The Attraction to Legalism

“Why is legalism so attractive? It is attractive because it feeds the sinful flesh. It may not feed the flesh in the same way that sexual perversions, alcohol, drugs, and promiscuity do, but it does feed the flesh.

And, I will argue that it does so in a more dangerous way, because it deceives a person into thinking he is doing the right thing while in fact he is destroying his life and the lives of those around him.”

 

Dr. Matt Olson weighs in on The Attraction To Legalism

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It allows them to write more rules that protect from sin and make them even “better Christians.”

Just as a thought experiment.... which of these rules does not make a person a "better Christian"?

  • I and my family will not gamble
  • I and my family will not support any leader who favors abortion
  • I and my family will not borrow funds in excess of 50% of our annual income
  • I and my family will not skip Sunday worship to attend sporting events

(These are all "man-made rules")

As is common on this subject, there's ambiguity on what the point is. Is he saying belief that rules are a vital part of Christian living is characteristic only of "legalism," or that "legalism" shares this characteristic with healthy Christian living? If the latter, why mention it? If the former... it's impossible to apply​ the Bible to your lifestyle without making some rules, and if you apply it accurately and wisely, they will indeed make you a "better Christian."

So once again we have a response to "legalism" that does not define it clearly and that proffers a confusing solution.

(An observation about the Galatians passage: Paul does not fault the Galatians for trying live a Christian lifestyle by regulating their choices according to biblical principles. He faults them for trying to return to living by the law of Moses.)

Ironically, many anti-"legalists" have elevated a man-made rule: "Thou shalt not attach any importance to rules."

I think this post is relevant: How "Freer than Thou" Became the the New "Holier Than Thou"

 

dmyers's picture

Aaron, what is the definition of a "better Christian" in your post?  (I know Matt Olsen used the phrase first, but he was putting words in the mouths of the unwitting legalists he was writing about.)  In what sense is the person you're describing a "better Christian" as a result of the rules you propose about gambling, voting, borrowing, Sunday activities, etc.?

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

But underneath they were motivated by the law and not by grace. That is all the difference. Keeping the law cannot please God, but “believing” does. Only grace can produce real fruit. Everything else is plastic.

I can understand how this topic is confusing. Obviously we don't want to condone sin for any reason. But we also don't want to make it sound like abstaining from sin is an end in and of itself. God hasn't just called us to be free from sin, but free unto righteousness. And the fruit of the Spirit is all about virtues- and virtues by their nature MUST work themselves from the inside to the outside. The fruits of the Spirit are never plastic.

I know some young people who are fleeing legalism, and I do mean Legalism (as in "Do as I say and not as I do" Capital L Legalism) but their answer to being free from legalism involves fornication, drunkenness, tats and pierces, bar hopping and screamo rock bands, and then flaunting their 'freedom' in front of all the Legalists who confused and wounded them in the first place. 

That is not freedom- that is going from the frying pan into the fire. It is always better not to sow wickedness, but just avoiding wickedness is never going to address the real problem- a life without a relationship with Christ and His Word. 

 

gadietrich's picture

The only thing worth adding here is that Matt Olson's name is spelled with a double "o" and not an "e."

 

Olson, not, Olsen.

Mike Harding's picture

As a dispensationalist I fully agree that we are not under the Law of Moses.  The Law of Moses was the Constitution for the nation of Israel.  Nevertheless, the Law is good.  It came from God.  The moral aspects of the Law have been carried over into the NT and are repeated for us.  By grace alone through faith alone we believe what the NT has said in command, precept, and principle and wisely/skillfully apply the Word to the World we live in today.  Institutionally, we have some rules for the home, school, and church.  Some of those rules are based directly on biblical command, precept, and principle.  Other rules are based on the practical need to do things decently and in order.  Rules do not inherently sanctify us nor do they carry the weight of Scripture.   Aaron has already made the case for the positive aspect of rules.

