Saturday, July 16, 2011

The "new thing," God is doing: what is it?

Too often in discussions and statements about the ordination of LGBT people, the idea that God ‘is’ doing something new is suggested. The idea is that such ordination is God’s new thing. This also is used when someone is speaking about the marriage of same gender couples.

Recently Michael Adee of More Light Presbyterians gave an interview to the Bay Area Reporter. The article, New policy puts Presbyterians on path to equality, written by Chuck Colbert, included two troubling statements by Adee. One is his statement that "What the Presbyterian Church is saying with the policy change now in effect," … "is that LGBT people are morally and spiritually equal to heterosexuals. We are not better or worse – just the same."

Adee’s other statement is, “As the prophet Isaiah has said, 'God is doing a new thing in our midst' and these LGBT leaders will be a blessing to our church and world."

First, the truth is that both heterosexuals and homosexuals are sinners; they certainly are the same in their need for forgiveness, reconciliation with God and transformation. And only the redemption bought on the cross by Jesus makes a difference. But salvation is a gift that includes the desire to repent. As the author of 1 John states:

This is the message we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is Light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as he Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10)

Further into the text, John reminds his readers that if they sin they have an “Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” The difference between is repentance, forgiveness and transformation. Sinners, all of us, greedy, idolaters, gossips, homosexuals and thieves, fornicators and adulterers, drunkards and swindlers—the list goes on—are changed into new creations at the foot of the cross. The sinners, who are the same, are made children of God in Jesus Christ.

Paul includes them, the redeemed sinners, using a trinitarian formula, in his first letter to the Corinthians:

Such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:11)

The redemption of Jesus Christ leads to the other problematic statement used by Adee and others, that God is doing a new thing. In this particular case Adee has referenced it to Isaiah.

Of the three passages in Isaiah that speak of a new thing, two, 42:9 & 48:6, refer to God’s ability to speak words about the future that are known only to him. He knows what no other so called gods know. His words are the true words.

Isaiah 43:16 also speaks of something new, “Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the deserts.” This is God’s promise of a new deliverance from captivity. This is deliverance from a captivity that was caused by the sin of the people, the Babylonian captivity of Israel. It is different than their deliverance from the Egypt. But God’s newness extends to a greater deliverance which still holds promise of redemption from a captivity caused by sin.

The wording “new thing” is full of meaning and promise when connected to the central idea of “the Servant of the Lord,” found in chapters 38 through 55.
J. Alec Motyer, in his Tyndale commentary, focuses on the term, “the Servant of the Lord” in these chapters. He explains that Israel or a remnant of Israel as the servant is an incomplete image of the Servant of the Lord. He writes:
If we …insist in understanding the Songs [Servant Songs of Isaiah] within an integrated development, the Servant is distinguished in turn from the errant and spiritually numb nation (42:18-25) and from the spiritually committed and expected remnant (51:1-52:120, leaving a majestic individual to occupy our gaze (52:13) as he dies bearing the sins of others (53:4-9) and lives to administer the salvation he has won for them (53:10-12.)
Motyer later connects the work of the Servant of the Lord with the new thing, “In the sequence of Isaiah’s thought from 41:1 onwards, the former things are the events linked with the irresistible conqueror [Cyprus stirred by the Lord to conqueror](41:1-4, 24-27) and the new things are the now-foretold work of the Servant [the Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ](42:1-4).”

So all that is pronounced new in Isaiah belongs to, rests on and is, Jesus Christ, the promised redeemer. The new thing that God has done and will do is exalt his eternal Son Jesus Christ, who redeems his people from their sin.

Surely our griefs he himself bore, and our sorrows he carried; yet we ourselves esteemed him stricken of God, and afflicted. But he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell on upon him, and by his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord caused the iniquities of us al to fall on him. (Isaiah 53:4-6)

No comments: