October 23, 2017

New Covenant Lent

UPDATE II: Fr. Ernesto pointed out that I had wrongly used the word “proscribe” in several sentences. I have changed those sentences, and that may have been the problem a few of you were having with my post and comments. Thanks Fr. E.

UPDATE: I’m not denouncing fasting, or any other traditional practice. I’m saying that whatever we do must be new covenant, Gospel centered, Christ glorifying in nature.

As a post-evangelical, I am an advocate of bringing the resources of the broader, deeper, ancient Christian tradition into the starved experience of contemporary evangelicalism. The includes such things as the Christian calendar, the lectionary and the prudent use of the Lenten season of preparation for suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. Today is Ash Wednesday, and I would hope many evangelicals would hear the words “Thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return” as a sobering reminder of why we are seriously focusing on the journey to the cross.

My own basic Christian instincts, however, are more Protestant than Catholic, and very much “New Covenant” in applying the Bible in my quest for a “Jesus-shaped” spirituality. I understand the impulse of the Puritans in simplifying Christian practice and devotion.

While I do not share the anti-liturgical, anti-ritualistic direction of Calvinistic Protestantism, I understand it as an expression of something important. I agree with my Protestant tradition that scripture should constantly, but generously judge tradition, especially in regard to practices and rituals such as Lent and Ash Wednesday. While I do not conclude that these practices should be discarded, I do understand the dangers and concerns that motivate that response. An important balance has to be pursued if post-evangelicalism is to be pursued in the Protestant context.

In trying to hold my new covenant Christianity at the same time I advocate a generous appropriation of liturgy, ritual and non-Protestant traditions, I’ve often emphasized the principle of new covenant priority over old covenant or traditional practices.

By new covenant priority, I basically mean this: Whenever any old covenant or traditional practice is employed by Christians, it should be done with a full awareness of the new covenant and all the Gospel-centric implications of the new covenant.

Let’s take a worthy old covenant practice as an example on a new covenant practice: fasting.

Jesus fasts. That is the most important Biblical endorsement of fasting. Of course, in the Gospel, Jesus perfect fasting not only endorses fasting, it also fulfills it. If we fast, we fast as those who belong to Jesus who fasted in perfect righteousness, perfect motives and perfect love.

Jesus mentions fasting as a practice his disciples may continue. (Mark 2:18-20.) Acts 13:1-4 shows the early church choosing to fast in discerning the direction of missionary efforts. This is certainly sufficient evidence that Christians may choose to fast. (Also Acts 14:23.)

While fasting is not used of the mutual agreed upon sexual abstinence in I Corinthians 7, that abstinence seems to be a kind of fast because it is combined with prayer.

I Corinthians 7: 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

There would be no argument that fasting is permitted and is a valid choice of how any Christian may pursue a kind of spiritual focus.

There is, however, no new covenant command to fast, nor should we expect to find one given the new covenant’s clear emphasis that old covenant ritual practices were “shadows” of the fullness coming in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For instance, new covenant prayer is simple, and comes before God confidently in the name of Jesus. Jesus’ teaching on prayer does not contain conditions about or proscriptions of fasting. Our new covenant acceptability before God is the perfect obedience of Jesus, not our own spiritual practices. We come to him unpretentiously like children, invited into the most holy place by the blood of the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Fasting is of value as it promotes a simple faith where neither fasting nor other ritual are required. (We should be aware of the differences in spontaneous fasting in relation to God and fasting as prescribed by religious authorities and done with public announcement. Jesus is quite critical of public fasting, in the same way he is critical of public prayer.)

At this point, some would say we should continue to fast because Jesus modeled it and spoke about it. But another impulse is to say that the absence of a definite new covenant command to fast, and the presence of examples that permit it, but do not require it, should persuade Christians that fasting is not necessary. If fasting is an old covenant practice that may be abused, perhaps it should be abandoned.

Some of Paul’s statements in his letters same directed this way.

Colossians 2: 16   Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions,* puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
Col. 2:20   If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

I Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

Is there another way? I think there is a new covenant practice of old covenant and traditional rituals like fasting.

