This is an attempt to critique an essay, Covenant, law and God’s faithfulness, viewed as too detailed to explain the simplicity in God’s plan of salvation, with Covenants drawn since Adam. After Adam’s sin, Men’s relationship with God came to a halt. The only way God would deal with humanity was through the prophets and the nation of Israel, on which the elaborate Old Covenant was drawn. The whole plan of salvation focuses on revealing the secret of how God would eventually rescue humanity from sinfulness (John 1:29). My critiquing is limited to two subheadings, observed as carrying what Dr Gary Deddo may have missed in dealing with this topic.
The first subheading is “Seeking understanding”
The way Dr Gary Deddo utilizes the quest for understanding, as applicable to Grace Communion International, sounds like GCI is now above those appearing as still confused? I particularly got sensitized by his mention of what he describes as heresy, called Marcionism, which arose in the early church. I have two reasons to suppose that what Dr Gary Deddo says here has got little to do with Christianity, initiated by Jesus Christ:
On talking to the Jews displaying belief in Him; Jesus declared: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32).
The subsequent response by those Jews, from verse 33, reveals that their confusion lay in inability to understand that Jesus was to be appreciated as the only revealer of truth. Their held assumptions, as associated with their conception of the Old Covenant had all along been wrong. In other words, Jesus implied that the truth could not come from any other source, except from Jesus alone. The proviso to know the truth lay in abiding in Jesus words.
Abiding in Jesus’ word, therefore, meant not entertaining opinions, even from held standards originating from Abrahamic promises. Jesus states what appears obvious, but quite hidden to most people, including Theologians. There was only one way towards the truth that would set people free. That way was associated with abiding in Jesus’ word, which itself, implied being truly His disciples.
Obviously, Dr. Gary Deddo is privileged; having gone through theological studies, which can possibly expose most of us, viewed as non-Scholars, to envying him. This is natural, in our human nature. But the truth, associated with what Jesus was talking about, as required to set men free, has nothing to do with the studies of that nature. This is just as a renowned Scholar, in Jesus’ time could not access that kind of truth:
“But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a while. And he said to them, ‘Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men.…….So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God.’ So they took his advice” (Acts 5:34-39) (ESV).
This passage of Scripture reveals that, even though Gamaliel was highly educated, as to be respected by everyone, his knowledge and understanding could not access the truth that Jesus was referring to. That knowledge was accessible only when abiding in Jesus’ word. It is true that Gamaliel saved the disciples from being killed, at that point in time. But still, Gamaliel could not access what was necessary to acquire the truth, implied by Jesus in John 8:32.
The same applies to GCI’s current doctrinal stance. The meticulous studies that led to what transformed the organization from its previous position appear commendable. But they are not applicable to the truth that is required to set people free, as spoken of by Jesus in John 8:32. I am aware that GCI, as an organization, would argue vigorously, asserting that they abide by Jesus’ word. That is not surprising, as even the group that Dr Deddo describes as having been heretical, as stuck in Marcionism, thought they abode in Jesus’ word.
Every Christian group, even as comprising the denominational phenomenon in this world, asserts to abiding by Jesus word. Of course there are few patent criminals, unashamedly using Christianity, for purposes of deceiving, to make money or acquire fame. But the majority of the, apparently, deceived Christians are sincere in their Christian endeavors.
No-one can release them from the grip of their deception, except the one who laid His own life for them. Jesus may or may not do it according to our imaginations, but He does it without considering people’s views, or background.
Another reason that makes me conclude that Dr Gary Deddo’s position has got little to do with Christianity is that Jesus never indicated that Theology would be necessary to acquire God’s knowledge, leading to the truth that Jesus was talking about. Jesus, instead, indicated that it would be the Spirit of Truth that His Father would send through Him, to guide His disciples (John 14:15-16).
Obviously, that Spirit of Truth would not consider deep theological studies, or any other condition, except loving Jesus and keeping His commandments. Even among His eleven disciples, none could testify having gone through deep theological studies, to display loving Jesus.
The Spirit of Truth was freely given. Jesus had already accepted their discipleship, as they had committed themselves to loving Jesus. But a careful study of Scriptures shows that those disciples were laden with unbelievable flaws. Obviously, the grace of God kept them committed, until the promised gift at Pentecost (Acts 2).
The second reason of my disqualification of Dr Deddo’s thesis is in his apparent failure to appreciate what Jesus said in Matthew 7:1-5:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5) (ESV).
