Legalism or Law-loving?

It is nearly impossible these days even to mention the word “law” without being accused of legalism. Certainly, any promotion of actually, you know, keeping the law is out of bounds (sports pun intentional here). Of course, that means that we have to shove many biblical passages under the rug, most notably the entirety of Psalm 119. How can David say that he loves the law?

The essence of the law is love. If more people got this through their thick skulls, there might be a good deal less antinomianism. We love love, but we hate law (and therefore we wind up not doing very much loving, either, because we have a completely wrong view of what love is!). This is a contradiction, my friends. How did Jesus summarize the law? Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Traditionally, that passage has been interpreted as Jesus’ summary of the entire moral law. What we cannot escape, biblically speaking, is the plain old fact that the law reveals God’s own character. Hate the law, hate the Lawgiver. Antinomians hate God when they hate His law.

I very much enjoy watching sports…on Saturday. I have no animus against sports per se, although I agree with Mark Jones entirely that there are some very big, fat sports idolatries going on in America right now. If you are contemplating watching the Super Bowl this coming Sunday, please, please read Mark Jones’s article on the matter first. You’ll be glad you did.

Douglas Bond hit it out of the park in Grace Works!

Posted by Bob Mattes

Bottom line up front: Take a little of your Christmas cash and buy this book, then read it cover to cover. The gospel is under attack on many fronts, even from those with advanced degrees who claim to be Reformed. Mr. Bond sets record straight in the modern battle over the gospel of grace.

I have to admit my skepticism when I first received a copy of Douglas Bond‘s Grace Works! (And Ways We Think It Doesn’t). In this day and age, we see the free use of euphemisms like the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is anything but democratic or accountable to the people. The history of the Church records power and sovereignty of God in preserving Christ’s bride, but it also contains the record of heretics and their heresies that claimed to be true to the Scriptures whilst gutting the gospel of grace.

Douglas Bond’s book, though, remains true to its title and will prove to be a great blessing to the modern Reformed church if widely read. Mr. Bond serves as a ruling elder (RE) in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), and writes as one with first-hand experience with the errors that he corrects in his book. Given the presbytery in which he serves, I have no doubt of what he sees on a regular basis. Overall, RE Bond displays an excellent knowledge of both church history and current controversies over the gospel.

Grace Works! provides an easy read. RE Bond broke the book into seven parts, each with several short chapters that end with discussion questions. Thus, the book would make an excellent Sunday school or small group resource. RE Bond wrote Grace Works! for real people in real pews, easily digestible yet powerful in its defense of the gospel of grace. You won’t find any clever, human “cutting-edge” theology here, just the matchless gospel of Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

RE Bond starts the book by appealing to history to show that any church can lose the gospel, and very quickly. He cites Calvin and Screwtape, C.S. Lewis’ demon from The Screwtape Letters, to illustrate Satan’s scheme for undermining the gospel down through the ages and even today. The strategy never changes because people never change. RE Bond doesn’t speculate or pontificate, he cites specific examples from church history of the slide into apostasy, of which there are no shortages. The worst of it lies in the fact that when a denomination slides into apostasy, it puts the orthodox on trial, not the heretics.

RE Bond hits the nail on the head on page 30 early in the book:

In our hatred of strife and controversy and in our love of peace and unity, we Christians sometimes play the ostrich. We hope controversy and gospel attack will just go away; we bury our heads in the sand and pretend that it won’t happen to us.

Those of us in the PCA have seen this time and again. I saw a popular teaching elder who started a secret political party in the PCA turn around and publicly declare as “cowards” 29 ordained church officers who together took a public stand against serious gospel error. The sizeable audience apparently missed the blatant hypocrisy displayed, but then it wouldn’t be polite to question a popular teaching elder, would it? The orthodox make easy targets because they just won’t change or compromise the gospel of Christ. How intolerant are the orthodox!

RE Bond goes on to lay the groundwork by clearly explaining the gospel from Scripture and the Reformed confessions. The gospel presents the matchless grace of God freely given to all those who will trust in Christ alone for their salvation. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone – how simple! Yet, sinful human beings prefer to obtain their salvation the way Smith Barney claimed they made their money, the old fashioned way – by earning it.

Then in creeps the mixing of works into justification, replacing  or “augmenting” grace with some form of legalism. RE Bond does a great job of tackling the errors and consequences of legalism. He adroitly covers the order of salvation (ordo salutis), the confusing of justification and sanctification, the Scriptural use of law and gospel, the proper place of faith and works, and the correct rules for Biblical interpretation – the analogy of faith.

In Part 6 of Grace Works!, RE Bond then deals with current errors creeping into the conservative Reformed denominations, including the mythical “objective covenant”, confusion on the sacraments, and final justification. He does so without naming names, although anyone who has been paying attention to the last 20 years or so can easily fill in the blanks. RE Bond clearly demonstrates the corrosiveness of those who take an oath that the Confessions contain the doctrines taught in Holy Scripture, yet write and teach against those same Confessions and doctrines. He also cautions against the “fine print,” where officers espouse orthodoxy but then caveat with fine print that guts the orthodox statement. I’ve seen this myself during Internet debates and even in church trials. As RE Bond quotes from various sources on page 222:

The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away.

