Newsflash: Personal Discipline Is Not Legalism

"The source of the problem, ultimately, is a general sense, born out of sentiments endemic in broader culture, and perpetuated at times in Christian homes and churches, that cultivating discipline and developing a work ethic are somehow dangerous, legalistic, or antithetical to the Christian Gospel. This is patently false." - Snoeberger 

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

From my comment at dbts.blog ... We all seem to so quickly forget the pervasive human tendency to oversteer. Seeing a problem, we wildly spin the wheel in the opposite direction. In this case, the reaction against discipline wasn’t even a reaction to the right problem, so we oversteered when all we really needed to do was adjust speed a little to avoid slipping into a hazard that wasn’t even in our lane. I might be overworking the metaphor, but there’s no need to swing three lanes to the left to avoid a stalled vehicle on the shoulder.
We need to recover a belief in excellence for the glory of God and a belief in the discipline that is part of the pursuit of excellence.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me that the word "legalism" properly means "trusting in dead works for salvation", but today, it's applied to that and to any rule today that one doesn't like.  Some of those do fit the real definition of legalism, and other times it's applied to when it's believed that the rule is unreasonable, or is not a good application of Scripture/extends beyond what Scripture says.

Most of the time, it's one of the latter two categories, so in practice, it tends to be akin to using a sledgehammer to try to kill a fly--it's way overkill, and the fly sees it coming and doesn't get things done.  Put in more theological terms, the astute hearer is going to hear "legalism" applied to their rules and say "what on earth are you talking about?  This is just a practical rule here?"  They'll take a touch of offense to it as well.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

G. N. Barkman's picture

If we restrict the definition of "legalism" to endeavoring to gain justification through works, then what do we call the practice of imposing extra-Biblical rules of conduct?   (Which is what I think most Christians mean when they use the term legalism.)  In the past, I have suggested we use the term "pharisaism."

Clearly extra-Biblical rule imposition is not the same as requiring works in order to be justified, but it is a perpetual problem among Christians.  NT teaching on Christian Liberty is ignored by some, even as it is misunderstood and abused by others.  Unwarranted restrictions are antithetical to healthy Biblical Christianity, and need to be challenged and corrected.  It was wrong for the Pharisees, and it is equally wrong today.

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

Well said, GN, and I'm not quite sure that most would understand "Pharisaism" as that different from "legalism",  Maybe they would.  I'm tending towards just using the long-form, "dance track" description. YMMV.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

I think most of us have run into "pharisaism" during our lives as Christians.  It might even qualify as legalism' (i.e. "legalism-prime") when used as a qualifier to sanctification rather than justification.

In the fundamental circles I've been a part of over the years, I've never to my knowledge ever heard that I have to have certain works for justification.  I have heard plenty of times that "all good Christians do X."  In other words, while the particular work or behavior they were speaking of doesn't technically help justification, it is seen by them as necessary for sanctification, at least at the level they are thinking of.  Sometimes, it might even lead to them thinking one is not truly saved if that work isn't present.  That's why I tend to think of it as legalism' even though I don't use that term for it with others.  Of course the fact that we know believers by their fruits does complicate things for us.

I think most of us understand spiritual discipline, as well as the use of personal "fences" to help us in our own Christian walk.  However, we also should understand that particular fences or methods of discipline are personal, rather than something to impose on others (at least outside of an institutional setting where such rules may be entirely appropriate and useful).

Dave Barnhart

AndyE's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
If we restrict the definition of "legalism" to endeavoring to gain justification through works, then what do we call the practice of imposing extra-Biblical rules of conduct?   (Which is what I think most Christians mean when they use the term legalism.)  In the past, I have suggested we use the term "pharisaism."
 

Let’s pick a specific example to see how that works.  I’d like to suggest “It’s wrong to have a Christmas tree.”  I’m picking that one because I think most everyone on here would agree that it is extra-Biblical but it is also one that I have run into personally. The person I know who holds to this position is a former pastor and currently attends a presbyterian church that I believe also teaches this position.  When talking with this man about his own practice or his church’s position – should I call it Pharisaism?  Should I say that he (and his church) is making his followers twice as much a child of hell as he is (cf., Matt 23:15)? Should I call him a hypocrite (cf., Matt 23:13)?  Should I tell him that while he looks good on the outside, on his inside he is full of greed and self-indulgence, dead people’s bones and all uncleanness (cf., Matt 23:25, 27)?

To me, identifying stricter or extra-biblical standards as Pharisaism does not really capture what the Pharisees actually did, and is no better than calling it legalism.  Why not just say that in certain areas this person or this church has a more sensitive conscience concerning these areas than I believe is warranted Biblically, but I’m not going to despise him because he has to answer to his maker and whatever is not of faith is sin for him.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

AndyE wrote:

To me, identifying stricter or extra-biblical standards as Pharisaism does not really capture what the Pharisees actually did, and is no better than calling it legalism.  Why not just say that in certain areas this person or this church has a more sensitive conscience concerning these areas than I believe is warranted Biblically, but I’m not going to despise him because he has to answer to his maker and whatever is not of faith is sin for him.

Andy,

"Pharisaism" is not simply identifying stricter standards.  I'd agree with you that each believer must answer to his maker, and if I did a one-to-one comparison of all my standards with any other believer, I think I'd find some areas where my standards are what I'd see as "looser" and some where mine would be "stricter."

The issue is more what extra-biblical standards believers impose on each other (again, outside of an institutional context) rather than simply holding and imposing on themselves.  I also know a man in my own church who won't have a Christmas tree in his home.  However, he doesn't give those who do (which is pretty much everyone else) a hard time because they choose to do that while he believes that it's not right for him to have one.

Dave Barnhart

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

"Don't walk on the grass" is an extra biblical rule. It's really not the extra biblicalness that is the problem. Because all application is extra biblical and we're supposed to apply scriptures right?  

The ladies at least two churches I've attended have an extra biblical rule: don't pour leftover coffee into the drinking fountain drain. I have no idea what the purpose of this rule is, since if you run a little water you can rinse all of that down with it.

But nobody is getting up in the pulpit and saying that your spiritual life is in jeopardy if you walk on the grass or pour coffee into the drinking fountain drain. So the distinction is in how you present/teach/frame the rule.

Another factor, maybe it's part of the framing as well, is just judgmentalism. There's nothing wrong with saying I have a conviction that biblical principle A applies to situation b in this specific way... No Christmas trees. But then what's your attitude going to be like toward people who disagree? So that has to do with whether your ministry or church has a culture of judgmentalism or not. This is also a separate problem from having rules or not having rules. It's what you do with your rules.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

WallyMorris's picture

I would not be surprised if some people believe that the practical guidelines which the Jerusalem Council sent to the church in Antioch were "legalistic" (Acts 15:19-29).

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

AndyE's picture

dcbii wrote:
The issue is more what extra-biblical standards believers impose on each other (again, outside of an institutional context) rather than simply holding and imposing on themselves.  I also know a man in my own church who won't have a Christmas tree in his home.  However, he doesn't give those who do (which is pretty much everyone else) a hard time because they choose to do that while he believes that it's not right for him to have one.
  Right, because he is also following Biblical instruction to receive those who have Christmas trees.  But what if the church says Christmas trees are wrong, preaches that they are wrong?  I don't think I could be a part of that assembly unless I decided I'd rather be in that church than have a Christmas tree. If I was in that church, and insisted on have a Christmas tree, I think they would be right to church discipline me for my unrepentant sin (even though I don't think it is sin).  I would not be "received" by the church and fellow members should not "receive" those in that assembly who are actively going against the churches teaching.  So, that means churches need to be careful about what they preach against as sin.  People need to consider what things are acceptable for church members and what things are not.  This is why we have different denominations and different types of churches, for unity within the local bodies.  What I'm saying is that church leadership has a right and responsibility to apply scripture to modern issues.  Churches will teach some things that all believers should embrace, teach somethings that they know not all will embrace but deem it important enough to take a particular position, and give freedom within the assembly regarding a whole host of issues that are better suited to be decided by the family.

