Monday, June 28, 2010

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.

1 comment:

Chyntt said...

Oh yeah, and Yahshua elevated personal relationships above the rules-and-regulation keeping of church:

HCSB Matt 5:23 So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.