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TEXT: Ecclesiastes 7:29
SUBJECT: Midland Confession #7: Fall of Man
This afternoon, with God's blessing, we will continue our study of the Midland Confession of Faith. First published in 1655, we adopted it as a summary of our own beliefs in the mid-1980's.
Confessions of Faith can never take the place of the Bible, but even so, they're very useful. Churches ought to stand for something, and Confessions remind of us what we stand for, and tell others what we believe and what beliefs mean the most to us.
Thus far, we've looked at three of those beliefs: God, the Trinity, and the Scripture. We confess to believe in God, by which we don't mean anything and everything that goes by 'god', but a particular God, the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Three Divine Persons, 'the same in essence in power and glory'. We also confess that God has revealed Himself to us, partly in nature, but mostly, in the Bible which is God's Word in a way that no other book is or can be.
Article 4 touches briefly on the doctrine of Man, but mostly on Man's fall into sin and misery. It could be far longer than it is, but thankfully, it isn't.
If you read books on the Fall of Man, you'll find a lot more speculation than you do Bible. Much of it is interesting and provocative, but, when it comes to Faith, it is better to limit ourselves to what the Bible plainly teaches, to take Paul's warning and--
Not go beyond what is written.
Here's what the Fourth Article says about Man and his Fall from God into sin and death--
We believe that, though Adam was created righteous, he fell through the temptations of Satan; and his fall overthrew not only himself, but his posterity, making them sinners by his disobedience, so that we are, by nature, children of wrath and defiled from the womb, being shaped in iniquity and conceived in sin.
If 'the Fall of Man' sounds like an insider's debate, a doctrine that only theology nerds care about, let me assure you, it isn't. It provides an answer to three questions every thoughtful person has to grapple with:
WHERE DID WE COME FROM?
The first question is the most important, but the Article only touches on it in passing. Why? Because human origins was not a burning issue in the 17th Century. Not everyone was a Christian, of course, but almost everyone believed in creation of some kind or another. Using common sense, they couldn't believe that a world as complex, efficient, and beautiful as our own could have 'just happened' Many re-defined God, and some excluded Him from day-to-day involvement in the world, but they couldn't think of any way of doing without Him in the beginning. This was the consensus of the 17th Century, and so the Framers of the Confession didn't think they needed to defend it.
The Consensus is no longer with us, of course, and so we ought to say a little more than they did. The Confession says--
We believe that, though Adam was created righteous...
The key words are 'Adam' and 'created'. The Confession assumes that 'Adam' was a real person, living in a real place at a real time. Today, this is no longer believed by most people and some of them are Christians who read and claim to believe the Bible.
The Hebrew word, A-dam, simply means 'man', and some think the name doesn't to a particular man (like Abraham or David or John the Baptist), but to 'mankind' in general or 'the human race'.
This is awfully hard to square with what the Bible actually teaches. If you read the first few chapters of Genesis, Adam seems to be a real man. Scholars often deny the history of this part of the Bible, calling it saga or myth or some such thing, but since when do mythological characters have descendants who are alive in the real world at the present time? But if you read the first nine chapters of I Chronicles, you'll find real people--like Saul and David--traced all the way back, in reverse order, to--
Shem, Noah, Lamech, Methuselah, Enoch, Jared, Mahalaleel, Cainan, Enosh, Seth, and Adam.
If all these ancient people were also mighty men of valor, the genealogy might do nothing more than link the present-day heroes of Israel with the Great Kings and Warriors of the past. The problem is, none of the aforementioned men were heroes, and most of them were totally non-descript. If any part of the Bible doesn't come off as 'romantic myth', it's the genealogies, but they see real, living men as descendants of Adam, who must, therefore, have been a real living man himself.
What's true of I Chronicles goes double for the genealogy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew takes Him back forty-two generations to Abraham, but Luke goes a lot farther, tracing His human line to names the we've already heart--
Shem, Noah, Lamech, Methuselah, Enoch, Jared, Mahalaleel, Cainan, Enosh, Seth, and...Adam.
