Are Christians Inconsistent with Old Testament Laws?

One of the main arguments used against Christians is that we are inconsistent with upholding all of the Old Testament Laws. Many Christians are not sure how to answer such a statement and end up leaving the conversation feeling defeated and confused.

Dr. Tim Keller helps better equip Christians as to how to answer this question in his post, “Making Sense of Scriptures’s ‘Inconsistency.'”

Keller writes:

I find it frustrating when I read or hear columnists, pundits, or journalists dismiss Christians as inconsistent because “they pick and choose which of the rules in the Bible to obey.” Most often I hear, “Christians ignore lots of Old Testament texts—about not eating raw meat or pork or shellfish, not executing people for breaking the Sabbath, not wearing garments woven with two kinds of material and so on. Then they condemn homosexuality. Aren’t you just picking and choosing what you want to believe from the Bible?”

I don’t expect everyone to understand that the whole Bible is about Jesus and God’s plan to redeem his people, but I vainly hope that one day someone will access their common sense (or at least talk to an informed theological adviser) before leveling the charge of inconsistency.

First, it’s not only the Old Testament that has proscriptions about homosexuality. The New Testament has plenty to say about it as well. Even Jesus says, in his discussion of divorce in Matthew 19:3-12, that the original design of God was for one man and one woman to be united as one flesh, and failing that (v. 12), persons should abstain from marriage and sex.

However, let’s get back to considering the larger issue of inconsistency regarding things mentioned in the Old Testament no longer practiced by the New Testament people of God. Most Christians don’t know what to say when confronted about this issue. Here’s a short course on the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament.

The Old Testament devotes a good amount of space to describing the various sacrifices offered in the tabernacle (and later temple) to atone for sin so that worshipers could approach a holy God. There was also a complex set of rules for ceremonial purity and cleanness. You could only approach God in worship if you ate certain foods and not others, wore certain forms of dress, refrained from touching a variety of objects, and so on. This vividly conveyed, over and over, that human beings are spiritually unclean and can’t go into God’s presence without purification.

But even in the Old Testament, many writers hinted that the sacrifices and the temple worship regulations pointed forward to something beyond them (cf. 1 Sam. 15:21-22; Ps. 50:12-15; 51:17; Hos. 6:6). When Christ appeared he declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19), and he ignored the Old Testament cleanliness laws in other ways, touching lepers and dead bodies.

The reason is clear. When he died on the cross the veil in the temple tore, showing that he had done away with the need for the entire sacrificial system with all its cleanliness laws. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice for sin, and now Jesus makes us clean.

The entire book of Hebrews explains that the Old Testament ceremonial laws were not so much abolished as fulfilled by Christ. Whenever we pray “in Jesus name” we “have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19). It would, therefore, be deeply inconsistent with the teaching of the Bible as a whole if we continued to follow the ceremonial laws.

Law Still Binding

The New Testament gives us further guidance about how to read the Old Testament. Paul makes it clear in places like Romans 13:8ff that the apostles understood the Old Testament moral law to still be binding on us. In short, the coming of Christ changed how we worship, but not how we live. The moral law outlines God’s own character—his integrity, love, and faithfulness. And so everything the Old Testament says about loving our neighbor, caring for the poor, generosity with our possessions, social relationships, and commitment to our family is still in force. The New Testament continues to forbid killing or committing adultery, and all the sex ethic of the Old Testament is re-stated throughout the New Testament (Matt. 5:27-30; 1 Cor. 6:9-20; 1 Tim. 1:8-11). If the New Testament has reaffirmed a commandment, then it is still in force for us today.

The New Testament explains another change between the testaments. Sins continue to be sins—but the penalties change. In the Old Testament sins like adultery or incest were punishable with civil sanctions like execution. This is because at that time God’s people constituted a nation-state, and so all sins had civil penalties.

But in the New Testament the people of God are an assembly of churches all over the world, living under many different governments. The church is not a civil government, and so sins are dealt with by exhortation and, at worst, exclusion from membership. This is how Paul deals with a case of incest in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 5:1ff. and 2 Cor. 2:7-11). Why this change? Under Christ, the gospel is not confined to a single nation—it has been released to go into all cultures and peoples.

