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In:Early Church, Separation & Nonconformity, Sin

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By Tertullian (c. 197)

  This is a selection from Tertullian’s work On the Shows. It was written in response to Christians who claimed that since there was no Scriptural command forbidding attendance at various pagan Roman entertainments, it was therefore allowed to Christians. Tertullian argued the opposite – since it was not explicitly allowed, it was therefore forbidden, and furthermore, the nature of the shows was such that no Christian should want to attend. His arguments apply just as well to today’s sporting events, television, and other contemporary forms of entertainment. This selection presents chapters 25, 28, and 29, taken from the Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 3, pages 89-91. Language slightly modernized.—Ed.   Seated where there is nothing of God, will one be thinking of his Maker? Will there be peace in his soul when there is eager strife there for a charioteer? Wrought up into a frenzied excitement, will he learn to be modest? Nay, in the whole thing he will meet with no greater temptation than that showy attiring of the men and women. The very intermingling of emotions, the very agreements and disagreements with each other in the bestowment of their favors, where you have such close communion, blow up the sparks of passion. Furthermore, there is hardly any other reason to go to the show, than to see and to be seen. When a tragic actor is loudly speaking, will one be giving thought to prophetic appeals? Amid the measures of the effeminate player, will he call up to himself a psalm? And when the athletes are hard at struggle, will he be ready to proclaim that there must be no striking again? And with his eye fixed on the bites of bears, and the sponge-nets of the net-fighters, can he be moved by compassion? May God avert from His people any such passionate eagerness after a cruel enjoyment! For how monstrous it is to go from God’s church to the devil’s—from the sky to the sty, as they say; to raise your hands to God, and then to weary them in the applause of an actor; out of the mouth, from which you uttered Amen over the Holy Thing, to give witness in a gladiator’s favor; to cry “forever” to anyone else but God and Christ!…   With such dainties as these let the devil’s guests be feasted. The places and the times, the inviter too, are theirs. Our banquets, our nuptial joys, are yet to come. We cannot sit down in fellowship with them, as neither can they with us. Things in this matter go by their turns. Now they have gladness and we are troubled. “The world,” says Jesus, “shall rejoice; ye shall be sorrowful.” Let us mourn, then, while the heathen are merry, that in the day of their sorrow we may rejoice; lest, sharing now in their gladness, we share then also in their grief. You are too dainty, Christian, if you want to have pleasure in this life as well as in the next; no, you are a fool, if you think this life’s pleasures to be really pleasures. The philosophers, for instance, give the name of pleasure to quietness and repose; in that they have their bliss; in that they find entertainment: they even glory in it. You long for the goal, and the stage, and the dust, and the place of combat! I would have you answer me this question: Can we not live without pleasure, who cannot die without pleasure? For what is our wish but the apostle’s, to leave the world, and be taken up into the fellowship of our Lord? You have your joys where you have your longings.   Even as things are, if you intend to spend this period of existence in enjoyments, how are you so ungrateful as to count insufficient, as not thankfully to recognize the many and exquisite pleasures God has bestowed upon you? For what more delightful than to have peace with God the Father and our Lord, than to have the revelation of the truth, than confession of our errors, than pardon of the innumerable sins of our past life? What greater pleasure than distaste of pleasure itself, contempt of all that the world can give, true liberty, a pure conscience, a contented life, and freedom from all fear of death? What nobler than to tread underfoot the gods of the nations—to exorcise evil spirits—to perform cures—to seek divine revelations—to live to God? These are the pleasures, these are the spectacles that befit Christian men—holy, everlasting, free. Count these to be your circus games, fix your eyes on the courses of the world, the gliding seasons, reckon up the periods of time, long for the goal of the final consummation, defend the societies of the churches, be startled at God’s signal, be roused up at the angel’s trump, glory in the palms of martyrdom. If the literature of the stage delights you, we have literature in abundance of our own—plenty of verses, sentences, songs, proverbs; and these not fables, but true! They are not tricks of art, but plain realities. Would you have also fightings and wrestlings? Well, of these there is no lacking, and they are not of slight account. Behold unchastity overcome by chastity, treachery slain by faithfulness, cruelty stricken by compassion, impudence thrown into the shade by modesty. These are the contests we have among us, and in these we win our crowns. Would you have something of blood too? You have Christ’s.

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In:Anabaptists, Salvation and the New Birth, The Church, Theology

Comments Off on The Church Obedient: A Debate

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

 

Philip of Hesse was an unusual man for his time. While most governments – Protestant and Catholic alike – were violently persecuting the Anabaptists, he took a milder approach, believing that they could be convinced to rejoin the state church by discussion and softer measures.

 

Among the reformers, Martin Bucer and Wolfgang Capito of Strasbourg were the friendliest to such an approach,[1] and in 1538, when Philip wanted to make an attempt to reunite the local Anabaptists with the Lutheran state church, he invited Martin Bucer to come debate with them.

 

Several local Anabaptists had been arrested and imprisoned, and Philip needed help to persuade them to recant. Martin Bucer had earlier complained of his inability to persuade Anabaptists to rejoin the state church, but he nevertheless accepted Philip’s invitation and came to Hesse. From October 30 to November 3, 1538, Martin Bucer debated with several Anabaptists in the city of Marburg in Hesse, where they were imprisoned. The subjects discussed included several very familiar ones which frequently came up in discussions between Protestants and Anabaptists – church discipline, baptism, the government, separation from the state church, etc. However, in this particular disputation, there were a few surprises.[2]

 

The Debate

 

On the Anabaptist side, there were two main speakers for the debate – Jörg Schnabel and Leonhard Fälber. Schnabel discussed several topics with Bucer, although the main topic between the two was whether the Anabaptists were justified in separating from the state church. Similarly for Fälber, the main topic of discussion between him and Bucer was the validity of the calling of the Protestant preachers.

 

Why are you Separate?

 

After the opening formalities, the first question asked of Jörg Schnabel was “why they had separated themselves from our [Lutheran] church.” The record says “His answer came back, that he was repelled by false doctrine.”

 

Jörg then proceeded to give his testimony of how he left the Lutheran church. After reading the Bible, he realized that usury was wrong, and also came to realize the importance of church discipline. So he went to his pastor and explained his concerns, and his pastor “conceded that things were ill in the church; he would do his duty, and he, Jorg, was answerable before God that he also look to the matter.” Notwithstanding his assurance that he “would do his duty,” the pastor let the issue drop and did nothing. When Jörg mentioned something to the pastor the second time, he received a colder reply with no apparent interest in changing the abuses in the church. So, Jörg concluded, “he declared to pastor, mayor and town council that he wished to separate from them.” Following this, his pastor told the authorities that Jörg “wanted to overthrow kings and punish all evil with the sword” – which was not true. So Jörg had been arrested.

 

Bucer and Schnabel then went back and forth, arguing the point – were the Anabaptists justified in separating from the state church? Much of the discussion focused on usury and church discipline, since in Schnabel’s mind, these were the two most important issues leading to the Anabaptists’ separation from the Lutherans.

 

Unfortunately, neither of the two seemed to realize that the whole discussion was pointless, since separation was not the root of their disagreement. Rather, the root of their disagreement lay in their differing definitions of the church. If the two could have openly discussed the nature of the church, they would have understood each other’s positions regarding separation better, and would have been better equipped to critique their respective opponents. As it was, the differing definitions were stated more than once, but the nature of the church was never discussed in its own right.

 

Bucer twice defined the church during the debate:

Wherever there is a church which gladly hears God’s Word, that is a Christian church.[3]

 

To this, Jörg replied that

 

if it were the church of Christ then it would have gone ahead with such an understanding; since it hasn’t done it, it is no believing church and he won’t accept it unless he is convinced by the Bible itself.[4]

 

In other words, the true church of Christ would have obeyed God’s Word. Jörg further said:

 

A church would not be condemned which is organized according to the true order of Holy Scripture, namely, with repentance, faith, baptism, doctrine, the laying on of hands, even if it has inadequacies.[5]

 

On the second day of the debate, Bucer directly asked Jörg “if he conceded it to be a church where they believe in the Word of God.” Jörg replied, “those who commit themselves to the truth and stand obediently in Christ, them he respects as a church.”[6] Bucer contradicted him: “Where teaching is Christian, there is a church.”[7]

 

Ultimately, the Anabaptists could not be reconciled with Bucer’s state church because the two had irreconcilable views of what the church was. These different views were the foundation of the entire discussion on why the Anabaptists had separated themselves from the state church. The two views stayed behind the scenes in this particular debate, although each view visibly undergirded each party’s approach to the question of separation, and each side did, more than once, clearly define the church in the debate.

 

To Bucer, the church was the territorial church, and a church was defined or known by its doctrine. He defined the church as the place where the Word was truly preached. The Anabaptist defined the church as that body of people which is obedient to the Word of God.

 

A True Christian Pastor

 

After Jörg’s examination was over, Leonhard Fälber was interviewed. When he came to the witness stand, “First he asked Mr. Butzer from whence came his calling to preach according to the rule of Christ.”[8]

 

This is a surprise! The early Anabaptists were constantly being challenged by the Protestants as to the validity of the calling of their ministers. They were continually challenged to prove that their ministers had been legitimately called and ordained. This is a new twist – in this debate, the Anabaptist turned the tables on the state church, and asked Bucer to prove his own calling! Leonhard added further, “But he [Bucer] hasn’t thereby sufficient evidence as to who sent them.”

