Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Basis for Christian Morality

The Old Testament fills a number of important roles. For one, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies by Jesus authenticate His identity as the Messiah. Also, the apostle Paul writes that the failures of the children of Israel "...were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted." (1 Cor. 10:6). Other significant factors could be pointed out as well. However, the question I want to ask is, does Old Testament morality still apply to Christians?

When I refer to Old Testament morality, I am primarily talking about the Mosaic law. Do some or all of the commandments that the Lord gave to Moses still have validity in the Christian's life? One of the important Scripture passages concerning this subject is in the Sermon on the Mount.

"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 is Jesus saying here? One view would be that since Christ was not destroying the law, it is to some extent still applicable. Now, Christians obviously do not observe aspects of the law regarding, for example, animal sacrifices. Christ's atonement has made those sacrifices obsolete. In response, some students of the Bible have introduced the concept of the division of the Mosaic law into different categories. While there are some variations on this theme, the  basic idea is that the commandments in the old law can be categorized as moral or ceremonial. The former category is still in place for Christian, and the latter is not. Hence the big emphasis placed on the Ten Commandments, which are classified "moral."

On the other hand, I subscribe to the opposing view. Namely, Christ's life and atoning sacrifice have fulfilled the law, and as such the law has passed away entirely. Fulfilling the law did not destroy it but rather made it unnecessary. Let's consider a few Scriptures that support this view.

"But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second...In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away."
Heb. 8:6-7, 13

"Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."
Heb. 10:9-10

The bottom line that we are dealing with here, I believe, is disagreement over how a believer in Christ is sanctified. It is my view that sanctification does not come through observing Old Covenant moral codes. The believer under the New Covenant is guided by the Holy Spirit in concord with the New Testament scriptures. Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. (John 16:13)

"Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster."
Gal. 3:24-25

What about the supposed moral vs. ceremonial dichotomy in the Mosaic law? Honestly, I
believe this idea is without Biblical basis. For one thing, how is the Christian to know for sure if a Mosaic commandment is moral or ceremonial? Consider the Ten Commandments, which would be typically viewed as the moral foundation of the law of Moses. "Thou shalt not steal" or "thou shalt not kill" are obviously moral in nature. However, what about keeping the sabbath? Is that command moral, ceremonial, or both?

Here's another point to consider. If God intended this division of the old law, it makes sense that the commandments would be organized by category so Christians would not be confued as to which commandments to follow. For a case study of this idea, I would like to turn to Leviticus 19. Verse 18 states: "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD." This principle would seem clearly moral in nature. Using the above logic, the other verses in this passage should also describe moral commands. With that in mind, let's look at verse 19: "Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee." Now, this command seems to be ceremonial. So, we have a moral rule and a ceremonial rule in consecutive verses! God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33).

The New Covenant requires a higher moral standard than the Old. The reason I say this is because the Old Covenant regulated behavior, while the New Covenant is more concerned with the inward disposition (which of course affects behavior). For instance, in the law of Moses, the Lord forbid the act of adultery. However, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said just looking at a women with lust constitutes adultery (Matthew 5:27-28). In other words, observation of the Mosaic law would potentially clean the outside of the cup while leaving the inside full of wickedness. Just following the Ten Commandments is not sufficient.

Confusion regarding the relationship between the two Testaments has caused great tragedy in the history of Christianity. Christ said, "Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you." (Luke 6:27-28). Despite these words and many more like them in the New Testament, professing Christians regularly fight in wars or even persecute other professing Christians with different beliefs.

Using the sword in the name of Christ is forbidden to believers. Nevertheless, ever since the time of Emperor Constantine, bloodshed in the name of Christ has been justified on the basis of the wars of the Old Testament. It was the same Constantine who was responsible for the fusion of the state and institutional church. Similarly, this concept is rationalized based on the theocratic nation of Israel in the Old Covenant, even though the church-state union violates New Covenant principles.

"But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all."
Mark 10:42-44

Much more could be said on the subjects of non-resistance and the separation of church of state. For the purposes of the matter at hand, they serve to demonstrate the importance of placing the New Testament in its proper place as a superior moral standard compared to the Old Testament. "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God." (Romans 7:4). The conclusion of the matter is: we do not follow the law of Moses. We only follow Christ.

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