Wednesday, November 19, 2008

no we're not all God's children

With all this background, you may understand the reason my statement of faith, my personal credo, written in seminary and required for ordination in the Presbyterian Church, included the line; "I believe that all people are children of God, created and loved by God, and that God's compassionate grace is available to us at all times."

Imagine my surprise when a particular pastor challenged me on this point. He suggested that "children of God" is a biblical phrase, and that I was using it unbiblically. He believed that not all people are children of God, only Christians. If I'd been quicker on my feet, I would have done a Bible study with him right there; instead, I focused on not letting my jaw hit the floor and mumbled something aobut God creating all human beings. Back at my seminary desk, I searched for words and understanding about these concepts.
Nanette Sawyer, in the book "An Emergent Manifesto of Hope", p. 45

I can't help but give some credit where it may be due here, that at the least when she was challenged on her beliefs, she does say that she wished she had thought to take the person challenging her to the Bible. Granted, if the man who challenged her was up on his Bible, he would likely have shown her why she was wrong, but at least there is something good there.

But not in her ideas, which are wrong. Consider this...

He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither is he that loveth not his brother (1 John 3:8-10)
taken from R.A. Torrey "What the Bible Teaches", p. 353

So what about the Bible on this question of the children of God? Is it unbiblical to call all people children of God? It is true that there are many places in the New Testament that talk about the children of God as the followers of Jesus. But it is not true that this must lead us to the kind of arrogance that asserts that non-Christians are not children of God. In fact, there are three biblical instances undermining such an exclusionary claim.
Sawyer, "EMH", p. 46

Note first the attempt to paint those who are against her in a bad light-- "...the kind of arrogance...", as if anyone who disagrees with her couldn't find ample biblical reasons to think her wrong, as if the Bible doesn't say much against her contentions.

But, at least she sets forth a case, so let's look at it.

Paul says in Romans that "we are children of God" (8:16 NRSV) and that we are waiting for adoption, while the who creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God (see vv. 22-23). He indicates that we are not yet fully children of God. This metaphor of adoption into the family of God is based on the idea of becoming "conformed to the image" of Jesus, becoming so like him that we become adopted siblings (v. 29). A similar incompleteness and uncertainty is maintained in the first letter of John, which says that we are God's children now, but what we will be has not yet been revealed (see 1 John 3:2). And finally, in the Acts of the Apostles 17: 28-29, Paul expands the "we" when he affirms to the Greeks, to whom he was is preaching, and who are not followers of Jesus, "We are God's offspring".
Sawyer, "EMH", p. 47

Ok, so, let's look at this.

Romans 8:12-17
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors--not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For is you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deed of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out "Abba, Father." The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until no. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.

First off, who is Paul writing too? He specifically addresses "brethren", by which we may understand fellow Christians like himself. And Romans was a letter addressed to a church or churches, thus to fellow Christians. It was not, then, addressed to those who were not Christians. Therefore, to say that Paul is making some kind of statement about the universal condition of all people being "children of God" is unwarranted from this passage.

I John 3 1-2
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

And here again, we the writer is addressing those who are Christians. He even makes the contrast with Christians and those in the world. And it is later in that same passage that the passage above from Torrey's book is taken, the one about children of God and children of the devil.

The most problematic one was in Acts 17.

Acts 17:28-29
for in Him we live an dmove and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring'. Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man's devising.

This one was problematic for me, because I think I understood it, but was not certain how to defend my understanding for a while.

I found this in Torrey's book. It's a bit tricky to put here, though, because one part makes mention of two Greek words, and I'm not able to type those letters here. I'll do the best approximations I can with it.

The doctrine of the universal Fatherhood of God is utterly unscriptural and untrue. It is true that all men are His offspring, stock, race, or nation (Acts 17:28, 'yevog' not 'tenva', see usage in Greek concordance), is the sense of being His creatures, having our being in Him, and being made in His likeness. (see context, verses 28-29). But we become His "sons" or "children" by faith in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26 RV, John 1:12 RV).
Torrey, pp. 353-354

I am with Torrey in this, and against Sawyer. All people are God's creations, so are of value in that sense. But we are not all God's children. Although I respect that she tried to make a biblical case for her position (which puts her ahead of some others), her case is rather weak.

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