Quill and writing

The contemporary Church is A – Antinomian

Once again, this is a generalisation but any casual acquaintance with the Church’s teaching and popular ministry will readily confirm this judgment.  Antinomianism means against Law.  Contemporary churches shun greatly that form of Christianity that draws attention to rules, precepts and commandments.  In recent years I’ve heard a local Church leader say, “Christianity is not about rules, it’s about a relationship!”  This sort of sentiment represents push-back against a rather antiquated form of Christianity that prevailed perhaps quite a lot three or four generations ago when Church attendance was much more common, and Britain was widely reckoned to be a Christian nation. 

Alas, times have changed.  The modern evangelical speaks warmly and exuberantly of his ‘conversion experience’ – a time when he came to faith and was personally born again of the Holy Spirit.  His new dynamic ‘spiritual life’ represents a sort of upgrade to the engine of his soul.  Now, by virtue of his new unity with Christ he is able to overcome sinful temptations.  He is no longer living life according to an impersonal written code. Now he is free to walk in step with the Spirit, taking his lead more directly from that same Spirit who, he confidently affirms, lives within his heart. But such existential Christianity is wholly without Scriptural warrant!

Scripture teaches that constitutionally we are creatures; and as such we need the Creator’s instructions.  The psalmist writes, “Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth” (Ps 86:11).  Again, the Psalmist declares, “Oh, that my ways were directed to keep Your statutes! Then I would not be ashamed, when I look into all Your commandments. I will praise You with uprightness of heart, when I learn Your righteous judgments. I will keep Your statutes” (Ps 119:5-8).

Even before the Fall Adam and Eve were supplied formal instruction from God. The OT people of God came with fear and trembling to the foot of Sinai from where God spoke the Decalogue to Moses and inscribed it with His own finger on tablets of stone signifying their permanence.  It has often struck me that being ten in number made them perfectly suitable to be written upon the fingers of human hands as required by Moses (Deut 6:8).  On almost every page of OT history and/or prophecy there can be found both implicit or explicit references to the keeping or breaking of God’s commandments.  Why ever would any biblically literate Christian imagine that the Spirit filled life today can be lived out without careful consideration of what God’s various laws require?  The writer of Hebrews cites Ps 95 extensively in the opening chapters of his discourse.  The context concerns the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites.  Commissioned to enter Canaan under Joshua’s leadership the great majority, it seems, stubbornly refused to submit themselves to God’s commands and so died in the dessert.  It is noteworthy how the author of Hebrews references their unbelief: “For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.”  Notice that unbelief manifested itself as disobedience.  Wherefore, obedience was commended as a virtue.  And lest we imagine that was true back then but not for us today, we should recall St Paul’s warning that their pilgrimage from Egypt through the wilderness into Canaan was recorded in Scripture for our admonition (see 1Cor 10:11).

Several times in recent years I have been ridiculed and scorned by fellow Christians for referencing OT laws and commandments.  One friend is quick to remind me that there were six hundred and thirteen OT laws & commandments which today have been distilled down to just two: Love God & love your neighbour (Matt 22:36-40).  But all fair-minded theologians differentiate between (i) moral statutes and (ii) ceremonial precepts.  The former arises from the character and personality of God and are therefore immutable (i.e. not subject to alteration).  Why is it wrong to lie?  Because God is not a liar.  We are commanded to be holy even as God is holy.  We are obligated to speak the truth because God is the source of all truth (Jn 8:32; 14:6).  Why is it wrong to commit adultery?  Because God is faithful and true to His promises (see 2Cor 1:20).  The latter (ceremonial) laws arise from shadows and types of way in which Jesus, in the fulness of time through His death and resurrection, would secure our justification and salvation.  All such prescriptions are now obsolete and have passed away now that the flower and fruit of those shadows (priesthood, animal sacrifices, circumcision, etc) have been realised in Christ. (See Heb 8-10; Gal 3:23-25).  My friend, like so many contemporary Christians conflate these different classes of commandments.  Paul could not have been clearer: “Circumcision is nothing,…. what matters is keeping God’s commandments” (1Cor 7:19). 

You see, it is not the Law(s) per se that are our problem, rather it is our sin.  The various moral laws we encounter throughout Scripture represent a kind of yard-stick by which we might measure as it were our fidelity to Christ.  Legalists tend to exalt the external features of God’s laws and inevitably fall prey to the error of seeking justification before God via law-keeping. Such was the folly of the Pharisees and also that group within the First century Church identified as the ‘Circumcision’ (see Gal 2:12,13).  But authentic spirituality involves heart obedience.  It goes beyond mere external compliance and requires a submissive/perfect attitude of the heart (see Matt 5:20-28 & Rom 7:7-10).  Notice that three times in Romans 7, Paul esteems the (moral) Law of God most highly, saying, “…therefore the Law is holy, and the commandment holy, just and good” (Rom 7:12).

Lawlessness is the tacit ambition of antinomians.  But nowhere in Scripture is lawlessness presented as something positive.  Indeed, sin is defined in Scripture as lawlessness (see 1Jn 3:4).  By contrast, Jesus asked, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do what I say?’ (Luke 6:46).  And again, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” (Jn 14:21).

Alas, today there is a general tendency to contrast law and gospel in many Churches.  Some of this can be traced back to a false dichotomy promoted by Luther in the 16th century. But much more of this fault arises from the pernicious influence of dispensationalism which has sadly eroded doctrinal Christianity.  This will not be our only occasion to decry that form of Christianity bequeathed to us by JN Darby, the Schofield Bible and Brethrenism.  Their tragic impact among Church leaders has been devastating. We desperately need to return to a fully reformed and covenantal understanding of Scripture.  Simply put, that entails recognising that God has progressively disclosed the terms of our redemption via the great covenant of grace – a single unifying understanding of (i) who God is and (ii) how we are to participate in His redemptive kingdom through Jesus, etc.  This was the message of Genesis 3:15 and is climactically celebrated throughout the sixty-six books of Scripture ending in St John’s Revelation.  It is the glue that holds together every page of Holy writ. Tragically, it is widely misunderstood and widely scorned.  May God open the eyes of all His children and show them ‘the secret of His covenant’ (Ps 25:14).