Does the New Covenant Abolish the Sabbath and other Old Testament Laws?
Eric V. Snow, Lansing, MI UCG, Bible Study, 4-9-05
Ten years ago today, we were part of a church in a doctrinal crisis. Our human leadership then said the Sabbath, the Holy Days, tithing, and the clean/unclean meats distinction were all mere suggestions for Christians. They were not requirements of God like avoiding adultery and murder. Today, we’re meeting on Saturday, the seventh day of the week, for church services, rather than tomorrow. Are we right to do so? Does God require Christians under the new covenant to obey the seventh-day Sabbath? It’s now ten years since those unforgettable, heady, yet awful days we in the Worldwide Church of God experienced in early 1995. At the time, many of our leading ministers finally decided to launch a frontal attack against the Sabbath and other Old Testament laws as being still binding on Christians. Because evangelical Protestants make similar arguments against what we believe, this analysis is hardly just a historical review, but highly practical today. Co-workers, relatives, friends, teachers, and others in the world we meet may challenge our beliefs with arguments like what we heard back in 1995 within our own church.
S.P.S.: In this tenth-anniversary year of the “Great Schism,” let’s go, and review the kinds of arguments Pasadena then and Protestants now would launch against the Old Testament law in general and the Sabbath in particular. Today I’ll make the case that Jesus’ death and end of the old covenant between God and Israel didn’t abolish the Ten Commandments or the moral law.
9-11 analogy: Two main Buildings took initial hit, but later eventually collapsed. Apparently has happened to the faith of some who gave up after 1995 after attending a group that left our parent organization at least some. Doubts may still lurk among some here today.
Often Evangelical Protestants, including our church leaders at the time, will assume or use certain theological premises and ways of interpreting Scripture in order to attack Sabbath observance. They may start with Paul’s Letters, especially Galatians, read preconceived ideas into his writings, and then interpret the rest of Scripture based on them. They will argue the case or just assume the truth of the theological system called Dispensationalism. This system claims God works with humanity in very different ways in different time periods or dispensations. If you’ve heard about “The Age of Law” being separated by the crucifixion and resurrection from “The Age of Grace,” that’s dispensationalism at work. Consequently, they assume silence abolishes God’s previously revealed laws rather than assuming if nothing is said against a law, it must be still in force. (Use “Burden of proof” reasoning of Boyne’s).
They also will make emotional, sentimental statements about Jesus’ role as Savior and having a personal relationship with Him, and then somehow reason these nice sounding words are scriptural backing for the abolition of laws they don’t like. But the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow from the premises: The emotional, sentimental words may all be true, but they prove nothing Biblically. For example, they may say Christians now “rest in Christ, not a 24 hour period.” But where does Scripture actually say that?
Many, especially on the popular level, also tend to mix up the terminology of salvation theology, which is also called soteriology. Millions of people are confused by sloppy thinking about the correct Biblical interrelationships of such terms as “grace,” “law,” “justification,” “salvation,” “faith,” “repentance,” “sin,” “righteousness,” “works,” “baptism,” “sanctification,” and “sanctification.” In order to understand whether or not “salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone” abolishes any of God’s laws, we need to
understand the correct Biblical basis and meaning of these terms. Challenge people who throw around such terms or sentimental words about Jesus carelessly in order to attack the Old Testament law to show how their claims are based on Scripture. For example, one top leader pushing these changes in our parent organization asserted that “grace is unconditional.” According to Scripture, is this true, half-true, or just false? Does the truth that salvation is a gift abolish any specific laws? For example, being justified or declared righteous by God’s grace no more abolishes the Sabbath than the law against adultery, but we’ll return to that notion later.
Hebrews 8:6-13 (Cf. Jeremiah 31:31)
This was Pasadena’s central text for pushing “New Covenant theology.” (Cute memo on final offering check for $1 in 1995). But, do the conclusions they draw fit the text’s wording? Do they line up with ALL the other Scriptures, not just the convenient “proof texts” that they can misinterpret to favor their position? Does this passage prove the whole package of Old Testament laws was done away with for Christians, that just some laws are gone, or none are gone?
