HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
However, one of the constant threats in the early church was the teaching that commanded both Jew and Gentile to practice the Mosaic Law. This teaching became so widespread that the early church had to have a church council in Jerusalem to settle the argument. All the Christian leaders came together to answer the question, “Do Gentiles need to practice the law?” Look at the conclusion to this in Acts 15:19–20:
Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead, we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.
In reply to the question of whether Gentiles needed to practice the law, James the brother of Jesus, who had become the leader of the Jerusalem church, decided they did not need to.
However, this did not stop the attacks on the early church to practice Jewish law. The primary emphasis in the book of Galatians was calling them to not follow the Old Testament law. Look at what Paul said in Galatians 4:9–10:
But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? 10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
They were now practising special days, months, seasons, and years. Paul says, “Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?”
Similarly, the church of Philippi was being attacked by people who taught that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Paul said this in Philippians 3:2–3:
Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.
Paul tells them to be careful of those mutilators of the flesh, those who taught circumcision as a way to be righteous with God. He essentially said, “Be careful, lest you lose your freedom.”
However, the worst case in the New Testament is probably in the book of Hebrews. The Hebrew Christians were being infested by legalists who were calling them back to the Old Covenant completely. The book of Hebrews was written as an apologetic. The arguments throughout the book contend that Christ is better than Moses. Christ is better than angels. Christ is a better high priest because he does not die. The blood of Christ is better than the blood of sheep and goats. He gives them a grave warning about not turning back because there would be no remission for sins (Hebrews 6:4–8). He challenges them to not fall into apostasy.
The legalism of the Old Testament law was a tremendous threat to the early church, and even though we have a letter after letter calling us to freedom in Christ, slavery to the Old Testament law is still a threat to the church today. I remember in undergrad, one of my friends started to be mentored by someone who taught believers were still under the Sabbath day regulation and that it should be practised weekly. One time, online, I was befriended by a church brother on a Christian website. Soon after initiating our friendship, he began to tell me if I practised worship on Sunday then I had accepted the “mark of the beast” in Revelation 13 and was therefore outside the covenant of God. We see these types of regulations in Seventh Day Adventist churches and some Messianic Jewish churches.
There seems to be a renaissance in the church of being called to practice Old Testament law, including the Sabbath day. What the church was attacked by back then is still attacking us today. Listen to the reason that Paul said we should not practice the Old Testament law: “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:17). He said they were only shadows and pictures of Christ, and therefore, we are no longer bound to them because Christ has come.