 

Bucer was probably quite unprepared for this line of questioning, and gave some vague answers. Leonhard pressed his point: “When I see you come with such signs as Christ commanded of them [ministers], namely that they should be born again, joined to Christ with the death of sins, then I will believe in you.”

 

Bucer rejoined that the Lutherans did not allow anyone to be a preacher who was not “at one with Christ,” to which Leonhard answered by quoting John 3:7 and stating, “Now I know none [no Protestant minister] who has been resurrected in such a rebirth through falling away of the first life; I find that they take the opposite position, do not gather with Christ but rather scatter.”

 

As with the discussion on separation, the discussion of the calling of the preachers was based on another, deeper disagreement – namely, the definition of a Christian. Bucer defined a Christian: “because they confess the faith we must recognize them as Christians even though they haven’t renewed the baptism.” In other words, even though they have not obeyed all of the teachings of the Word of God, they must be acknowledged as Christians based on their oral confession. Leonhard gave a stinging answer to this:

 

I feel that you don’t have a living word for which God sent his beloved Son to us; you have a dead word, as evidenced by your fellowship, else you would draw away from the evil.

 

That is, a true preacher will be known by the fruits of his followers. The Protestant ministers’ congregations were not populated by people who had “been resurrected in such a rebirth through falling away of the first life” – rather, evil abounded! Thus, the Protestant ministers, in Leonhard’s view, did not have a life-giving word from God, but rather a dead word. When Bucer counter-challenged Leonhard, asking if the Anabaptist ministers “had an act or a living word,” Leonhard responded:

 

They have a living word that can bring the people from evil to good and totally renew them.

 

Amen! Drawing people away from evil to good through a total renewal and regeneration of life is the duty of a true preacher of God. Because the Anabaptists saw this truth, and because they knew what a true Christian was, they were able to establish truly holy churches while the Protestant churches sank lower and lower in sin. Why did the Protestant churches degenerate in this way? Remember what Bucer said – “because they confess the faith we must recognize them as Christians”. Confession of faith was all that was necessary to be recognized by them as a true Christian.

 

Conclusion

 

This delightful discussion contains a good challenge for us today. How is it for us? How do we define the church? Is it the place where the Word is rightly preached and the sacrament rightly administered – regardless of how the people live, or whether they know God? Or is the church the body of people gathered to obey God’s Word?

 

What is a Christian? Is it someone who “confesses the faith” with his mouth, who may or may not be living a holy life? Or is it someone who has been drawn from evil to good, and been totally renewed by Christ?

 

Are we Protestants, or are we Anabaptists?

 

[1] Although Bucer did approve of some forms of persecution.

[2] Translation of the debate minutes in Franklin H. Littell, “What Butzer Debated with the Anabaptists at Marburg: A Document of 1538,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 36(3) (July 1962):256-276. All quotations from the debate in this article are from this translation.

[3] Page 262.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Page 263.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Page 276.

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In:Early Church, Exodus

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By Irenaeus of Lyons

Critics of the Bible claim that it was unjust for the Israelites to “spoil the Egyptians” by taking their gold and jewelry on their way out of Egypt.  As this passage from Irenaeus’ Against Heresies shows, this is not a new accusation.  Irenaeus’s brilliant defense of GOD’s justice in instructing the Israelites to do this is still worth reading today.  From Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, pp. 502-503.  Somewhat modernized.—Ed.

 

Those, again, who frivolously object and find fault because the people did, by God’s command, upon the eve of their departure, take vessels of all kinds and raiment from the Egyptians, and so went away, from which [spoils], too, the tabernacle was constructed in the wilderness, prove themselves ignorant of the righteous dealings of God, and of His dispensations; as also the presbyter[1] remarked: For if God had not accorded this in the typical exodus, no one could now be saved in our true exodus; that is, in the faith in which we have been established, and by which we have been brought forth from among the number of the Gentiles.  For in some cases there follows us a small, and in others a large amount of property, which we have acquired from the mammon of unrighteousness.  For from what source do we derive the houses in which we dwell, the garments in which we are clothed, the vessels which we use, and everything else ministering to our everyday life, unless it be from those things which, when we were Gentiles, we acquired by avarice, or received them from our heathen parents, relations, or friends who unrighteously obtained them?—not to mention that even now we acquire such things when we are in the faith.  For who is there that sells, and does not wish to make a profit from him who buys?  Or who purchases anything, and does not wish to obtain good value from the seller?  Or who is there that carries on a trade, and does not do so that he may obtain a livelihood thereby?  And as to those believing ones who are in the royal palace, do they not derive the utensils they employ from the property which belongs to Caesar; and to those who have not, does not each one of these [Christians] give according to his ability?

 

The Egyptians were debtors to the [Jewish] people, not alone as to property, but as to their very lives, because of the kindness of the patriarch Joseph in former times; but in what way are the heathen debtors to us, from whom we receive both gain and profit?  Whatsoever they amass with labor, these things do we make use of without labor, although we are in the faith.

 

Up to that time the people served the Egyptians in the most abject slavery, as saith the Scripture: “And the Egyptians exercised their power rigorously upon the children of Israel; and they made life bitter to them by severe labors, in mortar and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field which they did, by all the works in which they oppressed them with rigor.”  And with immense labor they built for them fenced cities, increasing the substance of these men throughout a long course of years, and by means of every species of slavery; while these [masters] were not only ungrateful towards them, but had in contemplation their utter annihilation.  In what way, then, did [the Israelites] act unjustly, if out of many things they took a few, they who might have possessed much property had they not served them, and might have gone forth wealthy, while, in fact, by receiving only a very insignificant recompense for their heavy servitude, they went away poor?  It is just as if any free man, being forcibly carried away by another, and serving him for many years, and increasing his substance, should be thought, when he ultimately obtains some support, to possess some small portion of his [master’s] property, but should in reality depart, having obtained only a little as the result of his own great labors, and out of vast possessions which have been acquired, and this should be made by any one a subject of accusation against him, as if he had not acted properly.  He (the accuser) will rather appear as an unjust judge against him who had been forcibly carried away into slavery.  Of this kind, then, are these men also, who charge the people with blame, because they appropriated a few things out of many, but who bring no charge against those who did not render them the recompense due to their fathers’ services; nay, but even reducing them to the most irksome slavery, obtained the highest profit from them.  And [these objectors] allege that [the Israelites] acted dishonestly, because, in truth, they took away from the recompense of their labors, as I have observed, unstamped gold and silver in a few vessels; while they say that they themselves (for let truth be spoken, although to some it may seem ridiculous) do act honestly, when they carry away in their girdles from the labors of others, coined gold, and silver, and brass, with Caesar’s inscription and image upon it.

 

[1] The identity of this “presbyter,” who is often quoted by Irenaeus, is not certain.  It may have been Pothinus, the original missionary to the people of Gaul, who was Irenaeus’s predecessor as bishop of Lyons.  Pothinus died a martyrs’ death, whereupon Irenaeus became bishop.—Ed.

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In:Ephesians, Galatians, James, Romans, Salvation and the New Birth

Comments Off on Works versus Works: Demonstrating Harmony Between Paul and James

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” (James 2:21).

“For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God” (Romans 4:2).

“Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).

“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28).

 

Two authors.  Two books.  Two audiences.  And it appears…two contradictory points of view.  But is it true?  Or is it an illusion?

 

Is it possible that all four statements are true at the same time, and that they naturally harmonize with each other when we take the time to investigate the contexts of the statements, without letting preconceived ideas get in the way of understanding?

 

It is not only possible, but true.  If we understand the context in which these statements are made, and what each author meant by the word “works,” the solution falls neatly into place.

 

James

 

Let us begin with the book of James.  The book of James was probably the first book of the New Testament to be written.  It was not written to argue against Paul, since it was written before any of Paul’s epistles were written.  In James 2:14-26, we read:

 

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works?  can faith save him?  If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?  Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.  Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.  Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.  But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?  Seest thou how faith wrought [worked together] with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?  And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.  Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.  Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?  For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (James 2:14-26).

 

James here teaches that Abraham was justified by works, and that we are not justified by faith only, but by works.  But what kind of works was he talking about?

 

Looking carefully in the passage, we notice that he is talking about good works. Specifically, there are two kinds of good works which he is talking about: 1) Works of obedience, such as Abraham offering up Isaac, and 2) philanthropic works of kindness, such as Rahab saving the spies from certain death.  Abraham and Rahab were justified by these works.  They obeyed God.  They did good to their fellowman, motivated by faith.

 

We, also, cannot be justified without the good works of obedience to God’s commands and goodness to others.  (Justified or justification usually means “to make righteous or just.”  It can mean “to prove something as correct, righteous, or just.”  A discussion of the meaning of justification is beyond the scope of this article.)

 

Paul

 

What about Paul?  What kind of works was he talking about when he said Abraham was not justified by works, and that we are justified by faith?  Was he talking about good works, dead works, works of faith, evil works, works of the law, or any and all types of works?

