Monday, June 19, 2006

Is Old Testament Law Applicable Today?

Something that has been on my heart lately is the relevance of Old Testament Law: Does it still apply to us today? I hope to write more on this subject in the near future, but in the meantime, let me share some of my initial thoughts on the subject.

Whevever I hear someone talk about "God's Law"—in particular, calling for "God's Law" to be enforced in civil government—I find myself a bit confused. What exactly does that entail? What do they mean by "God's Law"? My concern is that what they are really pushing is an American theocracy.

Recently, I read an article that called for the state-sanctioned killing of homosexuals. "The word of God commands that sodomites are to be executed," the author writes, "and God gives our civil officials the sword to do the job. Until our civil officials turn from their wicked way by administering Justice, we can only be judged with the most depraved pagan nations in history." Welcome to life under theocratic rule.

One of the things that jumps out at me whenever I see a plea for a return to "God's Law" is the lack of clarification in defining the law. If honoring the law means adherence to the Old Testament, then what other laws should we enforce? Should a man who lies with a woman during her menstrual cycle be banished (Lev. 20:18)? Should women who aren't virgins be stoned to death (Deut. 22:20-21)? Should all adulterers be executed (Deut. 22:22)? Should we stone rebellious children (Deut. 21:20-21)? What's to be done with those who mar the edges of their beards (Lev. 19:27)? Should women who have just given birth be kept from attending church services for 33 days—66 if they give birth to a girl (Lev. 12:4-5)? And how should we lawfully and biblically deal with those who have bodily discharge (Lev. 15)?

How are we to determine which laws are to be enforced? Didn't James say that if we fail to keep the law in one point, we are guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10)? I'm not saying that the Old Testament is irrelavant, but we must look at it in light of the New Testament.

For example, in the New Testament we learn that Christ, through his life, death, and resurrection, fulfilled the law (Matt. 5:17, Luke 24:44, John 15:25). We as Christians fulfill the law through love (Rom. 13:10). And Paul reminds us that "the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Gal. 5:14).

That, of course, isn't to say that we should be silent when it comes to the law. As we take Christ to the world, we preach the law so that people are convicted of their sin. But we also reach out to the lost in love by preaching the gospel. That's how individual lives, families, communities, nations, and the world are changed. No amount of legislating will do that.

A New Law
- from Mockingbird by Derek Webb



Don't teach me about politics and government
Just tell me who to vote for

Don't teach me about truth and beauty
Just label my music

Don't teach me how to live like a free man
Just give me a new law

I don't wanna know if the answers aren't easy
So just bring it down from the mountain to me

I want a new law
I want a new law
Gimme that new law

Don't teach me about moderation and liberty
I prefer a shot of grape juice

Don't teach me about loving my enemies

Don't teach me how to listen to the Spirit
Just give me a new law

I don't wanna know if the answers aren't easy
So just bring it down from the mountain to me

I want a new law
I want a new law
Gimme that new law

What's the use in trading a law you can never keep
for one you can that cannot get you anything
Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid

Monday, June 12, 2006

Should Christians Be Optimistic? Part II

In my previous post, I considered certain attributes of God's character and
His purposes that should incline Christians toward historical optimism.

Likewise, consider Jesus and His ministry. Christ came to earth to
accomplish the purpose of His Father in establishing the kingdom of God.

Before departing to the right hand of the Father, Jesus promised to empower
His disciples, and He gave them their marching orders. "All authority in
heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples
of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and
of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt. 18:18-20).

After this, Jesus ascends to heaven and is enthroned at the right hand of
God. I've often wondered why I've never heard a single sermon on the
ascension and its significance. Not once in my entire life do I recall
having been taught about this doctrine. The reason, I've concluded, is
that it conflicts with the predominant eschatological framework of the
modern evangelical church. The idea that Jesus is king NOW and has been
given all authority in heaven and ON EARTH does not neatly comport with the
notion that the church will fail, and that Satan's authority and power will
increase over time.

