Where are all the young people going?
Why do the visitors never seem to stick?
Why have there been so many fights in our church?
Why are there so many rules in the church that do not seem to come from Scripture?
Unfortunately, these are common questions in the church. In my years as a pastor, I have been shocked over how much antipathy there has been toward the visible church. It took me more than a few years to get a handle on why the reaction has been so strong. The sad reality is that many people have witnessed fighting, church splits, abuses, hatred, contentions, jealousies, all undergirded by a hard kind of legalism within the confines of a closed community that demonstrates little of the joy of Christ. What are we to think of these things? Are there legitimate criticisms of Reformed theology, piety, and practice that we should evaluate?
Two Kinds Of Ministries
The Bible contrasts two very different kinds of ministries. In 2 Corinthians 3:6 the apostle Paul says that we are ministers of the New Covenant, of the Spirit and not of the letter. The contrast the apostle is making is between the New Covenant as the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham, which he calls the “ministry of righteousness,” and the particular phenomenon of the giving of the law on Sinai to Moses—which he designates as the “ministry of condemnation.” The contrast between them is important because each kind of ministry produces its own kind of fruit in its recipients.
Jesus’ conflict with the Sanhedrin clearly exposes the nature of the ministry of condemnation. This community was under the ministry of condemnation and the bad tree was bearing bad fruit. The Pharisees had created a legalistic, self-righteous, exclusive club for those who conformed to their man-made, superimposed interpretations of the law and the “tradition of the elders” (Matt 15:2). No one could enter the club until there was complete conformity and uniformity.
One of the marks of the “ministry of condemnation” is manipulation. Full of self-righteousness and pride, the Sanhedrin condemned everyone but themselves. The Pharisees would go so far as to condemn Jesus and his disciples for not washing their hands properly before eating bread (Matt. 15:1ff). This ministry was practically killing the people. The Sanhedrin did nothing but fight over the most minute points of the law and their shepherding of the people proved to be nothing but a heavy-handed yoke of manipulation. Read more»