Monday, February 22, 2010

Badges? We Don't Need no Stinking Badges!

What is wrong with Christianity? Well for starters, it has relatively little to do with Jesus Christ. Oddly, Reformed Judaism seems closer to Jesus' teachings than much of what we call "Christianity."

What follows is my arcane religious argument that Jesus called men to reject Law and choose Life. It is written by a bible-head, for bible-heads. But if you are a spiritual seeker, a secular doubter, or a religious head-scratcher, hang in here. If you can be flexible with the strange vocabulary, you just might enjoy the discussion.

This is my thesis, and here I shall nail it to the door of the Wittenblog Cathedral:

I will write the things below because I know they are our common ground. Where we disagree is on our conclusions. Please read closely and with a bible open. The Law is not for sons of God, period. That’s my conclusion.

“Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the Law, locked up until faith should be revealed. Therefore the Law was made a tutor unto Christ, so that by faith we become righteous. But now that faith is come, we are no longer under tutelage. You are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”

Yes, of course, "The Law" still exists, and it is holy. And it stands in the midst of this garden of human experience just like the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil stood beside the Tree of Life. From one we receive the free gift of Life from our Maker and Savior, but from the other we receive Death slow and certain. For we are commanded, “Thou shalt not eat from it, lest ye die.”

In exactly this way, the Law IS holy, but to live by it is sin. Thus it “produces death in me through what is good.” [Ro 7:13] To live by the Law, even partially, is to reject Grace. Notice that Adam did not curse the Tree of Life, nor chop it down, nor burn it up. All he did was eat from it. He just ate a little, and apparently he swallowed the seeds. One brush with the Law was all it took to bring utter condemnation to Adam and to all his descendants for all time. But, thanks to God, “the gift is not like the trespass, but through a single act of righteousness it brings life for all men.” [Ro 4]. St. Paul warned us explicitly not to let Grace and Law coexist in out lives. Rather he likens the Law to a mocking house slave: “Cast out the bondwoman and her son”! [Gal 4:30]

Let me anticipate the next objection. The conventional view of this matter says that this passage in Galatians is speaking of the “Jewish Law & Religion” in particular, and specifically circumcision as a qualification for salvation. Granted, Paul does address this as the topic of concern in Galatia. However, to limit his broad characterizations of Law in this way is just absolutely wrong.

In fact, Paul parallels the Law (taking circumcision, in this case) precisely with the paganism the Galatians (who were Gallic, not Jewish) had turned from when they heard the Gospel. “When you did not know God, you were slaves to things that are no gods. But now that you know God--rather, are known by God--how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wished to be enslaved to them all over again?” [Gal 4:8-9.] It is untenable to say that Paul limited his concept of “the Law” to Jewish ceremonial ordinance, or circumcision. We will do well to remember that this is the same St Paul who had his companion be circumcised before entering the Jewish temple.

We could make this entire “Galatians” argument from Romans 1-8, or from the Sermon on the Mount, or from Mark 2, or from 2 Corinthians 3, or from Colossians 2. There is no subject with so much ink devoted to it as this matter of ditching the law and walking in the Spirit, by faith. It is utterly false when we say that we are saved by Jesus, but live by the law; that we are saved by grace but live under law, or that we walk by the spirit within the boundaries of Law.

How can we blur these things together when the bible contrasts them so violently? Yet we blur the curse that binds us until it's indistinguishable from the grace that frees us, as though it were just two different ways of saying the same thing. It is not.

Finally there is a gross misconception that somehow the Law helps you live a life pleasing to God, and that to throw off its restraint is to succumb to evil. But the scripture clearly says that "the Law was given that sin might increase", and that it "produces all kinds of evil desires" within. Living by Law does not help you walk straight, it guarantees failure.

I am astonished at how Christians cling misty-eyed to Law, despite and against all the stark biblical admonitions. Yet in the mainstream, “being a Christian" demands men be devoted to the very curse from which Jesus died to redeem us [Gal 3:13].

We are not under the Law, we are under grace! We do not live by the Law, we live by the Spirit! We do not follow the Law, we are led by the Spirit.


Garry said...

Joe, I'm not really sure who you are arguing with here, I have been giving it some thought and will have something to say later today maybe.

Garry said...

Joe, I have been giving it more thought and I really need to know why you feel that the Law and the Spirit are at emnity with one another. Are they mutually exclusive in every respect (am I missing something? Your thesis seems to declare "all things Law are bad" and "anything Spirit good" and never let the two come within shouting distance much less mix them. Help me understand your drive to emphatically state this concept.
Then I will respond as the Spirit leads ;-)

Joe B said...

