Monday, April 28, 2014

Covenantal Food

It seems that I have slowed down substantially in posting on this site. Though I am still excited about a biblical view of food (and life in general) I am doing many others things, such as college, internship, working part-time, etc... Recently, though, I was listening to a lecture series by O. Palmer Robinson "On the Covenants" (available for free here) and one of his lectures started me thinking again on a topic I started writing about here. The idea is that food is covenantal, that it is granted to us by God's grace as part of His bond of friendship with us. This can be seen through the progression of God's covenant with His people throughout time. The passage from the lecture is as follows (commenting on Genesis 3):
"Man will eat bread. The gracious character of these simple words cannot be overlooked. The creative grace of God which gave to man the bounties of every tree of the garden has continued. God's grace and mercy is still to man, though he has rebelled against him. The extension of the provision of the creation covenant characterizes the totality of human history from that day until the present. Even today, you eat bread. And you very fittingly give thanks at the table, each time you eat bread, for the grace of God which permits you to sustain life." -O. Palmer Robinson, "Covenant of Commencement" 
Even before Genesis 3, when we examine the pre-fall "covenant of works" or, as Dr. Robinson titles it, the "covenant of creation" we find not only the the prohibition of eating of the forbidden fruit, but also the gift of all the other trees in the garden.
You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17, emphasis added). 
In fact, the covenant is rather comprehensive, including the broad concerns of Genesis 1:28-30:
"And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.' And God said, 'Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.' And it was so. (Genesis 1:28-30)
An emphasis in American Christianity on the narrow test of the forbidden tree to the exclusion of the broad mission and purpose of the covenant of creation (or works) has led to (or has resulted from) a narrow focus on justification by faith and the point of conversion to the exclusion of sanctification and the broad purpose of redemption. God's covenants with man concern man's whole life, not merely some narrow "religious" element of life. As Dr. Robinson points out in his book, Christ of the Covenants,
"If the covenant of creation is thought not to exceed Adam's probation-test, a curious brand of Christianity ultimately emerges. It is a brand of Christianity greatly at odds with that in which the probation-test is understood as the focal point of the total life-embracing covenantal relationship. The difference between the two views is the difference between 'fundamentalism' narrowly conceived and the broader covenantal theology of Scripture" (p. 82).
This separation of faith from life has been detrimental to modern Western culture.

Here we find that food is a basic element of God's original command and grace to man. Man is commanded to subdue the vegetation for food and is given the grace to use and enjoy it.

As Dr. Robinson pointed out above, this concept is continued after man's sin enters the world. As God establishes his covenant of grace with man in Genesis 3, giving the promise of redemption, he reaffirms man's calling to bring forth food from the ground. Adam gets to keep the job! Admittedly, it is a bit harder, and now the struggle against sin and curse is also thrown into the mix.

We find this pattern also God's covenant with Noah. Noah and his family not only save the plants and animals on board the ark, but God also tells them after the flood,
"Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood...” (Genesis 9:1-4, emphasis added)
In the covenant administrations with Abraham and especially later with Israel we see that food is one of the great blessings of the covenant. To look into all the ways food is mentioned would take more time than I have at the moment (see my book for some), but some of the most obvious might be Deuteronomy 28:4-5, Leviticus, 26:3-5, and Exodus 3:8, 17. God sets up feasts for His people for them to commune with Him. The theme of famine and plenty is tightly woven into God's relation with His people. Food (or the lack of) can be blessing or curse, just as the covenant can work either way.

We have already seen how 1 Timothy 4 deals with this theme (see here). In addition, the Lord's Supper obviously forms the highest new covenant expression of Christ's communion with man through food. The "love feast" and Christian hospitality are also urged in the broader context of food and life in the covenant. This picture is consummated with the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation.

Some of this is old news to many of you all. The insightful thing I have found through this is that we do not deserve food. It is given by God's grace. He gives it to the just and the unjust, yet it is only Christian who can eat with enjoyment (Eccl. 2:24-26), exercising proper (not usurped) authority over God's creation. It is also interesting to see, once again, the unity of God's purposes through history. His promises and purposes are consistent through all ages. They demand our all, our entire life and being. Thus, we must eat and drink, as we do all things, to the glory of our gracious Savior and God.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Alien and Hostile Influences

"Those who think Christians can easily use the world's artifacts and methods in the creation of a new synthesis underestimate the all-pervasiveness and subtlety of alien and hostile influences." -Herbert Schlossberg, "Idols for Destruction," p. 322

This is true in culture at large. Whether we are talking about music, art, food, dress, speech, science, politics, or economics, Christians must be purposefully biblical about what they do and why they do it. Going with the flow is a dangerous choice, especially in our society.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Artistic Life

"The art gallery or art museum theory of art to which philanthropists and promoters would persuade us views art as a luxury quite beyond the reach of ordinary people. Its attempt to glorify the arts by setting them aside in specially consecrated shrines can hardly supply more than a superficial gilding to a national culture, if the private direction of that culture is ugly and materialistic–Keyserling would say, animalistic. The proposition is as absurd as this: Should we eat our meals regularly from crude, think dishes like those used in Greek restaurant, but go on solemn occasions to a restaurant museum where somebody's munificence would permit us to enjoy a meal on china of the most delicate design? The truly artistic life is surely that in which the ├Žsthetic experience is not curtained off but is mixed up with all sorts of instruments and occupations pertaining to the round of daily life."
-Donald Davidson "A Mirror for Artists" I'll Take My Stand (1930)

The Incarnation of Religion

"We may go further and ask whether what we call the culture, and what we call the religion, of a people are not different aspects of the same thing: the culture being, essentially, the incarnation (so to speak) of the religion of a people."
-T.S. Eliot (Christianity and Culture, 1948)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Food and Dominion

