Letter to My Kids on Tattoos

Dear Kids,

As you know, I have a tattoo on my left leg. Knowing that is the case, what would my advice to you be about getting a tattoo or getting noticeable piercings? I’m glad you asked! <wink>

First, let’s discuss whether the Bible has anything to say about this topic. The majority of people will tell you that anything the Bible has to say on the topic doesn’t apply today. That’s hogwash, although I didn’t know that when I got a tattoo.

I was raised in a fairly typical evangelical home where I learned that either God’s law has been done away with, or that the Law of Moses has been replaced with the Law of Christ. Neither one of those ideas is biblical, but you will find that most American Christians today believe something along those lines.

So what is the truth? If when in need of justification, the law of God continues today to point out our sin and our subsequent need of a Saviour, then it necessarily follows that God’s law continues to instruct us today, once we have been justified. In other words, if without God the law condemns us, then it must be true that with God the law instructs us. According to the Bible sin is lawlessness (Romans 4:7; Hebrews 10:17; 1 John 3:4) and the wages of sin is death. What then is the converse of lawlessness? And of death? If, as Paul writes, the blessed are those, “whose lawless deeds are forgiven,” then what type of deeds will the blessed person be typified by? Lawful deeds, of course.

Please understand this clearly, I am not describing a peculiarly Calvinist or Arminian belief. Both perspectives agree, as I will evidence by quoting from both John Wesley (an Arminian) and J.I. Packer (a Calvinist).

“I am afraid this great and important truth is little understood, not only by the world, but even by many whom God hath taken out of the world, who are real children of God by faith. Many of these lay it down as an unquestioned truth, that when we come to Christ, we have done with the law; and that, in this sense, “Christ is the end of the law to every one that believeth.” “The end of the law:” so he is, “for righteousness,” for justification, “to every one that believeth.” Herein the law is at an end. It justifies none, but only brings them to Christ; who is also, in another respect, the end or scope of the law, — the point at which it continually aims. But when it has brought us to him it has yet a farther office, namely, to keep us with him. For it is continually exciting all believers, the more they see of its height, and depth, and length, and breadth, to exhort one another so much the more, — Closer and closer let us cleave To his beloved Embrace; Expect his fullness to receive, And grace to answer grace.” – John Wesley

And now from the Calvinist:

“…the love-or-law antithesis is false, just as the down-grading of law is perverse. Love and law are not opponents but allies, forming together the axis of true morality. 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

So when we read in Leviticus 19:28, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD,” we need to take this passage seriously as pertaining to our lives.

How are we to understand this passage? Why does God seem to care about marks on the body of His people? Well, perhaps we ought to ask if there are distinctively Christian marks? Indeed, the distinctively Christian mark is one that can only be seen by those who witness the event, and whose enduring evidence is to be your changed life. Whether circumcision or baptism, the marks mandated by God do not easily convey themselves to the casual observer. Furthermore, we are warned not to make our external trappings large or ostentatious (Matthew 23:5; 1 Peter 3:3-5), rather it is our actions that ought to identify us. Your mark is your baptism, and the evidence of your baptism is your walk. “[L]et your adorning be the hidden person of the heart.”

“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10a).

Tattoos are tribal; with what tribe are you identifying? If your tattoo is “Christian,” you are revealing your ignorance of the Christian tribe’s way. Rather ironic isn’t it?

While there is much more to say on this topic (why, for example, do so many contemporary Christians desire strongly to imitate a distinctively pagan practice?) let us reflect on this passage:

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15–16).

There is a cultural energy behind the practice of tattooing and there is no question that this energy comes from the world. The world, my children, is passing away, along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. What do you think is the will of God in regard to marking your body?

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1).

So the final word here is that God says not to, but many will argue that point, so I hope you’ve gleaned from these thoughts that if you desire a tattoo, you ought to be asking, what is wrong with my desires? Rather, I pray that the eyes of your heart (your imagination) might be enlightened, that you may know the great hope to which God has called you, and what are the riches of the glorious inheritance, and what is the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward you. In other words, may your imagination be caught up by the vision of yourself as God sees you, and as He has fashioned you, and may all other desires fade in comparison!