 

I am fairly certain that Matt is endeavoring to find the correct balance between the legitimate use of rules and the genuine sanctification of the life.  As pastors we all struggle with that balance.  It is even more intense when one is a college president of an Independent Fundamental Baptist College, not to mention the ministry of the Camp.  There are rules for campers, rules for employees, rules for counselors, etc.  No matter how much one would simply like to say "Love God; Love People", it becomes necessary to "flesh" it out in real life in a tangible fashion.  In our school we have rules for the students.  By no means do we think the rules will inherently sanctify them.  God sanctifies them through God's truth.  Nevertheless, the rules help control their behavior and help protect the students from themselves and others.  We have rules against the recreational use of alcohol, rules against smoking, illegal drugs, pornography, entertainment characterized by gratuitous violence/nudity/sexual material/profanity, rules about bullying other students, etc.  The rules are necessary; nevertheless, they do not inherently sanctify a person nor are they the apogee for measuring the Christian life.

 

What concerns me about Matt's article is the tone.  It seems angry and one-sided.  Dare I say an over-reaction. 

Pastor Mike Harding

Todd Wood's picture

Mike, perhaps Matt is nursing some hits that still hurt.  But I think he is on to something.  Consider Bob's tone over here in what he wrote, "Confessions of a Recovering Legalist."

 

Aaron, LDS friends will often make comparisons on the basis of such lists and quite openly conclude among us in our community, "This makes one a better Christian." 

It can so easily spiral downward into this confusing heart issue:

You follow the rules better than me = You are a better Christian than me

Matthew Richards's picture

Susan R wrote:

But underneath they were motivated by the law and not by grace. That is all the difference. Keeping the law cannot please God, but “believing” does. Only grace can produce real fruit. Everything else is plastic.

I can understand how this topic is confusing. Obviously we don't want to condone sin for any reason. But we also don't want to make it sound like abstaining from sin is an end in and of itself. God hasn't just called us to be free from sin, but free unto righteousness. And the fruit of the Spirit is all about virtues- and virtues by their nature MUST work themselves from the inside to the outside. The fruits of the Spirit are never plastic.

I know some young people who are fleeing legalism, and I do mean Legalism (as in "Do as I say and not as I do" Capital L Legalism) but their answer to being free from legalism involves fornication, drunkenness, tats and pierces, bar hopping and screamo rock bands, and then flaunting their 'freedom' in front of all the Legalists who confused and wounded them in the first place. 

That is not freedom- that is going from the frying pan into the fire. It is always better not to sow wickedness, but just avoiding wickedness is never going to address the real problem- a life without a relationship with Christ and His Word. 

 

There is further confusion in that your list includes actions forbidden by Scripture sprinkled in with things not forbidden by Scripture.  I don't have tatts or piercings, but I do not consider them sinful.  Putting screamo rock, tatts, piercings, drunkeness, and fornication in the same list does not help the discussion--this is what many of us former Fundies find so amusing.  Let's give the same emphasis to these issues as the Scripture gives to them and not a bit more.  I have many solid Christian friends who are tatted and pierced up--this is a cultural issue only.

FWIW, I don't deny that there are those who make a knee jerk reaction to legalism and swing completely off the other side.  It grieves me to see people abusing alcohol and dishonoring God by indulgence in fornication--these are clearly forbidden in Scripture. 

Matthew

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Matthew Richards wrote:

Susan R wrote:

But underneath they were motivated by the law and not by grace. That is all the difference. Keeping the law cannot please God, but “believing” does. Only grace can produce real fruit. Everything else is plastic.

I can understand how this topic is confusing. Obviously we don't want to condone sin for any reason. But we also don't want to make it sound like abstaining from sin is an end in and of itself. God hasn't just called us to be free from sin, but free unto righteousness. And the fruit of the Spirit is all about virtues- and virtues by their nature MUST work themselves from the inside to the outside. The fruits of the Spirit are never plastic.

