An editorial downgrading

     Recently, BOT editor, Walter Chantry, published three essays under the title ‘Sort of’ Reformed, dealing, amongst other things, with New Covenant Theology.[1. BOT Magazine, issues 518-20, 2006-2007.] Though he concluded that new NCT is worse than old Neonomianism, he accepted many NCT ideas regarding ‘moral law’ and Mosaic Law, arguing for a new Neonomianism and a new emphasis on man’s moral duties. This makes him a ‘sort of’ NCT himself. So, too BOT’s close ally, Tom Wells, is an avowed protagonist of New Covenant Theology and one who Iain Murray uses to promote his works as in his Unresolved Controversy. Tom Wells is also a welcome contributor to the Banner’s theological partner Reformation Today. Other close associates of the BOT such as Founders Ministries are now openly supporting NCT teaching and even Tom Nettles writes favourably of NCT’s ‘canonical hermeneutic’.

    In a new BOT essay, The Christian and the Moral Law: Matthew 5:17-20,[2. The Christian and the Moral Law, BOT Magazine, Issue 539-40.] Chantry, following Rudolf Bultmann’s demythologising theories, rejects the bulk of Old Testament teaching concerning Christ our Righteousness and builds a new rationale on a cut down version of the Ten Commandments which he finds in part of the Sermon on the Mount. He has now clearly fallen even deeper into the NCT pit.

Ransacking the Law in the search for righteousness

     Chantry argues, like the Aristotelian Scholastics, that the Mosaic Law must be broken into its moral, ceremonial and civil parts. For him, the ceremonial law is ‘that set of institutions and commandments whose purpose was to point attention and faith to the Person and work of the coming Saviour, Jesus Christ,’ and, ‘the civil law is the set of institutions whose purpose was to preserve the national society in which Messiah would appear’.[3. Ibid. p. 59.] These parts, Chantry argues are not moral and ethical and thus do not promote righteousness. This is the sole work of the Ten Commandments which are refined and up-dated in a shortened version in Matthew 5:17-20. In the Matthew text, Chantry argues, Christ, ‘does not discuss in any detail predictive prophecy, history, the civil arrangements, or other features of the Law and the Prophets. He gives instead a penetrating analysis of ethical standards.’[4. Ibid, p. 57]  He further says, ‘We must notice the great prominence of the subject of moral law in Jesus’ preaching of the gospel !’[5. Ibid, p. 60.] and that ‘our Saviour intends His primary focus to be on the moral law or the ethical teaching of the Old Testament.’

     Chantry is particularly misleading when speaking of the Law with a capital ‘L’. He means neither the Mosaic Law nor the Old Testament. He tells us, ‘If this sermon is a fair example of Jesus’ preaching of the gospel, then it is necessary to conclude that the Law[6. With a capital L.] (moral law, the standard of righteousness)[7. Chantry’s parenthesis and explanation.] is an indispensable component of the gospel.’ It is this cut-down ‘moral law’ which is the rule of faith, sanctification and the gospel for Christians. Provokingly, Chantry claims that most Christians will ‘feel very uncomfortable with so much ethical content in a discussion of the gospel of the kingdom’, and if they reject Chantry’s interpretation,

‘Such error will not only distort one’s theology but also will so lead him astray in experience as to result in everlasting ruin when he is excluded from the kingdom of heaven.’[8. Ibid, p. 60.]

Looking for righteousness in the wrong place

     In making the civil and ceremonial teaching of the Old Testament irrelevant to the problem of how a sinner can become righteous, Chantry is seriously departing from the testimony of Scripture. Even the Scholastics who used the three-fold division of the Law merely for the sake of argument and analysis, never taught  three separate Laws in the Old Testament but three different applications of all its moral and spiritual teaching as opposed to natural law. They stressed the interdependence of each part of the Law so they never viewed the ceremonial and civil as if they ruled out the moral, nor the moral as if it were not an essential feature of the Jewish state and religious system. When they, like Augustine, spoke of moral law, they emphasised that this was the entire Word of God whose full teaching was always applicable to the full way of salvation. The full teaching of law and gospel in the Old Testament, which was the Bible of our New Testament Church, depends on the harmony of the entire Word of God as all Scripture, not merely a cut-down ethical code, points to the way of righteousness. This, of course, raises the very valid question as to why Chantry should make such an unnecessary distinction at all. When Christ said that we must live ‘by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God’ in Matthew 4:4, He certainly did not exclude the vast bulk of the Old Testament, nor did He say that a fraction of the Sermon on the Mount contained all the Law, all the Prophets and all the gospel.

     It is clearly most impractical and misleading to base a doctrine of righteousness on an arbitrary choice of a few verses in the Bible, arguing that all else has nothing to do with the ethical and moral nature of the law. The entire Old Testament abounds with gospel teaching on righteousness through and through. Christ who is our only claim to righteousness is the Author, Keeper and Fulfiller of the entire Old Testament. Chantry seeks to prove that when Christ spoke of the Law and the Prophets, He meant just a wee bit of the Law and less of the Prophets. Furthermore, Chantry writes as if his new ethical system is all that is necessary to lead a Christian life as his Law embraces, or rather smothers, the gospel in the salvation process. Indeed Chantry depicts Christ’s teaching as being in the realms of a cut-down law righteousness only, arguing that ‘He did not come to annul, abrogate, destroy, or make irrelevant and void the righteousness of Old Testament Scriptures’. We are to conclude that Christ did get rid of the rest.

