There Is No Golden Rule

Here’s a discussion that’s gone on over at Doug Wilson’s blog. If you have read it there, you can skip it here. I’m posting it for those who haven’t, and also for my own future reference (there’s a book on baptism coming from me at some point not too far away). Also, if there is some more discussion over there I will add it over here.

Doug Wilson – Three Cheers for “Moralistic” Applications of the OT

In recent years, it has become de rigeur to say that the stories of the Bible ought not to be read in ways that reduce the message to simple little Sunday School lessons. And of course, as with all such things, there is a sense in which this is perfectly acceptable, and in certain ways a necessary corrective. The Bible is not Aesop’s Fables, and the lessons we are to bring away from Scripture do not snap together like little legos.

But it is more than Aesop’s Fables, not less. We know this on the authority of the Lord Jesus Himself. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us an authoritative summary of the entire Old Testament. He says, do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Matt. 7:12) — and He says that this is the law and the prophets. In Christ’s reading, the entire Old Testament reduces to an ethical charge. The Golden Rule, learned in many a Sunday School, turns out to be the whole point.

In another place, Jesus says that love for God and neighbor sum up the whole Old Testament as well (Matt. 22:40). Now if A = C and B = C, then we can say that A has something to do with B. If the two great commandments are the law and the prophets, and the Golden Rule is the law and the prophets, what is the relationship of the two great commandments and the Golden Rule? And has anybody noticed that these dominical summaries of the whole Old Testament are kind of Aesopy? Love God, love your neighbor, and do as you would be done by?

There are two significant things going on here. The first is the fact of Christ’s willingness to summarize. He doesn’t say, “Well, it’s not that simple . . .” He summarizes the entire Old Testament in words that could fit into one tweet, and room to spare. The second thing is that His summary doesn’t mention creation, sin, redemption, the Messiah, or the flow of biblio-redemptive history. I say this fully granting that all these things must be included in what we are summarizing, and that if they are not, we are going to wind up with some sort of anemic and very liberal “brotherhood of man, fatherhood of God” bromide collection. Moralism as a stand-alone product really is heretical and bad. But it is apparently not bad to sound moralistic sometimes, like when you are summarizing the import of the Old Testament.

And as they say on tv infomercials, “But wait, there’s more.” This information is not just given to us raw, but in more than one instance we are given a ranking of competing summaries.

“And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:32-34a).

Not only does this scribe summarize the Old Testament the same way Jesus had done, he goes farther and says that this element of biblical teaching is far to be preferred to religious ceremonial, even when the ceremonies in questions had been established by God. When he says this, Jesus commends him and says that he is not far from the kingdom.

The dogmatism of the Pharisees was not detached from their covenantal boundary markers. We have all had to deal with the theological Euclidians, who can slice metaphysical hairs with precision, and when they are done, nobody can tell any difference. They can take the midges of truth, dissect them, and tie off the intestines of those midges into a little braid, and all while the rest of us don’t even know yet whether or not midges even have intestines. I mean, think about it.

But the airy fairy metaphysicians are not a big factor in the biblical text. We have to deal with them, sure enough, reasoning by analogy. But the Pharisees were hair-splitters when it came to ritual, ceremony, practice. When do you wash your hands and feet, and why? What may you eat, and why? When may you eat it? What constitutes sabbath observance? You may pick up a chair and carry it across the room on the sabbath, but you may not drag it — for if you drag it, it might break the surface, and that would be plowing, and plowing is working on the sabbath.

And then a man, not far from the kingdom, said that a monotheistic confession, and loving that God all out, and loving your neighbor as yourself was “more” than “all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

There is a temptation for those Christians who want to emphasize ritual (in the wrong way) to say that in the new covenant things are all different, because of the way Christ is present in His worship now. But this overlooks several things. First, Christ has always been present with His people. The Rock that accompanied Israel was Christ (1 Cor. 10:4), and the people then drank spiritual drink and ate spiritual food.

The second point unfolds from the first. We are not permitted to draw contrasts where the New Testament draws parallels. The Corinthians were tempted to put on airs over against the Jews. We have spiritual food. We have spiritual drink. So did the Jews, Paul replies bluntly. You can have religious ceremonial, God-given ritual, whole burnt offerings and sacrifices, baptism in the cloud and sea, and still be overthrown in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:5). You can have a degree in liturgics and still not have the one thing needful (Heb. 4:2). Not only is it possible to do this, it is easy to do this. The human soul likes making this mistake. And why do I talk this way? Because the Bible does, over and over again. It is never rude to speak biblically.

So if we look at this carefully, we see that the Golden Rule is another way of expressing the duties of love. Jesus said that He did not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but rather to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17). This is how He does that — by giving a heart of love, by giving the kind of heart that understands the Golden Rule.

He gives the new heart. He converts the soul. He opens our eyes. He makes light shine out of darkness. He pours out the spirit of regeneration. He gives us true evangelical faith, the only catalyst that can make any religious activity whatever acceptable in the sight of God (Heb. 4:3).