Once you grant the main premise of the Bible—about the surpassing significance of Christ and his salvation—then all the various parts of the Bible make sense. Because of Christ, the ceremonial law is repealed. Because of Christ, the church is no longer a nation-state imposing civil penalties. It all falls into place. However, if you reject the idea of Christ as Son of God and Savior, then, of course, the Bible is at best a mishmash containing some inspiration and wisdom, but most of it would have to be rejected as foolish or erroneous.

So where does this leave us? There are only two possibilities. If Christ is God, then this way of reading the Bible makes sense. The other possibility is that you reject Christianity’s basic thesis—you don’t believe Jesus is the resurrected Son of God—and then the Bible is no sure guide for you about much of anything. But you can’t say in fairness that Christians are being inconsistent with their beliefs to follow the moral statements in the Old Testament while not practicing the other ones.

One way to respond to the charge of inconsistency may be to ask a counter-question: “Are you asking me to deny the very heart of my Christian beliefs?” If you are asked, “Why do you say that?” you could respond, “If I believe Jesus is the resurrected Son of God, I can’t follow all the ‘clean laws’ of diet and practice, and I can’t offer animal sacrifices. All that would be to deny the power of Christ’s death on the cross. And so those who really believe in Christ must follow some Old Testament texts and not others.”

Leaders and the Sin of Omission

Here is a great post by Thom Rainer asking “Seven Questions to Help Leaders Avoid Committing Sins of Omission.”

Rainer writes:

I confess. I shouldn’t have this nagging fear, but I do. I am sometimes haunted by the possibility that I failed to make a critical decision as a leader, and I missed the opportunity to make a difference in this world.

It’s easy sometimes not to make a decision, to let the perceived status quo become our daily agenda. Instead of becoming a leader who is a change agent, we become managers who carry out routine tasks.

Frankly, I don’t want to live my life in the world of “what if?” I don’t want to look back on this brief time God has given us, and realize that I failed to act or to make key decisions. I don’t want to be guilty of one of the most damaging types of sins, the sins of omission.

So how can we leaders make certain we are not seeking the comfort of sameness and committing sins of omission? What checks can we have to remind us that we must ever be vigilant lest we fail as a leader who acts and takes risks? I suggest we constantly ask ourselves these seven questions.

  1. Do I take initiative or do I wait for an assignment to be given to me? Leaders who rarely want to make their own decisions or take actions on their own are not leaders at all. It is a comfortable place to be where you are not responsible for any of your own initiatives. But comfort is the place where most sins of omission take place.
  2. Am I constantly seeking ways to break out of the status quo? It is cliché to say that this world and culture is changing rapidly, but it is true. Those who attempt to hold onto to the way we’ve always done it will be left behind. The irony is that the status quo is no longer a reality, and those who attempt to hold it tightly are holding on to an illusion.
  3. Is my approach to leadership only incrementalism, or do I at least on occasion seek to lead major changes? Leading by incremental change is okay for most seasons, but there are times when leaders must take major risks. I love the oft-told story of Thomas J. Watson, Jr., and the introduction of the IBM 360. On April 7, 1964 IBM introduced the 360, the first large family of computers to use interchangeable software and peripheral equipment. It was a bold and courageous departure from the monolithic, one-size-fits-all mainframe. Fortune magazine dubbed it “IBM’s $5 billion gamble.” But the gamble paid off, and the world was changed by that decision.
  4. Am I willing to make a decision even if I don’t have all the facts? No one would suggest a leader make a major decision without good information. But many decisions must be made with some level of uncertainty and without all the desired facts. Ultra-conservative leaders who keep waiting for all the facts to come in usually have a good rear view of other leaders who have passed them by,
  5. Am I willing to accept criticism? You can play it safe and avoid criticism. In fact, you can join the legion of Monday-morning quarterbacks who take great delight in pointing out where risk-taking leaders failed. But those second-guessers have stopped leading when they make decisions to minimize the criticisms.
  6. Am I willing to fail? You can choose not to act, not to take initiative, and not to take risks. In doing so, you will not fail at a particular task because you have attempted nothing. But you will ultimately fail as a leader. Every true and seasoned leader can attest to some failure in his or her life. That is the price we pay when we lead and take risks.
  7. Do I really want to make a difference? If the answer is yes, there is a price to pay. I have briefly enumerated some of them. We can’t merely declare that we want to make a difference. We must be wiling to accept the pain that often comes with bold and courageous leadership. For the true leader, it is price worth paying.