 

What advantage then hath the Jew?  or what profit is there of circumcision?  Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God…What then?  are we better than they?  No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin…Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.  Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.  But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.  Where is boasting then?  It is excluded.  By what law?  of works?  Nay: but by the law of faith.  Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.  Is he the God of the Jews only?  is he not also of the Gentiles?  Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.  Do we then make void the law through faith?  God forbid: yea, we establish the law (Romans 3:1-2, 9, 19-31).

 

What kind of works is Paul talking about in this passage?  Notice who he is talking about at the beginning of the chapter – the Jews, the people of circumcision (verse 1).  Unto them were committed the oracles of God (verse 2) – the Old Testament, the Law of Moses.  Notice that he continues talking about the Jews throughout the passage, and the Law.  This is the Law of Moses, the “oracles of God” from verse 2.  It is not just any set of rules or a code of morality.  It is a specific law, the Law of Moses.  The “works” which he is speaking about in this passage are the works of that Law.  So when he says, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds [same Greek word as that which is translated “works”] of the law,” he is talking about the works of the Law of Moses – Sabbaths, feasts, new moons, dietary laws, and especially circumcision.  This is further confirmed as we move into the next chapter, and see what he says about Abraham.

 

What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?  For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.  For what saith the scripture?  Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.  Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.  But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.  Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.  Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also?  for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.  How was it then reckoned?  when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision?  Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.  And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.  For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.  For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.  Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were (Romans 4:1-17).

 

Abraham – the father of the Jewish nation – was going to need to be addressed by Paul if he was going to get the Jews to pay attention to his argument.  If circumcision was not necessary for salvation, as he argued in chapter 3, he is going to have to address the case of Abraham, to whom circumcision was first given.  Paul does so by pointing out that Abraham was justified and his faith was counted to him as righteousness before he was circumcised.  So when Paul says, “if Abraham were justified by works,” he is talking about the works of the Law of Moses – specifically circumcision.  And he proves that Abraham was not justified by such works, because he was justified before being circumcised.  Therefore, circumcision is not necessary for justification.

 

Therefore, to take verse 5 (“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness”) out of context as support for a faith-alone view of salvation is wresting the Scriptures.  In its original context, this was intended as a repudiation of the works of the Law of Moses, not of obedience to Christ’s commandments, basic morality, or of the authority of the church.

 

Historical Background

 

To fully grasp these teachings of the Apostle Paul, we need to understand the historical background in which he was working.  We are first introduced to the Judaizers in Acts 15.  “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).  These were Jews from Judaea who were coming to Antioch (Acts 14:26-28).  Antioch was a church composed of both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 11:19-20; 13:1).  It had been a stretching experience for Jewish Christians to accept the fact that God had accepted the Gentiles into the fold of faith (Acts 11:1-18).  Some of them got the idea that the Gentiles could come to faith in Christ and be accepted, but that they still must observe the Old Testament/Mosaic ceremonies, such as circumcision.

 

Antioch was Paul’s home church.  It was the church which had commissioned his first missionary journey.  And it was Ground Zero for the teaching of the Judaizers.  Paul was right on the scene when the trouble began, and he encountered it head on: “When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question” (Acts 15:2).

 

Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem, where the Jerusalem Council discussed and settled the question.  Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and James all spoke in favor of the point of view eventually adopted by the Council under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – namely, that the Gentiles who converted to Christianity did not need to keep the Mosaic Law; the only items from the Law which would be enjoined upon the Gentiles were the necessity to abstain from things offered to idols, from fornication, and from eating meat with blood in it and animals that had been strangled (Acts 15:20, 29; cf. 21:25).  When this decision was made known to the Gentiles who had been converted, “they rejoiced for the consolation” (Acts 15:31).

 

Unfortunately, although the issue had been officially settled, the Judaizers continued to make trouble for the church, and would continue to do so for the next few centuries.  Paul’s letters had much material intended to refute the claims of the Judaizers about circumcision, as well as about Sabbaths, new moons, feast days, etc.  When Paul talks about “works” and “law,” as opposed to faith and the grace of God, this is the type of works and law which he is talking about – that promoted by the Judaizers as necessary for salvation, i.e., the Law of Moses.

 

We know that Paul was the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” and in the earliest years of the church (i.e., those covered in the Book of Acts), he was more involved with evangelization to the Gentiles than the other apostles were.  Of course, it was Gentile converts who were being targeted by the Judaizers.  Thus, it makes sense that his writings would contain more on this topic than those of the other Apostles.

 

This we will now demonstrate by a careful examination of the letters of Paul.

 

Paul’s Letters

Romans

 

The book of Romans is Paul’s longest surviving letter, and it has much to say regarding the subject of the Law of Moses and its relationship to salvation today.  Paul’s statements in the book of Romans about works and law have been taken out of context by those preaching a “faith alone” salvation.  However, in the second chapter of the book, we have a very surprising statement which is usually ignored by those preaching “faith alone”:

 

[God] will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God (Romans 2:6-11).

 

Every man – Jew and Gentile – will be judged according to his deeds.  Those who seek for glory and honor and immortality by patient continuance in good works will be rewarded by God with eternal life.  Those who do not obey the truth, but rather practice unrighteousness, will be given tribulation and anguish.  Thus, what can we conclude about Romans 3:28?

 

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law (Romans 3:28).

 

Paul had already said that we will be judged according to our deeds in chapter 2, and defined those deeds as “patient continuance in well doing,” as opposed to “do not obey the truth…obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath”.  Therefore, we know for a fact that when Paul says we are justified by faith “without…deeds” in chapter 3, he is not talking about those deeds mentioned in chapter 2.  Reading the rest of the sentence, and seeing it in context, tells us exactly what kind of “deeds” he is talking about: “justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”  It is the deeds of the Law which are irrelevant to our justification – particularly circumcision.  As we have seen above, this theme is continued into chapter 4 regarding the circumcision of Abraham.

 

Galatians

 

The book of Galatians has also been a stronghold for those who teach “faith alone.”  However, even a cursory reading of the book will show that the specific works and law which Paul is arguing against in this book are those of the Law of Moses.

 

Paul quickly gets to his main point in the sixth verse of the book.  “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (Galatians 1:6).  What this other gospel was, we are not told immediately.  Rather, the rest of chapter 1 and most of chapter 2 consist of an autobiographical account of Paul’s conversion and ministry, in which he defends the gospel which he had preached to the Galatians.  However, we get an idea of what the problem was in the account of his confrontation with Peter in Galatians 2:11-16.

 

But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.  For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.  And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.  But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?  We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

 

With this passage, Paul is getting to his main point about works and law.  Peter, a Jew himself, had overcome his prejudice against Gentiles and had come to the point where he could eat with the Gentiles – even though “it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation” (Acts 10:28), as Peter himself had told Cornelius.  However, when other Jewish Christians came to Peter in Antioch, he was embarrassed to be seen eating with the Gentiles, and withdrew himself.  This poor example was too much like the Judaizers for Paul, and he asked Peter “why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” – which was the main issue at stake in the controversy with the Judaizers.  Three times in the ensuing context, Paul names “works of the law” as that which cannot justify.  Again, it is the works of the Law of Moses which are the issue.

 

In chapter 3, Paul gets to the meat of his argument in trying to persuade the Galatians.  They had not received the Spirit by the works of the law (3:2).  Miracles are done in faith, not by the works of the law (3:5).  Being subject to the works of the law brings the curse of the law – which Paul proves by quoting the Law of Moses (Galatians 3:10, quoting Deuteronomy 27:26).  Throughout chapter 3, it is very clear that the “law” is not a theological abstraction, but a specific reality grounded in history.  This is demonstrated by the thoroughly historical approach which Paul takes in proving the superiority of the promise – the specific promise given to Abraham, “In thee shall all nations be blessed” (verse 8) – to the law, which came later.

 

Paul’s specific description of the error which the Galatians were falling into is given in 4:9-10:

 

But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?  Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.

 

The Galatians were falling into bondage to the requirements of the Law of Moses, and were observing “days, and months, and times, and years.”  Paul encourages them in 5:1, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”  This “yoke of bondage” which Paul is talking about is not any law, or any requirement, or any restraint, or any authority.  The liberty he is speaking of is not the liberty to do whatever one pleases.  It is the liberty of Christ from the Law of Moses; the yoke of bondage is the requirements of the Law of Moses.[1]

 

The next verses specifically name circumcision as the heart of the issue:

 

Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.  For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.  Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.  For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.  For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love…And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution?  then is the offence of the cross ceased (Galatians 5:2-6, 11).

 

The “works salvation” argued against in the book of Galatians is the teaching that obedience to the Law of Moses is necessary for salvation, specifically the salvation of the Gentiles.  This idea is thoroughly refuted in the book of Galatians.  However, the book has nothing to say against the good works of obedience to God, helping the poor, prayer, baptism, or any of the other New Covenant works.  To believe in and practice them does not fall under the condemnation of Paul nor of God.