V. 10: How does this abolish the law? This text is about the administration of the law, about people needing the Holy Spirit to obey it. Since physical Israel as a whole didn’t have the Holy Spirit, so they failed to obey the law.
Couldn’t I say, “The law of clean and unclean meats was put into my mind and written on my heart,” so far as this text reveals? How would Jeremiah have interpreted his own revelation?
Is the old covenant the same as the Old Testament law? Or is it merely an agreement or contract between God and a certain nation to keep the law?
More than one covenant between God and Israel existed.
The Sabbath as a sign: Was this “the old covenant”? Obviously not. So how does the old covenant’s end abolish this sign of God’s people?
Overall definitional issue for a “covenant”: The end of an agreement to keep the law doesn’t abolish the law itself.
But does anybody advocating this argument really believe it? Does anybody believe that the day before Jesus died, murder was a sin according to God’s law, but the day after it was permissible because the Sixth Commandment was abolished? Actually, if somebody believes nine of the Ten Commandments are still in force (besides the Sabbath command), and that the old covenant is identical to the Ten Commandments, then they believe that the old covenant is still nine-tenths in force! If it were still 90% in force, it was hardly “becoming obsolete and growing old” or “ready to disappear” (Heb. 8:13)! Likewise, we find Paul and James quoting from this allegedly abolished law as if it were still in force.
They weren’t giving these laws authority by quoting them; rather, they supported their own arguments by citing a pre-existing authority (the Old Testament’s law). Also, if the Ten Commandments are identical to the old covenant, then all the other Old Testament laws outside of the Decalogue weren’t affected by the old covenant’s end. After all, neither circumcision and the animal sacrifices, nor tithing, the Holy Days, and the clean/unclean meat distinction, are listed as part of the Ten Commandments. How does this argument prove that the whole “Law of Moses” was abolished then after Jesus’ death?
JUDO TECHNIQUE VS. MOST ANTI-LAW ARGUMENTS EXPLAINED
**But now, let’s consider another approach, a general purpose defense that works against nearly every argument used against Sabbath observance: Just ask any opponent, “Doesn’t that argument also abolish the laws against adultery and murder?” Did the end of the old covenant end the laws against murder and adultery? Obviously not. Be a “verbal black belt” using this “Judo” technique: You use your opponent’s strength (i.e., his argument) against himself. Learned this general approach through a debate with a deacon still with the parent organization at a church picnic and more so online with someone else.
Let’s apply this “Judo” technique to a number of arguments :
If we rejected the doctrinal changes in our parent organization, it has been said we “clung to Moses.” Well, if they think the laws against idolatry and false witness are still in force, aren’t they also “clinging to Moses”?
It has been said that in the past we didn’t believe that faith in Christ was sufficient for salvation, but that we believed in faith in Christ plus Sabbath observance was necessary. Let’s cast aside all the complexities of Paul’s salvation theology here for a moment: Why doesn’t somebody likewise accuse a Sunday-keeper of believing that faith in Christ plus avoiding adultery is necessary for salvation? The Sunday-observer merely has a shorter list of requirements than the Sabbatarian has then. So why accuse the latter of denying justification by faith alone on that basis?
It was said that certain Sabbatarians made Christ of no effect, and put Him on the sidelines by believing in the Sabbath. Why doesn’t the Sunday-observers’ belief in the laws against murder, idolatry, or theft also put Christ on the sidelines?
If having Christ as the Christian standard in place of the Old Testament law abolishes the Sabbath, why doesn’t that also abolish the law against murder? Is avoiding unnecessary work or worldly pleasure on the Sabbath “legalistic”? Is it “legalistic” then to avoid reading pornographic magazines or renting smutty videos “legalistic” when observing the command against adultery that involves not lusting after a woman in our hearts (cf. Matt. 5:27-28)?
