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Does the Church of Christ Use the Old Testament?

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Does the Church of Christ Use the Old Testament? As an evangelist for the churches of Christ I am often asked many questions about our faith and fellowship. The inquiries are always religious and concern such matters as life and death and questions about the Bible. I am frequently asked questions by denominational members about what the churches of Christ practice and believe. The questions are usually about some issue that distinguishes the churches of Christ from other more popular religious groups. Questions about the use of instrumental music in worship services, the frequency of the Lord Supper, and “Do you think you all are the only people going to heaven?” are the most frequent questions. The question in the title of this bulletin article may seem a little unusual but it was recently asked by a sincere believer who did not know much about the churches of Christ. Although I was a little surprised at the question, I should not have been. It is not the first time that I have heard the question brought up. It is a question that has been asked of me several times. On one occasion a visitor, who apparently meant it as a compliment, said, “What I like about the church of Christ is that you only use the New Testament.” After further discussion I realized that this man had confused our plea for New Testament Christianity with an outright rejection of the Old Testament. (In 140 A.D. an influential man in the church at Rome named Marcion felt that Judaism was evil and actually created his own Bible rejecting the Old Testament and eliminating many of the Jewish elements found within the New Testament. He was excommunicated.) So how should we answer the question, “Does the church of Christ use the Old Testament?” Most of the readers of this bulletin would answer with a resounding “Yes, we do use the Old Testament.” The real question is “How do we use the Old Testament?” Although I am not the religious authority for the churches of Christ, I want to share with you a few biblical teachings that will answer the question. We use the O.T. to teach us about the N.T. In our Sunday morning classes we are studying the book of Hebrews. This wonderful book in the N.T. reveals to us how the things of the O.T. (e.g tabernacle, priestly service, sacrifices), were simply to teach us about God’s plan for the New Covenant. The N.T. calls the O.T. system of worship “a symbol” (Heb. 9:9), “copies of the things in the heavens” (Heb. 9:23), and “only a shadow” (Heb. 10:1). Paul makes this crystal clear, “The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” (Gal. 3:24-25). We use the O.T. to confirm the N.T. The fact of the matter is that it is impossible to use the N.T. without using the O.T. because the N.T. so frequently quotes and alludes to the O.T. The first chapter of the first book of the N.T. is an O.T. genealogy that confirms that Jesus truly was a Son of David and rightful heir to the throne. The very first thing to happen in the N.T., the announcement to Joseph and Mary about the coming of Jesus, “took place to fulfill what was spoke by the Lord through the prophet” (Matt. 1:22). Which prophet? Isaiah (7:14). The ministry of John the Baptist in the N.T. was confirmed by the prophet Isaiah (40:3). The first gospel sermon recorded in Acts was in confirmation of what the prophet Joel had written centuries earlier (Joel 2:28-32). Without the O.T. the fulfillment of these prophecies would be meaningless. We use the O.T. to learn about the history of the world and of God’s dealings with men. The churches of Christ believe that God created the world because of the writing of Genesis 1-2. We are familiar with the people of God such as Noah, Abraham, and David, and we learn from their lives. This is exactly what we should do as the N.T. book of Hebrews exhorts us (Heb. 11). Romans 15:4 says, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Paul tells us the things that happened to Israel, “happened as examples for us” (1 Cor. 10:6). We use the Old Testament for the wisdom of the teachings found therein. Where would the church be without the outflow of praise found in the Psalms or the wisdom of the Proverbs? How much have we been blessed by reading about the pain and patience of Job? The church has been greatly blessed by these O.T. books and continues to be still today. We do not, however, use the Old Testament to condone things that Jesus did away with. This seems to be where the line is drawn between the churches of Christ and many denominational groups. When a few Christians tried to impose some of the O.T. practices upon gentile Christians, Paul and Barnabas debated them on the issue and the church in Jerusalem concluded that Gentile Christians did not have to keep certain O.T. customs (Acts 15). Paul wrote an entire epistle to the churches of Galatia to teach them that Christ had set them free from the bondage of the O.T. (Gal. 5:1) and he strongly criticized and warned those who did so (Gal. 5:4,12). He would later write, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Col. 2:16-17). Therefore the churches of Christ us the Old Testament to understand and confirm the New Testament. We learn about God’s dealing with men in times past and learn from the great examples found therein. Bu the New Testament is our guide today in all things. It is the “new covenant” that every Christian should live under today (Heb. 8:8-12). --Caleb Cunningham