The Fork in the Road: The Rules, Part 1

Hank wrote in a comment (edited for typos and to expand abbreviations),

As you know, Jay, many of the articles here have been written in an attempt to point out the inconsistencies of “conservative” brethren who do “draw lines” (set boundaries) in terms of what other Christians believe, how they organize themselves, and in what ways they worship. Personally, I became involved in these discussions (blogs) after learning of bro. Todd Deaver’s book “Facing Our Failure.” For as already mentioned, while he did a fine job in pointing out said inconsistencies of brethren who do “draw lines of fellowship,” what he fails to see himself is that he (and everybody else), only has three options:

1. Be just like the conservatives you so regularly take to task. In other words, go ahead and reveal where your lines clearly are in every case (female elders, motocycle blessings services, Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, practicing homosexual church leaders, whatever). And then explain how you know the line is actually where you suggest it is in every case. And not by merely giving some subjective guidelines, but actual examples of beliefs and/or practices that are sinful to God. But then, you too would be just as inconsistent as the brethen you oppose and would be be forced to “face your own failure.”

2. Maintain the apparent progressive approach. In other words, refuse to ever actually say that to believe and /or practice “thus and such” (or, Catholicism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc., is against the will of God and therefore sinful). In essence, accept, embrace, and tolerate virtually every conceiveable false belief and/or practice. (So long as the people believing and/or practicing the sin honestly believe that they are pleasing God).

3. Place yourself somewhere betwixt the two. In other words, admit that a actual and specific belief and/or practice is contrary to the revealed will of God, but not pretend to know exactly how God will handle (judge) those who believe and/or practice the sin. Be willing to say you are not sure sometimes whether a certain person, or church has actually “gone too far” (crossed the line) in terms of wehther or not they can continue believing and/or prcaticing the thing and still be considered by God to be “walking in the light” (and saved). Of course, this position will end up having you encourage people to “play it safe” in many areas. The very thing progressives apparently hate to suggest.

Hank,

It’s a shame that you so misunderstand the progressive point of view. It’s not betwixt 1 and 2, and it’s not 1 or 2.  Let me try to explain.

1. is legalism. It’s all about the rules, and it defines salvation based on getting the rules right and obeying the rules.
2. is antinomianism. There are no rules.
3. is anything in between 1 and 2. But anything between 1 and 2 is legalism, too, because it’s still about the rules, just fewer of them.

Now, the problem is that this way of looking at Christianity is all about the rules. Christianity is not about rules. To focus on rules is to miss the point.

There are, of course, rules. I’ve written over 1,000,000 words here in about 3 years laying out my understanding of lots and lots of things. And there are rules, and I’ve said so repeatedly. But Christianity is not defined by rules. Rather, the rules there are are consequences of much more important things. And when you try to define Christianity (or Christians) by reference to rules, you necessarily miss the more important things.

It’s like marriage. Husbands and wives will have certain rules they agree on (I get the TV for Monday night football. She gets the TV for “So You Think You Can Dance.” We pray that they never move “So You Think You Can Dance” to Mondays.) And there are certain rules inherent in marriage, imposed by God himself (sexual faithfulness, for example). But if you define your marriage in terms of rules, you’re a deeply confused person. Imagine your wife saying, “I love being married to Hank. He has found and strictly enforces exactly the right rules. I know he’s the man for me!”

If we were to compare the marriages of friends of ours, trying to decide which couple has the healthiest, most godly marriage, we’d not start by asking what the rules in their marriages are. Of course, if the spouses were cheating on each other, we’d know they have a very unhealthy marriage. But non-cheating isn’t the definition of a healthy marriage. It’s necessary. But it’s not nearly enough.

No, we’d start by looking at their relationships. Do they love each other? Do they support each other? Do they cooperate? Do they resolve conflict in healthy, productive ways, or are they passive aggressive? Do they enjoy being around each other? Is their relationship harmonious and peaceful? Do they retaliate for perceived wrongs or do they work those things out with forgiveness, apologies, and reconciliation?

Now marriage is a God-ordained, God-created institution. So is the church. And God routinely speaks of the church in terms of a marriage. It’s his metaphor. And he uses Christ’s service and crucifixion as a description of how he wants us to behave both in our marriages and in our churches. I’m not just making this up. This is deep theology.

