I attended the Eighth Letter Conference on October 1st and 2nd in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The organizers of the conference invited authors to write about an issue close to his or her heart. We were to address this concern by writing a letter similar to Jesus’ seven letters to the churches in Revelation. Sadly, many of the letters read at the conference seemed to negate theology to the lowest common denominator. However, I appreciated Tim Challies clear presentation of the Gospel. As I did not have an opportunity to read my letter, I am making it public on my blog.
If Jesus were to write an eighth letter today, I believe this is what he would say:
To the pastors of the churches in North America write:
These are the words of Jesus, the pearl of great price. By faith you believe that God exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the founding fathers of the faith, you long for a better country—a heavenly one.
Yet I hold this against you: Many of you have continued to reject my storyline in the Bible. Although you do look forward to living with me in eternity in the new heaven and new earth, you have also focused some of your hopes and dreams on this sin-cursed earth.
Those called covenant theologians believe in a storyline embracing the whole Bible called the covenant of grace. In so doing, you have transferred the terms of God’s covenant with the nation of Israel at Sinai to the church. Thus, in your opinion, the church is ideally a state church composed of regenerate and unregenerate people. Infant baptism has replaced the physical circumcision of males in Israel. The result is that some non-believers consider themselves to be saved when they are not. You have offered them a false security of salvation. They are relying on their family and church heritage or on their infant baptism to save them.
Once I told the Pharisees, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20, 21). Since God’s kingdom is spiritual and not physical, no one will ever be able to look at a geographical area and say, “There it is!” Furthermore I taught my disciples during the Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). I also told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36). This means that only regenerate people belong to God’s kingdom, the church.
Those called dispensationalists believe in two storylines—one for Israel and another for the church. Therefore they understand the new covenant promised in Jeremiah chapter thirty-one to be actually two new covenants—one for the church and the other for Israel. When I return, you believe that I will reign on earth in history for 1000 years. During this period God will save some people.
In Hebrews chapters eight and nine, the Holy Spirit teaches you that the church is living in the new covenant age. I am the superior High Priest. The Mosaic priesthood only foreshadowed me. “By calling this covenant ‘new’, he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear” (Hebrews 8:13). Since the old covenant is obsolete, God destroyed the temple in A.D. 70. From that moment on, God would not allow the Jews to sacrifice animals. To do so is an insult to my precious blood.
Moreover, although premillennial churches reject a political utopia for Israel during the millennium, they still believe that God will save some sinners. What a false hope of salvation! Thinking that they will have a second chance to be saved after I return, some people live only for the so-called pleasures of today.
My servant Paul wrote, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). The writer to the Hebrews confirmed this idea: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13). This present age is the only time when people may be saved by the preaching of the gospel. This opportunity will be gone when I come back. Like the parable in Matthew 25 of the ten virgins, I will tell unrepentant sinners, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you” (Matthew 25:12).
Pastors, you wonder why your youth are leaving at alarming rates. True, some go, drawn by worldly ambitions, fleshly desires, or temptations of Satan. Yet my question to you is this: How many leave because you have given them a false sense of security in their salvation? How many others have a false hope of a second chance for salvation?
God warned Ezekiel, “When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood” (Ezekiel 3:18). On Judgment Day God will hold you accountable for encouraging a false hope or a false security of salvation. That is why teaching the correct biblical storyline is so important.
Thankfully, some pastors have not rejected God’s Christ-centered storyline. They teach their congregation that both the Old and New Testaments reveal how God planned salvation history. He purposed from before eternity past to redeem a people for himself to live with him forever.
The Old Testament relates how God prepared for my coming. It contains promises of me and explanations of God’s character and purpose in redemptive history. The Mosaic covenant is like the foundation of a house. Since Israel was an important building block in God’s plan, they were set apart as God’s special people. Then God could reveal more of himself to people and prepare a family for me to be born into.
The New Testament tells God’s story during the new covenant era, this present age. It is like the house itself. In the New Testament I become the fulfillment of the Old. That is what I told those two on the road to Emmaus shortly after I rose from the dead. In addition, the New Testament promises my return, the general judgment, the consignment of the lost to hell, and the inauguration of the new heaven and the new earth for the redeemed.
I plead with you this day to focus on my story as recorded in the Bible. I alone am the prize you seek. Set your hearts on things above. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Do not look for part of your reward on this sin-cursed earth by believing in a faulty storyline.
Many of you are preaching that I am the way, the truth and the life—the only way to receive forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with the Father. Do not inadvertently offer anyone a false security or a false hope of salvation. Then perhaps God will be pleased to send a mighty revival among your youth.
“To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:21, 22).