RE Bond encourages us, citing the apostle Paul, to be Bereans. Don’t accept the clever words or “cutting-edge” theology of PhD holding teaching elders at face value. Dig into the Scriptures and the Confessions to see if they are right. Paul commands us to do no less. We’ve seen several prominent examples in the PCA of officers denying errors at trial that they later lead and teach openly in seminary-like settings after their acquittal. The Enemy stands proud of such tolerance.

Grace Works! closes by encouraging readers to catechize their children, to actively teach them what Scripture teaches about the gospel of grace. If we don’t, apostasy is just a generation away. RE Bond lastly encourages us to stand in unity on the gospel and the law of Christ, the means of grace rightly understood and administered, and in our Reformed Confessions without small-print caveats. Only then will our denominations remain orthodox for the next generation and those to come.

Your church officers need to read Grace Works! Your congregation needs to read it. And not just read it, but stand for the gospel of grace and teach it to your congregations, your children, and you children’s children.

Full disclosure: Bob received a courtesy copy of this book from P&R for review.

Dr. Ligon Duncan’s Seminar on the Marrow Controversy

In today’s theological climate, antinomianism and the Sonship theology are rife within Reformed circles. The Marrow Controversy therefore has much to teach us about the relationship of grace and law.

Dr. Duncan started by sketching a short history of the Marrow Controversy, emphasizing Boston’s role in recommending the Marrow of Modern Divinity. The book, of course, caused waves in the Scottish Presbyterian church. There had been a professor at Glasgow who had showed affinity for Socinianism and Arminianism. This man was tried by the church and basically given a slap on the wrist. So those heterodox doctrines would find a refuge in the Scottish Presbyterian Church, but the evangelical Calvinism was not found congenial. The Auchterarter Presbytery had a question that they asked candidates about the relationship of coming to Christ and forsaking sin. Understood properly, the question was designed to make clear that a person does not forsake sin in order to come to Christ, but rather comes to Christ in order for sin’s hold on the person to be broken. The General Assembly rebuked the Auchterarter Presbytery for asking the question this way. What would later be called “moderatism” had its beginnings in the General Assembly. Enlightenment thinking took over, to the point where, as one writer puts it, a typical “moderatism” sermon was like a winter day: cold, clear, and brief. The Marrow, on the other hand, was condemned by the General Assembly. The defenders of the Marrow, such as Thomas Boston, and the Erskine brothers appealed the decision, which was rejected. This almost guaranteed that everyone in Scotland would purchase a copy of the book! There’s Scottish contrariness for you.

There are three interpretations of the Marrow controversy. Some argue that it was an internecine dispute of two sides that both held to the Westminster Standards. Those who condemned the Marrow quoted the Westminster standards against the Marrow men, which creates a certain plausibility for this view. This view is wrong in Duncan’s mind, though.

The second view says that the Marrow men represented a revolt against classical Calvinism (this is held by J.B. Torrance). In other words, the Marrow men were trying to liberate the Scottish church from the Westminster Standards. The Marrow men, however, vowed ex animo in strict subscription to the Westminster Standards.

The third view is that the Marrow men were the Westminster theology men. This is the proper view.

Dr. Duncan then shared many of the most important quotations from both Boston and Fisher.

Antinomianism

My friend Mark Jones has just written a very important book on antinomianism. The term “antinomianism” means “against the law” etymologically. However, as Jones points out, that may not always be a helpful way of describing the theological positions (which are not always very uniform). Jones carefully delineates the historical positions that were around at the time of the Westminster Assembly. It is very important to note here that antinomianism was one of the most important bogeymen of the Westminster divines. Jones ably shows this through the primary sources of the time (something of which Jones shows quite the mastery). Much of the book is taken up with this historical debate. Rightly so, for that debate in the 17th century has an enormous impact on how we define terms and categorize beliefs today.

Several other things are highly commendable about this book. Jones is an extremely careful, irenic author, always acknowledging where antinomians have said something that is true. I have noticed, and Jones agrees, that most of the time we and they (the antinomians) would agree about much of what they say concerning justification. Sanctification, of course, is where we would disagree.

His insights concerning Christology are worth the price of admission. I had connected antinomianism with a truncated view of grace, but I had not taken it back one further step to Christology, as Jones does. Antinomians do have a truncated view of grace. God’s grace is saving me not only from sin’s guilt in justification (here the antinomians would agree), but also from sin’s power in sanctification, and the latter grace is an enabling grace, unlike the former grace. But Jones takes it back to Christology: what about Christ’s ongoing work as our Mediator in heaven? Does He not view the sinner with great pity and compassion? Jones says that we should never confuse Christ’s procurement of saving benefits (redemption accomplished, also called “impetration”) with the application of those saving benefits.

