Tag Archives: Theology

Union Calgary: Theological Education in Alberta!

We’re excited to announce the launch of Union Calgary, a Learning Community of Union School of Theology for Christian theological education and ministry training, hosted by Calvary Grace Church. If you’re in driving distance of Calgary and are seeking an academically rigorous, biblically faithful, and accredited theological education, but can’t commit to a full-time program of study and can’t relocate to a seminary somewhere, this may be for you!

Details on the Calgary Learning Community here.

The program offered through the Learning Community is Union’s Graduate Diploma in Theology (GDip).

Prospectus here.

 

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“Buckle of the Bible Belt”? Part 4

Beyond Statistics: Alberta Evangelicals’ Critical Theological Condition

So in review: I’ve argued that Alberta’s evangelical reputation is a myth stemming from largely political factors. Last week I laid out some disturbing statistics that prove Alberta is actually one of the least Christian places in Canada. The problem, as I explained last week, is twofold. First, here in Alberta people in general aren’t particularly religious anymore. And second, we don’t have enough evangelical churches in our major cities of Calgary and Edmonton.

Sadly, it gets even worse. Not only do we not have enough evangelical Christians or enough churches, but many of the churches we do have are struggling. Furthermore, even many of the seemingly stable ones are theologically unhealthy.

It’s that last point that today’s article is about. I expect this post will likely be more controversial than others. However, if we care about the strength of Christ’s church in Alberta and Canada, we need to be honest about our problems, including our theological problems—and, boy, do we have some.

I’m going to provide three examples that illustrate the deep theological crisis Alberta’s churches are facing today.

GIVING A “HELLBOUND” HERESY A PLATFORM

An incident that occurred last year provides an instructive, though deeply saddening, example of the poor theological health of Calgary’s churches. A Christian theatre company in Calgary welcomed, promoted and screened Kevin Miller’s reprehensible film “Hellbound?” (a film I reviewed and responded to at our church blog). In this movie, the filmmaker not only commits heresy–as it denies the biblical teaching about eternal punishment for the wicked–but also commits slander, as the film goes out of its way to associate orthodox Christians with the nutcases at Westboro Baptist Church. Now, the mere fact that someone made a heretical film isn’t that surprising; after all, books that promote bad theology are written every day, and we’re bound to get some bad films as well. And the film wasn’t made here in Alberta. So why does it matter in this discussion? Well, what’s particularly disappointing is the fact that local evangelical Christians actually promoted and supported the film.

Even more worrying is what we learn when we take a brief look at the theatre company’s “About Us” page, which has information about the education and church involvement of its directors and staff. Note that (and this is critical) these are the people whose responsibility it is to oversee the theatre company’s content and uphold the Christian character of the organization–and under whose watch this movie was promoted and supported among the evangelical Christian community in Calgary.

The list includes leaders in several prominent and leading evangelical churches in the Calgary area–notably, the pastor of a significant Baptist church just outside Calgary, a worship leader at a prominent local multi-site megachurch, and a dramatic arts director at Calgary’s largest evangelical church. Represented among the directors and staff are graduates (and even some instructors!) from every evangelical Bible college in the Calgary area (including the very school I attended for seminary training!), not to mention arguably Alberta’s most famous Bible college in Three Hills and a major Baptist university college in Edmonton. Denominations represented on that list include the Christian & Missionary Alliance, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (Canada’s largest evangelical denomination), the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada, and the North American Baptist Conference.

This is what’s so surprising and saddening: these are not fringe denominations, or diploma mills, or extremist churches. None of these churches or denominations teach universalism or deny the doctrine of hell, as far as I have been able to determine. So this theatre company’s directors and staff constitute as mainstream and representative a sample of Calgary’s evangelical community as one could hope to find. Therefore, the very fact that Miller’s heretical piece could be shown under the oversight of, and therefore the tacit approval of, such a group of Christian leaders, and thus by them be recommended to the average Christian as a profitable use of their time, is heartbreaking. Their failure to “test all things” not only fed theological poison to an untold number of Calgary evangelicals, but it also serves as a saddening indication of the utter failure of Alberta’s most influential evangelical churches, schools, seminaries, and denominations to teach and practice wisdom and discernment.

“TRINITY BROADCASTING NETWORK NORTH”

A small theatre company in Calgary may be a useful bellweather for evangelical theological discernment, but its actual impact on Alberta’s evangelical culture is no doubt limited. That isn’t the case with our next example.

