While recently listening to an audio version of Matthew 17, I was somewhat puzzled by one statement. Descending the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus instructs his inner circle to not tell anyone about the event until after His resurrection. Why?
Representatives of the law and the prophets—Moses and Elijah—appeared to Jesus at this time. Peter thought it was a good idea to erect temples for all three of them. Was he implying that the law and the prophets were equally important alongside Jesus’ “Kingdom of heaven” message? A voice quickly breaks through the clouds and God makes it quite clear that Jesus is greater than the law or the prophets. Everyone should listen only to Him.
Before His resurrection Jesus was living in an Old Testament era. He lived by Jewish rules and regulations set down by the law and the prophets even while introducing a new Kingdom paradigm. This Kingdom involved both new wine (truth perspectives) and new wineskins (systems). Yet it wasn’t until after Jesus conquered death that He had completely fulfilled the law and His disciples were able to begin a new movement we now call the Church.
The Church has always struggled however, with what to do with the Old Testament; it’s been a constant source of disunity. A church council meeting in Acts 15 decides to drop circumcision yet requires early believers to abstain from food sacrificed to idols and bloody meat. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, a curse is placed on those who returned to the law after walking the road of grace paved with saving faith in Christ alone.
Today I observe that many Christians still disunite over issues of law rather than uniting on the fundamentals of our Christian faith. Instead of using the Apostle’s Creed as a foundational starting point, the practical approach is to first observe how similar one is in culture and practice. If there is alignment in “the details” people feel comfortable in working and worshiping together.
After living in Southeast Asia for over ten years I personally believe there are various ways to apply God-given truth and principles. Take diversity in culture for example. Most people would agree that much of it is generally neither good nor bad, just different. In fact, much of it is a matter of preference. Everyone believes in satisfying their hunger. Some do so with rice and beans while others with steak and potatoes. Most people also believe in wearing clothes; some put on robes and turbans while others attire in jeans and t-shirts.
This makes me ask some questions: Are some of our practical applications (doctrines and laws) simply based on preferences (or our interpretative lenses) and not necessarily in contradiction to others’ applications of the same principles? Do we sometimes incorrectly assume that someone is disobedient to God’s Word when in reality they are living out the same principle with another form of application?
In terms of God’s Word, which parts of the law and the prophets should we obey today? Some would say everything but certain aspects of the ceremonial law. If so, do we follow to the letter of the law all aspects of the civil and moral laws set forth in the Old Testament? If so, how is this determined?
Should you plant more than one type of seeds in your garden (Deuteronomy 22:9)? Should you wear clothes made with two types of material (Deuteronomy 22:11)? If your brother dies should you marry his wife (Deuteronomy 25:5)? Should you abstain from medium-rare steaks off the grill (Leviticus 19:26)? And what about tattoos—should you forbid them and condemn anyone who wears one (Leviticus 19:28)?
I could list many more Old Testament laws and no doubt receive a vast number of opinions in response. Take the last one I mentioned—currently a controversial issue for many. I personally dislike tattoos. But on what basis can I judge someone who wears one?
We’re living in the post-resurrection church era. Jesus foresaw our struggle to get along with each other and prayed about it passionately. Especially noteworthy are His prayers for unity in John 17; it’s mentioned four times!
A wise German Lutheran theologian by the name of Rupertus Meldenius once said, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” So let me ask you: Is the Apostle’s Creed enough for you to unite with other believers—God’s children whom you will spend eternity with? Can you pray, worship, and work alongside another person who holds to the fundamentals of your faith? Why or why not?