Friday, July 25, 2008

The Ten Commandments are History

I have been reading more about “New Covenant Theology” (NCT) and find much to be admired. I have not read enough to say whether I buy it hook, line, and sinker, and no doubt the answer will be that I don’t, but I am sure I will continue to find much with which I can agree.

My own theological journey started, as for many, with dispensationalism. As I wrote elsewhere, two books I read early in my walk (which began as an adult and already a practicing scientist) changed my theological position forever. Both are easy reads. One was RC Sproul’s Chosen By God. The other was Philip Mauro’s 1927 work The Gospel of the Kingdom which is available online. The former makes the case for the doctrine of Predestination, and the latter utterly dismantles dispensationalism. I mean, it thoroughly and completely dispenses with dispensationalism.

Where does one turn if fleeing from dispensationalism? Typically one seeks theological comfort in Covenant Theology. For the most part I am comfortable there—except for how Covenant Theology is forced to deal with the Law. They are essentially painted into a corner—for if there is, as Covenant Theology teaches, just one Covenant (the Covenant of Grace) that has been in place since the time of Adam, then the laws established in that one and only never ending covenant are still binding. I often get asked: if you really believe the bible why don’t you advocate stoning gays or adulterers or blasphemers? For a hardcore Covenant Theologian this is a fair question—and in fact some of them do advocate enforcing Mosaic Law.

Most, however, will dance around the question and break the Law into three groups—moral, civil, and ceremonial. The moral, which is essentially synonymous with the Ten Commandments, is kept. The civil and ceremonial are jettisoned.

This is in spite of the fact that scripture makes no mention of this division, and certainly does not say which law belongs in which group—nor does it teach, in the New Testament, “Keepest thou my Moral Law, ignorest thou those other defuncteth types, two being their number, and their number being two, the Civil and the Ceremonial.”

I have always felt uneasy about this, and on my own I simply drifted away from Covenant Theology and its teachings on the Law. I carved out a position for myself that was far from perfect, but one I could live with. It turns out that position is quite close to but not nearly as refined as what I have read on New Covenant Theology.

New Covenant Theology starts from an almost irrefutably superior position, regarding covenants, than classic Covenant Theology. It states, almost with an implied “duh”, that there are two covenants, not one. The Old Covenant and, you guessed it, The New Covenant.
"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. (Jer. 31:31)

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant (Heb. 9:15)
Covenant Theologians must spin these and similar passages into old and new administrations of one covenant, not two covenants. NCT takes them as is.

As far as the law is concerned, to first order it is this: the laws of the Old Covenant, all of them, including the Ten Commandments, became null and void when the Old Covenant ended. The New Covenant contains its own laws. Those are the laws binding to Christians.

This is so much cleaner—no artificial grouping of ceremonial, civil, and moral. They are all gone. None of them apply to us. None. The Ten Commandments are history. They were part of the administration of an Old Covenant. They are of interest in that they are an important part of God’s redemptive, and in that as with all things Old Testament they foreshadowed something better, but in fact they are no longer binding.

Does that make us antinomian? May it never be! We do have laws, and there is no reason whatsoever why they cannot include much of the so-called moral law from the Old Testament. The Ten Commandments forbade murder. The Ten Commandments are null and void. Does that mean murder is permitted? Of course not. The new law also forbids murder. Is this then just semantics? It is not. For example, the Fourth Commandment has not been maintained. The day of rest foreshadowed something better—that we are completely at rest in Christ, all the time, 24/7, always in his Sabbath, of which He is Lord over, and which was made for men.

This is how Christ fulfilled the law, and yet not a jot nor tittle is lost. The law reflects what has been revealed about God to us. A great deal more about God has been revealed to us than to the Jews of Moses’ time—and the new law of the New Covenant reflects that increased revelation.

Our Law is what Christ set down. In the Sermon on the Mount, we see it includes upgraded versions of most of the Ten Commandments. It also includes the two great Commandments.

The little WWJD bracelets were much maligned by the Covenant Theologians. But in fact they are probably a more accurate representation of the law which applies to us in this time and in this place than are the Ten Commandments. Now, WWJD does not go far enough; we should also ask “What Would Jesus Think? It is not easy to do what Jesus would do. But that is almost trivial when compared with the perfection of the new law, which asks us to think what Jesus would think. For the new law is very much about the heart. Under the new law you could obey the Ten Commandments and still be a great sinner—just a little lust would convict you of a crime not unlike adultery.

I will continue to report on NCT as I did deeper.

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