A more extreme, but undoubtedly more influential, organization–based in Lethbridge, Alberta–is “The Miracle Channel,” touted as Canada’s “First Christian Television Station.” The Miracle Channel is the Canadian partner of America’s reprehensible and chintzy Trinity Broadcasting Network, whose late founder Paul Crouch labored long and hard to build the network’s seedy reputation as a home of charlatans, heretics, and fraudsters. (Interestingly, The Miracle Channel was its founders’ second attempt at importing TBN cheese into Canada; in 1986, they had attempted to set up a rebroadcasting transmitter for TBN, which Canada’s CRTC mercifully slapped down at the time).

Some of you may think my words harsh, but they are warranted. The Miracle Channel, like its American counterpart, is noted for its support and advocacy of dangerous false teaching—specifically, the so-called “prosperity gospel,” also known as “Word-Faith” or “name-it-and-claim-it” teaching. So it’s necessary, at this point, to spend some time explaining what “word-faith” theology is and just why it’s so dangerous.

Charismatic author D.R. McConnell, in his outstanding book, “A Different Gospel” (which I recommend heartily to everyone!) proves that the Word-Faith movement’s teaching is not actually Christian at all, but rather stems from the cultic teaching of E.W. Kenyon and is therefore more closely related to the religions of Religious Science and Christian Science than it is to the faith of the Bible. Word-Faith advocates teach that “we can write our own ticket with God if we decide what we want, believe that it’s ours, and confess it,” thereby redefining faith as the conviction you’ll get something you want—as opposed to the Bible’s definition of faith as an empty-handed, repentant belief and trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ for one’s salvation. Word-Faith advocates, in a disturbing correspondence to Mormon theology, diminish God and exalt man by teaching that human beings “are little gods,” teaching that by using the “substance of faith” we have the potential to do anything God does—while reducing God to merely a cosmic vending machine who spits out what we want if we plug in enough “faith.” One of the most ghastly aspects of Word-Faith teaching is their emphasis that physical healing in this life is guaranteed if you just believe strongly enough that you will be healed. This biblically false idea, not confined to Word-Faith circles by any means but certainly characteristic of them, has on more than one occasion prompted gullible parents to withhold medical treatment from sick children. The Word-Faith movement’s sick twist on faith healing results from combining that biblically false idea of healing with its unique teaching about “negative confession” (that is, you can deprive yourself of health and wealth if you doubt you might be healed or say something that questions the certainty of receiving such blessing), meaning that going to a doctor is then seen as such a “negative confession” and can actually thwart healing–a view that all too often has tragic results. Of course, leading Word-Faith advocates would deny a connection with such events, but they promote and advocate a view of faith, healing, and sickness that leads directly to such disasters.

Word-Faith teaching, then, is cultic, heretical, and unbiblical. It kills physically and spiritually, costing people their physical lives and sending souls to hell.  Yet the Miracle Channel’s programming schedule reads like a “Who’s Who” of leading Word-Faith teachers. Streaming forth from their radio tower in Lethbridge are the flagship TV broadcasts of noted prosperity advocates like John Hagee, Paul Crouch, Kenneth Copeland (Believer’s Voice of Victory), Morris Cerullo (Victory Today), Joyce Meyer (Enjoying Everyday Life), Joel Osteen (who is not only shallow but heretical), and Creflo Dollar.

Sure, not everything in the Miracle Channel’s programming lineup is heretical; Way of the Master is a solid ministry, I’ve benefitted personally from Charles Stanley’s In Touch even though I wouldn’t agree with him on everything, and Dr. David Jeremiah is a mainstream evangelical teacher. There are other decent shows as well. But a few good shows does not a Christian TV network make; after all, mixing protein powder into a bottle of battery acid won’t make the final product worthy of human consumption! The fact remains that the Miracle Channel devotes no less than 20 hours a week to rank heresy, much of it in prime programming slots; Hagee is on in the 6/8 PM slot weekdays, and folks tuning into Miracle Sunday mornings for “TV Church” are very likely to run into Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, or Joel Osteen.

The money-obsessed nature of The Miracle Channel’s programming has been noted in even secular Canadian news, and has actually been the subject of a CBC expose. Needless to say, this black eye on Christianity’s reputation among unbelievers only increases the damage this organization was already doing theologically to the cause of Christ in Alberta. Nevertheless, The Miracle Channel could arguably (and sadly) be described as Alberta’s most significant evangelical export today, and even Canada’s national media has had to acknowledge its influence and strong base of support. Which, again, speaks volumes about the profound lack of theological health in Alberta’s Christian community.

