Thursday, January 28, 2016

The New Covenant is Not Like the Old

Members of the New Testament church often treat the New Testament as if it's essentially of the same nature as the old - a system of rules and regulations.

I would encourage such members to hear this one thing: the new covenant is not like the old. So many of us have simply swapped out one legal system (with its laws written on stone, for all to see) for another legal system (with its laws hidden mostly between the lines, requiring just the right love of the Truth and just the right hermeneutic in order to find them). But, the new covenant is not like the old.

The writer of the book of Hebrews quotes a prophecy found in Jeremiah 31:31ff:
ESVm Heb 8:8 For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares YHWH, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
And what does it mean to be "not like the [old] covenant"?

The old covenant was a system of rules and regulations, written in stone for all to see, in which you had to keep the letter of the law; the new covenant is a relationship, in which you need to keep the spirit:

10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares YHWH: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [ie. this describes a relationship]
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ [it's not about head-knowledge]
for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. [it's about relationship]
WEB Rom 2:29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not from men, but from God. [it's about the spirit, not the letter of the law]
Rom 7:6 But now we have been discharged from the law, having died to that in which we were held; so that we serve in newness of the spirit, and not in oldness of the letter. [it's about the spirit, not the letter of the law]
2 Cor 3:6 [God] also made us sufficient as servants of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. [it's about the spirit, not the letter of the law]
The first covenant was about "ordinances of divine service" (Heb 9:1), consisting of "gifts and sacrifices" that are "incapable ... of making the worshiper perfect" (v. 9), consisting of "fleshly ordinances" (v. 10) like "don't touch, don't taste, don't handle" (Col 2:21), don't eat this, don't marry, don't drink that (1 Tim 4:3), don't play this instrument, don't clap, don't observe Christmas. But Jesus has brought us a new covenant, by fulfilling the regulations of the old, and has thus cleansed us, not by our paying the debt which we owed to the law, but by our faith in him who paid the debt which he didn't owe (Heb 9:11ff).

The new covenant, the kingdom of God, is not built around regulations like what you eat or drink, but around doing the right thing and having peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17). Nothing is unclean of itself (Rom 14:14) -- not eating meats sacrificed to idols, not drinking a little wine with supper, not eating with unwashed hands, not playing an instrument while praising God, not observing (or not observing) a new moon or a Sabbath; these things are just a shadow of the new way (Col 2:16). They indeed appear like wisdom in worship; but ultimately they have no value (Col 2:22).

Once a person begins to grasp that their salvation is not dependent on how well they themselves keep the law (however you define "the law" - as the Ten Commandments, or as the Law of Moses, or as The Law of Christ, or as the Perfect Law of Liberty, or as the Two Greatest Commands, or whatever), but rather on their relationship to the one who kept the law perfectly, life begins to change, and freedom begins to creep in. (But take care, lest your freedom tromp on the scruples of a brother, which is wrong.)

ESV Gal 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free....
Don't submit again to a yoke of slavery of keeping this rule and that regulation and tithing this and limiting that.
Gal 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Our "whole law" is not about finding hidden rules in the text - don't use instruments; don't drink; take the Lord's Supper every first day of the week; there's nothing wrong with these things. But they are not our whole law. Instead, our whole law is to love one another. And lest you think that's not the case, the inspired apostle Paul repeats himself:
Gal 6:2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
And lest you think Paul has missed it, the inspired writer James reiterates this message:
Jam 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.
James also speaks of true religion; he does not say it's about tithing and keeping certain days holy and worshiping according to these or those regulations; he says it's about visiting orphans and widows in their affliction, and living a clean life (Jam 1:27).

Jesus, when declaring how his disciples would be known, did not say, "By this will all men know you're my disciples, if you have the correct doctrine and worship in the correct way". Rather, he said, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:25).

And when Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, he does not do so on the basis of who kept what rule, but on how we treat one another (Matt 25:31-46).

Relationship. Freedom. Love.

Not rules, regulations, perfect obedience.

When you get that, perfect love then casts out fear (1 John 4:18). The one who is still afraid he's not "good enough to get into heaven" has not yet been perfected in love (same verse), which is, to say, suffering from "performance anxiety".

At that point in time, you'll be free to praise God with everything you have - your voice, your heart, your guitar, your feet, your hands, your body, your absolute everything. Until then, you'll always have to "ride the brake" in order to make sure you "don't go beyond what is written".

Before closing, let me give one example of this "performance anxiety". Last week we had a baptism; a new brother was added to our number. When he came up out of the waters of immersion, there was a smattering of applause from amongst the witnesses, but the church as a whole frowned on the applause, because "clapping is not allowed". The congregation was "riding the brake" to avoid breaking an unwritten "rule".

