Thursday, 9 October 2008

The Modern Face of Antinomianism: Looking at Antinomianism

Here are my notes from the second session of the conference 'The Modern Face of Antinomianism' by Richard Barcellos. I have entitled this session 'Looking at Antinomianism'. Notes from the first session are here.

Romans 3:31: ‘Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary we establish the law.’

The aim of the session is to answer two questions:
1) What is antinomianism?
2) What does antinomianism look like today?

1) What is antinomianism?
i) Literal meaning = ‘against law’

ii) Theological meaning:
‘The doctrine that it is not necessary for Christians to preach and obey the moral law of the OT.’
‘…the doctrine that the moral law is not binding upon Christians as a rule of life. In a wider sense it is applied to the views of fanatics who refuse to recognise any law but their own subjective law.’
‘A term used to characterise believers in the early church who thought that faith in Jesus Christ allows sin.’

iii) Degree’s of Antinomianism
2 types:
Practical/radical antinomianism. This is where someone promotes a sinful lifestyle under the banner of grace. It can be a form of Christian mysticism where it is said that the Holy Spirit guides the life as obedience.
Doctrinal/theological antinomianism. These people may claim that the law of Christ is better (has a greater degree of excellency) than the law of Christ. These people deny the third use of the moral law (see below).

The three uses of the law according to Calvin:
To point out our sin
To restrain public evil
To rule the life of the believer

2) What does antinomianism look like today?
New Covenant Theology is doctrinally antinomian. This does not mean that the New Covenant Theologians live a life of sin! Some NCT have a high view of the Lords’ day.

Some might say that only those commandments that are repeated in the NT are those to be obeyed.
NCT tends to be fuzzy about its position over the moral law. Don Carson has some affinity with NCT but he hasn’t fully described as such a theologian. Gregg Welty when writing on the Sermon on the Mount critiques Carson for some of his views.
NCT’s place a wedge between the moral law and the law of Christ. NCT’s say that the Sabbath is abolished in Christ.

We must make a distinction between particular laws and moral laws. In other words the law commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son was a particular law. It had a limited scope and was only intended for Abraham. The law is not of the moral type (I’m not implying that it was immoral in the context). The moral law (the 10 commandments) is for all people at all times everywhere!

The civil law was a positive law for a particular people at a particular time. It was meant for the Israelites at that time as a benefit for them. Our mediator is Christ not Moses. We don’t go look at the ceremonies for revelation about God. We look to Christ!

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not moral laws. They are particular laws for this time.

NCT confuse categories but not being particular with the use of the term ‘moral’.

NCT are not stupid. The historical reformed position is complicated and is partly created by implications of scripture. Meaning it is easy to reject.

The ground of our justification includes procured righteousness. This righteousness Adam never attained. Christ did attain it and gave it to us!

NCT sometimes have unclear views of Jeremiah 31:33 ‘my law’.
They claim that this law is the ceremonial and civil.

NCT’s accuse CT’s of having a narrow view of the Sabbath.
The Sabbath is a creation ordinance. The Sabbath was kept (by God!) before the 10 commandments were given.
The Sabbath is prophesied in Isaiah 56. The Son of Man is Lord even over the Sabbath. Christ kept the Sabbath and did not dismiss it.

NC Sabbath:
We remember He rose again on the Sabbath day
We look forward to the eternal state of rest.

The closest thing to the eternal Sabbath is the current Sabbath! Use it in happiness!


Anthony said...

Hmm... the thing that bothers me about this approach is that it replaces Christ, as the one through whom we interpret the Old Testament, with an artificial and extra-biblical framework of "moral"/"civil"/"ceremonial".

The results are pretty much the same, whether you interpret the (one, unified) OT law through the filter of Christ or whether you chop it up into three bits. So it doesn't make too much difference in practice.

But the three-fold division is completely alien to the OT law itself, which often mixes up the moral, civil and ceremonial aspects within one chapter - check out Lev 19 for example. Is there any place in the OT law where it says "these bits are ceremonial and temporary" or "these bits are universal and binding on all people at all times"?

In fact, the standard "Reformed" (with a capital "R" and a dark suit) interpretation of the ten commandments says that every bit of it is "moral" except the word "seventh", which is "ceremonial" and is replaced by the word "first" in the New Covenant...

Sorry, I'm being controversial again!

Moe Bergeron said...

