.

Thus, Dispensationalism would concur that 1) The indwelling Spirit leads us to holy living apart from the written law and, 2) that the law written in our hearts is the law of other-centered love which is the fulfillment of the law. As a result, Dispensationalism still upholds obedience to the 10 Commandments –only they would see it as living by the Spirit, not the law. Even the Sabbath remains as a command – only Dispensationalism would argue that one keeps the Sabbath under the New Covenant by resting in Christ, not by keeping a 24-hour period holy.

Israel/ Church Relationship: 

The Dispensationalist view of the Israel/ Church relationship is the major distinction between it and Covenantalism. This view is also the reason why they reject the law. Those seeking to understand the Dispensationalist mind need to recognize this. The central key to their entire system is the way in which they distinguish between Israel and the church. It is that distinction that then paves the road for their views on the Law and Sabbath (as we saw above).

According to Dispensationalism God has always had two redemptive plans: Israel and the Church. These two redemptive plans are distinct. Therefore the church is not the continuation of Israel. The two are to remain separate forever. As a result, the dispensation of Grace – which is meant for the church – will end at the rapture of the church. And the dispensation of Law – which is meant for Israel – will once again become the administrative covenant though still under the New Covenant banner (so there will be some distinctions). In this way God will fulfill all of His promises to Israel. While Covenantalists view those promises to Israel as being fulfilled via the church, Dispensationalism would disagree and argue for a fulfillment of those promises to literal Israel, not spiritual Israel.

I cannot emphasize enough how important this distinction is to Dispensationalism. According to this system, God made promises to literal Israel that He intents to keep with literal Israel. They do not see the promises as fulfilled in the church. Literal Israel will be the recipient of those promises. No one else. Thus, this distinction between Israel and the Church is the key that unlocks their entire system. From it they also distinguish between how Israel was brought into covenant with God and how the church is brought into it.

Israel was brought into covenant via the law. The church was brought into the covenant via grace. The Sabbath day is a sign between Israel and God. Resting in Christ is a sign between the church and God. This strong division of Israel and Church must be understood and appreciated by those who wish to engage in meaningful discussions with Dispensationalists. Arguing about the law and Sabbath is meaningless. I will revisit that in part 4. For now, we continue with Dispensationalism.

End Time Events: 

As a result of these views, Dispensationalism sees national Israel as playing a central role in end-time events. Dispensationalism uses the Futurist method for interpreting Bible prophecy which, in turn, provides them with a narrative quite distinct from the Historicism/ Preterism of the Westminster and Second London theologians.

According to this narrative, Jesus will return in two stages: an invisible return and a visible return. The invisible return will be the rapture of the church which will mark the beginning of the seven years tribulation. During the tribulation, national Israel will once again become central in the story of redemption. The Jewish temple will be rebuilt and the cultic sacrifices of the Old Testament will commence once more. During this time, there will be a total and complete restoration of national Israel, the arrival and reign of the Antichrist, and the judgments of God poured out.

At the end of the seven years will be the visible return of Jesus which will mark the start of the Millennial kingdom (Premillennialism). During this time Jesus will fulfill all of His promises to national Israel. These thousand years will end with the final judgment of the wicked and the New Heavens/ New Earth.7.

Other Elements of Classic Dispensationalism: 

In closing, here are some brief mentions of other elements inherent to Dispensationalism:

  1. Sign of the New Covenant is baptism.
  2. Immersion is the only acceptable method of baptism.
  3. Some spiritual gifts have ceased, others remain.
  4. Separation of church and state.
  5. The Lord’s Supper is only an act of remembrance not a sacrament.

New Covenant Theology

New Covenant Theology 8 is a relatively new system of covenant thought that has not yet been fully defined. It is, by far, the most recent development in this sphere. Its development cannot be boiled down to a particular person but it positions itself as the middle ground between Covenantalism and Dispensationalism (as you will soon see it appears to agree with a Dispensationalist interpretation of covenant continuity/ discontinuity while holding to a Covenantal view of the Israel/ Church relationship). It affirms sola scriptura, the interpretive priority of the NT over the OT, Trinitarian doctrine, holds to all the principles of the Protestant Reformation and holds to Calvinist soteriological9 tradition. It also contends that the imparted and imputed righteousness of Christ are essential elements of the gospel and that good works are the natural outflow of genuine faith. Its uniqueness is derived from its hermeneutic10 which is essentially Christo-centric, meaning it seeks to understand the narrative of Scripture from the position that Jesus is the center of the entire story and it can only be properly understood through that lens. From there this theological system takes two routes. The first is New Covenant Theology. The second view is even more modern and is known as Progressive Covenantalism11. Due to the minor differences in the two systems, we will only review the former system below.

Salvation: New Covenant Theology maintains that salvation has always been only by grace and that the entire salvation story of Scripture is centered on the person of Jesus Christ. Some would argue that all of these systems of covenant thought are Christ-centered. While this may be true, New Covenant Theology uses this as its interpretive principle and claims to do so consistently, while the other systems, it proposes, do not. According to New Covenant Theology, God has only ever had one redemptive plan to secure the salvation of His elect, and that plan was Jesus. Thus, all the saints of all time have been saved by grace through faith in Christ. New Covenant Theology holds a Reformed/ Calvinist salvation theology.