So when we read Rom 12 or 1 Cor 12-14 or many other instructions from Paul about how to live as the church of Christ, he talks about the virtues we should have and how we should relate to one another and to Jesus. And this of absolutely critical importance. Indeed, it’s “the most excellent way.”

(1 Cor 13:4-7)  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Paul here is talking about congregational life — and we apply it to marriages, because it’s also true of marriages. But it was written to tell us how to live as the church of Christ.

Therefore, if you want to put churches and theologies on a biblical continuum, you should arrange them by how well they teach and live out passages such as these. There are hundreds of more commands along these lines than along the lines of how to worship or organize a church. And as we must let God tell us what’s most important, we should emphasize in our teachings the same things that God emphasizes in his teachings. And what he emphasizes regarding how to live as a church is love as modeled by the crucifixion of Jesus.

Now, the 20th Century Churches of Christ were deeply infected with attitudes inherited from the 16th Century Reformation, that is, the need to find boundary markers to separate themselves from other denominations — acts of worship, form of organization, etc. And these thus became “marks of the church” — even though the vast majority of these “marks” are barely evidenced in the Bible at all.

Thus, a church that violated every instruction in 1 Cor 13 — filled with impatient, unkind, envious, boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, angry, grudge holding, evil-delighting people was considered “sound” and “faithful” for having no piano, whereas a church that modeled 1 Cor 13 attitudes was damned to hell for worshiping God with a piano. The result was to take an inference built on inferences and make it the very definition of God’s church in contrast to actual, real, God-given commands given, not as inferences, but as commands.

Do you see the problem? Jesus himself taught that love is a mark of the church. But it’s not in a single book I’ve read on the “marks of the church.” Why not? Because love doesn’t separate us from other denominations. The goal wasn’t to search and teach and practice the scriptures. The goal was to find ways to distinguish ourselves from and so claim superiority to other denominations. And thus things like love became less important than they should have been.

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34 Responses

  1. Hi Jay

    We must do lunch again so we can talk face to face. You are an interesting person.

    The only label I wear is “Christian,” and synonyms, of course.

    Question: I forgive my spouse. I say I am sorry. I attempt reconciliation. Are those rules?

  2. Now, the 20th Century Churches of Christ were deeply infected with attitudes inherited from the 16th Century Reformation`

    Really…. I believe that is a biased opinion, of course someone from the COC denomination would say something as that. Can you give quotes from people not biased between the Reformation and RM to base that on.

  3. CoC-denomination? A selfcontradictory term 😉 … But on the other hand, we did not start out of nowhere and it is simply not true, that we are a direct continuation of the NT-church of Christ.

    I think: Restoration movement is a far better description. Restoration means a diligent search for the roots and origins of the church (or “the ancient order of things” – I like that title); similar to an archaeololical quest. It has a lot to do with history.

    In the beginning, both Barton Stone and the Campbells left the Presbyterian church. But you cannot put off years of theological training just like a coat. It is easy to dump the Book of the Wesminster Confession, but it takes years to change the way you look at things.

    And so, the churches of Christ of course have their roots in the Reformation, but also (and that’s a big handicap) in the philosophy of the Enlightment (John Locke et.al.). I believe we have to go beyond the 1500s in order to restore the church. But we cannot just skip the history in between. We have to lay aside our preconceived ideas layer by layer (there is no shortcut).

    This means: We have to understand the mindset of empiricism in order to overcome this way of thinking. We have to understand the debates of the reformation in order to overcome this way of thinking. We also have to understand progressivism in order to overcome this way of thinking. We have to go back layer by layer.

    In the beginning the command was: “Hold fast to the traditions handed down to you.” If we say that today it is equal to “Hold fast to the errors and additions of church history” (including the history of the CoC). Today the imperative is: “Restore the Apostolic traditions” or “Do the first works.”

    I add: Even the most conservative ones among us will be shocked to where this might lead; but being conservative simply isn’t enough. Becoming progressive on the other hand isn’t the solution either (so I think the discussions in this Blog most of the time miss the point).

    Another thing: If salvation would be dependent on the complete restoration of the church, none of us would be saved … But thanks be to God, that salvation is based on love; and the more we start loving God, the more we will love the church and long to see its beauty restored in our generation.

