Thomas Hooker in his work “The Poor Doubting Christian Drawn to Christ” designs to save people who are already believers from the wicked movements and designs of antinomians who seek to impress upon their tender conscience that they know not Christ because they do not have a full understanding of the assurance of Christ’s work in their lives. In these next few posts we will examine Hooker’s arguments.
Antinomianism – 1. lawlessness, 2. in theology, it is the idea that members of a particular religious group are under no obligation to obey the laws of ethics or morality as presented by religious authorities or by the religion’s holy book.
The manner in which the Old Testament speaks to New Testament ethics is a object of great dispute in the Reformed world. It would frankly be a waste of time for this post to honestly become involved in unpacking how the Law is handled in different contexts within Christendom. That is why I would like to focus on the charge, made by both some in the Reformed camp themselves and by those outside who condemn Justification by Faith Alone as being anathema to the vision of James, ergo “Faith Without Works is Dead”. Those who do make this charge within the Reformed world often are members of the heterodox New Perspectives and/or the Federal Vision theologies which make the charge that those of us who hold to the Biblical understanding of Justification allow for a faith that denies the necessary nature of our own works in justification. As opposed to the traditional and orthodox belief that Christ’s Active Obedience to the Law (both its positive and negative declarations) during his earthly life is/was imputed to us in order that we might be saved from God’s wrath. Jesus thereby fulfilled the Covenant of Works and received the covenant blessings that result from this Active Obedience. Through the Covenant of Grace we partake in this (both active and passive sense) Christ is our substitutional covenant head, we are subsumed under Christ’s reign as his sheep and are saved by His righteousness alone and his advocation for us at the throne of judgment.
But what does this all have to do with the authority of God’s Law today?
We as members of the “New” Covenant of Grace are now no longer held under condemnation by the Law but are free to follow its precepts. Simply put Paul in Romans 6 begins by saying, “May be continue in sin that Grace may abound? May it never be!” continuing his discussion in chapter 5 on the benefits of this union with Christ, in other words the results of our justification which closes with:
The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as (sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” — Romans 5:20-21
So what is the Law then? Paul in Romans 3:20b & 7:7 says:
…for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”… “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.”
So the Law not only acts as a convicting agent but also as a moral guide for how the born Christian is to live under the New Covenant. The curse of the Law has been removed so we could now follow the Law as an act of obedience. However we must be clear to say it i not our obedience that saves but as Martin Luther is reported as remarking Good Works does not a righteous man make but a righteous man will not fail to do Good Works. Westminster Larger Catechism question # 24 defines sin as “…any want or conformity unto, transgression of any Law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature.” and Question # 91 defines the duty of man to the Law as “…obedience to the revealed will [of God].”
Now what is this “revealed will” to which if we transgress it is seen as a disobedient act towards the Holy person of God?
Well that will be the purpose of tomorrow’s post. See you then.
(I had a much better and longer post but I somehow deleted it so this is the cliff notes version as I do not have time to rewrite the 1500 words I had finished)
We have moved from the 16th to 17th to the 19th centuries and have watched how the unanimous voices of Reformed orthodoxy in the past have spoken against the construction (or injection-molding, chipb) of images of the entire Godhead. In this part we will look at the modern effects on how we view not just the Decalogue but the Mosaic Law in general. How is it that now one cannot go 10 feet without seeing the Scandinavian-“Jesus” plastered on everything from T-shirts to Billboards? Well Greg Bahnsen in his work on Post-Millennialism entitled Victory in Jesus (published post-mortem) has a very good short section on the three things plaguing not just the rampant violation of the second commandment but other problems encroaching on orthodox Reformed Christianity in the West. While his focus is presenting a case for Post-Millennialism and why it has fallen out of favor he is correct in identifying the three major issues confronting orthodoxy in general. Two of these three movements would not even consider the Second commandments words on imagery binding today but it is their influence in the minds of those who may that bring them into this discussion.
Bahnsen begins by identifying firstly Liberalism. By Liberalism Bahnsen means to direct his words to the movement that began under the influence of men like Hermann Samuel Reimarus and Heinrich Paulus who were the forerunners of and greatly influenced 19th century Historical Jesus research. Also understood in this section is the work by Immanuel Kant whose philosophy continues to undergird nearly all persons in the West. Included in this is the work of higher critics like Julius Wellhausen and David Strauss. However for Americans the greatest influence was brought forth by Friedrich Schleiermacher whose thoughts and ideas are still taught in every mainline seminary. The effect these men had on the subject of this essay is in the way we now approach the Scriptures in the West. Out of all of their criticisms of the Biblical text the most divisive has been the hatchet job done on the Pentateuch especially on the Mosaic Law. If the law was not received by Moses in toto (as Scripture testifies it did, Ex. 20-23) then what bearing does it have on us today? How can a collection of separate instructions hold any weight for today’s Christian? These are serious questions that cannot be answered by simply dismissing these ungodly men and their followers away by wrote. They must be challenged and confronted in a manner that does not cause their descendants to shun orthodoxy.
The Second influence recognized by Bahnsen is the work of Evolutionary Progressivism. One may look at the title and wonder “How does that differ from Liberalism?” Well to answer the question a person needs to understand that their is a difference between what most people refer to in contemporary times as Liberalism and what academically should be referred to as Liberalism. This second part is what we would identify with the modern usage of the word. This movement led by men such as Charles Darwin and Walter Rauschenbusch delivered a focus that moved Christianity away from its foundation in the Older Testament to a purely New Testament focus, a recurrence of Marcionism. Also another thing that distinguishes it from Liberalism as defined above is its belief that man is is generally good and has evolved past the Mosaic prohibitions to a new era of life that looks not upon the strictures but upon the liberty brought by Christ. Hence the term “Evolutionary”. In other words Christianity no longer needs to worry about offending God by their actions as long as they do so with a kind heart and a loving mind. Therefore in regards to the Second Commandment the Evolutionary Progressivist has moved on from the old covenant completely and any attempt to use it in discussion is Pharisaical.
Thirdly in Bahnsen’s hypothesis is the effect of Dispensationalism on the mind of today’s Evangelical. Mostly brought to the forefront of Christianity in America by the work of Cyrus Scofield and his reference Bible and the writings of John Nelson Darby. The greatest effect Dispensationalism has had for this discussion is its emphasis on the distinctions between the New Testament Church and ancient Israel of the Old Testament. Scofield believed that between creation and the final judgment there were seven distinct eras of God’s dealing with man and that these eras were a framework around which the message of the Bible could be explained. Therefore the words of the second commandment can be properly explained as belonging to a prior dispensation and no longer applicable in there literal sense to today’s Christian.
Cumulatively these three positions have effected the way in which most in the Reformed camp come to the Decalogue and the Case Law of Moses imparticular. With a Hermeneutic of Suspicion the Second commandment (and its spiritual brother, the 4th commandment as we saw here in J.C. Ryle’s thought) is cast in a light of a “Canon within a Canon” as it passed over, with rest of the first table, in our times for all the reasons the three positions of Liberalism, Evolutionary Progressivism, and Dispensationalism have provided.
In the final part of this 7 part series on the Second Commandment I will present a Biblical and Systematic argument showing why it is not only unlawful according to the Older Testament but also in the New Covenant to picture the Godhead in physical form.
Here is my much promised series of posts on Images and the Godhead that has been promised for some time.
I want to begin by forcing our eyes upon the truth that there is a not-so-latent Anti-Nomianism running around in most circles today in both Liberal and Evangelical worlds. The difference being that either side argues around various parts of God’s Law so as to establish a defense against the enforcement of the part of God’s Law that they would like to see abrogated. I could spend time now describing where this is true but that would an entirely different post. For the purpose of this post I just want to put us in the mind that the idolatry we are going to discuss has in the background the Anti-Nomian milieu of which we belong. This Anti-Nomianism is part passive ignorance and part active disobedience on the behalf of those who practice it. For instance go to your general “Reformed” pastor and talk to him about this issue. I am positive within the first 5 words will be either the word “legalism” or the term “Pharisaical” and this is primarily the problem in todays church in regards to issues of following the Law of God in the Covenant of Grace. Whenever one begins to speak about keeping the Law of God in sight of our call to righteousness (cf: Calvin’s Three-fold use of the Law: to convince of sin, to restrain sin, and to provide guidelines for living the Christian life) we are told by most that any act on the understanding that looking to the judicial law at all on this issue is legalist and part of the work I am going to do on the idolatry of images is to answer this problem through the discussion.
Tomorrow we will look at the Primary Reformers thoughts and conflate them with current practice in “Reformed” churches.