The new covenant approach to fasting would be to treat it as an “endorsed, useful, but neutral” practice, while seeing the necessary and fundamental new covenant difference in the fulfillment of all these rituals and practices. No one is better, before God, for fasting or not fasting. One’s prayer may be less distracted and more focused, but it is not more efficacious than the prayer of the believing child or the Christian who does not fast.

This is a kind of “new covenant burden” that many do not want to be troubled with, but unless we do the hard work of relating the new covenant fulfillments to traditions and rituals like Ash Wednesday and Lent, then we run a very real risk of promoting practices that distract from the Gospel. If we believe in the new covenant, we must constantly practice it and constantly place it at the center of our vision of spirituality. We want to shape a new covenant, Gospel loving, Jesus shaped believer.

So my own vision of evangelicalism is a mixture of Christian traditions and uncompromising, Gospel-centered, new covenant Gospel preaching, teaching and application.

Evangelicalism needs the connections and depth that come from the broader, deeper, more ancient Christian tradition; but even more, evangelicalism needs a strong new covenant Gospel emphasis in everything. Evangelicalism needs traditions that can give meaning and shape spirituality, but evangelicalism needs to avoid any form of legalism, asceticism or new versions of old covenant rituals.

The new covenant loudly announces that the old covenant was inadequate to save. It was a shadow of good things to come, and the savior has come. When we participate in any old covenant or traditional practice, it should be fully informed by the Gospel’s message that the old has been replaced by the new. Whether we are talking about fasting, tithing, various actions in corporate worship or meaningful spiritual practices, we must keep the new covenant perspective that we stand in the holy place by the blood of Jesus, we are accepted by his person and work, and we receive the Holy Spirit through faith, not efforts or rituals.

As we come to this Ash Wednesday, let’s have a new covenant Lent that brings us deeper into the experience of the savior who is our salvation.

Comments

  1. As far as I can tell, everyone is united on that premise, Michael. At least, I haven’t heard anything said here which sounded to me like it was in any way in opposition to the idea that all we do should flow from our love of and life in Christ. I have heard people object to the specific manner in which you have characterized the ‘new covenant’ particularly when applying it to disciplines such as fasting.

    As I slept and awoke, I realized something in our discussion about Scripture and my view of it versus your view of it. I have, of course, heard the assertion my entire time in the church that Scripture has a single, independent, objective, and generally easily understood interpretation. Further, I’ve heard the assertion that all apostolic authority over the church has been invested in Scripture (at least once the Church produced a canon of Scripture).

    OK. If that’s true, then show me. If it is a truth recovered five hundred years ago, it’s had plenty of time to be expressed. So show me.

    I don’t see it anywhere. Scripture alone is not what drove or enabled the reformation. In England, Switzerland, Germany, and everywhere else in which some piece of the reformation thrived, it did so through the power and authority of the state. That power was used pretty ruthlessly too, not just against papists, but against all separatists such as the anabaptists and puritans. I’m also reminded of Luther’s response to the peasant revolt.

    Now, I do see how many (but hardly all) of the reformers used the battlecry of ‘scripture alone’ to assert their interpretive authority over against what had become a pretty corrupt medieval Roman church. But they used that as a populist cry. The real power and authority was in their states, giving rise to the roots of the modern nation state. At most points, when the power of the state has been lessened or removed or the church shifted to a context outside that state (like the US), we’ve seen it fragment and splinter. Even Anglicanism has not been immune. As I recall Methodism arose from it. And probably some others.

    OK. So how about those separatist movements? Maybe we can see the authority of scripture operating within them? Maybe you have better eyes than I have.

    Heck, let’s look at our own denomination. How and why was it formed? We were formed in a split over differing interpretations of scripture on the issue of slavery in the US. Now, it’s true that very recently (since I’ve been in it) our denomination has publicly recognized that it’s foundational reason for being was a misinterpretation of and misrepresentation of Scripture and apologized for its attitude which endured well into the 20th century. But Scripture didn’t play any particular role in that shift. Culture shifted to the point that it became blindingly obvious our denomination had been wrong and the position became completely untenable. But that was a culture shift. Had our culture not been changed — often against the efforts of good Southern Baptists — I see no evidence that we would have ever changed our interpretation. (I’ve always been personally embarrassed at that particular portion of the history of the church in which I ended up.)