    Alexander

  4. Alexander

    Our love for the lost compels us to share the gospel with them. Then teach them how to live as Jesus did.

    It sounds so simple and for the first one hundred years or so it was, because most of the teaching was verbal and nearly all the word was the old testament, if you were rich enough to have a copy. The church met in someones home.

    All this stuff about rules and tradition was either Jewish or Gnostic. We had not yet devised a way to second guess what Paul, Peter or John would write about worship rules and COC doctrine.

    Your last paragraph is so right. It is based on Love. Today in the post modern world anything less and you are taunted as being superficial and legalistic, something that they don’t need for sure.

    Bob

  5. Jay wrote:

    “Hank,

    It’s a shame that you so misunderstand the progressive point of view. It’s not betwixt 1 and 2, and it’s not 1 or 2. Let me try to explain.

    1. is legalism. It’s all about the rules, and it defines salvation based on getting the rules right and obeying the rules.
    2. is antinomianism. There are no rules.
    3. is anything in between 1 and 2. But anything between 1 and 2 is legalism, too, because it’s still about the rules, just fewer of them.”

    But Jay, you misunderstood what I actually wrote. I did not say that with the progessive view ther ARE NO rules (antinomianism), what I said is that the progressive view merely REFUSES TO EVER ACUALLY SAY whenever a rule has actually been broken. Hear me again:

    “2. Maintain the apparent progressive approach. In other words, refuse to ever actually say that to believe and /or practice “thus and such” (or, Catholicism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc., is against the will of God and therefore sinful). In essence, accept, embrace, and tolerate virtually every conceiveable false belief and/or practice. (So long as the people believing and/or practicing the sin honestly believe that they are pleasing God).”

    Accordingly, by refusing to say whether certain specific beliefs and/or practices are (or could be) sinful, they, “In essence, accept, embrace, and tolerate virtually every conceiveable false belief and/or practice. (So long as the people believing and/or practicing the sin honestly believe that they are pleasing God).”

    So while they may say there are rules, with the progressives…it is only “lip service.”

    Take for just one example, the beliefs and practices of our honest and religious Catholic neighbors who:

    1. Believe that Mary the mother of Jesus was sinless, equating her to that of Jesus. They pray directly to her. 2. They believe in another mediator other than Jesus, that a person’s sins are forgiven when a priest forgives them.
    3. They worship a man (the pope).
    4. etc.

    Okay —

    1) Are such teachings sinful (against any rules)?
    2) Does the grace of God forgive them nonetheless?
    (assuming they believe they are pleasing to God).
    3) How do you know for sure?

    Jay, what do you think? Are the honest persons who believe and teach such “false doctrines” saved nonetheless? Can they believe and practice the above and still be “walking in the light”? Are they lost? Or are you not sure? Why and/or why not?

    How does all of what you write concerning love and grace and non-legalism apply to these specific issues?

    You say there are rules… but it sure appears as though you refuse to ever say specifically when and where the rules are being broke. Do Catholics “break the rules” in their above mentioned teachings and/or practices? If so, what are the consequences?

    I STILL seems to me that while you believe many of their practices are infact unscritural (against the rules), you refuse to admit as much for then you will be in the same boat as those you consistently challenge.

  6. Jay

    The ball is your court, your the lawyer. By the way if I ever have a legal problem I will look you up. You seem to be the essence of pragmatism and patience.

    !. Is the NT a legal document from which we can find laws? If so what are the laws?

    2.If there are laws do we have constraints that we can apply to deter the law breaker?

    3, What are the punishments for breaking the laws in the NT.

    Thank you Jay

    Bob

  7. Do some miss understanding that we are not the judge for eternity? And we’re not told that our judgments here will affect eternity for others. Our being judgmental WILL affect our eternity, of course. As we judge, God will judge us. We do well to think as lovingly as we possibly can. We must decide how WE should act and think and teach. Judging others is not necessary unless they seek fellowship with us in church matters. The mother of Jesus was a human just as we all are. To pray to her is as useful as to pray to one another. We can sympathize with people who suppose it’s useful to pray to Mary.

    We can sympathize with people who suppose the Way of Christ is just a new legal system. But we dare not accept their legalism and make it our own!

