Monday, June 28, 2010

If You Love Me, You Will Keep My Commands

In my previous post, I spoke of rules and regulations in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. As I wrote it, it struck me that in the Old Testament, there are many specific commands given for God's people to follow. In the New Testament, there really aren't that many. Yes, there are a few, but not nearly as many as most of us think there is.

Instead, we've used our logic and common sense and have taken this verse and jigsaw-puzzled it together with that verse to come to a conclusion that we then label as a "command of Jesus". But if we're to be absolutely honest, those are not commands given by Jesus, but rather commandments of men that we make into doctrines.

Don't believe me? Give it a try. Give me the book/chapter/verse containing a command (not a logic-derived conclusion) for each of the doctrines below:

- no hand-raising in worship

- must attend church every time the elders have established for regular meetings

- there must be a multiplicity of elders in each local congregation

- singing in worship must be a cappella

- the main purpose of assembling is to worship God

- you must not drink alcohol or you sin

- you must give money to the church every Sunday

- you must take the Lord's Supper every Sunday

- you must attend church on Sunday

- you must add "in Jesus' name" to every prayer (preferably at the end)

- you must dress up for Sunday church

- you must have a sermon during church

- you must not applaud/clap during church

- you must bow your head and close your eyes during prayers

- you must use Elizabethan English in your songs and prayers

- you must limit "worship" to the specified times of worship

- you must not do anything beyond the "five acts of worship" during worship

- the fruit of the vine in the Lord's Supper can only be grape juice

Please don't think I'm trying to change any of these things (okay, a few of them I'd do away with - the Elizabethan English I think does harm). I'm just pointing out that much of what passes as "commands" in our thinking are not commands. They may be correct conclusions (since the Fall, our logic is not to be trusted completely), but logic-derived conclusions are not commands.

Careful; it might shake up your paradigm if you think about this too much. Keep the commands of Jesus, yes, but don't make the mistake of believing a non-command is a command.

Rules & Regulations

Most Christians recognize the two main dispensations (time periods) recorded in the Bible: the Mosaic dispensation when the Law of Moses reigned over God's people (most of the "Old Testament"), and the Christian dispensation when the Law of Christ reigns over God's people (the "New Testament").

There were specific commands that were required in the Law Of Moses, such as:

- males must be circumcised
- Sabbath days were to be kept
- certain holy days were to be observed
- sacrifices (often animal) were to be made

But Christians recognize that Paul claimed that the rules and regulations of the Law of Moses no longer apply, because what God truly wants is righteousness coming from a good heart, not from ticking the boxes on a checklist:
HCSB Gal 5:14 For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
What many Christians fail to recognize is that Paul feels the same way about the rules and regulations of the "Law of Christ". Many Christians believe the "Law of Christ" to be essentially equivalent to the rules and regulations found in the New Testament, pointing to specific commands such as:

- we must be immersed
- we must not get drunk
- we must remember the Lord's death in the Lord's Supper
- we must make offerings

But the same thing Paul said about the rules and regulations of the Old Law he also says about the New Law, just a few verses later:
HCSB Gal 6:2 Carry one another's burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
If we really believe that specific commands in the Old Law, even the "supreme, absolutely must be done without fail" command of circumcision, are "nothing":
6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love.
then to be consistent we must also recognize that "supreme, absolutely must be done without fail" commands in the New Law are also "nothing" in comparison with "faith working through love", i.e., "carrying one another's burdens".

Yes, yes, I know: the black-and-white of the New Law text says "you must do X". But the black-and-white of the Old Law text also said "you must do X". But Paul says the Old Law command is fulfilled in loving your neighbor; he also says that the New Law command is fulfilled in loving your neighbor (by bearing his load).

If it's true for the Old because Paul said it; it's also true for the New because Paul said it.

The same arguments we use to support our pet doctrine were also used by the Pharisees in the early years of the church, who insisted that "the Book" required circumcision. And they were right: the Book did require circumcision (even before the temporary Law of Moses, so that even if the Law of Moses itself is gone, the command to be circumcised is not). But Paul said what mattered was faith working in love, not keeping the technical details of the written code.