Covenant Narrative: According to New Covenant Theology, redemptive history can be divided into three ages. The first is the pre-flood world. The second is the post-flood world (up to this day), and the third is the age to come (New Jerusalem). New Covenant Theology also posits two covenant eras: the era of the Old Covenant – which ended at Jesus’ death – and the era of the New Covenant – which began at Jesus’ death. Unlike Dispensationalism, New Covenant Theology sees only one redemptive plan and one people of God. It rejects a Dispensational view of salvation history. In regards to Covenantalism, New Covenant Theology also rejects the covenant of redemption, works, and grace due to what they claim is a lack of clear delineation in Scripture. Instead, New Covenant Theology recognizes the promise of a Savior in Genesis 3:15 as the New Covenant which is then successively unfolded through the OT until it reaches its fulfillment in Christ in the NT and is consummated at the Second Coming.

Covenant Continuity/ Discontinuity: Because New Covenant Theology views the narrative of scripture in a Christo-centric sense and sees the New Covenant as anticipated in Genesis and fulfilled in Christ, it rejects any continuity from Old Covenant into New Covenant. Another way to put it would be that in New Covenant Theology, the Covenant of Grace was revealed in Genesis and each subsequent covenant was a progressive revelation that pointed forward to Christ. Now that Christ has come, there is no longer any need for the types and shadows that progressively pointed to Him. Therefore all of the OT covenants and everything associated with them has been fulfilled in Jesus and are no longer necessary. Thus, for example, New Covenant Theology rejects infant baptism for it sees the Abrahamic covenant and all of its elements as pointing forward to and fulfilled in Christ.

New Covenant Theology also rejects the three-part distinction of the law (moral, civil, ceremonial) and argues that the entire law was part of one system that typified Christ and thus the entire thing was fulfilled by the death of Jesus and no longer binding upon NT believers. New Covenant Theology rejects the 10 Commandments as being above the covenants by arguing that they are merely extensions of the two great commands Jesus advocated – to love God and neighbor. Thus, New Covenant Theology maintains that the law of love is above the covenants but the 10 Commandments were extensions related to the Mosaic covenant that no longer apply. Of course, this does not mean they excuse sin.

The New Covenant Theology camp maintains that the imparted and imputed righteousness of Christ are essential elements of the gospel, and that good works are the natural outflow of genuine faith. Thus, New Covenant Theology would concur that 1) The indwelling Spirit leads us to holy living apart from the written law and, 2) that the law written in our hearts is the law of other-centered love which is the fulfillment of the 10 Commandments. As a result, New Covenant Theology still upholds obedience to the 10 Commandments – only they would see it as obedience to the law of love as opposed to the written law. As is the case with Dispensationalism, New Covenant Theology also views the Sabbath command as still binding – only it is kept by resting in Christ, not by keeping a 24-hour period holy. The 24-hour period, they argue, was a ceremonial command that symbolized rest in Jesus. Now that Jesus has come and given us His rest, the Sabbath command has been fulfilled and is no longer binding to the NT believer.

Israel/ Church Relationship: New Covenant Theology holds that Israel typified the church and that the church is the new Israel. It disagrees with Dispensationalism with regards to the Davidic covenant by maintaining that God’s covenant with David has been fulfilled by Christ’s enthronement in heaven. Therefore, it does not see national Israel as playing any central role in end time events.

End Time Events: New Covenant Theology rejects rapture theology and holds to a visible return of Jesus at the end of the age. Some New Covenant Theology proponents hold to a Preterist hermeneutic for end-time events while others hold to Futurism or a blend of the two. They reject the “papacy as antichrist” view of Classic Covenantalism and hold to a one-world government scenario as identifying the Antichrist (though they refrain from specifics as to who that may represent). New Covenant Theology does see Israel playing a role in end-time events, but not apart from the church. Rather, an in-gathering of Jews into the church is held – making the church, not Israel, the central character. New Covenant Theology also rejects the millennial rule of Christ and sees it as symbolic of the inter-advent period (Amillennialism). The narrative ends with the final judgment for the non-elect to eternal hell and renewal of the heavens and earth for the elect.
 

Other Elements of New Covenant Theology

In closing, here are some brief mentions of other elements inherent to NCT:
1) Sign of the New Covenant is the cup of the Lord’s supper. 2) Immersion is the only acceptable method of baptism. 3) Cessation of spiritual gifts. 4) Separation of church and state. 5) Lord’s Supper is both an act of remembrance and communion with God.

For the sake of clarity I have added a condensed table below that looks at each of these systems side by side. Please note that this chart is a very simplified summary. For more details compare them to the descriptions above. 12

 

Brief Nuances of Covenant Theology

The covenant thought systems above are the major systems of covenant thought within the Protestant world. Nevertheless, be mindful that endless nuances exist which would require an encyclopedia to explore. Some nuances fall within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy and others fall outside of it.
 
The most prominent to fall outside of Christian orthodoxy would be 1) Antinomianism: This has existed in every system of thought and takes a very hostile posture towards the law, and 2) Hyper-grace: Also known as anti-Lordship theology – a relatively new nuance that seeks to reject human effort to such an extent that it denies the need for confession, repentance, or striving for holiness for the believer by positing that such activities are only for unbelievers. At times, proponents of this view have gone as far as to say that it is not simply the OT that is no longer binding upon believers but even the very words of Jesus for he “lived in an Old Covenant context”13.

