"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority ... the Constitution was made to guard against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters." - Noah Webster

"There is no worse tyranny than forcing a man to pay for what he does not want just because you think it would be good for him."
-- Robert A. Heinlein

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Getting The Big Picture

The following is another installment on my big essay on Why I'm Not A Christian.  You need to have already read the other installments that follow; Making A Case, and Not Wanting To Know, as well as the five part series Knowing God.

To say that there is a lot of confusion over how to determine correct doctrine among the churches is a gross understatement.  I know I will be repeating myself on certain points as I go along, because as I’ve discovered over the years, some things just have to be pounded on repeatedly before they begin to sink in.  I think Mark Twain made the point that some people can learn simply by reading, and some people can learn by watching other people make mistakes, but there are some people who just have to urinate on the electric fence for themselves.

I mentioned in the last post that something extremely lacking in the churches is a comprehensive, methodical look at the nature of God.  Because God created man in His own image and likeness, we can infer some things about God from things we observe in our own thoughts and feelings, with the explicit caveat that we need God’s revealed Word to guide us to the correct conclusions about our observations.  This may seem like it is off topic to a degree, but all of these factors contribute to getting the right conclusions.  Once again, the key to getting the correct understanding is to take the Bible as a whole.  The truly crazy thing, and I DO mean crazy, is that we have churches who behave as though there is one religion in the “Old Testament” and then Jesus came and gave us a whole new, “New Testament” religion.  This is schizophrenic.  This is cognitive dissonance.  In plain street language, it’s just plain crap.

Please don’t go off and quote isolated passages from Romans or Galatians. I’ve been there, done that.  I’ve had to listen to it over and over again, as if the person quoting it to me thought that I’ve never read it before.  But then when I ask: What did Paul mean then, when he also said, “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.”

There is a clear, didactic statement from the Rabbi.  He makes the statement right there at Romans 3:31 after essentially explaining to a mostly gentile audience that a) man is created with a conscience which he purposely suppresses in favor of doing what he wants, b) that God gave the law to show man how far from righteousness he strays, c) that apart from relationship with God, man can never hope to come close to living up to the standard of the Torah, which is what real faith is all about, d) essentially, God in His mercy forgives us so we can come back into relationship with Him and follow Torah with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, thus establishing that the Law (Torah) is righteous and good.

If you simply lift selected verses out of Paul’s letter to the Romans, it is very easy to make it seem like Paul is advocating the idea that the Torah serves no purpose in a believer’s life. But this position would be totally inconsistent with not only all the other things that  Paul wrote, but his very public example as well.

How did the church succumb to the idea that Torah doesn’t apply to those who follow Christ?  They misunderstood an argument that arose over the singular practice of circumcision and what it stood for.  The church then extrapolated that argument, stretching it to absurd dimensions to cover the rest of Scripture.  Here we will deal with how it happened.  Let’s go back to the beginning and walk this thing out logically to figure out how it went so wrong.

For a couple of thousand years, Jews had a unique identity as the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (a.k.a. Israel).  The first covenant and the sign of the covenant that set apart Abraham and his progeny was that of circumcision.  It is important to stop here and note that God established the covenant that He would fulfill with Abraham and his descendents long before He introduced circumcision.  Let that sink in.  God presented the gospel message to Abraham in Genesis 15 and when Abraham believed the message, God declared him justified.  Circumcision did not happen until Ishmael was 13 and a couple of years before Isaac was born (Genesis 17).  It seems as though God did it this way to prove that circumcision was to be understood as a sign of obedience and was never to be confused as either a prerequisite or a condition of salvation.  After Paul’s Damascus road experience, he understood this as well.

Fast forward to Luke’s historical account of the Acts of the Apostles, and chapter 15.  At this point, one has to keep in mind that the body of believers had been growing for a while among the exclusively Jewish people of the area, based on the message of the Prophet John and the Rabbi Yeshua who preached repentance, or a turning back to Torah life. Read again, Matthew 5:17-19.  “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets . . .”  In Acts 15 we are told that some men came from Judea and began teaching that without circumcision, salvation was not possible.  It is also very important to note at this point that at least ten or more years have passed since Yeshua ascended into heaven after his death and resurrection.  Think about that for a moment.  How many little Jewish boys had been born among the believers in Jerusalem and surrounding areas in that time?  Do you think for one minute that those Jewish believers stopped fulfilling all the same requirements of Torah for the redemption of the first born sons, just as Mary and Joseph had?  That would be an assumption made from not only silence, but ignorance.  Furthermore, a new believer who came from the gentiles and wanted to be able to worship in the Temple area proper and not be excluded to the court of the gentiles would be required to undergo circumcision for full conversion to Judaism. You might be saved and a member of the body of believers, but the Law was still in effect regarding who could enter the physical location of the Temple that was reserved for the circumcised.

Paul had nothing against those who wanted to be circumcised for the purpose of being identified as being of Jewish heritage.  This is why he circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:3)  What Paul was fighting against was the idea that one had to be circumcised to be saved.  Pay careful attention to this.  The issue was not the circumcision itself, but rather what value you placed upon it.  What Paul was fighting against was the idea that you could become righteous in standing by observing rituals.  Do we then ignore the Law that tells us to obey the rituals?  No.  We obey the Law because we want to be obedient to the One who created us and showed us mercy and love.  We don’t follow the Law in order to be saved, we follow the Law because we are saved.

In order to get into the mindset of the first century believers, you need to understand what they understood from history and the Torah.  Not all of those who fled from Egypt were exclusively of the family line of Abraham.  Some of the Egyptians themselves, along with tribes from other regions saw the miracles that God brought down upon Egypt and they decided to go with the winning side.  The multitude that stood at Mount Sinai and agreed to receive the Torah and obey it, were from many different ancestors since the time of Noah. Many different languages were spoken at that time.  Egypt was the greatest empire on earth at the time of Moses, and they had many imported slaves; not just the Hebrews who had come to them during the famine while Joseph was alive.

Those who fled Egypt with the Children of Israel, stood at Mount Sinai and agreed to become a part of this new family or nation.  They became grafted in as followers of God.  The door was open to anyone who voluntarily agreed to live according to Torah.  There were those who were willing to sell themselves into indentured servitude (yes, slavery, but nothing like it is portrayed today) in order to be a part of this way of life and be under the blessings of God.

It was in this well-known history that the first century believers could understand the idea that those who wished to be followers of Messiah could be grafted in as believers in the same God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  But the gift of the Holy Spirit indwelling a believer superseded the need for circumcision as the sign of the covenant.  This was the whole purpose of the events that unfolded in Acts chapter ten.  Cornelius was already a Torah observant gentile who merely lacked circumcision to be recognized as a full Jew.  According to Torah, once a proselyte was circumcised and baptized he was as fully Jewish as one born to Jewish parents.

Before I go on with more evidence from the Scriptures, I suppose the main point you should get from all of the evidence I’ve presented so far is this:

Yeshua did not come to create a new religion out of whole cloth.  He came to reveal more understanding about what was already in the Torah and Prophets and Writings (Psalms and Proverbs, etc.)  Meditate on Luke 16:17:  “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law (Torah) to fail.”

You can get to the next essay by clicking on: Big Conference in Acts.

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