Now, in my case, my friend has a conviction about Christmas trees, but I'm not a member of his church.  He can either (1) deem it pretty important and try to convince me that I'm sinning by having a Christmas tree, or (2) realize this is a uncommon conviction among believers and let me be.  In our case, he chose the latter.   We have had discussions about it but he didn't call me a sinner.  But if he really thought it was a sin, and that I was hurting my spiritual life by having a Christmas tree, should he just let me go on sinning?

G. N. Barkman's picture

The Pharisees were famous for imposing extra Biblical standards upon others.  (And in some cases, exempting themselves, but that's another subject.)  It is not Pharisaism to follow a particular practice for yourself because you believe it best honors the Lord.  (Such as not having a Christmas tree.)  It is Pharisaism when you declare that Christmas trees are sinful, and anyone who has one dishonors the Lord.

The "extra Biblical" rules of which I speak are presented as if they are required by God and taught in Scripture.  I wouldn't put "don't walk on the grass" in that category.  I think everyone understands that rule relates strictly to maintaining a nice lawn, and is not related to Scripture.  But, "its sinful to play cards" is an example of an extra Biblical rule.  That, in my opinion, is modern day Pharisaism, and is what most Christians would probably call Legalism.

G. N. Barkman

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

AndyE wrote:
But what if the church says Christmas trees are wrong, preaches that they are wrong?  I don't think I could be a part of that assembly unless I decided I'd rather be in that church than have a Christmas tree. If I was in that church, and insisted on have a Christmas tree, I think they would be right to church discipline me for my unrepentant sin (even though I don't think it is sin).  I would not be "received" by the church and fellow members should not "receive" those in that assembly who are actively going against the churches teaching.  So, that means churches need to be careful about what they preach against as sin.

I'm not convinced as to whether church discipline would be appropriate in that case or not.  Unless the policy of having a Christmas tree was in the church's constitution/policies/doctrinal statement/covenant agreed to by members, or there was a clause saying that discipline could occur for anything preached from the pulpit (either of those would be enough to make me not join that church), I would have a hard time seeing that church discipline is appropriate for something not mentioned in the scriptures or specifically mentioned as binding on a member.

If a church laid out specifics to the detail of things like whether one can have a Christmas tree, TV, stereo, playing cards etc. in their home, I personally would give such a church a pretty wide berth.  I've had experience with at least one such church, and I found it quite unhealthy once I did enough studying and thinking to understand why.

Quote:
Churches will teach some things that all believers should embrace, teach somethings that they know not all will embrace but deem it important enough to take a particular position, and give freedom within the assembly regarding a whole host of issues that are better suited to be decided by the family.

For discipline to be appropriate for things in your 2nd category here, I think they would still have to be laid out in a form that members agree to when joining.  If a church can discipline on things that are not specifically biblical, but not laid out in writing anywhere else (i.e. unspoken rules, or something recently preached), then I think that church is abusing church discipline.

If such positions are laid out, and the member agrees to be bound by them, then yes, he would be subject to discipline for breaking the "rules."  However, like most, I would think church distinctives would be based on things we know are scriptural (like baptism) where interpretation changes practice due to a particular understanding.  Again, dictating that something like a Christmas tree is grounds for discipline would have me wondering about that church, and not in a good way.

Quote:
Now, in my case, my friend has a conviction about Christmas trees, but I'm not a member of his church.  He can either (1) deem it pretty important and try to convince me that I'm sinning by having a Christmas tree, or (2) realize this is a uncommon conviction among believers and let me be.  In our case, he chose the latter.   We have had discussions about it but he didn't call me a sinner.  But if he really thought it was a sin, and that I was hurting my spiritual life by having a Christmas tree, should he just let me go on sinning?