The distinction Jones makes between the beneficent love of God and the complacent love of God is a vital distinction. The former means basically how God sees us in Christ in justification. The latter is how God sees sanctification progressing in us. The former admits of no degrees, but the latter does. The flip side of the coin is how God sees our sin. God can be displeased with our sin, not as a judge, but as a Father. This displeasure admits of degrees, while never attaining to the level of a judging condemnation for the Christian. The distinction Jones makes here, which is based on the Reformed fathers and, more importantly, Scripture, helps us to make sense of the biblical data.

Only a few very small things would I mention by way of criticism. They are mostly in the category of things that Jones mentions but doesn’t develop, and are therefore things about which I wish he had said more. One of them is something I heard Rick Phillips say at the Gospel Reformation Network conference two years ago, and which really shocked me when I first heard it, but which made a lot of sense after I thought about it for a while. Jones mentions it but doesn’t develop it, and it is this: a Christian is no longer totally depraved. If God has given that person a new heart and mind, giving them new life, then they are not just declared righteous in justification, but have the beginnings of a new way of life in sanctification. There is still indwelling sin, yes. There is still a lifelong battle, yes. But isn’t it such an encouragement to know that the Triune God has taken up residence in us? That place where God dwells in us in no longer totally depraved. Jones mentions it on page 129, but I would have enjoyed some development of that theme, especially in the historical theology.

The other thing that I wish he had done is to engage Westminster West’s theology a bit more directly. Jones has shown that he is very irenic, and is very concerned to be fair. This decision not to engage Westminster West feels like an intentional decision on his part. He talks about Michael Horton a bit. But we need writing on this subject that casts light and not heat on the subject. And when it comes to Westminster West, there has all too often been heat and not much light.

One tiny disagreement I have is with regard to the Horton/Garcia exchange in the Confessional Presbyterian Journal last year. Horton’s article was designed to address the hermeneutical issue of the law/gospel distinction in relation to reading Scripture. It was never designed to address the issues that are but tangentially related vis-a-vis legalism and antinomianism.

All in all, this is an extremely important and helpful book, and one cannot but agree with Carl Trueman’s assessment of this book as timely. In Jones’s effort to be irenic, he did not say that antinomianism is rife in the Reformed and evangelical world right now, but of course it is. This book is a very important corrective, and needs to be read, particularly by pastors. Pastors need to be very careful to avoid antinomianism and legalism. This book helps us to do that.

Mark 7:14-23 and the Dietary Laws of the Old Testament

There is no doubt that Mark 7:14-23 is one of the most important passages in the debates about the dietary laws of the Old Testament and whether they still apply in the same way today.

Here is the passage in Greek: 14 Καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος πάλιν τὸν ὄχλον ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Ἀκούσατέ μου πάντες καὶ σύνετε. 15 οὐδέν ἐστιν ἔξωθεν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου εἰσπορευόμενον εἰς αὐτὸν ὃ δύναται κοινῶσαι αὐτόν: ἀλλὰ τὰ ἐκ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκπορευόμενά ἐστιν τὰ κοινοῦντα τὸν ἄνθρωπον. 16 Καὶ 17 ὅτε εἰσῆλθεν εἰς οἶκον ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄχλου, ἐπηρώτων αὐτὸν οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ τὴν παραβολήν. 18 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς ἀσύνετοί ἐστε; οὐ νοεῖτε ὅτι πᾶν τὸ ἔξωθεν εἰσπορευόμενον εἰς τὸν ἄνθρωπον οὐ δύναται αὐτὸν κοινῶσαι, 19 ὅτι οὐκ εἰσπορεύεται αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν καρδίαν ἀλλ’ εἰς τὴν κοιλίαν, καὶ εἰς τὸν ἀφεδρῶνα ἐκπορεύεται; καθαρίζων πάντα τὰ βρώματα. 20 ἔλεγεν δὲ ὅτι Τὸ ἐκ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκπορευόμενον ἐκεῖνο κοινοῖ τὸν ἄνθρωπον: 21 ἔσωθεν γὰρ ἐκ τῆς καρδίας τῶν ἀνθρώπων οἱ διαλογισμοὶ οἱ κακοὶ ἐκπορεύονται, πορνεῖαι, κλοπαί, φόνοι, 22 μοιχεῖαι, πλεονεξίαι, πονηρίαι, δόλος, ἀσέλγεια, ὀφθαλμὸς πονηρός, βλασφημία, ὑπερηφανία, ἀφροσύνη: 23 πάντα ταῦτα τὰ πονηρὰ ἔσωθεν ἐκπορεύεται καὶ κοινοῖ τὸν ἄνθρωπον.

Here is the HCSB of the same passage: 14 Summoning the crowd again, He told them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: 15 Nothing that goes into a person from outside can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. 16 [If anyone has ears to hear, he should listen!]” 17 When He went into the house away from the crowd, the disciples asked Him about the parable. 18 And He said to them, “Are you also as lacking in understanding? Don’t you realize that nothing going into a man from the outside can defile him? 19 For it doesn’t go into his heart but into the stomach and is eliminated.” (As a result, He made all foods clean.) 20 Then He said, “What comes out of a person– that defiles him. 21 For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, 22 adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a person.”