We today are focused on keeping the technical details of the written code. The written code is good (as Paul says of the Old written code), but that's not what matters. He writes:
HCSB Col 2:20 If you died with Christ to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations: 21 "Don't handle, don't taste, don't touch"? 22 All these [regulations] refer to what is destroyed by being used up; they are human commands and doctrines. 23 Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value against fleshly indulgence.
We moderns try to interpret this passage as a condemnation of Old Testament regulations, but that's because we're reading meaning into the passage rather than taking meaning out of the passage. What does the passage say? It says that submitting to regulations (not to "Mosaic Law regulations") is living as if you belong to the world.

He expands on this idea a few verses before:
16 Therefore don't let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to a visionary realm and inflated without cause by his fleshly mind.
He addresses it elsewhere as well, again saying that what matters is how it affects other people:
HCSB 1 Cor 10:23 "Everything is permissible," but not everything is helpful. "Everything is permissible," but not everything builds up. 24 No one should seek his own [good], but [the good] of the other person.
So whereas rules such as "You must never drink alcohol" or "You must go to church three times a week", etc, sound good, that's not what Christianity is about.

Christianity is about others. According to the scriptures, the Law of Christ is fulfilled in this one command: Bear one another's burdens.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Secular Society

In the early days of the German advance into Eastern Europe, before the possibility of Soviet retribution even entered their untroubled imagination, Nazi extermination squads would sweep into villages, and after forcing the villagers to dig their own graves, murder their victims with machine guns. On one such occasion somewhere in eastern Europe , an SS officer watched languidly, his machine gun cradled, as an elderly and bearded Hasidic Jew laboriously dug what he knew to be his grave.

Standing up straight, he addressed his executioner. “God is watching what you are doing,” he said.

And then he was shot dead.

What Hitler did not believe and what Stalin did not believe and what Mao did not believe and what the SS did not believe and what the Gestapo did not believe and what the NKVD did not believe and what the commissars, functionaries, swaggering executioners, Nazi doctors, Communist Party theoreticians, intellectuals,Brown shirts, Black shirts,gauleiters, and a thousand party hacks did not believe was that God was watching what they were doing.

And as far as we can tell, very few of those carrying out the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that God was watching what they were doing either.

That is, after all, the meaning of a secular society.
(taken from David Berlinski’s book ‘The Devils delusion Atheism and its scientific pretensions’) as quoted at

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Temple Police

Barbara Brown Taylor writes an interesting article in which she points out:
One of the many things [the Good Friday crucifixion of Jesus] story tells us is that Jesus was not brought down by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix. Beware of those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware of those who cannot tell God’s will from their own. Temple police are always a bad sign.
Then, after pointing out that Judas had been Jesus' friend, she tells this story:
I remember being at a retreat once where the leader asked us to think of someone who represented Christ in our lives. When it came time to share our answers, one woman stood up and said, "I had to think hard about that one. I kept thinking, ‘Who is it who told me the truth about myself so clearly that I wanted to kill him for it?"’
I find these two thoughts worth pondering.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Who Are You Tuning Out?

In the Biblical book of Exodus we read the story of how the young Israelite nation has been enslaved by the Egyptian Pharaoh, in whose land they were temporarily living. YHWH God raises up a man, Moses, whose job it is to lead them out of Egyptian slavery back into their promised homeland. Because Moses had a speech problem, YHWH appointed his older brother, Aaron, as his mouthpiece.

YHWH tells Moses:
HCSB Exodus 7:1 See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother will be your prophet. 2 You must say whatever I command you; then Aaron your brother must declare it to Pharaoh so that he will let the Israelites go from his land. 3 But ... Pharaoh will not listen to you....
This parallel strikes me:

God --> prophet --> hearers
Moses --> prophet --> hearers

What struck me about this is God's use of a human to communicate; God did not speak directly to Pharaoh; nor did He use his prophet to speak to Pharaoh; rather, He used his prophet's prophet to speak to Pharaoh.

As far as Pharaoh was concerned, he was hearing a human's mind, and Pharaoh's response was to reject what he heard.

This raises a question in my mind: When I reject another human's words to me, am I rejecting a message God intended for me?

I'm not saying that God is going around telling Bob to tell Mary X & Y. I'm just asking if perhaps Mary is tuning out God's message when she tunes out Bob.

Who are you tuning out? Or perhaps the only question I can really ask is, Who am I tuning out?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

What The Gospel Is

In my last post, I discussed what the Gospel is not, specifically, that it is not equivalent to the New Testament. Here I want to explore what the Gospel is.

