Love and the Law
NCW 9, April 1994
Q. Would you say that right and wrong flow out of love, or the other way round? How does it work in your Church? Is it strictly regimented or are people free to come and go as they please?
The two are intimately connected and in a sense I think this is an invalid question. If you impose rules of right and wrong without love then you can only expect slavish obedience or outright rebellion. This is a lower order form of Law. But if love is the first cause, then obedience will be natural and from the heart.
I believe that this principle is fundamental to the Gospel yet it is so easily missed or abused. On the one hand there are those Christians who impose laws without love, and on the other there are those who say "love" but declare that laws are not needed any more.
Let's take the first category of person. This person imposes the law from an angry, impatient and intolerant spirit. Obedience to the commandments is more important to him than communicating spiritual grace and love. The Pharisees of Jesus' day are an example.
The second category of person is the opposite. He is usually very calm, tolerant and patient but is not concerned about obedience to the commandments at all. Because of his gracefulness he is very persuasive and in the short term has a very positive effect. But because he lacks law, the end is always sorrow, because Christ's definition of love is obedience to His commandments, and disobedience to the commandments never brought happiness.
The Christian path -- the true one, at any rate, is a perfect balance between love and law. Love is always the originating principle, not law, which flows naturally out of true love. Indeed this is how we identify true love, because it leads people to obedience of the law. A case example would be the woman caught in adultery. Jesus forgave a capital offence. Was He a liberal, in the modern sense of the word? No, because He forgave conditionally -- don't do it again, He told the woman.
How does this work in practice? There are many Christians who have an Old Testament approach to this problem and fancy themselves as a Moses or some other prophet bellowing warnings and condemnations from the pulpit, threatening hell and damnation to the unrepentant. This is not the Way of Christ.
Equally, the Way of Christ is not a "softly, softly" one either. Jesus was loving, merciful, forgiving, but strict as far as the law was concerned. He taught that vital though the law is, it must come from the heart first and foremost. He never breathed threats against anyone who rejected His message, though He was most sober about the reality of hell and was uncompromisingly hard against religious hypocrites such as the Scribes and Pharisees.
Let's try and paint a picture. I am standing on the side of a road waiting to cross. There are two people who wish to warn me of the dangers of crossing this road -- perhaps, for safety reasons, it's illegal. One man comes up, puts one arm on my shoulder, and tries quietly and patiently to explain to me the dangers of crossing the road, saying I risk death if I do so, and that he can show me a safe road.
Another comes up to me and starts angrily waving his fists and yelling at me, saying if I cross the road I'll end up looking like one of those animals that gets crushed on a motorway, and starts dragging me towards another road which he says is the only safe one.
Which of the two men am I likely to follow or believe? Which acted out of love? Both were right but one was right for the wrong reasons. One wanted to force me against my will with threats while the other respected my free agency and tried instead to gently persuade.
The analogy is limited but salient. When man was on a lower level of consciousness, the Old Covenant Law was effective and saving; but now Jesus Christ, through His atonement, has elevated man, changing the old Aaronic or Levitical Priesthood and establishing the new Melchizedek Priesthood. The Old revealed that God is Law; the New shows that He is Love too, and that Love, though intimately bound with Law, stands higher than it.
Love is kindness, mercy, long suffering, and patience. It invites, not forces, the sinner into law for his own happiness. Specifically, it invites the sinner into a covenant -- an agreement with conditions of reward and punishment -- and promises to deal with him justly and fairly. Anyone can leave the agreement or covenant whenever they want to but must expect to loose its protection if they so choose. The police in a country exist to protect me; but if I refuse to recognise the authority of the police, how can I expect them to protect me?
A true Church of Christ is a covenant community based in love and law -- a code of ethical and moral behaviour, clearly distinguishing what is right and wrong. It protects those who are true to the covenant but expels those who rebel against it. That is how ancient Israel was ordered and how the New Israel is ordered too.
In the New Covenant Church of God there are many different kinds of covenant, arranged rather like a pyramid, the easier ones lying at the bottom and the more difficult ones near the top. Each member is free to choose whether he or she wishes to go into deeper covenants or not. There is no force, no compulsion of any kind. The only compulsion, if one can call it that, is forcing people down to lower levels if they fail to keep higher covenants, a principle consistent with the way all organisations are run. If a captain of a company of soldiers cannot lead, he is demoted and given a commission he can handle.
In the realm of the Spirit, we can see this at work in ancient Israel. Although it was on a lower level by New Covenant standards, the Old Covenant was nevertheless real and accompanied by the power of God when the people were true to it. God gave an inferior army spectacular victories, often with dramatic shows of divine intervention. When the people were obedient to the covenants, God was with them in a real way. When they rebelled, they were left to their own strength and were invariably overwhelmed by disease and the military might of their enemies.
In some respect, the Old Covenant was superior to the so-called "covenants" of contemporary Christendom where the power of God is hardly in evidence at all, except in the personal life of the occasional very spiritual person. Few churches can claim the kind of divine presence that ancient Israel had. The few theocratically organised churches that do exist are usually so bureaucratic that spiritual power is either rare, non-existent or diffuse (e.g. the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons).
The New Covenant Church of God is an aspiring theocratic church. Unlike Israel, which was a nation, it cannot expect to establish a theocracy until the Millennium when the government of the world will be ecclesiastical. Christian churches have sought to exercise such ecclesiastical authority in the present dispensation and have ended up being oppressive and creating tyrannies. They may well try again.
Modern day Christians are obliged to operate within the existing political framework, for good and evil; the New Covenant Church, being at heart theocratic, therefore attempts to gather together its members into small communities where a theocratic environment can at least be created preparatory to Millennial conditions arriving. Steps towards the first gathering in Scandinavia are now under way, a process that has been carefully planned and is being coordinated in an unrushed manner. Not all New Covenant Christians will gather -- only those who desire to and those who have been true to the higher covenants.
There is therefore a place for most people in the New Covenant Church of God though the minimum requirements are, by worldly standards, strict. Yet the people are free to come and go as they wish.
This page was created on 18 April 1998
Last updated on 18 April 1998
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