About six years ago I realized that reading Systematic Theology was leaving me empty inside. In fact, I began to realize that my own Bible knowledge was shrinking. I was spending so much time reading about how other’s saw the Scriptures that the Scriptures themselves were becoming less visible to me. At this time I decided to stop reading Berkhof, Hodge, Dabney, Strong, Grudem, and the like in order to refocus on reading and understanding Scripture again (by the way, if you haven’t taken the time to read these men, you should; they are easy to read [okay, maybe not Hodge] and I would argue that they are essential for any basic understanding of theology. Also note, two of these men are Baptists).
While studying individual books of the Bible and trying to fit their messages into an overall framework of the Bible, I began to see more clearly the familiar orientation of the New Testament. As a Baptist, I did not deny the familiar orientation of the Old Testament, but I was sure that the spiritual dimension of the New Testament superseded any familial dimension that could be found in the Old Testament.
The problem first arose when I began studying the household codes in Ephesians. I noticed that Paul commanded children to obey their parents “in the Lord.” He is assuming that the children are “in the Lord.” Just as he began the epistle with “to the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus,” so his covenantal worldview assumes that the children are as the parents are.
In fact, when I saw that the household code in Ephesians is based on Paul’s command to “be filled with the Spirit,” I realized that each aspect of the household code shows what it means to be filled with the Spirit. A Spirit-filled husband loves his wife the way Christ loves the Church. A Spirit-filled wife submits to her husband the way the church submits to Christ. Even so, Paul’s commanding of the children to obey their parents in the Lord is an outworking of the command to be filled with the Spirit. And this is the way it is with all of Paul’s letters.
I also saw this in things like the requirements for pastors. In order for a man to be fit for the office of pastor, his family must be obedient (i.e. “filled with the Spirit,” as we see in Ephesians). It is a good and necessary inference then to say that a pastor's wife and children should all be born again. But this had never been a qualification for elders before the New Testament.
In the Old Testament prophets, priests, judges, and even kings were never required to have obedient families in order to fill their positions. In fact, almost every prophet, priest, judge or king (not to mention patriarch) that you can find has an almost wildly disobedient family! The irony of Saul’s obedient son Jonathan and Nabal’s submissive wife Abigail has not been overlooked by me.
So if the Old Testament is supposed to be the part that is merely familial and the New Testament is supposed to be the part that is primarily spiritual, why is it that the New Testament demands so much more spiritual fruit from families? See next post for my answer.
I also began seeing things in the Old Testament which foretold this spiritual healing of families. One such instance can be found in the very last sentence of the Old Testament.
“And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
Malachi 4:6 ESV
In a very real and practical way then, we see that the New Covenant brings fuller, richer, and better blessings than were found in the Old Testament. It brings in the restoration of men to God and men to each other. What Satan torn asunder in the beginning, God has brought back together again in Christ.
Well, more later.