Apart from the new birth, God hates whatever it is we think we are doing. Away with the noise of your songs! High church, low church, stand-on-the-yellow-line church, God spews it out of His mouth.

Michael Bull – There Is No Golden Rule

“…if we look at this carefully, we see that the Golden Rule is another way of expressing the duties of love.”

This is all true, but for me it seems like we are listening for the heartbeat of the Bible with our stethoscope applied to the forehead. Pastor Wilson is correct, but it all seems a bit fluffy to me. God gave us a sharper knife to cut through the crap, and that is the nature of Covenant.

There is no Golden Rule. This is because there is no timeless truth. We love to put rules in boxes because it means we, like the Jews, don’t have to grow up and think for ourselves. The rules in the golden box were taken by God when they became obsolete. They became obsolete through the death and resurrection of Israel under those rules. The stone laws were written on flesh through the exile.

So, there is no Golden Rule. There is God and there is Man — a legal relationship that is going somewhere.

The solution to clumsy moralism is not the clumsy drawing of parallels (as the Federal Vision is wont to do) but to get to the real heart of the matter, and that is to understand each Covenant as a mission. Each Covenant was a tour of duty, a “there and back again,” bringing God’s people to greater maturity and greater responsibility — via death and resurrection. As with gaming, each level had its own instructions and goals peculiar to the level of maturity.

Yes, every level is founded upon vertical and horizontal love, but a robust Covenant theology will help us to avoid slipping into clumsy moralism (i.e. Moses judged righteously when he killed the Egyptian, despite the fact that God judged Israel, not Moses, and this was a picture of what God was going to do through Moses to all Egypt) or a clumsy drawing of parallels (i.e. Israel in the wilderness had all the spiritual benefits that the firstfruits Church had in the wilderness, despite the fact that 3000 died at the first Pentecost and 3000 were saved at the last.)

God calls us to draw near, not to draw back (to backslide). The one who loves God and loves man (mediating between heaven and earth) draws near, ascends and can “face” him (as “facebread”), and the one who failed to love once ascended through sacrifice and now ascends through Christ. The reason the law of love is more than all offerings is because obedience is prevention and sacrifice is cure, one is health and the other is health-by-surgery. The only difference between the means of approach BC and the means AD is Covenantal. They are integrated stages in one great process of maturity. Jesus called Israel to an even greater maturity, and through His death and resurrection made the Law as obsolete as old trainer wheels.

Every time God calls His people to move forward, some draw back and fall away. They replace the Ethics of the Covenant with a man-made substitute: a way to get the blessings of the Covenant without the obedience to God specified under that Covenant. All our utopian -isms are magical attempts to secure the miraculous increases of God, but without God.

David Goldman observes that European Christianity could slide back into the old national (hereditary) paganisms. Americans, having deliberately left those behind, had to invent somewhere new to slide, and that place is the liberal agenda, a manufactured paganistic past disguised as a future. (See The Eternal People.)

Rather than move forward with the incarnate God, Judaism invented its own gnostic religion, focusing on uninspired scriptures. Rome did the same, and Islam likewise in its own way. It’s a means to reclassify backsliding as “having arrived already.” I’d say the Federal Vision does the same with baptism, which I only bring up here because Pastor Wilson refers to Israel’s corporate baptism as proof for paedobaptism. The FV has its own story to enable it to hold to the Scriptures and yet cling to the old “hereditary” Covenantal ways, which are now obsolete. Inventing the magical “paedofaith” is a means of avoiding growing up and leaving those childish things behind. The Federal Vision is the godly past disguised as the future. When Israel rises out of Babylon, she is not the same as the old Israel. God calls us ever forward, out of our carnal comfort zones, to the place where the Law is written on flesh in deeper and deeper ways.

So, the solution to antinomianism is not to read the Old Testament stories with a one-size-fits-all moralism, but in the light and context of the Covenant “Ethics” of the time. Many of the details don’t make sense without this sensibility. The real question is HOW the people in any given passage were called to love God and love others. There was to be no divide between heart and ceremony because a Covenant is a tour of duty. Faith cannot be mere intellectual assent simply because a Covenant is a mission.

If Covenant as a tour of duty is a new idea, here’s a book that might help.

Tony Cowley – Close, Yet So Far Away…

“There is no Golden Rule. This is because there is no timeless truth.”

Is that a timeless truth? I know it must be, because it is true for all times that there is no time when there is a timeless truth.

I know Michael Bull is doing some good work, and I have his first book. But, I didn’t get it quite finished. Really, quite 1/2 read. Just a time problem.

But, I was taken aback when Federal Vision was given the honor to stand in for all paedobaptists – whether Lutheran, or Calvinistic. Now, FVers have thought through to things like paedofaith (Lusk) which most baby baptizers have not done. In fact, the evangelical paedobaptists generally balk at this FV view, and other historic reformed views like presumptive regeneration or presumptive election.

