"and he's not just whistling dixie either!"
Shooting Holes in the Legalists’ "Six-Pack" of Misused Scriptures
Four or five years ago, a number of us of the new covenant persuasion – still basking in the pure joy and relief of having escaped from the iron clutches of HWA’s legalistic teachings – found ourselves arguing and debating almost daily with some well-meaning, sincere, but misguided old covenant adherents on Mark Tab’s "Jesus Loves Fellowship" forum website. These folks lived and breathed Armstrongism, which made for some pretty lively and heated debates. No topic was off-limits, and both sides went at each other tooth and nail, hammer and tong, month after month for several years.
We held our own very well indeed in those debates (in my humble opinion), and we had hopes of helping the legalists to eventually see the error of their beliefs (as I’m sure they did us). We always knew when we had scored a devastating hit with one of our rebuttals, as the forum board would suddenly grow eerily silent – not a new adversarial comment to be seen. Or, if there was a response, knowing that they had no plausible argument to come back with, they would resort to name-calling and character assassination (i.e., if one hates the message, kill the messenger). Not a surprising ploy, considering that this was also one of HWA’s favorite tactics when in a tight spot (such as being investigated by the State of California for corruption).
But just when we thought that we were making some real headway by having handily dispensed with these legalists’ best arguments, they would turn around and bring up the same arguing points they had just used a month or so earlier, just as if they had never heard or comprehended our original answer. I guess that just further proves the old adage that "you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink," or, for those who have trouble with adages, "you can lead the deceived to the truth, but you can’t force them to understand."
As might be expected, several years of this seemingly fruitless debating just naturally led to frustration and to the inevitable debating "burn-out." This was the primary reason that I stopped frequenting this type of website, except as an occasional observer and an infrequent contributor. [Writing a monthly column, on the other hand, is a lot more fun as I get to have the first…and the last word! ;o)]
However, I would not call all those hours spent jousting over the scriptures a waste of time, as it forced me to study and research issues, and to put my thoughts into words in a way that I had never done before. The more I studied the Bible and read and researched outside literature, the more I came to understand just how greatly the new covenant differed from the old. And guess what! Most of organized Christianity wasn’t as totally deceived as we had been taught. We had spent years calling good "evil" and evil "good." [Brings to mind a scripture, doesn’t it?] God had indeed miraculously caused the WCG in 1995 to open the dungeon door and let some truth and SONlight shine in upon us . . . the thick of skull and thin of wallet.
True, the WCG may have just been opening the door to let some of the stench of a dying and decaying church escape, and to allow a little fresh air in. They apparently recognized the need for some fresh air doctrinally (and fresh blood financially) and possibly opened the door a bit wider than they meant to. Nevertheless, many within, for the first time they could recall, actually were given permission to think, which brought with it the incredible ability to see and comprehend spiritually.
Some, however, were afraid of the light, felt insecure with being forced to think and make decisions on their own, and ran back and hid in the darkest corner they could find, all the while cursing the light with utterances such as "This is blasphemy" and "Mr. Armstrong would turn over in his grave if he saw these changes." Others ran to the light and breathed deeply of the freshening winds of sanity as their eyes gradually adjusted to the brightness of the truth.
The freedom that this light engendered turned out for the WCG to be a very dangerous commodity indeed, for many (hesitantly at first) did some very deep thinking (yes…it did hurt!), not to mention outside reading and the examining of both sides of various issues. To these church members’ surprise and amazement, they found that this did not lead to demon influence or possession as they had been previously warned, but rather it led to mental stability, self confidence, and even a bit of unbridled joy and exhilaration in life!
This eventually and not surprisingly resulted in a mass exodus from legalism, mind control, and from authority without accountability. Regaining control of one’s mind and destiny, many had come to realize, was a most refreshing change after years of having been one of the lobotomized, legalistic, "pray, pay & obey" Armstrong-branded sheeple.
