Reflections on interpretation and education


Old Teachers and Moral Formation.

Why read old books?  I don’t think the primary answer is knowledge of the past or knowledge of history.  I believe that the primary answer is that old books form us morally.  In order to explore this question, we begin by exploring the assumption here;  that the purpose of reading old books is moral formation.  We continue by addressing how that helps us answer the question, “Why read old books?” My goal here is not to merely encourage the reading of old books, but to provide a way through which to judge the effectiveness of old books. I am for reading old books, but I want to back up a little bit and look at the reading of old books within the purpose of education as a whole.

Before I go into some specifics, I should mention that this is not true of all old books.  Many old books can be read for insight into how people thought in the past, but there is an old corpus that we read for the purpose of moral formation.  That is to say, the books we should read are also the books that are valuable for developing wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to discern the path of excellence.  There are many old books out there that do not contain any such wisdom.

If you ask your students to read certain books, my argument is that the first question to ask is, “Will these books instill virtue into my students?”  Certainly, other aspects are important.  Will these books give my students insight into history, into the story of civilizations?  We might ask, “will these books place my students; give them a place in the conversation, in the history of civilization?”  These are good questions to keep in mind, but moral formation should still be at the center of how we choose old books.

This moral formation, is of course, deeply connected to these other questions.  It is only through understanding one’s place in history, that one is able to practice ethics in a responsible manner.  Even though certain aspects of ethics are eternal, their particularity depends on practice.  In Presbyterian language, there is a “general equity” (the central principles of justice and mercy), which is applied through reason to many different places and times. This helps to explain why literature other than scripture is also helpful for moral formation.  The thoughts of theologians, philosophers, and artists give us wisdom in making choices.

My central case for an education centered around moral formation comes from the New Testament.  There Jesus says these words: “A student will be like his teacher.”  Jesus is the great teacher and he wants his disciples to become like him.  It is the same with Christians today.  Christians are called to look to Jesus as their ultimate teacher and learn virtue from him.

Jesus’ argument applies to all student-teacher relationships.  A student learns from a teacher through imitation as much as through lectures.  He sees the teacher’s love for his subject.  He sees the academic integrity of the teacher.  By analogy, we can see that a parent is a type of teacher; and no-one doubts that children imitate their parents.  Parents use teachers in order to supplement their lack; so that their children can learn from many counselors.

An old book, on the other hand, represents a very old teacher.  Teachers give young peoples books in order to supplement their own lack; a lack because the book represents a mind that is distinct from the teacher.   The book supplements what the living, breathing teacher is providing. The goal is that the student would learn from the author of the book, not just facts, but a moral vision; a way to see the world that can be amalgamated into the thought of the young man or woman.  If we want our children to have good teachers, we need to give them good books.

Why is it so important to see old books as moral formation?  Not only does this inform the way teachers teach, but it informs the way we choose literature for young people to read.  The modern textbook, with some exceptions, is not great for moral formation.  One helpful category for selection is Charlotte Mason’s argument for “living books.”  These are books that exemplify an excitement and a love by the author for what he is teaching.

Why are old books especially helpful for this? A selection of old books are helpful in that these book are the ones our fathers valued the most.  They are the sources of our fathers’ moral formation and therefore in some sense the sources of our moral formation.  This also ties into what we mentioned earlier: that moral formation also consists in connecting one to his place in history and his place in the conversation that carries on between thinkers in history. These reasons for reading old books should be subsidiary to the center of education; instilling virtue. Old books also carry us to a different place in history so we can learn to interact with those who think very differently from ourselves.  These benefits help the student as he grows in wisdom and knowledge.

This doesn’t mean that the student may not critique. Rather he engages with the author so that through the engagement the author will form his mind. If a book fails in engaging the mind in a way that instills virtue that book is no longer valuable to the reader.

When we answer the question, “Why read old books?” with “for moral formation.”  It changes the dynamic of the conversation.  Though other reasons for reading old books are valuable, such as historical insight or engaging with a mind from a distant era, they do not get at the center of what education is about.  I would argue that if we are to argue for reading old books, we must begin with a demonstration of how they encourage virtue in young people.

Deuteronomy is Relevant! But How?