“The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:8).

Citizenship in the Commonwealth

A homily upon the occasion of the baptism of my first god-daughter.

Delivered August 11, 2012.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, you hear in the Gospel of Mark the words of our Savior Christ commanding the children to be brought to him. You see how he took them in his arms, and blessed them. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever. Do not doubt, therefore, but earnestly believe, that he loves this child, that he approves our bringing her to holy Baptism, that he is ready to receive her with the arms of his mercy, and to grant her membership in a covenant family.

But how further shall we understand this? How shall I explain the role that baptism plays in our salvation, which indeed is more than just a single moment and more than just the assurance of our eternal destiny, though indeed it gloriously includes the prospect of Eternity in concert and in community with our beloved Lord.

Baptism is more than just a symbol, yet it is not a condition of salvation; rather it is a seal and a sign of salvation, a helpful part of God’s ideal plan. Indeed, St. Peter reminds us: “Baptism…now saves you… through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21). When the Israelites went through the Red Sea, they were saved by that act, though it wasn’t the power of the act that saved them, but the power of God that saved them. Nevertheless, had they failed to walk across the dry ground, they would not have been saved from Pharaoh. How can we explain this mystery?

So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh–called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” done by hand in the flesh. At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, with no hope and without God in the world. 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone.

Ephesians 2:11-12, 19 (HCSB)

If an immigrant moves to the USA they must go through the conscious decision of becoming a citizen. Once they have made that decision, however, their children are born as citizens of the USA without any decision on the part of the infant. Infant baptism—as circumcision before it—is like the giving of a birth certificate to an infant. As an adult, the born-citizen will have the option of choosing to become the citizen of another “commonwealth,” but it is most common and it is to be hoped that most babies will grow up in the nurture and admonition of the Way and subsequently “confirm” their individual, conscious decision to remain a part of the commonwealth of Israel.

In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah. Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses.

Colossians 2:11-13 (HCSB)

You heard in the Epistle a description of the life of those redeemed. It is only by the grace of God, which enables and suffuses instruction and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16) that we may live thusly. Hear now the words of the Anglican fathers who summarized the teachings of Scripture as it regards the manner of salvation, the method of sanctification, and the use and purpose of baptism.

XXV. Of the Sacraments. Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.

XXVII. Of Baptism. Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed, Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.
The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.

Brothers and Sisters in Messiah, the Sacrament of Baptism is offered in the Church because our Lord Jesus Christ taught us that we cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we are born anew of water and the Holy Spirit. This new birth is necessary because all human beings have both an inclination towards evil and are also sinners. Therefore, I urge you to call upon God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that in his great mercy he will grant new birth to Elizabeth that she may be baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, and received into Christ’s holy Church and be made a living member of the same.

Let us pray.

Almighty and everlasting God, you who mercifully saved Noah and his family in the Ark when the great flood came, who safely led the children of Israel through the Red Sea, symbolizing thereby your holy Baptism, and who, by the Baptism in the river Jordan of your dearly loved Son, Jesus Christ, sanctified water to the mystical washing away of sin: We pray you, in your infinite mercy, to look on this child, wash and sanctify her by the Holy Spirit, in order that, being delivered from your wrath, she may be received into the Ark of Christ’s Church. Make her, we pray, to be steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in love, so that passing through the stormy waters of this troubled world, she may finally come to the land of everlasting life, there to reign with you forever; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Since we are now persuaded of the good will of our heavenly Father towards Elizabeth, declared by his Son Jesus Christ, let us faithfully and devoutly give thanks to him and say together:

Almighty and everlasting God, heavenly Father, we humbly thank you for having called us to the knowledge of your grace and to faith in you. Increase this knowledge and confirm this faith in us evermore. Give your Holy Spirit to Elizabeth , that she may in the wonder of your plan for her be born again, and be made an heir of everlasting salvation; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Inescapable Logic

When you assume there is such a thing as evil,
you must assume there is such a thing as good.
When you assume there is such a thing as good,
you must assume there is such a thing as a moral law,
on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil.
When you assume there is such a thing as a moral law,
you must posit a moral law Giver.

