Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Do we always honour God by following His commandments?

Yesterday, someone came into the church and asked me where she might be able to buy unleavened bread. I told her she’d be better off trying a Jewish shop if she was on the lookout for matzos, but wondered why she was so keen to get her hand on some.  She replied: “I was reading the Old Testament and saw that God wants us to eat unleavened bread. If God says something, we should do it. If I can praise God by eating a different type of bread, isn’t it a good thing to do?”

This is a good example of what happens when someone just picks up a Bible and reads a random verse or chapter without any consideration for the context. However, the relationship between Christian life and the Old Testament Law is something many seem to struggle with. Christians are often called hypocrites or accused of cherry-picking by secularists because they consider homosexual or pre-marital relations a sin while they happily chow down seafood, also called abominable in the book of Leviticus. This is not helped by certain fundamentalist pastors (mainly in the U.S., but not only) who call for homosexuals to be put to death as a Biblical answer to the AIDS epidemic (as featured in the news this month). The latter example is extreme and limited (not to mention silly), but the underlying problem – not understanding the proper Christian attitude to the Law of Moses – is common. That it should be so is unfortunate since it is a dominant theme running through almost all the books of the New Testament, and so one has to conclude that these people have only read these superficially, if at all.

St. Paul is very clear: “the law was our guardian [the Greek word here is probably better translated “tutor” or “nanny”] until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal. 3:24-25). The Law is not simply disregarded, but was given to a specific people for a specific reason and until a specific time. Truth will always be truth, falsehood will always be falsehood. But a precept applicable to one time and place will not necessarily be applicable in another. A parent who forbids his underage child to consume alcohol has not changed his mind if he allows the same child to drink after he turns 18. The rule has not been ignored, but has been fulfilled. Hence Christ says, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Matt. 5:17).

Thus, in order to answer the original question, “If God says something, shouldn’t we do it to honour Him?” one must first ask “Why did He say it? When? and, To whom?”

If your spouse or a dear friend has to go away for several months and they give you a photograph to keep with you until they return, you can honour them in their absence by keeping the picture in a particular place, looking at it, perhaps even kissing or talking to it. However, if when they return you pay no attention to them, but instead continue staring at the picture, this former sign of affection becomes a dishonour.

An example: Before the coming of Christ, God was honoured by the keeping of the Passover and the keeping alive of the memory and symbols of things to come. Now that Christ has come, God is honoured by us keeping the Christian Passover (Pascha), where we celebrate the realisation of these symbols. If we continue to celebrate the Israelites’ redemption from Pharaoh and slavery, but not our deliverance from the devil and sin; if we celebrate the lamb’s blood smeared over the doors, but not the Blood of the Lamb poured out for us and for many for the forgiveness of sins; if we celebrate the Israelites being led to the Holy Land by Jesus (Joshua) of Navi, but not Jesus the Son of God opening up to us the doors of Paradise, then we do not honour God by our observance.
There is much more to say on the subject, but I felt like sharing this little incident since it is a question that seems to trouble many sincere and devoted believers. In the end our visitor decided not to continue on her matzo-hunt, but instead to join us for a service in the near future.