Moving Forward

Those familiar with Adventist theology will see an immediate difference between the views espoused in Category B and Adventism. In fact, most attacks which label Adventist theology heretical, legalistic or “Old Covenant” come from those who hold to either Dispensationalism or New Covenant Theology. However, as was seen in the previous post, Adventism’s covenant thought most closely resembles the views held by the Protestant Reformers. Thus, to accuse Adventists of legalism is to accuse the Reformers and all who hold to the Westminster and Second London confessions of the same. This is clearly an unsustainable position for anyone who wishes to defend the core tenets of the Protestant faith.
 
The biggest key to understanding Dispensationalism is its presupposition that there are two distinct redemptive plans. One is Israel and the other is the church. This sets the tone for all their other beliefs. The key to understanding New Covenant Theology is how they define the centrality of Jesus. All of the covenant systems – be they Category A or B, believe Jesus is the center of scripture. But New Covenant Theology takes this to mean that when Jesus established the New Covenant he cancelled out everything in the OT unless it is repeated in the NT – a view which continues to be rejected by Reformed theologians.

Now that we have done a brief overview of Protestant covenantal thought, the question we will turn to is, Where does Adventism sit in this continuum? Although we have explored this in brief, we will now do so in detail. Do we have a view of salvation, the covenants, the law, and end time events that is wholly and entirely distinct from anything found in historic and contemporary Protestant thought? Do we hold to a view that can be defined by one of the aforementioned systems? Do we have a view that is both rooted in historic and contemporary protestant thought and yet distinct enough to merit the introduction of a whole new system? And lastly, do we actually have anything helpful to offer the world of Christian theology that deserves theological and scholarly reflection? We will look at these questions in the next two posts.

 
  1. Note: Dispensationalism is a view held by some Pentecostal, Wesleyan, Messianic and Non-Denominational churches. However, the view is not directly tied to any denomination and is also held by some Calvinists.
  2. On futurism see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Futurism_(Christianity); On Darby see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Nelson_Darby
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dispensationalism#History
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dispensationalism
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_dispensationalism
  6. https://gotquestions.org/seven-dispensations.html
  7. to understand Dispensational eschatology visit https://gotquestions.org and search their articles on the topic
  8. New Covenant Theology is the view held by some Calvinist Baptists.
  9. Soteriology is the doctrine of salvation
  10. Hermeneutic is a method or theory of interpretation
  11. See: “Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course Between Dispensational and Covenantal Theologies” by Stephen J. Wellum and Brent E. Parker. Available on Amazon.com. (Sabbath School Net will get a small referral fee when you use this link, but the book won’t cost you a penny more.)
  12. You can review the more detailed charts: http://nct-blog.ptstn.org/comparison-charts/ 
  13. see “The Naked Gospel: The Truth You May Never Hear in Church” by Andrew Farley. (Link goes to Amazon.com, and Sabbath School Net receives a small referral fee if you use this link, without costing you more.)
Amen!(6)

Comments

Are Adventists Old-Covenant Christians? (Part 3) — 30 Comments

  1. Marcos, thinking is as natural as breathing. In fact, so natural, we hardly even think about it! Like our ability to breathe, I believe our Creator "crowned" us with that which makes our specie, distinctly and uniquely, His elected stewards of Earth (Gen 1: 26; 2:15; Prov 14:18; Heb 2:7).

    There are many ways to effectively kill another human. Among them is the tried and tested method of separating a human's head from it's associated body. Without being too gory, one can behead, strangle or poison another and quite effectively kill another. The methods I just listed, may APPEAR different, especially because strangulation and poisoning spills no blood and leaves the head still connected to the body. Now, one can argue the merits of the effectiveness of any of the three methods I listed (there would be a LOT more still left to argue!), we can correctly categorize them as mechanical and chemical but once employed, the end result will be a dead individual...an individual OUTSIDE of the Creator's WILL (Gen 1:20, 24; 2:7; Ex 20:13)...and that's ONLY in a PHYSICAL sense!

    Our Creator made us an inseparable unit of the physical and the non-physical, with the intent that BOTH PARTS should LIVE. I don't believe our Creator made us with a choice to die--or be killers. He endowed us with a single "choice"--to be LIKE Him LIVING (Gen 1:27) and LOVING (1 Jn 4:8,16; Mt 22:36-40). NO ONE who is DEAD, whether physically or non-physically, can be an effective steward for God (Gen 1:26) as the exercise of "dominion" REQUIRES BOTH physical AND non-physical LIFE (Ps 115:17). God's ultimate Messenger (Heb 1:1-3) once said the words recorded in Jn 10:10. Clearly, He wasn't addressing individuals WITHOUT PHYSICAL life, so what was He offering? His must have been an offer of NON-PHYSICAL life!

    While the Creator asserts His ownership of ALL HUMANS (Ps 24:1; Eze 18:4; Ps 145:8-9), He IDENTIFIES Himself NOT with NON-PHYSICALLY DEAD (Mt 22:32-33; Rm 8:7-8), but with the NON-PHYSICALLY LIVING (Mk 3:35; Zech 13:9; Heb 8:10). Those who possess PHYSICAL as well as NON-PHYSICAL life are that way because that has always been the Creator's eternal and unchangeable will (Gen 1:26; Col 3:10; Rev 21:6-7).