The freedom to express joy at a new spiritual birth was squashed because of a "rule" which can not be found in the New Testament. When Peter healed the lame man in Acts 3, this man was not restricted from expressing his joy; he "walked and leaped and praised god"(v.8).

This restriction on expressing joy occurred because we treat the new covenant as if it is like the old, a system of rules and regulations, rather than as a relationship between us and God and others. The new covenant is not like the old, but we have made it such, and in so doing, have created something God did not create.


Monday, January 25, 2016

The First Day of the Week

The following is written in response to a forum-member on Facebook claiming:
The first century church account took the communion on the first day of the week. Didache recorded it.
I'm unaware that the Didache records that the first century church took the communion on the first day of the week. Could you provide a reference, please?

I am aware that the Didache records that the first century church took the communion on "the Lord's day" (14:1 -, but it's an assumption that "the Lord's day" refers to the first day of the week. It probably so refers, but it is an assumption. (A decent case can be made from scripture (not post-scripture writings) that "the Lord's day" refers to the Sabbath; I don't believe that's the case, but the point is that "the Lord's day" simply isn't defined by scripture; we make assumptions as to what it means.)

The Didache also tells us we should fast on Wednesdays and Fridays (8:1); this is obviously adding to God's word, as there is no Biblical command to do this, just as there is no Biblical command to eat the Lord's Supper on any particular day. To insist there is such a command, or to appeal to post-Biblical writings to insist there is such a command, is to add to God's word just as surely as commanding fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Regardless of what the practice was in 40 A.D., or 70 A.D. or 99 A.D., or 325 A.D., the Bible simply never makes a command to eat the Lord's Supper with any particular frequency on any particular day at any particular time of the day in any particular manner. The best we have in the Biblical text is:
  • the inauguration, which took place in the midst of a full-blown meal which took place annually, at night-time, re-purposing some of the elements of that meal (Mark 14:, esp v. 12, 17, 22-25) 
  • a hint of daily eating (Acts 2:42, 46) 
  • another eating, probably daily (otherwise how would it help the needy?), again taking place in the midst of a full-blown meal, probably at night-time, which also served as a "feed the needy" meal, with no mention of singing or giving, which Paul says wasn't really the Lord's Supper because they weren't waiting for one another before stuffing their own faces (1 Cor 11:17-34). 
  • a hint of possibly weekly observance at night-time either on a Saturday or Sunday pre-midnight evening or on a Sunday or Monday post-midnight, pre-dawn morning as part of an all-nighter assembly, with no mention of singing or giving (Acts 20:7-12).
Some people also try to marry 1 Cor 16:2's reference to "the first day" as being indicative of the disciples meeting on this day, which may be true, but is not certain; another likely possibility is that Paul is referring to the Roman Market Day, when the population went grocery shopping, and when it would make sense to "lay by him in store" (putting in storage, not putting into a church treasury for paying the church salaries/bills) a portion of your funds, not for groceries, but for the year-long collection being made for the poor saints back in Jerusalem.

MacMullen ( writes about the Roman Market Days in Italy:
What is certain from the evidence, however, is the importance and completeness of the arrangements developed in this section of Italy for the exchange of goods between the rural population on the one hand, and urban and itinerant merchants on the other hand. Efficiency required that they be brought together in large numbers, whether once every seven, or eight, or fourteen, or thirty days, or less frequently still. To this end a variety of other purposes were adopted: assemblies of worship, spectacles and entertainments, elections, or assizes. We may assume throughout the empire such successful answers to the demands of commerce as can be seen so clearly on the map of Campania.
In other words, there were regular market days, presumably not just in Italy but throughout the empire, which were not only for buying groceries but also provided an opportunity for regular worship assemblies to arise.

Less authoritative, Wikipedia ( also speaks of the Roman Market Day:
The Romans of the Republic, like the Etruscans, used a "market week" of eight days, marked as A to H in the calendar. A nundinum was the market day; ... The nundinal cycle formed one rhythm of day-to-day Roman life; the market day was the day when country people would come to the city, and the day when city people would buy their eight days' worth of groceries. ... The nundinal cycle was eventually replaced by the modern seven-day week, which first came into use in Italy during the early imperial period, after the Julian calendar had come into effect in 45 BC. The system of nundinal letters was also adapted for the week. For a while, the week and the nundinal cycle coexisted, but by the time the week was officially adopted by Constantine in AD 321, the nundinal cycle had fallen out of use.
And as mentioned above, there is the assumption that the phrase "Lord's day" refers to the first day of the week, but also as mentioned, that's just an assumption, with no Biblical evidence whatsoever to support it, and in fact, is in contrast with the general Biblical usage of the Sabbath as being the "day of the Lord", as in Isa 58:13:
If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;