Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Giving the Kingdom to those who Bear Fruit

[33] "Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. [34] When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. [35] And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. [36] Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. [37] Finally he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' [38] But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.' [39] And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. [40] When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" [41] They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons." Matthew 21:33-41 (ESV)

This is a parable concerning Israel. Israel being the vineyard, the priests and Pharisees being the tenants to whom it is rented. It doesn’t end well. People today like to complain about the New Testament being anti-Semitic. I don’t know exactly how this charge is leveled in reality. On the other hand, many Christians have gone overboard in the opposite direction, sacrificing the gospel so as not to offend Jews today. Others go so far as to work modern Israel into an eschatological matrix that sees Jews as being saved without any belief in Christ. This parable speaks against that as those in the crowd who heard the parable understood.
In so far as Judaism can be distinguished from Christianity, it must be said that the New Testament is anti-Judaism. Modern Judaism is an outgrowth of the pharisaic sect of the New Testament era. Other strands of Judaism that were around at that time have died out. The Pharisaic sect has of course splintered itself over the years, and in many ways is unrecognizable in any of its forms to the first century sect. But Judaism only survives as a religion so long as it rejects Christ as the messiah. The New Testament does not concern itself with Jewishness as a nationality or ethnicity. That is the thing about Christ, in him there is no Jew or Greek… The Gospel is for all alike, the Jew, Greek, American, Indian, black white, yellow green, red and blue. Would that our churches reflected that more often.
The parable at hand illustrates the problem though. The kingdom will be rested from the Pharisees. After the resurrection, and especially with the destruction of the temple, it is. But there is a greater warning for the church today here. We can never be secure in our salvation, or think that our church is immune to the threats exposed in this parable of those who will not give the owner his due in the form of fruit. Mostly what this means is we cannot afford to persecute the prophets, those who speak true the word of God. Today this is happens in so many forms within the institutions we call church. Liberal protestantism, in the mask of genteel politeness, has ripped the concept of integrity from the church, has ripped from the people even the ability to take God’s word seriously. The minute one has his sensibilities offended they leave any investigation of doctrine on the floor.
But the institutions tend to approve the liberals and shun the conservatives, and in today’s world, yesterday’s liberals have become today’s conservatives. Sloppy scholarship is no longer tolerated or approved of, today it is merely assumed at the outset even among conservatives. N.T, Wright is considered a conservative, because he argues for the resurrection, but the rest of his scholarship undermines the implications of that resurrection as he obscures justification while appealing to extra biblical texts to try “get behind the text and divine what Paul really meant, as opposed to what he really said!” Witherington follows suit. I’m running into the same thing reading Wolfheart Pannenberg right now, who has incredibly interesting insights to the text, but muddles his scholarship with appeals to Q, and merely assuming a dichotomy where the resurrection accounts are in play, somehow assuming there is a contradiction between an empty tomb and accounts of resurrection appearances, that really dumbfound me as the one seems dependent on the other in a manner where neither is possible without the other! It’s mind boggling how someone that smart can be that stupid at the same time.
In any case, the vineyard withers under such scholarship. But where the gospel is there will also be evangelization bearing fruit for the tenant. Where the church remains faithful to the gospel there will be growth. Probably not the same “dynamic” growth in numbers and so on that one sees in faddish Christianity. But that typically isn’t growth at all. If there is no gospel, there is no “church growth.” Where there is the gospel, there is always growth perceivable or not. On the other hand, where people are leaving a church like Norwegian sewer rats from a sinking ship, one might also question if the gospel is really being preached. Today there seems to be a tendency within “confessional” Lutheran circles to blame declining numbers on the gospel. I’m not always sure it is the gospel’s fault. Sure the gospel offends. Other things offend too. Just because one is offended, does not mean it was the gospel that offended them. The pastor cannot afford to not examine himself, and keep a close watch on his teaching, as Paul admonishes Timothy. We have no more assurance than the teachers of Old Israel; we too need Christ, never forgetting we too live by the gospel.


Brigitte said...

It’s mind boggling how someone that smart can be that stupid at the same time.

This is, it seems, the conundrum with our "reason".

Bror Erickson said...

Stupid might actually be too harsh a word. But how they can appeal to something that stupid. Pannenberg is brilliant on many levels, but It isn't helped.
This though is the conundrum of reason.