New Testament sanctions three kinds of law, condemns one
The writer was a member of the Worldwide Church of God from 1971 until 1983. He was a member of the Church of God International from 1984 to 1989 and a member of the Church of God (Seventh Day) from 1991 to 1995. He lives with his wife, Linda, in the Dallas area.
By Wes White
CARROLLTON, Texas--Most of us enjoy reading letters to the editor in a newspaper or magazine. I like to read them because sometimes I find information that is helpful.
But every few months an evangelical Christian will write something about juvenile crime. He'll talk about how young people lack discipline. He'll say juvenile offenders need to be sent to a boot camp, and he'll declare that we need to teach our children the Ten Commandments.
In the evangelical-Christian movement, many promote the Ten Commandments. They want them posted in schools and courthouses. They insist children should memorize them. They advocate including the Commandments in religious teaching. Yet these evangelicals don't understand the ramifications of what they advocate.
The CG7's battle over the law
For 2,000 years the exegesis of biblical law has inspired controversy, not just for the Church of God but for Judaism and nominal Christianity. Religious people have fought many battles over the law and its application to the Christian walk.
Let's take a brief look at what is going on in the Church of God in regards to our historic understanding of the law and see how it affects those of us who share our unique religious background.
The apostasy in the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) and its current teachings are old news. Many of you reading this article know more about that than I do because you were in the WCG in the '90s. I left the WCG in 1983.
But you may not be aware of what is going on in the Church of God (Seventh Day). Remember, the CG7 was the group that ordained Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God, and continued to work with him until 1937.
Members of the CG7--specifically the Denver Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day)--are going through a difficult time. A couple of months ago they held their biennial ministerial conference in Denver, Colo.
At that conference, which was reported in the Dec. 31, 2000, issue of The Journal, two teachers from the church's ministerial-training school presented three papers on covenants. These stated, more or less, that the Ten Commandments were part of the Old Covenant and are therefore done away.
Even though these men presented their papers a couple of months ago, I know of no good refutations issued from any of the CG7 ministry. Apparently nothing has been done to correct the false teaching that the Commandments were done away as part and parcel of the Old Covenant.
These two teachers--Steve Kurtright and Jerry Griffin--are still teaching at the CG7's Summit School of Theology in Denver and will continue there until the end of their summer session in August.
As a result, confusion abounds in the CG7. This is not a good time for the church, and I hope you will keep members of the CG7 in your prayers as they go through problems similar to those many of you went through in the '90s. You know how difficult it was.
There's law, then there's law
Let's briefly refresh our doctrinal memories. When it comes to the term law in the Bible, does it always mean the same thing?
The answer is no. When we see the law in the Bible, it can mean as many as four different things, perhaps more. Let's look at these four types of law in Scripture.
First the Commandments
"Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 'You shall not covet,' and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."
When Paul tells us not to do the things on his list, what is he referring to? He is speaking of the Ten Commandments, which we find in Exodus 20. The Ten Commandments are also called the Decalogue, or simply the Law. This is our first type of law.
When Paul wrote this passage in Greek what word did he use for law? He used nomos. Thus our first definition of law is the Ten Commandments.
Next the Torah
"These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me."
In this passage Jesus puts His stamp of approval on the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament. The Old Testament is topically divided into three parts: the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms (or the Writings).
When Jesus talks about the law in Luke 24:44, He is specifically talking about the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These five are also known as the Torah or the Pentateuch.
What Greek word was used for law in this passage? It is the same word that Paul used in Romans 13:8: nomos. Our second type of law, therefore, is the Torah.
Next the entire Old Testament
"Is it not written in your law, 'I said, "You are gods'?"
When Jesus referred to law in this verse, did He mean our first type of law, the Ten Commandments?
No. Nothing in Exodus 20 says, "You are gods."
When Jesus referred to law in John 10:34, was He referring to our second type of law, the Torah?
Again the answer is no. We cannot find the phrase "You are gods" in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers or Deuteronomy.
So where do we find this phrase? We find it in Psalm 82:6. When Jesus said this phrase is in the law, He was talking about a third type of law: the Old Testament in general.
It is important to note that, whenever we read any of the 66 books of the Bible, these three laws are never in contradiction with each other. They complement each other. They are subsets to each other. The Ten Commandments are in the Torah. The Torah is within the Old Testament.
Whenever we read the New Testament, we never find Jesus or the apostles teaching that these laws are done away with.
But we do find a condemnation of another type of law.