In 1 Timothy 4:1-5 we learn several things. First, everything created by God is good, and second, we are to be thankful to God for His blessings. To reject either of these things is to destroy God's gifts (see other posts on these subjects here, here, and here). A third thing that Paul brings out is that God created food “to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” What then? Did He not created it to be received by all men? What about common grace and the rain on the just and unjust? John Calvin has a great point to make on this subject:
“I reply, Paul speaks here of the lawful use, of which we are assured before God. Wicked men are in no degree partakers of it, on account of their impure conscience, which, as is said, 'defileth all things.' (Titus 1:15)

"And indeed, properly speaking, God has appointed to his children alone the whole world and all that is in the world. For this reason, they are also called the heirs of the world; for at the beginning Adam was appointed to be lord of all, on this condition, that he should continue in obedience to God. Accordingly, his rebellion against God deprived of the right, which had been bestowed on him, not only himself but his posterity. And since all things are subject to Christ, we are fully restored by His mediation, and that through faith; and therefore all that unbelievers enjoy may be regarded as the property of others, which they rob or steal."[1]
In a similar vein, commenting on the fact that “it is made holy by the word of God,” Calvin comments:
"And which of us would venture to claim for himself a single grain of wheat, if he were not taught by the word of God that he is the heir of the world? Common sense, indeed, pronounces, that the wealth of the world is naturally intended for our use; but, since dominion over the world was taken from us in Adam, everything that we touch of the gifts of God is defiled by our pollution; and, on the other hand, it is unclean to us, till God graciously come to our aid, and by ingrafting us into his Son, constitutes us anew to be lords of the world, that we may lawfully use as our own all the wealth with which he supplies us."[2]
Of course, this doesn't mean that unbelievers don't have civil property rights. It does mean that in the eyes of God they are unlawful trespassers on earth. It does mean we have been restored to the task (and promise) of dominion under Christ. It is because Christ was exalted with dominion that we as His people gain the dominion which we lost in Adam. By our union with Christ we are made kings to reign with Him (Rev. 5:10). Since He is the Lord of all, so we also are heirs with Abraham of the whole world by faith (Rom. 4:13). As children of Abraham (Gal. 3:29), we inherit the land. The world and the blessings on it (e.g. food) have been given to us so that we may enjoy and glorify God through them.

The food we eat is made holy. It is set apart for righteousness by the Word of God and prayer. We are taught by the Word of God our place of dominion in our Father's world. We give thanks in prayer for our food, eating for the glory of God, the giver of these blessings. When that is done, we will not be self-centered. We will give our worship and service not to food, nor health, nor any other earthly thing, but to God alone. In that way will God’s blessings be used correctly and to our good. We will thank Him for the way He has made all His blessings. We will not pervert His blessings for our glory, but will stand in awe of His wisdom in His creation, and work with it humbly and joyfully.

-Peter B.
 For Christ's Kingdom! 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Calvin on Fasting

In my book I quote John Calvin concerning fasting. You can read his complete treatment of this important aspect of a Christian philosophy of food in his book, Institutes of the Christian Religion in Book 4, Chapter 12, Sections 14-21 here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.vi.xiii.html

"Let us, therefore, make some observations on fasting, since very many, not understanding what utility there can be in it, judge it not to be very necessary, while others reject it altogether as superfluous. Where its use is not well known it is easy to fall into superstition." (4.12.15)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Council of Gangra

The council of Gangra was an eastern church council held in the 300s A.D. (between the councils of Nicaea and Constantinople) and directed to suppress a schismatic, ascetic movement in Armenia. It has some very interesting, biblical points, some of which concern food:
Canon II: If any one shall condemn him who eats flesh, which is without blood and has not been offered to idols nor strangled, and is faithful and devout, as though the man were without hope [of salvation] because of his eating, let him be anathema.  
Canon XVIII: If any one, under pretence of asceticism, shall fast on Sunday, let him be anathema.
Canon II condemns a strict form of religious vegetarianism, and at the same time upholds the food regulations of Acts 15. The prohibition of eating of blood is especially important in my perspective since it forms such an important part of God's covenant with Noah and is continued throughout the Bible. (See this post on the topic.) Also, I think the forbidding of ascetic fasting on the Lord's Day is advice to be heeded. Greek commentator Balsamon (12th century) said of this canon, "By many canons we are warned against fasting or grieving on the festal and joyous Lord’s day, in remembrance of the resurrection of the Lord; but that we should celebrate it and offer thanks to God, that we be raised from the fall of sin. But this canon smites the Eustathians with anathema because they taught that the Lord’s days should be fasted."

Other canons of Gangra include:
Canon I: If any one shall condemn marriage, or abominate and condemn a woman who is a believer and devout, and sleeps with her own husband, as though she could not enter the Kingdom [of heaven] let him be anathema.  
Canon XIII: If any woman, under pretence of asceticism, shall change her apparel and, instead of a woman’s accustomed clothing, shall put on that of a man, let her be anathema.  
Canon XV: If anyone shall forsake his own children and shall not nurture them, nor so far as in him lies, rear them in becoming piety, but shall neglect them, under pretence of asceticism, let him be anathema.  
Canon XVI: If, under any pretence of piety, any children shall forsake their parents, particularly [if the parents are] believers, and shall withhold becoming reverence from their parents, on the plea that they honour piety more than them, let them be anathema.  
Canon XVII: If any woman from pretended asceticism shall cut off her hair, which God gave her as the reminder of her subjection, thus annulling as it were the ordinance of subjection, let her be anathema.
The whole thing is beneficial to read and can be found here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf214.viii.v.iii.html

-Peter B.