If Adam is only 'humanity', I can think of far less tedious ways of saying, 'Jesus is human' than to research and produce a long genealogy full of names nobody's ever heard or cares about. Luke's point is to prove Jesus is connected to the whole human race, and the best way to do that is to show He descended from Adam who was the first man and grandfather to every one of us.
The second word is 'created'. Adam, our Confession says was--
With the implication being, he was created by God. On this point, all Christians agree. We may differ on the timing of creation and its mechanics, but we all agree on the big idea: God made us.
Why do we believe this? Well, it's agreeable to common sense, for one thing. What seems more likely? That a world as complex and efficient as our own 'just happened' or that it was made by a Being of infinite power and wisdom? There's also conscience. Paul says that, deep down, everyone has a sense of God as Creator and Judge, including Agnostics who claim not to know if He's there or not and Atheists who say they know He isn't there.
Mainly, though, we believe God created us beccause the
Bible says He did. I think the first three chapters of Genesis are history in the same way the first three chapters of Matthew are. Not everyone agree with this, of course. But, even if they lift The Creation Story out of History and make into myth or saga or some such thing, what does the myth or saga of some such thing say? It says 'God created us'.
This is the uniform teaching of the Bible and does not depend solely on the first two chapters of Genesis. Psalm 100 not only assumes, He made everything, but celebrates it--
Make a joyful shout to the Lord,
all you lands!
Serve the Lord with gladness;
come before His Presence with singing.
Know that the Lord, He is God;
It is He who made us,
and not we ourselves;
we are His people
and the sheep of His pasture.
Where did the human race come from? We came from God, starting with Adam, a real man who lived in a real place at a real time.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH US?
If God is all wise, all powerful, and all loving, you'd expect Him to make the whole world good, and mankind doubly good because, in a special way, we represent Him in the world. Though elephants are bigger than we are and lions are stronger than we are and eagles are faster than we are, God did not give dominion or Lordship to elephants, lions or eagles. Not even angels received this great honor, and we cannot imagine how magnificent they must be! God made Man in His likeness and Image and gave the rule and care of the world over to us.
But for all the care God put into our creation, we've made a mess of things. Called to rule the world under God's lordship, we have botched the job! Instead of being loving, we're hateful; instead of being generous, we're stingy; instead of putting others first, we always looking out for number one.
What's the problem? Karl Marx found the problem in man's alienation from the fruit of his labor. In other words, most of what the working man works for goes to somebody else. Was he right? Yes. Andrea Dworkin found the problem in patriarchalism, that is men using their superior size and strength to demean and abuse women. Was she right? She was. Today, many conservatives trace the problem to the breakdown of the family, while liberals often see it as racism. Are they right? You bet they are.
While all these views are right, none on them gets to the heart of the matter. Why do the rich oppress the poor? Why do men oppress women? Why are families breaking down? Why are people stigmatized by the color of their skin?
The Bible answer is sin. Sin has gotten into the world and wreaked havoc with all our relationships, both vertical (with God) and horizontal (with each other). Men beat their wives because they're sinful; pagans worship idols because they're sinful. The Muslims in Sudan enslave the Christians because they're sinful. The Catholics in Northern Ireland bomb buildings because they're sinful, and the Protestants retaliate because they're sinful.
The Bible says sin is a heart issue. Wife beating is not in a man's fists, it's in his heart. Drunkenness is not in the bottle, it's in the heart. Lying is not in the mouth, it's in the heart. Jeremiah 17:9 says--
The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?
The Bible also says that sin is in a universal problem. It's not that white people are sinful, everyone's sinful; not just lesbians, but all of us without exception. You know the long list of verses in Romans 3, two of which say--
There is none righteous, no not one.
For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
One more thing the Bible says about sin, and it's quite unsettling: We are born sinful. Over time, we get better (or worse) at sinning: toddlers don't commit fornication and babies don't tell dirty jokes, but the seeds of sin are in us from birth. Alluding to Psalm 51, the Confession says we are--
Shaped in iniquity and conceived in sin.