I know some young people who are fleeing legalism, and I do mean Legalism (as in "Do as I say and not as I do" Capital L Legalism) but their answer to being free from legalism involves fornication, drunkenness, tats and pierces, bar hopping and screamo rock bands, and then flaunting their 'freedom' in front of all the Legalists who confused and wounded them in the first place. 

That is not freedom- that is going from the frying pan into the fire. It is always better not to sow wickedness, but just avoiding wickedness is never going to address the real problem- a life without a relationship with Christ and His Word. 

There is further confusion in that your list includes actions forbidden by Scripture sprinkled in with things not forbidden by Scripture.  I don't have tatts or piercings, but I do not consider them sinful.  Putting screamo rock, tatts, piercings, drunkeness, and fornication in the same list does not help the discussion--this is what many of us former Fundies find so amusing.  Let's give the same emphasis to these issues as the Scripture gives to them and not a bit more.  I have many solid Christian friends who are tatted and pierced up--this is a cultural issue only.

FWIW, I don't deny that there are those who make a knee jerk reaction to legalism and swing completely off the other side.  It grieves me to see people abusing alcohol and dishonoring God by indulgence in fornication--these are clearly forbidden in Scripture. 

Matthew

I'm not 'listing sins', I am pointing out that these young people are purposefully doing these particular things to 'prove' their 'freedom' to everyone. It's their motives that are the issue, not just the actions. Getting a tat to 'stick it to the man' is not freedom, and it IS sinful, because the motive is sinful. That is the trap of legalism as well.

Matthew Richards's picture

I am not going to assume motives--that would be sinful as well.  I will give them the benefit of the doubt on those gray issues. Obviously the drunkeness and fornication are sinful regardless of motivation. 

Matthew

 

Jim's picture

gadietrich wrote:

The only thing worth adding here is that Matt Olson's name is spelled with a double "o" and not an "e."

 

Olson, not, Olsen.

 

Thanks 

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Matthew Richards wrote:

I am not going to assume motives--that would be sinful as well.  I will give them the benefit of the doubt on those gray issues. Obviously the drunkeness and fornication are sinful regardless of motivation. 

Matthew

When they sit at my dining room table and tell me exactly what they are doing and why, then no assuming is necessary. 

Matthew Richards's picture

You are still painting with a broad brush. So a few former legalists have told you their motivations--doesn't mean most or all the rest have same motivation. 

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I know some young people who are fleeing legalism, and I do mean Legalism (as in "Do as I say and not as I do" Capital L Legalism) but their answer to being free from legalism involves fornication, drunkenness, tats and pierces, bar hopping and screamo rock bands, and then flaunting their 'freedom' in front of all the Legalists who confused and wounded them in the first place. That is not freedom- that is going from the frying pan into the fire. It is always better not to sow wickedness, but just avoiding wickedness is never going to address the real problem- a life without a relationship with Christ and His Word.

 

Bro. Richards- Where did I say anything about "most or all the rest"? I was pretty specific about who and what I was talking about. 

 

 

Wayne Wilson's picture

Aaron: A worthy thought experiment.

Just as a thought experiment.... which of these rules does not make a person a "better Christian"?

I and my family will not gamble
I and my family will not support any leader who favors abortion
I and my family will not borrow funds in excess of 50% of our annual income
I and my family will not skip Sunday worship to attend sporting events
(These are all "man-made rules")

I think these rules would not make a person a better Christian if the one who kept them looked down his nose at a brother who bought a lottery ticket, voted for a moderately pro-choice Constitutionalist, borrowed funds at 52% of their annual income, and occasionally played in a weekend tournament.

 

Rules are necessary to flesh out biblical principles.  They are good. Your rules are good in my mind.  I think the legalism comes in when we regard as lessor Christians others who draw their extra-biblical rules in a different place, but with a clear conscience.  I think you would agree. 

 

Jim's picture

Responding to Matt Olson's comment:

The same error that plagued the Jews, and early church, is alive today—in all of our churches.

"in all of our churches" = Hyperbole?

