I believe it is the great privilege of Christians to imitate Messiah and to represent God’s image to the world by following the commands of Scripture. Whether they be found in the First Testament or the Second, the commandments of God will always reflect the image of God.
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV)
It is our challenge to wrestle with how the instructions found in Scripture can be faithfully observed in this time and place.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17 ESV)
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus promises the presence of the Holy Spirit immediately after saying that if we love Him we will keep His commandments. It’s almost as if the two things are connected! It’s as if “walking in the Spirit” and keeping His commandments are one and the same thing.
The King Messiah Fellowship Statement of Beliefs says,
We believe the Bible is a revelation of the righteousness of God, and a description of the lifestyle of the redeemed community throughout history. While God’s commandments are to be considered prescriptive, we acknowledge that they require adaptation from generation to generation. (Matthew 5:17-19; 2 Timothy 3:16-17)
12 thoughts on “I Believe”
Can you elaborate on what you mean by the commandments requiring adaption from generation to generation?
Hi, Louise – thanks for the great question. That’s a big discussion but I can give at least one simple example, and see what you think – and feel free to ask more questions around that.
Deuteronomy 22:8 says, “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.” (ESV)
So according to King Messiah Fellowship’s statement we believe that this commandment is prescriptive for us today, but don’t believe that it literally means we’re supposed to build a railing around our roof.
When this command was given the roof of one’s house functioned sort of like our porches or decks. It was where children played, you entertained neighbors, etc.
So our understanding of how this rule applies is something like, if you have a swimming pool it needs to be fenced in, or if it snows where you live, you need to take the responsibility to shovel your walks so people don’t slip and fall on them.
I’ve never really thought to connect “walking in the Spirit” with keeping God’s commandments, at least in the way that you suggested here. So it seems at least two-fold: (1) The Spirit provokes one to keep the commandments [He initiates], and (2) when we obey, we walk in the Spirit [we adhere/abide].
A molar example of prescriptive commandments being adapted (or exapted) to new environments is that of Deuteronomy. Though I do not accept direct Mosaic authorship for the book of Deuteronomy (I believe it was composed for the reforms under Josiah as part of the developing deuteronomic theology), I see that this book interprets and applies earlier laws into new applications. Hence, whether one accepts this book as Mosaic or not, we see an early canonical example of how commandments are re-interpreted for different settings.
The material economies of pentateuchal parlance were patriarchal, ethnocratic, theocratic, and agrarian. Today we read the Pentateuch from an egalitarian, post-Victorian, post-industrial, and democratic setting of affluence. I think that it is an enormous stretch to apply pentateuchal laws to modern settings. I wonder if the very attempt to make such an application is epistemologically flawed as it requires one to literally eisegete the laws into exigencies foreign to the text.
Take, for example, the prescriptions for the Sabbath. Most of the legalities of the Sabbath are expressly levitical. More Sabbath laws pertain to tabernacle worship than to non-cultic settings. Furthermore, the stringencies of Sabbath observance are far stricter in the biblical codes than they are in later rabbinic applications.
Added to the difficulty of applying penteteuchal laws to modern settings is the fact that the Pentateuch is not itself a reasoned ethical treatise or work book. Pentateuchal ethics are not outlined instead they are “encased” as case law in no particular order of ethical priority. As a result, the reader seeking out ethics or morals from the Pentateuch is likely to read her own ethics, values, and morals into the text. Hence, the Pentateuch becomes a mirror of one’s ethics and morals and not the actual source for these morals. Maybe this is how God intended revelation to be.
Joel, how did you escape a couple years of Sabbaths at my place without hearing me talk about “walking in the Spirit” as a synonym for walking in the way of God’s commandments? Normally I speak about that topic in relation to Romans 8 (and the end of chapter 7).
Anyway, your two-fold analysis hits the nail on the head. There is perhaps a third “fold”; He not only provokes our desire to imitate God, but He enables our ability to do so as we walk in the deeds created beforehand for us to do. It is, after all, the Spirit Who writes the law on our hearts.
Sheesh, Peter, I’m afraid I’d have to translate your comment in order for 80% of my readers to know what you’re talking about.
“egalitarian, post-Victorian, post-industrial, and democratic setting of affluence” is only one perspective from which the biblical text is read today; regardless, this affirms what I’m saying. The distance between the milieu to which the commandments of God were originally addressed (this in itself encompasses a wide range of varying milieux) and ours (wherever or whenever we happen to be reading) is vast. Some would say it is increasingly vast, but I think history is largely cyclical and we find ourselves heading into an epoch that will be closer to the First Century milieu than were the 1950s, for example. Regardless, the canyon stretching between is still expansive.
The risk of eisegesis is indeed present, but more as a result of hermeneutical rather than epistemological error, I think.
It’s expression as case law is precisely the beauty of God’s design of Torah. Any other nature I can think of would have been fatally dated, but case law is inherently evolutionary. Our tendency to read our own perspective into Scripture was also part of God’s design. Knowing that this is particularly dangerous for individuals, God emphasized the indispensable need for community to be doing the reading. So community (reason and tradition) become the check to the balance of human nature’s tendency to read our own views into the text.
It’s a wonderful thing! The text is the source (as it reflects God’s character) for our morals, and our tradition is the mirror that reveals our reading – to whatever degree that is accurate or inaccurate.
Ok, I see what you are saying, thanks Nate. I always enjoy your posts.
Louise, I noticed your email is from Australia…I was wondering if you have had the privilege of hearing the Sons of Korah play live?
With all prudence, I would like to ask this question. I know that you are familiar with Bruggeman’s Reverberations of Faith. What do you think of his coverage of homosexuality in this book? Do do you feel that a reinterpretation or a re-application of the Levitical precepts traditionally used to condemn homo eroticism are open for review? I know that this is a big question…but I would be curious to see what your thinking is about this matter.
I think perhaps I had a more effectual illumination reading this post.
Yes we have been to see Sons of Korah live and they were absolutely brilliant!
Sorry it took me so long to reply to this comment; life has been extremely hectic for me of late, and I didn’t want to reply hastily. I’ve gone through Reverberations of Faith a couple times looking for every time he treats homosexuality, compiled those into a single document and perused it carefully.
I think he brings up some very good points, though I don’t necessarily land in the same place he does. I say “necessarily” because Brueggemann is sometimes unclear whether he is actually presenting his conclusion or that of others.
Anyway, here is a quote that condenses his point well:
“The two commands of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 cannot be taken out of context, but belong as a part of the larger teaching. Current preoccupation with these texts—taken out of context—is almost ludicrous, because the urgency about them often comes from people who would characterize any other part of the Holiness Code as being remote from reality. Leviticus 18 and 20 are not moral teachings but are ritual requirements, if a delineation of long standing in Christian interpretation of Old Testament law is to be honored.”
So while I disagree that Leviticus 18-20 pertains to ritual requirements only (consider Lev. 19:3 as an obvious example), I believe Brueggemann has done us a favor in pointing out the failure of typical contemporary Christian theology to treat the relationship between the 1st and 2nd Testaments in a satisfactory fashion.
So, in short, I believe that homoeroticism is morally wrong, but that the typical defense of that ethic is unsustainable if relying on traditional dispensational theology, for example. Thus emphasizing the need for a different, more mature, more consistent, and primarily more unified reading of the biblical text. I’m pretty satisfied with Promise Theology in this regard.