    If anything, the separatists have splintered and disintegrated faster than the original reformation churches that began with the support of the power of the state. I’ve had more than a decade to look now, and I just don’t see any evidence for the exercise of this ‘independent, apostolic authority of scripture’. If you have some evidence of it, please share it. Where has Scripture acted alone in a manner that corrected people, built up the church, and held it together? Where has it, acting alone, done what the apostles did and what the bishops did for centuries as the church developed a canon of Scripture? Where has Scripture, acting alone, managed to declare its own objective meaning, resolve disputes of interpretation, and keep the church together? If you’re going to make the claim, there should be something to point to somewhere.

    Scripture itself does warn that it can be hard to understand (2 Peter). And it describes how the apostles themselves didn’t understand how the old testament pointed to Christ until he opened their eyes. It contains stories like that of the ethiopian eunuch.

    If you can’t show that, then how can my statement that the interpretations of scripture on fasting that others have presented here are no less reasonable than the one you have presented be any less authoritative than your assertion that those other interpretations are wrong?

    (This is usually where I get in trouble in Baptist circles. But it’s an obvious question to me. I’m surprised everyone doesn’t ask it.)

  2. Or, using our denomination again, let me take it a step further. If Scripture has exercised authority in correcting us to the point where we have admitted to being wrong, essentially to being schismatic, why have not followed through on the obvious next steps of that confession? Why have we not returned to the church from which we split, confessed our error to them, and asked to be restored to koinonia with them? Or was our confession of error a false confession? As far as I can tell, ‘scripture alone’ is powerless to heal a schism even when one party has publicly admitted their error.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Michael. I especially loved this statement:

    ‘No one is better, before God, for fasting or not fasting. One’s prayer may be less distracted and more focused, but it is not more efficacious than the prayer of the believing child or the Christian who does not fast.’

  4. I think for lent y’all should give up those annoying smiley faces. But you should do it only if you are Spirit led to do it, not if it is imposed upon you.

  5. lol 😛

  6. iMonk – I do not take what you said as meaning that you want to replace all Scripture with spontaneity. In a more “existential” viewpoint, it really does not matter whether one chooses to be non-liturgical or liturgical. Either choice, provided it is one’s choice, equally validates one. The content of one’s choice does not matter; it is the fact that one has chosen, free of outside pressures.

    But, I would argue that your viewpoint on the authority of the Church is not a simple Protestant viewpoint (neither is it a Gospel viewpoint). It is a particular Anabaptist viewpoint on the authority of the Church. The Anglicans clearly state, “Whosoever through his private judgment willingly and purposely doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church which be not repugnant to the word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly that other may fear to do the like, as he that offendeth against common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the magistrate, and woundeth the conscience of the weak brethren.” In other words, that person has sinned, though not so as to lose his/her salvation.

    Both the Scottish Covenanters and the Puritans (not to mention the Geneva Calvinists) were quite strong that the Church does have the authority to prescribe certain rules and regulations, including personal behavior. The Lutherans were quite strong in maintaining clear Church order within their lands.

    The Anabaptists split into two groups. The more communitarian Anabaptists, like the Moravians, the Amish, the Mennonites, and the Brudderhofs, were quite clear that authority, even over matters of dress, resided in the community, not in the individual.

    But, making the Church into a purely voluntary society to whose regulations the individual merely assents is a particularly American viewpoint. The claim that there are no repercussions (other than maybe loss of local congregational membership) to disobeying the regulations of a church is a particularly American viewpoint.

    I agree with Martha that fasting is a discipline. But, I would argue that it can be a discipline requested by the Church, and which the Church has the authority to request, and which may have spiritual repercussions for those who refuse to obey. It is for this reason that St. Paul warned that those who did not keep the delivered Traditions about the Lord’s Supper that some were sick and some slept as a result of their failure to listen with understanding.

  7. Oops, sorry, one quick additional comment.

    “why wouldn’t we all be united on the premise that whatever we do, and in whatever tradition we do it, it must be from new covenant, Christ exalting motives and nothing else?”

    I agree with that statement, iMonk. It is some, and only some, of your other statements with which I disagree.