    Marcos, I said all of the above to this conclusion: while I understand the necessity and applaud your attempt to contextualize hundreds of years of human BELIEFS (christian/doctrinal, in this case, there are a LOT more!), Scripture's simple message is that the place from which ALL human thoughts emanate has been judged unclean (Mk 7:20-23) and associated with DEATH (Mt 23:27). Scripture tells that ALL HUMANS have INHERITED this NON-PHYSICAL DEATH (Rm 5:12, 14), inserted into our human experience without our knowledge OR consent (Rm 6:20-21), by an enemy of our Creator (Jn 8:44), that very day Adam sinned (Gen 2:17). This DEATH touches our religious doctrine, marriage doctrine, diet doctrine, political doctrine, sexual doctrine, financial doctrine, parenting doctrine; social doctrine (etc, you get the picture), and predisposes every single human, elected by our Creator for successful stewardship (Gen 2:15; 1 Cor 10:31), to a failed service instead (Rm 8:6, 8; Rev 11:18)! ALL because the place from which our BELIEFS spring is NOT under the natural control of its Creator (2 Cor 10:5; Jer 17:19; 13:23; Rm 6:13)!!

    Care needs to be exercised, by the individual or group(s), to present the Gospel within its human context that we do not as individuals or groups become discouraged or deceived into thinking that unless we know everything about Calvin, Arminius, Wesley, Covenantalism, Dispensationalism or any of the other multitude of concepts regarding the historical or current state of our humanity and any of the "doctrines" that have conveyed us to this point, that there is no hope in our ignorance.

    I'm excited that we are about to embark on another study of the Gospel from the book of Galatians. Telling the Gospel in clear, simple terms is our individual (and individuals make up groups) responsibility to our Creator and our fellowmen. Loss of relevance could cost us or others eternal NON-PHYSICAL LIFE.

    Amen!(6)
    • Thank you for your thoughts Lynrol. I agree with you that we do not need to understand all of these things in order to understand the simple meaning of scripture. As I have said to others before, I never present this material to new Christians. if someone asks me about the covenants in scipture, I dont give them this to study. I just share what the Bible says - plain and simple. This series is not for new believers. it is for those who are wanting to make sense of the debate between old and new covenant and to be able to provide answers that make sense, not only to them but to those who critique and question our faith. in short, i dont believe that it is wise simply to focus on our own ideas and ignore everyone elses. I have found significant blessing in being able to understand what others believe, and based on that understanding, enage in meaningful conversation.

      since publishing this series I have had positive feedback about how people finally understand adventists - including a calvinist woman who is married to an adventism man. she said to me that no matter how much he explained adventism to her it never made any sense. it wasnt until i presented adventism in laguage she could understand, by taking a few moments to actually see the world through her eyes, that she finally got it.

      among the great traps men fall into is the trap of idological blinders. those who put these blinders on refuse to see the world through any ideas except their own will never know the joy of having a meaningful conversation with another human being.

      Blessings,

      Amen!(10)
  2. Thanks for this, Marcos. It is evident that we have much in common with all the streams of theological thought you have presented - even New Covenant Theology. It's often a matter of emphasis, rather than a totally different understanding.

    For instance, I agree with New Covenant Theology that all the covenants that God initiated in the Old Testament were covenants of grace fulfilled in Christ. I also agree that the law Christians keep is the law of love - the law of self-renouncing love that is the law of life for earth and heaven. The Ten Commandments are an adaptation to humanity's need after losing much of the understanding of the original law of love. But humanity as a whole has not gained a better understanding even after the cross. Thus the adaptation is still relevant. However, the Ten Commandments have never been a means of salvation and are not a means to salvation now.

    It almost seems that the most consistent disagreement we have with other Protestants is about the Sabbath. But even that is not complete disagreement, but a matter of emphasis.

    We believe the Sabbath Commandment is still binding, just as in Covenant Theology, but unlike current Covenant thought, we do not believe that humanity has the authority to change the day from the one established in Eden to another day.

    We agree with New Covenant Theology that the Sabbath is symbolic of resting in Christ, but we disagree that the literal Sabbath is thus no longer meaningful. In fact, the argument that, because we are in a grace relationship with Christ, we no longer need to set aside a special day to be with Him just doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I would think that being in a close relationship with Christ would make a person want to spend regular special time with Him.

    Is it possible that, as Adventists we, ourselves, have not sufficiently appreciated the Sabbath and thus not presented it as the beautiful gift that it is?

    Amen!(8)
    • Preach, my sister. And since the Sabbath was instituted before the fall, it was a part of His original design. He makes them a part of the Ten Commandments, it is kept through the ages, even up to now...and then..did I miss something. It seems Peter, Paul or most certainly John, would have mentioned this "lull period" because we are told that we will "continue" to celebrate "From one Sabbath..."

      Amen!(4)
    • Thanks for your thoughts Inge!

      For me, it has been extremely helpful to understand the different versions of covenantal thought because it has enabled me to build bridges based on common ground with non-SDAs which in turn sets the foundation for having meaningful discussions instead of arguments that go nowhere. I fear many Adventists are so interested in being "right" all the time that they see zero value in understanding the way others see scripture and instead simply want to impose their own views with proof texts and arguments. But I have never seen that accomplish anything except make people hate us more.