My title today is misleading.  I don’t have the full answer to the relevancy of Deuteronomy for today’s world.  However, if you believe that scripture is the word of God, Deuteronomy is relevant. Christ commands that we disciple the nations in Matthew 28.  The natural follow-up question is, “How?”  The Bible has its own answer to this question.  The Bible tells us the story of one nation that God discipled through Moses and through the prophets. That nation was Israel and Deuteronomy gives us the details of what God taught her.

Unfortunately, this realization doesn’t automatically give one the ability to apply the law recorded in Deuteronomy to modern communities. Many mistakes are made and many mistakes have been made.  When we recognize the applicability of Deuteronomy to modernity it is wise to read widely in the past, in order to understand the history of Christian reflection on economics and political philosophy.  We must also take stock of Christian theology.  God the Son took on flesh and died on the cross between the time of Moses and our own time.  That changed everything.

I want to take this opportunity to point out some assumptions we must be critical of in applying Deuteronomy to our modern context.

1. Don’t forget about Christ:  It is easy to get excited about the equity and the wisdom that is evident in the law of Moses.  But, Christ changed everything.  In particular, Christ changed the nature of our relationship to God, to one another and even to land in general.

2. Don’t forget about the church:  Moses is speaking to the church of God, which God organized as a nation at that time.  The church is the new nation of God.  We must apply Deuteronomy to the church before we apply to a nation.

3.  Don’t forget about context:  The people of God lived at a certain time in history.  There were different expectations in terms of how a nation functioned at that time. God started to disciple his people within a cultural context. Jesus teaches us in Matthew 19 that Moses created some laws to allow for the hardness of their hearts.  Jesus cites laws concerning divorce and notes that God’s desire is for the holiness of marriage.  However, because of the hardness of the people’s hearts, God, through Moses, gives an exception at that time.  The applicability of Deuteronomic laws remains true.  The principle here might be that we need to be patient with the hard-hearted on certain issues today, but the permissiveness in Deuteronomy is not an automatic excuse for permissiveness in the church today.

4. Don’t forget about basic economics:  Teachings about the poor, or anything else, in Deuteronomy are not necessarily about your favorite public policy.  Neither should one cherry-pick in defending church polity.  Understand Deuteronomy’s message as a whole before applying it to particular issues.

5. Don’t forget about political science.  We have learned a great deal over the past two hundred years about how the exercise of political freedom is beneficial for all involved.  Deuteronomy has the desire for freedom at its heart, freedom from slavery, freedom to do good without coercion.

6.  Deuteronomy is not a civil code:  The fact is, a lot of Deuteronomy is sermonic, not what we would expect in a civil code of law.   It is not a list of laws that the Israelites were to enforce in their society through coercion.  The Israelites are called to enforce many of these laws, but not all of them. Details of proper punishment are given to the Israelite people.  However, many laws do not detail a punishment for infractions other than the fact that God will come in judgment on his people.  These laws function as teaching more than as a civil code.  If Deuteronomy is not a civil code (even though it contains elements of a civil code), then it is better to describe Deuteronomy as teaching.

Hope and Simple Pleasures

It is easy to say that the thing that brings Frodo and Sam to the end of their journey is “Hope.”  But there is something deeper going on.  If Tolkien had simply gone to write a story about how hope brought his heroes through to the end of their journey, he would be one among many writers.  What makes the hope of his characters interesting is the character of that hope.   We might say that the interest lies in the particularity of that hope. The hobbits are hoping for something that is concrete.  There is a vision that moves Frodo and Sam (Later only Sam) and works in them the possibility of destroying the ring.

Frodo and Sam have what some have called  “a vision of the good.”  They have an idea of what goodness looks like.  It is the desire for the restoration of that goodness to Middle Earth which gives them the fortitude to accomplish their task. This is particularly evident in Sam.  Through the approach to the land of Mordor, Sam’s mind continues to turn back to Hobbiton.  He looks back to the happiness that is evident in that land. His mind is set on the beauty of that order.  Sam would not express it in that way, but unconsciously his mind looks backward to Hobbiton so that he can move forward in the hope that he might return to that place.

Ultimately, his vision of the good is Hobbiton and the many happinesses that are involved in living in that land. What is interesting here is that it is the simple pleasures that excite his vision. Sam and Frodo remember the food, the strawberries, the beer and the pipeweed.  They remember the laughter and the friendship with fellow hobbits. It is not a vision of final victory over Sauron, but a desire for a return to the happiness of a decidedly mundane and middle-class life that keeps hope alive in Sam.  And in Frodo as well (although it is Sam who keeps this alive in Frodo).