If one is indwelt by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 3) and looks to all of scripture (both old and new) to learn of Christ then how is that person an antinomian? Those who limit the use of scriptures to the third use know nothing of sanctification under the New Covenant. To lay the charge of antinomian to any person born of God and indwelt by the Holy Spirit is foolish. Such a person by nature cannot be against law. You need to understand why it was necessary for the New to replace the old covenant made at Sinai and then get back to us.
BTW, a fair number of your heros lean in NCT's direction.

Simon said...

Brothers, thanks for your comments!


You call the tripartite division of the law an extra biblical framework but surely it's just a way of describing the substance of the text. Isn't it a similar situation when we call God triune? The substance of the trinity is in the text but the concept as a whole isn't explicitly described.

I think the NT does discern between the types of law. See Ephesians 2:14-16, isn't this refering to the civil law?
See also Col 2:13-17. I think this is pointing us to the removal of the ceremonial law.
The 10 commandments are unique in that they are the only law which God has written with His own finger. All of them have complete relevance and application for today-this can't be said of the other laws (explicitly). This is the law that was engraved on Adam's heart before creation! It's the eternal law of God!
If sin is transgression of the law (or lawlessness) (1 John 3:4) which law do I need to transgress to sin?


Rich Barcellos made a good distinction in describing 2 types of antinomianism. The doctrinal/theological type claims that the law of Christ superceedes that of Moses. This is what I disagree with. Yes I know many of my 'heroes' lean this way. I respect them and learn from everything that I can see scriptural arguments for. For example Don Carson is a wonderful preacher. I heard him at New Word Alive this year and was very challenged and blessed by his preaching.
I would have to question my motives if I started to agree with everything a certain preacher said.

None of my 'heroes' reject the law as an excuse to sin.

As I have said above I am sure that this law is distinct from the remainder. It reflects God's eternal character in essence. The other two parts of the law reflect God's character in application.

God bless you both

Anthony said...

Thanks for your response, Simon. We should thrash this out face to face at some point!

I think the tripartite division is helpful - when it describes the substance of the text. But when it doesn't describe what the text says, then it isn't helpful. There's a danger of taking it too far, since, as far as I know, the Bible never speaks of the "civil law" or the "ceremonial law" or the "moral law"; if it's a fundamental subdivision of the law, why doesn't the Bible tell us?

Quick comments on the verses you mentioned... Eph 2:15 speaks of "the law", not "the civil law" or "a bit of the law", so maybe it's speaking about ... the law? But then we'd have to be careful about what it means for "the law" to be abolished - obviously it doesn't mean we should all start killing each other. I'd agree with you about Colossians, although the word "law" doesn't appear in that letter. 1 John is an interesting one... need to think about it. But I'm not sure it's talking about the Law as given to Moses?

Do you mind if I waffle for a bit? Here's how I think things fit together...

God chose Abraham and his descendants.

God redeemed Abraham's descendants from slavery in Egypt.

God graciously gave his redeemed people the Law, to show them how they (the nation of Israel before Christ) should live in response to his grace. The Ten Commandments were a summary of the central aspects of the Law - the whole Law, as given to Israel at that time.

Jesus came and brought the Law to fulfilment. With his death, the time of the Law was over, and that which the Law was looking and longing for became a reality. The Law (in its entirety) as a distinctive feature of the nation of Israel was abolished: all nations are brought under the kingship of Jesus, not just the one nation that received the Law.

But now how should we live? If the period of the Law is over, does that mean there are no moral absolutes any more? If we are free (and we are!) then does it matter how we live?

With God's Spirit living in us, we will increasingly want to live in order to please God, and use our freedom not to indulge our sinful desires but to build others up in love.

But what about the OT Law? Is it directly applicable? In one sense it isn't: we can't say "the Law commands XYZ" and simply conclude that we must do XYZ. The period of the Law is now over, you see. But the Law is holy and good, and it showed God's will for his people at that time. So it has much to teach us - about God, his dealings with his people, and about how we should live now.

When we approach the Law asking "How should I live now?" the general rule of thumb (and nothing more than a rule of thumb) is this: (1) the ceremonial aspects found their fulfilment in Christ, so we don't need to obey them (though we can learn a lot from them), (2) the civil aspects were intended for the period of the Law (which is now over), under which God's people were a single nation, but now in Christ Jew and Gentile are one, so we don't need to follow those aspects either (though they can teach us a lot), and (3) those aspects of the Law that (as far as we can tell) depend not on Israel's particular calling at that time, but on God's unchanging character and on (fallen) human nature, represent God's will for all humanity at all times.

Is that vaguely helpful? Convincing?? Exciting stuff, isn't it!