    Jay points us to Jesus, who is ultimate boss for all of us. His comments are helpful and should be carefully considered by every reader. The New Testament does not furnish laws which we can obey or disobey. It offers us salvation through Jesus Christ, which we can reject or accept. It points to non-sectarian service of the Lord with no mediators between us and Him. No clergyman can pray better than YOU can. Those who love most can pray better than those who love little. And their prayers accomplish more. We each should pray for one another, and love one another, and seek to edify one another. That’s the Way of Jesus Christ. No laws. Exhortations aplenty. Pointers to the good life. Shouldn’t we each read the Bible and seek to understand what is there taught? And also read Jay’s blogs, of course!

  8. Hank

    I love you man….Lets not have angry words over all this. I would be crushed if I offend you in any way. I deeply respect your views and that of Robert and Cougan.

    We are all on the side of truth.

    Bob

  9. What about this approach:

    There are people that are held responsible by the Lord for teaching wrong things – these are those who are teachers and elders in a church. I fear and tremble when I look at this responsibility to lead or mislead God’s flock.

    But then there are those who are led or misled by people like us. Will they be held accountable for every error they embraced because we taught them so? Aren’t they even called to submit to the elders and teachers of a church? Of course: With discernment.

    So, if we speak about judgement, I first look at my special burden as a teacher (James 3:1) – this makes me very, very careful to either say someone IS saved (we’ll see at the end), nor to say that certain commands or patterns are not binding anymore – and I don’t want to proclaim laws where there aren’t any.

    That’s what I said yesterday concerning fasting (at the end of a 40min sermon on fasting): “So what – is it commanded to fast? Brother’s that’s a totally wrong question! Is it commanded to give alms? Now, if you give alms only because it is commanded, then you are not doing it out of love. Is it commanded to pray? Well. why do you pray? Because you love the Lord and want to have fellowship with Him, or because it is commanded? How about fasting? We saw, that’s something very dear to our Lord – do we wait for a clear command to do it, or will we just respond in love?”

    So, please don’t focus on laws! Focus on Christ! Do even more than is comamnded out of love for Him, don’t ask for minimum that needs to be done, but go for total surrender!

    If we teach in this manner, will we be in danger to ask less than necessary from our church? No. Are we in danger to become legalistic? No. But – again – it is us teachers who will be held responsible, not the ordinary Christian. So I refuse to speculate whether Roman Catholics can be saved or not – let’s teach the whole consel of God.

    Alexander

  10. Jay,

    i think you use “rules” (and definitely “commands” and “law” for that matter) in a way that conservatives do not, and for that reason you’re frequently opposed and misunderstood. Based on my experience in the conservative camp, “rules” would be anything a Christian is obligated to do (think, speak, act, etc.). For instance, it sounds perfectly acceptable in my ears to speak of marital health and faithfulness in terms of rules–forsaking all others, loving, honoring, cherishing, not parting til death, et al–as per one’s vows. By taking vows, and by striving to fulfill those vows, one is both “loving” one’s spouse, and is also keeping some “rules.” i don’t see “rules” as necessarily implying less-than-pure motives nor loop-hole seeking or any of the sort. Rather, all of the obligations i take on when i marry–i keep those “rules”, and my keeping of those “rules” is both motivated by and constitutive of my “love” for my spouse. When i’m motivated by love but don’t ‘keep the rules,’ i do damage to the relationship. When i have unloving motivation and don’t ‘keep the rules,’ i do damage to the relationship. The damage is certainly commensurate with the which one or how many of the ‘rules’ i’m breaking, but continually breaking them, well-motivated or not, could eventually do irreparable damage.

    When you use the term “rules,” however, you seem to have a far more restrictive notion–rules as some particular sort of textual or legal construction. Perhaps some conservatives think in exactly those terms and read the whole NT that way, but i really don’t think that all of them do. i think many i have encountered may say or think the term “rules,” but have in mind the kind of questions you asked to inquire about marital health–obligations to love each other, support each other, etc.