If there is no moral law Giver, there is no moral law.
If there is no moral law, there is no good.
If there is no good, there is no evil.

If sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4),
and all have sinned (Rom 3:23),
and if the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23),
then I need a Savior.

If I still need a Savior there must,
still be an eternal, moral law, or…
I no longer need a Savior.

Four Foundational Principles on the Law of God

Here are four foundational biblical principles that will help you develop Jesus’ positive attitude toward the Law of God and revitalize your engagement with the Scriptures.

  1. The Torah of God is a loving Father’s teaching. The Hebrew word torah fundamentally connotes guidance and instruction—that which aims you so that you hit the mark. And the mark for the Torah always is life (Deuteronomy 4:1,6-9; Habakkuk 2:4b; Romans 1:16-17; Eph 2:2-3,8-10; 2 Peter 3:11-13). Much more than “the Law.” It is God’s will, wisdom and direction conveyed in love to His covenant children for their on-going fellowship with the Holy One of Israel.
  2. The Torah is a treasure. Only in light of the above can we appreciate the Psalmist’s attitude: “O how I love your Torah!” Psalm 119 consists of 8 verses for each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and every one of the 172 verses extols an aspect of the multi-faceted Torah.
  3. The Torah is a gift of the Spirit. The Torah was written by the “finger of God” (Exodus 31:18); Deuteronomy 9:10). This Hebrew idiom is found in Luke 11:20 and explained in the parallel passage of Matthew 12:28. It means “the Spirit of God.” Truly the Torah—the foundational “Scripture” to which the Apostle Paul alludes in 2 Timothy 3:16—is “inspired”. Said another way, it is “in-Spirited.”
  4. The Torah is guidance for a redeemed people. The Law was given to Israel after they had been saved out of Egypt, not as the basis or means of their salvation. It was meant to guide the covenant people in paths of righteousness that would bring them to their appointed place of promise and productivity. It is good to remember in this regard that these things “were written for our instruction” as well (1 Corinthians 10:11).*

*Copied and slightly edited from Dwight Pryor’s Foreword to Keren Hannah Pryor’s book A Taste of Torah.

In Response to “A Letter To Christians In Indiana, [supposedly] From Jesus”

It is absolutely vital, particularly in this day and age, that we read the Scriptures as the connected whole they comprise. If we seek to be “red-letter” Christians we make a critical error, for Jesus’ words were not the new manifesto for how now to live, but an example of perfectly and faithfully living out what we—rather unfortunately—call the Old Testament.

If we presume the Gospels portray a comprehensive example of how we are to live, we make the same mistake as the people of the Gospel’s era: mistaking Jesus’ mission and purpose for that time. He was not there as conquering King, but as suffering servant. This did not mean that he is not the Sovereign of the world; did not mean that he doesn’t have a plan for civil justice. Rather, in the Torah God had already demonstrated how His word/character was comprehensively worked out in every arena of life, and Jesus exemplified living perfectly as an individual who faithfully kept every single jot and tittle of God’s law. But in his time on earth, he did not demonstrate how to be a faithful civil servant, he did not demonstrate how to be a faithful voting citizen (he lived in an occupied land), he did not demonstrate how to be a faithful father, etc. But, he did demonstrate how to be a faithful servant, and how to love your neighbor.

We need to pay greater attention to how he loved his neighbor(s). For some reason, we note that he defended the woman caught in adultery from injustice (note: she was caught in the act, but then, where was the man?), yet he also told her, “Go and sin no more.” Note that Jesus did not break God’s law (the law required the testimony of two or three witnesses to convict, and furthermore required a valid court to hear the case), rather he upheld the law’s requirements and prevented a perversion of justice (which is defined and described by God’s law).

