Thursday, April 14, 2016

The "Other Gospel" Is About Law-Keeping vs Grace, Not One "Legal System" vs Another

WEB Gal 1:6 I marvel that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ to a different “good news”; 7 and there isn’t another “good news.” Only there are some who trouble you, and want to pervert the Good News of Christ. 8 But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you any “good news” other than that which we preached to you, let him be cursed. 9 As we have said before, so I now say again: if any man preaches to you any “good news” other than that which you received, let him be cursed.
This phrase, "other gospel", has been used by some as evidence that "we cannot assume the approval for something when none is given". But in using it thus, the passage is made to say something it doesn't say.

The "other gospel" which that passage warns about is a "gospel" that requires the Gentiles to keep the Jewish law of Moses. You can't just pull those few verses out of context; if you read them in context, you should be able to see that the "other gospel" of which they speak is summarized at the end of the next chapter, and the beginning of the one after that:
WEB Gal 2:21 I don’t make void the grace of God. For if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died for nothing! 3:1 Foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you not to obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly portrayed among you as crucified? 2 I just want to learn this from you. Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by hearing of faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now completed in the flesh?
The entire book of Galatians is dedicated to the theme that we are justified by faith, not by keeping this regulation or that rule or some legal system like the law of Moses (he also speaks of this in other places in his writing, such as in Col 2:16ff, where he says that Christianity is not about rules and regulations like "don't touch, taste, handle", or such as in Rom 14 where he says that the kingdom of God is not about rules such as eating or not eating, drinking or not drinking, keeping a holy day or not keeping it, but rather is about joy and peace and "doing the right thing" throughout your life's walk).

This false teaching which Paul is combating throughout the book, that Gentiles must keep the law of Moses (as we see the Jewish Christians teaching in Acts 15:1,5), is what he's referring to when he mentions "another gospel". He is not referring to the idea that "we cannot assume the approval for something when none is given". In fact, this claim is the very thing Paul is arguing against, saying:
WEB Gal 5:1 Stand firm therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and don’t be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. ... 4 You are alienated from Christ, you who desire to be justified by the law. You have fallen away from grace. 5 For we, through the Spirit, by faith wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision amounts to anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith working through love.
He says that if you want to be a law-keeper, you have to score 100% on your law-keeping, or you fail completely; none of us can score 100%; that's why law-keeping can't save us. There is NO law that will save us, not even the law of not assuming we have approval for something when none is given. (If there were ANY law that could save us, it would have been the law of Moses - Gal 3:21 "For if there had been a law given which could make alive, most certainly righteousness would have been of the law" - but it couldn't do it.) This is Paul's point in Galatians, and in much of the remainder of his writings, that we are not saved by keeping rules, such as "you must have authorization to breathe" - that's not a very freeing gospel; it's just as binding as the old covenant was, just with different rules.

Regardless of whether you can accept this teaching, that Paul is preaching against meticulous rule-keeping as a means of salvation, the use of Gal 1:6-9's "other gospel" to mean we need authorization for what we do is to simply take that passage out of context and use it to say something it doesn't say.

The Church Pattern in the Book of Acts

It has been claimed that, "The church of Christ practices and maintains the pattern of which was laid out in the book of Acts...".

I urge those who make this claim to reread the book of Acts.

Do we meet daily?

Do we praise God in a place (ie the Jewish Temple) wherein instrumental music is used in praise to God by those with whom we have serious doctrinal differences?

Do we live a communistic lifestyle, wherein none of us consider our possessions as our own, but rather as belonging to the community?

Do we have conferences where delegates from different churches meet to decide doctrinal practices for all churches everywhere?

Do we have thousands of believers who zealously keep the law of Moses?

Do we have church leaders who make Nazirite vows, ending them with the prescribed purification rituals and animal sacrifices?

If you'll reread the book of Acts with these questions in your head, I believe you will find that you need to cease claiming that we maintain the pattern laid out in the book of Acts.

In fact, if you'll zoom out and look at the broad overall pattern, you'll see it's a pattern of change, of adapting, not of a static snapshot of a perfect model of a perfect church.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The New Testament is Not a Legal System

When we look at the New Testament as a legal contract, to which we must adhere in every aspect, we have simply replaced one legal system with another, and we have gotten it wrong. We have missed the mark.

The apostle Paul does not contrast the Law of Moses, the old legal system, with the Law of Christ*, a new legal system; he contrasts a legal system with a grace/faith system. (* The only time the phrase "law of Christ" is found is Gal 6:2, wherein it is said that this law is fulfilled by bearing one another's burdens.)

The New Testament is not a new legal code replacing an old legal code. The old legal code (the old covenant) was written in stone, for all to see. God prophesied (Jer 31:31ff) that the new covenant would not be like that old covenant. The result is a new covenant that does not have a list of laws like the old covenant had; it's not a legal system.