If someone tried to convince me of that, I'd ask him to show me from the scriptures (either directly written, or an inevitable logical consequence of what is there) how it's wrong.  If it wasn't clear enough, we'd have to agree to disagree.  If he chose at that point to separate from me as someone in "unrepentant sin," or consider me a non-believer, that would be one of those cases where I'd let that relationship go.  I'd respect him for wanting me to be right with God, but ultimately, the only thing that would work is for us to go our own separate ways.

No two people are ever going to agree on the limitations of Romans 14, but all Christians should recognize that because that text is there, we're going to have to be able to disagree on things that are not clearly sin without accusing the other of being unrepentant.  If that can't be done between two believers, it's time to move on.

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

I appreciate the good discussion here, and one thing that arises is that sometimes it's something of a bummer that we don't have people with apostolic authority anymore to put out some of the fires we've got today.  Or maybe God, in His grace, wants us to learn to use our heads.

On a side note, I've read some of the writing to proscribe celebrating Christmas, and by and large, it consists of a series of guilt by association fallacies, of which my favorite is that the Norse "Yul" or "Jul" derives from something in Babylon, as if the Vikings had intimate knowledge of Babylonian pagan practices. Overall, it was a real mess, evidentially and logically speaking.

So if I were in a church troubled by a quorum of people advancing that theory--and the case referenced here appears to be a very mild one--I might be tempted to take people aside and walk them through why it's important that people of the Logos ought to use sound logic, and if people persisted in spreading a divisive idea that didn't have much support in evidence, logic, or Scripture, I would be open to some level of church discipline.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Don Johnson's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

The "extra Biblical" rules of which I speak are presented as if they are required by God and taught in Scripture.  I wouldn't put "don't walk on the grass" in that category.  I think everyone understands that rule relates strictly to maintaining a nice lawn, and is not related to Scripture.  But, "its sinful to play cards" is an example of an extra Biblical rule.  That, in my opinion, is modern day Pharisaism, and is what most Christians would probably call Legalism.

When that rule grew up within a portion of Christendom, my perception is that it flowed from consciences concerned about worldliness and/or a possibly false understanding of the origin of playing cards.

On the worldliness side of it, they may have had a point given the connection to gambling and associated evils.

On the understanding of origins side, there they may have been poorly taught or not inquisitive enough to discover the truth of the claim.

In any case, over time, a rule like that, with possibly legitimate origins (the worldliness angle), becomes a Tradition, and to violate it means breaking Tradition. I think that's where people scorn them as "extra-Biblical" and unworthy. Maybe they are. But I am not sure how throwing out all the rules is the answer, or ridiculing those who hold or held them.

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

AndyE's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
The Pharisees were famous for imposing extra Biblical standards upon others.  (And in some cases, exempting themselves, but that's another subject.)  It is not Pharisaism to follow a particular practice for yourself because you believe it best honors the Lord.  (Such as not having a Christmas tree.)  It is Pharisaism when you declare that Christmas trees are sinful, and anyone who has one dishonors the Lord.
It seems like there is a pretty fine line between these two positions. In many cases the reason you believe something best honors the Lord is because you think it to be sinful to do otherwise.  

Is the issue in this case simply that you disagree that Christmas trees are wrong, and so anyone who says they are wrong is a Pharisee?  In other words, are you completely against using Biblical principles to decide ethical questions that are not explicitly mentioned in the Bible?  Anyone who does that is a Pharisee? or is it when they come to a different conclusion than you that they become a Pharisee?  Or is it that people can come to their own position but they have to keep their position to themselves and can't express their views as the correct Biblical position?  

It seems to me that the charge of being a Pharisee is pretty serious, which is why I quoted what I did in my previous post. My understanding is that they were guilty of way more than just being wrong on what they thought God required of them.

