God’s Global Church: A Community with a Covenantal Worldview (Part 2)

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God’s Global Church: A Community with a Covenantal Worldview (Part 2)

The gift of faith was the focus of our previous effort in this brief series to address the nature of the global Christian community. Here we begin to look at the connection between the gift of faith we receive as a global community and the nature of that faith expressed in God’s Word that brings disparate minds into the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God (Eph 4:13). In Romans 10:17, Paul states that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” So, the endowment of faith is gifted by grace and mediated by the Word of God. What is that word that is mediated? Christian history is filled with doctrinal material, some good and some questionable. Within the past two centuries, a coherent and comprehensive Christocentric message has been ‘rediscovered’ and strongly advocated. The “storyline” of Creation–Fall–Judgment–Redemption shows the thematic juxtaposition of hope and judgment in light of the Lordship of God’s sovereignty over all creation.[1] This storyline has been aptly called “The Great Controversy.”[2] This message is integrally connected to the life of the community because it encompasses all of human history within the battle for every human heart and mind.

The practical ethical dimensions of Christianity have received monumental attention throughout the centuries, yet the Word of faith in its global reach has not enjoyed the same attention. It is so important for the life of the people of God that a covenant curse is promised to the one who would try to change it (Deut 4:2; Rev 22:19). To restore the global importance of the message, and thus community, means not only its geographical impact but its all-encompassing Truth as the only worldview that can account for reality as we know it and address every field of knowledge with coherence.[3] The message has not changed throughout history, though its agents of dissemination and the audience to which it appeals to has enlarged beyond the borders of Israel (cf. Acts 1:8).[4] In general lines, the worldview of the Bible is best expressed in the reality of Covenant.

Covenantal Worldview

When we speak of a covenantal worldview, we are talking of how God reveals Himself and the lens through which we live, think and connect. For instance, God’s covenantal presence is revealed in types in the Old Testament, where heavenly realities such as God’s Heavenly sanctuary ministry are typified through a historical correspondence with the building and ministration of the earthly sanctuary (Exod 25–40; 1 Kgs 6–8). This typological paradigm connects us presently as Christians historically with our forbearers in a consistent message of salvation. The Sanctuary doctrine is not just a belief that one chooses to “believe in” or not, it is the global context in which God’s covenantal presence and the community’s covenantal communion is carried out (Heb 4:16).[5] The antitypical sanctuary (Heb 8:1–2) points to a more effective ministration of grace in the Christian community (Heb 9–10), calls us to a more efficacious faith (Heb 11), and invites us to experience access to the very presence of God (Heb 12).[6] This supersedes any particularism of cultural expression, racial dynamic, national affiliation, etc. It is in this historical context in which the storyline of the Great Controversy plays out by way of type that teaches Christians to find access individually and corporately to the presence of Christ. This becomes all the more relevant and necessary to emphasize in light of the multitude of worship styles, evangelistic approaches, and church polity that all too often cause disagreements that distract from the global connectivity of biblical truth.

In seeking for a global Word of faith, a biblical covenantal worldview always begins with the presupposition of God and His efficacious grace. There are three main elements of God’s Divine Covenant:

  • a relationship between God and creation: Creator-creature/Lord-vassal distinction. (Gen 1-2)
  • a bond between God and man (1) given by grace; (2) outlined in explicit promises; (3) grounded in the desired response of faith, love, and loyalty (Exod 20:1; Lev 19:18; Deut 6:4–6)
  • a free act of God to establish/restore His image through sacrifice and mediation (Isa 53; Col 1-2).

Biblical covenants reveal how God relates to humanity throughout history and stress the relational aspect of human-divine interaction. Though the content, primary beneficiaries, and signs emphasized vary, there is a harmony of a covenantal worldview in each phase of covenant expression.[7]

What do we mean when we say that God’s covenant with humanity expresses a worldview? A worldview is a network of ultimate beliefs, assumptions, values, and ideas about the universe and humanities place in it that shapes how a person understands their life and experiences (and the lives and experiences of others) and how that person acts in response.[8] A biblical worldview is expressed consistently and coherently from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22.[9] One of the greatest impediments to understanding this is the blank piece of paper that is in most Bibles between Malachi and Matthew. The divergences from this unified and universal account in Christian witness stem in large part from a Marcionite view of Scripture.[10] Thus, rather than a consistent worldview, many Christians equate the “God of the Old Testament” with the law, vengeance, and punishment, and Jesus, “the God of the New Testament” with grace, mercy, and love. Of course, when Christian communities accept this theological bifurcation it breaks down community fellowship. So, we can say that every conflict between worldviews can ultimately be traced back to opposing starting points.[11]

