Religion & Liberty

But although the blessings are innumerable which God, with a liberal hand, has thus far poured out and this day pours out upon it [the city of Geneva]; yet there are two illustrious above the others which commend its dignity: religion, than which nothing is more holy, and liberty, than which nothing is sweeter.

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 1 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), xxxiii.

The American Virus

“The American genius for getting things done quickly and easily with little concern for quality or permanence has bred a virus that has infected the whole evangelical church in the United States and, through our literature, our evangelists and our missionaries, has spread all over the world.”

– A.W. Tozer, The Incredible Christian. Harrisonburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1964, p. 23.

Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual gifts are nothing less than God himself in us, energizing our souls, imparting revelation to our minds, infusing power in our wills, and working his sovereign and gracious purposes through us. Spiritual gifts must never be viewed deistically, as if a God “out there” has sent some “thing” to us “down here.” Spiritual gifts are God present in, with, and through human thoughts, human deeds, human words, human love.

– Sam Storms, The Beginners Guide to Spiritual Gifts, p. 12

Antinomianism

WE ARE NOT SET FREE TO SIN

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he [Christ] is righteous. 1 JOHN 3:7

Antinomianism, which means being “anti-law,” is a name for several views that have denied that God’s law in Scripture should directly control the Christian’s life.

Dualistic antinomianism appears in the Gnostic heretics against whom Jude and Peter wrote (Jude 4–19; 2 Pet. 2). This view sees salvation as for the soul only, and bodily behavior as irrelevant both to God’s interest and to the soul’s health, so one may behave riotously and it will not matter.

Spirit-centered antinomianism puts such trust in the Holy Spirit’s inward prompting as to deny any need to be taught by the law how to live. Freedom from the law as a way of salvation is assumed to bring with it freedom from the law as a guide to conduct. In the first 150 years of the Reformation era this kind of antinomianism often threatened, and Paul’s insistence that a truly spiritual person acknowledges the authority of God’s Word through Christ’s apostles (1 Cor. 14:37; cf. 7:40) suggests that the Spirit-obsessed Corinthian church was in the grip of the same mind-set.

Christ-centered antinomianism argues that God sees no sin in believers, because they are in Christ, who kept the law for them, and therefore what they actually do makes no difference, provided that they keep believing. But 1 John 1:8–2:1 (expounding 1:7) and 3:4–10 point in a different direction, showing that it is not possible to be in Christ and at the same time to embrace sin as a way of life.

Dispensational antinomianism holds that keeping the moral law is at no stage necessary for Christians, since we live under a dispensation of grace, not of law. Romans 3:31 and 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 clearly show, however, that law-keeping is a continuing obligation for Christians. “I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law,” says Paul (1 Cor. 9:21).

Dialectical antinomianism, as in Barth and Brunner, denies that biblical law is God’s direct command and affirms that the Bible’s imperative statements trigger the Word of the Spirit, which when it comes may or may not correspond exactly to what is written. The inadequacy of the neo-orthodox view of biblical authority, which explains the inspiration of Scripture in terms of the Bible’s instrumentality as a channel for God’s present-day utterances to his people, is evident here.

Situationist antinomianism says that a motive and intention of love is all that God now requires of Christians, and the commands of the Decalogue and other ethical parts of Scripture, for all that they are ascribed to God directly, are mere rules of thumb for loving, rules that love may at any time disregard. But Romans 13:8–10, to which this view appeals, teaches that without love as a motive these specific commands cannot be fulfilled. Once more an unacceptably weak view of Scripture surfaces.

It must be stressed that the moral law, as crystallized in the Decalogue and opened up in the ethical teaching of both Testaments, is one coherent law, given to be a code of practice for God’s people in every age. In addition, repentance means resolving henceforth to seek God’s help in keeping that law. The Spirit is given to empower law-keeping and make us more and more like Christ, the archetypal law-keeper (Matt. 5:17). This law-keeping is in fact the fulfilling of our human nature, and Scripture holds out no hope of salvation for any who, whatever their profession of faith, do not seek to turn from sin to righteousness (1 Cor. 6:9–11; Rev. 21:8).[1]

[1] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993). pp. 178-180.

