THE COVENANTS...CHURCH AND STATE
(The following is an address given by Harold E. Stough. Pastor of Orange Street congregational church at the annual meeting of the central school of Religion held at St Jude's Balham on October 12th 1991. Mr Stough was recently made a Fellow, Honoris Causa, of the society for his services to the church and with the Identity movement.)
It must be apparent to all Christians and Bible students that the Covenants comprise the central theme of the Holy Scriptures. Even before the earthly records of His creation the theme of redemption was revealed from the foundation of the world in the relevant passages referring to the Larnb slain and the prepared kingdom, as well as the mysteries the apostle Paul was to reveal, and which had been kept secret since the world began.
There are two references to an 'everlasting' Covenant. One speaks of 'the blood' of the Everlasting Covenant and the other, in the Old Testament. referring to those who had broken the covenant, by opting out or refusing the redemptive act. But it is everlasting - the Larnb has been slain and no human act can nullify that. It was an agreement between the Father and the Son to redeem His people and His creation. It has been taught by Dr Bullinger, Schofield and most Bible colleges that there were seven covenants. These start with the Adamic, then the Edenic. Perhaps so, but the word 'covenant' does not appear until the Noahic. The earlier ones were promises which Elohim made concerning man's dominion and the Redeeming line from the Garden pair to the intervention of God in human affairs in the Incarnation as the 'seed of the woman' who would bruise Satan's head.
In the Noahic covenant is revealed His relationship to the earth and a mankind in which the Redeeming line is continued through Shem, and on to Abraham. It is from the covenant made with Abraham that the others find their place. In Romans 15:8 we read: 'Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision, for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the Fathers'. The 'fathers' are obviously the patriarchs Abraharn, Isaac and Jacob. The Mosaic, the Palestinian, the Davidic and the New Covenant which Jeremiah says is made with Israel and Judah, and which the Epistle to the Hebrews confirms, all stern back to the Abraharnic and elucidate clauses within it.
I submit that these covenants are not, in the Biblical sense, an agreement between two parties, as in our earthly economy. God, infinite God, doesn't enter into pacts with His Finite, created and mortal agents. The infinite and the finite are not on the same level. Hebrews makes this quite clear: 'For when God made promises to Abraharn because He could swear by no greater, he sware by himself.' 6:13. 'By myself have I sworn' were the words of the angel of the Lord to Abraharn in giving the unconditional covenant to him. In Isaiah (45:23) the term 'I have sworn by Myself' is used with the addition 'and shall not return' indicating no change of' mind.
Jeremiah and Amos also used these terms and although not in covenant setting still avow the determination of God to fulfil His will. Our Lord continues this precept when He says 'Verily, verily...' It is this covenant to Abraham, repeated to Isaac and to Jacob which is the primary Covenant dealing with mankind. 'Through thee and thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed'. 'That the blessing of Abraharn might come to the gentiles through Jesus Christ, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith'. (Gal. 3:14 see also vl6 et seq.) This covenant was unconditional and everlasting and unilateral. It was not conditional on Abraham's faith for God had sald 'because thou hast believed'. Sovereignty, multiplicity of seed, the land and the blessings were all included and great doctrines of the church were also involved.
The Mosaic or Kingdom covenant also included sovereignty for God as Jehovah was introduced for the first time, with land and blessings. It was an inaugural covenant sealed by the blood of a bullock and its terms ratified by the people -'All that the Lord has spoken will we do'. Blessings and cursings were set before them, dependent on them keeping, or not keeping His laws. Breaking them would be to their hurt, as we read in Deuteronomy. But breaking did not nullify His covenant. A comparable situation was the covenant God made with David regarding his throne. Everlasting as the Psalmist points out. Here the contingent clause was 'If David sin I will punish him with the rod of men, nevertheless my Covenant will I not break nor alter that which has gone forth from my lips'. So Israel had the option of blessing or punishment. But the covenant stood. The generation of the wilderness suffered but the covenant continued in their successors who entered the land. In fact God made it quite clear that the nation would continue as long as sun, moon and stars endured.
The ordinance or worship part of the law which the people required so as to be like other nations, was but a temporary measure, a schoolmaster, for keeping alive the hope and promise of the Redeemer. They looked forward through the smoke of their sacrificial burnings to the coming of One who would redeem them and free them from their self-imposed bondage to the law of feasts, fasts, offerings and sacrifices. But the basic law continued as contained in the commandments, statutes and judgements and this Law Our Lord confirmed. And a new and better covenant was established with Israel and Judah with the promise that the Law would be written on their hearts. The Covenant and Law basically still stood, but amplified.
In the Christian era, Israel having been taken captive by Assyrian forces sorne seven centuries earlier had become 'lost'. Escaping from Assyria some had settled in Asia Minor but most had moved on into Scythia and Europe, but they had, for the most part 'lost' their identity. Jewry, had been dispersed and scattered by the Rornans in A.D. 70. Thus Bible scholars faced a crisis of interpretation of the prophecies of the Bible. They couldn't find Israel, and Jewry, largely through intermarriage and proselytism, were scarcely recognisable with their Biblical forebears and could not be identified with Israel prophecies and identity marks; thus scholars looked elsewhere.
In this I suggest they were wrong. They either gave up searching or looked elsewhere, not in the direction indicated by Scripture. Thus they drew the wrong conclusions. Assuming that Israel was irretrievably lost and Jewry not meeting the case, they came to the conclusion that God had changed His mind, despite His saying. 'For I am the Lord I change not, therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.' (Mal. 3:6).
