Monday, June 25, 2007

Time Marches On...

In both my daily Scripture reading and in interacting with a friend by email recently, I have found myself encouraged to return to some thoughts on the structuring of time from a Christian perspective. (see August 2006 archive)

My reading, particularly Leviticus 23, was a wonderful reminder that God structured the annual Jewish calendar around His blessings. The chapter begins with a strong statement that these temporal markers are from God and for God. Twice they are referred to as "appointed" (ESV) in verse 2, emphasizing that they are from God. In the second instance they are not merely appointed, but are "my" (with reference to YHWH) appointed feasts. We are taught that they are for God when God tells us that they are "feasts of the Lord". Although genitives are always fodder for argument with respect to their intent, the next phrase, "that you shall proclaim them as holy convocations" bears out the fact that they aren't mere temporal markers, but serve to connect YHWH with his people on a temporal and cyclical basis. This is further demonstrated by the nature of the feasts themselves, all of which make reference to the relationship of the people to YHWH.

It is interesting that frequent reference is made in these passages to the length of time that the people of Israel are to observe these things. “It is a statute forever in all your dwelling places throughout your generations.” is repeated in 14, 21, 31, and 41. If we are to take seriously a reformed view of the covenant people of God, then we must take this phrase seriously. Whatever we may argue about the mode of observance in this dispensation of the covenant of grace, the principle remains: forever.

Instead of trying to argue directly about the mode, I am satisfied for now to go for the lowest common denominator: The principle that we are to order our time according to the redemptive work of Christ among His people. This much seems very easy to establish among those of us that take a non-dispensational view of the people of God. WE are that people. And although there is certainly some discontinuity from the the OT to the NT, it seems to be found primarily in two sorts: 1) That which was prefigured in the OT is now remembered in the NT and 2) the forms change according to the fulfillment of that which is figured. In neither case, however, are we relieved of the principle of observance.

So, my musings will proceed on this assumption: That we have in Lev 23 a clear instruction from God that as His people we are to structure our time in such a way that Christ is at its center: celebrated and adored.

Plus venire...


Thom said...

Matt, I came across this reading De Doctrina Christiana in the Oxford paperback and thought "Hey, I should put this in a comment on Matt's latest post on time." So here goes:

Ignorance of numbers, too, prevents us from understanding things that are set down in Scripture in a figurative and mystical way. A candid mind, if I may so speak, cannot but be anxious, for example, to ascertain what is meant by the fact that Moses and Elijah, and our Lord Himself, all fasted for forty days. And except by knowledge of and reflection upon the number, the difficulty of explaining the figure involved in this action cannot be got over. For the number contains ten four times, indicating the knowledge of all things, and that knowledge interwoven with time. For both the diurnal and the annual revolutions are accomplished in periods numbering four each; the diurnal in the hours of the morning, the noontide, the evening, and the night; the annual in the spring, summer, autumn, and winter months. Now while we live in time, we must abstain and fast from all joy in time, for the sake of that eternity in which we wish to live; although by the passage of time we are taught this very lesson of despising time and seeking eternity. (Augustine De Doctrina Christiana II.25)

Thom said...

Matt, your observation per "forever" and Leviticus 23 is fascinating. Reformed theology cannot ignore it, and must, at the same time, reach in and pull it into the new creation through the cross and resurrection of the Son. I wonder how the feasts come out on this side of things? Wow, here's hoping you do more reading, more chewing, and then more sharing on this.

Matt Bradley said...

Thanks for the thoughts, Thom. It is precisely this pulling through the cross that I am ultimately preoccupied with. We must recognize that there is some discontinuity between the old administration and the new (although I am loath to use the word discontinuity). What then is the nature of that discontinuity and what are its practical effects? Christ has fulfilled the figures. He is that thing symbolized and looked forward to by the OT symbols. However, his fulfillment need not somehow trump the "forever" observance of, for example, passover. So we have in Passover one of the clearest examples. Clear because it was reinterpreted by our Lord himself. It has become the supper. So the command to observe passover forever is complied with in our observance of communion. And just as passover looked both backwards and forwards, so must communion as well. Communion is both a memorial of the finished work of Christ in space and time, as well as a reminder of the future reality of our perfect redemption and the perfect redemption of all creation. But they are brought together in the now not simply through memorial and reminder, but by the spiritual presence of the Lord himself in which all these things come together. In this way, we more clearly understand our union in Christ, and therefore also with one another. What a beautiful image!

If this is the case with Passover, why should it be true of Passover only? Some would argue it is because Christ only explicitly gave us this reinterpretation, and no other. Those of us coming from a more reformed tradition would also make the connection with regard to circumcision (which is also a forever institution) and baptism, with which it has been reinterpreted. And I willingly concede that Christ does not seem to have explicitly reinterpreted any of the other feasts. However, this fails to take seriously the forever quality of the feasts in the Jewish calendar.

More on this soon.