We have such a brief time to make a difference in this life. If God has given you a place of leadership, consider that opportunity a sacred trust. Don’t live this life wondering “what if.” Don’t look back on key life points and realize you failed to act, that you committed sins of omission.

May the words God gave Joshua become His words for our lives today: “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9, HCSB).

What are some of the common sins of omission you observe in some leaders? What are some other checks we can have to avoid committing these sins?

Seven Deadly Sins of a Dying Church

Here is another fantastic article by Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay Christian Resources.

I stood before some 700 church members on a Sunday evening. My task was straightforward. I was to share with them the results of a consultation my team members and I had worked on during the past several weeks.

The presentation should have been easy and uneventful. To the contrary, the time proved to be stressful and contentious. When I pointed out even a small area of concern with suggested remedies, dozens of members raised their hands to tell me how wrong I was, how the evaluations of the consulting team were far off base.

The church in question had been in decline for nearly two decades. Yet, from the perspectives of many of the members, the church was healthy and thriving. From my perspective, the most obvious reality I saw was denial.

Lessons from the Past, Lessons for the Future

Over the past 20 years, one of the richest blessings in my life has been the opportunity to study and consult with thousands of churches. I’ve seen hundreds of healthy churches that have taught me valuable lessons.

Unfortunately, I’ve also seen thousands of churches whose ministries are declining, whose members are discouraged, and whose evangelistic impact is negligible. Recently, I reviewed many of my past consulting and research projects to discern common characteristics of declining and dying churches.

I found what I call “seven sins” that characterize dying churches. These issues are not mutually exclusive; they are often directly related to each other. Rather than being a source of discouragement, I pray that my elucidation of these seven sins will be a tool to help you avoid the pitfalls that other church leaders have experienced.

Sin #1: Doctrine Dilution

One of our consultants sat in a Bible study class of a church that had brought in our team for a long-term consultation relationship. He had been told that the class included some of the church’s strongest leaders. Much to his surprise, the entire Bible study was a debate on whether or not a non-Christian might go to heaven. After much argument, the conclusion was that God would indeed allow such a person into heaven.

When such cardinal truths as the doctrine of exclusivity become issues of doubt, a church is in trouble. There’s little motivation for outreach and evangelism if other paths and other religions are equal to Christianity.

Ironically, in our survey of unchurched persons across America, we found that these non-Christians were much less likely to attend churches with weak doctrinal beliefs than those with strong ones. “Why should I waste my time in a place that does not have much certainty of belief,” Amy, a 29-year-old unchurched person from Arizona, told us. “I can find plenty of uncertainty in the world.”

Sin #2: Loss of Evangelistic Passion

It is no surprise that declining and dying churches have little evangelistic passion. In my January/February ’05 Outreach column, I highlighted one of the major reasons for evangelistic apathy: Many senior pastors either don’t have or have lost their evangelistic passion. Congregations tend to follow the passions and visions of those in key leadership positions, particularly the pastor.

Sin #3: Failure to Be Relevant

Unfortunately, many churches in America are out of touch with the changing trends and values of today’s culture. Some churches, for certain, abandon many of the cardinal truths of the faith in their quest to be relevant to the community they serve. But even more churches are woefully unaware of the realities, hopes, and pains of those around us. Failure to be true to doctrines of the Christian faith leads to apostasy. Failure to understand the world in which we live and serve leads to irrelevancy.

Sin #4: Few Outwardly-Focused Ministries

In a recent survey of churches across America, we found that nearly 95% of the churches’ ministries were for the members alone. Indeed, many churches had no ministries for those outside the congregation. Many churches seem to exist only for themselves. While there certainly should be ministry available for church members, often the balance between external and internal ministries is heavily skewed toward internal. When churches seek to care and minister only to their own, it’s a likely sign that decline is in motion and that death may be imminent.

Sin #5: Conflict over Personal Preferences

Some of the more vicious internal battles in congregations today are not fights over defending the great truths of the Christian faith. Instead, members have conflict over their preferred worship style, the way a room is painted or carpeted, and the type of pulpit the preacher uses. Battles like these are sure signs that members are more concerned about their needs than the needs of the hurting and unchurched people who live and work next to them.

Sin #6: The Priority of Comfort

A few years ago, my youngest son, Jess, was a high school senior on the football team. Because he gave so much of himself in the Friday night game, he often slept late on Saturdays. Around noon, he’d trudge down the stairs, turn on the television in the family room, and collapse on the sofa.

