Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Covenant Theology”

“Covenant Theology”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
One of the main vehicles used in society that stipulate requirements for establishing relationships is a contract. A contract is a written or verbal agreement between two or more parties that establishes their mutual relationship. All the parties commit to adhere to the agreed upon requirements. The failure of one party to meet their contractual obligations is called a breach of contract. A breach may support the other parties’ desires to make the contract null and void. Men and women freely enter into contracts in order to legally bind all the parties to perform the requirements of the agreement.

We know that contracts are entered into voluntarily and that they are agreements made between equals.

The Christian Faith also includes the idea of contracts, but with significant differences. Two differences are the name, covenant, and the parties involved who are not equals as God is the one who establishes covenants.

The distance between God and Man is so great that God initiated covenants to establish the requirements for a relationship with Him. (Taken from Chapter Seven, Paragraph 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith) Note that the covenant is not the relationship but God’s requirements to have a relationship.

The Bible reveals two major covenants that God made with Man. Both are revealed in Genesis. The first of these is called the Covenant of Works, Genesis 2:17. God promised life to Adam if he obeyed God’s command. The consequence for disobeying God was death.

The second covenant that God made with Man is called the Covenant of Grace. It is first revealed in Genesis 3:15. In the Covenant of Grace, God promised to crush the head of Satan through the “seed” of the Woman. Not only is this the first revelation of the Covenant of Grace, but it is also the first prophecy of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. God declared that Jesus, born of a virgin, would deal a mortal blow to Satan. This was accomplished on the Cross. Jesus defeated Satan and won the victory over death, confirmed by His resurrection, Hebrews 2:14; 1Corinthians 15:54-57.

There are many other covenants in Scripture, for example, God’s Covenant with Noah, Abraham, Israel in the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. All of these are part of the Covenant of Grace. They are revealed within the context of what is called Covenant Theology. The gospel is revealed within this context.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “The doctrine of the covenant lies at the root of all true theology. It has been said that he who well understands the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, is a master of divinity.” God chose to reveal His faithfulness by way of covenants, supremely the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace.

The Bible also speaks of another covenant, one not made with Man. This covenant was made within the God-Head, the Trinity. It was made in eternity. It is called the Covenant of Redemption, John 3:16; Hebrews 13:20-21. This covenant was made between God the Father and God the Son. The essence of the Covenant of Redemption is that the Son agreed to lay down His life in accordance with the Father’s will to accomplish redemption. Jesus is the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world, 1Peter 1:19-20; Revelation 5:6.

One of the clearest covenantal promises of God was declared in Genesis 17:7. “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” God promised to be God to Abraham and to his seed who is Christ (and those who are in Christ), Galatians 3:16. This is God’s promise and Jesus is the seed through whom God fulfilled His Promise. The final fulfillment of God’s promise is yet to come. Revelation 21:3, “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”’

God is always faithful to His Word. He is the Covenant Faithful One. He will accomplish all that He has promised. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself, “2Timothy 2:13. Christians are secure not because of our faithfulness but only because of the faithfulness of our Covenant God.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Justice or Mercy, Know the Difference!”

“Justice or Mercy, Know the Difference!”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

God spoke through the Prophet Micah during a time of prosperity. He required His people to do justice and to love kindness (mercy) and to walk humbly before Him.

This divine imperative is simple and bears repeating. Do justice. Love Mercy. Live with a right assessment of ourselves before a sovereign God. God said that this is good. In light of this clear declaration, no one needs to struggle to know what is good.

Our good God commanded His people to do justice. God’s people are accountable to seek and apply justice. As God ordained civil authorities, He placed upon them the responsibility to rule and govern justly. What then is justice? In part, justice is fair treatment based on the law.

Therefore, the application of justice requires a standard. Our civil government operates under such a standard. It is the rule of law. When authorities consider themselves above the law anarchy is not far behind. An orderly and safe society requires all citizens and their leaders to obey the rules of law that govern them.

So it is for the church. The authority of the church is under the word of God. Christ is the King and Head of the church. He exercises His Lordship through His word. Authority in the church is a granted authority. That which is just and right is determined from the Bible, the church’s standard.

The Bible teaches that to do justice is to do what is right. That which is just is right and fair based upon the standard which is the word of God written.

Micah 6:8 also declares another critical concept. The Prophet called God’s people to love kindness. The original word is also translated loving kindness, steadfast love, or mercy. The word reflects the very character of God. Justice and mercy are not opposite sides of the same coin. Mercy stands in contrast to justice. Justice applies the rule of law. Mercy is granted to law breakers. Justice is deserved. Mercy is underserved and can only be granted by the benevolent action of a ruler. Mercy and grace are the unmerited favor of God.

Following the revealed truth of God’s word, all men deserve justice. The just and right action of the holy God is condemnation. The Bible is clear on this point throughout. From Genesis to Revelation, God has revealed that all men are born spiritually dead. All men are born in bondage to sin. Sin is defined as lawlessness by the Apostle John, 1John 3:4. Adam’s sin is inherited by every human being. The Apostle Paul wrote that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Romans 5:12

Left on our own we are all children of God’s wrath, Ephesians 2:3. It’s at this point that the cry of “It’s not fair” is often heard. The offense of the truth causes men to define God in their own view. I’ve heard the statement, “My God is a God of love. He wouldn’t send people to hell. It’s not fair or loving.” My response is that definition of God is not the God of the Bible. God has revealed Himself as holy, holy, holy, Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8.

