I had a lighthearted post with mild humor and a slight serious twist that disappeared. Some sort of software glitch.
So I’m replacing it with a more serious one.
The New Testament addressee commandments, policies and procedures that are sub-optimal—ones that don’t accord with eternal law.
Interestingly enough they are always a reflection of the hardness of the hearts of those who receive them, not an endorsement.
We forget that too often.
I think that many people (including me) read the New Testament and say “Holy $#!*, we are the Pharisees!” We have become an compliance-oriented, legalistic, rule-based religion. There are so many commandments that people could never keep up with all of the requirements (when you start getting into you should be doing family history and have food storage, etc., etc.) and many people feel overwhelmed and depressed. I think we have eased up on guilting people on some of these, but I don’t like the renewed emphasis on obedience and the covenant path. I was in a Sunday School on this topic class and someone asked our Stake President (who was there observing) why all of the TR questions were these kind of outward, rule based compliance questions and not about love or a change of heart. To his credit he was honest and said it was a good question and it’s probably because the outward things are easier to gauge and measure.
I think God has inspired people through the ages to give some moral, guiding principles that shape people into good, caring and productive family members. I think there are big pitfalls that a religious system can help one avoid (alcoholism, drugs, sexual promiscuity, etc.). But, I think institutions also impose a lot of rules to demand loyalty and to serve as boundary markers (our WOW). For me, part of being an adult is figuring out for yourself what requirements you do and don’t want to observe and taking a lot of it with a grain of salt.
As felixfarulous says, there’s no question that reading the New Testament can make church members look like Pharisees, but the snippet Stephen quoted was from Jesus explaining why divorce was only tolerated in the Law of Moses because of the hardness of the people’s hearts. In other words, we’re given lesser laws and less stringent commandments because we can’t handle the higher law. Thus, a person could view the temple recommend questions as the lesser laws, the very basic level of commitment and sacrifice, and people don’t even feel they should have to live those. As for the direction the church is going, you don’t hear about 1 year supplies, mothers belonging in the home, modesty, or masturbation any more, and pretty much everybody drinks coke. Conference talks are all pretty much about how much Jesus loves you. Seems like what’s being asked is pretty tame and basic these days relative to when I grew up. Is that because we’ve been blessed to jettison lesser laws, or just that we’ve proven we’ll only accept lesser lesser laws, or some of both?
Martin, I think that’s a good point. We have definitely toned things down a bit and jettisoned some of the lesser laws. I don’t see a lot of these as coming from God, but being institutional boundaries and policies. I think the feedback that people are either ignoring them or feel overwhelmed may contribute to the direction things are going. If trends continue and people keep ignoring the tea/coffee prohibitions because they don’t make sense, I predict those will soften in the next 10 years as well, even though the Church recently doubled down.
These scriptures about divorce almost compel me to become Catholic. If there is any Christian church that has held firm and true to what they believe to be the “depositum fidei,” it is the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox Christians. The Latter-day Saints are far to quick, in comparison, to go with the flow of the world, even if they are about 50 years behind the times. But I won’t become Catholic. Nor am I a Latter-day Saint.
I think that when this scripture gets brought up, a lot of people neglect to think about what the “bill of divorcement” law meant when it was originally given.
In Babylon and the other cultures surrounding ancient Israel, a woman who was put away by her husband had almost no legal rights. She couldn’t remarry without the risk that her ex-husband would come back to claim her, and then both she and the new husband would be put to death for adultery. The husband retained this right even if it had been years or decades since he last lived with or supported the rejected wife.
The bill of divorcement was meant to make this situation more just; a husband who put away his wife was required to renounce all claim to her, and gaurantee her the right to remarry.
If Jesus had just been jettisoning the “lesser law,” the way some church members today suggest that we jettison “lesser laws” against [fill-in-the-blank], he would have just had the people go back to doing things like they had been done under Babylonian law, i.e. where the woman has no rights. But that’s not what he did.
Re: Stephen Marsh’s link to Babylon Bee:
Ambrose Bierce’s “Devil’s Dictionary” defines the Ten Commandments as as a series of religious and ethical guidelines designed to help my neighbor overcome his deficiencies.
Gotta love it.
Well, it’s certainly easier theologically to marginalize or undermine a prior divine commandment because it was adapted to the hardness of human hearts than to claim it was a mistake (that God made an error).
If your goal is to push an old or outdated or ineffective or even harmful commandment to the margin or completely aside, it doesn’t matter much whether the rationale is “the hardness of your human heart” of “God made an error, which I am now correcting.” So obviously reformers are going to pick the easier rationale, the one that is more likely to help the program of reform to succeed.
Obviously, that process can be misread, to conclude (for example) that the whole exercise is a lesson on human sinfulness or depravity rather than a pragmatic illustration of the occasional need for reform. That in a conflict between fallible humans and the traditional understanding of God’s commands, it’s always the humans that are wrong. That’s a misreading. The primary lesson we should take from that episode is that divine commands are not eternal and invariant; they need to be reformed from time to time.
It is somewhat harsher to respond to prior commandments with “that was because your hearts were hard and you were sinful – and to the extent you hold on to that you are still sinful” than “it was just a mistake from seeing through a glass darkly as your leaders worked it out with fear and trembling.”
It says that the extent of needed reform, our own bigotry and sin is greater than we appreciate, and that we need more humility, more trust and less claimed knowledge.
On the other hand, it is very true that divine commands are reformed from time to time.
Humanity is like a flotilla of sale powered barges on the ocean, and God’s commands respond to the tides, the currents, the changing winds and the way that the flotilla has scattered. The metaphor doesn’t work as well as it could as people rarely sail these days, and they think in terms of roads or air travel which is (great circle routes aside) mostly point to point.
As a result, commandments will often be shifting, and will also often have more than one layer to them. Any change, including increased faithfulness, will result in changes in what God commands us to do, regardless of our accuracy (or inaccuracy) in understanding him.