One of the main charges against those of us who believe we should apply God’s Law-Word is that we are legalists. Legalist is a word that gets thrown around like sexist or racist. A lot of emotional weight, but not much substance. Am I a legalist because I say “thou shalt not commit adultery”?
If a legalist is someone who believes God requires us to follow his law, then I am guilty as charged. If a legalist is someone who believes we can earn our way to heaven by following the law, then I reject legalism. The law does not save us, only Jesus saves. But Jesus saves a people to be devoted to good works—works which conform to his law.
Interestingly, I have found that when I quote a law from the New Testament, many churchgoers will nod their heads approvingly. But when I quote a law from the Old Testament, people shake their heads in disapproval.
Why are supposedly Bible-believing churchgoers opposed to the Old Testament?
Surely this is partly due to poor teaching. Andy Stanley, a prominent Bible teacher, recently declared that the Ten Commandments do not apply to us today. This thinking can be traced back to C.I. Scofield, who likewise minimized the place of the Old Testament and the Ten Commandments when he said, “It was reserved to modernists to wrench these holy and just but deathful tables [Ten Commandments] from underneath the mercy seat and the atoning blood and erect them in Christian churches as the rule of Christian life.”
Many churches have followed the wayward ways of Stanley and Scofield. They either ignore the law in the Old Testament or actively argue that it is not relevant for Christians.
As a result, the average churchgoer cannot even name half of the books in the Old Testament. Beyond Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath, and other well-known stories, how much knowledge of the Old Testament do we have? This lack of Scriptural knowledge stands in stark contrast to those who have come before us.
I fear we have jettisoned the Old Testament, and there are consequences for jettisoning three-quarters of the Bible.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) 1971 response to abortion is an example of those consequences. A resolution dated June 1, 1971, reads: “We call upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”
If that is not one of the most pro-choice statements I have ever heard, then I do not know what is. Would any pro-abort disagree with that resolution? (Would any lifetime Republican political today disagree with it?)
W.A. Criswell, elected as president of the SBC in 1968 and 1969, said, “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”
This is what happens when we jettison the Old Testament and God’s law. This is what happens when we replace God’s revelation with man’s feelings. Instead of basing our ethical decisions on the revealed law of God, we are essentially doing our own thing.
I am confident that the men of the SBC who voted for this resolution would have said they were doing what they felt led to do. Instead of looking to God’s Law-Word for direction about abortion, these men relied on their own personal thoughts and feelings. But if our entire ethical system is based on what we “feel” the Lord wants us to do, then why even have a Bible?
The Bible speaks clearly to the issue of abortion. Exodus 21:22-25 presents the case law of a man who strikes a woman who is with child (i.e., pregnant). If this violence causes harm to her child, “then you shall give life for life, eye for eye…” (Exodus 21:23).
Did the SBC seriously consider what God’s Law has to say about abortion? I doubt it. After all, the Ten Commandment are in the Old Testament and therefore, as Scofield reminds us, those commandments should stay locked up.
The Bible (both Old and New Testaments) most certainly addresses the issues of our day. Great harm follows from abandoning the Old Testament. Had God’s Law, clearly revealed in the Old Testament, been followed, that SBC resolution would never have passed.
“Give ear, O my people, to my law,” God’s Word says in Psalm 78:1 (that’s in the Old Testament, by the way). That beautiful psalm goes on to say that teaching God’s law will prevent the next generation from being a stubborn and rebellious generation. If we do not teach God’s entire Law-Word, from Genesis to Revelation, then we are guaranteeing that someday there will a generation that is stubborn and rebellious.
May we teach our children the whole counsel of God. If not, rebellion and stubbornness are in our future. God’s Law is an expression of his grace to us. May we embrace it and teach it to our children and grandchildren.
Joel is the Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Reformation Society and the pastor of Independence Reformed Bible Church (www.irbc.church). Joel resides with his wife, Audrey, in Lancaster County, and has 9 grown children and 24 grandchildren (and counting).