The Faith of Jesus vs. Faith in Jesus

I recently read an essay by David Flusser that I had not previously been familiar with; perhaps I had read it before, but for some reason it never struck me till now. Flusser writes,

“This scholarly digression has been necessary in order for us to arrive at an understanding of the dual nature of the Christian religion, which comprises both Jesus’ faith and faith in Jesus. The first aspect, that of Jesus’ faith, consists of the tenets of Christian love and ethics. These were a special development of the new Jewish ethical sensitivity that developed in the period of the Second Commonwealth, and while this aspect of Christian behavior and feeling stems primarily from Jesus’ own preaching, it was also influenced by contemporary Jewish ethics and theology. The latter aspect of the Christian religion centers around what is known as the charisma of Christ. The primary motifs of Christian messianism and Christology are also derived mainly from Judaism, and I would venture that their point of departure lay in the acute self-awareness of Jesus himself. As already stated, this latter belief in the metahistorical drama of Christ and especially in the idea of redemption through Christ’s death and resurrection became the cornerstone of Christian religious experience and until very recently was a kind of conditio sine qua non for calling oneself a Christian.”[1]

I agree with Flusser that both Jesus’ faith and faith in Jesus derive from (and indeed, remain) Jewish thought. I also believe, however, that it is a unique requirement of post-Yavneh Judaism to view Jesus’ faith and faith in Jesus as separate, and that Christian thought is correct in viewing them as rightly composite. Similarly, healthy Christian thought ought to view both the faith of and faith in Jesus as being essentially Jewish in nature. It is the truth, however, that redemption is through Christ’s death and resurrection, and this is a cornerstone of True Religion that at this point, Christianity uniquely holds vis-à-vis contemporary Judaism.

As Flusser rightly concludes:

“By its very nature, moreover, Christianity cannot really renounce offering its salvation to all [Jew as well as Gentile].”[2]

This observation follows faithfully in the footsteps of the Apostles, who felt it urgent to inform their Jewish brethren regarding the identity and the redemptive action of Yeshua mi Natzeret.

Flusser also rightly observes, though this is MUCH more difficult to digest and to parse without falling off the precipice of supersessionism: “The authentic Christian interpretation of itself is that it is the true religion of Israel and that without faith in Christ no one can be redeemed….” (65). Of course, this conclusion is further complicated by Christianity’s large scale rejection of Torah (and in many circles of Israel herself). But we must wrestle with two equal and polar truths: theologically speaking (emphasizing its focus on Christology) Christianity is true, while theonomically[3] speaking Judaism is true.

Said another way, while we cannot conclude that God has two paths to salvation, we may truly state that Christianity can authentically declare to all, “You need the Savior,” while Judaism might with equal authenticity declare to all, “You need the Torah (way of life).”

It is these two parallel truths that grip me much more powerfully than any emphasis on distinction within the utilization of Torah, precisely because they are of primary importance. In other words, it is part of accepting Yeshua as Messiah to acknowledge that He is fully God and fully man, while it is also part of accepting Torah as prescriptive to acknowledge that the Torah contains within it distinctive commands relative to gender, ethnicity, time and place.

There are two great propositional battles in our day (there may be more, but these two have captured my attention), one within Christianity and one within Judaism. We must articulate a cogent reading of Scripture that at the same time acknowledges the Redemptive nature and necessity of Jesus Christ, and avoids supersessionism and anti-nomianism. Stereotypical Judaism denies the divine nature and requisite redemptive action of Messiah, while too much of Christianity denies the requisite relevance of Israel in the on-going redemptive plan of God and ignores the continuing necessity of God’s law in the process of sanctification.

It is clear that in our time the Holy Spirit is placing these two concerns upon the hearts of many believers. Unfortunately, to date the believers so energized have often split into various camps frequently equally critical of one another. All seem aware of both propositional battles, but emphasize varying approaches.

I wish that we could all begin by acknowledging our unity: we are one Body in Messiah, and He is both fully God and fully man. Furthermore, He did not come to replace God’s Law as delivered from Sinai, but to explain, apply, and fulfill its righteous demand. God’s Law then, remains prescriptive for all God’s children and in fine Jewish tradition, let’s allow it to be interpreted and applied variously across time, place, denominational and ethnic lines as the Holy Spirit seems to permit.