The context is important. The chapter starts with the issue of unwashed hands. The Pharisees accuse the disciples (and through them, Jesus!) of disobeying the law by eating with unwashed hands. This is part of the tradition of the elders, along with the baptism of couches and other such things. The tradition of the elders is something Jesus emphatically rejects in verses 6-13. The Pharisees, in their traditions, had taught as commandments of God the traditions of men.

Then, in verses 14 and following, Jesus broadens the discussion to talk about what really makes a person clean or unclean. Nothing that goes into a person makes him unclean. It is what comes out of the heart that is evil that makes a person unclean. It is important to notice here the broadening of the discussion. The issue has gone beyond the issue of mere tradition versus the written word. Now it is a question of the heart. Twice Jesus says that nothing that goes into a person can defile him. This is a general statement that has no qualifications attached to it. The form of this argument goes something like this: “You Pharisees think that eating with unwashed hands defiles a person. Your assumption there is that something that goes into a person has the possibility of defiling that person. Unwashed hands can do that, as could other things like the foods forbidden in the dietary laws. On the contrary, I am saying that absolutely nothing can defile a person by going into them. Not even food can defile a person, much less eating with unwashed hands.”

One of the key features is the participle καθαρίζων (cleansing) in verse 19. There is a textual variant here that is important. A very few late manuscripts have the neuter participle of the same verb. The neuter participle could conceivably depend on the previous verb ἐκπορεύεται (going out). The upshot of this construction would be that the process of digestion makes the food clean (this understanding of the verse is reflected in the Geneva, KJV, and NKJV translations). This is quite unlikely as the correct reading, however. The vast majority and strength of the manuscripts favor the masculine participle. On what, then, does the participle depend? The only possibility is Jesus Himself, the implied nominative subject of the verb λέγει (He says) in verse 18. The result of this construction is that the phrase is Mark’s parenthetical comment about the result of what Jesus said, that Jesus’ statement cleansed all foods (this is the understanding of most other translations, as well as that of the native Greek-speaking early church fathers, such as Chrysostom).

The reality is that the difference in translation doesn’t actually affect the overall argument that much. Whether the digestion process makes the food clean, or whether Jesus is declaring all foods clean, the fact is that the foods are clean. What is now clean? πάντα τὰ βρώματα! All foods are clean. Again, nothing (I repeat, nothing!) that goes into a person can defile him.

If this is what Jesus is saying, then how come the other passages that deal with the dietary laws (such as Acts 10, Romans 14-15) don’t quote this statement of Jesus? There are a couple of possible reasons that might help us understand. First of all, the implications of what Jesus said and did were not always well understood by the disciples. Take the nature of the kingdom, for instance. Even after the resurrection, the disciples were still clueless as to how global Jesus’ kingdom was going to be (see Acts 1). Secondly, it is not easy to alter one’s understanding of how the law applies after Christ’s work is accomplished. Jews who became Christians would not want to abandon the dietary laws they had grown up with. There had to be a process of instruction and compromise while that was happening. Thirdly, if Mark felt that he had to spell out the implications of Jesus’ statement for people, then it follows that Mark thought Jesus’ statements to be a tad cryptic. And, of course, since Mark’s own clarifying comment has been understood in several different ways, it follows that Mark 7:19 is not always clearly understood by people. It is certainly with great hesitation that any kind of appeal should be made to a text that is not crystal clear in its implications. This text only becomes clear after the grammatical study, not before it. At any rate, it should not be simply referenced without any kind of explanation and exegesis. This has been done all too often by both critics and proponents of the HRM.

Is the HRM Legalistic?

Is the Hebrew Roots Movement (also known as the Messianic Jewish movement) legalistic? One has to acknowledge that there are a variety of views on particular aspects of the law even within the HRM. It is not a monolithic movement in regard to specific points about the law. Also, it is important to point out that there is more than one definition of legalism. One does not necessarily avoid legalism simply by saying that such and such law is not integral to salvation. For instance, if an HRM proponent claims that circumcision is necessary, but not for salvation, said proponent might still be legalistic, even if not so in the ordinary way. It is my contention that at least some forms of HRM are legalistic.

One would think that if an HRM proponent believes the Gospel, and sees that someone else is preaching the gospel, that great rejoicing on that account would result. For instance, I believe that Jesus Christ crucified, buried, resurrected, ascended into heaven, and in session at the right hand of the Father, is the only Lord and Savior of sinners. The salvation that was accomplished for us by Jesus Christ is applied to us by the Holy Spirit by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of Christ alone, to the praise of the glory of God alone, told to us in Scripture alone. If a person puts their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repenting of their sin and turning to Jesus (which happens by the power of the Holy Spirit in effectual calling), that person is saved. This is redemption accomplished and applied. If a person believes in Jesus Christ in this way, he will be saved. Let any HRM people reading this blog know that this is what I preach.