In Chapter III of Book 6, Tolkien emphasizes how important this is.  Sam and Frodo are at the foot of Mt.  Doom and Sam’s mind is drawn back, not to Hobbiton, but a small, but delicious rabbit that they enjoyed just outside of the land of Mordor.  It was a reminder of the joys of Hobbiton. Sam asks if Frodo remembers that rabbit stew.

Frodo responds, “No I am afraid not.  At least, I know that such things happened, but I cannot see them.  No taste of food, no feel of water, no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower, no image of moon or stars are left to me.  I am naked in the dark, Sam, and there is no veil between me and the wheel of fire.  I begin to see it even with my waking eyes, and all else fades.”

Frodo’s inability to remember simple pleasure (along with the heaviness of the ring) impede his desire to continue.  He needs Sam, his memories, and his hope, in order to cajole him into continuing his quest. Sam holds to those simple pleasures and that keeps his hope alive to the very end.

Now imagine if it were different.  Imagine if grand pleasures informed their vision of the good.  Imagine if they moments of great victory moved them. What if they loved glory?  What if they desired most the praise of men, most of all?    Those are the things that fly away first in the pit of despair. The simple pleasures of food, of fellowship, are much closer.  They will be the last to go.  But if Sam had despises these simple pleasures, what then?

This may be the reason that Hobbits are so special, that they are so resistant to the ring.  They do not love grand pleasures.  They love simple pleasures.  That not only enables them to resist the ring, but it allows them to accomplish the greatest deeds of the 3rd age.

True Witness is through rejection of identity politics, Part 3

So how do we deal with identity politics? We speak the truth in love.  To do otherwise is cruelty. This is our witness to Jesus Christ.  It is to recognize that he is the one who defines truth.  He is the one who defines our identity.  When we play about with our identity, we play about with rejecting Jesus Christ.  Ultimately, we play with idolatry.  To promote identities opposed to our God-given identity is idolatry.  This is because we turn ourselves into identity creators when identity is a gift of God.   That is the argument of Toby Sumpter’s blog post that I referenced in my first post on this subject.  In order to give some concreteness to “speaking the truth in love, I want to interact with Toby’s piece.

If you have read Toby Sumpter’s piece, I want to note one disagreement with him.  He argues that using preferred gender pronouns is equivalent to an early Christian offering incense to the emperor. I agree and I disagree. I want to distinguish between two ways of compromising on this point.  To do this I want to point to 1 Corinthians 10.

In 1st Corinthians 10, Paul deals with the issue of food sacrificed to idols.  Paul argues that if you participate in the pagan feasts, you are idolatrous.  This is because you are publicly participating in the altar of a false God.  I would argue on this level, those Christians who publicly compromise on calling an individual a “zer” or a “ze” are offering their pinch of incense.  This is particularly true of the gender-neutral pronouns.  Those who offer their sacrifice of appeasement to the world’s understanding of identity are denying God’s gift of identity to that individual.

But Paul also argues that when you visit somebodies house you may eat the food offered without asking.  It might be sacrificed to idols,  but ultimately God is in control.  But if the person tells you, for the sake of the gospel, do not eat any food sacrificed to idols.  There is an application to identity here.  Treat people as they appear. You are not bowing to the idol of identity. But if somebody asks you to call them a “ze” or a “zer” or if they tell you that they have had a gender-change surgery, do not call them by their preferred pronoun.  You do this for the sake of the gospel, so that they may know God’s desire for their identity.

Witness, then through rejecting identity politics. We could go further, we could talk about all the politics around race.  Here we can be more sensitive.  Race is a natural thing.  The sons of Adam have developed distinctive features in different areas of the world.  Still, we are all sons of Adam, made in the image of God before we are black and white.  Here, again we reject identity politics.  Our witness is through embracing our identity in Christ and encouraging others to appropriate that identity as well.

True Witness is through Rejection of Identity Politics, Part 2

I want to point out three different ways the world plays identity politics. These three ways are through the rejection of the universal masculine, through the acceptance of nomenclature like “non-straight” Christians, and finally through acceptance of gender-neutral pronouns to refer to individuals.  The first is an older issue.  In the minds of many that particular cause is a lost cause. It’s beginnings were prominent in the last century.  This is the movement away from the use of any type of universal masculine.  To use the universal masculine is to use “man” as a placeholder for both men and women This is a legitimate use of the word “man” in the English language. In its stead, men have used gender-neutral words like “people” or “they.”

Through feminism and individualism, along with the rise of leftism in universities the universal masculine is no longer used.  Feminism argued for equality of men and women in absolutely every respect.  They did not exclude pronouns.  Radical individualism resisted any type of collectivism even in language.  The few who refuse to bend to the dominant grammar are relegated to the sidelines.  This is particularly true in Bible translation.  Yet God chooses to identify man, as a whole, in masculine terms.  He defines man and women, as man, in Genesis 1.  This is not demeaning to women, this is merely because man was created first.

Arguably, this is the beginning of identity politics; a demand for respect for the individuality of members of a group.  There was no room for definition in relation to a whole, the individual, in this case, the individual woman, demands respect. The speaker must recognize her gender.

This is where the insanity began.  For this reason, I choose to be regulated to the sidelines with a couple of others.  I choose to join the dinosaurs. There is a chance to persuade me that God might not appreciate this stand. God wants us to relate to our own society.  We speak in a different language than the Hebrews. We think in a different way than the Hebrews. It’s possible that I sin.   If I do, I do so in ignorance. However, I believe that God will honor this decision. I believe that there is more continuity between Hebrew culture and our own than we like to believe.

My reason: scripture should teach me how to think about gender.   It is not the main goal of scripture.  The main goal of scripture is to teach me about Christ.  but scripture does teach me about my identity and the identity I receive in Christ.

The second way of identity politics is a little more recent. It is the new understanding of the word “homosexual.”  The word used to refer to a condition, a desire or an action, not necessarily a biological identity equivalent to our identity as a man or a woman, or possibly our identity as tall or short. Unfortunately, the evangelical world has begun to talk about “homosexual Christians” as if that is a real possibility. They have accepted the “fact” that the identity of “homosexuality” is equivalent to a gene for tallness or a predisposition to cancer.

But God offers a new identity. That is why it is particularly repugnant to call a Christian a “homosexual” Christian.  We wouldn’t want to call a brother in Christ a Christian “murderer.”  We don’t even need to give into the world on the old identity we have in Adam.  Yes “homosexuality” can be an identity, but it is an identity in the way “miser” or “murderer” or “drunk” is an identity.  It is a problem; a problem that people seriously struggle with, sometimes throughout their whole lives.  But this identity is not grounded in creation.  The identities we gain through the curse and through our sinful desires are no longer ours in Christ.

The final example of identity politics is the most recent.  These are the gender-neutral pronouns, which Jordan Peterson is dealing with. This is also the most extreme case of identity politics.  My comments on this will only repeat what I have already said.  I would only add that this is the clearest and unambiguous case we have so far.  The attempts to nuance this issue fail.

Witness through Rejection of Identity Politics, Part 1

What does it mean to witness to Jesus Christ? The answer is simple.  It is to confess Jesus.  Christians are ambassadors of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We do so by announcing that King Jesus rules and calling all men to humble themselves in repentance before him.  We tell them, and we show them, how good it is to live before Christ.  I argue that we cannot use identity politics to witness to Jesus Christ.  Identity Politics rejects the identity that Christ gives us and celebrates the identity that people choose for themselves instead of our God-given identities.

I would add more: we witness to Jesus by confessing the truth that he has taught us.  Even more: we witness to Jesus by delighting in the good law that he gave us. Finally, we witness to Jesus by rejoicing in the identity that he gave us.   That final point is the important point here.  If we rejoice in the identity Christ gave us.  If we accept Scripture’s word on the identity Christ has given both to us and others, we must reject any type of identity politics. This identity includes both the identity that Christ gives us through our creation and through our redemption.

Yet, for evangelicals, it is never so simple.  They cave into identity politics. Identity politics is any movement that demands respect for an identity that is obviously false.   And to see why you need to go no further than the problem Pastor Toby Sumpter deals with here.  The article he is dealing with is here. You can find another article from the gospel coalition that uses the branding “nonstraight Christians” here.  Now Christians are branding themselves according to the categories of the world.

In a strange twist of providence, I believe it is the agnostic Jordan Peterson, who has forced me to deal with this issue head-on.  His courageous stand against using genderfluid pronouns like “zer” and “ze,” for the sake of those who want to use those pronouns has encouraged me to be firm on this issue.  If an agnostic can take a stand for truth out of compassion for the psychologically confused, how much more a Christian, who confesses that they know the mind of Christ. It is wicked and cruel to accept people in this way.  You demonstrate that you accept their identity as they define it.

Of course, you do want to accept the identity men have been given. We accept all men and women as people made in the image of God.  They deserve the dignity that goes with that.    A re-defined identity deserves no respect.  Neither we should give it any respect.  Out of grace, out of mercy, we should hold to the God’s truth.   Even so, one’s true identity continues to deserve respect no matter how far one has perverted one’s self.

The Best and the Worst of Tim Keller’s “Center Church.”

Tim Keller’s Magnum Opus, Center Church, is impressive.  You can find it here.  He has a comprehensive grasp on what is going on in the church and scholarship today.   Keller is a synthesizer. He draws from many traditions in order to present us with a church that is well-balanced in relation to the city and its culture.  He continually demonstrates both psychological and cultural savvy.

Keller’s Contextualization

Keller’s grasp of human psychology is the most valuable thing you will go away with.  It is particularly evident in the section on contextualization.  He argues that in any culture we can separate Christian beliefs into “A” and “B”  categories.  The “A” category are those beliefs that our culture will easily agree with.  The “B” category are those beliefs which offend our culture.  Different cultures will gravitate toward certain doctrines in the Christian faith.  This is not only true of cultures.  Persons with different backgrounds will find Jesus attractive in different ways, but they need the presentation of the whole Christ.

Quite simply, it is wise to start with agreement.  You don’t begin with conflict.  That will come.  If your friend does not confess the truth of Jesus Christ, the question of his existence will eventually come up. Find the “A” doctrines and work to the “B” doctrines.  Find out why Jesus is attractive to the people you are ministering to.  Why is it possible to do this?  It is because the gospel is cohesive. The teachings of scripture are united in the person of Christ.  If your audience, or your friend, find some teaching of scripture compelling, work from that to the rest of the doctrines of Christ.

For example, people in Canada, find the love and sacrifice of Christ compelling.  They don’t like the doctrine of hell.  But if Christ is truly loving, how can he ignore those who hate and ignore his church? You might try to get them to imagine a society where crime gets no punishment.  Some type of justice is necessary. In this way, you can bring the whole gospel to a person in a winsome and helpful manner.

Keller’s Movement

Keller’s comments on movement are also very helpful. He sets movement at odds with institutions. To keep it simple: movements are about growth and revival.  Institutions are about stability.  Keller argues that the church must always include both.

He applies this to church planting.  Church planting has to be a movement.  Church planting, after all, is about growth.  We plant a church in order to bring the good news to a new area.  Church planting itself gives the church an opportunity for how we do church.   As a byproduct church planting strengthens the institutions of other churches that are already in the area.

He also warns against institutions that are so rigid that they don’t allow for movement.  I think this is a helpful warning to the more conservative denominations of today. It is good for their own health.  It is very easy to use one’s power to hold an unhealthy control over churches within one’s own group.

Unfortunately, he assumes denominationalism.  This is helpful in so far as the church deals with the reality of denominationalism today.  However, Keller’s assumption seems to be more than a reckoning with the realities of today.  He is largely content with denominationalism.  Perhaps he sees it as a necessary evil in that denominationalism creates competition, which forces churches to produce effective ministers. It is hard to tell, since Keller rarely deals with denominationalism directly.  When he does he has a light touch.

He forgets that there are other models from the past such as the Medieval European church, the Anglican church and the state churches of Europe.  All of these have been effective as institutions and at the same time have had their renewal movements.   As an aside, I should add that I do not favor state churches.  But neither do I accept denominationalism.  I believe that the church may well take on new structures in the future that go beyond a simple dichotomy between state churches and denominational churches.

A Major Criticism: an ill-defined church

But I have a much harsher criticism of Keller’s book.  I believe this criticism applies to every part of the book.

Keller has an invisible center church.  His center church has faith, but it is hard to tell how exactly it is a center church.  Keller fundamentally downplays the marks of the church.  It may also play into how he downplays the institutional nature of the church.  He downplays the sacraments.  He seems to see them as merely an aid to faith, rather than ritual signs that create a fundamental boundary between the church and the world.  Throughout the book, he talks about the importance of sacraments, and of different metaphors for the church, but he does not have a strong sacramental boundary between the church and the world.  I believe we end up with a center church that isn’t really a center church.

Attention to the sacraments would reveal that the church is a counter-polity a counter-city to the city.  The sacraments give the Christian confidence in knowing that they are citizens of heaven.  Others have argued that Keller is compromising in the way he reaches out to the city.  A strong emphasis on sacraments would demonstrate that the church is a holy people.  It would demonstrate that the church is the truly just society.  It would also keep the antithesis between the church and the world strong, while allowing the members of the church to interact freely and graciously with all men.  This is because the members of the church would know their true citizenship.

One could argue that this is not the real concern of Tim Keller for he is dealing with the church relative to mission.  I would argue that this is impossible.  For a large part of the book, Tim Keller is talking about the sociology of the church.  He is defining the church in relation to the city and to society more generally.  His inattention to the role of the sacraments in defining the Christian community is inexcusable: especially for a Presbyterian minister. Yes, the essence of the church is important,  the church needs to be understood as the community of believers.  But sociologically, the church is a sacramental body.  This does not undermine the church as a movement.  The sacraments are such that they are easily done among believers wherever the Spirit moves.  You ignore that at the peril of the stability of the church itself.


As they say, “it is what it is.” Keller is a man of his time.  Our times are not times where sacraments are emphasized.  This is particularly true among the evangelical establishment.  In many ways, he is the best that contemporary evangelicalism has to offer.  His book is a gift to the Christian community and it should not be ignored.

Holy War and Exuberance in Worship

Let me begin with a general observation; one to which there are likely many exceptions.  In the worship wars, there seems to be a divide between those who push exuberance in worship and those who feel uncomfortable with what seems to be an excess of personal feeling in worship.

Think of things like raising or clapping your hands or moving around.  On the one side, people will point to the many passages in scripture, which support such actions.  There are calls to raise your hands in the scripture.  There are calls to shouts of joy. They will conclude that worship should be an informal expression of such feelings.  Worship should be a heart experience.

On the other side, many will point to other passages in scripture. These emphasize the Holiness of God and the sober reflection necessary to enter his courts on the Lord’s Day.  They will call for formal worship.  Worship is a heart experience, but they emphasize the heart in its role of confessing and learning. They will often dismiss the calls to demonstrate exuberance as cultural practices, which are not necessary to follow today.

In my mind, this is a very frustrating conversation because both sides are ignoring certain scripture passages.  I sympathize more with those who emphasize formal worship for reasons I will detail below (They have a better beginning than those who call for worship according to personal feelings toward God), but I am distraught that they often fail to integrate calls to exuberance in scripture in their worship.

In order to understand how to fit the calls to exuberance in scripture to worship, we need to examine worship in light of a theme that is often ignored in scripture: holy war.  As James Jordan has argued repeatedly, “worship is holy war.”  This doesn’t mean that worship is merely holy war.  Worship is also a drawing near to God. Worship is about renewal for the week ahead.

Why do we say that worship is holy war?

I want to work from three different passages in the Old Testament where Christ used the worship of his people in order to accomplish a victory for his people.  The first comes from Exodus 17. At the end of that passage, the Amalekites attack Israel.  In the war that ensues, it is the place of Moses’ hands that decide the victory.  While Moses’ hands reached up to God the battle went well.  When Moses let his hands down the battle went badly.  The battle depended on the worship of God.

Another passage comes from 1 Samuel.  In 1 Samuel Israel gathers to free herself from the Philistines.  In the midst of that battle, Samuel is offering a burnt offering.  By that burnt offering; by that holy worship, God accomplishes victory.

A 3rd passage is found in 1 Chronicles 20.  In that passage, King Jehoshaphat, obeying the command of the Lord, puts singers in front of his army to singpraises the Lord.  We are told that the moment they began to shout and praise the Lord, God set an ambush against their enemies.

A fourth passage confirms what we have seen in these other passages.  In Psalm 8, God tells us that it is through the praise of babies that he ordains strength.

We need to understand that the war is won in the worship that the Israelites offer, not in the actual war with swords and arrows.  The war is won through a humble expression of need for God.  And when God knows that his people believe in his promises and are seeking his righteousness that is when God acts in favor of his people. We should not hold to this in a simplistic way though.  Perhaps God wants to use dark times in order to accomplish his purposes.

The fact that worship is Holy War certainly affects the matter of our worship.  We emphasize that Christ is a king and through us he is fighting a war against principalities and powers (Ephesians 6). The church fight that war in worship. She wars against our own corrupt flesh in worship.  We are at war with Satan in worship.  We also fight the war as we go out from worship.

Worship trains us for war during the week.  Think of our last example from the Old Testament, the story of Jehoshaphat from 2 Chronicles 20.  In the beginning of the chapter, the people come together to worship God.  Later in the chapter, they go out to war worshipping God.  Through their worship, they have learned how to fight against their enemies.  It should be the same with us.  We need to learn to approach our big struggles in life with confession, with prayer, with praise and with hearing the Word of God.

At the same time, the fact that worship is Holy War affects the manner of worship.  If worship is holy war, then the church is an exercise room, where Christ trains us in the disciplines of following God.  Such an understanding demands formality in worship.

Type of exuberance

That formality is not without exuberance.  It must have exuberance.  God commands exuberance in scripture.  But this is not an informal exuberance.  Rather, it is an ordered exuberance. We might say, “a military exuberance.”  As we have said, when we go to worship we are in the training room of God.  That is why it is fitting for us to kneel, to stand to raise our hands because we do so as the mighty army of God.  We offer God our praise as the corporate body of God. Each individual adds his or her zeal within order that is given.

Jesus fulfills the law: He Creates a Spiritual People

The 3rd part of “Jesus fulfills the law.”

Christ fulfilled the law.  Now when Christ or Paul talk about the law they are referring to the entirety of the law, both the rules and the institutions which they are connected to. We’ve already shown how Jesus fulfilled other portions of the law here and here. I’m referring, more particularly, to the many rules that God gives in the Old Testament.

Christ obeyed those perfectly.  From the Ten Commandments to the laws concerning the clean and unclean.  When we come to Christ in faith, we receive everything that he did for us from the beginning of his life to the end of his life, so that we may have perfection in all that we do.  That is why our good works are pleasing to God.  We have his full righteousness, the whole Christ; so that he counts or sin-filled works as good.  God even gives a reward out of the mere grace of God. Knowing this, we cannot but respond with such a joy.  Our efforts feel so tiny, almost useless, but Christ is our righteousness.

How does he do this?  As we have already mentioned, he sends out his Spirit among us, to guide us and direct us so that as we read in Romans 8:, the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, so that we too may be holy, righteous and blameless, so that we may really do good things before God.

So how do we learn from all those rules of the Old Testament through Christ?  How do we order our lives after those laws?  We first need to understand, how Christ changed our relationship to the law.  Christ freed us from the law.  Paul teaches us in Galatians 4 that the people of the Old Testament were under a tutor.  That tutor had absolute authority over the Jews.  The law taught them and as their tutor demanded obedience.

In Christ, we are freed.  We are no longer under the law.  Yet we still use the law.  For example, Paul uses the law that you should not muzzle your ox to encourage his hearers to provide for their leaders in 1 Corinthians 9:9. You might say that the law is now a mentor. The Spirit teaches us how to apply it to our lives.  In Christ, we’ve grown up and now we look with affection to our old tutor, the law, in order to find advice on ordering our lives.

Of course the centerpiece of the law, written by the very finger of God, the Ten Commandments, continue to have an important part in our lives.  This is the law of love, the law of Christ, that Christ gives to guide our lives.  Christ’s call to live by the fruits of the Spirit cannot be followed without the guidance of the Ten Commandments.  This is what we might call the substance of the law.  But we do so under Christ and guided by the Spirit.  We do not do so under the law.

But other laws of the Old Testament can guide us in how we live our lives as well. We can the example of the Old Testament to bring order to the church and to our individual lives. We’ve already noted how Paul uses the law about muzzling oxen.  For example, the practice of daily sacrifices teaches us the practice of daily devotion. No Christian will deny that daily devotions are a good way to order our lives.

The church, as a whole. may decide to have two services on Sunday based on the practice of morning and evening sacrifices.  We can also think of the practice of fasting in the Old Testament.  A local church may decide to call a day of fasting in order to meet certain problems in the world around them or within the church itself.  These are Spirit-led, free choices that the Spirit calls us to do for the sake of destroying the sin that remains in us and for expanding the kingdom of God.

We can learn from the law, as long as we do bind one another’s consciences to the practices that the Spirit has led our church too.  We do not argue from the law in order to control one another but in order to encourage and edify one another.  As individuals and as communities we learn from the law, but we do so in freedom from the law.

We are not law-led, we are Spirit led. And the Spirit leads us through the word of Christ. The perennial temptation of the church is to go back to the slavery of the law instead of the freedom of the Spirit.  That betrays a desire for slavery.  Instead look to your wisdom, Christ.  He gives you the Holy Spirit.  As John teaches us in 1 John 2:20, through that Holy Spirit, you know all things.

Christ fulfills the law: He Inaugurates a Spiritual Kingdom

The Second Part of  “Christ fulfills the law.”

The Land of Israel is intimately connected with the tabernacle system.  If you pay attention to where men offered sacrifices in the scriptures after the time of Abraham, it is consistently in the land of Israel.  The land is special and holy to God. God commands Israel in Deuteronomy to set up two stones and write the law on them, then set them up on Mt. Ebal in the holy land.  These were witnesses between the land and the people of Israel.   The Israelites are told in Leviticus 18 that if they sin against God the land would vomit them out.   The land turns against Israel when she sins through famine and through infertility.  If God is going to dwell in the land it must remain holy.

The role of the land in the Old Testament helps us to understand Holy War in the Old Testament.  The Canaanites had thoroughly defiled the land, so God used the Israelites as a judgment against them.  The role of the land also helps us understand why so many sins received capital punishment, especially the reason why idolaters received capital punishment.  If the land was defiled it brought judgment on the whole nation of Israel.  We can think of the sin of Achin and how that affected the entire Israelite community when they attacked Ai.  Achin’s sin had defiled the camp. The sin of the people defiled the land of Israel. The land had to remain pure because God desired to dwell among his people.

To understand Christ’s fulfillment of the land, we need to understand what the kingdom of God is and further on, the church.

Christ comes to inaugurate the kingdom of God.  This is Christ’s opening announcement in the gospels.  The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom.  We can see it visibly in members of the church of Christ, laboring in whatever position God has called them too. But the kingdom is also invisible.  In fact, it is primarily invisible.  It is the work of the Spirit in transforming the hearts of the regenerate so that they love and serve their king.  As Christ says to his disciples in Luke 17: 21, “Nor will they say, “look here it is,” or “it’s over there!” for the kingdom of God is already among you.

In the Old Testament, that kingdom had definite boundaries.  In the New Testament, that kingdom is wherever believers are.  Our king is Christ. Christ is the anchor that keeps us rooted from above.  Christ is the ark according to 1 Peter 3, who keeps us safe in the troubled waters of our own day. We are citizens of heaven.  We cannot defile the land in the same way.  There remains a promise that the saints will inherit the earth, but our orientation to the land is different.  God bound the Jews to the land and the purity of the land.  God binds us together by the Spirit of Christ, as the church of God, to Christ’s body in heaven.

The Jews furthered the kingdom of Israel through obedience to God’s call to holiness so that the nations would be blessed by her.  Christians further the kingdom of God by calling all the people of the earth to become citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

We also need to understand what the church is in order to understand how Christ fulfilled the role of the land.  The church is the gathering of the citizens of the kingdom so that they may worship God.  The Greek word for church is a political word, referring to a gathering of citizens in order to make decisions for a city. The church gathers in Christ.  They come as men and women born of the spirit of Christ.  The purity of the church depends on the purity of her members.

Once again we can ask how the church is to order her life according to God’s law in the Old Testament.  This time his word about the land. The church is called to purity through the use of church discipline.  The church is the gathering of a spiritual kingdom.  That means that she doesn’t use the sword to punish her offending members as they did in the Old Testament.

Rather the church uses spiritual means.  She guards the purity of the church through the preaching of the word. There is a possibility he may have to remove members from the fellowship at the Lord’s Table. She needs to remove those members of Christ, not from the land. This is how the church keeps herself pure. If she does not, it’s not the land that vomits her out, but God.  Think of Revelation 3: 15, where God threatens to vomit out the church of Laodicea if she does not repent.

At the same time, the promise to the church is that she will inherit the earth. God calls the church to wage a spiritual holy war against the lies of this world. We heard that this. She is called to do this in her own midst in order to protect her people.  God also calls her to apply the redemptive work of Christ in rescuing people from the lies of the devil.  Just as the church is the temple of Christ, so the church is the land of Christ, where people can be safe from the wrath of God.

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