In Christ

Robert Webber writes in Common Roots,

The most basic definition of the ecclesia in the New Testament is “the people of God in Christ (1 Cor. 1:2).

Several of us have been contemplating the nature of “the church” lately, so I was struck by the two words “in Christ.”

Surely this particular is new; prior to Pentecost no one seemed to realize that the Church was, of necessity, “in Christ.” This revelation, then, identified a body with a new self-understanding of its identity. Surely it was the same body but it undoubtedly had a new awareness of its purpose and character.

Evangelism Old & New

In the old way of witness, we asked the unchurched to believe in Christ, then to come to the church. In the postmodern form of witness we bring people to Christ through the church. The church is the doorway to Christ. For this reason, if we are to be an evangelizing church in today’s world, we must begin with a healthy, vital body of believing, worshiping, discipling, nurturing, and socially active people–a church that is the continuation of the incarnate presence of Jesus in the world–a communal embodiment of what is preached.

– Robert E. Webber, Journey to Jesus

Through Modern Eyes

In modern times the break from the historic Christian substance came when the church began to interpret its faith through modern categories of thought. The shape, then, of dominant Protestant theology, both liberal and conservative as it developed through the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, was neither reformational nor historic, but modern. Consequently, the return to historic Christianity is also a return to reformational Christianity. Since it is in understanding the early church that evangelical Christians are most deficient, we will draw mainly from the early church fathers in this work.

– Robert E. Webber in Common Roots

History Repeats Itself

Before Constantine ‘Christians had known as a fact of experience that the church existed, but had to believe against appearances that Christ ruled over the world. After Constantine one knew as a fact of experience that Christ was ruling over the world, but had to believe against the evidence that there existed a believing Church.’

Rodney Clapp in A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society, quoting from John Howard Yoder in “The Otherness of the Church” in Mennonite Quarterly Review 35 (October 1961: 212)

Applying God’s Law

Nate,

At what point is the OT obsolete?

I just got done reading Lev 19….my son (against my wishes, as my wife is an unbeliever) is in public school.  There are several classes that are making totem poles.  Now, you may think I am crazy, but it clearly says in Ex 20:4:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image–any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth”

You may think I am tripping, but I will not allow this….he is my firstborn, first born unto God….this will not be tolerated! …..anyway, so I was just browsing around Leviticus this morning and thought to myself…what the heck?

Where do you take it (OT)? (to what point)

Well, you have a legit dilemma on your hands.  The first thing I would answer is that the traditional, historic position of the Church-universal is that the OT never becomes obsolete. In fact, a famous 14th century philosopher (and monk) named William of Ockham (you may have heard of Ockham’s Razor – entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem – which basically means the simplest answer is likely to be the accurate one) suggested that stealing was evil simply because God said that it was, which sounds good so far, right? But what Ockham meant is that God could have decided the opposite; He could have decided stealing was ethical, and it would have been. The Church rejected this as heresy and said that no, the law of God was an expression of God’s very nature and could no more change than could God. Therefore, since God is immutable, His law is immutable (not subject to change).  Since no one questions whether God is immutable, I guess that much is decided.

The big question is, since some things in Scripture obviously change (for example, Adam and Eve could only eat fruits, vegetables, and seeds; but after Noah everyone was allowed to eat meat) what is part of God’s eternal law and what is not?

A majority of the Church throughout history has answered that God’s moral law is eternal. The Anglican Church expressed it this way in the 39 Articles of Religion (written over a 30 year period and finalized in 1571):

“The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: . . . Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.”

So now we have yet another question: which commandments are the moral ones? I have never run across, nor do I have, a bullet-proof answer to that question, which is why at King Messiah Fellowship we have the following guideline:

“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.”

We see a precedent for this in the Gospels, where Jesus declares to the disciples that in the context of a council of elders they can count on His guidance (via the Holy Spirit) and actually have the authority to determine what will be a permitted way of walking out God’s Law (compare Matthew 18:18-20 and John 20:21-23).

This is why the church has often said that the three pillars of decision making should be Scripture, Reason, & Tradition. They understood that as godly elders made community rulings throughout history, they formed what we know as Tradition, and it should be one factor we take into consideration as we try to figure out how to live out God’s laws in this place and time.

Soo…so much for introduction to the problem itself. Now let’s consider the specific scenario at hand. Clearly God said in the 10 commandments (which everyone considers part of the moral law – except for those who exempt the Sabbath from that category) that we are not to make for ourselves a carved image. HOWEVER, what does that mean–does this prohibit all statues or sculpture? Does this prohibit all art and photography? I don’t think so; why not? From analyzing the language of the passage and keeping verse 4 in the context that includes verse 5, it becomes apparent that God is prohibiting the making of a carved image for purposes of worshiping it. Clearly this is not a blanket prohibition on sculpture.

However, the Indians made totems for idols. Or did they; the evidence seems to indicate that they did not, although culturally ignorant missionaries tended to view the totem poles as idols, that wasn’t what they were to the Indians.

Furthermore, are the school kids carving the totems for idolatry? I doubt it. Since it seems that there is not a black and white, hard and fast, no-questions- asked commandment against making totems, I begin to ask myself further questions. Questions like, “How will my wife perceive this if I deny my son from participating?” “Will it seem to represent a God of grace and mercy to her, or seem more like a tyrannical, dictatorial God that I am using/abusing to bolster my quest for male power and dominance?”  Of course, I don’t suggest that is true, only that it could be misperceived in that fashion.

Clearly, there are lines that cannot be crossed; if the school is teaching that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle alternative than I will have no choice but to exempt my son from that class, and it would be preferred to remove him from that school. But the situation with totem poles is not one of those black and white issues.

Soo…I cannot tell you what the right decision is in this scenario, but I can tell you that from an outside the situation analysis it seems to me that I would probably allow my son to participate, depending of course, on what is being said about the totem poles.