The Ceremonial Laws as Visual Aids to Modern Society

The Reformed community has debated the validity of Old Testament law in today’s society since the beginning of the Reformation. Many of the early Reformers (Calvin And Bucer) and the Puritan Reformers (Thomas Boston and Cotton Mather) believed strongly in the application of the law of God to their particular societies. Today, many of our contemporary evangelical leaders mock their forefathers for their commitment to Old Testament penology and regulations. Many in the Reformed community cite that theocratic Israel is a distinct body of people with a distinct law never to be mixed with the new law of this new age inaugurated by Christ. Fortunately, most recent serious scholarship do not make such strong distinctions. They acknowledge that God’s laws in the Older Covenant are inextricably linked to His unchanging character. Though this most recent scholarship would distinguish their analysis from the late Greg Bahnsen or R.J. Rushdoony, they are actually advocating a form of direct application of the ceremonial laws to our modern society. Whether they call these applications epochal adjustments or modified application, they are still finding the relevance of Old Testament law in New Covenant life. How direct may these applications be made is disputed; however, they do agree, that there is a general equity, an underlying principle, that needs to carry on into the New Covenant, in order to maintain the integrity and the continuity of Biblical revelation in all ages. Though the Reformed community and our Westminster Confession are in complete agreement that the ceremonial laws have been fulfilled in the ultimate and last sacrifice for our sins, the Lord Jesus, it is the underlying principle that needs to be revived even in our era for the sake of the world and for the sake of the Church. Both Drs. Bruce Waltke and Richard Pratt argue in this manner. In his Old Testament Theology Waltke writes that the ceremonial laws “such as abstaining from ‘unclean’ foods are ‘visual aids’ to instruct God’s people of all ages to be pure” (An Old Testament Theology, 14). The dietary laws were given so that Israel would maintain their separation from other nations. It is part of the theme of Leviticus, which is holiness. Though dietary laws no longer bind New Covenant Christians (Matthew 15:11; Acts 10:13-15), the principle of the Ceremonial laws is that God’s people are to be a set-apart people; consecrated only to their covenant Lord. Indeed if the history of our forefathers was given to us as examples (I Cor. 10:6) then why not see the ceremonial laws as examples of faith and purity (I Tim. 4:12)? After all, nothing was more central to Old Covenant life than to offer sweet aroma in the presence of God.

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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3 Responses to The Ceremonial Laws as Visual Aids to Modern Society

  1. J.Kru says:

    The reason not to observe food cleanliness laws is that it would be making ourselves wiser than Jesus. Mark 7:19 says that Jesus made all foods clean in his declaration that “… nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’ ” It would be height of arrogance for any man, Jew or Gentile, to think that he should consider unclean what Christ has made clean… a bit like telling a repentant man that he is “wretched in the eyes of the Lord.”

  2. apologus says:

    I assume though you agree with my general premise, right? Dietary laws no longer have to be followed in the New Covenant, though in another sense, many, especially in this country would do well to eat things that are a bit, let us say, clean. After all, because Jesus has made all things lawful to eat does not mean that all things should be eaten.

  3. J.Kru says:

    Hey Uri –
    I agree that we should look to observe all the laws of the OT with appropriate epochal adjustments – but in some cases, the appropriate epochal adjustment is abrogation. I don’t think we should make any attempt to observe dietary laws; Jesus has the authority to change or clarify any law he chooses, and he chose to make all foods clean – I disagree that there is another sense in which we are to observe them. I would say that there is no physical sense in which we should observe any dietary laws; perhaps we could reflect that while some foods used to be unclean, Christ reveals the true meaning of the clean/unclean distinction. But to create a dietary law is to go beyond Scripture, which is no better than deleting Scripture.

    I would certainly encourage eating healthy food, or tasty food, but for entirely different reasons than OT dietary laws. Body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, physical training does have some value, etc.

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