  8. Acts 15 is an example of the Church Authority proscribing certain foods. That would seem to be New Covenant times.

    Sometimes unity of action is important for a community, whether it be weekly worship on the same day e.g. Sunday, or a certain frequency of communion or times of prayer. Is it important that a Christian group agree on when they celebrate Easter, or whether they celebrate Good Friday at all?

    The main issue here seems to be Authority.

  9. I gave up fasting for Lent.

  10. Imonk,

    I think as a fellow baptist I get totally what you are saying. And I’m 100 percent sure I can’t explain it any better than you. But I’ll say a few things.

    I’m surprised at how much some traditions seem weary of or even scared of Christian liberty. Christian liberty is a very mis understood doctrine. But one aspect of it as I understand it is that I am free from all commands except those that pertain specifically to the gospel message.

    let me give one example

    worship

    i know a baptist minister who pastors in south georgia, they sing the psalms exclusivley and he preaches, that is it, and they keep the ordinances

    that is a perfectly acceptable way to worship, they have come together as a covenanted community and have committed to each other to support each other in faith and worship

    the church down the road may do more in worship, and as long as the things they “add” don’t become an affront to the gospel message then they are free to do them

    this is why differnt denominations are even different churches in denominatins are a good thing not a bad thing

    if the baptist church where i worship decicded as a congregation to enter into as season of fasting then as a coventate member I should support the church, it would be a breach of my ethics as a member not to, if my church said that to fast was to draw closer to God in some sort of works merit then I would be duty bound by the gospel to oppose it

    Christian Liberty requires thinking and a lot folks just want the answers handed to them

  11. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    While I do not share the anti-liturgical, anti-ritualistic direction of Calvinistic Protestantism…

    Does this dovetail in with a reference in another (now-closed) comment thread about “Calvin whitewashing the churches”?

    When I first heard that phrase, I kept thinking of Wahabi Muslims hammering off the decorations of old mosques and replacing them with pure plain whitewash.

  12. H.U.G. and Michael: speaking of “the anti-liturgical, anti-ritualistic direction of Calvinistic Protestantism…”

    You mean like this?

    theopensourcebook.org

    *grins*

    Guess I’m just not seeing increasing anti-liturgicality (liturgicalness? liturgicalitude?) among Protestants, as you seem to suggest. Particularly not among Calvinistic ones, who tend to have a somewhat healthier view of things like confessions and creeds (and subsequently a healthier view of history and tradition) than your average indie-fundie Baptist pewsitter. 😉

  13. I’ll leave it to Fr. Ernesto to articulate the Orthodox position, as I am certain he can do it far better than I can, but I find any sense of obligation very far from the Orthodox ethos. It’s almost as though we **get** to fast for Lent, and the Church helps us with extra services and studies during this time.

    Being 90% water myself, I have been learning to come t terms with my cycles; diurnal, mensual, annual. Lent is a good way to help me do this. No doubt it was far more beneficial to my ancestor who fasted when the early spring stocks were low and he was tempted to gobble up the seed-corn.

    Anyway, maybe it comes from the different view of salvation, but it’s odd; if I’m laboring under a works-righteous scheme, you’d think I’d find it more onerous than I do. As it stands, I find I’d rather take the shot at Orthodox “ascetic” salvation and fail than have Reformation “sola-fide forensic” salvation sewed up. The body is for the Lord, and what some would call asceticism, I see as the body coming into its own….

  14. “You make wonderful illustrations that make Catholicism understandable. You have a real gift.”

    Ah, Michael darling – it’s the beam in my eye versus the mote in my neighbour’s, I’m afraid, but thank you very much 🙂

    That’s about all I’m hoping to achieve; to make the weird practices understandable as more than just “those crazy folks! how or why do they do that?!”

    I think, on reflection, I get a little more of what you’re trying to say (and do correct me if I’m off the wall on this) – it’s the fear of imposition from above, the “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” admonition. Which is the reflection of the differences between our views of authority, as you so rightly say.

    I won’t attempt to read your mind or put words into your mouth; for my part, I am struggling with the difference between the “corporate spiritual formation” and “institutional proscriptions”, which probably means I should take my own advice about the Holy Ghost not providing the sewing patterns for chasubles at Pentecost 🙂

  15. willoh, I would use 🙁 but for the admonition “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance”; using 🙂 is us anointing our heads and washing our (smiley) faces 😉

  16. ScottM, I think part of what you are asking about is that the reformers were not only the first Protestants, they were the last Catholics.