Do we baptize the babies of believers because they are IN the Covenant already, or to Put them in? In the case of circumcision it seems clear that Abraham’s male children were IN covenant, but were cut off if not circumcised (ironic, eh?). Smarter people (mostly FV types) tend to tell us that there is some necessity of baptism in terms of putting children IN covenant. All baptism is, according to Jim Jordan, infant baptism. Okay. I’m in way too deep here. But, Michael Bull seems to be attacking infant baptism as resulting in a certain kind of false miscasting of covenant mission. Playing your Wiii on an old gaming system won’t work and even when you get the upgrade some of the old games don’t work on the new platform. Which is the problem of the FV? Wrong game – software, or wrong hardware?

I think that Jesus made the tribal in to the Ethinic in the great commission – so, in fact,w e are to baptize Nations and Babies are born in nations as well as families. Tribe is too small. The Russian Baptists even have a hymn in Russian that says, “Russia, return to your baptism!” Kind of ironic, kind of deep. Very right.

You say lots of good things, but I think if you drop Christendom as an aspiration (as a function of being anti-paedobaptist) you are depriving the world of the display of God’s grace that He intends.

One more thing…  Reading this response to Doug Wilson’s quote was kind of an LSD experience – or something. It was Jordan and Leithart language being used in the opposite sense intended… or in some parallel sense. Maybe Mike Bull has discovered the internal meaning of the writings of Jim Jordan. My interal gyroscope was doing the same kind of thing I’ve experienced during the few (thankfully) mild earthquakes I’ve felt – disorentation. I feel queasy, nauseous, seasick, unsettled, odd, groggy, queer and a bit Green about the gills.

Okay, I’ll put down the thesaurus now…

Michael Bull – A Federal Vision that is not hamstrung


Thanks for reading.

Certainly there are truths that do not change, but the context here is the difference between the Covenants. Jordan has written about man’s propensity to use the concept of “timeless truth” as an excuse not to grow up – the Greeks did it, then the Jews did it.

Federal Vision paedobaptism is the only paedobaptism worth engaging. The others are entirely wrong. FV is shooting sparks and embers because it is half right. I want to cheer them on.

My arguments are here.

The whole point of the Great Commission is that it transcends familial, tribal and national boundaries. Tying baptism to heredity makes this impossible. This is basic logic, whatever the pretensions are. We can fantasize about a new Christendom where “everyone is a Christian” but that’s just sowing the seeds of the same failure. There will be another Christendom, but it won’t be anything like the first one.

It still amazes me that you guys don’t get the whole “second birth” thing.

Regarding James Jordan, the structural typology I learned from him (concerning delegation, maturity and vindication) shows that the New Testament corresponds baptism to investiture, a robe of glory that vindicates obedience to the Law (of the recipient, which I shouldn’t have to spell out – not by proxy) and gives that recipient authority – a commission – as a representative, a mediator. The Old Covenant precursor to baptism was not circumcision but the blue tasseled robe, a bridal “city” with four rivers on its hem. To confer this upon infants throws a big spanner in the works.

So yes, my position is that the logical conclusion of Jordan’s typology is credobaptism, but not the kind of credobaptism one finds in baptist theology, something way better: a Federal Vision that is not hamstrung by tribal ties, one that reunited baptism and table without maintaining their divorce from the new birth.

Keep reading and your internal gyroscope will adjust.

John McNeely

Michael Bull, You characterize the paedobaptism position as being hamstrung by tribal ties. This is not the position of any reformed person I know. Just because you make an assertion does not make it true. You do not demonstrate how any reformed person hamstrings the covenant or baptism by practicing paedobaptism. We could counter and say your credobaptism is hamstrung. Paedobaptism is an inclusive position while credo is exclusive. Credobaptism is hamstrung by arbitrary ideas of cognitive maturity or age. “Inventing the magical “paedofaith” is a means of avoiding growing up” This is completely false. Scripture is clear on the reality of paedofaith.

Michael Bull – Wearing a Tasteless Tie

Hi John

Any baptism is inclusive of the one baptized and exclusive of the one not baptized. The problem with any paedobaptism is that it draws the line in a place that the New Testament doesn’t. It divorces the New Covenant privileges from the New Birth.

Paedobaptism is wrong because it uses baptism to demarcate those “under Covenant,” that is, under the sound of the Gospel. But the WHOLE WORLD is now under that sound, that is, every tribe, every human demarcation. And the gospel crosses and dissolves them all.

The hamstringing I refer to is the fact that the Federal Vision doesn’t transcend anything. It merely creates a new human demarcation, a new tribe. And that approach is doomed.

I’ve covered paedofaith in those baptism links mentioned above. The construct is a house of cards based on a false assumption.

Credobaptism may indeed be hamstrung by a lack of church discipline, but the fault there is not in the actual baptism.

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