First, i do not want to make you the lightning rod for my argument, since you (and Craig) are the most solidly "gracey" men I know. So thank you for grabbing the other end of the argument-stick. Here goes:

I am arguing against a christianity that has rejected and neglected the biblical teaching on this matter of Spirit and Law (and which largely doesn't even recognize that there IS a biblical teaching on the matter.)

My drive stems from the pervasive tendency to blur the way of the Law and the way of the Spirit together, so pervasive that when I contrast them, people don't even understand why I would wish to do so.

The scripture does not blur Law and Spirit together as though they are just two different ways of saying the same thing, nor as if they are just "two of God's tools" for keping us on track. But that's exactly what the Church does, and with gusto. It is the Christian norm. (A good next challenge question would be "how does the Church blur Law and Spirit?")

Genesis does not blur the Tree of Life with the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, it says of te latter, "Do not eat from it." Galatians does not blur Sarah and Hagar, it says the Hagar must be cast out. Romans does not blur The Law of the Spirit of Life with the Law of Sin and Death, it says that by the former we are set free from the latter. Colossians does not blur "the decree against us" with the cross it was nailed to by Christ Jesus. Mark 2 does not blur Jesus' way with the way of the Law. Galatians does not blur Grace with "those miserable principles" to which the Galatians sought to return, it contrasts them. I could go on and on (in fact I just did! :-)

I note three reactions when I expound this subject: (1) men who disagree think I'm saying sin is good, and they rush to defend the importance of Law; (2) people who fully agree get real quiet, for fear of the Pharisees putting them out of the synagogue (John 12); (3) peoples' eyes glaze over as if I were making a big deal over nothing.

The remarkable thing is that people always think I should defend this position further, even after I put forward this scriptural case, but they decline to really address the scriptural case I make. Typically the scrutiny does not turn to the scripture, but to an examination of my motives. "What's wrong with Joe B that makes him go counter-clockwise in a clockwise Church?"

Craig said...

Well, I'll admit that these Law/Grace conversations make my eyes glaze over a bit, but certainly not because I don't see what the big deal is. I generally think of myself as being more 'theologically literate' than the average layperson, but this stuff can just make my head hurt. . .

Even as a Catholic, (stereotype alert!) I know (really!) that salvation is purely a matter of God's gratuitous grace, and not of 'keeping the rules', however punctiliously. And I know myself well enough that, apart from the Holy Spirit working in me, I'm just not such a great person (and even when He is, I'm sure I'm more frustrating to Him than I wanna think I am). So, yeah - I'm there with you.

It's just that when the conversation goes all 'theological', it can get hard to keep track of everything. Like I said in my comments a couple posts back, there really is such a thing as 'God's Law', and it really does behoove us to conform ourselves to it; our lives go better when we do.

But that's a different question than Salvation, isn't it?

Garry said...

Joe, wow man. I will have to digest what you have put forth here. I am not sure that I see the difference that you see.
I doubt that the Spirit is going to lead someone contrary to the Law. Please understand that I am referring to the laws God gave Moses in the wilderness, not the Pharisees laws.
I guess that what it comes down to is 'doctrine', (what we believe saves us from sin) and 'social practice' (the things we don't do because they are not 'godly'). Also, where does our justification come from, what we believe or what we do (or some combination of the two because there is jsut too much of Jesus' teaching about what is in our hearts vs. what our actions are).
I have more to think about and will have more to add later maybe.

Matt said...

"2) people who fully agree get real quiet, for fear of the Pharisees putting them out of the synagogue (John 12)"

Or maybe someone sees a picture along with the blog post that says, "place head here" and's best not to walk into that... :-)

Joe B said...

Matt, LOL does not even begin to capture how funny that remark was!

Garry said...