In the light of God’s holy justice, how can we hope to be saved? The Apostles, Prophets and Jesus called people to repent and believe in the gospel. This is God’s ordained means to deliver men and women from this present darkness. The question that lays beneath God’s command to repent and believe in the gospel is “How”? How are men born dead in sin able to repent and believe? The only possible answer is by God’s grace. God extends grace to those whom He chooses. God said that He will have mercy on whom He has mercy, Romans 9:15.

King David wrote Psalm 51. He was confronted in his sin. David did the only thing that is possible. He threw himself upon the mercy of God. This is the truth of man’s only hope. There are only two alternatives. You will either experience God’s perfect justice or receive His mercy.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “What Saith the Scriptures?”

“What Saith the Scriptures?”
Romans 4:3a
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

In declaring the truth of how a man is made right with God, the Apostle Paul asked, “What saith the Scriptures?” The foundational truth of justification is that God declares a sinner to be right with Him through faith alone! This act of God’s free grace is the foundation of the Good News of God in Jesus Christ revealed throughout the Bible.

The ancient Hebrews, the Apostle Paul, the Church Fathers and the Protestant Reformers all searched the Scriptures to arrive at the truth. Yet this question is rarely asked in the Church today. Now, we often hear “It’s a matter of interpretation.”

God gave us the Bible because He is a God of revelation. He expects that we understand what He has said, Deuteronomy 29:29. Therefore, the Bible is understandable. There is a right interpretation of every passage of Scripture. Too frequently, Christians are told by leaders in the Church that there are many interpretations of one passage of the Bible. Church members are confronted with choices. Many accept that no one interpretation is right. We’re told, doctrine is unimportant because no one can claim to know the truth!

If we look at this issue of biblical interpretation logically, we must conclude that all interpretations cannot be right. When there are contradicting views of the Bible, one, both or all may be wrong. One thing for certain is they all can’t be right. There is only one right interpretation of a passage of Scripture. For difficult passages, we may never arrive at the right interpretation this side of heaven. Sound doctrine is what the Bible teaches. God has revealed the truth and we can know it.

Now we’ve come to the way in which we can answer the question, “What saith the Scriptures?” It is called the science of biblical interpretation. The technical term is hermeneutics.

Hermeneutics rests upon two main principles. The first is the biblical principle, also called the analogy of faith. The second is the literal principle. The biblical principle, the analogy of faith was recovered by the Protestant Reformers. They understood that the Bible interprets itself. This means the clear passages of Scripture shed light upon the more obscure ones. It is also understood that one place of Scripture must not be placed against another. Further, Christians interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. There are no contradictions in the Bible. There may be apparent contradictions, but once studied we find that the Bible is consistent with itself, because God does not speak with a “forked” tongue.

The second principle, the literal one, is also called the historical/grammatical principle of interpretation. You may have heard the saying that, “Text without context is pretext.” The words of Scripture find their meaning within the broader context of the passage. For example, because of the difficulty in understanding Hebrews 6:4, it would not be accurate to base a theology on the possibility of losing one’s salvation! Keeping that verse within its context makes it clear that the writer is speaking of one who may profess faith, but does not possess genuine saving faith. In other words, the writer was speaking of those who are called apostates.

Further, to interpret literally means to understand that which is plainly meant and that the Bible is literature. This is how we read and understand any written material. Therefore, in interpreting the Bible: grammar, meaning of words, context, time in which it was written, etc. are involved in understanding the meaning. It is important to remember that the literal interpretation of the Bible is not the same as a literalistic interpretation. For example, we know that when the prophet Isaiah wrote that the “trees of the field shall clap their hands” he didn’t mean that trees have hands. God was describing the joy of all Creation when His plan of redemption is finally consummated. Or, when Jesus said that He was the “door of the sheep”, He did not mean that He looked like a door! John 10 was declaring that Jesus is the only way for His people to have safety and security.

Finally, the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice that God has given to His people. He means for us to understand it. I encourage you to apply these principles of biblical interpretation. God expects His people to know, “What saith the Scriptures?” Expect your Church to teach the plain truth!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Anxiety”

“Anxiety”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
If you’re not anxious about anything stop reading. If you are, this may put “things” in perspective.

Popular sentiment is partly reflected in the once popular song, “Don’t’ worry, be happy.” It was written by Bobby McFerrin and it is a denial of reality for those who live for themselves. It’s more than a song. It’s a philosophy of life. There are those who would tell us that reality can be created. They suggest that worry can be overcome by thinking happy thoughts, whatever that means. After we awake from our “happy” dreams, life with all its cares and worries is still there.

How then can the book that is without error and always reliable command believers, “Do not be anxious about your life”, Mt. 6:25? Of course, I am referring to the Bible which is God’s word written.