Note that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners—who were seeking salvation and the truth. What was his response to those who self-righteously thought they were fine as they were? “You brood of vipers,” etc. Or to one who was unwilling to change? In what context did Jesus confront the rich young ruler? Mark 10:21 reveals how love really works: “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him…” and proceeded to deliver a command to change; a command Jesus knew would highlight the young man’s unwillingness to repent.

The fact that we do not have in the earthly life of Christ an example of a faithful citizen, nor of a faithful father, nor of a godly judge, nor of a righteous politician, does not mean that we are left without instruction. The character of God is described in detail by His law as expressed in application from Genesis to Revelation, and exemplified in limited but personal humanity by the life of Christ in the four Gospels. It is our task to wrestle with how to pull these instructions for life into our time and place. This is no easy task, but it will never mean failing to exercise our God-given responsibility to work for justice—as biblically defined—in the nation where we live.

Certainly, we should be known by our love—but love is defined, not by the society around us, but by the character of God as described in the law and exemplified (partially) by the life of Christ. Love is compassionate, but it always works for the good of the loved one, even if that is not what the loved one wants. There is such a thing as unsanctified mercy, and lying to someone about the consequences of their lifestyle choices certainly qualifies.

Why is it that we highlight (and misunderstand) many of Christ’s actions, but fail to weigh his other statements? Perhaps it is because we are not committing ourselves to wrestle with the totality of Jesus’ message.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household (and denomination). Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

What are we to take from this? The truth, though delivered in love, will often drive the unrepentant away. This does not mean we should modify the truth to accommodate their sin, for to do so is not loving. To unjustly infringe on actual rights in order to gratify the unjustly claimed false rights of unrepentant sinners is not to imitate Jesus. Rather, if Jesus were a citizen of the United States of America he would both work for justice in legal structure, and minister to the brokenness of individual neighbors.

It is not contradictory to lobby for a just law which prohibits or restricts the practice of sin (or protects the rights of all not to participate in, encourage, or bless sin) and at the same time invite a sinner over for dinner, or out for coffee, or to live in your home. Both should be happening. I know this is possible because both have been occurring in my life for the last 20 years.

Pondering a Three-fold Division of God’s Law

From our brief survey, we conclude that any suggestion that … Christ rejects certain Mosaic laws as unauthoritative is quite groundless. What He is doing is simply exhibiting the true meaning of the law as a rule for life in the kingdom of God.

Nor can we fairly treat the words by which (according to Mark’s later interpretative comment) Christ ‘declared all food clean’ as implying that He rejected the Old Testament food-law as uninspired and unauthoritative. The subject about which He was speaking was not, after all, food, but defilement; and what He was saying about defilement was that the thing that makes a man unclean in God’s sight is not what he eats, but what comes out of his heart. This only shows that our Lord saw that the uncleanness with which the food-laws dealt was merely ceremonial, not moral or spiritual. It typified the real defilement of sin, but was not to be equated with it. That it was God who had instituted the food-law, presumably to be a constant reminder to His people of the reality of spiritual defilement, Christ was not denying in the least. The effect of His statement was thus to interpret the food-law, and throw light on its real significance, but not in any way to impugn its divine origin, or its binding authority over Himself and His fellow-Israelites.

It seems, then, that all the problem passages in which Christ appears to cast doubt on the inspiration and authority of parts of the Mosaic legislation can be explained, and, indeed, demand to be explained, in a way that is entirely consistent with Christ’s assertion that no jot or tittle should ever pass from the law. Christ knew, of course, that the civil and ritual part of the law, which had been given specifically for the ordering of Israel’s national life in Palestine until Christ should come, would soon cease to apply, when the Israelite state passed away. But when He spoke of the perpetuity of the law, what He had in mind was the moral law, which in different ways both the civil and ritual law had subserved. This, He maintained, was an abidingly authoritative word from the Lord, which, in the final form and application which He Himself had given it, would stand for ever as the law of God for His own people.[1]

I agree with Packer that all the New Testament passages which seem to cast doubt on parts of the Mosaic legislation can be explained, and demand to be explained; I don’t always agree with him on how they should be explained… and I view that difference as being a result of the consequences of the re-planting of the Jewish people in their homeland, and the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls—two factors which have radically impacted how the Church reads (and how accurately we are able to read) the New Testament.