Firstly, the most important datum to take note of is that it is only a truthful person who avoids defending himself, when accused of being a hypocrite, for instance. A real hypocrite cannot admit being one, as not even aware of his hypocrisy. Even Jesus could not convince the law-keeping Pharisees of being hypocrites. Like the proud people, hypocrites are good at defending their positions.
The uniqueness of GCI, as an organization, is in its having listened to criticisms, leading to their landmark doctrinal transformation. But, unfortunately, it seems the organization took another swing, sliding into a worse position, when now assuming being better than before.
That stance leads to missing the point in that Jesus is the only one whose words lead to the truth; not their critics, necessarily. The organization may have grown to a better understanding. But that should not have led them towards taking comfort in self-assurance. Having previously been found to be wrong, when assuming to be right, means the same applies today and that will continue to be the case until Jesus comes.
All problems of Christianity, leading to denominationalism, are caused by defending respective doctrinal positions. This is where Christians sink deeper into wickedness, to even surpass ordinary sinners! However, the story would be different if Matthew 7:1-5 was carefully analyzed, understood and adopted accordingly. You do not need to defend what is good, as what is good defends itself.
Firstly, Jesus indicates that one cannot be judged, when not judging others. Jesus then declares that the same judgment, as measured against the person being judged would be measured against the one judging (verses 1-2). All this does not imply that the person being judged would no longer be guilty. But whatever his/her flaw would also be measured against the one judging.
This is logical. Jesus is the only lamb that takes away the sin of humanity (John 1:29). Notice that this Scripture does not talk about removing the “sins” of the world, but the sin (singular) of the world. But, what is the sin of the world? Please keep this question in mind, as we will come back to it, just now.
Having been raised in carpentry, Jesus used the ‘speck’ and the ‘log’, showing that the log is the significance, from where the speck originates (verse 3). The person judging has got the log in his/her eye, while the person being judged carries just, but a speck. This is deep stuff, but fulfilling the significance of Jesus’ sacrificial mission, dealing with the log that burdens humanity.
For instance, if I adjudge someone as being a hypocrite; I am observing a speck in that person’s eye, as compared with the log in my own eye. The person judged would be a hypocrite, for sure; but the hypocrisy in him would not be the actual cause of speck—the log that would be resident in me. Why me, and not him?
In my position of enlightenment, I assume the position of Christ, which confers superiority over the wrongful person. The package of superiority bestows on me, the responsibility to carry the sinful burdens of the ignorant person. Christ took the responsibility of being a curse, on our behalf, because He was enlightened.
Logically, dealing with a log is the only way that makes it impossible for a speck to manifest. But, no-one is capable of dealing with the log that causes the speck, as observed in a brother’s eye. Jesus then metaphorically advises the one judging to first deal with the log, resident in own eye, to then effectively deal with the speck in a brother’s eye; though aware of how impossible that is for humans.
If all Christians appreciated this simple axiom, schisms would be impossible, let alone denominationalism in Christianity. While He had the right to judge, Jesus, our example, did not judge anyone, necessarily. But Jesus dealt with the log that caused the specks, noticeable among each of all humanity. Judging is not possible without applying the law, on what is observed, as constituting rightness as compared with wrongness.
But, what is this notorious log that Jesus was talking about?
“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:10-14) (ESV).
If I judge my fellow brother, I am in the position of Jesus, who became a curse for us, by going through the cross (verse 13). This is what attracts the measurement of my judgment against my fellow brother to be equally measured against me. The only sad reality is that I would not be the Christ, myself. Apparently, this reveals the danger of the log that Jesus inferred (Matthew 7:1-5).
What is symbolized in a log, is what caused Satan to be thrown out of Heaven, accused of scheming to take over the position of his creator. In simple terms, the log that Jesus was talking about symbolizes what is commonly known as pride, the seed of all evil.
Avoiding judging other people does not, necessarily, mean pretending not to see specks in people’s eyes. It means that an enlightened person is bestowed with the responsibility to help others; without being ostentatious (Matthew 6:1).
Jesus likened that kind of behavior to a small amount of leaven that eventually leavens the whole lump of dough (Matthew 13:33). Jesus was revealing the power of exerting influence on others, without superintending over them. See [Influence is the method not witnessing]
In my own experience, I have observed this being possible, not by forming another denomination, but by being used by Christ, to help others to eventually see the light. The organization, under which I serve, is the starting point in influencing others, without invalidating those failing to observe what has been revealed to me by God.