There are at least two definitions of "the Gospel" in the New Testament. The first is given in 1 Corinthians 15:
HCSB 1 Cor 15:1 Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. 2 You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you—unless you believed to no purpose. 3 For I passed on to you as most important what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
4 that He was buried,
that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
6 Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time,
most of whom remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.
7 Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
8 Last of all, as to one abnormally born, He also appeared to me.
So, according to this first definition, the Gospel is the death, burial, resurrection, and appearance of Christ.

However, according to at least three other sources, the Gospel is that all nations will be blessed.

Highlights of Romans 10:14 - 12:1

Not all have obeyed the gospel; didn't they hear? Yes. Didn't Israel understand when Moses announced that they would be made jealous by the salvation of non-Jews, and when Isaiah said that God would be found by those not looking for Him, while the Jews, to whom God was spreading out His hands, remained disobedient and defiant? Yet God's mercy extends to both Jew and Gentile, to the Gentile who has been grafted into God's olive tree by faith, and to the Jew who can be re-grafted back into the tree if he'll stop abiding in unbelief. Regarding the gospel, the falling away of the Jews results in the salvation of Gentiles. Both groups have disobeyed, and God has imprisoned all in disobedience, so that He may have mercy on all. Therefore, worship God by presenting your bodies as a living sacrifice.

So we see in this summary that the gospel is that not just the Jews, who were chosen, but also the Gentiles, will be blessed with God's mercy.

Highlights of Galatians 2:11-16

Paul had to correct Peter publicly, because he was deviating from the truth of the gospel. Peter should have remembered that just as the Jews had been justified by faith, so too the Gentiles, so he should quit acting like the Gentiles were not part of the family.

So we see in this summary that deviating from the gospel is to forget that not just the Jews, who were chosen, but also the Gentiles, were blessed with God's mercy.

Highlights of Galatians 3:8
The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and foretold this gospel to Abraham, saying, "All the nations will be blessed in you."

So we see in this summary that the gospel is that not just the Jews, who were chosen, but also the Gentiles, will be blessed.

So, in summation, there are at least two Biblical definitions in the New Testament for the term "Gospel" (or "Good News"):

1) the death, burial, resurrection, and appearance of Christ


2) that not only the chosen Jews, but also the Gentiles, would be blessed with salvation by faith in Christ.

What the Gospel Is Not

Norman R. writes the following:

What is the gospel?
2 Thess 1:7-9 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.
What I taught and what is still taught by many congregations is that the word gospel in this verse includes everything in the NT.

All the Christians on the day of Pentecost obeyed the gospel before any of the New Testament was written and all the Christians who died at the orders of Saul died before any of the New Testament was written.

In about 58 a.d. Paul wrote Galatians, the second book of the New Testament to be written. All the Galatians had obeyed the gospel and some wanted to leave it, before they read Galatians, and probably before they read any book of the New Testament. Galatians may be part of the gospel to some Christians, but it certainly was not part of the gospel to the Galatians.

The NT Christians did not need Galatians, Romans, Acts, Matthew or other letters to be in fellowship with God. Faith in the death, burial, resurrection, ascension and the promises through that sacrifice placed them in fellowship with God.

Why were the epistles of Paul, Galatians, Romans, Corinthians, etc. written? It appears that some of the churches wrote to Paul with questions. They wanted answers to some of the things they didn't understand. Paul heard that some churches were having problems and Paul wrote these churches to correct some problems. Have you ever noticed that we would have a very small New Testament if the church had been perfect? Most of the New Testament was written to correct some problem in the church. Some do apply to us and some don't apply, but we have a multitude of principles that we can use.

In other words, "the Gospel" does not equate to "the New Testament".

Some might respond that the early Christians had all the information provided by the New Testament via supernatural revelation, even if it had not yet been written down. But in at least the question of whether Gentile Christians had to submit to the Jewish Law (Acts 15), there were Gentile Christians who had obeyed "the Gospel" prior to this matter being settled. Thus, in this issue at least, the New Testament contains information which those Gentile (or Jewish) Christians could not have known even though they had obeyed "the Gospel".

Simply put, once again, "the Gospel" is not the same as "the New Testament".