    That is, their minds and behaviours had been formed on the notion of one, authoritative, definite interpretation and acceptable doctrine and when the Magisterium was overthrown, Scripture itself was enthroned in its place.

    Thus, they found themselves in real psychic difficulties when opposing interpretations were put forward, all claiming legitimacy through the support of Scripture and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

    It was therefore natural for them to fall back on an external authority like the State to enforce conformity.

    Later generations, formed as Protestants in the mould of the primacy of conscience, came to an agreement on live-and-let-live through an emphasis on individual as opposed to corporate responsibility for salvation, but were then prone to splintering as the only alternative to opposing interpretations and insoluble appeals to Scripture (dueling texts) was for group A to leave and set up their own local church while group B remained behind.

  17. ive been to mardi gras a few times but ive never done lent. coming from a baptist background i dont know enuf about it. but this year with all the talk of it among my lutheran friends i decided to give up sodas. i didnt go to an ash wednesday service or get the ashen mark on my forehead. im prolly doing this all wrong but im doing it from my desire to take better care of the temple god has given me.

  18. That should have been “definitive”, though “definite” probably works too.

  19. “Is it important that a Christian group agree on when they celebrate Easter, or whether they celebrate Good Friday at all?”

    Oh, Joe M. Oh, Joe. Oh, oh, oh, Joe.

    Stir up the Synod of Whitby and the controversies over the Gregorian Calendar changes all over again?

    Okay, Fr. Ernesto – are we going to Celebrity Death Match “let’s get it on!” over this one? 😉

    Me, I’m perfectly happy (as an Irishwoman) to pound into the dust any so-called Celtic Church nouveau-nonsense over the Synod of Whitby, but I don’t want to get in a rumble with the Orthodox (not over the calendar, anyways).

  20. Fr. Ernesto pointed out that I had wrongly used the word “proscribe” in several sentences. I have changed those sentences, and that may have been the problem a few of you were having with my post and comments. Thanks Fr. E.

  21. That is, their minds and behaviours had been formed on the notion of one, authoritative, definite interpretation and acceptable doctrine

    You’re confusing the rank chaos of late medieval Catholicism with post-Tridentine/Vatican I rigorism.

  22. ROFL, Martha the Eastern Western Jewish controversy over Pascha/Easter is one of the most stupid controversies in Church history. There was a proposal in the year 2000, out of a joint meeting of several parties, which has sadly not been adopted. That proposal was, as shocking as it sounds, to actually do it as Scripture says, to use the actual astronomical vernal equinox and do the first full moon after that at Jerusalem as determined by astronomical observances/calculations. And . . . .

    Yep, as has been all too common in history, the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Protestants, Oriental Orthodox, Jewish believers only agreed to keep disagreeing.

  23. Fr. Ernesto,
    I am in total agreement with you about the Pascha/Easter controversy. It is something I first started studying in detail last year and it injured every argument I had ever heard for papal infallibility(and I am not saying that to stir up some other hornet’s nest). I didn’t know about the summit or proposal in 2000, but I am not surprised that it failed either. I am comforted by the fact that God isn’t hung up on what day of the year or week we celebrate such things.

  24. Fearsome Comrade, I’m saying that the reformers weren’t Protestants all their lives 🙂

    I’m saying they grew up as Catholics, with the same background of what was acceptable exegesis as the rest of Western Christendom, and even when (for example) Luther was convinced of the necessity of “Sola Scriptura”, he still had the formation of mind that unconsciously moved along the channels of one authoritative (not authortarian!) interpretation derived from the text that would be self-evident to all.

    They got a nasty shock when the ‘self-evident’ interpretations contradicted one another, and when trying to come to some reconciliation of their views to present a united front against the errors of Rome.

    I’m saying that is why they instinctively looked to the earthly princes as God-delegated authorities to guard and guarantee the new dispensation.