Jesus has been exalted at the right hand of God and the promised Holy
Spirit was poured out on the church to empower it with gifts (Acts
2:30-36). Scripture affirms that Jesus will, indeed must, reign until he
has put ALL his enemies under his feet (I Cor. 15:25). But does this
victory occur through a catastrophic return, or is the process slow and
gradual with Jesus working out His will through His People?

Paul says that the Father "seated him [Jesus] at his right hand in the
heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,
and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the
one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over
all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills
all in all" (Eph. 1:19-23).

Jesus said to Peter, "I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will
not overcome it." Our Lord paints a picture of a militant and empowered
body of believers, with Jesus in the lead working through the Holy Spirit,
taking the Gospel into the world and scattering the darkness. It is the
forces of evil manning the barricades against the Church, not visa versa.

Thus, if Jesus has been given all authority, and has been made head of the
church, then He is responsible to bring the world into submission. Is it
possible that He will fail? And why would such a victory only come about
AFTER the church, the Body of Christ, has been raptured out of the world?

Having said that, let me offer a qualification. The kingdom of God has not
reached its ultimate fulfillment. There is indeed an "already, not yet"
dichotomy at work. However, is it not reasonable to expect that during the
period between inauguration and consummation there will be growth in the
kingdom of God?

When Jesus describes the Kingdom in His parables, he paints a picture of a
mustard seed sown in a field. "It is the smallest of all seeds, but when
it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree,"
says Jesus (Matt. 13:31-33). Likewise the kingdom is like leaven that over
time permeates the entire loaf of bread. So the development is progressive
and slow, not catastrophic or in some sense post-historical.

This is not altogether different from a traditional understanding of
sanctification. There is a moment of definitive sanctification in the life
of the believer. However, the process of growing into Christ-likeness
takes place in history, on earth, practically in the life of the believer.
And though sin is not completely eradicated, it should wield less influence
over the believer. Why shouldn't this principle apply to the broader
context of God's kingdom?

Next time, I will briefly consider Christ's humiliation.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Should Christians Be Optimistic? Part I

As a Calvinistic Southern Baptist, it dawned on me recently how crabbed we sound when synthesizing our understanding of God's sovereignty, or decretive will, with historical pessimism.

Over the course of several brief posts, I would like to consider how our understanding of God's sovereignty, Christology, and Pneumatology should provide a framework for historical optimism.

First, let us consider some basic purposes of the Father. God has promised to bless the nations and all families of the earth. "Now the LORD said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed'" (Gen. 12:1-3)

Second, the Father has promised to establish His Son's Kingdom over the whole earth (see Ps. 110). In Daniel 2, we read, "God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever."

Through Christ, the Kingdom of God comes to fruition. According to Isaiah there will be no end to the increase of His government, and from His throne justice and righteousness will be established and upheld.

We also know some other things about God’s attributes. In His dealings with man, God is gracious and merciful. "The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" (Ps. 145:8). Similarly, God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. "For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live" (Ezek. 18:32; see also Ezek. 18:23).

On the other hand, we also know that God decrees EVERYTHING that comes to pass for His glory and pleasure (see Eph. 1:3-14). According to the London Baptist Confession (1689), "God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass."

Does God’s decretive will, expressed above, come into conflict with his graciousness toward men? The primary eschatological approaches of the day, which tend toward historical pessimism, typically posit that the vast majority of mankind will be lost. But if God does not take pleasure in the deaths of men, why would he foreordain to punish the majority of them?

More to come...

Monday, June 05, 2006

Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia

In case you forgot, tomorrow is June 6, 2006, or... (cue the theme music from The Omen) ...666!

Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia (Does it really need to be explained?) is the fear of the number 666, and it has led to some silly reactions. You may recall that U.S. Route 666 was renamed to U.S. Route 491 back in 2003. And I know of one house not too far from my own home that had its address changed from 666 to 668.

Unfortunately, this irrational fear seems to be popping up in evangelical circles. Ambassadors Ministries, for example, is calling for a "violent day of worship" to combat the forces of evil:
    "We believe that the plans the enemy has for this date (June 6, 2006) will be destroyed through violent worship and praise. We are inviting the entire world to be part of this huge unity project."
Now, I could be wrong, but hasn't this particular date already come and gone 20 times over the last 2000 years?

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