Yet we think it is, so we FIND (that is, invent) legalistic laws within the pages of the New Testament, and then we teach those man-invented laws as doctrine. Vanity, this is vanity.

Don't you think that if God wanted to replace one legal system with another legal system, he'd make the laws in the new system just as plain and clear as he did in the old system? Or do we think he's now hidden those laws "between the lines", perhaps to weed out those believers who aren't dedicated enough to dig to find them?

The "law of Christ" is not about rules and regulations, such as "don't handle, nor taste, nor touch". These rules certainly look religious, but they aren't of any value in changing who we really are; they're just externals (Col 2:16-23). The law of Christ is about bearing one another's burdens, about feeding the hungry, and dressing the naked, and about having joy and peace, and doing "the right thing" (Gal 6:2; Matt 25:31ff; Rom 14:17). The "royal law" is not about keeping or not keeping a Sabbath day or a Sunday or a Passover or an Easter as a holy day, or about eating or not eating meat sacrificed to idols, or about drinking a little wine with supper vs being a teetotaler, or even being in agreement with other believers on these and similar issues (like one-cuppers, or kitchens in the building, or instrumental music); it's about loving your neighbor, and taking care of the widow and orphan, and living a clean life (Col 2:16-17; Rom 14; Jam 2:8; 1:27).

Yes, there may be correct and incorrect answers to these issues, but not every believer may come to understand that correct answer, and more importantly, the New Testament may not even provide that correct answer, simply because ... the New Testament is not a legal system.

Rather, the New Testament is a record of Jesus, and of his early disciples as they learned to live within the new covenant. The New Testament "system" can be best summed up by Rom 12:1 - "Live your life in submission to God, on a moment-to-moment basis; this is your holy service."

It's not about tithing on pennies (or spices, as Jesus put it - Matt 23:23); it's about the weightier matters of justice and mercy and being heart-faithful (like a spouse to a spouse should be heart-faithful - not perfect performance, but perfect commitment to each other). Yes, take care of the small details also; tithe on the pennies if that's what your understanding leads you to do; but the legalities are not the focus.

When we ask if a man who has been widowed, and then marries a second time, can be an elder ("Does he meet the qualification of being the husband of one wife?"), we're looking at the New Testament as a legal system. We're looking at the letter of the law, which Paul says brings death (2 Cor 3:6). Instead, we should be making judgments based on having God's spirit within us, on having the heart of Jesus; what would Jesus do? Would he use such a man as a shepherd for his people, or would he disqualify the man on a technicality?

We supposedly are adults now, no longer children; we don't need the rules and regulations that children need. We don't look to technicalities to get away with what we can ("You just said I couldn't watch TV; you didn't say I couldn't watch Netflix on my smartphone"; "You said I could bake the batch of cookie dough and then have one cookie before bed; so I just made one big cookie out of the batch, so I didn't disobey you"). We now have maturity, based on how our parent has raised us. If we have the heart of Jesus within us, if we are led by God's spirit matured in us, and not by our own childish, legalistic spirit, we may then do all things, whether in word or in deed, in the name of Jesus Christ, even if there's not some rule somewhere that specifically governs that thing we are doing. If we are led by the spirit of Jesus, we don't have any need to "find" rules to cover whatever it is we're doing; we'll make a good choice based on our maturity we have in him.

Go, and be Jesus to the world. Don't teach a legal system; teach how to live as God-empowered, spirit-filled, grown-ups.

Monday, April 11, 2016

New Testament Unity

The Holy Spirit considered it "good" (Acts 15:28) for the Jewish Christians to continue keeping the law of Moses (as did Paul - Acts 21:24), while the Gentiles did not (Acts 15:1-29; 21:25). Thus forms two very different and distinct groups within Christianity: the Circumcision, and the Uncircumcision.

So whatever "unity" Jesus prayed for, it wasn't a unity of looking alike and having the same practices. A church on one corner of the street intersection that wore tassels on their clothes and kept the Sabbath and observed Kosher dietary restrictions was just as unified in Christ with the church on the other corner that looks just like your congregation, as yours is with its identical sister in the next town over.

Also, Paul makes it clear in Romans 14 that unity allows for one believer to absolutely be convinced that keeping a holy day is essential to salvation, whereas another believer can be absolutely convinced that keeping a holy day is nothing. He makes it clear that unity allows for one believer to be convinced that eating certain foods is damning, while another believer can be convinced that all foods are clean, just as Jesus had proclaimed years earlier (Mark 7:19).

So whatever "unity" Jesus prayed for, it wasn't a unity based on having the same doctrine on all the issues. It was based on love for one another, *despite* doctrinal differences.

Jesus didn't say his disciples would be known by their doctrine (therefore, neither should we); he said they'd be known by their love for one another.