Nevertheless, one HRM proponent in particular has accused me of having no light in me whatsoever, because my views on OT law are not HRM. According to this person, if a person is not HRM in their viewpoint, they have no light in them whatsoever. On three occasions in that thread, I asked the person to clarify his quotation of Isaiah 8:20 (here, here, and here). He did not choose to answer that question. Now, I don’t know why he chose not to answer it. However, in the context, the comment means that those who do not have the same view of the OT law as he does have no light in them at all. It doesn’t therefore matter whether I preach the true gospel or not. If I don’t have an HRM view of the OT law, then I am in complete darkness. I say this not out of defensiveness. I am not on defense right now, but most definitely on offense. Would not this view of non-HRM proponents qualify as a legalistic view? I do not believe in the erasure of any OT laws. I believe that the application of them has changed. So the question is NOT whether we both believe the OT is true. We do. The question is NOT whether we both believe the OT is still authoritative. We do. The question has to do with the interpretation of that Old Testament. Does Christ’s person and work change the application of the OT law, and if so, how? That is the question. I would simply argue that if an HRM proponent accuses a critic of having no light in them whatsoever because of a differing view of how the OT law applies, then the HRM proponent is not focused on Jesus Christ and the Gospel, but on the law. He is not preaching Christ crucified. He is preaching feasts, dietary laws, and Saturday Sabbath, which are not changed or affected by Christ’s coming. He is a legalist. He cannot rejoice in another’s preaching of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is de-centralized. I would argue that any view of the Bible that de-centralizes Jesus Christ’s person and work is legalistic. The reasoning for this is simple: anything that is not gospel is law in the Bible. So, if we are not preaching the gospel, we are preaching law. And if we preach law in any way that does not make a beeline straight to Jesus Christ, then we are not preaching the law correctly. We would be preaching the law legalistically.

Preaching law is essential, don’t get me wrong. But it must lead to Christ’s fulfillment of the law, or else we are not believing John 5 and Luke 24. We need to preach the law in its three uses: pedagogical (leading straight to Christ), civil (as a restraint on evil in the world), and normative because of salvation (the third use of the law). Of these three uses, while the second one is present in Scripture, it is not hugely emphasized. The first and third uses are of paramount importance, and both are Christ-centered, since the first use leads us to salvation in Christ, while the third use leads us from salvation in Christ.

Matthew 5:17-20, the Smoking Gun of the HRM?

There is no doubt of the importance of Matthew 5:17-20 in any discussion related to the law and its place in the Christian life. Indeed, there are few passages more important. However, what often happens is that this passage is simply quoted rather than explained. Sometimes, it seems to be treated as a smoking gun, as if people who do not agree with the HRM (Hebrew Roots Movement) have never read this passage before. The fact of the matter is that this passage is a minefield of difficulties, and is hardly as straightforward as the HRM seems to assume by simply throwing it at their adversaries (as has happened to me many times on this blog). The HRM folk have quoted this to me and then asked the double question, “Why do you hate the Torah so much?” Of course, this question makes a rather whopping assumption: that I do in fact hate the Torah, which is false. I love the law, since it is a reflection of who God is, and it teaches me about God, and because the essence of the law is love for God and love for neighbor. A couple of other preliminary questions need to be dealt with before we can address the exegesis of the passage itself.

One issue that needs to be addressed is the big picture of the Old Testament. What is the point of the Old Testament? According to John 5 and Luke 24, Jesus is the point of the Old Testament. Jesus flat out says in John 5 that Moses wrote about Him. What is so fascinating about that claim is Moses never directly talks about Jesus. The name of Jesus is not mentioned except by way of typology in Joshua’s name. And yet Moses wrote about Jesus. That was the content of Moses’ writings. All of Moses’ writings had a direction arrow saying “This way to Jesus.” As we will see from an exposition of Matthew 5:17-20, this includes the law. The law is not ahistorical, timeless and changeless, but has a telos, a goal. The law points forward to Jesus. It is sometimes objected at this point that the character of God forbids any change in the law. This does not follow. God created everything there is. Everything that God created reflects the glory of God in one way or another, and yet it changes, because it is created. Now, God’s character does not change. But time and people on earth do change, and the way God relates to His people does change in some ways over time. The law can therefore change. Hebrews says this explicitly: “For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must be a change of law as well.” The text is Hebrews 7:12, which in context is contrasting the order of Aaron and the order of Melchizedek, portraying Jesus as the great high priest in the order of Melchizedek. The implication is that when Jesus comes as the great high priest in the order of Melchizedek, there is a change of the law to match the change of priesthood. The word for “change” is “metathesis” which means an alteration from one state into another, or a transformation. So, that thing which the HRM says never happens to the law (i.e., change), Hebrews expressly and explicitly states does happen to the law. Verse 18 confirms this interpretation by stating that a former commandment is in fact annulled. The reason it was annulled is because it was weak and unprofitable (for the law perfected nothing) as verse 19 states. This does not mean that the law is bad, of course. It just means that the law cannot perfect people, and that when people think the law can do that, they quickly find that it is weak and unprofitable. The law needs to be used for its proper uses, and not for something it cannot do. The whole issue here in Hebrews 7 is the change of priesthood from Aaronide priesthood to Melchizedekian priesthood. There had to be a change in the law, since the law stated that a priest had to come from the tribe of Levi (this is the point of verses 13-14). This verse (as well as John 5 and Luke 24) has a great impact when we come to Matthew 5.