    Now i think you’re absolutely right that as a trend, some “rules” have replaced others “rules” as taking priority, and that this is a gravely imbalanced arrangement. But (and i may be wrong or perhaps misunderstanding you, i just have a hunch), in the matter of using the term “rules,” i don’t think a lot of conservatives have the same notion as you do, and for that reason, i don’t think you’re always understood on these matters the way you hope to be.

    –Guy

  11. John,

    As I said in the main post, there are rules, but it’s not about rules. If she reconciles because there’s a rule that says she has to, how reconciled are you really? If you apologize because there’s a rule that says you have to, how sorry are you really?

    We’re both parents. I’m sure that we’ve both forced our children to apologize when they were very little — even though they didn’t mean it at all. That’s a rule-based apology. Better than nothing, but not much.

    However, we both hoped that they’d learn from the rules to apologize when they need to without being made to — because they were sorry from the heart.

    Rules-based apologies are for children — and very young ones at that. The rules (rules like what you ask about) are — what’s the word? — a pedagogue or tutor. But they’re for the immature.

    When we define our relationships and our love by rules, we’re thinking like spiritual 4-year olds. Yes, there are rules, but we need to mature to the point that the rules are beside the point because we have the heart of Jesus.

    Hank’s wife doesn’t want a man who knows and obeys rules so well that he loves her because a rules says he has to. She wants him to love her because of who she is and who he is. And this requires a transformed heart, which comes only by the Spirit.

    You see, the Spirit really matters.

  12. Jay

    Amen

    He even tells what and how. It’s written on our Minds and Hearts We can’t do it alone.

    Bob

  13. Jay,

    It’s like we are standing 3 feet apart and looking straight at each other, but neither one of us sees the other.

    Rules, commands, whatever you want to call them, tell me how to love. I would not know how to love without them, that is I wouldn’t know how to properly show my love.

    I am suspicious we are pretty much in agreement on this point, but we can’t seem to get on the same page because we are speaking different languages (or something).

    Your brother.

  14. Jay wrote:

    Do you see the problem? Jesus himself taught that love is a mark of the church. But it’s not in a single book I’ve read on the “marks of the church.” Why not? Because love doesn’t separate us from other denominations. The goal wasn’t to search and teach and practice the scriptures. The goal was to find ways to distinguish ourselves from and so claim superiority to other denominations. And thus things like love became less important than they should have been.

    How true this is! I have a series, “Traits of the New Testament Church” where I explore the spiritual marks of the church: its faith, hope, and love. A comment on one post says, in effect, “I have never heard the church defined in spiritual terms before.”

    Thank you for holding out a vision that goes the heart and beyond what Alexander Campbell et. al. defined as “the ancient order of things.” Early on I was taught, “If we do what the early Christians did, we will become what they were.” Sounds good – but the emphasis is on my doing, not on God’s love, mercy, and grace.

    Jerry Starling
    committedtotruth.wordpress.com

  15. John, re your last comment above:

    The rules that tell you how to love are what Jay referred to as the pedagogue that brings us to Christ in his previous comment to you.

    As you mature, you do not pay as much attention to “the letter of the rule” for you have absorbed its spirit.

  16. John, you said:

    Rules, commands, whatever you want to call them, tell me how to love. I would not know how to love without them, that is I wouldn’t know how to properly show my love.

    For what it’s worth, and with all respect, I would argue that it’s all about God’s activity in Christ, God’s revelation of himself in Christ.

    1 John 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

    That is how we know to love – not by command but by God’s self-revelation in a crucified Messiah.

    It completely blew my doors off when I saw how focused everything is on Christ, yet how much my church background had missed that.

  17. John,

    There are those who argue that the inference to sing a cappella only is included within the command to love God, because if we love Jesus, we’ll keep his commands. Thus, it is argued that the many commands to love include whatever we might infer regarding organization, worship, the use of church funds, etc. I disagree.

    First, when Jesus and John (in 1 John) tell us that if we love God we’ll keep his commandments, they explicitly tell us what those commandments are —

    (John 15:9-14) “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.”

    (John 15:17) This is my command: Love each other.

    (1 John 3:21-24) Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

    (1 John 4:20-21) If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

    Jesus and John not only tell us that love means obedience, they also tell us that the “command” is faith and love.

    Add this to Paul’s several statements that love is the only thing that counts (Gal 5:6) and that if you love you’ve fulfilled the law (Gal 5:14 and Rom 13:9), you have to figure that the commands that matter — that count — are faith and love. And, of course, these are actual commands, not human inferences from silence.