When he separated the sheep from the goats, he didn't do so on the basis of doctrine (and therefore, neither should we); he did so on the basis of how they treated one another.

It seems "wise" and "logical" to base unity on thinking/believing exactly alike, based on a common source of authority. But the problem with that route is that the common source of authority is not nearly so clear on all the issues as one camp or the other claims it is, and therefore they come to different conclusions on the issues. Although you have likely been trained to believe that the NT clearly teaches X, some other equally-intelligent and equally-dedicated-to-Truth seeker has been trained to believe that the NT clearly teaches Not X; and the truth of the matter is that the NT does not teach either case "clearly"; it may mention it here or there, leading you to conclude that "see, here's a clear statement", but in most cases, it just ain't clear.

This is by design. The old covenant consisted of rules and regulations written in stone for all to see; but God said the new covenant was to be unlike the old covenant, based on relationship with him, not based on rules and regulations. Paul makes it clear in Col 2:20 that Christianity is not based on rules and regulations, and he says it again in Rom 14:17, and he often speaks of how the new covenant is not based on the letter of the law, like was the old covenant, but rather on the spirit. Rules and regulations are for children; but we're now adults, expected to make good decisions based on having God's mature spirit within us, not the immature spirit of a child. God no longer treats us as children, giving us rules for bedtime and rules for crossing the street and rules for saying "thank you to the nice man"; he expects us to act like adults, as Jesus would act. If we have the heart of Jesus, the externals are just that - external. Don't make religion about the externals, like the Pharisees did; make it about loving one another and taking care of the orphan and widow and bearing one another's burdens and doing the right thing and living a clean life.

When we take a position on any particular topic, and declare that it (and others like it) are the mark of authenticity of a "real Christian", making those issues tests of fellowship, insisting that if they don't arrive at "the Truth" (as we understand it), we have already failed Jesus and his plea for unity.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

"Remember Me"

He had been their Commanding Officer for the past three years, and he had come to be both their leader and their friend; they trusted him completely.

This night was supposed to be a celebration, their favorite holiday meal. The trimmings were there, the rituals, the singing, but the night somehow had taken a darker tone than they had expected. The men didn't know what the C.O. knew. They knew he was about to embark on a dangerous mission, but they had no idea it was a suicide mission. The C.O. knew it though.

And he knew it wasn't just any old suicide mission. He knew it was going to result in two things: unspeakable torture for himself, and the turning point of the war resulting in the salvation of his people, and of these men of his whom he had come to love dearly.

He didn't explain it all to them; he had tried a few times, but they just didn't get it.

So this night, rather than wallowing in his fate, he merely looked at the yearly holiday meal rituals with which they were all familiar, and saw them in a new light. As the meal progressed, he co-opted these ancient rituals and cryptically told his men, "Whenever you do this in the future, remember me."

On the last night of this life, he told them to "have each others' backs", and to "remember me".

"Remember me".

Two-thousand years later, many of us gather yearly, like that original holiday Passover meal; some gather quarterly; and some gather weekly.

I realized this morning, that if I weren't attending a Christian assembly every Sunday morning, and participating in a very simplified, stripped-down version of that meal, I would probably just go about living life, oblivious to his last request.

I may not remember Jesus and his sacrifice particularly well, but I'm thankful he gave me a trigger to spur that periodic remembrance, so that I can slow down just a few seconds, and lift my cup in honor to Jesus, and say, "I remember."

Friday, April 08, 2016

The Ten Commandments

  1. You shall have no other gods before Yahweh.
  2. No idols.
  3. Don't take/wear Yahweh’s name unless you mean it.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it special.
  5. Honor your parents.
  6. Do not murder.
  7. Do not commit adultery.
  8. Do not steal.
  9. Do not lie about your neighbor.
  10. Do not obsess about what your neighbor has.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

The New Testament as a Legal Law System

I recently read the claim that "'s typical nature resists authority (law)...".

In a sense this is true.

But also, in a sense, man's typical nature is to create law where none exists.

This was what Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing.

Humans, especially children, need structure.

Back in the 70s or 80s, progressive thinkers decided to take down the fences around elementary school yards, so the kids wouldn't feel like they were in jail. But the result is that the kids started staying away from the edges of the yard, because the edges were no longer safe. So in the 90s, up went the fences again, and now the kids feel safe enough to go to the very edge, taking full advantage of the school yard area.

The same is true in religion; as children, we needed the Law of Moses to define our boundaries. As adults, we no longer need the letter of the law, as we're led by the spirit, and know our own boundaries (or should).

This is why God, through Jeremiah (Jer 31:31ff), prophesied that the new covenant would not be like the old, laws written in stone, unflexible to changing needs, needing to be taught one to another, inviting punishment for infractions; rather, the new covenant is about "law" in our heart, based on relationship, based on knowing YHWH, and being forgiven for our infractions.