One Saturday, I passed him as his extended body contorted on the sofa and noticed that my football player son was watching HGTV. Curious, I asked Jess why he was watching a home and gardening show. His response was classic—“’cause the remote is broken.”

Many churches are in definitive patterns of decline because church members simply will not move beyond their couches of comfort. It’s much easier to do things the way we’ve always done them, rather than to get uncomfortable in the world outside the walls of the church.

Sin #7: Biblical Illiteracy

Only 3% of churches in America have a planned method of instructing their members to learn the Bible in its entirety. While studying the Bible shouldn’t be limited to a church setting, it’s imperative that churches take the lead in these types of endeavors.

When only three of 100 churches even attempt to provide a way for their members to understand Genesis to Revelation, biblical illiteracy is likely to occur. And biblical illiteracy means that our churches may not be obedient to the calls of Scripture because they don’t know what the Bible says.

Lights in the darkness?

Our research shows that many churches in America are sick, declining, and dying. Still, I remain an obnoxious optimist about the American Church. I’ve seen many churches reject the darkness of these seven sins and do something about their decline. They’re truly lights in the darkness.

I recently concluded a one-year consultation with a church that had seen a reversal of almost all the negative trends in its congregation. The pastor summed up the experience well: “We were not lacking in resources or know-how; we were just lacking in obedience. When we made a decision that mediocrity and complacency would not be acceptable, God began to bless us. It is just that simple.”

Crisis in Christianity!

Graceway MediaIn late 1776, the Colonial army had lost battle after battle to the British forces. Soldiers began to doubt their ability to win the war and were not as quick to reenlist. Because of the people’s dwindling faith in Washington’s leadership, new enlistments had dropped off. Less than one year into the revolution, hope for victory was bleak at best. Truly the thirteen colonies were facing a debilitating crisis.

Author and Patriot Thomas Paine had been instrumental in rallying the citizenry to take up arms and fight for freedom. During the cold, dark days of war, he once again took up his pen and wrote:

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.  What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated”(Crisis).

Just as before the war, his challenge set in ink spread across the colonies, reigniting the fires of freedom which had grown cold in the face of strong opposition, defeat, and the harshness of winter. The people rallied and the war for freedom continued until its victorious end in 1783.

Today, Christianity faces a major crisis. Belief in Christ has been watered down to a faith with no requirements. People are asking, “What is the least I can do to be a Christian and still get to heaven?” Others are stripping away verses of the Bible to make it more palatable for those who just want to squeak their way into heaven. Truly, we are facing a crisis in Christianity.

We need true Christians to rally together even though “these are times that try men’s souls.” We must remember that sin “is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” If the sacrifice of Christ was for our forgiveness and victory over sin, death, and hell, we cannot continue in this conflict in the power of our sinful flesh. This conflict is difficult. Many have spent years feeding the lusts of the flesh, pursuing their every desire, and enjoying that which God sees as sin. Our human desires do not give us the freedom to change, deny, or re-write the Word of God.

My friends, our salvation came by the shedding of Christ’s blood. It was not just a prick of the finger, nor was it simple act. Our salvation came through the loss of Jesus’ life. He willingly hung on the cross in our place that we might have victory over sin. If we water down the gospel, if we allow respectable sins, if we remove that which offends others, then we cheapen the loving sacrifice of Christ Jesus!

Thomas Paine’s quote is perfect for the crisis we face today: “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.” Do we as individual Christians esteem too lightly what Jesus has done? Has salvation been obtained so cheaply that its cost means nothing? I would ask you today to take up your Bible and read Luke 22:39-24:53. Think about what it cost Jesus for your freedom—freedom—not tolerance. FREEDOM! Freedom from the tyranny of sin, guilt, lust, envy, lying, stealing, and the like. Freedom to live the life God intended from the beginning of time. Freedom for a life of faith, hope, and love. Remember, sin “like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.  What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”

All quotes from Thomas Paine “Crisis”

Can You Resist the Temptation to Watch this Video?

I have always enjoyed reading articles when people are creative.  In this article by Mike Anderson, we see a creative new way to look at temptation as well as how to better handle them.  I hope this gives you valuable ammunition in your spiritual battles.

To read Mike Anderson’s post and watch the video follow this link: “Bet You Can’t Resist the Temptation to Watch This…!”