A simple acronym—TAKES— is used to break down a worldview into five core areas or subdivisions:

Theology-Metaphysics (Ontology)

Anthropology/Cosmology

Knowledge- Epistemology

Ethics- Axiology

Soteriology-Teleology

In Scripture, these five major areas of a revealed worldview express how God relates to us as His creation and how we are to relate to Him and each other as a Covenantal Community.[12] Unlike secular thought, each of these aspects presupposes and informs one another in an interdependent relationship. What is real (ontology) affects what we as creation/humans (cosmology) can know (epistemology), how we are to interact with that knowledge (ethics) and the outcomes from such interaction (soteriology).[13] All of this is instructive for why Christian community is necessary and how a biblical worldview forms a global Christian community. What Scripture teaches us about God and His creation is crucial because our testimony of Christ in the world is not rooted in our personal feelings, yearnings, or desire, but in a robust expression of God’s revelation to all the world (Isa 40:28; 42:10; 43:6; 45:22; 52:10). Without that, we run the risk distorting (1) Who God is by cultural appropriation of finite experience instead of recognizing His global Sovereignty, (2) who we are as His image through geographical nationalism rather than fellowship as co-heirs of His kingdom, and (3) what our purpose is in this life as His people by defining ourselves in political, social, cultural and even religious ways that dilute our common spiritual heritage (Gal 2:15–21).

 

Reality and Community: Theology-Metaphysics (Ontology)

This aspect of a worldview deals with questions like: What is the ultimate nature of Reality? (cf. Isa 44:9–20; 45:5–13; Rom 1:20; 3:4; 2 Cor 4:1–6), What is Truth? (John 14:6; 18:33–38), and What is the ultimate test for truth? (cf. Isa 8:20; 2 Pet 1:16–21). Belief in Supernaturalism (that Reality includes beings, forces, and phenomena such as God and angels which interact with the physical universe in remarkable and unique ways) emerges from biblical truth (Gen 1:1); an absolute and eternal Person to which we are responsible. As Creator, the Creator-creature distinction serves as the paradigm for all human experience and interaction, individual and corporate.[14] A covenantal worldview establishes the brotherhood of humanity, for God is our Father (John 16:27; Rom 1:7 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:2). As a global community, we thus have a moral obligation to believe, think, and act in conformance together with that Supernatural reality of God’s Fatherhood (i. e. Creatorship; 1 John 1:3). Those who deny a supernatural ontology in favor of a “pseudo-scientific” worldview cannot have global communion as described in Scripture because the very basis for community is denied (1 Cor 15:12–19). The mechanical view of reality is incompatible with biblical Supernaturalism, and any attempts to meld the two will end only in confusion.[15]

Community and Being Human: Anthropology/Cosmology

This aspect of a worldview answers queries like: What is the origin of the universe? (cf. Mark 13:19) What is the origin of life? (cf. Mal 2:10) What is the origin of Man? (cf. Gen 1:26, 5:1; Isa 43:1). I’m reminded of Ben Franklin’s well known saying that “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” The individualism of modernity in large part is a repudiation of corporate identity resident in the Bible. Our origins and humanity are tethered together in a link that carries implications for eternity. Paul teaches us to

“put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Eph 4:24–25).

As created beings in the image of God, we are striving for the same goal. Our identity is integrally linked to our moral obligations to one another. Satan’s greatest weapon is disunity among Christians. It is true that there are false brethren among the faithful (Matt 13:36–43; Acts 20:27–35), but it is just as true that by our godly deportment some can be won to Christ (1 Cor 7:16; 1 Pet 3:1). As all creation groans for redemption, we too as a corporate body grown inwardly together (Rom 8:18–30). As we suffer from the same predicament, we also benefit from the same grace. The same need of God’s covenantal grace decimates any appeal to superiority on any basis.