This is why Paul writes of being a minister of a new covenant, not of the letter (which kills), but of the spirit (2 Cor 3:6).

This is why there is no list of legal do's and dont's in the New Testament; it's a different type of covenant from the old covenant.

This is why Paul writes that it's worldly to think in terms of "don't touch this; don't taste that"; these external rules and regulations appear to be religious, but they have no value in steering your life from the inside (Col 2:20ff).

This is why Paul writes that the kingdom of God is not a matter of what you can and can't drink or eat, or keeping or not keeping this or that holy day, but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17 and context).

This is why Jesus emphasizes the inside of the cup (Matt 23:25-26), and the weightier matters of the law, rather than tithing on pennies (Matt 23:23).

This is why Jesus sums up the entire law in two broad principles: Love God, love each other (Matt 22:34-40).

The old covenant was a legal system; the new covenant is not a legal system.

This is Paul's point, when he contrasts salvation by faith/grace with salvation by law-keeping. He's not just talking about the Law of Moses; he's talking about *any* law. When you try to be justified by a legal system, you've fallen from grace, having adopted a different gospel than that which he preached.

James confirms this when he says that if you try to be saved by law, you have to keep all of the law; fail in any tiny detail, and you've failed in it all (Jam 2:10). So instead of living as if you're under a legal system, live as those who are judged under a law of liberty (v. 12). You want to fulfill the "legal system of Christ", the "royal law according to Scripture"? Then love your neighbor as yourself. That's it. That's the entirety of the perfect law of liberty (Jam 1:25; 2:8; 2:12). Paul confirms this, saying that bearing one another's burdens fulfills the law of Christ (Gal 6:2).

Pure religion is not about keeping a set of legal requirements; it's about visiting orphans and widows in their distress (Jam 1:27).

Jesus did not say his disciples would be known by their perfect doctrine, but by their love for one another (John 13:35).

When he divides the sheep from the goats (Matt 25), he won't do so on the basis of their doctrine, but on the basis of how they treated one another.

The new covenant is not a legal system like the old covenant was. But we "need" structure, we need law, and not finding it in a list of rules like we had in the old covenant, we search in the new covenant for that law by looking between the lines and by using human logic and by plucking this passage and piecing it together with another passage to arrive at a jigsaw-puzzle theology that gives us the laws we "need".

The new covenant is about the spirit, not the letter. Get that, and your outlook changes tremendously.

Do Specific Instructions Forbid Other Actions?

Guest blogger today - Christian Hope, who says,
I actually copied these thoughts from a man named Edward Lawrence. I encourage you to check out his website here:

I did add some thoughts into it. I just desire to be honest and consistent.
[Many Christians believe] that when God specifies one specific action then therefore all other kinds or similar types are automatically excluded. I used to hold this view but have changed it due to in-depth searching, prayer and more studying.

If we're going to view Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16 this way, which I believe we shouldn't, then let's view the whole New Testament this way. For example:
Greet one another with a holy kiss.
(Rom 16:16, 1 Cor 16:20, 2 Cor 13:12, 1 Thes 5:26, 1 Pet 5:14)
Kisses are a kind of greeting and are specified as the kind of greeting Christians are to use. Therefore, all other kinds of greetings are excluded and thus unauthorized. Handshakes, hugs, waving, etc. are all unauthorized forms of greetings.

No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.
1 Tim 5:23
Wine is a kind of medicine and is specified as the kind of medicine Christians are to use for their infirmities. Therefore, all other kinds of medicines are excluded and thus unauthorized. Penicillin, Pepto-Bismol, Tylenol and all other forms of medicine are unauthorized.

And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
Heb 10:24-25
There can be many kinds of assemblies (social, entertainment, educational, etc), but the kind of assemblies Christians are specified to gather in are for the purpose of spiritual edification. Therefore, all other reasons why Christians might assemble are excluded and thus unauthorized.

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
James 5:14
There are many kinds of "healers" (doctors, nurses, 911, etc.) who can alleviate illnesses, but the kinds of "healers" specified for Christians are elders of the church. Therefore, all other "healers" (doctors, nurses, 911, etc.) are excluded and thus unauthorized.

Now obviously, we don't interpret these other passages in the same way we interpret the ones about singing. If we are going to remain consistent, we are going to have to admit that we can't apply the concept of specific authority to the "singing" passages in an attempt to forbid musical instruments. Otherwise we had better start greeting one another only with kisses, using wine as our only medicine, and so forth. Ephesians 5 is talking about our lives. We must remain in context. I say this with love and am always open to reproof. Also look at 1 Cor 10:21-31. I believe Paul is talking about the things which God has not specifically forbidden in scripture.