      When I was in university there was a nearby town where SDAs were hated. The majority in the town were from another denomination. When I asked some Adventists who lived in the area why they were so disliked by the other locals they said it stemmed back to when Adventists first arrived in the region decades before. They came in, set up tents, and challenged all the pastors to debates. They argued and argued so much that all of their converts were equally argumentative - proud, arrogant and condescending of others who were not Adventists. The ill feelings this created in the town remain to this day.

      What if they had come in and sought to understand others, build bridges based on common ground and had meaningful conversations? I guarantee the town, and much of the world, would have a very different impression of us.

      Amen!(8)
      • So true! Understanding builds respect, and respect is necessary for a conversation. And respect is necessary for love to exist. God called us to love others as ourselves, and it seems to me that that requires an effort to try to understand them.

        I was fortunate to have a college teacher who taught other viewpoints very effectively. When he taught a particular philosophy, he became, for the time being, a very effective proponent of that philosophy. None of the pat Adventist answers could stand against a genuine proponent of other views. He taught me to respect those who believe differently than I do, and I am eternally grateful to Dr. E.W.H. Vick, no matter where life has taken him since then.

        Amen!(6)
    • Regarding your thoughts on the Sabbath. I agree Inge. I dig into this more in part 4, but the main point is that when Adventists began preaching the Sabbath many of their listeners were covenantalists who already agreed that the Sabbath was binding. The only difference was showing how it wasn't transferred from Saturday to Sunday. But today, the majority of our listeners are either dispensationalists or new covenant theology so if you go up to one and say "the sabbath was never transferred to Sunday" they will look at you and say "so what? its not like the sabbath is still binding so who cares whether it was transferred?" In other words, our Sabbath as 7th day arguments are utterly meaningless to a crowd that sees the entire discussion as unnecessary. So what we have to do is adapt the way we present the Sabbath so that it connects with dispensational and new covenant theology ears which means emphasizing its connection to the gospel and the new covenant, not the day it falls on. thats just one example.

      Amen!(6)
      • Indeed! Too many of our evangelistic (and personal) presentations are stuck in 150-year-old time warp. It takes a willingness to learn and understand to those around us in order to share our understanding of God's truth for this time - not pat answers found in old books and repeated in some new ones.

        As I mentioned before, I think that if we really appreciated the Sabbath as God wants us to, it would show, and people around us would notice and want the same experience. It's part of the post-modern phenomenon not to be so much interested in arguments as in experiences. That thought should inform us on all aspects of the presentation of our understanding of biblical truth. The world wants to see the truth lived, and that implies that we are motivated by the love of Christ that causes us to try to understand others.

        Amen!(6)
        • That is a point that I have been making among my Adventist friends for a long time. Unfortunately we have taken the 19th century Sunday-keeping practice, transferred it to Saturday, and put in a few tweeks of our own and called it Sabbath-keeping. If the Sabbath is to be meaningful to us and others, we need to rethink the meaning of Sabbath in terms of worship and rest. Much of what we say about the Sabbath is simply shouting more loudly what we were saying in the 1800s rather than addressing the issue of how the Sabbath is relevant today.

          Part of the problem is the language we use to describe the Sabbath. An example of this is the notion of "binding". I have never been comfortable with the idea that the Sabbath is binding, and much prefer the notion that the Sabbath is God's gift to us. The idea that God has given us something special, rather than the Sabbath is binding, has changed my perspective on Sabbath-keeping (another term that has legalistic overtones).

          I learned a valuable lesson from the Jews quite by accident and it set me thinking about how we built our own fences around the Sabbath. I grew up with the notion that the Jews had made all these rules and restrictions about the Sabbath. Then while on a trip through Italy some years ago, we were in a hotel dining room on a Friday night and near us was a large family gathering of Jews who were opening Sabbath. They were having a celebration with special food and story-telling, singing and dancing. I was at a nearby table with an unchurched group of people on a tour, and the expressions of delight from my table companions at seeing such enjoyment of an essentially religious event was a pivotal moment for me. We "keep Sabbath" by essentially limiting activity, but for the Jews it was a celebratory time. (I have to admit, I am glad nobody asked me at that time how I "keep Sabbath".)

          God used the Sabbath to celebrate his creativity. Maybe we need to be a little more creative ourselves in making the Sabbath experience something really special and shareable.

          Amen!(12)
          • Yes, as soon as we refer to the Sabbath as "binding" or the Law still "binding," we are revealing a legalistic mind set - not a mind that delights in God's Law and His Sabbath.

            Maybe we should focus more on making the Sabbath more "delightful," as you suggest. 🙂

            Amen!(8)
          • The essence of keeping the Sabbath holy is dedication of our time to God. It is a day of rest----rest from certain activities which are best done in six days of work. It should not be a day of slothful rest though. On the contrary, it is also a day of work. When Jesus was being persecuted for healing on the Sabbath day, He answered, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17). Again before healing the man blind from birth, Jesus declared "that the works of God must be manifest in him" and "I must work the works of Him that sent Me" (John 9:3,4). So acts of love and compassion must be an integral part of our Sabbath-keeping---not as a requirement, but a natural outflow of hearts full of love.

            Of course, it must be a day of delight. Would it include "dancing with all strength before Jehovah" like David? (2 Sam. 6:14, YLT). I am still trying to figure out the kind of dance David performed. 🙂

            Amen!(8)
          • Maurice! Your comment would make an excellent article all on its own! I love it.