Also, I struggle with, on the one hand, but agree with on the other hand, the categorization of the law into moral, ceremonial and civil. I think Packer and most other Reformed scholars misunderstand how Christ/the Bible see the ceremonial aspects of the Law, and this causes a weakness in our theology of sanctification. However, we do not thus lose so critical a linchpin as when we reject the abiding prescriptive force of Old Testament law as being the foundation of New Testament explication, amplification and application.

For example, having lost their moral foundation, the zeitgeist of contemporary Christianity is moving in the direction of concluding that just as Christ explicitly overturned the food laws (a mistaken presumption), by not mentioning homosexuality he implicitly condoned monogamous, committed same-sex relationships.  In the same vein, we must ask: upon what coherent basis does your theological reading of Scripture account for the abiding prohibition of bestiality or a fiat monetary system? If it cannot do so (and no perspective of discontinuity can) then we have a serious problem on our hands, a problem well highlighted by our current circumstances within both secular culture and the Western Church.

As it relates to the tri-fold division of the law, I think it is accurate to speak of a ceremonial, civil and moral categorization of the laws on an observational basis—meaning, one can’t deny that some instructions pertain to clearly ethical/behavioral issues, and others clearly pertain to the conduct of worship, while others clearly pertain to the theocratic judicial system.

Unfortunately, we often move from an observational analysis to thinking of the law as if it was conceived of in a three-part manner. As if God gave us a ceremonial law, a civil law and a moral law. Rather, the truth is (as the dispensationalist protests), the Mosaic law was delivered as a unified whole. This thinking leads us to thinking/behaving as if the ceremonial no longer
applies, etc.  This is where we get in trouble.  The reason the ceremonial laws are no longer practiced is not because they’ve been superseded in Christ, but because it would be unlawful to do so.

Let’s take the biblical festivals as an example. The Spring feasts point to events in the course of redemptive history that have already happened: Passover=Redemption, First Fruits=Resurrection, and Pentecost=Revelation. The Fall Feasts, on the other hand, point to parts of redemptive history that have not yet been witnessed: Trumpets=Return, Atonement=Glorification, Tabernacles=God dwelling with man, the marriage feast of the lamb, the inauguration of the world to come. By observing the primitive Church in Acts and the 1st century we see that they did not stop celebrating these festivals, or stop the Spring feasts but continue the Fall feasts.

Unfortunately, however, due to our separation from our Jewish Roots and the onset of supersessionism as a theological perspective, much of the Church has come to believe that fulfillment equates to uselessness. Nothing could be further from the truth; when Christ is revealing to his disciples that he is about to fill Passover full (a useful way to more accurately think of “fulfill”) by becoming their sacrificial lamb, his words to them were the opposite of stop: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

In other words, Passover is clearly a ceremonial instruction, but Jesus didn’t introduce its cessation, he filled its significance full that it might becomes so much more to us than just a remembrance of our rescue from Egypt and from the hand of the death angel.

The Churches of the Reformation from the very beginning distinguished between the law and the gospel as the two parts of the Word of God as a means of grace. This distinction was not understood to be identical with that between the Old and the New Testament, but was regarded as a distinction that applies to both Testaments. There is law and gospel in the Old Testament, and there is law and gospel in the New. The law comprises everything in Scripture which is a revelation of God’s will in the form of command or prohibition, while the gospel embraces everything, whether it be in the Old Testament or in the New, that pertains to the work of reconciliation and that proclaims the seeking and redeeming love of God in Christ Jesus. And each one of these two parts has its own proper function in the economy of grace. … Both are subservient to the same end, and both are indispensable parts of the means of grace. This truth has not always been sufficiently recognized. The condemning aspect of the law has sometimes been stressed at the expense of its character as a part of the means of grace. Ever since the days of Marcion there have always been some who saw only contrast between the law and the gospel and proceeded on the assumption that the one excluded the other.”[2]


[1] J.I. Packer, “Our Lord’s Understanding of the Law of God.” The Campbell Morgan Memorial Bible Lectureship. No. 14, 1962. Published on-line at http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_law_packer.html.