God commands His people not to worry. He does so not because reality can be denied. But that reality is to be embraced. Specifically, God has revealed Himself as the One who always provides for His people. The reality that must be embraced is the truth of God!

Abraham, the father of all who believe in the God of the Bible, declared the truth of the providence of God, see Genesis 22:8, 14. The psalmist wrote, God “provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever,” Psalm 111:5. The Apostle Paul commanded the church in Philippi, “do not be anxious about anything,” Philippians 4:6.

What did Abraham, the psalmist and Paul know? It is clear as we read about their lives and what they wrote they were not ones who denied reality and simply thought happy thoughts. Abraham, for example, was in the process of obeying God by preparing to sacrifice his son, Isaac when he confessed trust in God to provide. Abraham embraced reality and he trusted God. He knew as Paul did that God would never be unfaithful for to do so would be to deny Himself! 2Timothy 2:13 They also knew the God who is always good and only does good!

The popular song quoted above, written by Bobby McFerrin was the number one song in 1988. It presents a seemingly innocent and harmless suggestion. We might describe it as a “feel good” song. But on further examination, it must be noted that Bobby McFerrin didn’t originate the phrase. It was promoted by an Indian mystic, Meher Baba. Meher Baba considered himself to be the Ancient One and god. He believed that he was the real self within everyone. His view of himself is confirmed by one of his recorded statements, “I have come not to teach but to awaken.”

Directly opposed to this philosophy of life is life in Christ. God has not only revealed Himself but He has revealed propositional truth. We don’t need some self-proclaimed guru to find the meaning of life. The source of worry is not our lack of “happy thoughts” or not embracing the god within us. The source of worry is unbelief in the one true God. The God who provides is the one who created all that we see. He is the one who ordains all that comes to pass. He is transcendent, not part of Creation. Yet the Bible says, in Jesus Christ “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” Colossians 1:20 and in Him we can have intimacy with God.

Bobby McFerrin’s song concerns happiness. As we all know, happiness is very elusive. In the midst of anxiety and worry it’s nearly impossible to find happiness. The impossible becomes possible with God. The Apostle Paul gave advice to Timothy concerning the source of true joy which exceeds happiness. “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy,” 1Timothy 6:17.

There is a connection between the providence of God and enjoyment. God provides and believers enjoy. Only knowing the truth of God will bring joy, the joy that lasts forever. The God who provides is the only One who gives joy. He gives joy by revealing the truth of Jesus to your heart. Knowing Jesus is the only thing that will dispel the worry and anxiety with which we burden ourselves. “Be not anxious!” Trust in God! S.D.G.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Apathy”

“Apathy”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
One of the great maladies of mankind is apathy. Apathy is defined as a lack of feeling or interest.

In the world a cause of apathy is broken or delayed promises. We become disinterested when we are promised certain things and they are ignored or delayed. When someone makes a promise, we expect it to be kept. Further, we insist that it be kept within the time frame of our perceived need.

The church seems to be no different from the world in this respect. God has made a promise of judgment for all that is unrighteous.

The Psalmist looked at the prosperity of the wicked and complained that the evil ones never seem to get their “just rewards”, Psalm 73.

Throughout the life of the Old Testament Church, the people of God became apathetic toward God and His word. Therefore, God spoke through His Prophets calling for repentance. His people turned to idols and/or men to meet their perceived needs. Their apathy like ours was and is rooted in sin, specifically the sin of unbelief. We doubt that God will do what He said. We doubt because time passes and nothing changes.

Christians profess that God’s word is true and reliable. Yet, we often live as though we’re not sure God will do what He has said. Evil persists in the world and it too often appears to win! Where are You God, the Prophet Habakkuk asked? “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” Habakkuk 1:13.

God responded to the Prophet, “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end – it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay,” Habakkuk 2:2. Likewise, Isaiah wrote God’s words of certainty concerning His promises. “They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint,” Isaiah 40:31. The Apostle Peter writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit said, “Do not overlook this fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance, “ 2Peter 3:8-9.

Peter assured the Church that all those whom God chose from the foundation of the earth, the elect, would be saved. We trust that God will save His people in accordance with His promise. He will bring them, the elect to repentance and faith.

Often, impatience turns to despair which leads to apathy toward God and His word. If we can’t trust God to save those whom He chose, then what can we trust God to do? Either, God is always faithful to His word or He’s Not God! Yet apathy persists in the church. Perhaps the most evident demonstration of this sinful condition is Corporate Worship.

The book of Hebrews is filled with warnings for the church. The church is warned not have hard hearts when the word of God is heard; the church is warned not to persist in sin; the church is warned to keep meeting for worship. All of these warnings are necessary because of our tendency to be nearsighted concerning the promises of God. We fail to live with an eternal perspective. We allow the world to press in on us and cause us to change our priorities. We know that all those who have experienced the grace of God are called to offer themselves to God as living sacrifices. We know that God is sovereign. He has planned our steps. He chose us out of sinful mankind to be His own possession. We know that God has made us new creations and that He has caused us to be dead to self in order to follow Jesus. We know that God made us to worship Him.

Guard yourself against apathy. Remind yourself of the absolute faithfulness of God to His word. Worship Him with God’s people as the top priority and blessing of life!