    There’s no reason to suppose that the early Christians had cross-referencing pocket Bibles that told them there are also commands to only sing a cappella etc. Those who read these books would have quite naturally concluded that the commands stated as the commands are the only commands.

    There are, of course, chapters and chapters about how to live out our faith and our love, but there are no arbitrary commands about worship. We worship out of a genuine faith, as compelled by the Spirit. We encourage and edify our brothers in our assembly because this is what loving people of faith do.

    We evangelize and do benevolence because we love and we have faith — not because this is necessary to have a scripturally organized church or to check off some requirement.

    Some feel uncomfortable because this gives too much discretion which might be abused. But we’ve managed abuse those things where we have no discretion! Rules don’t prevent abuse. And I feel uncomfortable because when we see God’s intense focus on actually living our faith and love, it’s a tough task indeed — but a task that we can do in peace and joy and righteousness by the power of the Spirit.

  18. Jay,

    i’m not sure i understand your response to John.

    John said:
    “Rules, commands, whatever you want to call them, tell me how to love. I would not know how to love without them, that is I wouldn’t know how to properly show my love.”

    Are you disagreeing with this statement from John or not?

    Didn’t you point out in recent posts that Paul says in Rom 13 that various commandments (do not covet, do not commit adultery) are some how explanatory or exegetic of “love your neighbor”?

    –Guy

  19. Guy,

    I don’t know whether I’m disagreeing or not, because he says he disagrees with me but what he says seems right to me — unless he means that he considers a cappella singing, for example, as all about love — which would be consistent with what he’s said before (as best I can recall).

    My position is that if it’s not a logical consequence of love, it’s not a command — for those who are true to their faith and penitence. Thus, because I can perfectly well love you while playing a guitar, the supposed command to sing a cappella is not really a command.

    However, the commands to not hold grudges, the evangelize, to help the poor, and to care for widows and orphans are unquestionably commands. They are simply love in action.

    The usual 20th Century CoC response is that because I love God, I obey his commands — especially commands dealing with worship of God. But that assumes that there’s such a command, and there isn’t. The absence of any logical necessity from love is one of many proofs. Of course, the absence of a command is a pretty good proof, too.

    But I’m about out of ways to explain it.

  20. Jay,

    That was quite clear, thanks. But now it seems you’re conflating love for God with love for neighbor.

    Now i grant you that IM isn’t necessarily unloving. i believe it *could* be–but i believe that just about anything *could* be given a certain motive and circumstance.

    Anyway, i think you’re clear about IM not violating love for neighbor. But what “commands” specify how we are to love God? Does love for God collapse into love for neighbor?–IOW, that’s the only command God expects us to obey as a means of showing Him love? If so, why did Jesus put love for God as the greatest command and love for neighbor second?

    –Guy

  21. Guy, have you noticed that the ten commandments are either about loving and honoring God or loving and honoring our neighbors (fellow man)?

  22. Nancy,

    I’m not concerned with the 10 commandments directly, but rather Jay’s notion of that which is a logical consequence of love. I’m wanting to know how that caches out into commandments for loving God in particular for the NT church.

    You have brought something else to mind though. Other than, perhaps, (quite debatably) honoring the Sabbath, are there any commandments about loving God which *enjoin* an action rather that merely *forbid* an action? i guess in the present discussion, i’m wondering if with respect to the logical consequences of love for God, there are any “do’s” or if there are only “don’t’s.”

    –Guy

  23. Do you see any NT connection to the Sabbath rest? I see the ten commandments as the basic model for loving God and loving our fellow man. As for a “do”, Jesus summed up these laws with “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s a do as opposed to a don’t.

    My understanding is that as Christians, we are called to love as Jesus loved, to serve as Jesus served, to trust as Jesus trusted. (I’m not sure why I included this, it’s just on my mind right now.)

  24. Nancy,

    Yes, there is a connection for the Sabbath in the NT. Hebrews 4 speaks of “a keeping of Sabbath that remains for the people of God,” a time when we will “rest from all our works as God did from His.”