[2] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 612.

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.

The Theological Balance of Praying the Collects

I have often opined about the importance of Christians understanding the inter-dependence of love and law, or love and virtue, or gospel and grace…however you think about it, these are essentially the same ideas. Unfortunately, in our day many Christians have been convinced that Law and Gospel or Law and Grace, or Spirit and Law are opposed. This belief is detrimental to the process of sanctification in our day to day lives.

Will Armstrong recently posted to his blog a quote on this topic, and I replied with a favorite quote from evangelical Anglican J.I. Packer:

“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.” [1]

But what I really wanted to comment on in this post is my delight in the weekly Collects from the Anglican liturgy. What is a “collect” you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked! A collect (pronounced like “call-ect”) is a prayer that gathers up the prayers of a group. It can be prayed in unison as is often the case with the Collect of Purity (sometimes called Prayer of Preparation), or it can be prayed by one individual on behalf of the group, who subsequently indicate their agreement by speaking Hebrew in response and saying, “Amen” (so be it). This is the standard practice of the weekly Collect.

Our practice at All Saints Anglican was to send the forthcoming Sunday’s Collect out via email during the preceding week so that congregants could be mulling it over and be prepared to wholeheartedly agree in prayer rather than be exposed to it for the first time during the service. For life-long Anglicans the Collects may have become familiar but since the majority of our congregation are newly Anglican this is more than typically important.

I have been increasingly delighted by the wide range of significant doctrinal truths mentioned in the weekly collects. But when I noted the collect for this coming week, it returned to mind the content of this past week’s, and I was newly pleased to see the two parallel truths of the continuing significance and required interrelation between law and love displayed in the Collects for two sequential Sundays.

Here is the Collect for last week, note how it prays through the theological and practical importance of God’s commands to the believer’s life.

The Collect for First Sunday After Trinity – Proper 5

O God,
the strength of all those who put their trust in you,
mercifully accept our prayers
and, because through the weakness of our mortal nature
we can do no good thing without you,
grant us the help of your grace,
that in the keeping of your commandments
we may please you both in will and deed;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

And now lest we forget that love is blind without law, and that law without love is legalistic, this coming week’s text:

The Collect for Second Sunday After Trinity – Proper 6

Lord, you have taught us
that all our doings without love are nothing worth:
send your Holy Spirit
and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,
the true bond of peace and of all virtues,
without which whoever lives is counted dead before you.
Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

It tickles me to see this reminder that those saints who have gone before often safegaurd us from the errors of contemporary life, if we will only heed the lessons of their experience.

A few months ago I attempted to convey God’s design for this interplay between Word and Spirt or law and love in a homily titled The Two Helpers.

_______________________________________________

[1] J. I. Packer, Growing in Christ, Originally Published: I Want to Be a Christian. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, c1977.; Includes Index. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1996, c1994), 232.

The Process of Discipleship: Invitation to Imitation

I was praying this morning asking God to show me His divine design for discipleship from Scripture. In other words, “Lord what is your process for discipleship?”

Here’s what I heard: Invitation to Imitation.

Where do we see Invitation?

Psalm 34:8a, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!”

Zechariah 3:10 “In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.”

Matthew 22:2, 9 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, … Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.”

Matthew 4:19 “And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.'”

Matthew 9:9 “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.”

John 1:35-39 “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.‘”

John 1:43 “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.'”

Where do we see Imitation?

John 12:26 “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”

1 Corinthians 4:15-16 “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.”

1 Corinthians 11:1 “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Ephesians 5:1 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”

2 Timothy 1:13 “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

Hebrews 6:11-12 “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

Hebrews 13:7 “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

What should we understand from the concept of Invitation?

In order to invite someone, there must be already in existence something to join. There must be a place, or a group, or a way to which you are inviting.

And what should we understand from the concept of Imitation?

