Monday, June 25, 2007

A Clarification, or Definition, or Ramblings on the Moral Law, Pt 1

Since I'm considering the benefits of the moral law in the life of the believer, I've been asked to define what I mean by the moral law. I could start by saying that the moral law is that portion of the law that was intended to be binding on the daily life of all God's people for all time, but I won't. That would be an extreme example of begging the questions since that is exactly what I'm trying to establish - that the moral law is binding on us today - and not just binding but beneficial.

First, let me say that I don't like the phrase 'moral law' very much since it seems to imply that the civil and ceremonial aspects of the law were amoral or even immoral. I don't believe that to be the case at all; however, the term 'moral law' is a common expression and I can't think of another better one to describe those aspects of the law that were meant to govern life beyond the cultus and beyond the civil legal system. In essence, the Ten Commandments serves as a summary of the moral law.

Let me make a short case for the passing away of the civil and ceremonial, as well as the enduring nature of the moral (Even New Covenant theologians who argue for the unity of the law argue to show that thw whole of the law has passed, not that the whole of the law is still in effect). I know of no one who would assert that the ceremonial law continues to be in effect today. Jesus himself declares food laws to be no longer binding, and seems to do the same for the ritual washings (Mk 7). Hebrews seems to make it abundantly clear that the sacrifices and priesthood have passes away as the shadows have given way to the reality.

Moreover, the civil law was given as Israel was being constituted as a nation. God's people were, essentially, of one ethnicity and were being formed into a nation. When, however, you get to the New Testament, what as hinted at in the Old comes to pass - the doors are opened wide and people from every nation enter the church. The church, including Jew and Gentile is a multi-ethnic, global reality. As such, the laws that governed the Jewish nation no longer govern the church. This can be seen, for instance, in how Paul commands the church to deal with the sexually immoral person. In the Old Testament, such an offender of the moral law would be punished severely by the civil authorities. Indeed the death penalty was usually required. However, Paul does not command the church to execute such an offender, but to put them outside the church, cutting them off from the people of God.

So hopefully that begins to explain how the moral law (remember, I'm still not comfortable with that label, but for ease sake I'll continue to use it) differs from the civil and ceremonial and why I believe the ceremonial and the civil have passed away. Obviously more can and maybe should be said, including further examples to prove the point, but I want to move on and make a case for the continued binding relevancy of the moral law on believers today in my next post and then get back to contemplating the benefits of the moral law for believers.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Caleb's Last TBall Game

originally uploaded by danwaugh.
Last night was the last tball game of Caleb's career. He'll be moving on to the bigs next year, or making a lateral move to soccer (he's keeping his options open).

It was awesome this year to see him have a better, growing experience. He stuck with it after a dissapointed and frustrating year last year, and made a ton of progress this year. I love watching my boys grow. Obviously he grew physically - check out the high waters on #2. More importantly, he's growing strong in character.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

the Benefits of the Law in the Life of the Believer, Pt. I

Over the next few posts I want to focus on the benefical uses of the law in the life of the believer. It has been rightly pointed out that the law of love or the ethic of love takes center place in the New Testament. I would argue that love, in fact, stood at the center of the Old Testament ethic and Mosaic Law as well, though this truth had been obscured by legalistic adherence to the external demands of the law to the neglect of the internal. Commands to love God and love neighbor appear in the Old Testament (Deut 6:5 & Lev 19:18) and are evident in the two table structure of the Ten Commandments.

That gives us some insight into one function of the law, specifically the Ten Commandments, in the life of the believer. We are called to love, but the Bible doesn't leave it to us to determine all that this love entails. The moral law explicates the law of love. The moral law makes it clear that one cannot honestly claim to love God while worshipping idols, or to love ones neighbor while stealing from him. The New Testament gets us behind the externals of the law and makes it clear that we cannot claim to love our neighbor even if we do 'loving things' while harboring hatred in our hearts (though the Old Testament also spoke to the internals as well - see the 10th commandment for a good example).

So, to love God we must obey the commandments; however, we must not assume that obeying the commandments is the sum total of what it means to love God, or our neighbor. Love for God and Love for Neighbor must be lived out, but it would be a tragic mistake to think that living out love by doing loving things is enough. Love must flow from a heart that is warm towards God and Neighbor. The balance between legalism (focusing on doing the loving things without the affections) and a fuzzy love (feeling the affections but not living it out by doing loving deeds) is always a delicate one, but an absolutely essential one for the believer to maintain.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

New Site of Musicians and Artists

If you are an artist or musician Check out this new site I stumbled upon today.