 

Ephesians

 

The book of Ephesians is the home of the famous verses, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  But what kind of works is Paul talking about that salvation does not come from?  From the context of his other writings, concluding that he meant “works of the law” is reasonable.  However, the following context helps:

 

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.  Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.  For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace (Ephesians 2:10-15).

 

Paul is not speaking against good works; rather, in the very next verse he declares that we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works!  The ensuing verses ground the context in the subject of the Gentiles coming to be accepted, with Jews, in the new community of Christian faith.  Paul declares that it is the blood of Christ which brings the Gentiles close to God, and that the “law of commandments contained in ordinances” had been abolished by Christ.  These statements, made in the context of the ongoing controversy with the Judaizers, help to ground Ephesians 2:8-9 in its historical context.  It is not by the works of the Mosaic Law that we are saved.  Circumcision, sabbaths, new moons, dietary regulations, etc. have nothing to do with Gentiles coming to Christ.

 

Philippians

 

Paul declared in fervent love for Christ, “I count all things but loss…that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:8-9).

 

Wait a minute – something is wrong with that quotation.  Did you catch it?

 

If you guessed that a phrase was missing, you were right.  What Paul actually said was, “not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith…” etc.  What law?  Verses 2-3 say, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.  For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.”  He is again addressing the issue of the Judaizers, warning the Philippians against them.  The “concision” are the Judaizers.  Paul declares that Christians are the true circumcision (cf. Colossians 2:11).  Paul’s own righteousness, which he rejected, was that “of the law” which gave him the list of reasons why he “might trust in the flesh” given in verses 5-6: He was circumcised the eighth day, was a genetic Jew, he was a Pharisee, had persecuted the church, and followed the righteousness of the law.

 

Titus

 

Paul’s letter to Titus was one giving instruction and guidance to his younger associate, who had been left on the island of Crete to care for the church there.  Titus’s assignment was to ordain elders for the churches in Crete and to give them a good, solid spiritual footing for life in God’s kingdom.  Paul was giving Titus instructions on things which he needed to teach the Christians in Crete.  In Titus 3:4-5, he told Titus: “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done [not: which we are doing], but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:4-5).  Again, faith-alone teachers have taken these verses as proof for their position, but we must ask: What kind of works is Paul talking about?  What is the context of these words?

 

Earlier in the book, Paul had told Titus that there were false teachers to combat:

 

For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake…Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth (Titus 1:10-11, 14).

 

We see in this passage that part of Paul’s concern was that Titus effectively combat the errors of “they of the circumcision.”  We are not specifically told if it was Judaizers or unbelieving Jews that Paul was concerned about; he had combated both throughout his ministry.  It is quite reasonable to conclude, therefore, that when Paul says that “Not by works of righteousness which we have done” in 3:4-5, he is talking again about the works of the Law of Moses.  That he is not here discouraging the performance of good works is proven by the fact that only a few verses later, he says:

 

This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works.  These things are good and profitable unto men.  But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain (Titus 3:8-9).

 

Paul was not teaching that we are saved by the mercy of God apart from living righteously.  Jesus, Paul, and the other New Testament writers continually make clear that it is necessary to live a righteous life (see, for instance, I John 3:3-10).

 

What About Today?

 

We have seen that when Paul puts law or works in opposition to grace or faith, he is speaking of the works of the Law of Moses – specifically, circumcision.  But do these passages have any relevance for us today?  Do they teach us anything, other than to not be deceived into believing that circumcision is necessary for our salvation?

 

Yes, they do.  We must be careful not to take these words out of their historical contexts, and any application we make must honor them in their correct contexts.  However, we can learn from passages like Titus 3:4-5 that no works we do can provide our salvation.  These provisional works – works which create or provide our salvation – have all been done by God through Christ.  Provisional works include Jesus’ death on the cross, sending the Holy Spirit, etc., which created our salvation or made it available.  However, God has enjoined on man conditional works.  These works include repentance, faith, baptism, obedience, and good works.  God has made our salvation conditional upon our response to Him in these types of works.  Unless we obey Him, we cannot expect Him to give us salvation.  These works do not earn our salvation, but unless we do them, we cannot have salvation.[2]

 

Shocking Statements by Paul

 

In light of the discussion above regarding Paul’s use of the words “works” and “law,” it is worth noting that there are several passages in his writings which should be quite shocking to those who use his writings to “prove” a “faith alone” gospel.

 

Sin is not tolerated in the kingdom of God; repentance from these sins is necessary for salvation:

 

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God (I Corinthians 6:9-11; compare with II Corinthians 5:9-10, 11:15).

 

Our salvation is conditional upon our separation from the world:

 

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?  and what communion hath light with darkness?  And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?  And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?  for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.  Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (II Corinthians 6:14-7:1).

 

Salvation requires cooperation between God and man:

 

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.  For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).

 

The grace of God is a teacher:

 

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world (Titus 2:11-12).

 

Faith is active:

 

For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love (Galatians 5:6).

 

We must live in a way worthy of God:

 

Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe: As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory (I Thessalonians 2:10-12).

 

Christ is the author of salvation only for those who obey Him:

 

And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him (Hebrews 5:9).

 

Holiness is necessary if we wish to see the Lord:

 

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled (Hebrews 12:14-15).

 

Finally, if Paul had to summarize his entire message in just one sentence, what would you expect him to say?  We do not have to guess, for he did just that for King Agrippa:

 

Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance (Acts 26:20).

Conclusion

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” (James 2:21).

“For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God” (Romans 4:2).

“Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).

“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28).

 

We now come back to the two pairs of verses with which we started, and we conclude that they are in fact in harmony, not contradiction to each other.  Abraham was justified (became a righteous person) by his good works of obedience to God in offering Isaac on the altar, but not by his work of circumcision.  We are justified by our conditional works of repentance, faith, obedience to God, baptism, etc., but not by the deeds of the Law of Moses, such as circumcision.

 

James and Paul agreed with each other completely on the subject of salvation and of the Law.  However, they used words – specifically, the word “works” – differently from each other in their writings, which can be confusing for the modern reader.  A careful reading, however, reveals the source of the difficulty and makes the solution plain and obvious.

 

[1] Furthermore, due to the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts, Moses allowed bondage to various evils to continue under his system.  For instance, divorce and remarriage was permitted, whereas Christ’s teachings free us from that bondage.  Moses allowed war and the hating of enemies; Christ’s teachings free us from this bondage, etc.

[2] This point is admirably explained in the highly recommended book by Aaron M. Shank, Faith and Works in Salvation, 2011.

 

Originally published in The Witness 13(4) (April 2015):3-10.

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In:Salvation and the New Birth, Sin

Comments Off on A Conversation Between a Protestant and an Anabaptist

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

 

This is an imagined conversation between an Anabaptist and a Protestant regarding the way of salvation.  By using the term “Protestant,” we do not mean to say that all Protestants would agree with every statement made by the Protestant in our story.  Rather, we hope this story will be helpful and thought-provoking to you in your interactions with those who claim that works of any kind play no role in salvation.—Ed.

 

Worldly man.  Men and brethren!  What must I do to be saved?

 

Anabaptist.  If thou would enter into life, keep the commandments.[1]

 

Worldly.  Which?

 

Anabaptist.  Repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.[2]  Cease to do evil; learn to do well.[3]

 

Worldly.  I live with my girlfriend; I shoplift often; I steal from my employer; and I am very covetous.  Must I cease all these?

 

Anabaptist.  Do not let anyone deceive you with vain words – fornicators, thieves, and covetous men, who are idolaters, shall not inherit the kingdom of Christ and of God.[4]

 

Protestant.  Now wait a minute, Friend Anabaptist.  Are you not teaching salvation by works?

 

Anabaptist.  How is that?

 

Protestant.  Why, you just told Mr. Worldly that he must cease sinning to be saved.  That is a doctrine of works.

 

Anabaptist.  I still do not understand.  How would you explain it to Mr. Worldly?

 

Protestant.  We are saved by faith alone.  Nothing we do has any bearing on our salvation, now or ever.

 

Anabaptist.  So you are saying that ceasing to sin is doing something, and thus is works salvation?

 

Protestant.  Yes.

 

Anabaptist.  Well, continuing in sin is doing something too.  So is having faith, for that matter.

 

Protestant.  Now it is I who does not understand.  What are you getting at?

 

Anabaptist.  Hold a minute, and you shall see.  First, let me ask this: Are you saying that if Mr. Worldly stops fornicating, stealing, and coveting, that it would prove that he is embracing a salvation based on works?

 

Protestant.  Yes.

 

Anabaptist.  So if he would continue in these sins, yet believe in Christ, that would prove that he is seeking salvation by faith alone?

 

Protestant.  None of us are perfect.  We will continue in sin all our lives.  God understands that and forgives us because of our faith.

 

Anabaptist.  That is not an answer to the question.  Is continuing in sin a proof that one is seeking salvation by faith?

 

Protestant.  [Uncomfortable]  I cannot say yes…but it does prove that one is not seeking salvation by his own efforts, but simply trusting in the merits of Christ.

