|Oh, No, Lord! Not Law, Lord?!!|
ABOUT THIS BOOK
It is a firmly held conviction of mine that there is no greater need for the church today than to come to a fresh, experimental knowledge of grace. The most radical thing of all is the grace of God. In the New Testament the absolutely predominating factor in faith is grace.
There can be little doubt that to the Jew as well as the Greek in the New Testament the knowledge of the God of all grace was an amazing revelation. The preaching of God's amazing love in Christ unaccountably overtaking the believer and putting him in a whole new world could not be contained in any old wine skins. This was the radical thing. It is unlike anything the world has ever imagined, invented or worked into a system of living. In Jesus' parable, the elder brother, at home, working for his father, just could not understand it, while the younger brother, in being grasped by the grace of his father, knew his father as neither he nor his brother had ever known him before.
What is surprising is that the early church should so soon lose the radical nature of grace. A reading of the documents of the early church fathers will demonstrate this. The greater emphasis for them was not an act of decisive significance, cutting across human life and setting it in a wholly new world grounded upon God's total self giving. What took precedence was the call to a new moral obedience to a sovereign judge.
Grace very soon became subsidiary in the early church. Grace became the divine aid needed to live the new demands. The gospel became erected into a New Law. Salvation was based on the grounds of repentance rather than anchored in Christ's death, once for all, for sin. The Church saw itself as the dispenser of grace through the sacraments and her ministrations. They did not live from God so much as toward Him. Repentance was treated as the principle of self-amendment before God, and reckoned as the proper means of securing God's mercy and pardon. The death of Christ for sinners lost its centrality, and instead the emphasis was upon taking up the cross and following Christ. Stress was made on attaining to God through martyrdom.
Echoes will be heard here of our present problems concerning 'cheap grace', the cost of discipleship and radical obedience.
Except for some isolated pockets of people and groups who rediscovered the richness of grace, it was not until the sixteenth century Reformation that the radical nature of grace shook the church. Again as in the New Testament, there were many debates about the relationship between law and grace. Grace was given a high priority in the Confessions of the Reformed churches and, for the most part, it was not graceless law or lawless grace.
However, again it is possible to give lip-service to grace, to defend its theological priority, but to overshadow its dynamic in fossilised formalisation.
The Evangelical Revival of the eighteenth century under George Whitefield, the Wesleys and others was largely an awakening of grace in the church, which spilled over into the wider world. But the movement became an organisation. The great disciplines, the holiness, the obedience and the self-surrender which come from grace soon become a religious shell, a legalistic moralism, when grace has died away. This does not mean that grace is not there, but, where anything is added to grace, it is no longer grace.
Today it is easy to assume that the churches believe in grace. But it is all too easy to give lip-service to an article of faith, and in practice be pre-occupied with 'how to' models, programmes, techniques and psychological 'know hows'. Subtly, while using grace to counter conservative legalism, our emphasis comes on what we do, how we live it, how we perform, what we contribute. We can presume we know about grace, its being one of the 'first things' of the faith, and then move on to complement grace with 'our part'. The trouble is, this makes grace an appendage, or supplementary, whereas in the Bible, God is the God of all grace, our obedience is the fruit of grace, and everything will be 'to the praise of his glorious grace'.
This book of Geoffrey Bingham's carries a teaching which is axiomatic for Christians and the Church to know. Some of us have a deficient view of grace because we have never known the law of God. And some of us have a malignant view of God's law because God's grace has not been fully known or received. Read this book and wrestle with its argument. We need to work it through and preach it up. The spark of grace will set the church and then the world aflame. Here is the vast sea that evokes new obedience with immense joy.
It is as we are refreshed by God's grace and gripped by its power that we will communicate it. Being graced, we can call for the obedience of faith, for the medium will be the message.
Deane Meatheringham, Minister of the Word, Broken Hill Uniting Church.