Distractions - Blame it on the PCA

I've been somewhat distracted from posting on the Law recently. Distractions have included the wisdom tooth extraction, my patio project, reading Doug's blog, and trying to follow some of the PCA's General Assembly.

Why have I been following it so closely (I literally watched hours of debate today)? As a denomination they appoointed a committee to study are make recommendations about two 'new' theological systems that have emerged or are emerging. The New Perspectives on Paul has been articulated most compellingly and widely by NT Wright -the Bishop of Durham. I've only begun to look into NPP in the last few months and am currently reading two books, and quite a few journal articles on the NPP.

The other issue the PCA committee studied was what is being called Federal Vision Theology. All I know about FV I learned from the commissions report. You can read the entire report, complete with analysis and recommendations.

It seems both of these new movements threatens the heart of the gospel, and I am glad the PCA has taken it's stand against them (they are acutally kind of late on this bandwagon, but better late than never).

Oh, and if you can wait till November, John Piper has a book being released in response to NT Wright's views on justification. The title: The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

For Mark, cause he likes Luther

I read this tonight in an article. I love it. It's so hopeful and makes me think I need to read more Luther.

"This life, therefore, is not righteousness but growth in righteousness; not health but healing; not being but becoming; not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified."
- Martin Luther

The Law and New Covenant Christians, part 3

So the question has been posed, "what is the law". I offered my definition as the "revealed will of God that binds creature (creation) to obey". I like my definition. That same day I read the first chapter of Thomas Schreiner's book, The Law and it's Fulfillment. The chapter, "The Meaning of the Term Law in Paul" was completely unhelpful. He basically says that the term is used in several different ways (see second post on this topic). He does acknowledge that when Paul uses the term 'law', he is usually referring to the Mosaic Law.

That brings us to another discussion particularly about the Mosaic Law. Theologians, both Dispensationalists and Covenant theologians, have long divided the Mosaic Law into three parts - the civil, the ceremonial and the moral. Calvin and Luther agreed on this, and both agreed that the civil and ceremonial have passed (the civil because it dealt exclusively with the theocracy of Israel and the ceremonial because Christ fulfilled all the 'types' it contained). However, Calvin and Luther disagreed about the role of the moral law in the Christians life. Calvin believed the Christian was still bound to obey the moral law as revealed in the Ten Commandments. Luther, on the other hand, thought the Christian was set free from any obligation to the moral law and that Christian/New Testament ethics was all about the Spirit (though I do not believe he really was, it's obvious why Luther could so easily be charged as being antinomian).

Recently, a group calling themselves "New Covenant Theologians" have pushed against this and asserted that there is no simple neat division of the law that came be made. The Mosaic Law, according the the NCT, is an indivisible whole that has passed away in it's entirety. Admittedly, I do not know much about NCT and have found it difficult to get good scholarly info (try a search on CBD and see what you can find!).

Another group that has risen in Reformed circles is the Theonomists (also called Christian Reconstructionism). They agree with Calvin and Luther that the ceremonial law has passed away because it was meant, in all its symbolism, to point to Christ. They agree with Calvin, not Luther, in that they affirm the normative role of the moral law for believer. Furthermore, they disagree with Calvin and Luther on the role of the civil law. They believe that the civil law as recorded in the Sinaitic Covenant should be the standard by with laws of nations should be judged and to which they should conform. As a natural conclusion, many Theonomists are postmillennial in their eschatology, believing that the church will, by influence (not coercion) Christianize the world and it's systems through evangelism and the that Kingdom will precede the return of Christ. Greg Bahnsen has been the most significant theonomist within the Reformed circle (for a collection of his articles, check here. This one on Theonomy looks interesting, but I haven't read any of it yet), and his influence has only been rivaled by R.J.Rushdoony (who's unique views put him outside the Reformed community).

That's my overview, I'll try to add some comment and evaluation later tonight.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Have Fun Learning Greek

I stumbled upon this today and love it. I'm going to use it to refresh some of my Greek skills (I barely had any to begin with and since they've been in the drawer for seven years, they've all but vanished. So sad). Anyway, this guy is awesome and if you've ever thought, "Hey, I'd like to learn some Greek", then check this out. Fun animations make life better (right Doug)!