AndyE's picture

dcbii wrote:
I'm not convinced as to whether church discipline would be appropriate in that case or not.
Yeah, you make a  lot of good points and my example was probably not very good.

What I was trying to do was wrestle through this with Romans 14 and 15 in view.  Christians are going to come to difference conclusions on various issues that are not explicitly mentioned in scripture.  Are we to just “receive” them no matter what? I don’t think that is what Paul is saying, but it does seem that he is saying this in a context in which the local church has received such a person. I say that because the person is not to pass judgement on the person eating since “God has accepted him” (NASB), or “God has welcomed him” (ESV), or “God has received him” (KJV) How does one know if God has done those things? Well, has the person and their actions been welcomed into the church? Would the church take as a member someone engaged in that activity? Would the church discipline someone engaged in that activity?  If the church is not judging them, then you should not judge someone for engaging in that activity.  

I’m just thinking through this, and using this forum to work out some of my thoughts.  I realize as I write this that we could be dealing with a situation of an immature believer, still struggling or uninformed about certain things that the church my very well want to address with that person, eventually.  I’m not exactly sure how that fits in with what I just said.

To your point about putting things in writing, many churches have put not drinking alcohol in their church covenants.  They are saying, as a church we are uniting on this position to help those who may have had problems in the past with drunkenness, and to help prevent issues of drunkenness from developing, and basically as a general wisdom response to the issue of intoxicating substances in our day.  That issue was thought serious enough to put in the constitution. I think it would be hard, as you say, to disciple someone over an issue not explicitly mentioned in the Bible or spelled out in the constitution, but really the issue with church discipline is this – the person’s unrepentant conduct is such that the church as a body can no longer view that person as a believer, i.e., the fruit and practice of that person’s life indicates that he is not a believer, or if a believer, he needs to be removed from the church to hopefully bring him to a place of repentance.

G. N. Barkman's picture

What makes one a Pharisee is declaring something to be sin that the Bible does not, and imposing that restriction upon others.  Individual decisions to impose extra Biblical rules of conduct upon oneself are legitimate.  Discussing your decision with others, and why you made that decision is also legitimate.  Your reference to drinking alcohol provides a good example. 

I, personally, have chosen to be a total abstainer.  I recognize that the Bible does not require this.  I oppose those who misuse Scripture to try to make it teach abstinence.  That is a distortion of Scripture, and no good can come from mishandling Scripture to try to make it say what it does not say.  That is Pharisaism.  The decision to refrain is as much a legitimate exercise of Christian Liberty as the liberty to partake.  I have the liberty to abstain.  Others have the liberty to partake.  No one has the liberty to get drunk, but neither does anyone have the right to impose upon others that which the Bible does not require.

G. N. Barkman

AndyE's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
What makes one a Pharisee is declaring something to be sin that the Bible does not, and imposing that restriction upon others.  Individual decisions to impose extra Biblical rules of conduct upon oneself are legitimate. 
  But what if the person who is declaring something to be sin thinks the Bible DOES as well, just not directly?  Isn't that the rub, that you and the other person disagree about what the Bible teaches?

Bert Perry's picture

WallyMorris wrote:

I am surprised that no one has mentioned the mess at the recent BJU Fashion Show as an example of "legalism".

....but "tacky" comes to mind if the pictures I saw are indicative.  There is tons of room for Christians to come up with good fashions that make real people--not waifs or plus size people, but average sized--look good with good function.  It's a struggle in my family with four daughters and very little clothing out there that is affordable and actually works in the four seasons we have here in Minnesota.  For that matter, even mens' clothes are getting pretty bad.  My take on the BJU fashion show is that it misses the obvious need and simply does a toned down version of what one would see in New York or Paris.