 

Anabaptist.  I will take that as a qualified “yes.”  So in other words, you are saying that faith would motivate a life of sin.[5]

 

Protestant.  Not exactly – he may stop his sins later, after coming to faith.  But those living in faith do still sin.[6]

 

Anabaptist.  The Scriptures say that whatsoever is not of faith is sin.[7]  Therefore, all sin is not of faith.  The two are radical opposites.  If one is sinning, he is not believing; if he is believing, he is not sinning.  Faith cannot motivate sin, and sin is never an evidence of faith.  If Mr. Worldly continued in sin, that would give the clearest proof that he does not have faith.  If he repents, it must be by faith.  Therefore, faith permeates all the counsel which I gave to Mr. Worldly at the beginning of our conversation.  One can only repent by faith.  Faith is obedience; faith is righteousness; faith is doing the will of God.  Whatsoever is not of faith is sin; what is done by faith cannot be sin.

 

Protestant.  Stop!  You’re calling my own faith into question now.

 

Anabaptist.  No, I am not.  I do not know your life; if the Holy Spirit is convicting you of faithlessness and unbelief, then give the glory to God and repent.

 

Protestant.  You are teaching works righteousness and will probably go to Hell for your rejection of Christ’s Blood and seeking to gain Heaven by your own efforts.

 

Anabaptist.  Say so if you will; God is Judge, and will be the Revealer of the secrets of all hearts on the Last Day.[8]  If Christ and His Apostles were teachers of works, I will be one too.

 

Worldly.  God, be merciful to me, a sinner!  Help me to repent by faith!

 

[1] Matthew 19:17.

[2] Acts 26:20.

[3] Isaiah 1:16-17.

[4] Ephesians 5:5-6; I Corinthians 6:9-10.

[5] See Romans 6:1-2.

[6] See I John 3:3-10.

[7] Romans 14:23.

[8] I Corinthians 4:5.

 

Originally published in The Witness 13(4) (April 2015):13-14.

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In:Heresy & False Teachings, Sin, Theology

Comments Off on Of Firewood and Legalism

By Mike Atnip

 

“Daniel,” I told my 14-year-old son, “it is supposed to be very cold over the weekend.  Fill the firewood in the back room up to the windows so we don’t run out when it is cold.”

 

Since Daniel was feeling cold and a bit sluggish, as boys do sometimes at chore time, he wasn’t exactly excited about my plan.  But he eventually made his way to the wood pile and began his task.  Not too long afterwards, I made a trip to the back room for some wood to fill the stove.  Daniel was finishing up…or at least he thought so.

 

“Daniel, that’s not near enough wood, you need to fill it up.”

 

“But I filled it up to the window,” he replied.

 

Sure enough, he had the wood stacked up to the window.  (Check the photo to see.)

 

I laughed.  “That’s what you call legalism!  Go fill it up right.”

 

Yes, he had stacked the wood up to the windows, in a neat stack one piece wide.  He had to smile himself, I think.  He returned to the woodpile and I went for the camera to record a perfect example of legalism.

 

Now, before you dump this paper in the trash, thinking I am about to call discipleship “legalism,” hang on a minute.  Heartfelt obedience is not legalism.  However, heartless obedience is legalism.  Daniel obeyed my command to fill the wood to the windows…legally.  But his heartless obedience missed the whole point.  Legalism can be defined as “trying to get by with as little as is legally possible.”  It’s like my aunt, who proclaimed that police do not stop people until they are going at least five miles per hour over the posted speed limit.  She wanted to be legal, so she would set her cruise control at 59 miles per hour, in a 55 mile per hour speed zone.  She was a legalist to the core, trying to get by with as much as she could and still be “legal.”

 

Well, legalism runs in the family, in fact the whole human family.  I have been guilty of it too many times myself.  For example, when we moved to Bolivia, South America, in January of 2000, we knew that it was illegal to import guns into Bolivia.  We wanted to take a .22 rifle along to do some hunting, since we planned to live in the country and get some wild game for meat.  But, we also knew that it was not illegal to import gun parts into Bolivia.  So, we took the rifle apart, and I took some gun parts into Bolivia, and another family took some gun parts.  Lo and behold, when we got into Bolivia, we found we had enough parts to make a whole gun!

 

Legal?  Yes.  Legalism?  To the core!  While we obeyed the laws of Bolivia, we missed the point and made ourselves into hardcore legalists.

 

So how does this fit into the story of Anabaptist history?  Christianity was introduced to our pagan Swiss forefathers by dedicated missionaries who lived simple lives, unfettered by a love of money and fame.  Those missionaries lived and taught a simple, faithful obedience to Jesus.

 

But remember how I said above that legalism runs in the human family?  As time went on, legalism towards the teachings of Jesus began to infect the descendants of the original Christians in the Swiss territories.  Instead of fully surrendering in Gelassenheit (yieldedness) to King Jesus, and obeying His teachings, people began to look for loopholes.  As more people squeezed through the loopholes, the holes were made larger so they could be passed without any effort.  Finally, the holes were turned into large gates through which everybody passed through without even realizing that they were never intended to be passageways.

 

For example, from Jesus’ teaching about nonresistance, people began to say that revenge was fine as long as it was done “justly.”  You can kill someone in self-defense, as long as you love the person while you hacked his head off with a sword.  From there, it was broadened into outright warfare, as long as you were doing it in the name of Jesus. By this means, you could join a crusade to take back the Holy Lands.  In fact, you could even get an indulgence for all your sins if you joined these crusades!

 

Strange, isn’t it, how a little loophole becomes a gate to the broad way?  But that is exactly what happened in the centuries after Beatus and Gallus preached to our Swiss forefathers.  And it was this very spirit of legalism, a.k.a. compromise, which the Anabaptists stood up to.

 

P.S. Daniel did a good job filling up the firewood. He has filled the room previously, on several occasions, to the windows and even beyond. Like all boys and a lot of men, he just had a spell of legalism that day.

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In:Anabaptists, Martyrs

Comments Off on The Martyrdom of Conrad Koch (1565 A.D.)

(Story from Martyrs Mirror, pp. 686-687).

 

This Conrad Koch was kindled with the light of the knowledge of God, when this light, in these latter days, began to rise again, along the River Rhine as well as in the country of Berg, and the truth of the holy Gospel commenced to shine.  Hence he sought, by the divine help, to leave the darkness, and to walk in this brightly shining light; he forsook popery and the worldly and ungodly life, and betook himself to the church of the Lord, heard and laid to heart the Word of the Lord, believed the Gospel, and was baptized, according to the command of Christ, upon faith in Christ Jesus, and confession of his sins, and accordingly, conducted himself in a brotherly and Christian manner in the church, and, in weakness, showed himself edifying and honorable toward all men.  But as he that walks in darkness cannot bear or endure the light, and the envy of the adversary works in his followers, this man was envied by the papists, and accused to the intendant of the revenue; who was judge and ruler of the country in the name of the prince of Juelich.  Thereupon the intendant sent his servants to Houf, where Conrad lived, and they apprehended him; he was ready, and as a lamb, willingly went with them to Loewenburg, one of the seven castles which, on account of their high situation, can be seen from a great distance.  There they brought Conrad into the tower, and placed him in severe confinement, in which he remained nearly half a year; however, he was greatly comforted by the Lord, though he had to suffer much hunger.

 

The intendant ofttimes browbeat him and threatened him most severely, that his life should be taken if he should refuse to renounce his faith.  They tried him very hard with entreaties and solicitations, then with hunger, and also with threats to put him to death; but he remained immovable.  His heart was of good cheer.

 

Now when he had boldly confessed his faith, and no tortures could intimidate him, and the time drew near that he was to die for the truth and depart from this world, the door of his prison was opened, and he went of his own accord, free and unfettered, from the tower of Loewenburg to the village of Houf.  His guide was Barabbas, that is a malefactor who went with him.  His departure took place in great secrecy; and thus he came to Houf, which is some distance from Loewenburg.  But even as Christ was crucified, and Barabbas released, so it was also here.  Conrad was taken to the town hall of Houf, where it was proposed to him, that if he should renounce his faith, his young life should be spared, and his liberty be given him.

