Law and Grace in Church Clothing

There is an increasing trend towards becoming trendy at church, which is not always bad. We must make a distinction between faith and culture; culture is dynamic and flexible; faith has to be absolute. The problem rises when faith attempts to claim elements of culture in order to sacralize them and render them inflexible. When faith tries to do that, then the result is a legalistic religious system that is very fundamentalistic. These issues were earlier discussed here. However, grace is not lawless either. The New Testaments cautions us against those who attempt to turn the grace of God into license for evil (Jude 1:4, NET).

Take the Example of Clothing

Let’s begin at the pulpit and one immediately notes at least 5 variants:
1. Those who stick to orthodox robes and cassocks or sacralized color definitions (e.g. white)
2. Those who stress on wearing business suits or traditional suits
3. Those who like to wear designer and more trendy clothes
4. Those who like to wear casuals.
5. Those who are comfortable with two or more of the combinations above
    (a) Those who are comfortable with 1-4
    (b) Those who are comfortable with 2-4
    (c) Those who are comfortable with 1,2,4 but not 3
    (d) Those who are comfortable with 2,3,4 but not 1
    (e) Those who are comfortable with only 2 and 4.
    (f) Those who are comfortable with only 1 and 2.
    (g) Those who stick to 2 and 3 or 3 and 4.

It is not attempted to state here who is right and who is wrong. However, it will become evident to the reader by now that the issue of law and grace is basic even to the kind of dress we choose to wear to church.

Now, while it does seem that the sacralizers (1) are particularly legalistic, the fact is that even those who maintain that only casuals “ought” to be worn to church are not less legalistic. On the other hand, there are those who look at dress in a more instrumental manner, as something to be used to suit some purpose. The wiser instrumentalists also know that dress-forms as cultural forms also communicate meanings and are cautious how they dress up. There are also revolutionaries who dress up to explicitly and blatantly communicate their revolt against some legalistic system. Then, there are the popularists who dress up in order to have a trendy following or to create a brand.

“Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.” (Rom.12:2)

“those who use the world as though they were not using it to the full. For the present shape of this world is passing away.”(1Cor.7:31)

“to dress in suitable apparel, with modesty and self-control.” (1Tim.2:9)

Suitable apparel refers to dress that suits the occasion and is comfortable to wear in the conditions. Modesty implies that the dress we wear must not be embarrassing and must protect shame, not be shameless and exposing privacy; dress must be honorable. Self-control means that our dress must not be provocative or appealing to the flesh but must exhibit self-control, temperance, and sound mind.

Few Characteristics of Mosaic Law

Few of the Characteristics of the Mosaic Law were as follows:

1. Ground: Love. It was based upon the Great Commandment: the Commandment of Love. (Matt.22:40)
2. Subjects: Sinners. The Law was given for the lawless (1Tim.1:9)
3. Function: To Expose Sin. The Law exposed sin, what it is. (Rom.3:20)
4. Internal Witness: Conscience. The human conscience bore witness to the justness of this Law (Rom.2:15). We must remember that the conscience is not just an effect of social learning. It is a justifier and judge in the epistemics of morality. The apprehension there is not just rational, but apodeitical and intuitive. However, when salt loses its saltness, there is nothing with which to salten it again.
5. Ability/Power: To Condemn. The Law could only condemn humans; it could never justify them. (Gal.3:10)
6. Effect: Death. The Law killed; it could never give life (2Cor.3:6; 1Cor.15:56; Rom.7:9,10))

Note: Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it (Matt.5:17). In fact, the Commandments of Grace are tougher than the Commandments of the Law (Matt 5:19,20. See Also GRACE ABOVE LAW)

The Moral Basis of Indian Law

Now, while the debate exists in the philosophy of law about the relationship between political laws and the moral law, attempts to base the laws on anything other than the moral law sooner face problems of justifiability. While it may be the case that reductionism of politics to ethics is not totally feasible, resort to anti reductionism is only self-defeating. And, then authority arguments that try to derive validity of laws from higher laws, which in return try to derive their validity from a much higher one (e.g. Hans Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law), will have to strike ceiling at some point ( See Marmor, A. Philosophy of Law, Princeton, 2011). For instance, the judges under Hitler’s regime could not be absolved upon the relativist presumption that they were only conforming to some law of a sovereign nation. The question of validity and justice could not be anchored in such “sovereign” authority alone.

