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Monday, May 16, 2022

CGI's Response to the ACOG Covenant Dilemma

In response to my article about the dearth of Armstrong Church of God literature addressing the differences between the Old and New Covenants, one of the Church of God International's leadership team forwarded me a copy of an old booklet on the subject that was out of print. The copyright date on the booklet was 1992, and it was titled "The New Covenant – Does It Do Away with God’s Law?" The booklet purports to answer the following questions: "Did Christ do away with the Ten Commandments?  Was the law 'nailed to the cross?'  Are Old Testament laws about the Sabbath, clean meats, tithing, and annual holy days 'done away?'  Did Christ make Christians free from any obligation to obey God?  Need Christians just 'believe' on Christ, but need not fulfill requirements of any of God’s laws?"

Of course, those of you who have read my posts on the subject will understand that these questions seek to argue the topic by erecting a straw man to attack - instead of addressing the actual relationship of the New Covenant to the requirements of the Old! No, Christ didn't "do away with the Ten Commandments" - he fulfilled them! No, the Law wasn't "nailed to the cross" - the "record of the charges against us" (based on our failure to keep God's Law) was! No, the Sabbath, clean meats, tithing, and Holy Days weren't "done away" - Christ fulfilled them! No, Christ didn't free Christians from any obligation to obey God - He made it possible for us to obey the spirit of the Law! Christians must believe in Christ and accept him as their personal Savior and walk in newness of life as Christians!

As for the CGI booklet, oddly enough, it begins with a "television evangelist" espousing the correct perspective on the New Covenant! According to the booklet, the evangelist said: "Clinging to the legalism of the Old Covenant is like walking around outside in the sunshine, trying to see where you’re going with a flashlight." The televangelist then went on to say that "The Old Covenant was complex, but the New Covenant is simple." He continued: "Christ gave only TWO LAWS! One: ‘Love the Lord thy God with all your heart and all your mind,’ and two: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself!’" In other words, CGI was ridiculing the TRUTH about the New Covenant in this booklet!

The booklet then attempts to answer the question "What Was the Old Covenant?" Laying aside the fact that it attributes the anonymously authored epistle to the Hebrews to the Apostle Paul, CGI does acknowledge that there is a distinction between the two covenants by quoting Hebrews 8:13 (In that He [Christ] saith, ‘A New Covenant,’ He hath made the first old.  Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away). This was followed by, yet another set of straw man loaded questions: "Why did Christ come as a Messenger of a 'New Covenant?'  What was wrong with the old one?  Was it flawed?  Did God make a mistake?  Was the Old Covenant a harsh, cruel, rigorous set of dos and don’ts; a legalistic, complex system of laws that were impossible to obey; a heavy burden on the backs of poor, suffering people who could never measure up?"

Having served the purpose of misdirecting the argument, the questions were followed by a definition of the English word "covenant." However, it appears that the author's primary objective in nailing down the fact that a covenant is an agreement between two parties "to do or not to do a certain thing" was to demonstrate that the covenant is NOT the Law. And, while we could all easily acknowledge the truth of this assertion, it is strange that so much effort is put into making the distinction since the author immediately went on to admit that the Law was part of the "terms" of the Old Covenant! Even though, we know that the Torah did not appear as the five books we recognize as part of our canon until hundreds of years after Moses' death, the CGI narrative is that Moses laid out God's Laws, statutes and judgements and the people replied: "All that Thou hast spoken we will Do!" For their obedience, God promised to bless them. Moreover, if they failed to obey God's Laws, he promised to curse them! According to the author of the booklet, "The Ten Commandments formed a foundational part of the Old Covenant, but the laws Israel agreed to keep included dozens of other points, included in 'statutes' and 'judgments,' or written laws (statutes), and oral decisions rendered by God’s appointed judges (judgments)."

The next section of the booklet was titled "A Proposal of Marriage." In this part, the author likened the Old Covenant to a marriage contract between God and the people of Israel. However, as the author pointed out, Israel proved to be an unfaithful wife. The author concluded: "So the flaw was not the law, or any part of it.  It was not even the covenant which was flawed – but the people!  Theirs was the fault.  They rebelled, broke their word!  God’s law is perfect; His covenant was beautiful.  They were the problem!"  The author then proceeded to quote a number of verses that underscore that God's Law is perfect, holy, just, good, and righteous. Once again, so far - so good (we have no problem acknowledging that this is consistent with what appears in Scripture). The problem arises when they conclude that this is WHY God decided to offer a New Covenant. Unfortunately, the author only quotes a portion of the appropriate passage from the epistle to the Hebrews in this context.

In the book of Hebrews, we read: "But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises. If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. But when God found fault with the people, he said: 'The day is coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to my covenant, so I turned my back on them, says the Lord. But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already. And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.' When God speaks of a 'new' covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear." (Hebrews 8:6-13) So, from God's perspective, we see that there were a number of problems with the Old Covenant. According to this passage of Scripture, the New Covenant would be based on 1) a superior priesthood, 2) better promises, 3) a more intimate relationship with God's Law, 4) a better understanding of God and his will, and 5) the complete forgiveness of their wickedness and sins. Thus, this passage makes clear that the New Covenant would be superior to the Old and would render it obsolete!

