Monday, February 18, 2019

Spiritual Formation and The Law (pt. 4 What did the Early Church preach?)

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You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God (Holy Bible: New American Standard Bible, Romans 2:22-23)?

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all (Ibid. James 2:10).
For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near (Ibid. Hebrews 10:1).

            On Pentecost following Christ’s resurrection, the Jesus movement morphed from a Galilean Messianic movement into an assembly that preached Christ risen from the dead and the reconciliation between God and mankind.  Between seventeen and twenty years later, that assembly was facing a dilemma.  What does the Old Testament Law have to do with people under the New Covenant instituted by their risen Messiah? 

For years following that Pentecost, followers of Jesus had preached Him as the Messiah, but mostly to other Second Temple Jews.  They were an audience that had lived by Kosher laws their whole lives.  For them, it wasn’t something you did on a certain day of the week, it was their lives.  Then something changed. They preached the good news of Jesus to the Samaritans (Acts 8:4-25), a group that most Second Temple Jews hated and saw as half-Jews.  However, God gave this group the Holy Spirit (8:17), and the Church accepted them.  This was a stretch, but the cultic practices of the Samaritans were similar to those of the Jews, including circumcision (Pummer and Tal, 58).

Then another change, God used Peter to spread the message to uncircumcised Gentiles (Acts 10).  As Peter was speaking the message to them, the Holy Spirit fell upon them (10:44), before they were baptized and without becoming Jewish proselytes.  The message of reconciliation to God through Jesus continued to spread, first to Antioch and then further into the Gentile world.  Emphasis on the fact that it was the good news of Christ and not the Law of Moses that was reconciling people to God.

This is what caused the church to face the dilemma.  What does the Old Testament Law have to do with people under the New Covenant?  At the church council, Peter reminded them about God using him to spread the message to the Gentiles (15:7-11).  Paul and Barnabas told about conversions among the Gentiles to Jesus, but not to the Law (15:12).  Finally, James cited the Old Testament itself has indicating that Gentiles would seek God (15:16-18).  Then the council came to the conclusion, Gentiles did not need to be circumcised, but only to abstain from foods sacrificed to idols, from fornication and from eating blood (15:19-20).  This seems to implicitly suggest that people reconciled to God through Jesus are not obligated to follow the Old Testament Law.

Is this decision in line with the teachings of Jesus?  In the Gospel of Matthew, didn't Jesus say that He had not come to abolish the Law?  Next week, we’ll examine Jesus’ words on this topic.

Written by Pastor Ozzy

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Works Cited

1995. Holy Bible: New American Standard Bible. LaHabra: The Lockman Foundation.
Pummer, Reinhard, and Abraham Tal. 1992. Samaritan Marriage Contracts and Deeds of Divorce, Volume 1. Wiesbanden: Otto Harrassowitz.

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