 

Manifold wiles were employed against him with great deceitfulness.  The sophists sang things sweet and sour, saying: “Go to church at least once a year and if they do not preach the pure and clear truth, stay away from it thenceforth.”  One of these hypocrites said to Conrad: “My dear Conrad, though we be false, subtle and evil, it cannot harm your soul; do you only fear God and keep peace with all men; what is it to you if our faith is little.”  Conrad replied to the magistrates: “O you ministers of God, you must know that God wants no hypocrites.  This was seen exemplified in old Eleazar, who would rather surrender his life than dissemble.  II Macc. 6:24.[1]  Therefore I also hope to die before I go into your congregation.”  Conrad further said: “Christ is the Head of the church; he that would please Him must show himself a member of His body; now, one must not sever himself from Christ the Captain.  With this Head I want to remain, though it cost my flesh and blood.”  They asked Conrad of what he thought of infant baptism.  He said: “Of this I can only think that it is also one of the pope’s greatest abominations; however if you can prove it by the Word of God, I will suffer myself to be instructed by the church of the Lord.”  “O God,” said Conrad, “to Thee I bring my complaint; O God, what calamity this, that they put to death those who speak the truth!  They can certainly not allege that I have committed anything criminal, and yet they malignantly seek to kill me.  O Lord, forgive them.”  The mandate of the prince of Juelich was then read to him, whereupon the judges passed sentence, upon which the intendant broke the staff.  The sentence was, that Conrad should suffer death, if he did not recant.  And when he had been thus sentenced twice, they took him out [to the place of execution].  When he arrived there, he began to sing: “O God, how gently Thou dost chasten me.  Reach me Thy gracious hand, that my flesh may now shun all sin, vice and shame, that I may rend the old garment, and have eternal joy with Thee.  Christ, I praise Thee, O my supreme God, that I have lived to see this day and hour, that I may now testify to Thy name with my blood.  My dear brethren and sisters, I commend you all to the Lord.  Keep the Gospel of Christ firmly fixed in your hearts; this I leave you for an admonition: fear God, and be valiant; be my followers, even as I am willing to follow Christ the Lord, and to deliver up my life.”  And thus they put this pious man to death with the sword secretly, so that many did not hear of it.  When thieves and murderers are condemned there it is customary to let the whole land know it; but the pious are murdered in secrecy, which is a shame for the judges.  Thus Conrad was beheaded with the sword standing and proved himself a faithful witness of the sufferings of Christ, at Houf, in the land of Berg, which belongs to the prince of Juelich and Cleves.

 

In the year 1565, under the same intendant, who was a very bloodthirsty man, also seven other persons, four brethren and three sisters, had been previously apprehended.  These four brethren were also sentenced that they should be put to death, if they refused to renounce their faith.  But the Lord protected them, and delivered them all out of prison unharmed in their faith, for this bloodthirsty tyrant was smitten by God with sudden death, so that the prisoners were liberated from prison, keeping their faith, and adhering to the truth.

 

[1] An apocryphal book.—Ed.

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In:Endurance, Separation & Nonconformity, Sin, The Church

Comments Off on How a Church Can Lose its Anabaptist Convictions

By Matt Drayer

 

Anabaptists face a lot of pressure to conform to the world.  Countless “Christians” feel it is not necessary to be separate from the world, as commanded in Scripture (Romans 12:1-2; II Corinthians 6:14-18; II Timothy 2:4; I Peter 2:9-10; I John 2:15-17).  They believe Christians should go to war, participate in politics, enjoy worldly entertainment, live like the world, speak like the world, and dress like the world.  They also think Christians of 2015 should disregard the head covering and the holy kiss.  I want to encourage my Anabaptist brothers and sisters to stand strong on their Biblical convictions – and (most importantly) to stay focused on Jesus Christ!

 

It seems that over time, two things tend to happen to Anabaptist congregations:

 

They lose their first love and start to worship their convictions and traditions. They lose their convictions and start to conform to the churches around them.

 

A lot has been said about #1.  I want to talk about #2.  This has been my experience.  In the congregation I belong to, we are losing our Anabaptist convictions.  I want to share some of the reasons that brought us to where we are.  It is not my desire to belittle my church, but to sound a warning to other Anabaptist congregations.  I pray this will be helpful.

 

Failure to teach children.  Parents need to pass on solid Biblical Anabaptist teachings to their children.  Sadly, most of the parents in our congregation did not do this.  They were too busy with their careers, playing golf, and watching television (which used to be discouraged in our church).  Now, their children have grown up and became members of the church, but they have very shallow spiritual lives with little or no understanding of Anabaptist convictions.

 

Public school.  Public schools have been a bad influence on our church.  The majority of our parents send their children to public schools.  Their children want to be involved in sports, dating, prom, etc.…but they also want to be Christians.  Thus, the parents start to question our church’s convictions and say, “What’s wrong with sports, dating, prom, etc.?”

 

Supporting non-Anabaptist children.  Too often, children that were raised in our church choose not to be a part of our church.  Although they claim to be Christians, these (now grown up) children live in ways that drastically go against the convictions of our church.  The parents of these children usually side with them because they do not want to admit that their children are wrong.  Thus, numerous members of our congregation do not support our Anabaptist convictions because their hearts are with their non-Anabaptist children.

 

Failure to teach converts.  Obviously, we want to rescue the perishing, but we also need to “make them disciples” (Matthew 28:19).  We’ve helped a few people in our community get converted and they became members of our church (praise God!).  But unfortunately, nobody taught these converts what we believe and what we stand for.  Therefore, they do not embrace the convictions of the church.

 

Marrying into the church.  Another problem we have is when somebody raised in our church (but is not a member), marries somebody from the community and brings them to church.  Here is what usually happens: They want to go to church somewhere, so they come to our church, everybody is happy, and then they become members.  However, the person from the community does not share the convictions of our church – they simply joined our church because their spouse did – and they subtly bring in non-Anabaptist ideas.

 

Voting.  As a church with Anabaptist roots, we have always discouraged members from being a part of the government.  However, somewhere along the line, voting became acceptable (and eventually encouraged).  This has blurred the line of political involvement and caused our members to get caught up in the hysteria – taking sides, bashing the “opponents,” trusting in political parties, and accepting things (like war) in their justification of voting for certain people.  Thus, the Kingdom of God is mixed with the kingdom of this world, and Anabaptist convictions are disappearing.

 

No teaching from the pulpit.  Because of everything I mentioned, there is now a wide range of thoughts and opinions in our church.  Therefore, church leadership is afraid to step on toes and does not explain Anabaptist convictions (or even bring them up) from the pulpit.

 

Brothers and sisters, I repeat, stand strong in your convictions!  Please guard against the things I mentioned – “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (II Corinthians 2:11).  May God bless you.

 

Originally published in The Witness January 2015.

 

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In:Nonresistance & Nonparticipation, Separation & Nonconformity, Sin, The Church, The Kingdom of God

Comments Off on Does God’s Moral Standard Change?

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

“God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent” (Numbers 23:19a), Moses declared.  Indeed, God cannot change; “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8).  This is a truth which is clear in Scripture.

How, then, can some affirm that God could have changed His standard of conduct for man?  How would it be possible for God to require more of His children in the New Testament than He required of the Israelites, under the Law of Moses?  How could God change His law divinely revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai?

This very argument is urged against those who believe that the New Testament gives a radically higher code of conduct than the Old Testament – for instance, regarding divorce, remarriage, war, oaths, etc.  Those who use this argument continue to follow Moses’ instructions regarding these topics under the assumption that since God never changes, His instructions to the children of Israel through Moses must still be binding for Christians today.  What light does the Bible shed on this argument?

God’s Requirements Do Change

A careful investigation of the Scriptures will reveal that God’s requirements – His instructions to mankind – do indeed change if the situation of mankind changes.  God’s own standard of morality – what He had in mind from the beginning as the standard of perfection – His ultimate, perfect will for mankind – never changes.  However, what He actually does require of man differs based on mankind’s situation.  When God commands something different, it is because something about man changed – not because God changed.

Meat-Eating

Let us examine the different sets of instructions which God had given to different people at different times.  When Adam and Eve were first created, God gave the following instructions:

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.  And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.  And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so (Genesis 1:28-30).

God gave Adam and Eve three commandments: 1) Multiply, 2) have dominion over the rest of creation, and 3) eat plants.  Following the Fall of man and throughout the pre-Flood era, God never took back or changed His instructions regarding the eating of plants and not meat.  It is quite likely that sinful, disobedient men did eat meat without God’s permission and it is certain that animals did so,[1] but God had not changed His instructions as far as we know from Scripture.

However, following the Flood, God gave this set of instructions to Noah and his descendants:

And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.  And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.  Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.  But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat (Genesis 9:1-4).

Notice that now, following the Flood, the flesh of animals is given as food just as plants had been given earlier.  Did God’s moral standard change?  No; the situation of mankind changed, as the post-Flood climate seems to have been much different from the pre-Flood climate, and animal proteins and fats were now needed for survival and growth.  In other words, God did not change; man’s situation changed.  Does God’s change in instructions somehow challenge God’s unchanging nature?  Apparently it does not; the unchanging God gave a different set of instructions, showing us that these facts do not contradict in His infinite wisdom.

The Law of Moses

At a later time in history, God gave a complete set of laws to His chosen people, Israel.  The Law of Moses, given on Mt. Sinai, contained rules concerning moral, ceremonial, religious, civil, environmental, and hygienic behavior.  Up to this time, this was the fullest revelation of God’s will and plan for mankind, and He intended for the Israelites to prosper in obedience to this revelation:

I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee: they have well said all that they have spoken.  O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!…Ye shall observe to do therefore as the LORD your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.  Ye shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess (Deuteronomy 5:28b-29, 32-33).

Why was the Law of Moses given?  The Apostle Paul wrote:

Wherefore then serveth the law?  It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator (Galatians 3:19).

The Law was given because of transgression – because of sin.  However, it was only intended to be a temporary solution to the problem of sin.  Notice that Paul said the Law was added “till the seed should come”.  The context reveals that the “seed” of whom Paul is speaking is Christ (Galatians 3:16).

The Israelites accepted the obligations in the Law of Moses, and God promised that He would not break the covenant He had made with Israel (Judges 2:1).