For instance, if I were to be caught up in Marcionism fellowship, it would not be necessary for me to leave, to join or start another fellowship, as agreeable with my new understanding. I would, instead, faithfully serve in that environment, seeking to project the truth, as revealed to me. Abandoning the Marcionists would imply judging them.
The Marcionists might, either, eventually appreciate my position and change, or kill me for causing discord in their fellowship. Either way, I would have fulfilled my role of Christianity. Abandoning those people would imply that I would be holier than them, which is therefore anti-Christian. See [Believing in Jesus is different from having faith in Jesus]
This constitutes value, as found in an organization. Breaking away, to form own organization, for purposes of influencing other people, seems logical, as also providing an opportunity to lead. The only problem is exposing one to assuming being superior to those failing to observe the truth, yet that position is of Christ.
In that position one gets overtaken by the effects of Matthew 7:1-5. Blessings come, only when hated and ill-treated by own brothers, towards helping them to also see the light. In other words, the only way of escaping the danger of bearing the log is receiving ill-treatment from brothers, on behalf of Jesus (2 Corinthians 12:10); But, there is no-one special in the eyes of God.
This is why ill-treatment by others should be regarded as a blessing, as opposed to viewing it loathsomely (Matthew 5:10-12). The story of Joseph reveals that loathing one’s persecutors cannot be workable (Genesis 50:15-21). In reality, no-one deserves being viewed as better, when understanding the things of God; or viewed as worse, when failing to understand the things of God.
A privilege to understand Godly principles ahead of others, bestows responsibility to love them, even with possibility of them turning out to be ruthless enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). The sin of the world is the log that causes specks, observed in other people’s conducts, regardless of how abhorrent, at any given time.
The notorious log, which is pride, was handled by Jesus, once and for all. Having understood this revelation, it is impossible to even treat anyone as an enemy. One finds it natural to love enemies; avoiding retaliation, as fully understanding their predicament.
The second subheading is: “Old and new not dichotomous”
True, the Old and New Covenants cannot be dichotomous, as constituting the overall plan of salvation. But in the general understanding of ordinary Christians, using human language, the two are indeed, dichotomous. The New Covenant is characterized by statements like:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemies.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:43-45) (ESV).
The Old Covenant was premised on vanquishing the enemies of Israel, as opposed to what Jesus is advocating in the New Covenant. The Old Covenant is based on conditional love, while the New Covenant is based on unconditional love. The Old Covenant reveals the impeccable nature of God’s holiness, without tolerance of anything unholy. This is even though within that Old Covenant, God gave hints of Him tolerating sinfulness? The entire chapter of the Book of Psalms 136 illustrates steadfastness of God’s Love being what endures forever.
Also, the Prophet Jonah got infuriated by the Lord’s Compassion. The prophet had sought to flee to Tarshish, when the big fish miracle visited him and saved his life. Jonah had righteous indignation, applicable in the Old Covenant. But God revealed that, while the Ninevites deserved to perish, according to the provisions of the Old Covenant, God displayed His mercy that led to the Ninevites being salvaged from their sinfulness.
Yet, there are many instances where God had not tolerated sin, as having done so to the Ninevites. With God, every occurrence has a purpose, known only by God. This is what disturbed the Prophet’s understanding. If unable to appreciate Jesus’ significance of grace, the review of Jonah’s story can be necessary. Jonah’s inability to even succeed in His attempts to commit suicides, clarifies the dichotomous nature of the two Covenants:
“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore no, O Lord please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:1-3) (ESV).
The danger of teaching that the Old and New Covenants are not dichotomous is in that it can confuse anyone observing the glaring differences in the two. Declaring similarities under those circumstances carries the possibility to misrepresent Scripture. The New Covenant represents God’s Kingdom.
The Old Covenant shows intolerance of sinfulness and it was selective, as applicable only to the nation of Israel. The New Covenant is universal and showing tolerance; but, projecting the light that removes all darkness.
In other words, in the New Covenant, darkness disappears in the presence of light, not the other way round. What has been happening in Christianity, leading to schisms and denominationalisms is disappearance of light in the presence of darkness. This is characterized in finding comfort in departure, instead of taking responsibility, as an illuminating light, for positive change in erroneous environment.