Community and Knowledge: Epistemology [16]

What we know, how we know it, and what we believe about knowledge, affects what we accept as valid evidence and therefore what we are willing to believe about specific people, places, and things. It affects the relative significance we ascribe to authority, empirical evidence, reason, intuition, and revelation. It affects how certain we can be about any knowledge and therefore what risks we will take in acting on that knowledge. Epistemology, the study of knowledge, that is, the philosophical inquiry into the nature, conditions, and extent of human knowledge probably receives more attention in Christian circles than any other core aspect of a worldview. It presupposes metaphysics and vice versa.[17] This is the area in which Satan has had the most success in influencing Christians to question their faith. The mythical dichotomy between “faith” and “science” has continued to incur a softening of Christian witness because of our desire to prove that God exists within a “closed universe.” Christian apologists have most recently challenged the notion of science as fact. Like archeology, all data needs interpretation. Interpretation demands method. Method demands presuppositions. And presuppositions are basic beliefs, not dependent on verification.[18] I would suggest starting here in the search for a Covenantal Epistemology for most of our thinking about God, His Word, and each other rests upon what and who we claim to know. Respectfully, we as a Christian community ought to question the appeal to science in matters of what we can know. Many people are “down on what they are not up on.” The literature for biblical epistemology is vast and deep. To simplify things, most people who reject the Bible’s epistemic authority do so because of a skewed understanding of its self-referential authority and their belief in autonomous reason.[19] Fortunately, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, for much sound biblical study that espouse the sola, tota, and prima Scriptura principle has been done on the topic and is useful for personal ministry purposes as well as strengthening the witness on the academic level.[20]

Community and Lifestyle: Ethics[21]

A life of covenantal obedience is a sign and demonstration of genuine love for God (Deut 6:4–9; John 14:15; 15:1–17). The “fear of the Lord,” expressed primarily in Wisdom Literature,[22] is a reverent response to God’s power and authority over humanity and creation that shapes our behavior through His commands. To say then that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom is to say that communities cannot be shaped by a biblical worldview unless there is a clear expression, acceptance, and submission to a life that places God’s ethical concerns for a relationship with Him as primary. A global community is hard to imagine today because so many exceptions to this rule of thumb or reinterpretation of biblical wisdom are being shaped by a secular worldview. Biblical ethics has a teleological focus. Secular theology tends to emphasize the “journey” as opposed to the destination. The New Testament puts so much emphasis on the destination of our faith walk[23] because without a clear destination the “journey” tends to be nebulous, subjective, and personalized as opposed to clear, objective, and universal (cf. Acts 4:12). We are not taking different paths to the same destination, Jesus made it clear, there only is one way (John 14:6).

Community and Salvation: Soteriology-Teleology

Inquiries into the goal or purpose of life deal with issues like Does the universe have a purpose? (cf Ps 19:1–6; 96:3; Isa 66:19), If the universe has a purpose, whose purpose is it? (cf. Luke 4:43; Eph 2:10; Heb 6:17) What is the purpose of the universe? (Rom 9:11). Every other core aspect of a covenantal worldview finds its consummation in the salvation of mankind. The reality of God, the vindication of His character, the transformation of mankind, and the expression of the character of Christ in His people will testify to the hope instilled in His work and promises. For the Christian Community to have a global presence and interconnectedness, we must find our unified voice in Christ and His great work of redemption for us on Calvary and in the Heavenly Sanctuary. The Reformation continues as God continues to call His people out of Babylon (false religious works and thought) into a faithful community who surrender their hearts and lives to the Lord of creation and live in the created world according to His Truth (i.e. covenantal worldview; 1 Cor 2:16).

Now that we are more aware of the covenantal worldview that God calls us to, it seems fitting that we would humbly seek to come into conformity with God’s revealed will and thus come together in Christian harmony from every nation, kindred, tongue and people (Rev 14:6). God wants us to be united in our thinking and our mission to a confused world, and most importantly, as we will address next time, our communion with the Risen Christ.

Click here to read the rest of this series.

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Notes.

[1] This is not to say that the church father’s and Reformers were not systematic in their approach, quite the contrary. What is meant here is that more recently doctrines are seen more as the expression of a comprehensive system of truth from Creation to Christ’s soon coming that addresses every area of life. Ellen White noted “In their harmonious relation, the truths of Scripture are like links in a chain.” RH, Treasure Hidden July 2, 1908. Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin are foremost in striving to express this type of thinking. Yet the systems they operated in (Calvin- Reformed Protestantism and Aquinas- Catholicism) where either rigidly structured (Catholicism) or so new and unsettled (Protestantism) that their projects received resistance during their lifetimes which toned down the impact of that trajectory. See their respective chapters in Richard Tarnas, Passion of The Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World Views (New York: Ballantine Books, 1991, 1993), 171–191, 233–247. The modern expression of this “storyline” is called a metanarrative. See Richard Davidson, “Cosmic Metanarrative for the Coming Millennium,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 11/1-2 (2000): 102–119.

[2] Ellen White’s book The Great Controversy expresses this paradigm throughout Christian history from the first century until the re-creation of the earth made new. Greg-Boyd is the most vocal non-Adventist to posit in general lines this view in his books God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997) and Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001).

