CONTEXTUALIZING ISRAEL AND THE CHURCH WITHIN BROADER PROVIDENCE
The title “Fellowship of the Secret” is derived from a relatively obscure passage of St Paul (Eph3:8-11); the secret (or mystery) pertaining to the establishment of a multinational community (or fellowship) to act as a royal priesthood for the world (Ex19:5, 6 cf. 1Pet2:9). Such a messianic community had been understood from Old Testament prophecy to be destined for the Jewish nation alone. The Ephesians passage together with what Paul writes in Romans 11 (especially verses 11,12,15 &30) when taken in a literal sense indicates that Gentiles would not have obtained salvation in the gospel sense if the Jewish nation had heeded its “day of visitation”. This is affirmed in Acts:
I (Peter) then realized that God was giving (the Gentiles) the identical gift He gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; and who was I to stand in God’s way? This account satisfied them (circumcised believers in Jerusalem) and they gave glory to God, saying “God has clearly granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life (Acts11:17,18).
One needs to understand that references to “eternal life” or “life” in the New Testament relate to being united to God in Christ now, not “going to Heaven when you die” or avoiding perdition:
“And this is eternal life, that they might know You the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (Jn17:3).
And: “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has (present tense) eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn6:54)
And: “No murderer has eternal life abiding in him“ (1Jn3:15)
John was referring to something to be experienced now; a higher form and quality of life than that which we can naturally know as fallen human beings. The Gentiles’ unexpected invitation into God’s eternal Kingdom had been a mystery to Peter but not to Paul who had been called “out of time” to bring this Good News to the world. Once this subversion of Old Testament expectations is grasped the implications to the scope of God’s providential intentions towards humanity are profound – for the Old Testament had made it clear enough that although the Jew’s were God’s own special people, they were not to be His only people:
“So now, if you are really prepared to obey Me and keep My covenant, you (Israelites) out of all peoples shall be my personal possession, for the whole world is mine. For Me you shall be a Kingdom of priests, a holy nation”. (Ex19:5,6)
It had been expected (indeed prophesied on the OT) that in the age to come the Gentile nations would be enlightened by the Jews and offered forgiveness in Christ’s name for those who repented and believed in Him, but not that they would “come to share an inheritance with the sanctified” (Acts26:18). That was to be Paul’s Good News and as I show in my book is indicative of a bi-fold economy of grace: common and celestial. Unsurprisingly then, the overall message of my book is one of joy and hope for all people of good will; a providential outcome delineated from Holy Scripture and one that accords with how the God of the Bible declares Himself to be (e.g. Ex34:6-7): majestic in His holiness, yet fair and tolerant towards all; filled with compassion just like His Son – a God of love (agape) even as that quality is understood in human terms and defined in Scripture (1Cor13:4-8), yet One who will punish those who wickedly offend or neglect the poor and vulnerable with whom His Son personally identifies (Mt25:42-46).
A role for natural law within a bi-fold economy of grace, though alien to much post-Nicene Western theology is corroborated in my book through the witness of the Christian writers of the first three centuries, the earliest of which had not been dependent on biblical exegesis alone but had received the Good News from the Apostles themselves or their first or second-generation appointees. It is inconceivable that all the established Christian writers of the second and third century (incorporating the Apostolic Fathers) could have been in error about the essentials of gospel salvation such as the nature of saving faith and justification, or have uniformly introduced concepts alien to the Gospel. Yet the universality of the doctrinal understanding of the earliest churches is affirmed by second century Irenaeus and third century Church historian Eusebius [Here]
I show in my book that references to “salvation” and “eternal life” in the Bible do not directly concern “going to Heaven when you die” but to a restoration of the divine communion lost at the Fall and empowerment to serve the living God whilst the soul inhabits what Paul described as “the body of this death” – our temporary “tent” or “vessel”. Salvation, according to Paul enables one “to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honour” (1Thes4:4), or in Peter’s language “to partake of the divine nature having been delivered from the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2Pet1:4) so as to become “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own special people who may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light (1Pet2:9). Such, I adduce in my book is the context of Israel and Church within divine providence, not the totality but (under Christ) the instrumentality by which all redeemable humanity is to be reconciled to God within a united Heaven and Earth.
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