I’m sure, we will variously disagree on the manner of its application, but if we can agree on the divine identity and redemptive necessity of Messiah, as well as on the continuing necessity of the Law for the progressive sanctification of the believer, as being pivotal truths, I believe we will observe a wave of unity that will push before it a consistency in character and application not seen among the Body of Messiah since the first century of this era, which will in turn result in a similarly unprecedented lifting of the partial hardening that has been upon God’s Chosen People since the days of the Apostles.

My argument is this: unitatem in necessariis; in non necessariis libertatem; in omnibus caritatem – in essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.[4] In other words, unity and peace require an agreement upon Truth, but secondary things like halakah (way of walking out God’s commands), can be left in the hands of the local inheritors of the authority of the Apostles to bind and loose, so long as the essentials are maintained.

I believe that any de-emphasis of the need of all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile to:

  1. believe in the divine nature and redemptive action of Jesus of Nazareth, and
  2. obey God’s law since it continues to be “profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, and for training in righteousness”

will unnecessarily sacrifice essentials for sake of non-essentials and obstruct the Unity of the Body of Messiah.


[1] David Flusser. “Christianity,” in 20th Century Jewish Religious Thought: Original Essays on Critical Concepts, Movements, and Beliefs, ed. Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr (Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society, 2009), 61 (this quote from p. 63).

[2] Ibid. 65.

[3] For deeper discussion of theology vs. theonomy see http://jcstudies.com/resourceDetailFree.cfm?productId=570

[4] Often mis-attributed to Augustine of Hippo, Richard Baxter (who widely distributed it among English-speakers), or Philip Melanchthon, this phrase is first found in the writings of Marco Antonio de Dominis (1560-1624), Archbishop of Split, in book 4, chapter 8 (p. 676 of the first volume) of his De republica ecclesiastica libri X (London, 1617).

Two Sides of the Same Coin

I read this in a recent article on Relevant magazine:

This is how Christ won over his followers: By setting an example and investing in people’s lives through loving relationships. We should do the same.

That statement was accurate till the author put a period at the end of it. Jesus won over his followers by example, relationship, and teaching… And then we could accurately and helpfully end the article with, “We should do the same.” I don’t get the push to over-emphasize actions against right-thinking or true belief. Yes, “faith without works is dead.” But works without faith is dead too!

I was struck several weeks ago by this statement in Mark:

So as Jesus stepped ashore, He saw a huge crowd and had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then He began to teach them many things. (6:34)

After teaching all afternoon, he then fed the 5,000. But notice where he started; seeing they were suffering, having compassion on them, he began to teach. What was the focus of his ministry? Mark 6:6

Now He was going around the villages in a circuit, teaching.

I am absolutely in agreement that our lives give witness to the truth, the value, and the efficacy of our beliefs, and that if our actions are inconsistent then all our thoughts and words will be largely wasted (and in some cases totally wasted), but we find the guidance for understanding proper action in having right beliefs.

What do I mean?

Law needs love as its drive, else we get the Pharisaism that puts principles before people and says one can be perfectly good without actually loving one’s neighbor…. And love needs law as its eyes, for love … is blind. To want to love someone Christianly does not of itself tell you how to do it. Only as we observe the limits set by God’s law can we really do people good.

(J.I. Packer, Growing in Christ. 232)

I am seeing a large percentage of an entire generation of believers become swayed into wrong thinking and beliefs by over-emphasizing action above belief. They are reacting to legitimate wrongs/injustices, but not doing it in a Christ-like manner. And in the long-run this will do more to harm our Christian witness than to help it; it will erode our ability to truly help people. We’ll find ourselves giving them fish instead of teaching them to fish, to put it over-simply. (And I completely agree there is a time to just give them a fish, or two, or three…)

I don’t say these things as one guilty of prioritizing words over actions, but as someone who daily pours out my life in the service of the hurting, as one whose home is open both to temporary residents and to constant visitors, and as one who teaches all who will listen to do the same. But along the way, I insist on the truth so far as I am able, because otherwise I’m only applying band-aids instead of healing hurts.