[3] See Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005).

[4] Ellen White also uses the language of a cohesive worldview in mission when commenting on Jesus’ disciple’s connection to previous eras of the mission of God stating, “They were not to think themselves part of different systems of work, but individual threads of the great whole, inseparably united, like links in a chain with their fellow men and with God.” MS 108 1898.

[5] Yom Kippur (Lev 16, “Day of Atonement”) was a time of Israel’s corporate judgment and God’s vindication. The antitypical Day of Atonement also carries corporate/cosmic significance for the worldwide people of God. See Ellen G. White, Christ in His Sanctuary (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1969); Richard M. Davidson, “The Good News of Yom Kippur,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 2, no. 2 (1991):4–27.

[6] Note how Ellen White frames the Christian community in terms of its global impact and missional focus on the mediation of Christ in the Heavenly Sanctuary, “God had committed to His people a work to be accomplished on earth. The third angel’s message was to be given, the minds of believers were to be directed to the heavenly sanctuary, where Christ had entered to make atonement for His people. The Sabbath reform was to be carried forward. The breach in the law of God must be made up. The message must be proclaimed with a loud voice, that all the inhabitants of earth might receive the warning. The people of God must purify their souls through obedience to the truth, and be prepared to stand without fault before Him at His coming.” (1SM, 67).

[7] There are several “phases” of god’s Covenantal relationship with humanity: Creation (Gen 1–2); Adamic (Gen 3–4); Noachic (Gen 6–8); Abrahamic (Gen 12–24); Davidic (2 Sam 7); and New (renewed: Jer 31; 34; Ezek 34; Heb 6–9). For a full exposition of the elements in and the relationship of covenants in the HB see O. P. Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg: P & R, 1980); Hans Larondelle, Our Creator Redeemer: An Introduction to Biblical Covenant Theology (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2005); William Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation: An Old Testament Covenant Theology (rev. and enl. ed; Crown Hill, MK: Paternoster, 2013).

[8] For two excellent analyses that trace the history of the term, its uses, and religious, political, and philosophical outcomes, see David K. Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002); Andrew Hoffecker, ed., Revolutions in Worldview: Understanding the Flow of Western Thought (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2007).

[9] Among secondary literature, The Conflict of the Ages Series by Ellen White are the best set of books that explore the foundational and substantive issues of a biblical worldview.

[10] Marcion was a 2nd-century AD teacher and perhaps most infamous heretic in early Christianity. The keystone of his theology appears to have been the separation of law and gospel. This theological separation had consequences of a practical nature leading to an anti-Semitic attitude even among the church community. Christoph Markschies, Gnosis: An Introduction (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2003), 84–89.

[11] The present political scene in the United States and the antithetical reactions to the present administration illustrate how rather than an understanding of God’s sovereignty (part of the biblical Doctrine of God) of history and its expression in the apocalyptic prophecies of the books of Daniel and Revelation regardless of who occupies the seat of worldly power, battle lines are being drawn between Christians in political terms. One takes government as a reflection of God’s affirmative choice to bring America back to God (cf. current views on abortion, homosexuality, and family values, etc.) and the other position takes it as a repudiation of the love, grace, and mercy ethic of Jesus (cf. current views on immigration, inclusion, refugees, etc.). So rather than take sides, let’s explore how a biblical worldview can bring about authentic community even in these trying times.

[12] OT scholar Elmer Martens identified four basic purposes of God for Israel that shows complementarity with the modern notion of worldview: (1) salvation/deliverance [soteriology]; (2) covenant community [anthropology]; (3) the knowledge of God [epistemology, theology]; and (4) the land of promise [ethics-axiology]. Elmer A. Martens, God’s Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology, 3rd ed. (Richland Hills, TX: Scott Publishing, 1997), 18–30.

[13] In more formal philosophical language, say a person is a philosophical naturalist (i. e. a materialist) and believes that nothing exists outside of the physical universe, then they do not believe in a spiritual realm, so God cannot exist. There can be no absolute, externally valid standards of value and morality; any standards are simply customs, personal choices or cultural norms. Humanity is simply artifacts of biology, and ideas like a future hope is a human invention to give existential meaning to a mechanical world with no broader significance.