QUESTIONABLE CONFERENCE HEADLINERS

 Every year, Alberta’s capital city of Edmonton is the site of Break Forth, which bills itself as “North America’s Largest Equipping and Renewal Conference.” And it is certainly a landmark event in the local evangelical calendar. Break Forth meets in the Rexall Centre, home of the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers. It draws around 15,000 people from more than 1,000 churches, many of them young people. I remember the posters in the student lunchroom at seminary.

Break Forth draws some of the biggest and most influential names in North American evangelicalism every year. Sadly, in recent years it has been drawing some of North America’s most dangerous teachers. 2010’s conference invited as a headliner William Paul Young, the author of the bestselling Christian book The Shack, which despite its popularity promotes badly misleading ideas about the Trinity, submission, forgiveness, and revelation. In 2011, Break Forth had as its headline speaker John Eldredge, author of several bestselling books—and advocate of the heresy known as “open theism,” a denial that God knows the future. Both 2007 and 2012’s iterations invited Tony Campolo, who after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 advocated Christians follow the teaching of Jewish Rabbi Harold Kushner and deny God’s omnipotence and control over natural disaster. Again, that’s not to say everyone they invite to speak is bad–but, yes, again, protein powder and battery acid and all that.

Given the popularity of Break Forth with Alberta’s young evangelicals, the lack of discernment shown by its organizers bodes ill for the future of Christ’s church in the province.

SUMMARY

Alberta’s evangelical schools and Calgary’s largest churches are failing to teach Christians discernment, and their leaders are neglecting, at best, their responsibility to guard the flock from false teaching. The Christian airwaves in Alberta are dominated by cultic superstition disguised with a Christian veneer. Our largest youth conference introduces the next generation to some of the most dangerous writers of our time.

So not only are Albertans in general less religious, and not only do we not have enough churches, but Alberta’s evangelical community is desperately sick in a theological sense.

Next time, I hope to unpack the challenge that Alberta’s Christians face in the culture–in case anyone still thinks Alberta, while maybe not religious, is still a pretty strait-laced and moral place. (Spoiler: it isn’t).

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At the CalGrace Blog: Revival Conference Lights Up Calvary Grace

A bright young lady in our church, Ava Peacock, has written a report on our recent conference with Dr. Michael Haykin at the church blog–and don’t miss the link to all the recordings from the conference at the beginning of the article!

Here’s the link.

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The Insufficient “Salvation” of Catholicism, Part IV

Here is another response to John O’Brien’s expression of the Catholic doctrine of the priesthood:

When the priest announces the tremendous words of consecration, he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the Victim for the sins of man. It is a power greater than that of saints and angels, greater than that of Seraphim and Cherubim.
Indeed it is greater even than the power of the Virgin Mary. While the Blessed Virgin was the human agency by which Christ became incarnate a single time, the priest brings Christ down from heaven, and renders Him present on our altar as the eternal Victim for the sins of man, not once but a thousand times! The priest speaks and lo! Christ, the eternal and omnipotent God, bows his head in humble obedience to the priest’s command.
Of what sublime dignity is the office of the Christian priest who is thus privileged to act as the ambassador and the vice-gerent of Christ on earth! He continues the essential ministry of Christ: he teaches the faithful with the authority of Christ, he pardons the penitent sinner with the power of Christ, he offers up again the same sacrifice of adoration and atonement which Christ offered on Calvary. No wonder that the name which spiritual writers are especially fond of applying to the priest is that of alter Christus. For the priest is and should be another Christ. (John O’Brien, The Faith of Millions, 255-256)

Today I would like to highlight the following phrase:

No wonder that the name which spiritual writers are especially fond of applying to the priest is that of alter Christus. For the priest is and should be another Christ.

“Another Christ.” Let there be no doubt about Catholic teaching on this point: the priest, by virtue of the fact that he “continues the essential ministry of Christ,” “pardons the penitent sinner with the power of Christ,” “offers up again the same sacrifice of adoration and atonement” as Christ, is to be regarded in his sacramental office as “another Christ.”

Don’t miss this. O’Brien is not just describing the office of priest; he is glorifying it. He starts the last paragraph gushing about the “sublime dignity” of the office; he marvels at the “power” of the priest, which he describes as greater than saints, angels, cherubim, seraphim, and even (from a Catholic, no less!!) the Virgin Mary; and he closes by calling the priest “another Christ.”

I’m not so dense as to conclude that Catholic theology is teaching that the priest’s office and work are the same as that of Jesus. But given O’Brien’s words above, it is impossible to deny that he is giving the priest “glory,” the very glory that Christ has earned for his work, and that the priest then deserves said glory because of his assistance and participation in the work of redemption and salvation.

