Saturday, November 20, 2010

Back to the Old Testament?

As we look at common, modern church practices, we find that many have no basis when we look at the New Testament church. When arguing for these practices, those in support of them often point back to Old Testament Israel to defend their use.

There is something extremely problematic with this. Israel, with its temple, priests, sacrifices, etc. operated under the Sinai covenant. As the church, we live under the New Covenant, which Christ ushered in with His life, death, and resurrection. Therefore, the church ought to be looking to the NT for its practices instead of pointing back to Israel.

Despite this, most modern churches cling to practices that require old covenant justification. Here are a few that come to mind:

The temple - Israel's temple is frequently used as reason to justify spending thousands (or even millions) of dollars each year to construct church buildings and keep them operating. Just take a look at the typical church budget (another foreign concept) to find what percentage of the money goes toward the building.

The priest - When pastors are set apart in a clergy-laity divide, they become a type of priest to the rest of the people in the church. The pastor is seen as extra spiritual. He is depended upon for much decision-making. He "brings a word from the Lord" at least once per week. The ironic thing about this is that most pastors that I know do not want to be viewed this way. The problem is the traditional system they have fallen into.

The sacrifice - In the OT, the temple was the location of the sacrifices. In much the same way, the church building is the location of the weekly sacrifice - the "worship service." Each week churches gather to go through a ceremony that is designed to honor God through worship. The problem, as I have said numerous times before, is that this is foreign to the NT. When we look at church gatherings in the NT, the focus is edification. Instead of a scripted ceremony, the gathering is less formal, more conducive to conversation, and ultimately more edifying.

The altar - In the OT, this was where the animal sacrifices took place. Today, we refer to the place at the bottom of the platform steps as "the altar." I have absolutely no idea how this came into practice. The pastor often says something like, "If you would like to pray at the altar, please come forward and do so." This is where the offering of prayer is made, as if kneeling in the front of the building brings you closer to God than praying in the pew.

The tithe - Big church buildings and pastoral salaries require quite a bit of money. In order to pay these bills, churches collect weekly "tithes and offerings." Again, this is foreign to the NT church. The NT principle for giving is to do so, "as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion." If the NT church did take up an offering, it was to give to the needy, not to pay bills. In order to justify the tithe, modern churches point back to OT books such as Malachi - even though this requires yanking the text far out of context to make modern application.

The Sabbath - Many Christians today say that we should follow the Sabbath. Of course, none that I know actually follow all the OT Sabbath rules such as observing it from Friday evening to Saturday evening. These folks point to the 4th commandment and say that this applies today. Of course, they can't make the case from the NT because we don't see the Sabbath emphasized there. In fact, we see that the Sabbath is for man, not man for the Sabbath. I'm all for a day set aside to gather as the church; I can understand a Sabbath-principle. However, let's not turn back to the OT and pretend that those Sabbath regulations apply to us today.

I write all this to point out that if we must look back to OT Israel to justify church practices, then we have a real problem. We live after the death and resurrection of Christ. We are under the New Covenant. Let's look to the NT church to learn how to function as the church. This will probably challenge some of our beloved traditions, but if we want to honor Christ, we will be the church He has called us to be.


Aussie John said...


I have discovered that when questioned as to why they practice gathering as they do, most Christians, including church leaders, cannot give an answer based on Scripture.

Whilst in your country I asked questions of quite a few members of the church we were attending why they believed and practiced what they did. Their answer, without exception, was "Pastor .... says,....." (Apologies if I mentioned that previously)


Where are the Bereans?

Eric said...


Well, the Bereans apparently knew their bibles, but today...

Arthur Sido said...

I would add infant baptism to that list....

Eric said...


I agree. Too bad for those folks that they can't defend it from, well, the bible.