Every Sunday tens of millions of people go to church on Sunday, but it is by no means a uniform experience. Churches come in all shapes and sizes, depending on geographic region, ethnicity, denominational background. But there’s one type of church that too many Christians are going to, and that’s an Old Testament Church. Although the Old Testament is a valued part of our biblical canon, we are very clearly people of the new covenant (New Testament). The whole reason Jesus came was to fulfill the Old Testament so that he could initiate a brand new and better covenant. As Paul wrote the Galatians, it makes no sense for Christians to willingly abandon the new covenant and live under the old covenant as if Jesus hadn’t died for us.
No church was outrightly proclaimed that they are an Old Testament church, but there are Old Testament ways of thinking that have infiltrated the church. Here are six signs you may be attending an Old Testament church:
1. Your church sounds a lot less like the Sermon on the Mount and a lot more like the Ten Commandments. The popular thing for churches is to proudly display the ten commandments, perhaps even invoke them on a regular basis. As applicable as the Ten Commandments were to ancient Israel, we are under a new and better covenant. We should be preaching more on the Sermon on the Mount. Our churches should be sounding a lot less like “thou shalt nots” (Ten Commandments) and a more like calls of “love for others and sacrifice” (Sermon on the Mount).
2. Your church is more interested in defending against the outsiders than finding lost sheep. The unofficial motto of ancient Israel was “expel the foreigners and defend the borders.” Israel was a fortress to be defended against those who would assail it. That’s Old Testament thinking. New Testament thinking is Luke 15 where Jesus shares the story of a shepherd who left his flock to venture out and find his lost sheep. If churches have a defensive posture, trying to protect the flock from those “outside,” that’s Old Testament thinking. New Testament thinking is to venture outside the walls of the church to rescue those who are lost.
3. Your church is predominately known for its judgement and condemnation rather than its love and mercy. Judgment and condemnation was a preferred tactic of Old Testament prophets, but we live under a new covenant, where Jesus said the primary way people would know we are his disciples is by our love for others (John 13:35). If your church is known more for judgement than love, it’s a sure sign you might be attending an Old Testament church.
4. Church is a location rather than a movement. Old Testament religion was centered around a location, the temple in Jerusalem. Old Testament religion had a building and an address. When Jesus told Peter that he was building his “church,” the Greek word ekklesia literally means an assembly, a gathering, a movement. Modern church was never meant to be a building or an address but a movement of people. If church is more of a location than a movement, that’s Old Testament thinking.
5. Your church is more defined by ritual towards God than a relationship with Jesus. If you read the Old Testament, you’ll see it is rife with rituals about what to sacrifice and what to pay when you came into the presence of God at the temple. The Old Testament had rituals down pat. Jesus broke all the rules when he simply commanded his disciples to “follow me” (Matthew 4:19). New Testament Christianity is defined by a vibrant, life-giving relationship with Jesus rather than endless rituals trying to appease God. Which defines your church better?
6. If your church is defined more by exclusion than inclusion. A very popular trend among churches is to exclude anyone that doesn’t exactly fit their type of model Christian. It may be age, demographic, socio-economic status, race, gender. Sexual orientation is become the biggest touchstone for exclusion. Without completely opening up that whole can of worms, know that the New Testament church cleared some big hurdles to include people from all walks of life (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). The folks that focused on whom to exclude? You guessed it, that’s Old Testament thinking.
If you’re still reading this and have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of Old Testament thinking has infiltrated your church, what’s the big deal? The big deal is that Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament and replace it with something better. If we willingly embrace Old Testament thinking over New Testament living, we are nullifying Jesus’ death and resurrection and saying the old ways are better. The old ways aren’t better. Jesus came to show us a better way. Let’s start living it!