[14] Redemption and Community are framed in creation terms (Isa 41:20; 45:8; Rev 14:6). “Since the time of the founding of modern science and modern philosophy, educated secular man has been opposed to Christian supernaturalism. To him the only factors in the universe are the immanent laws of nature. Since the time of the German enlightenment many theologians have taken the same stance with reference to theology and the Scriptures. The result of this attitude upon the interpretation of Scripture is that all reports of the supernatural in Scripture are written off as some kind of misunderstanding.” Bernard L. Ramm, “Biblical Interpretation,” ed. Ralph G. Turnbull, Baker’s Dictionary of Practical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1967), 106.

[15] The historical expression of this attempt is Deism. For a brief survey of Deistic proponents and beliefs see James C. Livingston, Modern Christian Thought: The Enlightenment and The Nineteenth Century (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997, 2006), 1–37.

[16] See Fernando Canale, Creation, Evolution, and Theology: The Role of Method in Theological Accommodation (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Lithotech, 2005); Esther Lightcap Meek, Loving to Know: Covenant Epistemology (Eugene, OR.: Wipf and Stock, 2011). Meek sets forth the case that Knowing encompasses transformation. Meek’s analysis is not against a rigorous rational approach to knowledge, but rather as an antidote to the dry analytical musings of philosophical analysis that demands no personal accountability for knowledge. See also Jay W. Wood, Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998).

[17] John Frame’s work has been helpful in elucidating a covenantal epistemology that emerges from the biblical text. John Frame, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Theology of Lordship Series; Phillipsburg, NJ; P & R Publishing, 1987). A fundamental and complex paradigm shift came in religious studies with the emergence of the Enlightenment era and the rise of modernity with its burgeoning conflict over epistemology and the traditional, religious order of society. The appropriations of developing worldviews within this dialectic impacted the intellectual, scientific, and cultural understandings of theological, historical, and literary approaches to the biblical text. Cf. M. Chavalas, “The Historian, the Believer, and the Old Testament: A Study in the Supposed Conflict of Faith and Reason,” JETS 36 (1993): 145–162; Craig G. Bartholomew, “Introduction,” in “Behind” the Text: History and Biblical Interpretation (eds. C. G. Bartholomew, C. S. Evans, M. Healy, and M. Rae; Scripture and Hermeneutics Series 4; Carlisle: Paternoster, 2003; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1–16; Norman Gulley, Systematic Theology: Prolegomena (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 2003), 598; Henning Graf Reventlow, History of Biblical Interpretation Volume 4: From the Enlightenment to the Twentieth Century (trans. L.G. Perdue; SBL Resources for Biblical Study 63: Atlanta: SBL, 2010), 123–229.

[18] Ronald Nash, Faith and Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988).

[19] A general rule of thumb is, on whatever grounds the Word of God is being challenged is to see if the interlocutor’s own epistemic view can hold up to the scrutiny that the Bible is held up to. For example, to use circularity as a reason to deny the plausibility and veracity of Biblical realism without independent grounds or evidence that a valid source or method was being utilized outside of the Bible and hence where textual epistemic circularity is not in play fails for it is still operating circularly to prove what it is attempting to disprove, that is the premises of its grounds or evidence are just as much in need of proof or evidence as a criterion to judge the Word. Admittedly this is a complicated argument, but that is my point. Many doubters are not intellectually honest or knowledgeable about why they reject biblical realism and use “science” as a catch-all without really understanding the varied, contradictory, and theoretical nature of scientific conclusions. See C. Stephen Evans and Merold Westphal, eds. Christian Perspectives on Religious Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993).

[20] See especially Fernando L. Canale, Basic Elements of Christian Theology: Scripture Replacing Tradition

(Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University, 2005); idem., “Absolute Theological Truth in Postmodern Times,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 45, no. 1 (2007): 87–100; Richard M. Davidson, “Interpreting Scripture: An Hermeneutic ‘Decalogue’” Journal of Adventist Theological Society 4, no. 2 (1993): 95–114.

[21] The term axiology comes from the Greek axios or worth. In philosophy, axiology is that field that concerns itself mainly with the subject of value. It answers questions like; What is value? What types of values are there? Is value objective or subjective? What is the source of value? And What is right?

[22] Job, and Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Psalms.

[23] The Greek word telos means goal or fulfillment or culmination. For the connection between faith and the goal of the Christian life, see Matt 10:22; 24:13; Rom 6:22; 1 Cor 1:8; 10:11; 15:24; Phil 3:19; Heb 3:14; 6:8, 11; 1 Pet 1:9; 4:7; Rev 2:26.

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Jerome Skinner, earned his Ph.D as an Old Testament scholar at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. He focuses on the Psalms and Wisdom literature and on practical Christianity. Jerome is active in following American Christianity and social issues.