Wednesday, April 06, 2011


We have always been told that "the new testament" consists of twenty-seven books. It seems almost heretical for one to say this is not true. To refute it seems to deny God's Word, even though God nowhere said or implied that such was the case.

It cannot be denied that thousands of people in the world, both Jews and Greeks, were in covenant relationship with God before one word of the New Covenant Scriptures was ever written. Many who died for the faith had never seen an apostolic letter. Many had no idea there would ever be a compilation of such letters. They simply believed that Jesus was the Messiah and God's Son, and pledged allegiance to Him. They renounced any thought of their own righteousness as having been attained by works of the law, and simply put their trust in the righteousness of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

The divine agreement, the covenant that established their relationship with the Father of all mercy, was inscribed by the Holy Spirit upon the walls of the inner chambers of their being. It was written in terms of love, a dynamic so powerful that it not only transformed their lives but completely altered the world in which they lived. The New Covenant Scriptures, now entitled the New Testament, grew out of their covenantal relationship, not vice versa.

As time went on, the Holy Spirit motivated certain ones to make a record of the divine breakthrough on the human plane. A former tax-collector told the story primarily for the Jews. A young man who grew up in Jerusalem, a close friend of Simon Peter, wrote it for the Romans and the Latin world. A Greek physician interviewed eyewitnesses and then compiled and collated the information he had received for presentation to a Greek state official. To this he later added and certified an account of the struggle of the message of hope to free itself, first from the bonds of Jewish legalism, and second from the toils of Greek philosophy. The account ends with the proclamation free and the proclaimer in prison. Much later, a former fisherman, who survived all of the other apostles, wrote a supplementary account to offset the effects of one of the most subtle foes that ever sought to infiltrate the faith.

As communities of believers were beset with problems growing out of the humanity of the covenant people, the apostles wrote letters to them, furnishing guidelines for rethinking their conduct. Sometimes these grew out of reports received from persons who were familiar with the saints in a given locality. Other times they were replies to letters that had asked for information. In still other circumstances the apostles wrote simply because the situation warranted it. One of these was a letter commending a runaway slave to his master, to whose home he was returning. Another was addressed to a people who were being seduced from the liberty they enjoyed in Jesus.

Those who received the letters did not regard them as legal documents. The writers who penned them had no consciousness of creating a code of laws. They merely wrote letters of deep affection to people whom they loved, without any thought of writing a Bible. Paul, who wrote most of the letters, disclaimed any thought of domination over the faith of the recipients. He said, "Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24; KJV).

During the life span of the apostles, the letters were scattered among isolated communities, although they were occasionally shared with other believers in the same general region (Colossians 4:16). It was not until long after the death of John, and after a good deal of debate about the validity of some of the letters, that the canon was completed and the New Covenant Scriptures were collected as we now have them.

It is true that our relationship to God is a covenantal relationship. There is a great deal of difference, however, between the covenant or agreement and the letters written to the covenant people. The covenant is entered by faith in Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises of God. It results from a response to the good news that Christ "hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10). The gospel was fully proclaimed on Pentecost. Not another word was ever added to it. Those who responded to it, by reformation of life and baptism, entered into the covenant with God, even though they never saw an apostolic letter and certainly never saw a copy of the New Covenant Scriptures.

The gospel is not a legalistic arrangement by which we earn God's favor. It is the good news of God's marvelous grace growing out of the love which God is. The New Covenant Scriptures are not a legalistic code, for we are not under law but under grace. The Scriptures are a collection of "love letters," written in familiar terms. They do not represent the will of God imposed, but the mind of God exposed. They act as guidelines, showing how Christ would react under conditions faced by saints on earth. They are instructional material intended to inform subjects how to prepare for the coming of their King.

Another reason for the reluctance of many people to accept what was said about the covenants is that they would rather be under law than under grace. It is for this reason they make grace into law and convert the love letters of the apostles into a written code. They are frightened by the freedom that makes them personally responsible for their decisions. They prefer to have things "spelled out" and have a law-book. Then they can go and "look it up" to see how far they can go and still remain within the limits. It is easier to qualify as a good lawyer than as a great lover. It is easier to lay down the law than to live up to love.