The Bible, on the other hand, says:

For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name
be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.
(Isaiah 48:11)

In verse 9, just before, he explains that he is withholding judgment for the sake of his praise, so that his glory might not be diminished by his having to destroy his own people. Why is this important? God here declares that he is jealous of his own glory. He will not give it to another. He will not see it diminished or shared. It belongs to him alone, and his very administration of justice in the universe takes his glory as its reference point.

God’s glory is most precious to him, and it is his alone. This is why we worship only one God, not a pantheon, not other men, not nature – only God.

So it is amazing to see the New Testament describe Christ in this way:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Jesus receives the glory and adoration of all men, every knee in heaven, on earth, and under the earth – spiritual and physical, living and dead. They all acknowledge Him as Lord, and so they should. As the New Testament teaches, he is God incarnate. And it is because of that fact, and that fact alone, that God the Father can share glory with Christ. Since that glory for Christ is worthy because of Jesus’ divinity, that glory redounds to the Father as well, who is God.

Christians have always confessed that Jesus had to be God in order to complete the work of redemption. One of the reasons why, however, is because God will not share his glory with another. Salvation belongs to the Lord (Jonah 2:9), and to no one else. Again, on this point, as in other areas, Catholic theology diminishes the deity of Christ.

No mere man deserves the praise O’Brien gives. No human office can bear the weight of that glory, nor should it. O’Brien robs God of what is exclusively his, according to Scripture, and gives it to men. This is the very essence of unbelief and rebellion against God.

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Exploring The Text: 1 Peter 1:3a

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness… (2 Peter 1:3a)

Peter now moves on from greeting into praise – praise that not only lifts up God but also serves to teach and instruct his readers. He begins by speaking of “his divine power,” which “has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.”

There are two key words in this phrase. The first is granted. God has granted all things pertaining to life and godliness. These are not attainments or things that we earn or achieve. These are not things we could have worked for. They are granted – they are gifts, unmerited blessings given by a generous Giver to those who never should have received them. Peter underlines the theology of grace here. Everything and anything we have that relates to our life in Christ and our resemblance to him is a gift from God.

Here, then, is an implicit support for the doctrines of grace, and specifically for unconditional election and irresistible grace. After all, does not our election by the Father “pertain to” our “life and godliness”? Does not our own being “born again,” our regeneration, so “pertain to life and godliness”? Do not our own faith and repentance toward Christ “pertain to life and godliness”? And surely our own growth in sanctification also relates to our life in Christ and our holiness. So all of these things are in their fundamental nature gifts of God. Some of these (not all, for sure, but some) are indeed exercised by us, but they were given to us to exercise. So everything we are as Christians is grace. Everything we have in our lives is a gift of God, granted by his divine power.

That leads to our second key word: all things, which in the Greek is one word (panta). In this context Peter means to leave out nothing at all that pertains to life and godliness. It’s all a gift, he’s saying. We don’t contribute some, and God gives the rest, toward our life and holiness in Christ; after all, “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13)  So even though we have a duty to cooperate with God through obedience, though we have obligations we must fulfill, though we are held responsible for our actions, everything we do to grow in our life and godliness is ultimately credited to the work of God in our lives. God gets the glory for all of it.

So in everything, and for everything, give the glory to God. Take a moment and consider all that God has done for you – your salvation, your very life, your relationship with Christ, your privilege of approaching the throne of God in prayer, your seal of the Holy Spirit and your share in His ministry of empowerment, encouragement, and intercession, and finally your share of the inheritance that awaits you in heavenly places, your guarantee of eternal life in the glorious presence of God. All this God has given you. Think on that. And lift up your heart and your soul and your mind and your strength in thanksgiving and praise to our Father.

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The Insufficient “Salvation” of Catholicism, Part III

Today is our third installment on the Catholic concept of the priesthood as expressed by John O’Brien:

When the priest announces the tremendous words of consecration, he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the Victim for the sins of man. It is a power greater than that of saints and angels, greater than that of Seraphim and Cherubim.
Indeed it is greater even than the power of the Virgin Mary. While the Blessed Virgin was the human agency by which Christ became incarnate a single time, the priest brings Christ down from heaven, and renders Him present on our altar as the eternal Victim for the sins of man, not once but a thousand times! The priest speaks and lo! Christ, the eternal and omnipotent God, bows his head in humble obedience to the priest’s command.
Of what sublime dignity is the office of the Christian priest who is thus privileged to act as the ambassador and the vice-gerent of Christ on earth! He continues the essential ministry of Christ: he teaches the faithful with the authority of Christ, he pardons the penitent sinner with the power of Christ, he offers up again the same sacrifice of adoration and atonement which Christ offered on Calvary. No wonder that the name which spiritual writers are especially fond of applying to the priest is that of alter Christus. For the priest is and should be another Christ. (John O’Brien, The Faith of Millions, 255-256)

