Joel has posted a series in his blog entitled The letter of the New Testament parts 1, 2, 3 and 4. His posts and all of the comments have been very enlightening.
This morning, while reading Hebrews 7, it occurred to me that one of the reasons why the New Testament is read as law is because we have a tendency to major on the minors. This particular chapter starts out telling the story of Abraham's meeting with Melchizedek and it relates how Abraham gave him a tithe of the spoils of war.
This portion of scripture has been used by legalists to demand that believers pay a tithe to their local "church." I believe this is an example of how organized religion has misused scripture to support their doctrines. Although the tithe is mentioned in these verses, I don't believe this scripture in any way supports the modern method of collecting tithes from God's people.
In most groups, the people are instructed to "pay" their tithes as though it is a bill or a debt that is owed. Verse 2, however, says that Abraham "gave" the tithe. Giving has an entirely different connotation than does paying. While paying refers to a debt that is owed, giving refers to a gift that is freely bestowed. (Look! I made a poem.)
Also, the entire book of Hebrews is a contrast between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. It was written to Jewish believers in order to prove to them that the New Covenent is a better covenant based on better promises.
Chapter 7 follows this same pattern. In this chapter, the writer is explaining that the priesthood of Jesus, which is similar to that of Melchizedek's, is a better priesthood than that of Aaron's and he uses Abraham's giving of a tithe to Melchizedek as proof of the superiority of Jesus' priesthood. In no way does this scripture encourage or teach New Testament believers to tithe. It was meant to be an encouragement to the church. Instead, it has been turned into a law that is keeping people in bondage.
Another example of how organized religion tends to major in the minors is Ephesians 4:11-13. These verses have been used to emphasize what has now become known as the 5-fold ministry gifts. This scripture has been used to teach God's people unquestioned obedience and submission to their leaders. Since all of the verses surrounding them are discussing unity among the believers, there is no reason to assume that verses 11-13 have changed emphasis and that now the 5-fold is the main topic.
With a legalistic mindset, scripture can be twisted to support a legalistic interpretation. Jesus, however, came to set us free from the law. He didn't come to establish a New Testament law.
Reading the scriptures through the eyes of grace instead of the law will cause us to see the freedom and life that is available to us as New Testament believers.