The fourth type of law
In Matthew 15:1-4 we read of Jesus' confrontation with the religious leaders of his day:
"Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 'Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.' He answered and said to them, 'Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, "Honor your father and your mother"; and, "He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death."'"
Jesus then goes into more detail about man's traditions going against the commandments of God.
But notice that the scribes' and Pharisees' accusation of the disciples was that they were not washing their hands before eating bread. Where did the scribes and Pharisees find a hand-washing requirement?
They didn't get it from our first three types of law. Washing one's hands in this manner was not to be found in the Ten Commandments, the Torah or the Old Testament in general.
In John 5 we find our answer and more on the collision between God's law and man's law.
In verse 8 we see Jesus healing some poor fellow who had been crippled since birth. After Jesus heals him He says to him, "Take up your bed and walk."
Keep in mind that this miracle took place on the Sabbath day.
How did the religious leaders of Jesus' day respond to this wonderful healing? Did they rejoice and say, "Isn't it fantastic that our neighbor is healed?"
No. They were too steeped in the traditions of the elders to appreciate Jesus and His ministry.
Notice verse 10: "The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, 'It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.' "
Was it really not lawful for him to carry his blanket and pillow? What law forbade this poor fellow to pick up his bedclothes and carry them on the Sabbath?
It wasn't the Ten Commandments, the Torah or any other scripture in the Old Testament.
Different law, different Greek word
The law Jesus and the healed man broke was the tradition of the elders: the very law that said you had to wash your hands a certain way before you ate bread.
What word was used when Jesus talked about law in the matter of carrying the man's bed? Was it nomos?
No, it was an entirely different word, exetazo.
At this point we must remember a bit of history. The Israelites went into captivity for many sins, but the two most prevalent seemed to be idol worship and Sabbath-breaking.
When God finally allowed them to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple, they vowed they would never allow idol worship and Sabbath-breaking to happen again in their land.
They decided they would be extremely careful with the Sabbath command. They said, in effect: "We're going one step further in our obedience by making sure we really keep this law. We'll do that by adding more restrictions to God's law."
So they created extra dos and don'ts regarding the Sabbath.
It takes a fence
They looked at the Sabbath as a beautiful fenced garden that was not to be trampled on.
Just to make sure no one jumped over the fence, they put another fence around God's fence.
Then they added another fence around the fence they had erected around God's original fence.
They noticed God's law did not have a lot of restrictions regarding the Sabbath. It simply said not to work on the weekly holy day and to be sure to convene on the Sabbath.
There aren't a lot of dos and don'ts in God's law regarding the Sabbath. For example, nowhere does the Bible say how far we can walk on the Sabbath.
But the Jews decided they would make a determination in this matter. They decreed that if you walked any farther than about three fifths of a mile you would be breaking the Sabbath. Anything shorter than three fifths of a mile was acceptable.
The three-fifths-mile prohibition was not God's law. It was man's law and a tradition of the elders. We must make this important distinction.
Whenever Jesus and the apostles squabbled with the religious leaders of that time, they never fought over our first three types of law. They fought over the additions to God's law.
Jesus never did away with God's law, but He did away with the laws of men.
Adding to the Scriptures
Let's look at one more example of inane and unnecessary laws of men. In Acts 10 we see Peter in prayer. While he prays, he has a vision in which all kinds of animals appear on a sheet: snakes, skunks, rats, worms and bugs. A voice from heaven tells him, "Kill and eat."
Peter is perplexed. He knows about the laws of clean and unclean in the Torah. He knows some animals were fit to eat, but others were not. He is confused by the heavenly demand.
Later, after he has determined what the vision meant, he explains it to the brethren. In Acts 10:28 he says:
"Then he said to them, 'You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation.
"But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.' "
Peter said it was unlawful for a Jew to keep company with a non-Jew? What law says that? Where can we find a law that says Jews are to stay away from non-Jews?
This law is not in the Ten Commandments, the Torah or anywhere in the Old Testament. In fact, the Old Testament made provisions for the Israelites to conduct business with non-Hebrews.
The Old Testament even allowed non-Hebrews to become citizens of the nation of Israel.
Peter was talking about man-made laws: laws the religious leaders created and added to God's law.
What word for law did Peter use in Acts 10? He used the Greek word athemetos.
Antinomianism in the COG
Of course, God's law is still in effect. Those who teach against it--who teach against the Greek word nomos--are known as antinomians. Antinomianism is alive and well and has made inroads into the Church of God.