(wait a second, did I just partially agree with Wally?  Time to write it down--smile--or send EMTs to his house so he doesn't die of shock)

But seriously and more directly to the point, whatever objections exist (beyond mine) to BJU's fashion show illustrate some of the difficulties in parsing out what is really legalism, what is Pharisaism or what I'd just call "extra rules", and what is just something we do or don't like.  I'm guessing that if I saw 20 responses to the fashion show, I'd get some in each category.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

WallyMorris's picture

Bert: Our daughter and her 3 daughters have the same difficulty with finding appropriate clothing. BJU could have provided an excellent service to Christians by designing nice clothes but chose instead to try to be "trendy". I think this illustrates a deeper problem at BJU.

The EMT's just arrived at my home.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

T Howard's picture

AndyE wrote:

G. N. Barkman wrote:
What makes one a Pharisee is declaring something to be sin that the Bible does not, and imposing that restriction upon others.  Individual decisions to impose extra Biblical rules of conduct upon oneself are legitimate. 

  But what if the person who is declaring something to be sin thinks the Bible DOES as well, just not directly?  Isn't that the rub, that you and the other person disagree about what the Bible teaches?

I just read Mark 7:1-13. According to this passage, pharisaism is declaring something to be wrong / sinful based on one's application of Scripture, imposing that view on others and/or judging others for not holding that view, and violating or nullifying other Scripture in the process.

Take abstinence from alcohol as an example. Pharisaism would be declaring that Christians should never drink alcohol, expecting all Christians to abstain, judging Christians who do drink to be "in sin" or "worldly," and meanwhile violating passages like Romans 14-15 and James 4:11-12 in your condemnation of other believers.

The key for me is that your position is based on an application of the text, not a direct command / prohibition from the text. The distance between the Scriptural command / prohibition and the level of application determines the authority of the application. For example, the Scripture is clear that Christians are to abstain from sexual immorality. An application that someone could draw from this is that a man should never be alone with a woman who is not related to him (i.e. the Billy Graham rule). If someone declares that this rule is true for every believer and judges other believers based on their adherence to this rule, then that is pharisaism.

G. N. Barkman's picture

I suppose the Pharisees may have sincerely believed that their laws were Scriptural.  But they were clearly wrong, which is why Jesus corrected them.

We will never resolve all differences of Biblical interpretation.  However, where there is a disagreement, the ideal is to be able to discuss differences, and challenge weak and erroneous conclusions.  That's an important way to grow in grace and knowledge.  When differences cannot be resolved, decisions must be made.  Is this a serious enough error (in my opinion) that I need to withdraw from this brother?  Is this something with which I can agree to disagree and live and let live?  But that does not prohibit me from stating, based upon my understanding of Scripture, "I consider what you are teaching to be in error, and like the Pharisees, you are imposing regulations upon others that are not supported by Scripture."

G. N. Barkman

AndyE's picture

T Howard wrote:
I just read Mark 7:1-13. According to this passage, pharisaism is declaring something to be wrong / sinful based on one's application of Scripture, imposing that view on others and/or judging others for not holding that view, and violating or nullifying other Scripture in the process.

Take abstinence from alcohol as an example. Pharisaism would be declaring that Christians should never drink alcohol, expecting all Christians to abstain, judging Christians who do drink to be "in sin" or "worldly," and meanwhile violating passages like Romans 14-15 and James 4:11-12 in your condemnation of other believers. That is pharisaism.

  I am heartened that you added in that part about violating or nullifying other Scripture in the process. That is an important point that most people gloss over or ignore.  However, in your example, I don't think the Rom 14-15 or James 4 passages count.  In Mark 7, they added their own tradition to enable them to violate a command they didn't want to obey.  In your example, the person pushing abstinence is not trying to avoid those passages, and if he is correct that not drinking alcohol is correct, then he is not violating those passages. So I don't personally think it would be an example of being a Pharisee. 