            With respect to the term "binding" I agree. I only use the term in theological debates because its a theological term. But in practical life, I never use it because of the overtones it has (which are not there in a strict "theological" discussion). I agree that Sabbath is a gift. This becomes more clear in part 4 😀

            Amen!(2)
          • The "binding" part of the Sabbath may be better appreciated if we realize that we are subject to a seven-day cycle intricately built into our physiology called the "circaseptan" rhythm. It was discovered by the chronobiologist Dr. Franz Halberg. This seven-day cycle controls much if not all of our physiological functions. It is present in other orders of life forms including the alga acetabularia. We have other biological rhythms built into us like the circadian, circalunar, and circaannual cycles. These latter three are bound to the cycles of the earth, moon and sun. The seven-day cycle has not been tied to any created object. It seems to be tied to God's creation cycle of seven days and His declaration that "the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath." Yes, the Sabbath is a gift and a day of praising our heavenly Father for His love, yet He has seen it good to tie us to Himself by a circaseptan rhythm of time.

            Amen!(2)
          • "If ye break one ye break all" Dwight Nelson sermon. Then he broke one glass with a hammer and the whole glass holding the ten was useless. My point is if one is not binding then the rest are not 'binding' Yes your point is made. We are not bound to keep the ten, we keep them because we have a love relationship with Christ who made it possible. I love it, no argument, just a discussion, a lesson for all of us in dealing with people.

            Amen!(1)
    • The law was our schoolmaster/tutor/guardian to bring us to Christ. That would include the 4th commandment. Could it be that the law including the 4th commandment would have an ongoing function of leading us to or keeping us with Christ even in eternity? Just a thought.

      Amen!(1)
      • Very true - the law was our schoolmaster/tutor/guardian to bring us to Christ. We should continue to read what Gal 3:24, 25 is saying - "that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. Therefore, Paul is stating clearly that we no longer need that tutor/schoolmaster/guardian after we have come to Christ. We have now been led to a greater source of strength and power - Jesus Christ Himself. Why? Because the law is WEAK. In Rom 8:3 Paul again clearly lays out that there are things that the law CANNOT do - "For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh." The law brings us to Christ but cannot keep us in Christ. Therefore Jude 24 points out that Jesus, and only Jesus can keep us from falling - not the Law.

        When we read Rom 7:1-7 without biases, Paul outlines that we cannot serve the law and Christ at the same time, for in doing so, we are committing spiritual adultery. We have to become dead to the Law. We are justified by faith, not in the works of the law - Gal 2:16. If we read 2 Cor 3 very carefully and prayerfully we would see that the power of the indwelling Christ through the Holy Spirit is the fuel that propels and drives the life of the born again child of God. We see that the law, written and graven in stone pales in glory to the ministration of the Spirit. We see that 2 Cor 3 correctly describes the law as "the ministry of death", the "ministry of condemnation", lacking in supreme glory, and finally "was passing away."

        Does that mean that we are free to sin? God forbid! If we are dead to sin, how can we continue in sin? Instead as Rom 6:1-4 encourages us. We have been risen to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.

        In 1 Tim 1:9, 10 we are taught that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine. Then 1 Cor 6:9-11 picks up that theme, ending with the encouragement , "and such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God."

        So in summarizing a response to Pramod's comment - No, the law will NOT have an ongoing function of leading us to or keeping us with Christ even in eternity. No, we would NOT have come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire - mount Sinai and the law (Heb 12:18), but to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant. Heb 12: 22-24. Hallelujah‼

        Amen!(4)
        • Fred,

          Thank you for your rather exhaustive post. I appreciate it very much.

          Although Paul refers to the law as "the ministry of death" and "the ministry of condemnation", this is true only when we legalistically try "to keep the law". The law was also spelt out for "the lawless and insubordinate" at Sinai as you have pointed out. Elsewhere, as you know, the law has been described as "holy and just and good" (Rom. 7:12). In Psalm 19:7, we are told, "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul". For the latter to happen, the law must find its rightful place, i.e., in our hearts.

          The High Priestly prayer of Jesus, "that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them" (John 17:26) will find fulfillment when having been "brought to" Christ, the law of love is written on the tables of our hearts and minds through the New Covenant and, God says, "I will be their God, and they shall be My people"..."for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them" (Heb. 8:10,11).

          Amen!(2)
          • Pramod, you are absolutely correct, that Rom 7:12 states that the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. If we look at the entire context of Rom 7, we see that law functioned to show Paul (and us) our need for a Savior. Like a mirror which can only show us that our face is dirty but has no capability or power to clean our face, the law can only show our need. Having seen from the mirror that our face is dirty, we then go to the water - not the mirror - to get clean. So the mirror is great and perfect in what it accomplishes - showing us our condition. We are glad for the mirror. We delight in the mirror. Yet we find cleansing in the water. Similarly, once the law has done its perfect work in showing us our condition, we now finding cleansing, and sustenance in the power of the Savior and His indwelling Holy Spirit, who thoroughly cleanses us from sin and then keeps us from sinning. As a matter of fact, when we wake up in the morning, we know that our face is not clean and we therefore go straight to the water or shower to wash. We do not need to verify that it was not clean. Similarly, in going straight to Christ we obtain the cleansing along with His assurance that we are clean. We do not need to go back to verify that Christ did His perfect work; we trust that what He has done was perfectly done. We are complete in Him. Col 2:10. To go back to the "mirror" in this case, is to doubt the work of Christ. Christ is looking for us to put our complete trust and faith in Him. What is not of faith, is sin.