Animated Greek Lessons, by Ted Hildebrandt (Gordon prof)

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Law and New Covenant Christians, part 2

One of the things that makes it so difficult to think about how the law applies, or if the law applies, to New Covenant believers is the inconsistent use of the word "law" (greek 'nomos') in the New Testament, especially in Paul. For example, Paul may use the word "law" to refer to the entire Pentateuch (Romans 3:21). In the same verse, however, Paul uses the word "law" to meaning something like "works of the law". In Romans 3:27 he uses to word to mean something like "principle". In still other places it seems as though Paul uses the word "law" with special reference to the Judaizers "law keeping" as a means to justification. It may be possible to add more nuances, but you get the idea.

So, when asking if the law applies to New Covenant Believers, we must be careful that we know what sense of the law we are referring to. Certainly we would all want to agree that much of the Pentateuch applies to us. So we aren't dead to the law in that sense. Moreover, I don't think anyone would want to argue that we are under the law in the sense of the Judaizers law-keeping which leads to justification (that was never the intention of the law when given at Mt. Sinai, how could it be now?).

Ok, that aside, let me state my position: I do believe that we, as Christians, are obligated to keep the law. Now that needs a lot of clarification, so stick with me (not just in this post, but over the next few).

I think it is important to realize that there is an element of law in each of the biblical covenants. Law was not introduced in the Mosaic era, though law certainly does play a much more prominent role in the Mosaic covenant. Actually, I don't even know if saying like that is as accurate as I would like to be. Let me try again: the external codification of law plays a much more prominent role in the Mosaic covenant than in the other Bible covenants (that's better, but still needs work).

You can certainly find law in the pre-fall covenant God imposed upon Adam (sometimes referred to as the "covenant of works" or the "covenant of creation". In Genesis 1&2 you see that man was given responsibilities unique to his status as an image bearer. He was to exercise dominion over creation, and he was to multiply and fill the earth. In addition, he was given the specific command - not to eat from the tree in the center of the Garden.

The Noahic Covenant contains commands as well. The covenant relationship begins with the command to build the ark. Again, at the inauguration of the covenant in Gen 9, Noah receives the command to "be fruitful and multiply", the prohibition against eating food with its blood still in it, as well as the decree of God's will regarding murderers (v.5-6).

In the Abrahamic Covenant, law is important as well. At the outset of the covenant relationship, Abraham is required to leave his land and family and set out the place God would show him. In addition, as the covenant with Abraham is more fully established, the seal of the covenant, circumcision, becomes a mandatory rite for those who would enjoy the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant. Stern warnings were issued against neglecting this sign/seal, and severe penalties were to be actuated against those how spurned this covenant rite (see a rather startling instance of this in the life of Moses recorded in Exodus 4).

In the Davidic Covenant, again law is important (though I'll say it again, not as prominent as in the Mosaic covenant). God speaks of discipline and correction for law breaking as he makes this Covenant with David (2 Samuel 7:14). Certainly that only makes sense in terms of law and law breaking. Moreover, the role of the Mosaic Covenant and its laws is clearly articulated in Davids words to Solomon in 1 Kings 2:1-4. Further, the history of Israel is a often sad reminder that law breaking has dire consequences to the people of God.

That brings us, finally, to the New Covenant. Again, I believe the law plays a important role in the New Covenant (I'll deal more specifically with some of Paul's comments regarding the law at a later date). It is extremely important to note that it is not freedom from the law that the OT prophets look for, but instead freedom to keep the law. In Jeremiah 31, God promises that when he establishes his new covenant with his people he will "put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts." (31:33, ESV). Moreover, that Jesus makes demands of his followers can hardly be denied (I like the title of Piper's newest book, "What Jesus Demands of the World").

For now, I hope I've established that the principle of law transcends the Mosaic Covenant. We'll have to give more detailed consideration as to how the law as administered under the Mosaic Covenant applies to us today in a subsequent post.

The Law and New Covenant Christians, part 1

I am currently doing a lot of reading on the Mosaic Covenant and the Law. As a part of this reading, I am being forced to think again how the Law, specifically the Ten Commandments, relates to Christians under the New Covenant. Over the next few weeks, I am hoping to post regularly on this topic. I am hoping, in part, that writing out my thought will bring greater clarity to me personally.

However, I am also hoping that this will begin others thinking about God's law and our relationship to it. In a post from mid March ("Where is the Fear of The Lord?", March 14th), I bemoaned the fact that the "fear of the Lord" is no longer a distinguishing mark of the evangelical church. Part of the reason for this, I believe, is that we have largely ignored the role of the law among the people of God. I hope to push against this, at least in the small corner of American evangelicalism that I have any degree of influence on. So, stay tuned for thoughts about the Law and the Christian, and please, your comments will help me as I process!