    I’m saying Luther and Calvin, in some ways, were closer to me than to their modern disciplines, purely because they had come out of that mediaeval world. They may have rejected the veneration of the saints as superstition, but they understood it in a way modern Protestants don’t, because modern Protestants haven’t grown up with it and come out of a culture saturated with it. If Luther could be brought forward in a time machine and witness, for example, the celebrations of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I’m sure he might denounce it as rank superstition, but he’d get it; he’d get why it happened and how it happened, and what people were thinking/feeling/believing, because he grew up with the likes of that.

    Indeed, there was a lot of variety in mediaeval Catholicism that was pruned away during the Counter-Reformation, but I defy you to quote any “pre-Vatican I” source that says in effect that differing perspectives on baptism, or communion, or the nature of the priesthood, are all acceptable local options, whether or not “rigorism” was in force at that time.

  25. Phew! I’m relieved I don’t have to get into a cage match with you, Fr. Ernesto 🙂

    “That proposal was, as shocking as it sounds, to actually do it as Scripture says, to use the actual astronomical vernal equinox and do the first full moon after that at Jerusalem as determined by astronomical observances/calculations.”

    Yeah, but then if we did it that way, we’d have all the fun of the controversy over calculating Eid ul-Fitr that our Muslim brethren indulge in. Do you use the physical sighting of the new moon, or do you rely upon astronomical calculations? That’s an ongoing dispute, with both sides advancing reasons for their practice.

    Now, if the Easterners would only submit to Rome… 😉

  26. And yes, with that last comment, I’m ducking and running like the hammers of heck.

  27. In catching up on this thread, I am quite bemused that such deep conviction and theological exegesis is generated over a topic that on the side of RCC Canon Law seems now to be subsumed in modern dietary science.

    For the Magisterium to be so assertively authoritative on prescribing fasting (i.e., self-deprivation and voluntary loss for the sake of the Gospel) on certain days of the week and the liturgical year is indeed a questionable usurping of personal choice and freedom. But it is one of the oldest traditions in Christendom.

    However, what is called “fasting” by the Bishops is what nearly every modern health professional advocates as daily lifestyle change if you want to live a long, healthy and energetic life.

    I’m a commercial fisherman. Meatless Fridays was continued for all those years in part because of the power of the seafood lobby. But the long term affects of this policy by the Roman authorities of the largest and most powerful religious body in the Western World has been devastating to the industry.

    The cattle industry in Texas sued Oprah several years ago under a law they got passed that makes it a civil offense to publicly denigrate beef. I would like to call the Magisterium to task for promoting eating fish as a means to complete the suffering of Christ on the Cross. 🙂

  28. For those who don’t know, — particularly during the days prior to electric refrigeration, Friday is the day fishmongers need to clean out their coolers as to not be holding too much fresh product over the long weekend, especially during the days of the Sunday “blue” laws.

  29. Glenn Lashway says:

    I love your title about New Covenant Lent, but I am shocked that no one has pointed out that the New Covenant went into effect at the death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord, not as his birth, as Hebrews clearly points out, especially 9:15-17. The Gospels are much easier to understand, then, if we read them as the last writings of the Old Covenant. The reference, then, to the disciples’ fasting fits together with Jesus’ comment about tithing, and the whole discourse on the Law in the sermon on the mount. Jesus is preparing his disciples for life in the New Covenant, at which time, they will be empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Their New Covenant motivation–our New Covenant motivation–will then manifest itself, not by the ritualistic keeping of laws, but by the free expression of the life of the Christ who lives in me,and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20).

  30. Yeah — Glenn — “Religion is for those who are afraid of going to hell — spirituality is for those who have already been there.” Anon.

    It’s Joseph Campbell’s “marsupial pouch analogy.” Religion is a “womb with a view,” meant to prepare neophytes for everyday, moment to moment real situations where the “liturgical year” scheduling of spiritual activities are not much help except as background.

    Campbell said that the problem with Western religions is that they demand to keep the member in the womb from cradle to grave. I agree.

  31. Wow, Mike. Thanks! I badly needed to hear (read) the words you wrote. I struggle with seeing God primarily as demanding lawgiver and harsh judge. I appreciate every glimpse I get of the love and freedom to be found in Jesus. Thanks for your insight. Thank you for writing something that allows the burden of legalism to be lifted a bit more.