            The law pointed us to Christ as we see in Gal 3. David in the Psalms can only look forward to the coming Messiah as the full and complete realization of the full and complete salvation. All the patriarchs before Christ had the same experience. That is why they had to focus on the law - until Christ came and completed His work of redemption and restoration and reconciliation.

            One more analogy, albeit not a perfect one, but hopefully you can get the point. As a small child, many of us have had training wheels on our bikes. Without those wheels we would have fallen and endured multiple injuries. But with the training wheels we were kept from falling until we reached the point when we can handle two wheels without falling. At that point our parents took off the training wheels and supported and encouraged us as we experienced the new adventure of freedom of two wheels. We probably still fell a few times, but our parents did not put back on the training wheels. They allowed us to grow in our new found ability. The training wheels were good. They were perfect for us. We could not have survived those first few weeks or months without them. But now we came to a greater experience and never needed to go back to the training wheels. So it is with the law. We can now experience the joy outlined in Rom 8:1-4; such that there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the LAW of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me FREE from the LAW of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous REQUIREMENT of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

            Amen!(3)
          • Pramod

            Having read your post, I went back to read 2 Corinthians 3 two or three times, and could not find that Paul's statements were directed to the legalistic mindset. It seems that he is making statements of fact rather than conditional statements left to the interpretation of the reader.

            The text talks about the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, and compared its past glory with the greater glory of the ministry of the Spirit.

            Paul talks about the past glory of the ministry of condemnation, and compared it to the excelling glory of the ministry of righteousness.

            The text talks about what was made glorious was not really glory in comparison to the glory that excels.

            It says that the glory of what was passing away was glorious but is inferior to the glory that remains.

            All my life as an Adventist I have read that chapter and glossed over it. I am now coming to a clearer understanding of what it is saying. It does not destroy my Adventism, but strengthens my faith in Jesus and what He has done and is continuing to do in my heart.

            Amen!(5)
        • Fred, I believe you correctly outlined the "law's" purpose (Gal 3:24), who it applies to (1 Tim 1:9-10) and what it cannot do (Rm 8:3). However, your summary statement could appear contradictory (you said, "So in summarizing a response to Pramod's comment - No, the law will NOT have an ongoing function of leading us to or keeping us with Christ even in eternity."). If the "law" isn't for "a righteous person" (1 Tim 1:9) but Christ came for "sinners" (Mt 9:12-13), is there no role for the "law" in the experience of all the "sinners" in Paul's list (1 Tim 1:9-10)? If not, how are "sinners" NOW being "brought to Christ"?

          I'm arguing for balance and clarity, as I think it is a communicators duty, as far as possible, to help recipients avoid misunderstandings. I don't believe Paul is here (Rm 8:4) delivering an argument against "law" per se, but against "SIN IN the FLESH" (Rm 8:3) which he says repeatedly in the succeeding verses using different wording (ex. v.5 the mind-set of the flesh; v.6 carnal mindedness being death; v.7 the carnal mind's opposition to God etc). In fact, like the "law" (2 Cor 3:9; Rm 5:20) Christ also "CONDEMNED SIN in the flesh" (Rm 8:3), the difference being that unlike the "law" (Gal 3:21) Christ also provides life (Rm 8:2) whereby we may overcome our present deadness!

          Wrong thinking, or the opposite of "sound doctrine" (1 Tim 1:10), is the characteristic post-fall state of ALL humans (Isaiah 55:7-8; Jer 17:9; 2 Cor 3:14-15) and our Creator started to communicate this to the human family immediately after Adam's fall (Gen 4:6-7; 6:5; Dt 5:29). I liked your use of 1 Cor 6:11 and Heb 12:23, as the "spirits of just men" can only be "made perfect" by the Spirit of God which can only be accessed through faith (Gal 3:22) in a Mediator of a New--and better--Covenant (Heb 12:24; 8:10; 2 Cor 3:3)!!

          Amen!(2)
          • Lynrol

            Thanks for pointing out the need for clarification.

            The texts Gal 3:24, 1 Tim 1:9-10 and Rom 8:3 show that the law was "our tutor to bring us to Christ"; is "not made for the righteous person"; and "is weak." The summary of those texts is that the law is NOT our guiding light after coming to Christ. That seems to be in balance and conjunction with the concept that in eternity we will NOT need the law as a guiding light because we will have already come to Christ in spirit and in the flesh. There will be no sin, so there will be no need for prescriptive law. By prescriptive law I mean a body of specific commands which were designed to guide the Children of Israel, who had not grown to that level of faith and trust in God.

            There has always been LAW. Every word that proceeded from the mouth of God is LAW. When He spoke to Adam and Eve, that was LAW. Before Sinai, the law that was followed was exactly what Jesus reminded us in Matt 22:37-40 - “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On THESE TWO COMMANDMENTS hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

            Essentially, Jesus pointed His hearers to the two overarching and supreme aspects of LAW that go back to eternity past and will exist in eternity future. The Sinanitic pronouncements were added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come - Gal 3:19. But if we follow those two overarching commandments, which can truly only be done under the power of the Holy Spirit, every other law or commandment falls right in place.