The Law’s Moral Teachings

So what were the moral requirements contained in the Law of Moses?  If it is true that God’s standard of morality never changes, what commandments contained in Moses’ law would we still be under the obligation of keeping?

War was commanded under the Law of Moses (Numbers 25:16-18; 31:1-4; Deuteronomy 7:1-3; commandments regarding how war was to be conducted are found in Numbers 10:9; Deuteronomy 20:1-20).  Divorce and remarriage were allowed (Deuteronomy 21:10-14; 22:13-29; 24:1-4).  The swearing of oaths was commanded under certain circumstances (Exodus 22:10-12; Numbers 5:19-22; Deuteronomy 6:13-15; 10:20-21).

It is commandments like these which our Protestant friends wish to keep living under when they insist that God’s moral requirements never change.  They wish to keep their war, their patriotism, their divorce and remarriage, and their oaths.  However, they are not consistent in respect to obeying the Law of Moses.  There are many moral teachings contained in the Law of Moses which few, if any, Protestants or Evangelicals obey.

For instance, while Protestants (rightly) reject outright polygamy,[2], [3] the Law of Moses actually accepted it, with some restrictions:

And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.  If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.  And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.  If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.  And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money (Exodus 21:7-11).

If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated: Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his (Deuteronomy 21:15-17).

Another requirement of the Law of Moses is that men should not trim their beards.  Many Evangelicals are either clean-shaven or have short beards.  Few have long, Mosaicly-prescribed beards.

Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard (Leviticus 19:27).

Another requirement not often obeyed is this one regarding the use of fabrics in clothing:

Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together (Deuteronomy 22:11).

Most professing Christians freely wear clothes made of synthetic/cotton or synthetic/wool cloth.

Another point most professing Christians – who profess to be following the Law’s rules on divorce and remarriage – do not notice or follow is that in the Law, divorce is only allowed to men.  Wives were never permitted to divorce their husbands.  Yet in America today, the majority of divorces are initiated by the wife.[4]

We must note Paul’s words in Galatians 5:3:

For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

James wrote:

For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all (James 2:10).

If we have undertaken to obey the Law of Moses and put ourselves under that yoke, we cannot pick and choose which commandments we wish to obey and ignore the ones we do not wish to obey.  If we are going to obey the Law of Moses, we have to obey the entire Law of Moses!

The New Covenant Prophesied

God had promised not to break the Covenant that He had made with the children of Israel, that is, the Law of Moses (Judges 2:1).  However, He knew that the Old or Mosaic Covenant was not perfect (Hebrews 8:7-8).  The children of Israel, although they had promised to obey and keep the covenant, broke it again and again and again (Jeremiah 31:32; Hebrews 8:9).  A new covenant was needed – and God, through the prophets, told His people that the day was coming when a new covenant would be made.

The first prophet to foretell this new covenant was, surprisingly, Moses himself.

The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not.  And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken.  I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.  And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).

This prophecy of Christ and His teachings (which is explicitly applied to Christ by the apostles – Acts 3:22-32, 7:37-38) foretold that this Prophet would be like Moses, would be an Israelite, and would speak all the words which God commanded Him.  Moreover, it was these words – the words of this Prophet – which all would be obligated to hearken to (hearken means “to hear and obey”).

In what way was Christ like Moses?  How was He more like Moses than any of the other Old Testament prophets?  Moses had authority from God to give new commandments to the people, which they were obligated to obey.  All of the other Old Testament prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Haggai, etc. – pointed back to the Law of Moses for the people’s standard of behavior.  They did not have authority from God to hand down new commandments to the people.  However, Christ had the authority from God to give new commandments – new laws – which then another group of apostles, prophets, and teachers would point back to as the authoritative basis for life in God’s kingdom.  In this way, Christ was like Moses.

The rest of the prophets, while pointing back to the Law of Moses as authoritative for their time, yet pointed forward to a new day, when the Prophet like unto Moses would institute a new covenant.  This new covenant – and the new revelation of the kingdom of God which would accompany it – was foreseen to have ethical teachings distinctively different from those of the Law of Moses.  Isaiah prophesied:

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.  And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:2-4).

This prophecy foresees the spiritual house of the Lord (I Peter 2:5) which would be established in the last days.  “Many people” would be attracted by this new revelation of God’s plan and purpose for man, a veiled prophecy of the coming of the Gentiles to faith in God and obedience to the new covenant.  It was foretold that this new law would come out of Jerusalem and the land of Israel, as actually occurred when the Twelve Apostles and others spread out from the land of Israel, taking God’s new covenant Word all across the then-known world.  Finally, in this age, the Lord would “judge among the nations” and “rebuke many people.”  This new covenant age would affect far more than just the nation of Israel, as had been the case with the Old Covenant.  God’s rebukes and reproof would have their effects for the Gentiles as well.  And what would be the effects of these judgments and rebukes?  War and carnal fighting would cease, just as Jesus and the Apostles taught.[5]

Isaiah later prophesied:

And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD.  As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever (Isaiah 59:20-21).

The work of the Redeemer – the Messiah – would be to turn the descendants of Jacob away from transgression.  Then the Lord – the Father – gives a description of the New Covenant: The words which He would command the Messiah to speak would never depart from His mouth, or from the mouth of His spiritual seed, forever.  These words – the words of the Messiah – would be repeated forever.  They would be the lasting message which God wants repeated.  We must obey and teach these words (for other prophesies by Isaiah regarding the new covenant, see Isaiah 42:1-10; 49:8; and 55:3).

The prophet Jeremiah also foretold of the new covenant.  In Jeremiah 31:31-34, we read:

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

This new covenant would be “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers.”  It would be a covenant of laws written on the heart, rather than on tables of stone.  We must learn from the words which Christ taught, the words of the new covenant, rather than the words of the old covenant written on tables of stone.

Did Jesus Change the Moral Requirements?

Finally, the Messiah Himself came.  Jesus said, “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it” (Luke 16:16).  He came and preached the gospel of the kingdom and the new covenant which was to govern it.  So to answer the question, “did Jesus change the moral requirements given in the Law of Moses?”, we must go to the primary source: Jesus’ words themselves.  A comparison of the moral teachings of the Mosaic Law with those of Jesus and His Apostles shows clearly the difference between them.

Sword

Moses said: “If men strive…And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exodus 21:22a, 23-25).  Jesus said:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.  And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.  Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away (Matthew 5:38-42).

War

Moses said:

When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them (Deuteronomy 7:1-2).

Jesus summarized the Law’s teaching on neighbors and enemies (the enemy portion is a summary, not a direct quote), then went on to give a new teaching:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?  do not even the publicans the same?  And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?  do not even the publicans so?  Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48).

Paul said:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (II Corinthians 10:3-5).

John said:

If any man have an ear, let him hear.  He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints (Revelation 13:9-10).

Polygamy

As we saw above, Moses regulated polygamy, but did not completely forbid it.  Jesus, however, restored marriage to its Edenic state – one man and one woman for life.  He restored marriage to how it was “from the beginning” (Matthew 19:3-9).  Paul reinforces this by stating, “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (I Corinthians 7:2).

Divorce and Remarriage

As noted above, the Law of Moses allowed a relatively easy divorce for most husbands, and allowed remarriage for most cases of divorce as well.  However, Jesus completely shut that door, leaving only the “fornication clause” as a reason for divorce.  (It is to be noted that neither Jesus nor the Apostles ever allowed remarriage after divorce, for any reason or in any case.)  See Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:18; Romans 7:2-3; I Corinthians 7:10-16.

Lust

Moses said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).  While the Law also forbade coveting another man’s wife, there was no commandment saying that all sexual lust was sinful.  Jesus, however, taught:

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28).

Circumcision

Moses commanded regarding every baby boy born to the Israelites, “And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” (Leviticus 12:3).  The New Covenant, however, did away with the need for circumcision – a major theme of the Apostle Paul’s writings.  Jesus introduced the new and spiritual circumcision, the fulfillment of the type of the physical action: “And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:10-11).

Headcovering

Moses commanded that the high priest should wear a mitre during his duties in the Tabernacle/Temple:

And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD.  And thou shalt put it on a blue lace, that it may be upon the mitre; upon the forefront of the mitre it shall be.  And it shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.  And thou shalt embroider the coat of fine linen, and thou shalt make the mitre of fine linen, and thou shalt make the girdle of needlework (Exodus 28:36-39).

However, the new covenant introduced a new teaching:

Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.  But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.  Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head…For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man (I Corinthians 11:2-4, 7).[6]

Oaths

Moses said:

Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name (Deuteronomy 6:13).

And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:12).

If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth (Numbers 30:2).

Jesus said:

Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.  Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.  But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil (Matthew 5:33-37).

James said:

But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation (James 5:12).

Fulfilled

Jesus said:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled (Matthew 5:17-18).

What would it mean to destroy the Law and the prophets?  Jesus did not teach that the Law was useless; He did not claim that it was not a genuine revelation from God; He did not teach that the Law was wicked.  Rather, He came to fulfill the Law.  He taught a new way, in which we would not only do what the Law taught (do not commit adultery) but also the higher righteousness which God desired (do not lust).  He taught a new and higher way, in which the righteousness we act out now (love your enemies) surpasses the righteousness demanded by the Law (thou shalt utterly destroy them).  Thus, Paul said, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:4).