They found a solution by making the Church Israel - a spiritual Israel. Augustine of Hippo championed this view in his The City of God, and Origen's spiritualising of literal passages of scripture didn't help. Centuries later Bishop Ryle was to conderm all such spirituafising. (1)
The result of such spiritualising was to make the church the nation, and Rome gladly assumed the role for it gave her the throne, the land grants, law interpretation etc. - in short the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants! Protestant teachers went along with this to a great extent. i.e. affirming that the church is Israel.
There is a sense in which a nation can become a church. Israel was known in one passage as, 'the congregation in the wilderness'. The righteous within the nation were known by the Hebrew word Qahal, heirs, no doubt, of the 'able men such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness'. These became judges, administering the Divine Law, under Moses guidance. The rest of the people, the nation as a whole, were known as the Edah, those needing the authority of God to conduct their affairs. The Edah later became known as the remnant, the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal. There was a period in English history which the historian Green defined when the whole nation became as it were a church.
But the church, by its universal calling and function, could not be a nation with national boundaries and thus lirnited jurisdiction. Nevertheless the church arose frorn the nation. In a sense Abraham founded the church.(2)
'Thou art Peter (petros, a little stone) and on this rock (petra - a rocky substratum) I will build my church'. Thus the church is built on what Daniel describes as the Stone Kingdorn .(3)
The Function of the church is to declare 'Thus saith the Lord', the commencing words introducing the Commandments and the corporate law for the nation. It also introduces the prophecies - the speaking forth for God by the prophets. As Revd Scarborough of the Gospel Defence League (August 1991) has written: 'Church and State are both ministries under God. The church is a ministry of grace, and the state is a ministry of justice. They should complement and uphold one another, not confound and fight one another.' In other words the church should teach the law and the state should enforce it.
The church should never forget Our Lord's own words: 'Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill' (Matt. 5: 17-19)
It is equally wrong to divide the scriptures in the Old Testament as Law and the New Testament as Grace, for Israel found Grace in the wilderness and it has been pointed out that there is more Law in the New Testament than in the Old.
In conclusion I ask that we pause and rethink this whole issue of old and new Israel. If the church is Israel what happened to literal Israel wherever they are? Are they cast off? Not a single Old Testament prophet would agree. Neither would Our Lord who said that He was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and made it quite clear that these other sheep were not of the Jewish fold. Neither would St Paul who wrote: 'Has God cast off His people? God forbid'.
If, nevertheless we still maintain this belief, what assumptions are now inevitable? Are we not dishonouring God by our unbellef? If God could not fulfill His covenants is He then Ornnipotent? If God did not know or realise the extent of Israel's disbelief and turning from Him, is He then Omniscient? If He changed His mind and gave the blessings to another, is He then a God of Truth? His Son, our Lord, said He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. But Bradlaugh and the Freethinkers thought otherwise.(4)
How much wiser and simpler to take the Bible as it stands, accepting in faith what we don't understand, confident that in His own good time He will make all things clear - when the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of God. Why be a 'wicked and adulterous generation' inheriting the curses which follow disobedience, when we can accept His Word, obey His Laws, live our Christian declaration and faith and receive His blessings - and be 'a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof''.
(1) 'I warn you that unless you interpret the prophetical portion of the Old Testament in the simple literal meaning of its words you will find it no easy matter to carry on an argument with an unconverted Jew. Will you dare to tell him that Zion, Jerusalem, Jacob, Judah, Ephraim, Israel, do not mean what they seem to mean, but mean the church of Christ? Oh, reader! If you are a man of this mind, take care of what you are doing I say again, take care! I think we should remember that we must reject Protestant traditions which are not according to the Bible as much as the traditions of the Church of Rome'.
'I believe it is high time for the Church of Christ to awake out of its sleep about Old Testament prophecy. From the tirne of the Old Fathers, Jerorne and Origen, down to the present day, men have gone on in a pernicious habit of 'spiritualising' the words of the prophets until their true meaning has been well-nigh buried. It is high time to lay aside the traditional methods of interpretation and to give up our blind obedience to the opinions of ...... What I protest against is the habit of allegorising plain sayings of the Word of God concerning the future history of the nation Israel and explaining away the fulness of their contents in order to accommodate them to the Gentile church. 1 believe the habit to be unwarranted by anything in Scripture ... Where in the whole New Testament, shall we find any plain authority for applying the word Israel to anyone but the nation Israel? I can find none'. (from Coming Events and Present Duties by Dr J.C. Ryle, one time Bishop of Liverpool).
(2) 'Christ did not found the church; Abraharn did that. Christ renewed it, in and around Himself' - The Archbishop of Canterbury, the late Dr Temple.
(3) 'It is, however, a mistake to ask whether Christ while on earth founded the Church, for it was already in existence ... The Church, that is, was at least as old as the redemption of Israel from Egypt and its foundation as a nation. The word ecclesia was the common greek word to describe the official assembly of any people'. (The Holy Spirit and The Church, Bishop Charles Gore, one tirne Bishop of Oxford)
(4) Bradlaugh made the following statement in a controversy with Revd Brewin Grant in 1885. 'God a God of Truth? Why, God promised to Abraharn in the most solemn words: He repeated His promises: nay, this book which reveals the attributes of Almighty God, tells us that God condescended to swear to a weak, puny man that He would establish his kingdom for ever, and that his seed should be as numerous as the sand on the sea shore. That promise was reiterated and sworn, by God, and I ask, where is that kingdom now? Where? Don't tell me it was meant figuratively; don't tell me it was not literal. God swore that it should be for ever. He established it and now it is a thing of the past. You tell me that the God of the Bible always tells the truth'.
Thanks be to God! Bradlaugh was suitably answered by Reader Harris Q.C., in his book, The Lost Tribes of Israel.