It was said that the “doctrinal growth” of a church that rejected the Sabbath (despite a “sizable minority” resisting it) focused on one thing: “Jesus Christ is Lord!” Does the conclusion follow from the exclamation? Does merely mentioning our belief in Jesus as our personal Savior abolish a single Old Testament law of God without proof? How does saying, “Jesus Christ is Lord!” abolish the Sabbath, but not the laws against murder or coveting?
If imputed righteousness (Rom. 3:21-22; 4:1-9) or God’s gift of grace abolishes the Sabbath, why doesn’t that also abolish the law against theft?
If new covenant Christians don’t have to literally observe the Sabbath because they daily experience a salvation rest in Jesus, why doesn’t that let us off the hook from obeying the laws against taking the Lord’s name in vain or dishonoring our parents?
“Freedom in Christ, liberty in God” Do we have the freedom in Christ, the liberty in God to commit fornication or adultery then?
“God’s love unconditional” half-truth concerning implications drawn from it: God loves people in world who deny or don’t know about Jesus also. Are they saved? If His love is unconditional, is it effective for their salvation’s sake now? “God’s grace unconditional” claim. Use passage from US & BC in Prophecy, p. 31. Obviously, benefits from it at least conditional upon the continued faith of the believer!
Let’s take some examples of how to apply this principle. “Christians should be Christ-centered, not law-centered.” Now, this term doesn’t appear in Scripture. This is vacuous rhetoric. By invoking Jesus’ name this way, someone throw into the wind all careful reasoning about soteriology and the law. release Christians from obeying the laws against adultery, coveting, or idolatry? Obviously not. Therefore, why should it release Christians from having to obey the Sabbath or the Holy Days? What does the term “being Christ-centered” do that magically changes the contents of the law’s requirements by itself? The conclusion simply doesn’t follow from the premises. Merely uttering Jesus’ name or mentioning His role as Savior doesn’t release us from having to obey any laws. Specific texts have to be cited to accomplish this objective instead, such as Heb. 9:9-10; 10:1-14, which abolish the animal sacrifices. A Christian who keeps the Sabbath or tithes is no less “Christ-centered” than an Evangelical who keeps the laws against adultery or murder. (Whether instead we should be “God-centered,” or even “Father-centered,” opens up a can of worms too large to pursue here).
If Jesus “replaced the law,” how does that abolish the Sabbath but not the law against coveting? Plainly enough, the anti-Sabbatarians repeatedly use verbal “shotguns” to attack Sabbath observance, when they really need a “rifle” if they wish to blow out the Fourth Commandment out of the Decalogue but preserve the other nine.
Proof texts issue: Other side has their “difficult scriptures” also! How do they explain away these pro-law texts of Paul? Dishonest to cite “anti-law” texts and ignore “pro-law” texts, and so count on listener’s raw ignorance of Scripture.
If this “old covenant = law” argument is right, any text mentioning the “law” could have “old covenant” inserted into it as a substitute since the two are said to be identical. This produces many absurd results, especially when examining Paul’s “pro-law” texts: “Do we then nullify the [old covenant] through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the [old covenant]” (Rom. 3:31). “Sin is not imputed when there is no [old covenant]” (Rom. 5:13). “In order that the requirement of the [old covenant] might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4). “So then, the [old covenant] is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). “I agree with the [old covenant], confessing that it is good” (Rom. 7:16). “For I joyfully concur with the [old covenant] of God in the inner man” (Rom. 7:22). “Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the [old covenant] of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Rom. 8:7). “For not the hearers of the [old covenant] are just before God, but the doers of the [old covenant] will be justified” (Rom. 2:13).
Romans 6:16 “versus” Romans 10:8-10 on how righteousness gained. Both correct!
Approach to difficult texts: Ask, “Do they abolish the laws against murder and adultery?”