This is indicative of emotional and spiritual immaturity. An adolescent outwardly demands freedom but inwardly craves restraint. He wants his parents to lay down laws, even though he professes outward rebellion against their regulations. The reason for this inner turmoil is his association of love with law. Enforcement of law, even though it galls him to comply, indicates to his still immature mind that his parents are shielding and protecting him from the big world he is still afraid to face alone. He would rather be behind walls with a sense of security than to be forced to face life openly and on his own.

In the Roman world in which the apostles lived, a son was turned over to others who were charged with his rearing. Even though the boy was destined to become heir to his father's estate and title of nobility, he was under such a tight reign and subjected to such strict discipline that he was little better off than a slave. Every action was ordered by others. His life was regimented each hour of the day. He made no independent decisions. All of this continued until he reached the age of puberty, when his father publicly presented him as a citizen to the populace.

The whole course of a youth's life was changed from that moment onward. No longer was he under the hand of disciplinarians who could flog him into compliance with their will. Publicly recognized as a son by the father, he could now move among men as a man. This did not mean he was a law unto himself. He was bound by ties of respect to his family. His actions brought honor or dishonor to the family name. His concern had to be for others. He had to measure his behavior in the light of his influence.

Paul uses this familiar way of life to illustrate God's plan for His people through the ages. After describing the law as a custodian charged with delivering us to Christ, and pointing out that once this was accomplished we were no longer under a custodian, he introduces the example drawn from social life: "Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father" (Galatians 4:1, 2; KJV).

Notice now his application to the people of God: "Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world" (v. 3). In their childhood age, God's chosen people were treated as children. At Mount Sinai they were placed under the tutelage of a custodian. That custodian was the written code. This stern disciplinarian actually reduced the children to a status comparable to that of household slaves. The written code is here referred to as "the elements of this world." The term refers to the fundamental or primary principles upon which any system is founded. In the literary world it was applied to the alphabet, which was basic to all writing. In the natural world it was applied to atoms out of which all matter was composed. In the social world it was applied to fundamentals of moral and ethical behavior.

"But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (vv. 4, 5). Under Roman law the father decided the time when he would deliver the son from his custodians, and publicly acknowledge him as a son of the family and a citizen of the commonwealth. In the spiritual realm, it was God who ordained the time when faith should come.

When the time arrived for the world's attainment of sonship, God sent His Son. It was important that our deliverance be wrought by the Son, because in Him we could see what was entailed in divine sonship. The Son of God became the Son of man so that the sons of men could become the sons of God. Note that God did not send a new or better legal code to deliver us. Instead, He sent His Son. In Christ we do not sustain a legal relationship to the Father, but a personal one. God sent a person to inaugurate that relationship.

In His entrance into our world to share our lot, Jesus was made of a woman. He was not the seed of man. He was not begotten by Joseph, although He was conceived by Mary. He was made under the law, and He fulfilled it. He was the only person who ever did so. He was tempted in all points as we are, but He was without sin. Because He had no sin for which to suffer, He could suffer for our sins. God laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. He delivered us from the curse of the law by having been made a curse for us.

It is through Christ's sacrifice that we receive the adoption of sons. "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ" (vv. 6, 7). God did not hand us another law, a written code to govern us as sons. Such a code belonged to the days of childish immaturity. He sent forth the Spirit of His Son, that is, the Spirit of sonship. The Holy Spirit's indwelling presence marks us out as belonging to the divine family.

The Spirit within brings out the consciousness of a father-son relationship. It is not based upon legalistic compliance but upon acceptance through mutuality of love. "We love him, because he first loved us," wrote John (1 John 4:19). In the joy of acceptance, expressed by the word "adoption," the inner being cries out "Abba, Father." The first term expresses the initial exclamation of the little child for the parent, conveying affection and dependence. The last is the mature recognition of warm relationship.

God has delivered us from the status of slaves. He no longer treats us as minors. The coming of Jesus was the signal for the coming of age of the people of God. The fullness of the time was the time of their fullness. Unfortunately, many people are not able to accept the sense of responsibility involved in the freedom of sonship. In their spiritual adolescence they seek to convert the very love letters addressed to them into a legalistic arrangement, which would thrust them back into slavery.

Only a little thought is required to demonstrate that the new covenant cannot be postulated upon such a written code. When a community is founded upon law, the law must be enunciated first. Those who are to constitute the community must consent to it and pledge their allegiance to it. If the procedure were the reverse of this, the community could have imposed upon it regulations that the members would abhor, and to which they could not subscribe in good conscience. As was stated, we do not erect a structure and then construct a foundation; we first lay the foundation.

