1. What practices are like circumcision and Sabbath to Churches of Christ — as serving as markers of salvation (not looking for a discussion of baptism here but rather post-conversion markers)?
[weekly communion, a cappella music, plurality of elders, name of the church, etc.]
2. How does our desire to honor the sacrifices of our ancestor affect our insistence on these things?
[In the late 19th Century, many churches divided over instrumental music. Many had to leave churches they had helped build. Families were divided. Lawsuits were filed. There were many hurt feelings.
Much of the reason instrumental music became a “salvation issue” is the emotional pain attached to the issue — on both sides. Even today, over 100 years later, when a church adds an instrumental service, someone notes how we split over the issue and lost buildings and split churches over it. How can we dishonor the sacrifices of our ancestors?
When churches speak of uniting with the instrumental Christian Churches, many dredge up ancient memories of long-remembered sins committed by those pushing the instrument over 100 years ago, saying we can’t unite with such sinners, as though today’s Christian Churches are the same people, guilty of the same sins!
For many more of us, it’s just a matter of keeping peace in our earthly families. We can’t bear to upset our grandparents or parents by adopting instrumental music, even though we know it’s not sin. Some of us carry these attitudes even after our ancestors have long been with Jesus.]
3. Why do you suppose God chose to no longer insist on circumcision and the Sabbath?
[First, God didn’t want to creat unnecessary barriers to the salvation of the Gentiles. These weren’t bad practices, but they weren’t essential. God pared his requirements down to the absolutely essential.
Second, when you add circumcision and Sabbath, then why stop there? Why not the Day of Atonement? The Feast of Booths? Wearing tassels? Soon, every single command in the Torah becomes a salvation issue. There’s no place to stop once you begin. Therefore, God kept things very minimal: faith in Jesus, an ethic built on “love your neighbor,” baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the formation of a new community built on love for one another and a shared mission to the lost and the needy.
Insisting on such things as Sabbath observance would have tempted Gentiles to think that resting on Saturday made them good Christians, distracting them from what’s truly at the heart of Christianity.]
4. Are we ever tempted to think such markers define our good standing with God rather than our faith?
[Are you kidding?]
5. What, if anything, replaces Sabbath and circumcision in Christianity?
[(Rom 2:28-29) A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.
The change in our hearts brought about the Spirit is the new circumcision. It’s the new mark of salvation.
(Eph 1:13-14) And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.
The Christian sabbath will be enjoyed in heaven.
(Heb 4:9-11) There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.
Our Sabbath is our hope, our assurance that we’ll rest in the arms of Jesus in eternity.
6. Isn’t Sunday the Christian Sabbath?
[No, it’s not. It’s not taught anywhere in the Bible. If it was, here’s what we’d have to do —
(Exo 31:14-15) “‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. 15 For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death.
(Exo 35:3) Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.”
(Num 15:32-36) While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, 34 and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. 35 Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” 36 So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses.
The Sabbath was not a day of worship but a day of rest from labor. Even cooking — especially cooking — was prohibited. The Jews went to synagogue on Sabbath, but that was an invention of the rabbis resulting from the dispersion of Jews throughout the empire. It was not commanded by God.
7. Why did Paul preach about the judges and David? Surely the Jews knew those stories by heart?
[They did, but Paul knew that good exegesis is narrative exegesis. To explain the passages fulfilled by Jesus and explaining what happened Paul had to put things into context. Remember the Blue Parakeet lessons.
Paul was saying: God has been planning this very day for thousands of years. We Jews have prayed for this day for generations. The Messiah has come and was rejected by his own people, just as the prophets said. This means the kingdom of God is here and the Gentiles are being welcomed in, just as prophesied. The story is reaching its climax! Jesus didn’t come to take away Torah. He came to fulfill it!]
8. Why were the Gentiles more open to this preaching than the Jews?
[It’s an amazing fact, isn’t it? And it gives important background to passages like Rom 9 – 11 covered in the series on Election.
In part, as we saw, the Jews had to overcome the notion of being the privileged people, God’s special nation. Think of the older son in the Story of the Prodigal Son. The Jews were angry that the evil Gentiles were getting in cheap when they’d been so faithful and paid such a high price. Such gracelessness showed how far their hearts were from God, despite their devotion. They were devoted to God’s laws but not to God.
You see, they had the wrong story. They thought the story was: I have faith and honor Torah, and God will bless me. But the Torah is not just the laws, it’s also the story of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and God’s covenant to bring in the Gentiles. Miss that, you miss the Torah.]
9. Are we sometimes like the Jews who rejected the gospel?
[Absolutely. Sometimes when we discover grace we get upset that God gives no credit for our former life of legalism. We don’t want to be saved just on faith! We want the higher standard because it seems so unfair that others get in more cheaply than we do!]