            Amen!(3)
    • Inge, I'm afraid that christendom might, for the most part, be unaware that the Creator in actuality only made a single covenant with humans--that man should be like his Creator a manager (Gen 1:26; 2:15), and modeled after a GOOD one at that (Gen 1:27,31; Mt 19:17)!

      Adam, in Eden, willfully violated A SINGLE commandment of our Creator (Gen 2:9,17) resulting in a world in chaos and we, his fallen descendants, keep pointing to the Ten (more) Commandments! Who are we kidding?!...God, who has an intimate, accurate knowledge of each of us (Jer 17:10; 11:20)?! Do we, Seventh-Day Adventists, really BELIEVE we are essentially different humans from ancient Israel and others (Deut 5:27-29; Rm 7:13; 3:9)?!

      Israel kept adding more laws, perhaps with understandable intentions, but which offended God's Messiah (Mt 15:8-9). Why? The problem of sin, that began with Adam, and is now OURS, was conceived within his brain--the same place God the Father and Christ His Son calls the "heart" (Deut 5:29; Mt 15:8). Adam's "doctrine" on his diet arose from the same place where ALL OUR "doctrines" are born, nurtured, lives or dies (Jam 1:13-15). This place is so treacherous that even when we're on the right Team, with the right Leader the threat remains real (Lk 9:54-56)!

      The team's constant temptation is to produce more laws to refute false "doctrines". Paul, himself a re-created persecutor, had to refute "doctrine" (Act 15:1) from believers (Act 15:5; 20:30) that threatened the health of the church. The Jerusalem Council came to the same conclusion as the Father (Deut 5:29) and the Son (Mt 15:8)--that PURIFICATION of "HEART" would be their ONLY salvation (Act 15:8-9,11). I hope we, who are called to give witness to God's good news (Lk 24:47-48), find ways to engage ALL peoples in meaningful ways so that the Creator might receive His harvest of persons willing to relate to Him in a manner He deems acceptable.

      Only He has the ability to re-purpose our minds, presently twisted and tangled with all sorts of "doctrines". Just like in the OT (Ex 32:15-16), God is waiting to write a New Covenant in "stony" places (Eze 11:19-20; 2 Cor 3:3; Heb 8:10)!! Let's give the message with clarity (Eze 18:30-31)!!

      Amen!(4)
  3. The Sabbath was instituted even before the fall of men. It is made for men to remember God as a Creator regardless whether he is a sinner or not.

    Before Adam sin, did Adam need to remember God through the Sabbath (since Adam could have direct communion with God daily) or really need that Sabbath rest from his duties in this world .

    Sabbath is like your birthday. It is a special day to remind us that we came to this world not of our own but because God had made us. It is our special date with God where we dedicate our time wholly to Him (away from our chores).

    It has become twisted because Satan doesn't want us to have that date with God. Since Sabbath was made for men before sin, then it should be celebrated by men throughout eternity.

    Amen!(6)
  4. Thank you, thank you for this series! It is thorough and very well put together. It has opened my eyes to a lot of things, namely the thought patterns for why other christians believe as they do. It helps me to understand and in turn be more patient when dealing with family, neighbors and friends who have a different viewpoint on the Sabbath, Law, etc. Waiting for part 4!

    Amen!(6)
  5. Thanks for this.

    It might be a good idea to link the earlier and later essays to each other, in the heading, as they are published.

    That way, future readers will be able to access all of the documents without difficulty.

    HA

    Amen!(2)
  6. Fred,

    The last two paragraphs of your post, addressed to Lynrol, summarize the eternal nature of the law of love beautifully (The Decalogue was just codification of the law for a rebellious and insubordinate bunch at a given point in time). It is this eternal law of love that through the New Covenant is forever enshrined in the heart. And, with the Psalmist, we can say, "I delight to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart" (Psalm 40:8). "The law of self-renouncing love is the law of life for heaven and earth" {DA20}. It is the Lord's doing and it is marvellous in our eyes!

    Amen!(2)
  7. Jennifer Clarke,

    It's great to read of your faith in Jesus.

    The question that we must answer for ourselves is, "How can something which is holy and just and good (Rom. 7:12) be called the ministry of death and condemnation (2 Cor. 3)?"

    I would like to understand the law as the law of love (Love God & love your neighbor) upon which life is built to operate. "The law of self-renouncing love is the law of life for earth and heaven" {DA20}. (This is one of my all-time favorite EGW quotes!). So then I do not look at the law as a list of do's and don'ts. Rather I understand the keeping of the law as God implanting His love in my heart. (Matt. 22:37-40, Gal. 5:14, Rom. 13:8 & 10) And when I have love in my heart, I have God's law in my heart. And when this law is written in our hearts and minds, it is called the New Covenant! (Jer. 31:31-34, Heb. 8:10 & Heb. 10:16). The Holy Spirit brings about this change (Gal. 5:22-23, Eze. 36:26).

    Amen!(1)
  8. Lynrol Beckford,

    Let me say how much I have enjoyed your posts. There is so much in them with such clarity of understanding of issues and so much scriptural support. Thank you for them. I have been greatly blessed.

    Although the Bible talks of the law being our guardian leading us to Christ, in reality it is God Himself, through the power of the Holy Spirit, who woos, draws, convicts, converts and sustains us. In the process, the law is internalized and hopefully I become "a loving and lovable Christian". {MH 370}

    Amen!(3)

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