Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Drama of Redemption (Lesson 1, Part 3)

This is a new Sunday School series which will be largely based on R. C. Sproul’s audio series The Drama of Redemption, available from his website.

See the sidebar for links to other lessons.

The purpose of this Sunday School is to develop an appreciation for the coherency of the Old Testament and the plan for redemption. Last time we discussed the Covenant of Redemption, a pact made among the persons of the Godhead before Adam fell--indeed before creation. It was an agreement that the Father would choose a people, the Son would perform the work required to redeem them, and the Holy Ghost would give them second life.

Christians tend to resist a coherent view of redemptive history that results from this first covenant. There is a tendency to think that matters were a bit out of control in Old Testament times, and order to God's plan was established only by the advent of the New Testament era.

As an example of this way of thinking in the extreme, let's take a look at the early Gnostic heretic Marcion.

Marcion: a useful heretic
Marcion was son of the Bishop of Sinope in Pontus (Asia Minor), born c. A.D. 110, evidently from wealthy parents. Around the year A.D. 140 he traveled to Rome and presented his peculiar teachings to the elders. They found his ideas unacceptable. Marcion’s response was to leave the church and form his own heretical sect.

Marcion’s heresy anticipates some that followed. Marcion (1) denied the authority of the entirety of the Old Testament and (2) denied the authority of all the apostles except Paul, because only Paul (according to Marcion) did not allow his faith to be defiled by mixing it with Judaism. Only Paul had not apostatized from the teachings of Jesus.

To the issue at hand, Marcion was perhaps the first to claim that the God of the Old Testament is not the same as the God of the New Testament. Jesus’ many appeals to the Old Testament notwithstanding, Marcion believed that Jesus Himself placed no authority in the Old Testament and had come to liberate man from the bondage to the Old Testament God.

Marcion taught, in effect: the God of the Old Testament is not my God—and the work of Christ, far from being the ultimate stage of a coherent plan, was a radical departure from the rather insane workings of the Old Testament mean spirited god.

Jesus, according to Marcion, demonstrating his Gnostic tendencies, was not the son of the God of the Old Testament, but the son of the superior God of goodness and mercy of the New Testament whom Marcion called the Father. Jesus, according to Marcion, did not redeem us in cooperation with God as revealed in the Old Testament; he redeemed us from that nasty and capricious being.

The sacred writings (including Paul’s letters), Marcion taught, had been corrupted by Judiazers if not directly by the Jewish sympathies of the apostles (excluding Paul). All scripture was in need of a cleansing under Marcion’s direction.

So Marcion deleted the Old Testament, and, again gnostic-like, developed his own canon consisting of two parts: The Gospel, a sanitized version of Luke’s gospel, and The Apostle, a similarly sanitized version of Paul’s first ten letters. Much good came from Marcion’s heresy and corruption of scripture: his distorted canon provided the impetus for the Church to redouble her efforts to establish a proper canon of her own.

The point is: there is a little bit of Marcion in most of us. It is quite easy to slip into thinking that the God of the Old Testament is “different” and that Jesus’ work fixes a broken plan. The Covenant of Redemption says otherwise: 1) God would choose, and God would, through the Jews, demonstrate why a savior was needed: if a chosen people with unprecedented blessings cannot achieve redemption, what hope is there for the rest of us? 2) Christ would redeem, paying the price for those God has chosen, claiming them as his own and intervening on their behalf, and 3) the Spirit would give second life and help them to work their salvation.

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