One only imitates that which works. The patterns we teach and which we exemplify must be made of “sound words,” it must be patterned after those who have inherited the promises. “Consider the outcome of their way of life…”

Psalm 145:4 “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”

Psalm 78:4-8 “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.”

The Decalogue Was an Expression of Grace

“First, Christian readers in particular should note, as the preamble to the Decalogue points out, that, although the requirements of obedience to the covenant as expressed in the Ten Commandments are central to Israel’s identity as God’s people, they hold neither chronological nor theological priority. YHWH gave Israel the Decalogue, and its extension in the Torah as a whole, only after YHWH had redeemed and delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage in fulfillment of an unconditional promise made to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This commentary will return to this fundamental observation repeatedly because it is essential as a corrective against Christian misunderstandings and caricatures of the Torah and of the Old Testament as a whole.”

– Mark Biddle, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy, p. 103

Questions & Answers with Scriptural Proofs

Question: When we were chosen for salvation?

Answer: Before the foundation of the world.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…. Eph. 1:3-5a

Question: Who did God choose before the foundation of the world? Jew only, Gentile only, or Jew and Gentile alike?

Answer: Jew and Gentile alike.

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh … remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. Eph. 2:11-12

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel….This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord…. Eph. 3:6-11

Question: How were the Gentiles to participate in salvation?

Answer: By participating in the covenants of promise made to Israel; by being united to the commonwealth of Israel. By being “brought near.”

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, …remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Eph 2:11-13

Question: Does God have one people or two?

Answer: “Christ’s reconciliation entails uniting all people, whether Jew or Gentile, into his one body, the church, as a new creation.”[1]

“There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call– one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Eph. 4:4-6

Question: What are the two main themes of the book of Ephesians?

Answer:

1) Christ has reconciled all creation to himself and to God, and

2) Christ has united people from all nations to himself and to one another in his church. [2]

Question: In light of having been saved, what kind of lives ought we to live?

Answer: Live of holiness and blamelessness, striving to imitate Christ in all that we do.

I therefore…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…. [Y]ou must no longer walk as the Gentiles do…. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.…

Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires… Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.

Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. … Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise…. Eph. 4:1 – 5:15

Question: Where do we find the way of light?

Answer: It is portrayed in the laws of God and in the life of Jesus who lived out those laws perfectly.

For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life. Proverbs 6:23

Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O LORD, and teach me your rules.

Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart.

I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.

Depart from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God.” Psalm 119:97-115

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Question: Does God have one way of life for the Gentile and a different way of life for the Jew?

Answer: There is one law which condemns all, whether Jew or Gentile, if they do not follow it; likewise there is one law which instructs all, whether Jew or Gentile, once they become children of God.

There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you. Ex. 12:49

One law and one rule shall be for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you. Num. 15:16

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. … Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Rom. 1:16-18, 32

Question: Where is the decree of God that Paul refers to in Romans 1:32?

Answer: In the Torah.  e.g., Lev 19:11; Lev. 18:22; Lev 20:13…

 

Question: What is sin?

Answer: Sin is lawlessness.

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:4

A quote from John Wesley:

I am afraid this great and important truth is little understood, not only by the world, but even by many whom God has taken out of the world, who are real children of God by faith.

Many of these lay it down as an unquestioned truth, that when we come to Christ, we have done with the law; and that, in this sense, “Christ is the end of the law to everyone that believeth.”

The “end of the law:” so he is, “for righteousness,” for justification, “to everyone that believeth.” Herein the law is at an end. It justifies none, but only brings them to Christ; who is also, in another respect, the end or scope of the law, — the point at which it continually aims.

But when it has brought us to him it has yet a farther office, namely, to keep us with him. For it is continually exciting all believers, the more they see of its height, and depth, and length, and breadth, to exhort one another so much the more —

Closer and closer let us cleave
To his beloved Embrace;
Expect his fullness to receive,
And grace to answer grace.[3]


[1] Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2260.

[2] Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2258.

[3] John Wesley, Sermon #34 – The Original Nature, Property, and Use of the Law