But enough of that … back to the issue at hand. During the many months that I spent sparring with the legalists, I noticed that there were basically 6 scriptural areas that those who believe that we are under the old covenant law would continually bring up as "proof" texts in their attempt to make their points appear valid. It became very apparent to me that these 6 misapplied scriptural areas, for many legalists, formed the anchor in their old covenant boat that allowed them to hang onto legalism, come hell or high water. Therefore, I believe that it would be fitting to dub these half-dozen points as "The Legalist’s Six-Pack of Misused Scriptures."
Just as many Joe Six-Packers derive a self-medicated, "cut off from reality" form of peace from their stack of nearby six-packs of beer, in like manner I believe that legalists derive a similar false sense of peace from their six-pack of supposedly "tried and true" scriptures that they believe proves them right.
Every time they begin to feel even slightly threatened by a chance exposure to the freedom and simplicity of the new covenant, many legalists automatically – almost as an instinctive knee-jerk reaction – reach for their 6-pack of misused scriptures. Usually several minutes spent misreading and misapplying one or two of these "anchoring" scriptures is sufficient to ease the tension of their close brush with the truth.
I believe that if these legalists can be shown to be in error in their understanding of these 6 areas of scripture – if we can shoot a few holes in their "six-pack" of misunderstood and misapplied scriptures, then possibly, with God’s grace and help, we can also aid them in eventually abandoning legalism and in accepting true Christianity. We might even get them to attend some AA (Armstrongism Anonymous) meetings! ;o)
Let’s now take a look at these 6 scriptural areas by putting them in the form of 6 questions – using the actual posted questions from some past debates I participated in whenever possible, followed by my answers. My responses were not always purely of my own creation, I freely admit, but were at times compiled from various sources that I’ve lost track of over the years.
Question # 1: If the 10 commandments given in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 are obsolete and done away with, then how do we know what sin is? You can't pick and chose certain parts of the Ten Commandments that are done away with (primarily the Sabbath) and say the others are still there. Jesus never said he was doing away with the Sabbath, but all the others were to remain.
Without the law (Ten Commandments) as a compass, what are the morals acceptable to a Christian? What does it mean? Morals in a society is what is generally acceptable in behavior in the society. How does a Christian define sin (or even Christian morals) if the Ten Commandments are not to be observed?
Answer: We know from Hebrews 8:13 that the old covenant is obsolete. We know that the old covenant (the law of Moses) consisted of 613 laws, the center-piece and foundation of which was the decalogue, or the 10 Commandments. Deut 4:13 and Exod 34:28 tell us that the 10 Commandments were part and parcel with the old covenant, not something that existed as a covenant before this time.
A covenant is a legal, binding agreement. When an agreement becomes obsolete and is "done away with," nothing within it is binding any longer. When the new covenant was established, the ONLY precepts or rules of conduct that came across to the new agreement were those that were EXPRESSLY restated as being still valid under the new covenant teachings of the Bible. Those areas of conduct that are still considered to be sinful are mentioned throughout the New Testament (after Christ’s resurrection, which is the starting point of the new covenant, as the new covenant was "the new covenant in his shed blood").
There are various "sin lists" in the New Testament, such as Gal 5:19, which gives a list of the works of the flesh, and states that "those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." I Cor 6:9 is another such "sin list". These give us a good foundation of just what is still sinful conduct under the new covenant. Conspicuously absent from all of these lists, and from any other new covenant scriptures, for that matter, is any mention of the observance of any mandatory days, tithing, or the observance of any food laws.
Thus the Bible makes it obvious that these aspects of the old covenant were not to be part of the new covenant. This is further substantiated by Romans 14:5, 6 ("one man esteems one day above another, etc."), Col 2:16 ("Let no man judge you in food or drink, etc.") and Gal 4:10 (you observe days ... I fear for you.)
Those who still wish to be governed by the old covenant accuse us of the new covenant understanding of purposely jettisoning the Sabbath, holy days and tithing because of a rebellious and hardened heart. This is obviously untrue. It’s all a matter of understanding and a willingness to change.
Those who can’t seem to grasp what the new covenant is all about bring to mind 2 Cor 3:14-16 which states, "But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away"
Question # 2: Matthew 24:20 states, "And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath;" there would be no reason to pray this if the Sabbath was not going to be in existence. Doesn’t this prove that the Sabbath is still to be observed after Christ’s death and the new covenant is instituted?
foresaw that there would be many people still observing the Sabbath when
Jerusalem would be destroyed. Hebrews 8:13 informs us that "he has made the
first (covenant) obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is
ready to vanish away," which finally occurred in 70 AD with the destruction
of Jerusalem and the temple. But in the meantime, there obviously would be many
Jews who were not Christians keeping the Sabbath, and there were also
many Jewish Christians who were still observing the Sabbath. We know this from
the record in the book of Acts: "But certain ones of the sect of the
Pharisees WHO HAD BELIEVED stood up, saying, 'It is necessary to circumcise
them, and to direct them TO OBSERVE THE LAW OF MOSES'" (Acts 15:5)
"You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those WHO HAVE BELIEVED, AND THEY ARE ALL ZEALOUS FOR THE LAW: and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs." (Acts 21:20)
There were many thousands of Christians who continued to follow "Moses," practice circumcision, and live according to "the customs" which certainly included Sabbath observance. It is interesting to note that Matthew is the only Gospel writer to include "Pray that your flight may not be in the winter, on a Sabbath." Mark simply states, "Pray that it may not happen in the winter" (Mk 13:18). He includes no mention of the Sabbath. Luke's account of Jesus' Olivet address does not mention either the Sabbath or winter. Most scholars believe Matthew was written specifically to the Jewish-Christian community.
The other Gospel writers who wrote for Gentile
audiences did not include Christ's mention of the Sabbath for 3 reasons: (1) The
Gentiles would not be in Jerusalem, (2) they would not be concerned about
Sabbath observance, (3) they might not know the history of Antiochus.
In conclusion, Jesus asked his followers to pray that the flight from the destruction of Jerusalem would not happen on the Sabbath because He knew there would be thousands of people (Jews and Jewish Christians) still keeping the Sabbath in Jerusalem and He knew that fleeing on the Sabbath would create extra hardship. They would have to choose between breaking Sabbath laws or being massacred as did the Jews in the time of Antiochus.
It appears that Matthew 24:20, upon deeper examination and study of the CONTEXT of the chapter, does nothing to uphold the validity of the Sabbath as being commanded for our time.
Question # 3: Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15) as well as "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love" (John 15:10). "He who does not love Me does not keep My words" (John 14:24) Doesn’t this prove that the 10 commandments are to be observed in the new covenant setting?
Answer: What were Jesus’ commandments? He only gave us two: to love God and our fellow man. "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and the great commandment. And the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and Prophets" (Mat 22:37-40). While he continued to follow his father’s 10 commandments in his life so as to "fulfill" the law, no where did he EVER refer to the 10 commandments BY NAME - knowing that as a package they would cease to exist. The ceremonial and non-moral aspects of the old covenant were about to pass away, which included the observance of days, times, places, and foods - all aspects which had been in place in order to keep the Jews separate from the Gentiles were to be removed.
Question # 4: Won’t true Christians keep God's commandments in the future? "And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev 12:17). Isn’t this proof that the 10 commandments are still to be observed until the end of the age?
Answer: And what was the main commandment that God gave us for this age? Mark 9:7: "And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is my beloved son, HEAR HIM!" Note that Moses and Elijah are also there, standing beside Christ in this vision. Moses represents the LAW, and Elijah represents the PROPHETS. Yet we are told to ignore them - don’t listen to them any longer, but now we are to HEAR Christ! The law and the prophets are being declared obsolete, we are now to come under the instruction of Christ. And Christ tells us, very fittingly, that he has some NEW commandments for us to live by, which will supercede and make obsolete the old laws, which were inferior to and hung below these new commandments.
Question # 5: "But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments" (Mat 19:17). "Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, 'Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?' So Jesus said to him..."You know the commandments" (Mk 10:17,19) and then He listed half of the ten commandments (also in Luke 18:19-20). Isn’t this absolute proof, right from the mouth of Jesus, that keeping the 10 commandments is required to enter eternal life?
Answer: If you go back to Matthew 19, verse 16, you'll note that the question that was asked of Jesus just begged for the type of answer he gave him. Christ was asked, "Good master, what GOOD THING must I DO that I might have eternal life?" Now Eph. 2:8-9 tells us that there is NOTHING we can do to earn salvation, that it is the gift of God, lest any man should boast. So Christ was faced with the situation of a man wanting to know what good deeds he needed to do to EARN his salvation.
That being the case, Christ was willing to play that game with him. He told him that if he wanted to do something to earn eternal life, then he had better keep all the law perfectly - in other words, "keep the commandments". Now if the young man had been smart, he would have phrased his question differently, such as, "Good master, what is necessary to inherit eternal life?" If he had asked THAT question, Christ most likely would have told him that none can enter the kingdom except through Him. And he probably also would have told him, "I am the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE."
But this poor bloke was so steeped in legalism that he didn't even know enough to ask the right question, so Christ gave him the correct answer to the question he posed, which was the route that would be as impossible to perform as "passing a camel through the eye of a needle".
I think you can see that most people just gloss right over these verses and think that Christ is contradicting Ephesians 2:8-9, and now preaching works for salvation, and never give it a second thought. It's time we started to examine these scriptures using the wisdom God has given us, and not let scriptures that seem to contradict other parts of the Bible throw us off. That's what we let HWA get away with, but it shouldn't be allowed to continue.
And for those who those who will still not accept the clear scriptural teachings on this subject, but insist that Christ was teaching the necessity of keeping the old covenant commandments, they should be aware that even if he was, the old covenant and all that it entailed was on its last legs and was to be made obsolete at Christ’s death in just a few short months. No wonder he didn’t bring up the Sabbath, even in a legalistic sense – as it was destined to become a non-issue shortly.
In summary, I think we can all see that the scriptures are clear in giving us warnings about coming back under the yoke of legalism that many would like to re-impose on those of us who have been granted understanding and freedom. They attempt to lump the obsolete observance of ceremonial days and foods with moral law. They also deny salvation through Christ alone through faith alone, but seek to create a works-based theology of salvation. This error has been compounded by their lack of being able to differentiate between basic salvation (which is through faith in Christ alone) and the rewards for works (which will affect the quality of enjoyment of that free salvation). See I Cor 3:11-15.
Question # 6: Zechariah 14:16 states "And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles."
17 And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, on them there will be no rain.
18 If the family of Egypt will not come up and enter in, they shall have no rain; they shall receive the plague with which the Lord strikes the nations who do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.
19 This shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.
Wouldn’t you say that this is proof that the holy days of the old covenant are still to be observed today, just as they will be in the future?
Answer: Some refer to Zech 14:16-19 to prove that we need to be keeping the holy days today: "If the Egyptian people do not go up and take part, they will have no rain. The Lord will bring on them the plague he inflicts on the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles."
In other words, according to their reasoning, we can use Zechariah 14 as our instruction guide as to how we should be living our lives now, and what practices we should be observing. What they are going to be doing and observing at that time, we should certainly be doing and observing NOW.
WHY does no one go on to quote Zech 14:21, just 2 verses further on? It reads: "Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the Lord Almighty, and all who come to SACRIFICE will take some of the pots and cook in them." So by your logic, true Christians should right now be both observing the holy days AND making animal sacrifices! So it's very obvious from these scriptures that things will be done differently THEN than they are now - something that was not apparent by stopping with verse 19.
I think we can see that it's extremely dangerous and unbiblical to state that something should be practiced now just because it might be in the future. Can you imagine using this reasoning and trying to make a lion and a lamb lie down together now just because we read in Isaiah 11 that they will do so in the future?
Till next time, here’s whistlin’ at ya! ;o)