Friday, August 14, 2020

The Synagogue

Sometime in the past couple years, I was struck by the fact that both the Lord and Paul appear to have regularly attended the Synagogue. Luke 4:16 tells us it was the Lord's custom to attend the synagogue. Acts 18:4 tells us Paul visited the synagogue every sabbath in Corinth.

What struck me is, the synagogue isn't in the Law of Moses. It was an invention of post-captivity Judaism; we generally credit Ezra with inventing the tradition of the synagogue (Nehemiah 8:1–12). In fact, the first sabbath day commandment – given before the children of Israel reached Sinai – commands against leaving your home (Exodus 16:29).  But the Lord respected the synagogue tradition, and appears to have attended faithfully.

I've spent a lot of time with folks who take very seriously any and all commands in the New Testament about the church and its order. We don't always agree on what that means – for example, "open" assemblies generally have elders, while "exclusive" assemblies take a "not for today" position on elders –, but it's not taken lightly. There is a tendency among some groups almost to attempt to reset the ecclesiastical clock and go back to Acts 2, like the last two millennia can just be ignored. And while I personally hold views along the lines of J. N. Darby and William Kelly, I see no less conviction on the part of others who might hold slightly different views.

So you can imagine my surprise when I realized that the Lord went to the synagogue. And He didn't apparently go there to accuse them of following a man-made tradition, He didn't go there and tell them that there's no mention of the synagogue in the Law, He didn't go there to remind them that they were to worship only in the place where God had put His name (Deuteronomy 12:1–14). He went there and read the scriptures.

And that made me question a whole lot of things.

Now's a good time to remind ourselves that the Lord did, indeed, call out the Pharisees for things they had added to Scripture (Matthew 15:1–9). We should remind ourselves that He went back to "the beginning" when it was a question of divorce and remarriage (Matthew 19:1–9). So the Lord didn't just act like adding to the Word of God was OK. But we can't honestly say He followed a regulative principle either.

Now, it's true that the Lord is eternally God. It's true that He has every right to do whatever He likes, because He is God. But that doesn't appear to be what's going on here. The fact is that the Lord submitted to the Scriptures, treating them like they were the written record of God's words. But here's a case where He accepted the traditions of Judaism, apparently without any qualms at all.

I don't doubt that the Lord's life as a man on earth was entirely characterized by a moment-by-moment obedience to the Father (Isaiah 50:4; John 5:16–20).  I don't doubt that He was led by the Spirit of God every single step He took (Luke 4:1, etc.). There's no doubt in my mind that the Lord wasn't just doing what He felt like doing at the time.

But at the end of the day, here's a case where He accepted the traditions Judaism without making a point of reminding everyone that they weren't (in this case) strictly obeying the Law. He wasn't calling everyone to follow the "Old Testament pattern."

And the Apostles seemed to have a similar attitude. I've spend many years contemplating Acts 15, but without getting too side-tracked, I'll just say that when a dispute about the Law arose, the Apostles weren't shy about making a decision. Was it a godly decision? Apparently it was (Acts 15:28).

So I've been making a conscious effort not to get too hung up on a regulative principle. I've spent many years doing exactly that. I'm not saying "anything goes," not at all. I haven't forgotten that the Lord accused the Pharisees of allowing the traditions of the fathers to make the Word of God of none effect (Mark 7:9–14). But I'm also realizing that the Lord was led by the Spirit of God to participate in things that fail the to meet the standards of a strict regulative principle. And I'm not going to claim to be better than Him.

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