Well Joe, here I go:
First, I hope that I am right in that your basic 'beef' is with any group of people who claim to be based in Christ, but who really are just looking for people to tell how to live. For surely you are not lumping every group who meets in a building with a cross out front with the ones who are leagalistic to the extreme.
You make some very good arguments for leaving the Law behind and following only the Spirit. But as I pointed out earlier, I don't see where the Law and the Spirit are mutually exclusive. The Spirit is not going to lead a believer to do an act that is contrary to the Law. And by the same token, someone who is trying to fullfil the Law, not to justify themselves, but to use it as a rule and guide to their faith will be hearing the Spirit also.
You point to Paul's teaching to the Galatiiahs as one of your foundation stones of this thesis. I would point you to 1st Timothy where this same Paul says, "The law is good when it is properly used." (paraphrased but accurate). So if I isolate on this passage, I can make an argument that Paul loved the Law.
In Romans, he points out that without the Law we would not become aware of our sinful nature and our need for a Savior (proper use of the Law). Jesus Himself said he did not come to destroy the Law but rather to fullfil it.
Here is the crux of the matter for me: If we rely on the Law and our ability to follow it in order to reach Heaven, we are doomed to fail. If our good deeds are the sole support of our justifictation, we are deluding ourselves.
If I deny the Spirit the place of leadership I am hindering God's primary source of communication with me. That can't be good.
This question, and your thesis seems to have a flaw similar to the "why" you proposed it: We should not, and cannot 'cherry pick' what we study. We must use the whole of scripture, in his letter to Timothy, Paul points out that all of scripture (including the Law) is profitalbe for doctrine and reproof (paraphrased again).
You have to eat the whole apple, not just a part.
Maybe I have missed your whole point, I don't know.

Craig said...

I suppose that a thorough exegesis of Matt. 5:17-20 would be real helpful here. . .

Joe B said...

Lovin the comments! Gee, where's Scott been lately?

Both your comments hone in on this: What, then, IS the proper use/role of Law? (and 1 tim 1:8-11 is a prime summary, good call Garry B.)

It is for sinners, exposing and condemning their sin. It is not for guiding the faithful into truth and righteousness. Indeed, "Law was added that sin might increase [Ro 5:20]", and "apart from the law, sin is dead! [Ro 7:8]" There is scarcely anything as explicit in scripture as this.

It is by the Spirit, and ONLY by the Spirit, that we "fulfill the righteous requirement of the law, which is fully met in us who do not walk by the flesh, but by the Spirit. [Ro 8:4]"

I consider this to be St Paul's exposition of Matthew 5:17-20 specifically. Jesus fulfills the Law, not merely for us, but in us. How? By the Spirit!

You see, the cross is not merely the end the flesh-walk, it is the beginning of the Sprirt-life. Being born again [Jn 3:1-21] is not merely a decision, it is a commencement into the Spirit-life. That life is not simply subsequent to "salvation", it IS salvation!

This is the whole story of the New Testament.

Paul sums up "the Law problem" thus: "The law is spiritual, but I am unspiritual", therefore "I do not do the good I want, but the evil I hate." So "Who can free me?...Jesus Christ!" How? "By Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of Life sets me free from the Law of Sin and Death", and now "the righteous requirement of the law is fully met in me, as I live by the Spirit." [Ro 7:14-8:5, abridged]

It is a grossly deficient understanding of the Holy Spirit that conditions Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic, and even Charismatic theology that has dug us into this terrible hole. The Holy Spirit is not some nifty gadget God gives believers. The Holy Spirit is GOD. To live in Him and by Him is eternal life; it IS salvation, it is what it is to "be saved."

Scott said...

Oh, I'm here, and I've been reading each and every comment as they've come in. This is a discussion that interests me, but I feel lacking in having anything helpful to say.

If I may point out one thing: I have a feeling that "the law" is one of those phrases that we use as Christians, but we probably have slightly different definitions of what it means. Is it anything that God tells us to do? Is it anything that's "instructional in tone" in the Bible? Are we ONLY talking about the O.T. Levitical law?

We think the Holy Spirit is a confusing concept, but sometimes "the law" can be just as abstract in how we use the term.

Garry said...

Yeah, Scott, consider the nail squarely struck on the head. "You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means." Indigo Montoya

Joe B said...

re: Garry, I guess i should say "Inconcievable"!!

I do like the broad definition that Garry put forward. I know there are those who would dispute it because it is broad, I think he's on firm biblical ground.

It's obviously more than what Moses said, since death came into the world before Moses. It includes, as in Galatians 3 and Romans 2, the conscience and social practices of non-Jews, and from Colossians 2 we see it includes "philosophy based on the elemental principles of this world", too.

I think the two trees in the midst of the garden illustrate it richly, and accurately. The nature of "the bad tree" (i.e., Law) still informs us as to what is the actual nature of "original sin", and the two trees still represent the Fundamental Choice we face as creatures made in the image of God.

Redacticus said...

Hello new member Nichole! Nice to see you've joined the fray. Feel free to sound off, all perspectives welcome.


Matt said...

I ran across this and thought I might drop it here.

I think, from what I've read, most would close to agree with the conclusion:

(snippet to tease)
However, the law is "holy, righteous and good" (Romans 7:12) and Scripture tells us how "blessed" is the man who "delights" in the law (Psalm 1). The Psalmist says, "Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 19:97). The apostle Paul also says, "I delight in the law of God in my inner being" (Romans 7:22). Why do (should) the people of God love the law? Here are 3 reasons.