I just happened to refer to this drinking issue in my SS class last week.  I said it was a wisdom issue. That we need to acknowledge places in the Bible where wine is mentioned positively and where the dangers are mentioned.  The classic danger passage in Prov 20:1 actually says if you are deceived by wine you are not wise.  I mentioned that our church has in its covenant a prohibition against the use of alcohol as a beverage, explained why I thought that was in there (see comments to Dave above) and agreed that I thought it was wise to hold to an abstinence position. I don't think I created any sort of extra-biblical command, but I did very briefly state my general agreement with the abstinence position.  Am I a Pharisee?

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

AndyE wrote:

What I was trying to do was wrestle through this with Romans 14 and 15 in view.  Christians are going to come to difference conclusions on various issues that are not explicitly mentioned in scripture.  Are we to just “receive” them no matter what? I don’t think that is what Paul is saying, but it does seem that he is saying this in a context in which the local church has received such a person. I say that because the person is not to pass judgement on the person eating since “God has accepted him” (NASB), or “God has welcomed him” (ESV), or “God has received him” (KJV) How does one know if God has done those things? Well, has the person and their actions been welcomed into the church? Would the church take as a member someone engaged in that activity? Would the church discipline someone engaged in that activity?  If the church is not judging them, then you should not judge someone for engaging in that activity.

I’m just thinking through this, and using this forum to work out some of my thoughts.

Yes, I agree that one of the great uses of this forum is to work out and hone thoughts with input from other believers.  I'm doing the same here.

That's an interesting take that I hadn't thought of -- the local church being the determination of how we know whether "God has received him."  I'll have to do some more thinking on that, but I would agree that there is a problem if someone repeatedly and intentionally behaves in contradiction to what restrictions he has accepted to follow by joining a church.  IMO, the bigger problem comes when it's something not in the Bible and not laid out in the constitution, but the church is uncomfortable with it.  Since constitutions are limited documents and the number of scenarios is practically unlimited, I'd say that will happen a lot more than we may think.

Of course, that gets into a whole separate issue: If the local church is the determination that God has received someone, what should the church standards look like?  I've heard it said by men I respect that ideally they want the church to be no wider or narrower than what is laid out in the Bible.  That's a great goal in my opinion.  However, due to human limitation and differences in interpretation, issues will be seen differently by different men, and hence, the church doctrinal statement doesn't just have a single line "Refer to the Bible -- ESV," but lays out a particular understanding.  However, there will still need to be leeway given on a whole host of issues not dealt with either directly or logically implied in scripture.

Quote:
I think it would be hard, as you say, to disciple someone over an issue not explicitly mentioned in the Bible or spelled out in the constitution, but really the issue with church discipline is this – the person’s unrepentant conduct is such that the church as a body can no longer view that person as a believer, i.e., the fruit and practice of that person’s life indicates that he is not a believer, or if a believer, he needs to be removed from the church to hopefully bring him to a place of repentance.

I mostly agree with that view of church discipline.  That's why I think it should be mainly used for issues which are of scriptural importance, and any list of additional items thought to be sin because of particular interpretation or application should be chosen very carefully, and kept as limited as possible in order to avoid "adding to the scriptures."  Any distinctives that once violated can be a considered an offense worthy of discipline (i.e. declaring that as far as the church is concerned the person being disciplined is unrepentant to the point of being considered an unbeliever) had better have strong biblical support, and the member should be familiar with each of them.

Your example of alcohol use is a pretty good one.  Anyone with strong beliefs that the Bible does not require abstinence would very likely be unwise to join a church that had a "no alcohol" clause, even if they personally abstain, because they are already agreeing to something they see as wrong doctrine or interpretation of Scripture.  That clause might be an indication of much bigger issues with the church's approach to biblical interpretation that should be considered before joining.