A second issue is the clarity of Scripture. HRM advocates often quote Scripture as if all Scripture were perfectly clear, and all that is needed is to quote it rather than discuss its meaning. The Reformed church has always believed that everything necessary for salvation is clearly revealed in Scripture in one place or another. But the Reformed church has never believed that because of the clarity of salvation issues, that therefore all Scripture is equally clear. This is proven conclusively by 2 Peter 3:15-16. The irony in those verses is clear. They clearly teach that not all Scripture is clear. Given the interpretive issues that have come up in the exegesis of Matthew 5:17-20, I would say that Jesus’ meaning in those verses is not initially clear, and must be carefully treated in context.

Matthew 5:17-20 seems to be directed against a possible misunderstanding of what Jesus is going to teach. What Jesus teaches about the law could give rise to a misinterpretation of His words that results in Jesus rejecting the law. The issue is not rejection, but fulfillment.

The form of verse 17 has the exact same form as Matthew 10:34 right down to verbal parallels, which are precisely the same. The form is this: “Do not suppose that I came in order to do X. I did not come in order to do X, but rather Y.” This raises the question of whether Matthew 5:17 is absolute or not (this point is raised by Carson in his commentary). No one would suppose that Jesus did not come into this world to bring peace of any kind. Of course He brought certain kinds of peace (most notably peace between God and man: otherwise, Luke 2:14 is meaningless!). Certain other kinds of peace He did not come to bring (such as peace between Christians and non-Christians). These kinds of statements need to be interpreted in their proper context. So, it is at least possible that what Jesus said in Matthew 5 does not have reference to all forms of abrogation. In this regard, Carson is extremely helpful: “The antithesis is not between ‘abolish’ and ‘keep’ but between ‘abolish’ and ‘fulfill.'”

In fact, the meaning of the entire text hinges on the meaning of “fulfill” (Greek “pleroo”). Whatever the word means, it has to mean more than simply “do.” The reason for this is the inclusion of the prophets in Jesus’ purview. It is highly unlikely, incidentally, that the word “pleroo” reflects the Aramaic word “qum,” (which means “establish, validate, or confirm”) since the LXX never uses “pleroo” to translate that word “qum.” The LXX uses the words “histemi” or “bebaioo” to translate “qum.” The verb “pleroo” translates the Hebrew word “male'”. The meaning of the word in this context is therefore almost certainly “fulfill,” and not “establish.” However, even that word “fulfill” can have more than one meaning. Whatever meaning is correct must be able to account for the law and the prophets being in the text. This is where John 5 and Luke 24 help us out. Jesus is saying in those two passages that the entire Old Testament has a direction arrow pointing straight to Him.

An assumption that is gratuitous in the HRM is that change equals annulment. This is certainly not obvious. If a law changes in its application because of some great eschatological change, such as the coming of the person and work of Jesus Christ, that does not mean it is annulled.

This understanding of verse 17 allows verse 18 to have its full force without any equivocation: not the smallest part of the law will pass away. And it hasn’t. The whole law, in its entirety, and in every part, is still there for us, helpfully teaching us about Jesus, helpfully pointing us to Him, and teaching us important spiritual principles that are always valid. The law has a prophetic function. The word “Torah” points in this direction, with its common meaning of “teaching.” Again, notice the difference between “pass away” and “change.” The text does NOT say that no change will ever occur in the way the law is applied. It says that nothing in the law will pass away. That is, nothing in the law will be erased from the law.

Verse 19 must be understood in the light of what has already been said. Verse 19 does not prejudge the question of whether any change has happened to the law. It does rule out a Marcionite rejection of the Old Testament law. The upshot of the passage is that there are aspects of continuity and discontinuity with regard to how the law of God applies after the events surrounding Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus will illustrate how that works in the rest of chapter 5. In some cases, that means drawing out the meaning of the law that was already there in the OT, but in certain other cases, it means a modification of the law in its application. An example of the former would be Jesus’ treatment of the sixth and seventh commandments in verses 21-30. The implications of those laws are already present in the Ten Commandments. Any one of the Ten Commandments commands all the lesser virtues of the same kind, and forbids all sins of the same kind. However, examples of modification include the teaching on divorce, the teaching on oaths, and the teaching on the eye for an eye. Jesus offers serious qualifications to the law that were not present in the original setting. These modifications are based on Jesus’ own authority as the law-giver (see 7:28-29). He is the new Moses, giving an authoritative interpretation and modification of the law on the new Mount Sinai. Whatever is new in Jesus’ teaching has to do with what time it is: time for fulfillment, and the kingdom promised in Jeremiah 31.

