Several weeks ago, the Rev. John Yates of the Falls Church began a sermon series on the 10 Commandments. Here’s an excerpt of the first sermon in the series which provides a really helpful framework for how Christians should understand the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament in moral decision-making:
We live in a time where the air the young people breathe is filled with the spirit of autonomy. There’s a great hesitation among young adults today to say that such and such behavior is wrong for someone else if the someone else doesn’t think it’s wrong. Our culture is becoming more and more hesitant to draw moral boundaries. Even young people who follow Christ are hesitant to draw moral conclusions about others because they’ve grown up in a society that says do you own thing, find your own way, question authority. And so the college student who challenged his mom, the college students who challenge their parents’ interpretation of biblical teaching about sexual morality now, it’s not unusual. And, Christians who just quote the Bible in support of this or that moral position are often accused of either insensitivity or backwardness or of selecting out those passages that fit their own predilections and ignoring others. That’s the setting that we’re living in today.
Now, the question is, how do we know what’s right and what’s wrong? And another question is how do we make wise moral decisions? Well, we’re here because we follow Christ. We believe he’s the Son of God who came among us to reveal God, to teach God to us, to teach us the way of God. And so we follow Christ to know right and wrong. We believe he’s entrusted to us the scriptures as a reliable, true, authoritative guide in right thinking and right living. He told us to trust and to heed the Old Testament, and he established the New Testament through the apostles who he promised to guide into the truth as they proclaimed the word. And so the church has always believed what the apostles wrote in 2 Timothy 3. You know the words:
All scripture is inspired or breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God [or the woman] may be competent, equipped for every good work.
The fundamental reason why the Anglican Communion and other communions as well are being pulled apart is that there’s no longer agreement as to what scriptural authority means. Church people are now accepting and approving ideas and behaviors that the church has consistently seen over the centuries as contrary to biblical teaching: the deity of Christ, the atoning death of Christ, the historical reliability of the resurrection, our responsibility to proclaim Christ to all people, and of course certain standards of moral behavior. All this and more is being questioned and even discouraged by many church people, and so we’re divided over these things, painfully divided. How do we read our Bible to discern what is right and what is wrong? We’re about to enter into a series of talks on Sundays in the summer on the Ten Commandments””God’s moral foundation for all civilization””because we forget how basic and how helpful the Ten Commandments are and what they teach us. They never go out of date. We’ll try to pitch this in a way that the kids will appreciate it as well as adults. But before we get to that today, I want to help you think clearly about how we view the Bible as a whole in its moral teaching. It’s true””as some people accuse us””it’s true. We do accept some passages of Leviticus, for instance, as still binding, and others we reject. Why do we do that? Are we just subjective””that’s what we’re accused of””or is there more to it?
(hat tip: Prydain)