The New Covenant seeks to reconcile people by dealing with causes of evilness, without condemning anyone (2 Corinthians 5:18). That is achieved, not by mechanical means, but through the power of the Holy Spirit, working in those allowing God to work in their lives. The Old Covenant focuses on separating good people, from the evil ones, without consideration of mercy towards the sinful ones.
In short, the Old Covenant does not tolerate sinful people, while the New Covenant encourages making a difference among sinful people. This is one of the reasons that led to the condemnation of Jesus, dining with sinners, instead of condemning them.
What currently prevails in Christianity includes failure to appreciate differences between the Old and New Covenants. There are those maintaining that God’s grace works, only when keeping the precepts of the Old Covenant. Yet others, while valuing the unconditional grace, remain in their sinful conditions, banking on the provision of grace. See [Unpacking the myth about Law and grace]
The New covenant levels up the ground, through Jesus’ sacrifice, so that no-one is viewed as superior; or as worse than others. We are all equal in the eyes of God. The enlightened ones are expected to make a difference among their fellow men, instead of condemning them. Christians are expected to behave like Jesus, but aware that they cannot be in positions of Christ. They face persecutions without murmur, aware that persecutions reveal the privilege of being on the Lord’s side.
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Here is a reply from Gary Deddo to Andrew’s post:
Brother Andrew Masuku,
We have not met, but I was referred to your blog article of review and critique of my article, “Covenant, Law and God’s Faithfulness” published by Grace Communion International. I was asked by GCI leaders to write such an article on their behalf because a Weekly Update article by our president, pastor Joseph Tkach, on Jesus’ finished work had prompted a number of questions from GCI pastors and members. Those sincere questions most likely came from those located in the USA. We believe that good questions should be answered so that those who asked them and others who have the same questions might be helped and encouraged. Responding to such questions would seem to be part of our calling and a way we serve our members and pastors.
This letter of response to you is made on behalf of the denominational pastors/leaders as well and in the same spirit. We hope you will receive it in the spirit in which we offer it.
It is a challenge to write for an international denomination since that involves people who live in a wide range social, cultural, political, economic, religious contexts and corresponding backgrounds. But GCI is international. So perhaps that article on the covenants addressed questions that those you are in contact with did not have or were not interested in. Clearly you yourself saw no need for it. So indeed, it seems to be irrelevant to you and might very well be the same for others. GCI’s denominational pastors and leaders can accept that.
What is unfortunate is that for some reason we can’t quite fully understand, you viewed the article as being derived out of arrogance and with no regard for the dangers of doctrinal self-righteousness or of being divisive. Perhaps that is because we do not know each other very well. That is unfortunate. But perhaps this letter can contribute to remedy this situation.
An indication as to why you took the article in that way might be the concern you expressed about the word “heresy.” While heresy means false teaching, in contrast to defective teaching, that word seems to connote for you (and perhaps those you are in touch with) the right to reject, cast out, and condemn. Perhaps in your context that is how that word is used. If so it would make sense for you to be opposed to using the word heresy to describe most every doctrinal error and perhaps all. If so, then, perhaps it was careless of us to use it in a document that would circulate internationally. If that is the case, then we apologize for using that term.
In the hope that anything further said here might contribute to a better mutual understanding, we’d like to explain what was meant.
While sometimes in church history that was how those deemed heretics were treated, that has not been the case for a while in the places we am most familiar with, namely the US and Europe. But heresy in that context does at least mean what should not be taught in the church as a normative understanding by its official teachers. And that is the meaning I intended to communicate by it—regarding Marcionism.
I would hope that it was noticed that I used that word exclusively to describe the teachings of Marcion from the second century. The example of Marcionism was meant as an object lesson for us today learned by the church long ago. It recognized that a serious problem can arise when the Old and New Testaments are put into strict opposition to each other. It had the affect of upsetting the faith of some just as Paul spoke about some false teaching that he and the churches he served faced. That was the only point for bringing up Marcion.
The article did not say, nor intend to imply that those who make any distinction between the Old and New Testaments are to be regarded as heretics—like Marcion! There was nothing in the essay that suggested any kind of discipline of those who teach some kind of difference between Old and New Testament much less rejection and expulsion from the church or serving as ground to foment division. The exposition actually affirmed making a distinction, namely, of promise and fulfillment and the necessary changes in relationship to the law that Jesus’ fulfillment brought about.
(In the case of Marcion it led to thinking that the deity of the Old Testament was a lesser evil god who Jesus came to destroy. Marcion also rejected most of the New Testament, including all the Gospels excepting Luke. While he was excommunicated from the church, he was not killed for his teachings.)