This passage is fraught with difficulties. The meanings of the words “annul,” “fulfill,” “pass away,” and “accomplished” all have an impact on the meaning of the passage. Furthermore, the interpretation we wind up with must match the rest of Scripture, such as Matthew 10, John 5, Luke 24, and Hebrews 7. Any interpretation of Matthew 5 that states that there is no change that ever happens to the law will bring it into direct contradiction with other passages of Scripture.

Unjust Weights and the 41st PCA General Assembly

By Bob Mattes

You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin:I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. – Lev 19:36

Unequal weights and unequal measures
are both alike an abomination to the LORD. – Pro 20:10

Unequal weights are an abomination to the LORD,
and false scales are not good. – Pro 20:23

The 41st PCA General Assembly was quite a spectacle. The bulk of the business flowed routinely, and later quickly as we recovered from being over one-half of a day behind at one point. A few issues tied up the commissioners for an inordinate amount of time to cause the schedule digressions. I will only discuss two of these issues in this post. Probably more in a follow-on.

Two particular issues of contention follow from violation of the Scripture quotes above, and I’ll explain how. I’ve written before about the National Partnership, a secret (sorry, confidential) political party started last year in the PCA. I wrote my thoughts on that abomination here, where along with TE Kenneth Pierce I called it sinful. TE Andy Webb’s thoughts can be found here. The pleas of many against this sinful, secret political party went unheeded, and the poison flower bloomed during this GA.

It started in earnest during the PCA Nominations Committee meeting before the GA as documented at the Aquila Report. I also verified the events independently. Part of the plan, which came to the GA floor along with the Nomination Committee report, was to have the moderator change the voting order for some candidates on the fly from that historically used.

The proposed change to the order of voting for candidates for the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) had one purpose – to defeat a candidate that the National Partnership conspired to replace by carefully arranging candidates and changing the voting order on the fly. They did not win the voting change they desired, but we debated it for a long time. The committee never provided any substantial reason for the change, which seems strange, especially given the length of the debate. I argued on the floor against any arbitrary changes in voting procedure which robbed presbyteries of predictable expectations when nominating candidates to the Assembly. That position eventually prevailed.

The fact that the National Partnership’s Chicago-style politics failed to hold sway doesn’t remove the odiousness of their attempt to fix voting outcomes by changing the rules on the fly. Such political maneuvering has no place in the body of Christ.

The second issue arose from the Overtures Committee (OC). Chapter 15 of the Rules of Assembly Order (RAO) clearly state that the OC makes their recommendations to the General Assembly (RAO 15-8 and 15-8a). The plain meaning as used elsewhere in the BCO and RAO holds that the “General Assembly” means the entire collection of commissioners.

On two overtures, one each concerning the Leithart and Meyers Federal Vision trials, the OC violated RAO 15-8 and 15-8a by making what amounted to a point of order directly to the moderator, thereby bypassing the Assembly. The moderator took the point of order well. I challenged the chair over that deviation from the RAO both times, but did not prevail. When challenging the chair, one can only state the underlying rules, not argue the case. My challenge failed on both attempts, largely I believe because a majority of the roughly 1,200 commissioners largely did not understand that their right to debate and even their votes were being stolen by a handful of commissioners in a slick political maneuver for which I cannot find a PCA precedent.

This Chicago-style approach has been the hallmark of liberals/progressives in the PCUS, PCUSA, and now PC(USA) as TE Reed DePace pointed out. It’s how they avoided meaningful debates and votes, thereby bypassed orthodox church officers to bring about women elders, homosexual elders, etc. Eventually, the orthodox officers and members started leaving, providing the liberals a Pyrrhic victory as their formerly God-honoring denomination became more and more apostate.

Acts 15 provides significant guidance on how to conduct our Assembly, from which I believe that our BCO and RAO largely take their cues. The apostles and early believers debated openly until everyone was heard. No secret political parties, no bypassing debate, no stolen votes. The just treatment instruction of Lev 19:36 was honored.

There are no Scriptures that directly address voting itself. That just wasn’t a feature of the ancient world. However, the idea of ensuring just treatment is enshrined throughout. The Scriptures at the top of this post show God declaring the use of unjust balances and weights an abomination. The use of unjust weights destroyed trust in the underlying economic system of trade upon which the ancient world depended. These abominations cheated people out of their rightful due. They stole the buyer’s God-granted capital.

Similarly, taking away PCA commissioners’ ability to debate and vote on issues in accordance with our RAO procedures destroys their trust in the underlying ecclesiastical system. Attempting to fix a vote’s outcome by changing voting order on the fly similarly erodes that same trust. Like unjust weights and balances, unjust political maneuvering should not be named amongst God’s people. Supporting and voting within established rules must be accepted and supported by all officers of God’s church. If one feels that the rules should be changed, then honestly and openly submit the appropriate overtures upon which we can all debate and vote. Chicago-style politics robs commissioners of their debate and votes, just like unjust balances and weights robbed buyers in the ancient world – through deceit.