The nation of Israel is a good example. It was God's design to create for himself a nation that would preserve the concept of monotheism until the Messiah should come. He would be identified as the Son of the one God who made Heaven and earth. Accordingly, God called His people out of slavery in Egypt and led them across the Red Sea. Instead of taking them by the ancient caravan route, which gave direct access to the land of Canaan but led through hostile Philistine territory, He conducted them southward to Mount Sinai, or Horeb. He called Moses to come up into the mountain in the presence of all the people and gave him instructions to relay to the multitude. The people were to wash their clothes so they could appear clean in the presence of the Lord. They were to abstain from sexual relationship with their wives. They were not to touch the mountain, under the penalty of death. A boundary line was drawn around the base of the mountain so no man or beast could make physical contact with it. Then, "Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God" (Exodus 19:17; KJV).

When the assembly heard the voice of God thundering from the peak, they were frightened. They requested that Moses be allowed to go and receive the message of God and relay it to them. "And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord hath said will we do" (Exodus 24:3).

Moses wrote all the words God had spoken, and arose very early in the morning to construct an altar in the shadow of the hill. Young men were dispatched to offer a sacrifice upon the altar. Moses caught half of the blood in a basin and sprinkled the remainder upon the altar to sanctify it. He then took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. They responded to the reading by saying, "All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient" (v. 7). Moses thereupon took the blood in the basin and sprinkled it upon the people and the book, saying, "Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words" (v. 8).

The sprinkling of the book consecrated it to the people, while the sprinkling of the people consecrated them to the book. The covenant founded upon law was inaugurated, and from thenceforth the nation was bound to keep all the words of that law or die. To violate a covenant with God is a tragic renunciation of a promise. To break a covenant with Him is to become a traitor to the Eternal God.

In the case of the "new covenant," which God specifically declared was not to be like the one made with the fathers when they were led forth from Egypt, there was no written code announced and read. Ours is a personal relationship with Jesus, through whom grace and truth came. Instead of writing a book and sprinkling it with blood, Peter publicly announced the facts concerning the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. He ended by saying, "This same Jesus God raised up and made Him both Lord and Christ." The application of the blood of the new covenant was figuratively to the hearts of the believers.

The New Covenant Scriptures could not have constituted a legal code upon which the church was erected, simply because they were not yet written. They were written many years later. It is true that those who were baptized "continued stedfastly in the teaching of the apostles," also in the sharing of the common life in Christ, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers, but this was in no sense a ritualistic performance based upon legal specifications. It was the natural expression of hearts filled with the Holy Spirit after being cleansed and purged by divine forgiveness.

A written code was the foundation of the nation composed of those called out from slavery in Egypt. The foundation of the kingdom composed of those called out of bondage to sin was a simple fact, the greatest in all history. That fact is that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. When Simon Peter openly testified to it, Jesus pronounced a blessing upon him and declared that his statement was a Heaven-revealed truth. He said, "Upon this rock I will build my church." On that fact He would plant the called-out ones. The church is composed of those who are not under law, but under grace. Their hope is not derived from righteousness based upon law, but from righteousness of faith in Christ.

At one time in my life I thought the New Covenant Scriptures, consisting of the apostolic letters of love and sharing, constituted a blueprint for the church, exactly as the legal code given at Sinai did for the nation of Israel. I did not stop to realize that a blueprint must be in the hands of the construction superintendent and the carpenters before the building is started. I freely quoted what God said to Moses when he was about to make the tabernacle, and applied it to ourselves. The instruction to Moses was "See that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount" (Hebrews 8:5; KJV).

In spite of what may be said about "pattern theology" and a "divine blueprint," the New Covenant Scriptures do not constitute either a pattern or blueprint by which the church was constructed. If they do, the church was not built by the blueprint, because it was in existence a good many years before a single epistle was written. Each letter was addressed to only one community of believers. Not one area had all of the Scriptures available to it for many decades. There were congregations that lived and perished who never saw one segment of "the blueprint," and did not know that such existed.