However, this doesn’t mean that authority doesn’t count. In fact, authority does often prescribe laws in many cases, but the laws are only instrumental towards a much larger cause. Thus, we have law-givers such as Solon, Moses, and Manu. However, the validity of the prescriptions are based on a deeper intent. The intent or the spirit of the law is what matters. It also means that where laws fail to serve the intent, they must fade away and give place to the new.
Plato’s elaborative study of justice as an ethical virtue in the analogically larger Republic is based on the same understanding that ethics and politics are inseparable. Similarly, his disciple Aristotle didn’t see any reason to separate the both. In the Biblical tradition, the entire Mosaic Law was based on the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments, which were the essence of the Law. Jesus pointed out that they all hung on the two Great Commandments: To love God absolutely and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Of course, Paul, later submitted that the Law was only a revealer and a restricter. It revealed human sinfulness and it was meant to restrict the lawless (it was given for the lawless). Jesus pointed out that certain laws (for instance, the law of divorce) were only permissive because of the hardness of human hearts, but didn’t reflect the original intent of human creation.
Looking, now, into the Indian Constitution, one asks what is Indian Law based upon ultimately. The Preamble makes the democratic nature of the Republic clear. And, so it is the people’s government for sure. But, the moral philosophy is indicated in words like “humanism” and “scientific temper”, featured later on under Fundamental Duties. While the temper is scientific, the philosophical ground is humanism and its philosophy of man is condensed in the section called Fundamental Rights. The Law exists to ensure the protection of these fundamental rights of every Indian citizen. Consequently, any law that is inconsistent with these rights is automatically annulled.
The Fundamental Rights are not prescriptions to the people but declarations of humanism. These declarations are prescriptive only to the laws, since the laws are expected to conform to them. Thus, they not only inform but also serve as reference points, as absolute foundation, for the laws. As such, we may refer to them, with regard to humanism, as the intent, or spirit of the laws; perhaps even as the Law of the laws since they serve as the measure of all laws.
But, how do we know that these declarations are true? Perhaps, it is similar to asking about the laws of logic, “How does one know whether they are true?” The answer is: by using them or trying not to use them. One cannot deny them, but then one cannot deny anything without using them. Similarly, one cannot deny the Fundamental Rights without himself losing the rights.

Great Commandment in Apposition to the Great Commission

The Good Samaritan (Wikimedia)


The Great Commandment is the essential law of the church; the Great Commission is the missional task of the church. The both cannot be confused. To love is a rule and principle that would never cease to be; to preach is an obligation that will soon cease to be. That is one reason why caring for the poor, the orphans, and the widows is considered to be pure religion (James 1:27). The liberational causes and the cause of justice and mercy are principle causes – things that the church cannot silently ignore when it has the power not to ignore. To love one’s neighbor as oneself is an essential obligation. In most cases, one may not preach but still be a Christian, and draw others through a silent conformity to the essential Christian principle of love (1Peter 3:1). Being precedes manifestation.

The ethical rule must not be confused with the ecclesiastical task. To love is not a task; it is an essential principle. Jesus said that His disciples will be known by the love they have for one another (John 13:35). To love is not a mission that Jesus has committed to the church – to take care of the poor, orphans, and widows was a moral obligation required even in the Old Testament….

The ecclesiastical task must flow out of the essential ethic. Love is the motive of evangelism; evangelism is not the motive of love. The messenger cannot shirk off his essential obligation to love and merely preach the Gospel for the sake of a job to be done. Jesus considered the caring responses of the Good Samaritan as more important than the temple services of the Levite and the priest. The essential obligation to love was more important than even the ecclesiastical office. In essence, one evangelizes because and out of love; one doesn’t love in order to evangelize. Therefore, social service with the aim of evangelization is hypocrisy. However, where evangelism exists, social service is bound to co-exist.

To posit the principle of operation as the goal of the operation is a confusion of identity. Love is the principle of which evangelization is only a time-bound goal – though covering eternity. Certainly, there are also things other than evangelization that the principle of love, commanded under the new covenant, covers. However, evangelization is core outreaching of the principle of love, for it aims at an everlasting result – the salvation of persons. As such it is the essential concern of being (against death for life) in opposition to the temporal concerns of the secular. Evangelization answers the ultimate existential concern of being-towards-life.

The task only exists because the law of being is violated. Mission exists because love is confused. Therefore, reconciliation is the prime goal. Spiritual reconciliation is lame where the pictures of equality, equity, compassion, and justice are not concretely visible. The mission lies lame because the law of being remains violated (both vertically towards God and horizontally towards fellow humans). Love towards God is the attitude and act of glorifying God; it follows love of one’s neighbor (brother and sister) as oneself (1John 4:20-21).

–Marbaniang, (“Globalization and Gospelization”, Paper presented at Mission Consultation, Pune, January 2014.)

There is…no better time to explore the relationship between making disciples and living as disciples in the world, or the Great Commission and the Great Commandment….

At their simplest levels, the Great Command-ment and the Great Commission follow the distinction between law and gospel. A young lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:36-40). Jesus was simply repeating Moses (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:5). The second is like the first not only because it summarizes the second table of the law (love for neighbor), but because love for God is inextricable from love of fellow image-bearers.