Joe B said...

The article is very short, and brilliantly written. Everyone should read it. And to me, it represents the culmination of centuries of circular thinking.

I mean no disrespect to the writer, but I am going to debate his points vigorously.

To clarify, our subject is not about "loving the law", it is about "living by the law." But the article effectively proposes we should do both.

Here are writer Joe Thorn's three points:

1. In the Law we have divine direction. "God [in the Law] has graciously spoken clearly, and we now know the difference between good and evil...This is itself grace."

So there you have it: Law=Grace! How bizarre is that? But it's part on an ancient, bizarre tradition.

Besides, didn't Adam know the diffrence between good and evil when he became a fallen sinner? Isn't that the essence of what a fallen sinner IS? One who eats from the Knowlege Tree instead of the Life Tree?

Which leads perfectly to point 2...

2. Through the Law we uncover sin (citing Rom 7 7-25). "The law is used by God to afflict our conscience...this is a reason to love the law, as it can eventually...destroy our confidence in our ability to measure up to God's standards."

I'd like to rebut this in a short sentence, but it is wrong on so many levels, as if the writer has read Romans 7 backwards instead of forwards. First, why does he begin at verse 7? Verses 1-6 clearly define what Ro 7 is about, namely "dying to the Law so that we may be joined to another (Christ)", and "being freed from the Law so that we now serve in the new way of the Spirit." All that follows (vss 7-25) expounds this proposition, not reverses it! The verses Thorn quotes merely state what I have already stipulated, and what we all agree: The Law is good and holy. They certainly do not overturn the whole proposition of Ro 7:1-6 (apart from which the remainder of the chapter are completely meaningless.)

As for the proposition that the Law eventually overcomes our confidence in the flesh, wrong again. The writer did not consult St Paul's definitive rant on "confidence in the flesh" in Ph 3:2-9. Explicitly, Paul says that to choose Law is to put confidence in the flesh. Nor does he reckon with Ro 2 in which St Paul declares that the conscience of the pagan serves the same function as the Law, and that we who have the Law are no better off for it.

Law and Grace are not the same thing.

3. By the Law we are led to the gospel. "As we walk in [the gospel] the Law leads toward the good of our neighbors and praise of our God." He concludes on this thought, in attempt to reconcile his thoughts on law with Grace.

I can only refer again to Gal Gal 3:23-25 that clearly says that the law is no longer our paidagogos. This is the opposite, not the same!

Ironically, all three points put the Law squarely in roles appointed by Jesus to the Holy Spirit. As though all the contrast and oppostion Paul wrote of were nothing at all. He simply blurs them together. But the Law is not the Spirit. The Law is not Grace. The Law is not Faith.

And Death is not Life.

Anonymous said...

Now I better understand what Scott meant by the use and meaning of the words "law". You alluded to it in the post as well. 

So I agree with what you're writing but I'm trying to conceptualize the meaning/application (bc I guess how it impacts my own loving god and others matters most).  

For example, when jesus says "I didn't come to abolish the law but fulfill it" is that in reference to the writings (a word Paul uses in rom 7:6 which leads most to assume there in Romans he is referring to the written law not the "parallels with paganism" you referred to) or the pagan parallel you wrote about Paul using in Galatians?  I think Jesus context is the written law. But if it is the parallel of paganism included, how would he fulfill it?  I'm not sure I can wrap my mind around that theology at this time in the morning (my kid is currently in the throws of all night flu symptoms and I'm passing the time between events). I don't know that I know enough to understand how he might mean he fulfills that pagan parallel or other semantic range of meanings proposed. 

I guess i'd be inclined to be ok with what  is written in that other article  if the meaning of law is tightened to the written law alone.  But I also understand the freedom from a law that is fulfilled in Christ and to return to it in any way is to say his death and the spirit is not enough - and I think I see what you're saying is so wrong. 

But practically, in how it is played out, how might sin on this issue be viewed as binding to sin and death and law?  In other words, I'm trying to think of the actual impact of sins of holding on to that "concept" (for lack of a better word right now) and how it impacts "loving god with all" etc and "loving neighbor" etc.

If I'm to say that "law" as Paul writes it is only the written law, which is holy and Jesus fulfills in all ways, freeing us from sin and death so we are not under slavery to the law of sin and death but slavery to righteousness that comes from the spirit and life, but not the parallel of paganism you referenced, how does it undermine loving the lord your god with all heart soul mind and strength and loving others?  Is it, as you suggested, the subtle usurping of the spirit's authority in our lives and giving it over to the law?  This seems most likely. 