 

On rules:

  • I'm convinced that Christian schools (day schools / colleges) have to have behavior rules

    • Eg: students should not attend movie theaters or view Hollywood videos
    • Or shall not listen to certain kinds of music
  • When the rules become so complex (I'll call it über-rulism) that students spy on other students and significant staff resources are used to monitor students, the rule-system has become bureaucratic, authoritarian, and counter-productive (I can think of a school or two but will not mention)

On lists:

  • My view is that lists are valuable if it is a Biblically-based standard for self. I personally have a mental list for my own behavior.
  • Matt Olson said: "It provides a checklist for them to measure how other people are doing".

    • I suspect that many of us have such a list.
    • Such a list could form the basis for evaluating potential candidates for leadership positions in the church (eg some churches consider giving records when vetting men for the diaconate.)
  • The danger of rule-based sanctification is that it can be like a spiritual Maginot Line: meaning that we have defended against but one front while ignoring others.

 

 

 

 

dmyers's picture

Susan: FWIW your post confused me as well so that I had the same reaction as Matthew:  you seemed to be inadvertently providing a textbook example of the fundamentalist brand of legalism by speaking of real sins (i.e., described as such in the Bible, like fornication and drunkenness) as equivalent to disapproved cultural preferences (i.e., tats, piercings, bar hopping (presumably short of drunkenness since that was already covered), and screamo rock bands).  So I think Matthew's response to your post was based on a natural reading of what you had said initially.  I'm glad to see from your subsequent post that that was not what you meant.

Mike: I don't see any inappropriateness in Olson's tone at all.  You may disagree with him on the merits, but his post is more a statement of concern than a rant; I don't think it's accurate to characterize it as angry, one-sided, or an over-reaction.

Todd:  I think you nailed it, and the Bob Gonzalez post you linked to nailed it as well, including the legalism of criticizing the legalists, to which I can be and have been prey.  I would, however, slightly modify your formulation of the confusing heart issue we ought to be trying to avoid:  "You follow the [extra-biblical] rules better than me = You are a better Christian than me."

Matthew Richards's picture

Susan R wrote:

I know some young people who are fleeing legalism, and I do mean Legalism (as in "Do as I say and not as I do" Capital L Legalism) but their answer to being free from legalism involves fornication, drunkenness, tats and pierces, bar hopping and screamo rock bands, and then flaunting their 'freedom' in front of all the Legalists who confused and wounded them in the first place. That is not freedom- that is going from the frying pan into the fire. It is always better not to sow wickedness, but just avoiding wickedness is never going to address the real problem- a life without a relationship with Christ and His Word.

 

Bro. Richards- Where did I say anything about "most or all the rest"? I was pretty specific about who and what I was talking about. 

 

 

 

Susan,

I am sorry for misreading your original post regarding some specific young people who shared with you their motivations for their life choices.  I was reading and responding on my smart phone and didn't see that--lesson learned that that is not always a great idea.  I read it hastily and made a mistake.  I am not in support of flaunting liberty simply to upset those bound by legalism--this is something I need to guard against when interacting with my family.

Matthew

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I think the phrase "flaunting their 'freedom'" covered my bases. It isn't really freedom if you feel the need to flaunt it, regardless of the action.

Back to the topic- I see no problem with a person having extra-Biblical rules for themselves and their family. I do see a problem when a church or school tries to implement extra-Biblical rules for the private lives of those who attend. 

What I find confusing is that we do have clear guidelines for leadership, with the expectation that they are to provide an example to the other believers. But what does it mean to not be 'greedy of filthy lucre'? Is that hoarding money, trying get-rich-quick-schemes, playing the lottery, using and abusing credit cards? All of the above? How does one hold the leadership accountable? If you are going to plunk down some rules for the laity, you best have your own house in order, n'est–ce pas?

That is why many, IMO, view the nature of the church as bound by legalism, because they will pick out something like attending movies to warn against, but be 20Gs in unsecured debt (and not because of medical bills), or their own living room looks like Blockbuster. What's the diff?

