Monday, October 4, 2010

Eternal Security and Its Implications For A Theology of History, Pt. V: The Corinthian "Wilderness" Experience

This is part five in a series engaging the Doctrine of Eternal Security and a proper Theology of History. The major emphasis in this series has been that Eternal Security (ES) as a view denies everyday reality---that is, that life consists of processes, transformations, growth, declines, etc. Life, in short, is a roller coaster full of ups and downs, twists, turns, and curves. Any supposed “doctrine” regarding God and man in relationship that does not acknowledge this “fluidity” in relationship is one that should be discarded by the church of Jesus Christ (which is called “the church of the LIVING God,” 1 Timothy 3:15, NKJV).

Today’s post will focus on the Corinthian congregation and Paul’s words to them regarding spiritual counsel. The text comes from 1 Corinthians 10:

“Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:1-4, NKJV).

Paul refers to the Israelites in the wilderness as “our fathers,” meaning that Paul is connecting the Jews in the wilderness to the Gentiles at Corinth---calling them the spiritual ancestors of these new converts at Corinth. The wilderness generation “passed through the sea...were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea, ate the same spiritual food, and drank the same spiritual drink.” These words refer to the two ordinances of the early church, namely, baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion). The Rock from which the Israelites drank water symbolically represents Christ (the one from whom comes living water, John 4).

However, vv. 5ff hit like a punch to the diaphragm:

“But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. NOW THESE THINGS BECAME OUR EXAMPLES, TO THE INTENT THAT WE SHOULD NOT LUST AFTER EVIL THINGS AS THEY ALSO LUSTED. And DO NOT BECOME IDOLATERS AS WERE SOME OF THEM. As it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.’ NOR LET US COMMIT SEXUAL IMMORALITY, AS SOME OF THEM DID, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; NOR LET US TEMPT CHRIST, AS SOME OF THEM ALSO TEMPTED, and were destroyed by serpents; NOR COMPLAIN, AS SOME OF THEM ALSO COMPLAINED, and were destroyed by the destroyer” (1 Cor. 10:5-10).

Paul’s message here to the Corinthians is, “don’t do what the Israelites did, for if you do, you will face the same fate as did the Wilderness Generation.” Even though the Wilderness Generation of Israelites were baptized and shared in a form of the Lord’s Supper (communion with God through food and drink), they still fell in the wilderness without entering the Promised Land. They died in the wilderness and did not receive what was promised. And why? Because they sinned, proving that, at every turn, they doubted God’s ability to do what He promised (Hebrews 4:1-2).

Now, Jude reports the Israelite perishing in the wilderness as an example to the church of what will happen to those who are currently abusing the grace of God (using grace to sin) in their midst (Jude 4-5). The Lord once saved Israel out of Egypt, but the nation was later denied the realization of the promise because of unbelief (also evidenced in Hebrews 3-4).

The question that I always pose to Calvinists is, “Why did God not fulfill the promise to the Wilderness Generation?” Were they not God’s people? Someone could say, “they were never saved to begin with,” but the text tells us that the Lord “saved” the nation out of Egypt (Jude 5). Exodus 15 shows us that the people praise the Lord saying, “You in Your mercy have led forth the people WHOM YOU HAVE REDEEMED” (Exod. 15:13, NKJV). How can the Wilderness Generation be labeled the “redeemed” and not be saved?

So then, we’re back to the same question: why did God promise to take the Wilderness Generation into the Promised Land but did not (Exodus 3:16-17)? The answer is to be found not only in Hebrews 4 (provided above)...but also Numbers 14:27-35. The reason why the Israelites die out in the wilderness after forty years of travel is because of their sin against God: “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation WHO COMPLAIN AGAINST ME? I HAVE HEARD THE COMPLAINTS WHICH THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL MAKE AGAINST ME” (Numbers 14:27). The Israelites die in the wilderness and are denied entrance into the Promised Land because of their unbelief (as signaled by their constant complaining against the Lord).

If the Wilderness Generation were “saved” out of Egypt, but not allowed to enter the Promised Land (but were “destroyed”), then this means that whatever security the individual Jews had with the Lord God was NOT unconditional or eternal! There was no eternal security with the individual Jews in the wilderness. Was there a corporate unconditional security? Yes! Even after all the Wilderness Generation had done, the Lord still promised to take in the nation---however, the recipients of the Promised Land would be everyone aged 19 and under (Num. 14:29).

What does this tell us? The story of the Israelite wilderness perishing testifies to the fact that history itself is not predetermined and static, with everything being guaranteed from the very beginning; rather, we see God respond to the Israelites in a just way based upon their changing actions---that is, that God delivers His people and smiles upon them when saving them and leading them out of Egypt...however, after saving them, He turns against them because they reject Him and complain against Him. God does not continue to remain pleased with Israel because the nation’s gratitude toward God declines (and thus, God’s favor upon the individuals who complain and murmur declines as well). As B. J. Oropeza writes:

"It supports the perspective that Paul believes in a form of predestination and election of the collective people of God WHICH DOES NOT PRECLUDE THE POSSIBILITY THAT SOME OF THOSE PEOPLE MAY GENUINELY FALL AWAY. Our study suggests that if perseverance to final salvation is promised to the elect 'all,' Paul still believes that perseverance is CONDITIONAL FOR THE INDIVIDUAL who belongs to the 'all.' Regardless of what we may think about his logic, Paul believes in the election of the people of God as a solidarity, but individuals within that unit can fall away so that those individuals no longer participate in the grace of God's elect...this was no less true for the Christians in Corinth than it was for the Israelites in the wilderness" (B.J. Oropeza, "Paul and Apostasy: Eschatology, Perseverance, and Falling Away in the Corinthian Congregation." Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000, page 224).

Is this a fair view of the process of the nation of Israel from the deliverance out of Egypt to the Promised Land? Does God deal with the nation in a dynamic relationship (in which God changes in relationship by rewarding Israel with favor when she does what is pleasing and punishes her when she does wickedness; even in this, His character is unchanging, for He is operating out of justice, which is also an attribute of His)...or is everything already determined by God beforehand, anyway?

For now, let it be said that this post intended to deal with the change in God’s response to the Israelite Wilderness Generation (due to the change in Israel’s walk before the Lord). If God changed His response from one of favor to one of anger because of the decline (change) in faith of His people, then why would He operate any differently with believers of the modern church???

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