But can we also, in our pride, think we have such conceptual understanding of the law and spirit that we usurp the spirit with our own intellect grasp of theology?

"truly you have a dizzying intellect"
"wait till I get going"

Line?  Somebody?

(all that just to get a joke off ;-))   

Other Anon said...

What a dazzling comment, just to be left Anonymously?

Joe B said...

"But can we also, in our pride, think we have such conceptual understanding of the law and spirit that we usurp the spirit with our own intellect grasp of theology?" --Anon

Gee, who could that be referring to? :-D

I am well aware that to make a bold assertion like this might seem prideful, and I'll stand still and catch any flying tomatoes it brings. I'm sure Jesus seemed a little cocky to some when he overturned the tables of the establishment. Sometimes, in the words of the great Vezzini, you just have to "drink from the goblet and see who is right...and who is dead."

I actually do not think it takes much intellect to fathom this, I think its really quite simple and obvious. What's difficult is unLeaning centuries of convoluted rationalization that rejects the Holy Spirit.

This afternoon I'll return to the definition of Law. I can't say I truly understand Anon's thought, but it hones us in on that key point once more.

I think that too is simpler than it may seem.

Garry said...

The line is, "Where was I?"

Here I am: I will stay with my original question to this thesis, "What are we using the Law for? For justification and redemption? Or are we using the Law to become aware of our sinful nature and our need of redemption through Christ?"
If we use the law to hammer someone about how they 'should be living' or to shout out. "Hey, look at me, I have this law stuff down so I am going to heaven by what I am doing." We are using the Law improperly and our theology is not Christ centered, if He is even on the same target.
We absolutely need to be listening to the Holy Spirit in everything we do.
Christ is our redeemer and the Holy Spirit is our comforter and guide through the rest of our lives after salvation.
I will point toward James 2 and his teaching on faith and works. They are not mutually exclusive in his teaching, they are complimentary. To paraphrase, "Because of what I believe, I do the things I do because of what I believe." Because of what I believe I (try to) do things that honour God. I do these things because I believe they are 'right.'
I still don't see where being aware of (knowing and reverencing) the law and what it says about living with my fellow man and listening to the Holy Spirit are or should be exclusive.
It all comes down to the motive and the expectation of 'my final outcome' fall under what I know (the law) vs what I believe(being spirit led).
Help me out Joe, am I missing your point?

Joe B said...

Garry, it's been a real feast working thru your comments and Craig's. Really helping me to hone and develp my thoughts...its such a complex and large subject! I actually went back thru the comments and jotted down all the questions raised. I havent had time, huge exam coming up.

Thanks for taking the bait! You guys are such a blessing!

RMW said...

Joe as a provocateur you excel.....g

I have very much enjoyed the comments by so many whose opinions I respect. It is an interesting matter and it appears to me in Mat 5:17... Jesus explains the position quite clearly and without a whole lot of equivocation.

Jesus state clearly that the law and the law means the law of Moses as handed down by God is forever and Jesus further clearly stated that he did not come to replace the law and further admonished that anyone who broke the law would face judgment and that those who taught or led others to break the law would have a lesser place in Heaven.

So this leaves us with what was the role of Jesus and the role of the spirit. Jesus in my opinion shows us that salvation lies not in the strict observance of the law which is no more than external, but rather in understanding the underlying principles which Jesus himself illustrated and through which the spirit imbues us. He illustrates this point by pointing out that just not murdering someone is not enough just as not committing adultery is not enough.

The balance between law and Spirit I think can only be answered when you ask the question; “What was God wanting to accomplish through the sacrifice of Jesus?” Was God wanting good little people who followed the rules while their hearts were blackened? I think not and we need look no further than the admonishments against the Pharisees, the word itself meaning righteous (sic in the law). Or rather was Jesus more interested in changing people from the inside out?

If the later is the case and is accomplished in the believer, then the law will become relegated to the position of a moral compass, a reminder and theoretically in the perfect believer the law becomes moot simply because there is no need for it. As a believer walks closer and closer to Christ's footsteps, then the need for the law becomes less and less although it is still there. A person in harmony and fully infused with God's spirit could no more break the law than he could tear himself from God's all encompassing love.

God's law as opposed to man's rules are two different things. I think that churches which place emphasis on God's law above the spirit do a great disservice to their congregations because laws do not lead to God, but Jesus does. If you focus on changing people's hearts, you do not have to focus on laws. On the other hand, churches which promote man's law above God's spirit and God's law...well that is for God to deal with in his own time.