Deuteronomy 4:1-14 (Part 1) – Biblical Addition and Subtraction: The Mathematics of Faith

Posted: December 5, 2016 in Book of Deuteronomy
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Deuteronomy 4:1-14 (Part 1 of 3)

Moses Urges Israel to Obey

If you grew up in the church, you have seen it happen most likely. Things that become important and are almost taken as sacred but really are just traditions that have developed. Certain rituals that have been performed over and over become sacred. Responsive readings take on the level of biblical importance. To not have the responsive readings in a church service: Oh I am aghast! To have the seasonal stoles on the communion table and the pulpit become necessary and if you forget to change the stoles at the appropriate time, then almost a sin has been committed. To have the pastor wear robes and stoles is part of the deal. To have the pastor take off his robe during the service would be sacrilegious.

 

I am not saying that these things are wrong. The symbolism of these traditions can certainly add to the understanding of worship. In the modern reaction to traditional church, some of the understanding of why we believe what we believe is lost. One of the traditions of the church that I participated in as a young boy was that of being an acolyte. The acolyte processes into the service with the a device that has a wick that is lit and brought in from the outside of the church and brought to the communion table at the front of the church. The acolyte then lights the candles on each side of the cross on the communion table. This represents bringing the light of Jesus into the service so as to illuminate our understanding of what and who Jesus is during the service. At the end of the service the fire from the candles is transferred back to the acolyte’s device and the acolyte recesses out of the church with the light of Jesus. This symbolizes the congregation taking the light of Jesus to the world. It symbolizes that we are the bearers of the gospel to the outside world – each one of us. It is beautifully symbolic and sends us a clear message of our responsibility when we leave our church services on Sunday. It is a tradition though. It is an addition to the Word of God and is not necessary for the worship of God. Although symbolic and a teaching tool, it is an addition. All the non-biblical traditions that we have added to the church are part of the biblical math of traditional church – adding to God’s Word.

 

At the same token, churches can take away from God’s Word too. Churches today struggle to remain relevant, if that is what they want to be, to the culture. Take, for example, our modern culture’s view on same sex marriage and homosexuality. The Bible, in the Old Testament and even in the New Testament, forbids such behavior as being detrimental to the working of an orderly society and as being against God’s design for sexual relations and as being simply antithetical to the continuation of mankind. In order to becoming more appealing and relevant to the masses of our modern culture, the church has subtracted much of what God has said about this subject. In order to be relevant to a society that puts a premium on free and open sexual relations prior to and outside the confines of marriage, the parts of the Bible that speak of immoral sexual behavior and adultery are subtracted. In an effort to be relevant on the issues of sex (both heterosexual and homosexual), the church in general has come to a place of chopping out parts of the Bible or ignoring them as if they do not exist. As well, although Jesus made it abundantly clear in the Bible that He is the one and only way to the Father, the church has watered down that message such that we accept other belief systems as equally valid so that we can be seen as hip and valid and tolerant. Rather than doing the truly hard work of evangelism, of demonstrating to the world why all belief systems cannot be valid at the same time and why the true answer to eternity lies in a relationship with Jesus Christ, we shrink back and say Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and any other man-made religions are equally valid. The work is too hard and we do not want to be seen as intolerant of other belief systems that constitute 2/3 of the world’s population. Therefore, we subtract from the Bible’s clear message – there is only one God and we can only know Him through His Son, Jesus Christ, plain and simple. We would rather shy away and say that every religion is about God and that it is OK. We are all going to heaven so it’s OK that you believe in some kind of goodness. That’s easier. That’s the path of least resistance. You do not have to be persecuted or die for saying everybody can believe what they want to believe. It’s like it’s much easier to let your kids do whatever they want than it is to have standards of behavior. So, we subtract from the Bible to be relevant. It’s the new math of tolerance – Biblical subtraction.

 

There are three blogs that I have planned for this passage, Deuteronomy 4:1-14, but today we are focusing on biblical addition and subtraction that Moses clearly points out. Let’s read this passage for the first time today, together:

 

4 Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.

 

3 You saw with your own eyes what the Lord did at Baal Peor. The Lord your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor, 4 but all of you who held fast to the Lord your God are still alive today.

 

5 See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

 

9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. 10 Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” 11 You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. 12 Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. 13 He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. 14 And the Lord directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.

 

Here in this passage, Moses talks about biblical addition and subtraction in Deuteronomy 4:2. What is meant by that? Moses was saying that the laws given by God were the word of God, and as such they are complete. How could any human being (with our limited knowledge and wisdom), edit God’s laws? To add to the laws would make them a burden. To subtract from the law, would make them incomplete. Thus, the law is to remain unchanged. To presume that we know better than God and to say that God did not mean that or that it is not relevant anymore is to assume a position of authority equal to or greater than God Himself (see Matthew 5:17-19, Matthew 15:3-9, Revelation 22:18-19, for examples). The religious leaders at the time of Christ did exactly what Moses told them NOT to do. They had elevated their interpretations of the law as being equal to God’s law itself and made the law unbearable. The Jewish leaders of Christ day are not alone in this. The Catholic Church has over the centuries added layers and layers of church law that they in a defacto kind of way made equal to the Word of God. Layers and layers of traditions that have become part of what it means to be a Christian has been added by the Catholic Church. And we Protestants (any branch of the Christ’s church that is not Catholic) who, 6 centuries ago rebelled against the Catholic Church and its traditions cannot point fingers at the Catholics and see them as weirdly burdened with layers of tradition and excess symbolism. The Protestants have developed their own level of traditions over the last six centuries and have denominational hierarchies that mimic anything that the Catholics have. Traditional Protestantism has become as good at additions to the Bible as the Catholics. We of the modern church movement of the late 20th century and 21st century that is a reaction and rebellion against traditional Protestantism have our biblical additions as well. We have all of our modern church books written by the latest megachurch pastor stars. We have our traditions of rock show worship services. We have our seminars on getting in touch with our relationships with God. We have our traditions of in-home small groups. We have our tradition of smugness that the traditional Protestants and that the Catholics are all aging, white hairs that “don’t get it” and that only we “get it”.

 

At the same time, all churches today struggle with biblical subtraction. Many denominations are softening the gospel message on certain sins. As a matter of fact, we are taking away the sting of certain sins. We are saying that they are OK. God made a mistake when He said that about same sex marriage or heterosexual promiscuity. God was just saying that to the 3rd millennia before the current era of history. We are more enlightened now. God no longer sees those sins as sins. It’s ok now. Come to church with us and we will celebrate your lifestyle because, you know, God changed his mind. He was just speaking to a less enlightened people in a less enlightened time. God wants us to be happy, right? So he could not have meant that I cannot find happiness in homosexual relationships? So he could not have meant that I could not find happiness in a string of heterosexual conquests outside of marriage? So he could not have meant that ALL life is sacred? He could not have meant that if I have an unwanted pregnancy that I can’t have the option to abort the fetus? He could not have meant that I cannot continue in openly practicing behaviors that I think are OK and have a real and true relationship with Him. In my biblical subtraction, I can make myself OK with God by picking and choosing what sins are no longer sins because I like those particular sins. In our biblical subtraction both in official church positions and in our own personal decisions about what we will subtract from the Bible, we are fooling ourselves.

 

One day we will be judged on our biblical addition and subtraction. Martin Luther once said “solo scriptura”. It is Latin for “only Scripture”! We are not to judge as to what should be added to it or taken away from it. We must observe what the Scripture says in total and in whole. We must take it all. All 66 books. It is through the law that we realize how desperately that we need the one and only Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. When we add and subtract from the Bible, we reduce Jesus to an option rather than a necessity. When we add and subtract from the Bible, we play God. When we add and subtract from the Bible, we are missing the point of God’s redemptive plan and make it about us as the arbiters of what is right and wrong. We are our own Saviors and our own Lords.

 

That is the new math of faith. It’s a faulty math. Solo Scriptura! Only Scripture is the correct math.

 

 

Amen and Amen.

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