Moral and Ceremonial

Protestant reformer John Calvin was not impressed when he encountered the Anabaptists’ teaching that Christians could not be government officials and could not swear oaths.  In response to this, he wrote:

Therefore, there resteth none other evasion, to these enemies of all order, but to say, that God requireth a greater perfection in the Christian Church than he did among the people of the Jews. Now this is very true, touching ceremonies. But that we have any other rule to live by, touching the moral law, as we call it, than had the ancient people, is a false opinion…

Therefore to say that Moses did but half teach the people of Israel to honour and serve God, is a blasphemy, first forged by the Papists, and now renewed by these poor fantasticals, which take for a revelation from heaven, whatsoever fables they have heard of their grandmothers.[7]

Calvin’s claim, that the New Covenant did have more perfect ceremonies, but that the moral law of Moses was still in effect, is still repeated today.  Is this Scriptural?  Is Moses’ Law divided into two parts, one of which was done away by Christ, the other part which is still binding?

There are at least six reasons why this argument does not hold water.

Such a division is never mentioned in Scripture. The Mosaic Law is so far-reaching that it is hard to divide all of the laws neatly into just two or three categories.  There are moral teachings (regarding murder, stealing, etc.); there are ceremonial or religious teachings (the sacrifices and temple services); there are civil teachings (commandments regarding jurisprudence, the cities of refuge, etc.); there are hygienic teachings (regarding the proper disposal of waste, the treatment of lepers, etc.); and there are environmental laws (regarding the harvesting of birds and cutting trees).  How are we to neatly divide all of these laws into two or three categories, and then decide which ones apply to us today and which ones do not? Who gets to decide what applies today and what does not? Some laws bridge the gap between moral and ceremonial, and other, requirements.  For instance, lepers were banished from the camp to avoid the contamination of others; this could be called a law regarding hygiene or sanitation.  Yet the ceremony governing the readmittance of the leper into the community upon healing is undoubtedly a ceremonial law. Different types of laws are often intermingled in the same contexts.  For instance, beginning in Deuteronomy 22:5, we have a moral law regarding cross-dressing, which was forbidden.  The next two verses (6-7) have an environmental protection law, regarding the harvesting of birds.  The next verse has a law regarding construction of a new house – a moral commandment, because the reason for the law was “that thou bring not blood upon thine house”.  Verse 9 has a law that “Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit…be defiled.”  This law does not seem to fit neatly in either the moral or ceremonial categories.  A similar classification-defying law follows in verse 10.  With this mixture of moral, ceremonial, and other types of laws in the same contexts, how are we to declare which apply today and which do not? Finally, the Ten Commandments (with the possible exception of the Fourth Commandment on the Sabbath) are clearly moral commandments.  Yet even these have been “done away” in Christ (II Corinthians 3:6-10).

The Hardness of Your Hearts

Why were the requirements of the Law of Moses lower than what God actually wanted?  The answer is found in the words of Jesus, as He was explaining why His teaching regarding divorce and remarriage was more rigorous than that of Moses.

The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?  And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?  Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.  They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?  He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.  And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery (Matthew 19:3-9).

Why did Moses allow things which were outside the perfect will of God, and which Jesus did away with?  Because of the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts.  If they had soft hearts, responsive to God’s will and the voice of His Spirit and willing to obey, God could have given the Israelites the commandments He gave through His Son.  Why could He not?  They had hard hearts – and it is not within man’s power to change his own heart from a hard heart to a soft, living one.  Death is the consequence of sin, and when man’s spirit dies, he cannot resurrect it himself.  Christ came that we might have life again (John 10:10).  God had promised that the hard hearts of the Old Covenant would be replaced, under the New Covenant, with soft, fleshy hearts (Ezekiel 11:19-21).  We learn in the New Testament that this soft heart is God’s own heart – His own Spirit – His own nature – imparted to us (see, for instance, II Peter 1:4).  Thus, with Christ Himself living within us, we are enabled to live as He did in the world and show the world what kind of Being God is.  For instance, we are now enabled to treat our enemies well, just as God does (Matthew 5:45, 48; Luke 6:35-36).

Summary

God’s ultimate standard of right and wrong – what He had in mind originally for man – never changes.  However, His instructions to man do change based upon changes in man’s situation.  For instance, the change brought about by the global Flood brought about a change in God’s instructions regarding diet.  Similarly, the change in heart made possible by the work of Christ is accompanied by a change in the moral requirements God has given to His people.  Whereas Moses, because of the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts, allowed divorce, remarriage, war, oaths, polygamy, etc., Christ forbids these and teaches a higher level of ethics for His children.  Those who have soft, spiritual hearts and have entered the New Covenant will submit to these requirements which Jesus communicated.

[1] See Andrew V. Ste. Marie, “Did Animals Eat Meat Before the Flood?,” Creation Matters 16(1) (January/February 2011):1-4.

[2] At least they do today.  Martin Luther actually taught that in some circumstances, it was acceptable for a man to have more than one wife because Abraham did.

[3] While no Protestant teacher today that I know of would say that it is acceptable for a man to have more than one wife at a time, many actually do endorse a form of polygamy by approving of divorce and remarriage.  Mennonite bishop George R. Brunk I humorously wrote, “The Mormons dragged polygamy out of the Old Testament into their church and Protestantism did the same with divorce.  A member of the one group drives his wives abreast and a member of the other drives his in tandem style and neither has a word in the Gospel to justify himself” (“Notes and Items,” Sword and Trumpet 5(4) (October 1933):23.)

[4] Of all divorces, 67-75% are filed by wives (varies by state).  This number is significantly higher among those divorces in which minor children are involved.  See David W. Bercot, The Kingdom that Turned the World Upside Down, 2003, Scroll Publishing, pp. 51-52.

[5] Whereas most Protestants today take this passage from Isaiah and similar ones from the Old Testament to be prophecies of the Millennial Reign of Christ (still in the future), the early Christians uniformly interpreted it in a manner similar to my explanation here.

[6] Note that Paul calls this teaching on the headcovering/head un-covering an “ordinance,” or a “tradition” – something transmitted or handed down.  This indicates that Paul handed it down to the Corinthians from another source.  He was not making up something new; he (and the other Apostles) had received it directly from Christ Himself.

[7] John Calvin, A Short Instruction for to arme all good Christian people agaynst the pestiferous errours of the common secte of the Anabaptistes.

 

Originally published in The Witness, November 2014.

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In:Early Church, Nonresistance & Nonparticipation, Separation & Nonconformity, The Kingdom of God

Comments Off on The Christians Fulfill Prophecy

By Justin Martyr

 

From Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, A Jew.  Justin was martyred c. 165 A.D.  From Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, pp. 253-254.

 

But that the Gentiles would repent of the evil in which they led erring lives, when they heard the doctrine preached by His apostles from Jerusalem, and which they learned through them, suffer me to show you by quoting a short statement from the prophecy of Micah, one of the twelve [minor prophets].  This is as follows:

 

And in the last days the mountain of the Lord shall be manifest, established on the top of the mountains; it shall be exalted above the hills, and people shall flow unto it.  And many nations shall go, and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and they shall enlighten us in His way, and we shall walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  And He shall judge among many peoples, and shall rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into sickles: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.  And each man shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree; and there shall be none to terrify: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it.  For all people will walk in the name of their gods; but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever.  And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will assemble her that is afflicted, and gather her that is driven out, and whom I had plagued; and I shall make her that is afflicted a remnant, and her that is oppressed a strong nation.  And the Lord shall reign over them in Mount Zion from henceforth, and even for ever.

 

…Now I am aware that your [the Jews’] teachers, sirs, admit the whole of the words of this passage to refer to Christ; and I am likewise aware that they maintain He has not yet come; or if they say that He has come, they assert that it is not known who He is; but when He shall become manifest and glorious, then it shall be known who He is.  And then, they say, the events mentioned in this passage shall happen, just as if there was no fruit as yet from the words of the prophecy.  O unreasoning men!  understanding not what has been proved by all these passages, that two advents of Christ have been announced: the one, in which He is set forth as suffering, inglorious, dishonoured, and crucified; but the other, in which He shall come from heaven with glory, when the man of apostasy, who speaks strange things against the Most High, shall venture to do unlawful deeds on the earth against us the Christians, who, having learned the true worship of God from the law, and the word which went forth from Jerusalem by means of the apostles of Jesus, have fled for safety to the God of Jacob and God of Israel; and we who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons,—our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage,—and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified; and sitting each under his vine, i.e., each man possessing his own married wife.  For you are aware that the prophetic word says, ‘And his wife shall be like a fruitful vine.’  Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus over all the world.  For it is plain that, though beheaded, and crucified, and thrown to wild beasts, and chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; but the more such things happen, the more do others and in larger numbers become faithful, and worshippers of God through the name of Jesus.  For just as if one should cut away the fruit-bearing parts of a vine, it grows up again, and yields other branches flourishing and fruitful; even so the same thing happens with us.  For the vine planted by God and Christ the Saviour is His people.

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