Of course, the Great Commission is also a command, but it differs from the Great Commandment in several ways. First, they differ in their subjects. The Great Commandment is given to all people in every time and place, while the Great Commission is given to the church alone. Second, they differ in their mandate. The Great Commandment calls all people to love God and neighbor, while the Great Commission calls the church to make disciples of Christ. Third, they differ in their methods. The Great Commandment is natural, inscribed on the human conscience in creation as part of the image of God, and these natural precepts are codified and enforced by social institutions (the family, various voluntary associations, and the state). The gospel, however, is not something that all people know inwardly and innately; it’s a surprising announcement that must be proclaimed….

Collapsing the gospel into the law and the Great Commission into the Great Commandment, many Christians today speak of our “living the gospel,” even “being the gospel,” with gratuitous appeals to participate with God in his redeeming and reconciling activity through their good works. However, this rhetoric is in danger of advancing another gospel, which is no gospel but rather the summary of the law….

Paradoxically, it is only when the church is doing something other than engaging in social justice missions that it actually shapes members “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [their] God” (Mic. 6:8).


Distinction without Separation
The Cultural Mandate

<span “>Key Verse: Genesis 1:28: <span “>”And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
<span “>Activities: Family, Culture-Making and Renewal, Art, Music, Commerce, Politics

The Great Commandment
Key Verse: Matthew 22:37-40: “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Activities: Hospitality, Visiting the Sick, Feeding the Poor, Caring for the Needy

The Great Commission
Key Verse: Matthew 28:19-20:”Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Activities: Preaching, Word and Sacrament Ministry, Discipline, Discipleship, Catechesis

–Michael S. Horton (Justification and Justice: The Great Commission and the Great Commandment, Modern Reformation, Issue: “Social Justice: Social Gospel?” Sept./Oct. 2011 Vol. 20 No. 5 Page number(s): 14-19, 26. Accessed Sept 29, 2014). Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California)

Our criticism of Transformation Theology is not directed against its call to the social responsibility of Missions. We are in no way against works of love, but well against the massive shift of priority from preaching to social responsibility; for by this the Gospel threatens to become an ideological programme. We grant the theologians of Transformation their justified concern that conversion, change of mind and discipleship should have social, ethical and structural consequences. But we oppose their projected impression that man is the “maker” of the kingdom of God and that his salvation would be, as it were, made manifest only through his deeds. This would amount to a new “salvation by works”.

…Today, evangelical missions are in the same danger if they embrace programmes which are called “holistic”, “incarnatory” or, as mentioned already, “transforming” mission. Here the concerns for the physical and social well-being of man threaten to outshine eternal salvation.

–(“World Evangelization or World Transformation?“, International Christian Network, Tübingen, Pentecost 2013)

Grace Above Law

One important thing that we must remember about God’s grace is that the Grace of God in Jesus Christ has not nullified the Law of God. Grace is not against God’s Law. In fact, Jesus said that He came not to destroy the Law but to fulfill it (Matt.5:17).

The commandments of Grace are tougher and more demanding than the commandments of the Law. The Bible tells us that the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came with Jesus Christ (John 1:17). Jesus ushered in the era of Grace. Not that grace was absent in the Old Testament; but that grace could only be available even in the Old Testament because of the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the earth. And, when Christ came Grace came in reality, for until then everything was only shadows (Col.2:17). Therefore, it says, “Grace and truth came with Jesus Christ”.

The commandments of Grace, therefore, supersede the commandments of the Law. Grace teaches us true righteousness (Tit.2:11,12; Matt.5:20).

Thus, certain things that were allowed in the Old Testament (like divorce, swearing, polygamy, and  tit-for-tat ethics) are not allowed anymore in the New Testament (Matt.5:31,34, 38,39). Most of these things were allowed because of the hardness of human hearts, but God never originally intended them so (Matt.19:8). However, in the Age of Grace when His Grace transforms our hearts, we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves and to pray for our enemies, we are called not to resist evil people but turn our left cheek to someone who slaps on our right (i.e. severely insults and humiliates us). The demands of Grace are higher than the demands of the Law.

The commandments of Grace spring from the spirit of the Law not the letter of the Law. Thus, while the OT command only said, “Do not murder” and “Do not commit adultery”, the command of Grace tells us to not even get angry with our brother without cause and tells us looking at a woman lustfully is equal to committing adultery (Matt.5:22,27).

The essence of the command of Grace is Love (Rom.13:8,10; Gal.5:14; James 2:8).

The good news is that this Love is poured into our hearts through the Spirit in the New Testament; therefore, the commandments of God are no longer burdensome or impossible (Rom.5:5; 2Cor.12:9; 1 John 5:3).