Permit me to relate a personal experience to illustrate how this change has taken place.
I was a member of the CG7 for five years, from 1990 to 1995. I was the youth director for the Grand Prairie, Texas, CG7 congregation from 1991 to 1995.
In 1992 I went to a youth rally in San Antonio, Texas, with my local kids. It was there that I first met Whaid Rose, who is the current president of the Denver Conference of the CG7.
On Thursday, Dec. 26, 1992, during a supper at the San Antonio youth rally, Mr. Rose related to me that the CG7's coordinator for the southeastern district of the United States (a former WCG member named Bill Hicks) was in contact with the leadership of the WCG.
Brother Rose told me there were plans at WCG headquarters in Pasadena, Calif., to take the WCG into Protestantism.
Remember, this incident took place in 1992.
You can guess what happened when my wife, Linda, and I attempted to warn our friends in the WCG about this plot. We knew why the WCG leaders in Pasadena felt the need to be in contact with certain ministers in the CG7. But no one believed us at that time.
Bible Advocate spikes article
In 1994 I was given the job of serving as the district youth coordinator for the CG7 for the U.S. Southwest. This meant I would attend the church's biennial conference in July 1995 in San Diego, Calif.
The San Diego conference was an eye-opener. Talk about being in the right place at the right time!
On the Thursday of the conference (July 6, 1995), no seminars were scheduled. Instead, the organizers planned an outing for all the brethren to go to Sea World.
Linda and I had lived in Pasadena and had already visited Sea World several times, so we stayed behind on the grounds of the hotel complex where most of the brethren had rooms.
Early in the afternoon we were sitting poolside and were astounded to see three WCG officials walking through the grounds with the top leadership of the CG7.
From the WCG were Joe Tkach Jr., Mike Feazell and Greg Albrecht.
When they reached the pool area, they stopped to say hi. The CG7 president at that time was Calvin Burrell, who said, "Brother Wes, I think you know all these gentlemen."
I acknowledged that I did and said it was nice to see them after all these years.
The humorous and surreal part of this incident was that, during the years I was in the CG7, I had been writing generic Christian articles for The Bible Advocate (a magazine published by the Denver Conference).
The staff at the Advocate had experienced no problem with my articles.
But then I submitted an article showing how Christians are still to obey the law.
The editor, an old-time minister named Roy Marrs who lives in Lodi, Calif., initially liked it, but some person or persons in Denver kept it out of print.
Month after month Roy would give me the runaround as to why the church wouldn't print it, even though I had gone over it thoroughly with Robert Coulter, former president of the Denver Conference, before I sent it to Denver.
Mr. Coulter had in fact suggested that I submit the article based on a sermon I had delivered in our local congregation.
He was surprised and not a little displeased that the staff of the Advocate had made revisions to it since he had already given his stamp of approval.
During the little poolside chat at the 1995 CG7 conference, Mr. Burrell said, "Wes, have you met Brother Marrs, our editor of The Bible Advocate?"
Before I could answer, Roy said: "Yes, Wes and I know each other. He and I are working on an article on the law."
At that point Mr. Albrecht (editor of The Plain Truth) chimed in.
He smiled and said, "Wes, if Roy won't publish your article on the law, send it to me and I'll fix it up and publish it."
Before I could say, "That's the very thing I'm afraid of," Linda nudged me to hold my tongue. The false teachings that we see injected into the Churches of God did not happen in a vacuum.
Conspiracy in the land
I am personally not into conspiracy theories. I constantly get grief from certain acquaintances of mine because I don't buy into their theories about the Illuminati, the Trilateral Commission, the Bildebergers, the Rothschilds, the Masons, etc., although I try not to condemn those who do accept them.
But I tell you that men have been working out antinomian schemes for the Church of God for years. These are the very people Jesus warned us about when he talked about wolves in sheep's clothing.
Satan does not want anyone to keep God's law. Satan does not mind when ministers teach obedience to nine of the Commandments as long as they twist the Scriptures and teach that the Sabbath has either been done away with or has somehow been changed to another day. That suits his purposes well.
Thy righteous commands
Unfortunately, thousands of people who were once obedient to God's law have rejected that precious truth.
The same people who stood by our side and sang these words no longer see value in them:
O how love I Thy law. It is ever with me. Thy commands make me wiser Than my unfriendly foes. O how sweet are Thy words, More than honey is sweet; Thou has given me wisdom By Thy righteous commands.
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God