    I blogged about this Sabbath-rest in two posts, beginning at http://committedtotruth.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/a-sabbath-rest-for-the-people-of-god/, which has a link to the second part.

    Jerry Starling
    committedtotruth.wordpress.com

  25. Sorry, about the link below my signature. I omitted the “http://” at the beginning. Try it here.

    Jerry

  26. Thanks for the link Jerry. I had to read through to part 2 to find this:

    “The Christian Sabbath is the Rest we receive in Christ Himself. In Him, we are a New Creation, Redeemed and Sanctified (made holy).”

    exactly what I was thinkin’ too. 🙂

  27. Hi Jay,

    I will worship a cappella till the day I die. However, I had no remote thought about that subject when I made the comment about commands teaching me how to love. Seems like I made a comment regarding a cappella singing way back in a context of a cause of division within the church. I can’t recall exactly either. If WordPress lets me call up all my comments, I don’t know how to do it.

    I said I am suspicious we agree, then I said we weren’t on the same page. That could be taken as contradictory. I think you believe commands must be obeyed, so I think we agree. We may have some differing thoughts on just what constitutes a “command” in the broadest sense. I think you confuse people, who may well actually agree with you, when you say that all commands dissolve down into faith and love (those are not your exact words, correct me if I have misinterpreted your thinking).

    If one says that faith and love are all that matter (if I said that wrong, just fix it in a reply), what about a text so fundamental as the Beatitudes? None of them mention either faith or love. I think you believe we must practice the traits mentioned in the Beatitudes. They may not meet the technical definition of a “command” in the strictest sense, but, Jesus obviously wanted us to “do” them. We both agree on that.

    What do we disagree on (in this context)? Perhaps it is the way we would each describe love. Would you say it is to love like Jesus loved us? I would agree. I would go on to say that loving like Jesus loved would involve giving attention to the way He lived His life and what He taught us about how to live ours. That is, His sayings and His example. I would say that I can’t love like Jesus loved unless I take seriously obeying His sayings and following His example. I think you would probably say the same. So, in this train of thought, how to love, what do we disagree on?

  28. I would have no difficulty with saying all the commands fall under the umbrella of faith and love, in the same sense that Jesus talked about the law and prophets being contained in love God and love your neighbor. That should have been in the above comment.

    Now, a slightly different matter. You mentioned inferences in your earlier response to my comment. I am not a lawyer and you are, which means, I may be about to make a fool of myself. Just bail me out if I do. Here goes…

    I understand it is a maxim in law that no two cases are exactly alike. So, would not finding precedents in case law necessarily involve the use of inferences, this is that, since no two cases are alike?

  29. Nancy,

    The reason i attached the Sabbath with “debatably” was not because of any OT-NT discontinuity. Rather, i’m talking about categorizing commandments as either a matter of “loving God” or “loving neighbor.” While it may be easy to think that the Sabbath goes under the heading “loving God,” i think that’s debatable since Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man.

    Jesus said all the Law hangs on “loving God” or “loving neighbor.” My inquiry, then, was about this: what commands fit into the “loving God” category? The way Jay writes sometimes, it appears almost as if he believes that “loving God” collapses into “loving neighbor,” in which case “loving God” is not it’s own category at all. If that is the case, Jesus identifying it rather than “loving neighbor” as the *greatest* command is puzzling.

    The question relating to “do’s” is still tailing on John’s comments–commands tell me how to love. i was asking Jay for the “do’s” of “loving God” in the *NT.* The command “love God with all heart, soul, mind, and strength” does not, of itself, tell me *how* to love.

    –Guy

  30. Guy,

    Loving neighbor is subordinate to loving God, but they do go together:


    If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?
    – 1 John 4:20

    Loving God means that we will also love that which God loves (our neighbor) and that which bears the image of God (our neighbor).

    Loving God means we will desire His presence as the Psalmists often declare:

    <i?
    As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? – Psalm 42:1-2

    For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God Than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. – Psalm 84:10

    There are many more examples, but you get the idea.

    Philip expressed love for the Father when he said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us” (John 14:8).

    Paul expressed love for Jesus when he expressed his intense desire to know and be like Jesus:


    But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
    – Philippians 3:7-11

    This is not a “command” of what to do to love God, but these are certainly examples of what love for God means.