Today I would like to highlight the following phrase:

Of what sublime dignity is the office of the Christian priest who is thus privileged to act as the ambassador and the vice-gerent of Christ on earth! He continues the essential ministry of Christ: he teaches the faithful with the authority of Christ, he pardons the penitent sinner with the power of Christ…

Let’s tease out the implications of this statement. By way of contrast, as usual, we go to the Bible, this time in Mark 2:1-12:

1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Rather than healing the paralytic right away, Jesus forgives his sins. What you need to notice is the indignant reaction of the scribes in verse 7: “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

The Jews understood the true implications of Jesus’ words. By claiming the authority to forgive sins, he was claiming a divine prerogative. In other words, as the scribes implied in their indignation, no one can forgive sins but God alone. The healing that follows, then, has a point and purpose – to establish the legitimacy of Jesus’ claim to be able to forgive sins, and in so doing to authenticate his own divinity.

So the New Testament teaches that only God can forgive sins, and this is proper. After all, every sin is ultimately a personal affront to God. Every sin, whether it has a human victim or not, is a rejection of God’s rightful authority and holiness. Therefore, while a human being can forgive that aspect of a sin that offends him, he cannot absolve the sin entirely because God is also offended and alone has the power to forgive it completely.

Catholic theology denies this by delegating the authority to forgive sins to a human priest. There is no denying the force or implications of O’Brien’s statement: “he (that is, the priest) pardons the penitent sinner with the power of Christ”; after all, the priest is the object of the verb pardons. The priest is doing the pardoning, not God. He does so “by the power of Christ,” yes, but that merely reduces Christ to being an instrument. It does not change the essential nature of the act: it is the priest who acts, not Christ; the priest who decides in the individual case, not Christ; the priest who dispenses (or withholds), not Christ; and so, as is evident from O’Brien’s effusive praise, it is the priest who receives the glory, not Christ. (More on that in a later post).

The bottom line here is that Catholic sacramental theology takes a power that belongs to God alone and gives it to a mere, sinful man – along with all the glory that comes with it. In the process, it denies the uniqueness of Christ and diminishes his deity. A human being who claims to have the power to forgive sins, as the Jews rightly objected, blasphemes our Holy God. And so does the Roman Catholic Church.

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Time Prescribes Moses

An interesting article in Time magazine:

How Moses Shaped America

The central theme is this idea that “law brings freedom.” And in the civil sphere, that’s true to a point. Law enables sinful human beings to live together by restraining their worst impulses. A good analogy is trying to play football or hockey without any rules – the game is no fun and little is accomplished until the rules are observed.

Yet the author of this article misses the bigger point of Moses: the One to whom Moses’ life and prophetic ministry pointed. Moses was a type of Christ – that is, he was a pattern and foreshadowing of a much greater prophet who would only come later. We see the author missing this in the fact that he discusses the Reformation’s fight with the Catholic church for the right to own Bibles in the common language. He doesn’t even hint at the real issue, that of justification by faith.

And there’s the rub. Yes, God gave the law to regulate society. He still does, in the sense that civil authorities and governments have been ordained by God (Rom. 13:1-7) as “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Rom. 13:4) But that is not the highest purpose of the law of Moses; God has a much more important plan. The law was given, first and foremost, to tell us about the gravity of our sin:

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Rom. 3:20)

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” (Rom. 7:7)

And so, the law cannot give true freedom to sinners:

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. (Gal. 3:23)

This is because the law condemns our sin before God. We are criminals under the law, worthy only of death. But keep reading:

So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Gal. 3:24-29)

Spiritually, then, the law acted as a schoolmaster telling us of our sinfulness and our need to be righteous. It did not provide a way to be righteous; that’s the lie of every religion that sells a way to “earn” salvation by good works. Rather, by portraying the seriousness of sin and the necessity of death as payment for it (all taught in the graphic pictures provided through the system of animal sacrifice) the law pointed to our need for a Savior. Now that “faith” has come.

The law still has its use in the civil sphere, and modern Western man could use a reminder of morality and restraint. However, it is not the solution to our society’s woes. Christ is.

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