As I am sure you well know, the New Testament has many warnings about false teachers and false teachings. That problem is not a small thing for the church in New Testament times. And the warnings are strong and direct, sometimes naming individuals. The penalty for such teaching is restricted to having nothing to do with them and rejecting their teaching.
Maintaining sound teaching is strongly affirmed in the New Testament. Indeed, it is expected of those who have callings in the Body of Christ to serve as pastors, shepherds, prophets, elders, and evangelists. They are to guard against false teachings that including teachings that went beyond the identity and faith in Jesus, although that was certainly the core. But false teaching could also include, for instance, false ethical teachings and notions about the relationship between the law and the new covenant that Paul addresses especially in Romans and Galatians and is narrated in the book of Acts.
In Europe and in North America, at least, there are those both within the church and also critics outside the church who affirm a Marcionite type of view of the church’s beliefs. And that is one of the main reasons questions were asked and clarification requested by some of the readers of the Update article. So that is what the follow-up article was meant to address.
This may not be an issue in your churches or of those who criticize and reject Christianity and Jesus on the basis of that misunderstanding in your social and cultural context. We can accept that. And so perhaps the article is indeed irrelevant in your context. Its relevance, then, would be restricted to other contexts.
But to be clear, it is our view that those who hold to making strong distinctions between Old and New Testament are not by that criterion to be regarded as heretics and of course are not to be disciplined, much less dis-fellowshipped. Nor does such understanding itself warrant schism and division in the church. And finally, as you so forcefully note, the understanding itself does not disqualify anyone from having God’s salvation offered in Jesus Christ.
So if making some distinctions between old and new covenants are not creating a problem for you or your churches, such as thinking there is more than one God or that the God of the Bible has two opposing natures or characters and so cannot be trusted, then we are simply thankful for that.
However, there are parts of the GCI church where such misunderstandings are upsetting the faith of some. And we believe that responsible denominational leadership should help our pastors and members who face such challenges be ready and able to sort through the issues being raised and have a good and faithful response grounded in biblical teaching on the covenants. And such teaching would and should leave room for making certain distinctions between Old and New Testament understanding but it would also guard against certain much more oppositional distinctions (two gods or a two-faced god) and clearly indicate the continuity of God’s faithfulness. The clarification was also meant to assist our pastors and teachers address those who are rejecting Christianity (and Jesus) because they believe that the church holds to a kind of Marcionite faith, when in fact it does not. But perhaps your church and in your context you do not face such challenges by those who are not yet believing. We can accept that.
Your critique goes on to challenge the need for theology or at least theologians. We are in agreement with your affirmation that one does not need to be a theologian to receive God’s grace and put faith in Jesus Christ. It is true that we are not saved by our theology or our doctrines. We are in total agreement on that. Nor does the church need self-righteous and arrogant theologians or theologies that promote them. No church needs bad theology or self-righteous theologians.
If there is to be a spiritual discipline of faith seeking understanding exercised by particular members on behalf of all, then the work done by them would be a very humble one of offering one way to help “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” They would be those who are called by the Lord, gifted by the Spirit and who serve the church as members of the Body of Christ through such a spiritual discipline.
Such a calling of a theologian to service in the church of Jesus Christ would aim to contribute to loving God with our minds and to following Peter’s admonition to “make every effort to supplement your faith with…understanding/knowledge” (2 Peter 1:5). Those so called to service would offer their gift like the disciples who offered their few loaves and fish to Jesus to feed the multitudes. They would share their gift in the hope of assisting the shepherds of the sheep to maintain sound doctrine, guard the gospel, and offer teaching in order to strengthen and encourage the church in its worship of God through Christ and by the Holy Spirit. They would serve in the hope that faithful theological understanding would contribute to grasping the whole counsel of God like the Bereans. It would enable Christ-like love to be informed by knowledge. And finally, it would, by the grace of God, contribute to worship or doxology of the living God revealed in Jesus Christ according to Scripture.
If such an article as the one you critique is indeed irrelevant to all of these aims for you or those whom you know, then by all means, feel free to dismiss it. But in charity, we would ask that as misguided as it might seem, you might allow that the intention of those serving you in GCI was not less than an attempt to contribute to such a high calling in service to Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God.
Every blessing in Christ Jesus,
Gary Deddo (on behalf of your GCI denominational pastors)
PS: Here are some GCI articles that are relevant to your concerns and comment: