Religious law brings order, closeness to God [UPDATED]Published 9:36am Friday, July 12, 2013 Updated 11:39am Friday, July 12, 2013
As a former resident of Fergus Falls transplanted to another city, I visit fergusfallsjournal.com to keep up on the happenings in the area. I’m unable to visit the website as regularly as I’d like, but when able to visit, besides reading the news I scan the Letters to the Editor.
In a recent visit I came upon the letter to the Editor by Mr. C Arthur Woods headed, “Bible tells Christians what is morally right.” Before I could participate in the online discussion, the opportunity to comment was closed. I hope the matter still has enough life that you would consider publishing my comments.
I tip my hat to Mr. Richard Olson for his reply (June 19, 2013, at 2:28 PM) to Mr. C. Arthur Woods (Bible tells Christians what is morally right. June 19, 2013 @ 9:45 a.m.).
Whether or not Mr. Olson is Christian (He makes no such claim. But, as he responds to Mr. Woods whose comments were directed to Christians, one might think he is. Otherwise, why else would he bother?) his criticism of Mr. Woods’s generalizations about picking and choosing Biblical truths is insightful. I do wish Mr. Olson, who is ably critical of Mr. Woods’s reference to Leviticus, hadn’t wholly ignored the latter’s reference to Romans 1:24-32.
Nevertheless, Mr. Olson’s point is well taken: Which law will Christians choose to keep, which will they choose to ignore, and what apparent absurdity results in the choosing? In making this point, however, Mr. Olson makes the same mistake as Mr. Woods in that he too fails to distinguish the categories of law stated in Leviticus. Mr. Olson’s Leviticus citations include ritual law (diet, clothing, worship, e.g., bringing unauthorized fire before God 10:1), civil law (e.g., holding back the wages of an employee overnight (19:13), and moral or natural law (e.g., having sex with a man “as one does with a woman,” (18:22)). Ritual law connected the people with God daily and instructed them how to approach God in formal worship. Civil law provided for societal fairness, order, and predictability. Moral/natural law instructed people how to live their lives to reflect the nature and qualities of God’s character.
The point of these laws, overlooked by Messrs. Olson and Woods, was to remind the people of the presence of God in the everyday activities of life, and to inform them that there is a right way to approach God and a right way to order one’s life. The laws were meant to distinguish Israel from other nations so they could be identified as the people of God. By this distinction God meant to demonstrate his presence and activity among humankind so he could be identified and followed by the peoples of all nations.
Christianity informs us God no longer required observance of ritual law. It was fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Matthew 5:17, Hebrews 10:1-14. Therefore, the right to approach God is now through Jesus. John 14:6. Civil law changes with time and place: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” Mark 12:17(a). And, while Jesus absorbed the penalty for man’s failure to keep the moral/natural law, 1 John 4:9 and 10, man’s obligation to observe it remains: “And give to God what belongs to God.” Mark 12:17(b).
Mr. Larry Erickson, a later contributor to the discussion, (June 21, 2013 at 4:35 a.m.), appears to have forgotten to consult the New Testament before writing, “No serious Christian scholar would use Leviticus to teach morality.” If he would look to 2 Timothy 3:16-17, he would read, “God has breathed life into all of Scripture. It is useful for teaching us what is true. . . . correcting our mistakes . . . . useful for making our lives whole. . . . useful for training us to do what is right.” When these words were written, during the Christian era, Leviticus was part of the Canon of Scripture.
Krank, (contributor on June 22, 2013 at 12:29 pm), writes “It’s funny how they run to the old testament [sic] when the[y] [sic] want to accuse but use the New testament [sic] to get themselves or their buddies out of trouble.” One can readily agree with his accusation of hypocrisy. But consider what good would result if people would run to the New Testament with sincere intent and live by its precepts – it is a refuge of redemption and wholeness for sinners and Christians alike. “Suppose we claim we are without sin. Then we are fooling ourselves. The truth is not in us. But God is faithful and fair. If we admit that we have sinned, he will forgive us our sins. He will forgive every wrong thing we have done. He will make us pure.” 1 John 1:8 and 9.
In a second comment (June 21, 2013 at 5:16 pm) Mr. Olson appeals to a Mr. Merle Hexum as a font of wisdom with regard to which of the Levitical laws to embrace and which to jettison. This appeal is answered by a better authority than Mr. Hexum. See Matthew 22:35-40, “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . and your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” Perhaps the simplicity of this knowledge will alleviate Mr. Olson’s angst and likewise of those who share his uncertainties.
To end with a specific comment about Mr. Woods’s letter. Although he might have stated it differently, it’s likely many readers understood the gist of his writing. I think, however, he stopped short in his application of the Bible to life. He might have taken it a step further and written the Bible makes inescapable moral demands of all people. If the demands are accepted, the Bible provides the only way to meet them. If the demands and the way to meet the obligations are rejected, the obligations and the way nonetheless remain – one is just left to their own devices to meet the obligations in their own way or to entirely ignore them. In either case, obligations accepted or rejected, one will experience the temporal and eternal results of those decisions.