Saturday, September 17, 2022

Lawless. . .

Jesus said,  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill.”  I fear that we have made Jesus into some kind of antinomian figure, a heretic of the Old Covenant who has come to introduce a New Covenant in which there is no law -- only love.  If so, we have gotten Jesus wrong.  Our Lord Jesus does not challenge the Law God gave to Moses nor does He set it aside as if it no longer had meaning or purpose because the Gospel has come.  Instead, our Lord challenges the centuries-long tradition which was constitutive of the people of Israel. What He challenges is the interpretation of that Law and how it had come to be used at the hands of the religious authorities of the day.  In this respect, our Lord acted no differently than the prophets who came before and called a nation and their faith leaders to repentance.  The difference lies in that at the same time Jesus came to fulfill the Law and then to cover the repentant with His own righteousness as their clothing in life and in death.

By extension, some Christians presume that the Old Testament itself has been abrogated and is not relevant anymore.  It is read more for curiosity than for application to Christian life.  In the same way, the whole nature of the temple and its sacrificial worship is now happily forgotten in favor of an interior religion that takes what Jesus says about external piety without faith as the defining norm for what should be -- no public prayer, no fasting, no sacrifice, and no outward expression of any faith EXCEPT love.  If that is how you read Jesus, you have read Him wrong.  Our Lord never once castigates the Law has having failed anyone or anything nor does Jesus ever suggest that the temple is wrong and needs to go away.  Just the opposite, Scripture records how faithful Jesus was in the synagogue, at the temple, and following the feasts and observances of the Law as God intended.  His cleansing of the temple was not about the building but about the people and what they had done to prevent the House of God from being the temple God intended.

In the same way, modern folk insist that Jesus is interested in establishing a personal faith with individuals but does not really care if you go to church, if you find worship meaningful, or what you do that you call worship.  What a joke!  You can say yes to Jesus and no to church and God is happy that you have made a choice appropriate for you!???  Who said that?  Not Jesus.  When you hear people talk about a true Christian, it is usually in the context of behavior -- what they do or do not do or say or do not say.  If God was only interested in cleaning up bad behavior, we would only have the Law.  Faith that has no need of theology, morals, liturgy, or church is not the faith of Jesus. The truth is that Christians can corrupt all of these as easily and as effectively as the religious leaders led the people of God astray before Christ came.  We are sinners, aren't we?  But the solution when things go wrong is not to abandon what God has given and commanded but repentance and faith.  The solution to what people find lacking in the church is not the abolition of the church or the abrogation of corporate worship but the renewal of their proper use with the focus on what it is that calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies -- the means of grace.  The Word and Sacraments are not optional extras nor is church there for those who find it meaningful or who desire it.  Christ is there in the Word and Sacraments bestowing what He has won and promised and the Spirit is there enabling us to receive His gifts with joy.  A lawless person or church that pits the moral law against piety and practice has misread Jesus and proceeds to make exceptional what Jesus intended to be ordinary and routine.

1 comment:

gamarquart said...

Dear Rev. Peters: the obsession with the idea embodied in “I walk in the garden with Jesus” should be abhorrent to Christians, as you point out. Having an intense personal relationship with Jesus, that replaces communal worship, is clearly contradicted by our Lord when He taught us to say “our” and “us” in the prayer He gave us.

But there is something that has bothered me about the relationship of the Old Testament to the New for a long time. There is that wonderful 31st chapter of Jeremiah, which reads, in part, “31 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, ” declares the LORD.”

So are both Covenants still in place? I believe this passage, and others say that only the New Covenant is in effect. Yet so many treat the new one as if it is just like the old, only with Jesus.

Clearly, the Old Covenant was one made only with the people of Israel, based on keeping the Law. Clearly, that did not work, as St. Paul points out in many passages, particularly in 2 Corinthians, when he writes in chapter 3, “7 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?”

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is unique to the New Covenant, but more often than not, it is not taught in accordance with Scripture in our churches. The first proclamation of this aspect of the Gospel is in the same 31st chapter of Jeremiah, “33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Is not this what St. Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 2, “16 for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”

I cannot possibly write everything there is to say about what effect, if any, the Old Covenant has on the New. I suggest that our theologians should devote themselves more fully to this matter. C. F. W. Walther’s “Law and Gospel,” although helpful, does not cover the field entirely.

However, for the sake of the purity of the Gospel, that is preached among us, we need to have a better understanding of just what that pure Gospel is. For many years, I have insisted, that it is sorely lacking in many of our churches.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart