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The 8th Commandment, Property, and the Early Church

June 3, 2016 1 comment

In Tom Chantry’s “Ten Commandments” series, the section on the 8th commandment looks at the overall issue, the precept behind the wording “do not steal,” of ownership and property.  A study of this topic in both the Old and New Testaments affirms God’s purpose that people own individual property.  The fact that we are commanded to not steal, means that some items must belong to another person and that those items do not belong to you.

As pointed out in this lesson, Genesis 1:26 gives the dominion mandate to the human race

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Implied in this command is the reality that this could not be done by Adam alone:  Adam is a finite individual with limited resources.  Genesis 2 follows up with the specific situation for Adam: he as an individual, along with Eve, would have responsibility for one specific location, the garden – a particular location.  He was made the proprietor of a particular piece of land with defined boundaries.  The overall mandate of Genesis 1 could only be fulfilled through the mechanism of property ownership, of giving particular pieces of land to specific individuals.

Then, with the only country that truly could be called “God’s Country” – the Old Testament nation of Israel – we again see God’s concern and interest in individual property.  Leviticus 25 in particular tells us that the land belongs to God (“the land is mine,” verse 23) – and God’s ownership of the land was the basis on which the Israelites would own the land, and very specific laws were setup concerning the buying and selling of their property, within the context of the year of Jubilee.  The people of Israel were to live as the people of God, living out the commands, the moral precepts, of God.  Their living out these commands required that they have dominion over something, in order to use it for God and to bring glory to God.  As also brought out in scripture, the Israelites had to be free men – freeholders; they were not to be slaves, as slaves cannot fulfill this purpose of possessing something in order to use it for God.

To own something is not to grasp at something.  There is no practicality, and no virtue, in giving away all right and title to what is ours.  This brings the study to the issue of what was going on in the early church in Acts – a case which some have cited to claim support for communism and communal living.  After all, so the claim goes, the text says that the believers “had all things in common.”

But a close look at the texts – Acts 2:44, then Acts 4:32-33, and the first part of Acts 5 – clears away two common errors:  1) an assumption that the Acts texts are providing a legal definition of property, and 2) the idea that this situation was normative.  The first idea – a legal definition of property – ignores the use of language.  For instance, when someone visits us in our home, and we say “my house is your house” or “make yourself at home,” such expressions do not mean that we are relinquishing ownership – but rather a show of hospitality.  Peter’s words to Ananias in Acts 5 make it clear that Ananias’ sin was of lying, and not anything pertaining to the property itself.  The land, while unsold, belonged to Ananias, to do with as he pleased – it was his own, at his disposal; and when Ananias sold it, he then owned some money, which also was at his own disposal.  Thus, scripture itself proves that the early church was not a commune and was not some type of cult in which everyone gave up ownership to the “common pool.”

The early church in Acts was also a unique and unusual situation – and an opportunity for those who were wealthy to be generous and give of what they owned in order to help others.  At this point the church consisted of Jewish converts: people who had been part of the Jewish system and belonged to synagogues, yet now experienced persecution– which included excommunication from Judaism and possibly having their means of livelihood taken from them.  Thus the need to care for many poor people, including many only recently impoverished.  The situation opened a ministry need, which Barnabas (in Acts 4) and likely others as well, stepped into with their generosity.

Chantry also observes another aspect I had not considered, that perhaps is true; the early church had received the prophecy, the words from Jesus, that Jerusalem would be judged and destroyed at some point in the relatively near future.  Thus, the people who sold land had knowledge that the place would be destroyed, and that now was a good time to sell their property while it was still worth something.  Certainly if the land they sold was in or around Jerusalem, this well may have been the case.  Study through commentaries and historical research would better answer this question, of whether the people in Jerusalem were actually selling land that existed in that area or if they were engaging in sales of property that existed outside of that area.

Even aside from the question of the impending judgment upon Jerusalem, though, this lesson is a good study on the biblical issue of individual ownership and support for this point throughout the Bible: from earliest creation for all mankind, in Israel’s own government and civil laws, and the same teaching for us in the New Testament era.

The Decalogue as a Unit (All Ten Commandments)

May 3, 2016 6 comments

Further thoughts from continued study in the 1689 Confession series, regarding the Law of God as a unit – we cannot separate one from the rest and say that only nine are still in effect.  It is a package set, not individual parts that we can “pick and choose” from.

In response to those who try to claim that Jesus’ summary statement regarding the two “greatest commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40)  is NOT actually a summary of the Ten Commandments (but really something else unrelated to the Decalogue): further New Testament scripture does provide that direct connection, with Paul’s words in Romans 13:8-10, where he first mentions several of the Commandments from the second table (the 7th, the 6th, the 8th, and the 10th) to show what he has in mind, adding “and any other commandment,” are “summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The claim that all of the commandments are repeated in the New Testament “except the fourth” also does not hold up to sound hermeneutics.  As noted in this lesson from the 1689 Confession exposition series:

No, the fourth commandment is not omitted in the New Testament.  There are some who would say that the ten commandments are all reiterated in the New Testament, except the fourth   one.   You can only say that if you believe that the first four books of the New Testament are not the New Testament.  You can only say that if you make Matthew, Mark, Luke and John something other than applicable to Christians today.  That is impossible to do hermeneutically, because the disciples were being trained by Jesus to be WHAT? To be authoritative teachers in the New Testament church.  He was laying the foundation of the New Testament church.  And so the question is, why would Jesus have spent SO MUCH TIME, talking about the Sabbath day and its Pharasaical abuses, merely to say, a few months later, ‘well, guys, all that teaching I gave you was really for nought, because it’s over and done with now, there’s no such thing as the fourth commandment.’ That doesn’t make sense.

It’s like what J.C. Ryle says, it’s sort of like a person who cleans off the roof of their house, takes all that time and energy to make sure that he has a pristine roof–only to burn his house down the next day.  Why would he do that?  The Sabbath day IS very clearly reiterated, and taught very extensively and perhaps even more so than the others in the New Testament.

The J.C. Ryle reference comes from this J.C. Ryle article, Sabbath: A Day to Keep, a helpful resource that points to many scriptural reasons for the continuing 4th commandment, including observations from the book of Ezekiel, what I had noted from my own reading through that prophet:

I turn to the writings of the Old Testament Prophets. I find them repeatedly speaking of the breach of the Sabbath, side by side with the most heinous transgressions of the moral law (Ezek. 20:13, 16, 24; 22:8, 26). I find them speaking of it as one of the great sins which brought judgments on Israel and carried the Jews into captivity (Neh. 13:18; Jer. 17:19-27). It seems clear to me that the Sabbath, in their judgment, is something far higher than the washings and cleansings of the ceremonial law.  I am utterly unable to believe, when I read their language, that the Fourth Commandment was one of the things one day to pass away.

The contrast between someone cleaning their roof and destroying their house:

I turn to the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ when He was upon earth. I cannot discover that our Savior ever let fall a word in discredit of any one of the Ten Commandments. On the contrary, I find Him declaring at the outset of His ministry, “that He came not to destroy the law but to fulfil,” and the context of the passage where He uses these words, satisfies me that He was not speaking of the ceremonial law, but the moral (Matt. 5:17). I find Him speaking of the Ten Commandments as a recognized standard of moral right and wrong: “Thou knowest the Commandments” (Mark 10:19).  I find Him speaking eleven times on the subject of the Sabbath, but it is always to correct the superstitious additions which the Pharisees had made to the Law of Moses about observing it, and never to deny the holiness of the day.He no more abolishes the Sabbath, than a man destroys a house when he cleans off the moss or weeds from its roof.

Much more could be said, and has been said by others, but the above observations and references are for today’s consideration.

Study: The Christian and the Moral Law

April 12, 2016 25 comments

The topic of the Law of God and its relationship to the Christian has come up frequently in my recent studies and daily life. Currently in the 1689 Confession Exposition series I’m in chapter 19, the Law of God, and now in the sixth commandment section of the “Ten Commandments” study from Tom Chantry.

Since last week, the blogosphere has been reacting to Stephen Furtick’s recent claim that “God broke the law for love.”  For reference here, I find Tom Chantry’s post the most helpful in response to the overall evangelical celebrity scandal issue.  His post includes links to several other responses, including the most helpful for the issue as this one from the “Mortification of Spin” blog, as well as Tim Challies’ response.

As I continue through the lessons in both the 1689 Confession and Ten Commandments series, studying various aspects in some detail, I am especially struck by the shallow and superficial (and just plain wrong) arguments and rhetoric of the New Calvinist / New Covenant Theology group, with its anti-Reformed view of the law.  As just a few examples, from a recent local-church NCT conference and some anti-Tim Challies / anti-covenant theology comments at a blog post:  1) rejection of any type of covenant made with Adam in Genesis 2, because “I don’t see the word covenant there” (really? is the word “Trinity” ever found in the Bible?), 2) dislike of Covenant Theology as “those baby baptizers” (will you ever consider that CT includes a credobaptist version, and decide to meaningfully interact with THAT form of CT?  No, it’s easier to resort to name-calling and broad-brushing about how CT is wrong because they’re baby baptizers…), and 3) the stated claim that the moral law was something that started (and ended) with Moses, and thus the only moral law for Christians is what is stated in the New Testament.

As just an aside on point #3:  I find this hermeneutic, that something can only be true for us in the NT era if it’s explicitly stated or “confirmed” in the New Testament, quite frankly, bizarre.  On the question of premillennialism and Israel’s future, dispensationalists (as well as classic/historic premillennialists) recognize the problem with this NT-priority hermeneutic and its implications: a God who changed His plan and changed His promises and His revelation, such that Old Testament believers did not have the same understanding of scripture as we do.  My problem with the NCT group is doubly-compounded in that they get both parts wrong: they apply the NT-only hermeneutic to the moral law (in agreement with dispensationalism) AND apply the NT-only hermeneutic to the question of Israel, rejecting anything of God’s future plans for Israel.  At least dispensationalists get half of it right; and confessional/CT amillennialists get the other half, about the moral law, correct.

Anyway… here are some interesting points from my studies on this topic:  scriptural considerations for why the Ten Commandments are different from the rest of the Mosaic law.

  1. The Ten Commandments were introduced before the rest of the law. They were given directly from God, literally inscribed by God onto the tablets.  These two tablets alone were placed into the Ark of the Covenant.  The civil and ceremonial laws were not put in the Ark.
  1. The summary content of the Ten Commandments is found in existence prior to Moses, going all the way back to creation.  The creation ordinances contain, at least implied, the basics of God’s moral law.  Marriage as a creation ordinance relates to the 7th commandment (adultery and other sexual sins), as well as the 8th commandment (not to steal another man’s wife) and the 10th commandment to not covet your neighbor’s wife.  Dominion over the earth pertains to the 5th commandment: God’s authority and our authority structure, in families and all of life’s social structures.  The seven day week pattern establishes the matter of a time for worship, which is the essence of the 4th commandment; and implied in the 4th commandment, of the schedule/time for worship, are the first three commandments about Who we are to worship, how to worship Him, and with what attitude.  The other part of the 4th commandment, the six days of labor, was also in place in the garden.  Adam was there to work the garden.  The part about working “by the sweat of the brow” was added after the fall, but work itself began before that.  Related to the labor part of the 4th commandment, comes the 8th commandment again:  work to provide your daily needs, and do not steal.  The 6th commandment is specifically referenced in Genesis 9, in God’s covenant with Noah after the flood, with the institution of capital punishment for murder.
  1. God’s moral law, as codified/summarized in the Decalogue, was always concerned about the heart. It was never just about the mere letter of the law.  Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount was not adding anything to that law, but was expositing and restoring the understanding of the law back to what it had always been–away from the Pharisees’ mistaken notion of an external compliance only.

Note here:  when the Israelites had so apostasized that God ejected them from the land, as described in the later prophets including Jeremiah and Ezekiel, it was their violation of the moral law (what is summarized/codified in the Ten Commandments) that angered God.  In fact, the Israelites in the time of Jeremiah (and even earlier, Isaiah’s day also)  were fully complying with the ceremonial law—in outward form.  It was their outward performance of the ceremonial law, without having the right heart attitude, that was the problem.

This point can also be seen in the Pentateuch, in God’s application of the moral law to the Israelites and their civil law.   Immediately after the giving of the Decalogue in Exodus 20, comes Exodus 21 with an interesting, detailed section of laws for Israel’s government.  Exodus 21:12-36 contains specific laws regarding cases where one person  is killed by another – application of the sixth commandment —  and distinction is made between killings done where the one person meant harm to the other, versus truly accidental deaths, including the provision of the cities of refuge which a person who had killed another could flee to—before the avenger of blood killed the man, and for the priest to judge the situation.  Understood throughout this section is that Israel would need a system of courts and judges, and that they would need to be able to investigate a crime and its circumstances.  This investigation would need to involve considering motives:  the motives and thoughts of the person who had killed another, as this is necessary information for determining if a death was accidental, or a case of what we would call 1st or 2nd degree murder.

The above is but a sampling, of scriptural issues to consider regarding the question of the moral law: what it was in the Old Testament era, and why it is God’s unchanging moral law from creation–and not something “only for Israel and the Mosaic administration” and thus no longer relevant to Christians in the New Testament age.

More next time:  the different usages/meanings of the term “law” in the New Testament.

 

The 4th (and all the other) Commandments, and the Conscience

February 19, 2016 1 comment

Continuing in Tom Chantry’s Ten Commandments series, comes the issue of how morality is defined (reference this lesson).  One of the arguments put forth by some who deny that the 4th commandment is moral, comes from the reasoning that our idea of what’s right and wrong must be innate, the things that we knew even in our pre-Christian life. After all, someone will say, “even as a lost man I knew that murder was wrong, that stealing and adultery are wrong; but I didn’t innately know the 4th commandment (of setting aside one day out of seven unto the Lord) – therefore, this commandment must not really be part of the moral law.” But is this really so?

In any society, children do not innately know that stealing or lying is wrong, or that it’s a good thing to share with others—these things must be taught. Furthermore: many adults today (in our society as well as elsewhere in the world) do not “innately” understand the 1st or 2nd commandments either – the fact that there is one God, and that we should not bow down to an idol. The tenth commandment (do not covet) is also often not innately understood. The conscience is a wonderful gift from God–that which can convict us of sin. But it alone, apart from revelation, cannot inform us of what is right or wrong. In unsaved people, the conscience becomes hardened as the truth is suppressed. As Hodgins noted in the 1689 Confession series regarding the conscience, we need to “gospelize” our conscience, to educate and correctly inform it regarding right and wrong; reference here also such passages as 1 Corinthians 8: someone can think that they are sinning when they eat meat that was sacrificed to idols.

As Chantry pointed out in this post from last year, Americans of a few generations ago DID have a sense of doing wrong and violating the 4th commandment. The children’s historical fiction story “Johnny Tremaine,” written in the mid-20th century, even includes this conscience regarding the 4th commandment, in the actual plot of a Revolutionary War story.

If your awareness of Christian practice goes back more than one generation, you’ll have to admit that the Sabbath once pricked the conscience of men. We are all familiar with the now-despised “blue laws” which prohibited certain activities on Sunday. Yes, America was once a place in which work on Sunday was not only uncommon, but illegal. Did such a practice have any relationship to the conscience?

If you haven’t read Johnny Tremain you really should; only rarely does children’s literature reach such heights. What is fascinating, though, is that Esther Forbes, an unbeliever writing in mid-20th century Boston, so clearly recognized that even the impious in her own city just two centuries before had known the pangs of conscience when they broke the Sabbath. She actually turned that guilt into a major plot device!

We also know well the myth of the noble savage, versus what primitive civilizations – without the influence of Christianity – are actually like. This further makes the point that our ideas of morality, what our conscience thinks of as right and wrong, actually come from our society and what we are taught. It is actually societal standards, and not our own general ideas, that provide the basic understanding of morality to unbelievers.

As Christians, then, we are not to look to our own conscience, what we “innately” realize about right and wrong, but to study the word of God.  Biblical morality is the morality set forth by revelation from God, what is contained in the word of God.

1689 Confession Study: Practical Errors in Sanctification

January 26, 2016 1 comment

Continuing in the 1689 Baptist Confession study, the final lesson in chapter 13 (Sanctification) considers five practical errors regarding sanctification – five doctrinal points which believers may conflate with an unrelated idea.  These are fairly common ones among evangelicals, ideas which we may even acquire subconsciously (perhaps due to imbalanced teaching).  Hodgins acknowledged his own past experience, of sometimes thinking in these incorrect ways.

  1. Equating a wisdom-call (application) with the moral law of God (there are many different applications of the moral law to particular situations)
  2. Equating gifts with graces (even King Saul and Baalam were gifted, and even prophesied, yet were lost men)
  3. Equating struggle with hypocrisy
  4. Equating a growing sense of sin with spiritual decline
  5. Equating our sin-tainted works with God-rejected works.

Some of these I was familiar with, ideas generally mentioned in church from time to time (#4), or from my reading on the subject of sanctification over the last several years—especially #5, my (incorrect) way of thinking after several years of over-emphasis on God-rejected works at a Calvinist Baptist church.  One of the points brought out here, is that the well-known reference in Isaiah 64:6 (“all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags”) is in reference to the unconverted; this truth has its place in preaching the gospel and evangelism, telling sinners about the need for justification, that our salvation is completely in Christ and we do nothing to merit our salvation; but as believers our relationship is now that of children of God.  I recall learning (or perhaps being reminded again after so many years) the comforting truth of the correct teaching on this point, in J.C. Ryle’s Holiness several years ago (see this blog post from 2010)

For all this, however, the Bible distinctly teaches that the holy actions of a sanctified man, although imperfect, are pleasing in the sight of God. “With such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb. 13:16). “Obey your parents . . . for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Col. 3:20). “We . . . do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22).  Let this never be forgotten, for it is a very comfortable doctrine. Just as a parent is pleased with the efforts of his little child to please him, though it be only by picking a daisy or walking across a room, so is our Father in heaven pleased with the poor performances of His believing children. He looks at the motive, principle and intention of their actions and not merely at their quantity and quality. He regards them as members of His own dear Son, and for His sake, wherever there is a single eye, He is well pleased.

I observe that the examples and detail given in this lesson reference various points of the moral law (Ten Commandments), an approach I’ve only recently begun to notice, through study of the 1689 Confession along with Tom Chantry’s series on the Ten Commandments—as contrasted with the standard fare at the New Calvinist / “Sovereign Grace” NCT church which ignores teaching on the moral law, only dealing with Christian living as it is referenced in the New Testament epistles.

For #5 above, the lesson cites some of the same scripture texts from the above J.C. Ryle quote, and the fifth commandment.  Examples of people falling into certain wrong ideas are presented from the perspective of believers who have been taught sanctification in terms of the moral law / Ten Commandments summary–those who thus at least think in these terms in reference to their Christian walk. So with #1 above, examples include a person making a specific “rule” to help him follow the tenth commandment (do not covet) or his own application of law regarding whether or not to go to the beach (in reference to the seventh commandment)—and then equating that particular application with the moral law itself and thus imposed on everyone else (the basic issue of externalism and a problem commonly associated with “fundamentalism”).

Item #3 (one I had not considered before) is the idea that, if at this moment I don’t feel like praying or reading my Bible, then if I do so anyway (“force myself to do so”) I must be a hypocrite–so I’ll just be transparent and honest instead. The biblical response to this one is No – doing the right thing, even when our heart isn’t into it, is called mortification of sin, putting to death the sinful desires. Yes we must deal with our own heart, but it is better to deal with it there, in our own thoughts, rather than bring others into the sphere of our problems by behaving poorly to others.

I especially appreciate the teaching on point 4 (equating a growing sense of sin with spiritual decline), which included the lyrics of a John Newton hymn — one I had never heard before, but which apparently is in some hymnals, including at the church doing this 1689 Confession study. See this blog post (from the Gospel Coalition blog) for the full lyrics, which Hodgins read aloud in this lesson.  (Hodgins disliked the tune in their hymnal.  From googling, here is a Youtube rendition of the hymn in the familiar tune of another hymn, Psalm 42 As the Hart Longs.)  These excellent words from John Newton describe the Christian’s prayer to God, asking to grow in faith, and love, and every grace — and the result, how the Lord answers that prayer by bringing affliction —

I asked the Lord that I might grow  / In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,  / And seek, more earnestly, His face.

. . .

“‘Tis in this way, the Lord replied, / I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ, / From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy, / That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

 

The Moral Law, “My Sabbaths” and Ezekiel

October 15, 2015 6 comments

For today, I first note the theme of a recent book and a few blog posts — in response to the ‘New Calvinism’ emphasis today — concerning so many other Reformed teachings beyond the basic 5 points of Calvinism. David Murray at the HeadHeartHand blog has begun a series, with There’s More to Calvinism Than the Five Points of Calvinism and There’s more to the doctrines of grace than THE doctrines of grace, in which he notes the doctrine of creation, doctrine of providence, doctrine of revelation; I could go on and on: the grace of justification, the grace of adoption, the grace of sanctification, the grace of assurance, the grace of the sacraments, the grace of repentance, and so on. See how many doctrines of grace there are? And we haven’t yet touched the THE doctrines of grace. There are way more doctrines of grace than THE doctrines of grace.

Reformed Baptists (Richard Barcellos, Sam Waldron and a few others) have recently published “Going Beyond the Five Points: Pursuing a More Comprehensive Reformation” (kindle version available for $9.99), a collection of several essays about the 1689 Confession / Reformed Baptist theology (more than just the 5 points of Calvinism); I have started reading it and may post more specifically on it later.

Now to the topic of moral law and the Sabbath: in my ongoing genre-reading through the Bible, lately I have been reading through the first half of Ezekiel (end of the ‘OT history’ list) and the last chapters of Isaiah (beginning of the Prophets list), and certain impressions come through very strongly. The theme of judgment on apostate Israel is especially prominent in this section of Ezekiel (chapters 20 through 23), as generally elsewhere throughout the prophets, with contrasts between the wicked and their wicked acts, and the righteous and their righteous acts. At this point Israel had become worse than the Canaanite nations that the Lord had driven out before them; thus Israel was also removed from the land. As I’ve read previously from Phil Johnson, even the Canaanite nations were held accountable by God for a basic moral law (reference Romans 2:14-15), a law they were judged by even though they did not have the special revelation given to Moses, the written form of the Mosaic law.

Throughout the judgment passages in the Old Testament is the point that God detests and actually hates the ceremonial observance of apostate Israel – because they were not doing so from the heart, but merely with their lips, going through the motions only. Again and again this point is made, of the wicked ceremonial observance along with moral injustice, and the call to repentance, to return to the Lord and to do righteousness. Reference here Isaiah chapter 1, which describes apostate Israel’s Sabbath observance–within the context of their ceremonial law (verses 13-14): “Bring no more vain offerings; ​​​​​​​incense is an abomination to me. ​​​​​​​New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations- ​​​​​​​I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates.”

But then turn especially to Ezekiel 20 through 22, passages of strong judgment against Israel; interestingly enough, in these pronouncements of judgment, the Sabbath (a moral Sabbath, always referred to as “My Sabbaths”) is stated eight times (six in Ezekiel 20, and two more in Ezekiel 22), as something that apostate Israel was NOT doing and that they SHOULD do. Consider several of these references:

20:13 They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned.

20:16 because they rejected my rules and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols.

20: 19-20: I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and be careful to obey my rules, 20 and keep my Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.

20:21 They did not walk in my statutes and were not careful to obey my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; they profaned my Sabbaths.​​​​​​​​

20: 23-24: I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, 24 because they had not obeyed my rules, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols.

22:8 You have despised my holy things and profaned my Sabbaths.

Clearly (and logically), if on the one hand God hated their wrong-hearted observance of ceremonial law and rebuked them for their “new moon and Sabbath” – and yet so many times in Ezekiel alone He charged them with wrongdoing, forsaking God’s law and profaning His Sabbath – our God is referring to two different concepts of “Sabbath,” and He is especially concerned with a higher, moral concept of a Sabbath (the 4th commandment), not merely the ceremonial observance of their Sabbaths done in connection with the Mosaic law.  Further — and contrary to the teaching of NCT (New Covenant Theology) — this understanding of God’s moral law, of greater importance than Israel’s ceremonial law, was revealed and understood in the Old Testament, and known by Old Testament saints; God’s moral law was not something missing or incomplete or some “lower standard of morality” that had to be “raised” to a higher level of “the law of Christ” that was unknown before His First Coming.

 

Reformed Baptists (1689) and the Christian Sabbath

August 20, 2014 12 comments

Through study of the puritans and church history, and online reformed Baptist theology discussion groups, I am now more aware of the differences among various types of Calvinist Baptist groups, even among non-denominational, “reformed Baptist” type churches. Some “Sovereign Grace” (Calvinist, baptist) type churches, for instance, adhere to New Covenant Theology with its rejection of the three theological covenants – whereas other churches profess agreement with the 1689 London Baptist Confession, with its teaching of the theological covenants and reformed, confessional thought, beyond the basic Doctrines of Grace.

One especially new idea (to me): the Christian Sabbath teaching as expressed in the 17th century confessions, the Westminster Confession and the similar 1689 London Baptist Confession. I had read references to the Sunday Sabbath from classic writers such as 19th century preachers Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle, and recall the description of the practice in 19th century pioneer America, through the young-child perspective from author Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Yet I was not aware of the actual teaching itself, the doctrinal basis, or that it is practiced (and how) in modern times by at least a few evangelical Christians, especially among reformed Baptists.

The Sabbath statement in the 1689 Confession

8. The Sabbath is kept holy to the Lord by those who, after the necessary preparation of their hearts and prior arranging of their common affairs, observe all day a holy rest from their own works, words and thoughts about their worldly employment and recreations, and give themselves over to the public and private acts of worship for the whole time, and to carrying out duties of necessity and mercy.

The local NCT (New Covenant Theology) church has only briefly addressed the issue, insisting that the Sabbath was for the OT Jews only, it was on the 7th day and thus there is no reason for the church to observe it on Sunday instead; and their (Jews) Sabbath was not only the seventh day but many other ceremonial days – and thus anyone today wanting to observe a “Christian Sabbath” is being legalist and actually unable to observe the Sabbath because it means all those extra Jewish ceremonial feast days.

Yet from what I’ve read so far, the Christian Sabbath position sees the Sabbath as a “creation ordinance,” with its source in the Genesis creation, when God Himself set aside the seventh day; in Exodus the Sabbath commandment is given to the Israelites shortly after their exodus from Egypt and before the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. Christian Sabbath practice follows the “spirit” of the law from creation, rather than the “letter” of the law, without the specific rules and regulations of the Mosaic covenant Sabbath. Important to the Christian Sabbath are 1) the clear switch in the New Testament church, from meeting on the seventh day to the First day of the week, the Lord’s Day – a fact well established from passages in Acts and elsewhere in the NT regarding the day the church met; and 2) key verses including Mark 2:27-28 (“The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.”), while seeing the context of Colossians 2:16-17 as referring to the Jewish ceremonial laws and not related to the Sabbath-from-creation.

I am still studying this issue, and need to read and study the 1689 Confession itself. Thus far, I am not convinced that the 4th commandment is directly set forth in scripture, but see it as certainly a good idea for overall Christian life and practice, in general terms of setting aside time, as much as possible, for public and private worship on Sundays, and part of the believer’s ongoing sanctification.

Several resources of interest:

Dr. Peter Masters, Sword and Trowel (2009), Remember the Lord’s Day

John Piper, Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep it Holy

“The Christian Sabbath” — Sermon summary from Andy West; includes quotes from Voddie Baucham and others, plus general Sunday and Sabbath history

Blog posts with resources for studying the Sabbath:

This last one has a somewhat different approach, pointing out the example of Sabbath from our Lord as sufficient, in the absence of a direct command:

Early Christians justified Sunday worship on the basis of Christ’s resurrection. This makes perfect sense since Jesus’ resurrection is his enthronement (compare Ps. 2:6-7 with Acts 13:33; see also Phil 2:5-11). Because divine enthronement is linked with Sabbath-rest, Christians are justified in keeping Sunday as a Sabbath on the basis of Christ’s example. In other words, just as God’s example of resting on the seventh day was sufficient warrant for man to follow his Maker’s example, so Jesus’ example of resting on the first day is sufficient warrant for the new humanity to follow its Re-Maker’s example.  So I don’t need a direct NT command to keep Sunday holy. I have Jesus’ example to follow.

The Tables of the Ten Commandments: Observations from Ephesians 6

August 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Continuing in S. Lewis Johnson’s series through Ephesians, a look at Ephesians 6:1-4 and some interesting observations concerning the fifth commandment.

The fifth commandment is mentioned here by Paul:  Honor your father and mother, that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.  So we consider the set of ten commandments, which are in two categories or “tables.”  The first set concerns the vertical relationship, man toward God, and the second set the horizontal relationship of man to man. Some teachers see the division as four toward God, and six – starting with this 5th commandment – toward man.  Here Dr. Johnson points out more background, that the Jews thought differently: that the fifth commandment is in the first table of commandments focused toward God:

But the Jews had a different idea.  They felt that that fifth commandment, “honor thy father and mother that thy days may be long upon the land the Lord thy God giveth thee” was a commandment that had relationship to the Lord first, and to men, second.  And so they divided the first two tables of the law into the first five commandments which were commandments with the Godward stress, and then the last five, the tables with the manward stress.

Now evidently, the Apostle, being a Jewish man would have taken it that way, and if that is so, then this “honor thy father and thy mother” is something that is to be looked at as something that is directed not toward our neighbors but to God himself.  In other words, this is a commandment whose major emphasis is Godward:  honor thy father and they mother that thy days be long upon the earth which the Lord thy God giveth thee; so that the children’s obedience to the parents is to be to their parents as if it were an obedience to the Lord, which tells us a whole lot about what parents ought to be, because parents represent God to the children.  No child will ever learn to obey God who does not first learn to obey his parents.  He must learn what obedience is.

The first commandment with a promise:  some point to the second of the ten commandments as also containing a promise, but that one includes rather a statement of the character of God.  If it’s the first, what are the second and other commandments with a promise?  Perhaps Paul was thinking beyond just the Decalogue, to the full Mosaic law.  Or, Paul may have meant first in rank (greatest), rather than first in order-sequence.

S. Lewis Johnson also makes an observation of some difference, which, it turns out, is an English translation issue in the KJV, NIV, and NASB versions, but not in the ESV (which of course was not available in SLJ’s day).  As he notes, in the King James Version Paul’s wording is slightly different in retelling the fifth commandment:  from that you may live long in the land to live long on the earth.  Dr. Johnson mentions this difference, uncertain as to exactly what Paul may have meant, yet wisely concluding:

 But at any rate, we do know this:  that obedience of children to parents, the proper relationship between the members of a family, in a certain society, is the mark of a stable community.  It’s the mark of a stable family.  It’s the mark of a stable nation.  And it may be that the Apostle, by broadening it out, is simply saying that when obedience of children characterizes a society, then you can expect that society to have the blessing of the Lord.

David’s Great Sin

July 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Going through  S. Lewis Johnson’s “Lessons from the Life of David,” I now reach 2 Samuel 11, the account of David’s great sin, the one that he never recovered from, with consequences that affected him the rest of his life.  As always, S. Lewis Johnson points to several other relevant biblical passages, for which we can see this incident as an illustration and a warning for our own lives.  1 Corinthians 10:12 is especially appropriate here: let him who thinks he stands, take heed, lest he fall.

Other New Testament passages that speak to the situation, David at this time, include James 1:14-15 and Romans 7:13-25.  David now at the height of his kingdom — apparently about 12 years after he became king of all Israel — has some spiritual gray hairs that he has not noticed: rot and decay setting in.  The polygamy in the palace clearly had taken its toll, and with the first step mentioned in 2 Samuel 11 (staying home, abdicating his royal functions, and idle), David is left susceptible to sensual passion.

Proverbs 11:22 describes the woman Bathsheba, as opposite of the godly woman who fears the Lord and shall be praised.  It is clear from the text that she was a willing accomplice in the adultery, and that she was more interested in the formal, outward ceremonial part of God’s law, as opposed to the moral part — as indicated in the narrative accounts of her ceremonial purification and her ceremonial mourning.  I recall a radio lesson years ago, from Chuck Swindoll, in which he laid further blame upon Bathsheba — that she should have known not to bathe in a place that could be observed from the king’s palace.  I’ve not heard that view anywhere else; but certainly, as S. Lewis Johnson observes, she had her guilt in the matter.

Uriah the Hittite is the most surprising character in the story, the one truly righteous man.  Johnson quotes someone else as having observed that “Uriah drunk was more pious than David sober.”

David followed the steps of the impenitent man:  clings to his sin, then searches for a means of escape, and finally completes the cover-up. Throughout the events, David broke three of the Ten commandments (adultery, murder, and coveting).  Yet God has the final say, and brings the greatest irony — like other ironic events in the Bible.  What David most wanted was to cover-up and hide his sin — and yet when he completed the cover-up, God made sure that everyone in the world would know about it, by having it recorded in holy scripture.  Today, even those with only a passing knowledge of the Bible, when they think of King David, associate David with Bathsheba.

In the follow-up text, 2 Samuel 12, S. Lewis Johnson has a few more interesting observations:

  • Families in the Near-East did sometimes have pet lambs, much as people today have pet dogs.
  • The fact that the story describes a little ewe lamb suggests that Bathsheba was very young, with an older, mature Uriah.  We do know that both Uriah and Eliab, Bathsheba’s father, were among David’s 30 mighty men, and this too suggests an age difference.
  • Even in his sinful state David still had a heart for justice, and knew very well the Mosaic law.  His remark about paying back four-fold agreed with the actual prescribed Mosaic law regarding the theft and slaughter of a sheep.  (see Exodus 22:1)

In the end, David did pay back “four-fold,” though certainly not in a way that Moses would have realized:

  • the death of the infant son
  • the death of Amnon
  • the death of Absalom
  • the death of Adonijah