    Jerry
    committedtotruth.wordpress.com

  31. Guy, I may not be following your question(s), but I think Jerry is right, we love God when we love what he loves and Jesus showed us how to love as God loves. We care for his creation, we love the unlovable, we love those that don’t look like us. We put ourselves aside and we love unconditionally. I think the reason it’s so hard to understand is that we fall woefully short of this model or pattern because of our sinfulness. But, the ten commandments give us a place to start, we love our neighbor by treating him the way we would want to be treated. I wish I were better at this. I am challenged every time I pass a homeless man begging for money and I don’t stop to help. Is this really the way that I would want to be treated. I struggle to love as Jesus loved. Instead, we literally make up our own standards of conduct and then look around at others to be sure we are doing it better. It feeds our pride and it keeps us from having to confront or live up to the kind of human God intended for us to be. It’s a terrible place to be spiritually.

    I’m sure I didn’t answer your question. Maybe Jay will do better.

  32. Guy,

    Interesting questions. Following Gorman’s book, I’d note that Jesus came to set right both our vertical and horizontal relationships —

    * Love God/Love neighbor
    * Faith expressing itself through love
    * First 4 commandments and last 6 commandments

    “Faith” sets our relationship with God right by acknowledging Jesus as Lord and Messiah — but also in acknowleding the crucifixion and thus the character of God as revealed in the cross.

    The prohibtion on idolatry is a corollary of the fact that Jesus is Lord — and we can have no other gods before him.

    However, the prohibition on graven images and the enjoining of the Sabbath are never repeated in the NT and no longer apply — unless we allow the graven images to become idols. (That is, graven images that interfere with our love for God are sinful.)

    After all, the pictures of Jesus that adorn our children’s classrooms are quite literally images — but the kids don’t worship the pictures.

    Love for God means we obey his commands — right? But every time we see that stated, we’re told that the command is to love one another.

    That’s because God wants us to be restored to the image of God — and the image of God is Jesus on the cross. Love and service for others is to be like God and so to be restored to his image — and that means love God transforms us into people crucified for others.

    (1 John 4:20-21) If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

    That doesn’t mean we aren’t expected to love God. Rather, it means that what he wants is our love — not ceremonies and rituals. And he wants our love for him to be turned out toward those he loves.

    I mean, you can’t love me and hate my kids. In fact, I’d rather than you love my children than love me. God’s just that kind of a God.

    Notice also that when the scriptures consider the assembly, the purposes we are given are stated in horizontal terms — edify, encourage, comfort, strengthen each other. Do it out of love for God and your brother — but God even takes our worship and pushes it toward his children. They need our service far more than he does. But, of course, our service for others IS service for God, because it puts us in mission with God, doing for God what God wants done.

    Love me? Come cut my grass. Clean my study. I mean, do for me what I want done, and I’ll appreciate it far more than if you stand outside my study and sing to me.

    God isn’t an affectiion starved, egocentric being begging for attention. Rather, he is a perfect being hung on a cross for our sins — in hopes that he’ll draw us to him so that we can be transformed by his Spirit into loving, serving, humble people, that is, people who are just like him.

    And yet we still worship him — not because we fear his anger or because some imagined law commands it. We love him so much we worship him.

    Indeed, we live in the in-between times between the dawn of the kingdom and the full realization of the kingdom — and when we worship, we anticipate the perfected reality we read about in the Revelation — where God is continuously worshiped.

    There is, you see, this amazing thing. As God humbles himself on the cross through Jesus and draws us to him and to be like him, we want to worship him. We feel compelled by the Spirit and the gospel to worship in Spirit and in truth.

    And a bunch of commands found in the Patristics and between the lines really would take all the joy out of it. The Spirit and God’s love shown through Jesus are really quite enough.

  33. […] God Wants) Posted on March 24, 2010 by Jay Guin [Moved and expanded from the comments] Guy asked, But what “commands” specify how we are to love God? Does love for God collapse into love for […]

  34. Nancy,

    Jerry is right. Heb 4 treats the new heavens and new earth are both our Sabbath rest and God’s rest on the seventh day.

    I think the application is that Christianity has no retirement plan — just the best death benefits ever. We need to teach our members to see retirement as a chance to serve God full time — at last.

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