Normally, I don’t do this, but I’d like to interact with some things that a well-known pastor in the States was saying in a message about a week ago. This pastor was preaching from Acts 15, and while I agreed with about 80% of what he said, there were other things he said that were disturbing to hear.
What I want to do, however, is not so much to criticize him, as to make clear how the Bible relates to us, specifically the Old Testament.
Now his key point, I think, was that we don’t have to become Jews to become Christians. We have been, to use his words, “unhitched” from the covenant that the Jews were under. Now we all come to God equally based on his grace, “as sinners in need of a Savior.”
This is what I think he was trying to say. And if he had said it that way, there would have been no flack at all. But what he said was things like this:
“The old covenant, the law of Moses, was not the go-to source regarding sexual behavior for the church…The Old Testament was not the go-to source regarding any behavior for the church.”
“You are not accountable to the ten commandments. You’re not accountable to the Jewish law. We’re done with that…Thou shalt not obey the 10 commandments because they’re not your commandments. Yours are better. Yours are far less complicated. But they are far more demanding…” (I.e. love your neighbor as yourself.)
“Peter, James, and Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from the Jewish Scriptures. Church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish scriptures. Not just how a person became a Christian. They unhitched the church from the entire thing, the whole worldview…They elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures…we must as well.”
Let me rephrase each point and I think you will see the contrast between what he said, and what we see in scripture. Let’s start with the last.
1. Peter, James, and Paul elected to unhitch the idea of being a Christian from being a Jew. They unhitched the church from the worldview that you had to become a Jew to be saved, and that you had to follow every single law that was written in the books of Moses. We must as well.
Nevertheless, the Old Testament was an integral part of the teaching of the New Testament church and the faith they held to.
Paul commands Timothy,
“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. (I Timothy 4:13).
When Paul says “Scripture,” what is he talking about? He’s not talking about the Bible as we have it today. Timothy didn’t have access to all of the New Testament as not all of it was written yet. Also, only twice in the New Testament is “scripture” used to mean New Testament writings (2 Peter 3:15-16 — Paul’s writings, I Timothy 5:17-18 — possibly Luke).
So when Paul tells Timothy to read the scripture publicly, he is mostly talking about the Old Testament scriptures.
Which brings up another problem that I have with this pastor. He claims that the apostles’ faith wasn’t based on a book because they didn’t have one. Now again, at that time, the New Testament was not all written. But they definitely had and taught the Old Testament. Whether they had the whole Old Testament in each and every church or not, I don’t know, but what I do know is that the apostles made a practice of quoting the Old Testament in their letters, in their gospels, and in their messages. And as we just saw, Paul told Timothy to read the Old Testament in their church gatherings.
Also, this pastor loves to say that the main thing the apostles preached in the book of Acts was the resurrection. He says that the resurrection was the foundation of their faith, not the Bible. Now the resurrection was indeed foundational to their faith. But take a look at each message they give to the Jews in the book of Acts. Each time, they not only talk about the resurrection; they also quoted the Old Testament and said, “Look, God told you this was going to happen.”
And in fact when Paul preaches the resurrection to the Corinthians, he bases it first and foremost on…the Old Testament. (I Corinthians 15:3-4)
So the Old Testament was a vital part of the church. The difference was they were looking at it through different lenses, the lenses that Jesus had given them after his resurrection. (Luke 24:26-27, 44-47).
And if you have any doubt about that, look throughout Acts, and for that matter the epistles. Time and again, the Old Testament was taught with the lenses Jesus had given them. There is clearly no unhitching of the Old Testament from the apostles’ teaching. The difference was the lens. What was the lens? That all the Old Testament pointed to Jesus. The death and resurrection of Jesus is just one example of that.
That lens is also why the ceremonial laws don’t apply to us anymore. They all pointed to Jesus. Jesus fulfilled them, and so they aren’t needed anymore. (See Hebrews 8-10).
The civil laws also pointed to Jesus. For example, they showed the need to be holy, and just how serious sin is in God’s eyes. If you think the punishments for sin in the Old Testament were serious, just look at what Jesus did for you at the cross. But because he did, the time for those civil laws have passed. Still, we are to always look back on them and remember: “This is why Jesus came.”
2. The Old Testament and its laws were the “go-to sources” for the church when teaching about sexual immorality or any sinful behavior. “Sexual immorality” may be a very vague term for most people today. But Paul was very specific about what it was and it came from the Old Testament law. He said in Romans,
What should we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin if it were not for the law. For example, I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, Do not covet. (Romans 7:7)
While Paul talked about coveting here, you can stick any sin here as well. He could have as easily said, “I would not have known what it is to commit sexual immorality, if the law had not said, “Do not commit adultery, do not commit homosexual acts, do not sleep with animals, etc.”
But while the law does tell us what sin is, it does not give us the ability to do what is right. For Paul also said,
For no one will be justified in his sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law. (Romans 3:20)
A map can tell us where our destination is, but it cannot lead us by the hand to our destination. And when we are lost and frustrated because we can’t understand the map, it cannot comfort or help us.
God’s law is the same way. It can tell us what righteous behavior is and what sin is. But it does not give us the power to fight sin and live right. And when we’re struggling and frustrated because of our weakness, it can’t help us. It can only condemn us. And that’s why we need Jesus.
3. If you’re a Christian, you will obey the 10 commandments. I don’t say that as a command. I state that as a fact that is true of every believer. This is not to say that you’ll keep them perfectly, but as you walk by the leading and power of the Spirit, you will start walking more in conformity to them. You’ll obey them because the Spirit is in you leading you, changing the way you think and live. (Romans 3:31, Galatians 5:16-18).
But not only will we keep the letter of those commandments, we’ll keep the spirit behind them, namely to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. In that sense we can say these are better commandments to keep in mind because there are no loopholes.
To sum up, while we are unhitched from the requirement to become Jews, we are not unhitched from the Old Testament. The whole reason we non-Jews are in the church now, is because James kept the church hitched to the Old Testament where it said,
After these things I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
I will rebuild its ruins
and set it up again,
so the rest of humanity
may seek the Lord—
even all the Gentiles
who are called by my name—
declares the Lord
who makes these things known from long ago. (Acts 15:16-18)
No, we don’t “mix-and-match” the old and new covenants. But neither do we now say the Old Testament is completely irrelevant to us. Instead we look at it through new lenses. Through Jesus’ lenses.
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures (i.e, the Old Testament). This is what is written: The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:46-47)