Gal. 4:24, 30-31
Acts 15:5, 28
Gordian knot analogy: Alexander the Great’s sword makes quick work of complex problem.
“The letter of the law has been abolished, but not the spirit of the law. Therefore, since we ‘rest in Christ’ spiritually, which allows us to keep the Sabbath command every day of the week, there’s no need for literal obedience to the command enforcing resting from physical work on the seventh day.”
Letter of law not enough, need to obey spirit also. But spirit doesn’t abolish letter in most cases. Rarely are the two opposed to each other.
MAIN TEXTS AGAINST DISPENSATIONALISM:
Notice how Jesus interprets His own mission on earth. “Fulfill” can’t mean abolish without making this contradictory.
II Tim. 3:14-17
We use the whole Bible for doctrine, not just the New Testament or (practically) Paul’s letters.
Indeed, concerning the whole subject of dispensationalism theoretically a priori (that is, before examining the facts) we could take two basic approaches concerning whether Old Testament laws still apply to Christians:
1. The Old Testament laws are done away with, unless specifically reconfirmed in Paul's epistles, etc.
2. All Old Testament laws are still in force, unless specifically abolished in Paul's epistles, etc.
Balance on examining self for sins, needing joy in salvation also:
I Cor. 9:24-27
Sporting analogy implies can lose. Must not assume obedience to God “automatic,” that conscious thought need not be given to it.
James & “tough sermons” indeed!
Balance with pendulum: Some too legalistic, others too casual. The “always felt guilt, since not righteous enough” personal spiritual experience issue, no condemnation now in Christ, tithe or obey out of gratitude, dislike idea that God punishes, tried to be good constantly, fell short.” Problem of obeying any morally absolute code some hypocrisy is inevitable. “Now feel God’s unconditional love in our hearts for first time, then have it for fellow men and women.” “My works, my effort like filthy rags”—half truth conclusion drawn from this text in Isaiah. Release from anxiety, story about always following Jesus until felt He stopped, sat on a rock until you caught up, then He put His arms around you while sitting down. Sounds nice, but does it abolish any laws?
WCG HISTORY REWRITING ISSUE:
In past, not as anti-grace, anti-personal relationship with Jesus as may be claimed now. “We didn’t talk about Jesus,” “Didn’t understand grace” claims.
Questions when being baptized: 1. Have you repented of your sins? 2. Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?
Read excerpt from HWA’s autobiography about father’s baptism.
Lack of balance issue in various ministers, overreaction vs. various Protestant errors (emotional aspects of religion, grace turned into a license for sin, etc.) “Lordship Salvation” controversy among evangelicals.
In conclusion, it’s obviously wrong to attack the Sabbath by using broad, general, even vacuous, arguments against God’s law that trash not just the Sabbath, the Holy Days, tithing, and the clean/unclean meat distinction, but laws they believe in, such as the prohibitions against murder, theft, adultery, coveting, and idolatry. The name of Christ shouldn’t be mentioned or proclaimed as a substitute for reasoned Biblical exegesis and careful soteriological analysis. It’s deceptive to use sweet-sounding, sentimental rhetoric about Jesus’ role as Savior to replace the need for carefully defining and analyzing the meaning and inter-relationships of such terms in Paul’s Letters as “grace,” “law,” “sin,” “faith,” and “justification.” No broad blunderbuss arguments should be used against the Sabbath that are calculated to sound emotionally pleasing, but which blow away many laws that they believe in also. We should reject the extreme dispensationalism that assumes all of God’s laws have to be repeated in the New Testament or even the Letters to be binding on Christians. We need to avoid going to extremes in the emotional aspects of our spiritual lives, and avoid believing that God will make us obey Him automatically, not just avoiding legalism. Although we may have our “difficult texts,” they have far more, such as all of Paul’s “pro-law” statements. For our former fellowship overlooked this truth Paul stated when introducing their “new covenant theology”: “Do we nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law” (Romans 3:31).