Dave Barnhart

G. N. Barkman's picture

Probably.  The correct course is to remove the un-biblical abstinence prohibition from your church covenant.  (As we did several years ago.  It was quite the battle!)  Then you are on solid ground stating your own personal decision to abstain, and why you highly recommend that course for others. (as I do from time to time)   But when done in this way, it is clear that this is a personal preference, a matter of opinion, yes a wisdom issue, but not an imposed law that goes beyond Biblical teaching. 

Church covenant abstinence requirements convey the impression, if not the declaration, that this is what the Bible teaches and requires.  Romans 14 make clear that the choice to drink or not to drink wine is a personal decision, and a matter of Christian liberty.  If my church covenant makes abstinence a requirement, the covenant is in violation of Romans 14:21,22.  That's the conclusion I was forced to accept many years ago.  I knew it would be difficult to implement, but faithfulness to Scripture is more important than refusing to disturb strongly held traditions.

G. N. Barkman

Dan Miller's picture

The word legalism gets used in a few different ways:

1. The act of placing and following rules for salvation.

IOW, can I do SOMETHING to earn my standing with God? If you say "Yes," then you're a legalist. Now, even if you say, "No," I would hope that you still believe that there is such a thing as sin. Even though you believe with Paul that salvation is by grace through faith and not by works, you still believe that there is such a thing as works and that we should do them. 

2. The act of placing and following rules for sanctification

IOW, once saved by faith, do we bring about our own sanctification by doing good works? This is actually a really interesting and difficult question. Mark seems to be saying "Yes," at least partially or in a sense or sorta.

Even if you believe that both salvation and sanctification are by grace through faith and not by works, you still believe they should move the believer toward doing good works. So there's still such a thing as a good work!

3. The act of placing rules on others that they have not concluded for themselves are God's rules or applications of Biblical principles.

IOW, since the reasonable Christian here at SI believes in Eph 2:8-9 and ALSO v. 10, the question becomes, "What actions are good works?" And the term legalism is often used for people who consider things required/prohibited that I don't.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

AndyE wrote:

  But what if the person who is declaring something to be sin thinks the Bible DOES as well, just not directly?  Isn't that the rub, that you and the other person disagree about what the Bible teaches?

Of course that can happen.  That's why I'd use the Martin Luther test (scripture together with plain reason) and give the person a chance to convince me.  If he can't do it to my satisfaction (also considering advice from people whose biblical understanding I trust and respect), I'm not going to agree that it's sin, and I'm then going to treat such a prohibition from someone else as "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."  If he's only taking that position for himself, and realizes that while he might believe it a sin, he can't prove it scripturally and doesn't hold me to his standard, then that is completely different.

Dave Barnhart

RajeshG's picture

The Pharisees that Jesus condemned and excoriated were unbelievers:

Matthew 23:13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

Matthew 23:15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

I believe that using that term to speak of believers is unhelpful, unjustified, and a misuse of the term. 

AndyE's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
Church covenant abstinence requirements convey the impression, if not the declaration, that this is what the Bible teaches and requires.  Romans 14 make clear that the choice to drink or not to drink wine is a personal decision, and a matter of Christian liberty.  If my church covenant makes abstinence a requirement, the covenant is in violation of Romans 14:21,22.  That's the conclusion I was forced to accept many years ago.  I knew it would be difficult to implement, but faithfulness to Scripture is more important than refusing to disturb strongly held traditions.
If it is "good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble", how in the world is a church covenant that restricts the use of alcohol as a beverage a violation of Rom 14, if that part of the covenant is specifically designed to help such a brother not to stumble?  Are you not being a Pharisee yourself (per your definition) for imposing your extra-biblical standard (no church covenants regarding abstinence) on others? 

BTW,  I have a little booklet called "A Baptist Church Manual" written by a J. Newton Brown in 1853.  It has a sample church covenant that reads like almost every church covenant I've ever seen. It includes this line, "to abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage..."  I don't know if this booklet is the source for these church covenants or what, but it's interesting to me.  Our covenant reads almost word for word with this one, as do many of covenants that I have read.  

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