Choosing a New Law which shuts out grace [9. See Rom. 6:14-15.]

     Having defined the Law as a purely ethico-moral system based on the few verses out of context, Chantry concludes, ‘Those who hear Jesus’ words about the Law and put them into practice will withstand the judgement, but those who hear and do not put them into practice will meet with catastrophic ruin’.[10. Ibid, p. 61.] Chantry’s inquisitorial denunciation of those who disagree with him abounds in such hyperbole that one gains the impression that there is no grace in Christ’s dealing with sinners at all. So Chantry affirms that the ‘powerful conclusion’ of Jesus’ sermon is that ‘this subject of the Law and law-keeping relates to the ultimate destinies of men’. Christ, for Chantry, is not a new Adam but old Moses back in power. Unlike Moses, however, who gave us five books, Chantry serves up his new discount Law in four verses.

     Chantry argues that one cannot view the gospel without his ‘indispensable’ view of Law which not only displays God’s righteousness but also makes clear to both sinners and saints what God requires of them and they shall perish when God discovers their failings on the Day of Judgement.[11. Ibid, p. 61-62.] This sub-Law is therefore Chantry’s sub-gospel. Both sinners and saints must embrace and follow this Law as their only way to righteousness. If a Christian with a heart awakened to moral deficiency[12. Chantry’s euphemism for SIN.] fails in following Chantry’s moral law, he will fall by the wayside.

     Chantry concludes by saying that his cut-down moral law teaches us what God’s holiness is, what sin is, what the cross entails, what Christ provides for sinners and how to live a life of righteousness. Though he makes an effort to use Biblical ideas by saying that God gives righteousness by faith, this righteousness is post-faith and earned, not imputed and given, through sincere obedience to Chantry’s moral law. Chantry tells us, ‘Since sanctification follows faith, men will be judged by their conformity to commandments. Even before that final judgment those who fail to have in their lives a significant pursuit of the moral standards of God’s Law have reason to question whether they are as yet citizens of Christ’s glorious Kingdom’.[13. Ibid, p. 63.] Most holy and sanctified Christians I have ever known would not dare to presume that they are following any of God’s commandments or laws adequately. Chantry’s answer to such an honest soul is that he should prove his obedience to the Law by making his good deeds known to men! This is very similar to Maurice Roberts’ sanctimonious slogan ‘Live so as to be missed when you die.’

     Of course, this is a mocking caricature of the Person and teaching of Christ and the way of righteousness. Chantry’s righteousness is worse than that of the Scribes and Pharisees because he has God’s full revelation in both the Old and New Testament, whereas the Pharisees had only the Old. He opts for what the Fathers called ‘criticism with a pen-knife’ and sees righteousness merely in the form of a limited Law obedience. At least the Scribes and Pharisees did not dilute the Law, though they, like the more wayward Chantry, over-stated its powers in the life of a sinner.

Finding true righteousness in Christ

     In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ builds on the entire Old Testament teaching, quoting not just part of the Ten Commandments but also from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Ruth, 2 Kings, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and Hosea, besides echoing what the New Testament writers taught from all parts of the Old Testament. He covered literally all the law and all the prophets and taught the absolute necessity of studying the entire Word of God. Christ also brought into His teaching a great many gospel elements which are not to be found in the so-called moral law, a point Chantry appears to miss. Christ also included matters relating to the so-called civic and ceremonial laws. When Christ says that not one jot or title shall pass from the Law till all be fulfilled, He is speaking of the whole of the undivided Law not Chantry’s cut-down special offer. Augustine criticised the Manichaean Faustus for hanging all his (theological) clothes on one misused peg. Chantry speaks much of how a true Christian should understand Matthew 5 but fails to expound the passage in context, merely using it as a peg for his own legalism. True Christians realise that if faith and sanctification were left to their keeping the Law then they would never experience sanctified faith. We need Another’s righteousness which is so strong that it remains ours in spite of failures and spiritual falls. We thus do not look to the Law which can only condemn us and never sanctify us, but to Christ the only Law-Keeper and the only Giver of true righteousness. In Him only do we find the path of holiness, knowing that He has pledged Himself to make our ways perfect. Chantry’s gospel is an extreme form of Pharisaism. It can only bring spiritual defeat before one has started to experience the loving care of the Saviour. It is no substitute for true, godly sanctity. Those who God loves, He makes righteous, i.e. justifies, in His special way. He does not make the Law void in us, He makes good the Law, whether civil, ceremonial or moral, in us and He makes good the teaching of the prophets in us. They both point not to our works but His, and it is His works that save and sanctify us, not ours. Chantry has misunderstood Moses and side-stepped Christ.