The writer of Hebrews contrasts the old covenant and the new. Unfortunately, many readers think he is comparing them and pointing out similarities. Reference is made to the time when Moses was instructed to build the tabernacle after having been shown a pattern of the tent and all of its furnishings. Many readers assume that when God said, "See that you make all things according to the pattern," He was, by implication, telling us also to build the church according to a blueprint supplied to and by the apostles. This analogy breaks down for several reasons, including the following:

1. Moses was given a preview of the tabernacle because it was to be built by men who had never seen such a structure. It is specifically stated, however, that the true tabernacle was one "which the Lord pitched, and not man" (8:2). Since it was not pitched by man, it was unnecessary to provide a blueprint for man.

2. Since the priests offered gifts according to the law and served "unto the example and shadow of heavenly things," it is sometimes argued that we are under a written blueprint to provide the antitype. In that eventuality our blueprint would have been the pattern shown to Moses, not the New Covenant Scriptures at all. Our task would be to "spiritualize" the pattern shown to Moses and to erect the true tabernacle accordingly. In that case the true tabernacle would be pitched by man, and not the Lord, in contravention of the plain Scriptural statement.

3. The very next sentence after the quotation relating to the "pattern shown to Moses" (v. 5), begins with the words, "But now." When these words occur in Scripture, they indicate a change in God's dealings with mankind. It is true that under the first covenant Moses was shown a replica of the tabernacle and instructed to make everything according to it. The writer of Hebrews continues, "But now hath he [Christ] obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises" (v. 6).

Under the new covenant God did not provide a pattern or blueprint of a structure. Instead, He gave His Son, and it is the Son who is our pattern, or example. Speaking about the persecution and hardship that are to be endured by one who is identified with Jesus, Peter writes, "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps" (1 Peter 2:21; KJV).

The temple of God today is composed of living stones, of individuals who are cleansed and purified by the blood of Christ. The only sanctuary is a consecrated human heart, and for this the blueprint is the life of Jesus. The first covenant began with a book; the new covenant began with a baby. The first created holy days and holy places, the second created holy persons. The first covenant, like the first Adam, was of the earth, earthy; the second covenant, like the second Adam, was the Lord from Heaven.

Our hope lies in conformity to the Christ, not in conformity to a code. We do not walk in statutes but in the Spirit. We are free from the demands of the flesh which made law necessary. The flesh has no claim upon us, since Jesus died in the flesh. Those who continue to walk after the flesh shall die. We are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if it is true that the Spirit of Christ dwells in us. When the dominion of the flesh was destroyed and we were liberated, we were freed from the bondage in which we were once held. To form a new written code from the letters that the apostles wrote to congregations and individuals, would be to forge anew the fetters that would bring us once again into captivity to law.

-by W. Carl Ketcherside


Parousia said...

Keith -

Wow! W. Carl Ketcherside. He and his wife were close friends of my mom and dad. He lived in Missouri and we lived in Arlington, VA. Numerous times that I can recall, he was speaking in our area and always stayed at our home. And many times we would travel to Missouri/Illinois for conferences at which he spoke.

I was too young back then to understand much of what he had to say, but the one recollection I have is that he carried with him the presence of the Lord Jesus. Amazing. You should check out a book that Carl wrote called "The Royal Priesthood." I have written and spoken a number of times on the fact that we are that royal priesthood and we need to know and understand the ways of royalty. Not arrogance. It, in fact, is a function of HUMILITY. I have told many that living by Biblical principles without the Prince of those principles leads to religion and arrogance. Brother Ketcherside had a wonderful understanding of our call to be princes/princesses and priests. We are to rule with a servant's heart and serve with the King's heart!!


Parousia said...

Carl Ketcherside is even more amazing because he was a pastor in the non-instrumental music Church of Christ. He was somewhat of an anathema there. I was too young and ignorant to understand then, but it is clear now. He was a very kind and generous man in the midst of a people who valued form over substance and power. "We have the Bible. We don't need His presence or anything else."

2 Tim 3:5-7, Paul gave very clear instructions about what to do with people (i.e. unbelieving believers) who have a form of godliness but deny His power. folks who are ever learning but never coming to knowledge of the Truth... who is a person.

Carl had another friend named Leroy Garrett from Denton, Texas who ran in the same circles as brother Ketcherside and was somewhat of a renegade. He is really up in years. His wife Ouida passed this past December and I have tried to encorage him with email discussions. My mother, who is 94, was close to him and his wife. He calls her on occasion. He's really a kind man, with much the same perspective that Carl had with regard to the Kingdom of God.