So, I’m encouraging all who participated in the secret schemes of the National Partnership – and anyone else – to defraud GA commissioners of their ability to debate and vote in accordance with RAO practices and procedures to repent of their sin. Repent of cheating your brothers in a way that parallels that which God calls an abomination – an epithet reserved for the most egregious sins in God’s eyes. Mere participants should repent to their brothers, REs their sessions, and TEs to their presbyteries as appropriate. The leaders of these movements – they know who they are and so do we – should have the courage to repent publicly.

The original National Partnership invitation email contained this observation” “One thing that has made the PCA a healthy denomination is the willingness to be ruled by Scripture.” Time, then, to eschew Chicago-style political maneuvering, pony up to what Scripture describes as an abomination and repent, or be named amongst the hypocrites.

By Bob Mattes

A Biblical Passage Very Relevant to Our Times

Exodus 23:1-2a says this (emphasis added): “You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. You shall not follow a crowd to do evil.” The PCA is now plagued by man-fear. Man-fear is on a teeter-totter with God-fear. As man-fear goes up, God-fear goes down. As God-fear goes up, man-fear goes down. This is a zero-sum game, folks. Man-fear exhibits the following characteristics: 1. An obsession with playing the politics of the situation. 2. A corresponding down-playing of truth, especially those aspects of truth that are uncomfortable for other people to hear. 3. An emphasis on love to the exclusion or down-playing of truth. 4. A redefinition of love to be almost exclusively horizontal (love for God takes a very distant second place to love for self and love for others). 5. A redefinition of truth to be what the majority says. 6. An avoidance of accountability, and/or outrage at being called out, and a correspondingly shrill and unloving blast against the “unloving.” 7. Hypocrisy. 8. A good ol’ boys club regarding the people in power. 9. An ignoring of the sheep. 10. A fear of doing the right thing because it is right. 11. Secrecy. 12. Hatred towards open things like blogs. Sound like a whole lot of people you know?

Of Tzitzits, Tallits and Traditions

by Reed DePace

Those involved in the Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM) take great pains to note that they are only calling Christians to a greater consistency with God’s word. To give them all the benefit of the doubt possible, we can even say that they are arguing for these things as expressions of faith, not that gets one saved, but will determine the quality of their experience of salvation. Their argument to other Christians is simple, “but you’re not obeying ALL God’s word.”

Lay aside for the sake of discussion the issue of whether or not the Law of Moses is rightly divided into the moral, ceremonial and civil components. Leave aside also the issue of whether or not the NT amends the practice (but not the principles) of the ceremonial/worship components of the Mosaic Law.

Look simply at the issue of traditions. Jesus admonished the Pharisees:

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” (Mk 7:6-8)

I maintain that the whole of the HRM (and large parts of the Messianic Christianity Movement) are doing exactly what Jesus condemned here. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is not a single practice the HRM maintains, as an application of the ceremonial/worship components of the Mosaic Law, that is not in some essential manner NOT tainted by this tradition-over-commandment sin that Jesus condemns.

TNT002-30

Yes, I know, sweeping statements are dangerous. But I’ll risk the potential brashness at this point. In support of my contention look at just one simple practice common among Messianic Christians, that of using a prayer shawl with tassels on the four corners.

In anglicized Hebrew the prayer shawl is called a tallit, the tassels are called tzitzits. Sit down with any Messianic Christian who uses a tallit with tzitzits and ask them to explain the practice. Very quickly they will be offering you arguments based on men’s traditions – NOT the Scriptures.

KariateSeph

Yes they will offer some Scriptures. But like the Pharisees, they will twist those Scriptures to support their traditions. In the case of tallits and tzitzits this is rather easy to see. While tzitzits are found in Scripture (Nb 15:38-39), it is a plain and simple fact that the tallit IS NOT! The practice of using tallits (prayer shawls) is expressly a tradition of men. Further, it is a tradition that comes from unbelieving Judaism!

It is hard to understand how this practice of the Mosaic Law is nothing more than a tradition of man. Therefore, to insist that in any manner its practice is even advisable for Christians, is to teach as holy what Jesus condemned as wicked.

A similar case can even be made for tzitzits, tassels. The Mosaic Law calls for them to be placed on the ends of ALL the exterior garments men wear, not merely a non-commanded tallit, prayer shawl. Again, man’s tradition usurps and yokes God’s word to the task of enslaving God’s children!

Ask about any other “Messianic,” “Hebrew” practice that practitioners of Messianic Christianity insist still applies to the Christian’s belief and practice today. Call me foolish and brash. But I expect I will be proven right to observe that you will see the same exact pattern: man’s tradition, yoking God’s word, to enslave Christians.

It gives me no joy to be proven right. Would that God would free them from their slavery and turn their joy in their traditions into moans of repentance.

by Reed DePace

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