How was a more intimate relationship with God's Law and a better understanding of Him and His will accomplished? Christ fulfilled the Law and the Prophets perfectly on our behalf. Christ explained the spiritual intent of the Law and condensed it into two great principles (Love for God and love for neighbor). Christ became the sacrifice for sins that the Law required and replaced the Levitical priesthood. Christ became the ultimate Sabbath rest for the people of the covenant - allowing them to rest from their own works. Christ circumcised the hearts of the people of the covenant and transformed what it meant to be clean and unclean. And, finally, Christ commanded his followers to love each other and live a new life in him, and he sent them the Holy Spirit to help them to perform these tasks.

The final segment of the booklet is titled "A Spiritual Law - Eternal Promises." In this section, the author reverts to the favorite prooftext of Amrstrongists regarding a Christian's continuing obligation to observe the tenets of the Old Covenant (Matthew 5:17-18). So, let's take a closer look at this very abused passage of Scripture. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read: "Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So, if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!" (Matthew 5:17-20) Once again, Christ came to this earth to fulfill or "accomplish" the Law's purpose! And, having accomplished that, he has also wiped away all of our sins and paid the penalty for them (death). Likewise, he has transformed the Law (which is made very clear in the remaining verses of chapter five) and made it possible for our righteousness to surpass the righteousness of the Jewish teachers and Pharisees and enter God's Kingdom. NOTHING in the Law was done away - it was FULFILLED/ACCOMPLISHED and TRANSFORMED!

CGI, however, refuses to acknowledge these truths about how the Law relates to Christians under the New Covenant. Instead, they insist on attacking the straw man which they have carefully constructed. They say: "Yet some preachers seem to believe that because Christ 'fulfilled' the law, you and I no longer have to obey it! In other words, they twist what Jesus said to mean 'Think not that I am come to destroy the law – I merely came to do away with it!'  This is more than merely stupid – it is blatantly dishonest! You have seen, with your own eyes, that anyone who claims Christ abolished the law is either completely ignorant of God’s Word, or deliberately lying!" Nevertheless, I am saying that Christians aren't bound by the dos and don'ts of the Old Covenant. I am NOT saying that Christians aren't obligated to obey the Law of Love which Christ commanded his followers to observe. I am NOT saying that Christ came to do away with the Law. I am saying that he came to accomplish its purpose and transform it for the purposes of a New Covenant (one that Scripture says is UNLIKE the Old Covenant). So, who is twisting what Jesus said? Who is displaying ignorance of God's Word, or deliberately lying? I'm beginning to understand why this booklet was taken out of circulation!





3 comments:

  1. Miller: My guess is that Armstrongist preachers would contend that your term "transform" is equivalent to "doing away with." They mean the Law in its original signatures with only the sacrifices set aside.

    The problem with their recast of the Law is that they argue themselves into a dilemma. They focus on the Sabbath, Holy Days and Tithing when there is a bunch of the non-ceremonial requirements in the Law that they do not keep. They relegate these requirements to the level of cultural oddities without any real basis for such a view. No Armstrongist minister, who has a teenaged daughter with acne, makes her shout "Unclean!" as other people approach her. But this is as much a part of the Law as Sabbath observance. The Law has no gradation - must do always, do some of the time and forget about it.

    Armstrongists argue themselves into the loss of salvation. They make the keeping of the Law a requirement for salvation yet they do not keep it in its entirety. They observe it selectively and in a modern implementation (staying in a hotel rather than a brush arbor for the FoT, for example). And they have not asserted a well exegeted Dogma of Selectivity to underpin this viewpoint. Essentially, what they have done is issue a new rendition of the Law of Moses through the WCG Church Administration Department (CAD). So when you spar logically with them you must recognize that they are not talking about the Law of Moses, they are really talking about the Law of the CAD. And the CAD is based on post-70 AD Rabbinic Judaism (sans Temple) and not the Law as observed in Second Temple Judaism which was based on the OT.

    By advocating this model of the Law, they are saying that "none of us will be saved."



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    1. I agree with your assessment of the Armstrongist perspective on the Christian's responsibility to the Law. It is inconsistent and indefensible for the reasons you pointed out. They have a blind spot where this is concerned, and they sound like a broken record on the "doing away with the Law" thing!
      On some level, they do understand that Christ fulfilled the Law by perfectly keeping all of its provisions, they profess to understand that Christ "magnified" the Law, and some of them seem to understand that at least some of the provisions of the Law pointed to Christ. I'm not sure, however, that any of them understand that Christ fulfilled the Law in the sense that ALL of it pointed to Christ - or the way that he transformed the Law to incorporate it into the terms of the New Covenant.
      As you are probably already aware, I am currently going through all five books of the Torah to demonstrate just how extensively Christ can be found in those writings. In fairness, I'm not sure that the average traditional Christian fully comprehends the extent to which the old points to the new! Hopefully, when I'm finished, the pervasiveness of Christ in the Torah will be very apparent to everyone. I consider this to be an essential component of demonstrating the Christian's relation and responsibility to the Law.

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    2. I noticed the series of articles you wrote about Jesus in the OT. I plan to eventually read them. There is much embedded in the OT and I have never really made an effort to try to identify passages. Looking forward to reading what you have written.

      Neo

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