Monday, August 04, 2008
The Community: Is the Community made up only of believers?
As we have seen, the function of the covenant was to establish a context in which salvation takes place, but does this mean that everyone who is in the covenant is necessarily saved?
There are two views on this:
1. The Pure Community
This view sees all members of the covenant as being members of the elect. There is no room for a category of a non-elect covenant member. This view generally looks to Jer 31:34, that states “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me.”
2. The Mixed Community
However, outside of the Anabaptist tradition, most other Christians have acknowledged a “mixed covenant.” A mixed covenant view holds that one may be a covenant member and not be a true believer (elect). Hence, this understands Paul when he says “Not all Israel is Israel” (Rom 9:6) to mean that not all covenant members of Israel are true Israel.
I believe this is the Biblical picture of covenant community. The necessary element of membership in the elect is not the outward sign, but the inward reality. Another way this is expressed is by the concepts of the visible and invisible church. The visible church is those who are baptized members, and the invisible church is the number of the truly elect.
We see this illustrated in two teachings of Christ. Christ tells of a field planted with seed, and good seed growing up next to weeds (wheat next to tares). Within the field (not the world, but the kingdom of God - Matt 13:24) there is both good and bad unseparated until harvest. Again we see this in Christ’s teaching that the kingdom of God is a net which has within it, both good and bad fish. (Matt 13:47).
Christ taught this in a context where some Jews (the Pharisees) believed they could assume their own salvation because they were “the seed of Abraham” which in their mind meant they were by the Law and heredity, Abraham’s decendents. Christ responded by calling many of them “Son of the Devil.” (John 8:40-44) All must acknowledge there are two senses of being Israel (son of Abraham) - the spiritual and the physical, the invisible and the visible.
The error of the Pharisees was believing that being circumcised in the flesh (sons of Abraham in the flesh) made them spiritual sons of Abraham. Such was not the case, and one must be circumcised in the heart (Deut 30:6) to be a true son of Abraham. As Paul says "All Israel is not Israel." Not all circumcised are "of the circumcision." Though Israel misunderstood this, God throughout the Hebrew Scriptures never revokes or repents of his decree that the covenant was open to the children of believers (Gen 17:9-13) and neither is it changed in the New (Acts 2:38-39, 1 Cor 7:13-14). Similarly, not all baptized are baptized. The mixed community is the reality of the covenant community containing both believers and their children. In the Old Testament, the true elect were elect by grace alone though faith alone, even if they had the sign of faith: circumcision. In the New Testament, we are reminded that the true elect are elect by grace alone though faith alone, even if we have the sign of faith: baptism.
Despite the potential for misunderstanding, the outward reminds us of the inward. The sign teaches the community of God's grace and God's faithfulness to the covenant, a God who is faithful to extend His promise in a real way to his covenant community, even when only a remnant remain faithful to him. (Isaiah 10:22-23)