We all like to think our little ones are as sinless as the Baby Jesus, but we all know they're not. Babies lose their temper; toddlers take each others' toys; little kids know what 'come here' means, but if they don't want to, they run the other way. Every parent knows I'm telling the truth.
The deep and universal existence of sin brings physical death to all and spiritual death to all outside of Christ. Quoting Paul, the Confession says we're--
Children of wrath.
Not just liable to sin or misery or even death, but wrath, by which he means, God's wrath.
WHO'S TO BLAME?
Why is the human race sinful? There are two possible answers, and only two: Either because God made us this way, or because we made ourselves this way.
By 'made ourselves this way', I'm not saying that all sin is a matter of personal and conscious choice. It isn't. Baby temper tantrums are sinful, but the baby didn't make a reasoned decision to throw one. Even the most devout and sensitive grown ups do many bad things without meaning to, even when trying not to. What I'm saying is what Paul said in Romans 5:12--
Through one man sin entered the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all have sinned.
God did not make us defective, either sinful or prone to sin. The Confession, following the Bible says--
Adam was created righteous.
But he fell from his created state and became unrighteous. This was his personal history, and somehow or other, it leaked into our own. The Puritans taught their children a nursery rhyme--
In Adam's fall
we sinned all.
Is that true? It is. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we're sinners. But why are we sinners? Did God create sinners? Or did Adam? The Bible answer is Adam did.
This brings us to the difficult and much debated doctrine of Original Sin. Christians much godlier and more learned than I am have mediated on this one for a very long time, and come to very different answers.
By far, the worst of them was Pelagius's. He was a 4th-5th Century monk who said the only thing Adam did to his descendants is set a bad example for us. I find this view just plain stupid! He's saying that with all of Adam's billions of descendants, not one of them has ever broken with his father's example. There may be a grain of truth in what he says, but there's a pound of heresy.
A second view is Realism with St. Augustine its best known advocate. To simplify, it says 'the whole human race was physically present in Adam, and thus, when he sinned, so did we'. The chapter they most often quote is Hebrews 7, which says that Levi (that is, the tribe of Levi, and especially the Jewish priesthood) being in Abraham's loins paid tithes to Melchizedek.
This is an extremely fascinating point of view, and I like how it honors the solidarity of the human race and allows God to justly condemn us for what Adam did, but there's a fly in the ointment:
Jesus is a member of the human race, and if the human race realistically sinned in Adam, so did He. Unless He isn't really a man. Which He is.
The third option is the one held by most Reformed theologians; it's called The Representative View. It says God gave Adam a Covenant of Works to Adam in which he represented the whole human race. If he obeyed God and did not eat the forbidden fruit, he would be confirmed in his obedience, and both he and his descendants would remain sinless and retain the favor of God forever. Of course, he didn't obey God, and so both he and we became guilty and are condemned.
I agree with almost every part of this, but I cannot fully concur because, if Adam's guilt and corruption were imputed to the whole human race, then they were communicated to Jesus. Though He never sinned, He was still tainted by original sin, and condemned by what Adam did many years before.
This is not true. The Bible and the Church have always taught that Jesus is impeccable, that is without any trace of sin either actual or original.
The fourth view is also the one I believe: it's called the Seminal View. It says, Adam communicated his guilt and sin to us by way of procreation. In other words, sin and guilt are something like an hereditary defect that come to by way of our human fathers. Not that sexual intercourse is itself sinful or that men are more wicked than women, but that sin travels to us by way of men. You might say it's in the Y chromosome, not the X.
This makes every person with a human father sinful and we prove our patrimony by committing sin. Thus, God does not punish us for what Adam did, but what Adam did made us sinners and God punishes us because we are just what the Bible says we are--
Children of disobedience and children of wrath.
The only member of the human race who is not affected by Adam's sin is the only member of the human race who doesn't have a human father, our Lord Jesus.
The good news is, Romans 5 says that connected to Christ, we become the children of God who's righteousness and life are communicated to us through faith in the Lord Jesus.
What the problem? Sin.
What's the solution? Faith in Christ.
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