Mike Harding's picture

"Why is legalism so attractive? It is attractive because it feeds the sinful flesh. It may not feed the flesh in the same way that sexual perversions, alcohol, drugs, and promiscuity do, but it does feed the flesh. And, I will argue that it does so in a more dangerous way, because it deceives a person into thinking he is doing the right thing while in fact he is destroying his life and the lives of those around him. Legalism feeds our fleshly bent toward self-righteousness."

 

Essentially Matt argues here that those who have rules in their Christian life and seriously hold to them are feeding their sinful nature in a more dangerous fashion than those who practice immorality, abuse alcohol, and use illegal drugs, and as a result of adhering to their rules consistently, they have destroyed their own lives.  He also asserts that their true motive in having and adhering to the "rules" is self-righteousness.  I am sorry, but that is so "over-the-top".  And then he adds that this is true "in all of our churches". 

 

It is no secret that Matt has reduced the "rules" at Northland in order to emphasize sanctification by faith through the Word.  Nevertheless, he still has rules.  Rules can be overdone and some can be utterly nonsensical. Nevertheless, to paint those who might disagree with him on the use of rules in this light is more than hyperbole.  There is an angst here that is spiritually unhealthy.  When Northland had more rules in their handbook under the leadership of Les Ollila, Northland was a very healthy place and produced many humble servants of God.   Some of my best friends in the ministry were graduates from that era.  I could name many, but one that comes readily to my mind is Mark Snoeberger. 

 

Changing and adjusting rules is inevitable in any institution.  Evaluating rules and their legitimacy is a constant "must" for those in leadership.  Equating rule-keeping, however, with legalism is a non-sequitor.  In my evaluation the article is flawed and one-sided.

 

Pastor Mike Harding

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

dmyers wrote:

Aaron, what is the definition of a "better Christian" in your post?  (I know Matt Olsen used the phrase first, but he was putting words in the mouths of the unwitting legalists he was writing about.)  In what sense is the person you're describing a "better Christian" as a result of the rules you propose about gambling, voting, borrowing, Sunday activities, etc.?

Since I'm big on defining terms, have to appreciate this one.

A better Christian is one who's walk ​(not just his sentiments) is more worthy of his calling (Eph. 4:1, Col. 1:10); one who is doing a better job of cleansing himself from defilement of both body and spirit and bringing holiness to completion (2Cor.7:1); one who is more effectively disciplining himself for the purpose of godliness (1Tim4.7-8).

In short, the reason we are not immediately taken to heaven when we believe is so that we may please the Lord (2Cor.5:9) by living a life that is increasingly obedient to the Scriptures.  We can't really do that by bifurcating the Christian life and suggesting that we've fulfilled our calling if we just get the internal stuff right. The NT doesn't teach the increasingly popular sentiment that if we just get our hearts in the right place everything else will take care of itself.

(Actually, it sort of does teach that, depending on how you define "hearts in the right place." The problem is that so many view "hearts in right place" as having nothing to do with how we regulate our actions.)

Jay's picture

Essentially Matt argues here that those who have rules in their Christian life and seriously hold to them are feeding their sinful nature in a more dangerous fashion than those who practice immorality, abuse alcohol, and use illegal drugs, and as a result of adhering to their rules consistently, they have destroyed their own lives.  He also asserts that their true motive in having and adhering to the "rules" is self-righteousness.  I am sorry, but that is so "over-the-top".  And then he adds that this is true "in all of our churches".

Did you read the same article that I did? I don't think that Olsen is arguing that rules are dangerous or that they destroy lives.  Are you sure you're understanding his point?

I mean, his opening sentence is "Why is legalism so attractive? It is attractive because it feeds the sinful flesh."  That ought to make it pretty clear that he's aiming at legalists and not rules.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Mike Harding's picture

Jay,

 

Matt clarifies the essence of what he means by legalism toward the end of his article:  "I began to see that many of my rules, regulations, and guidelines could not be supported by Scripture and that was why new believer’s weren’t “getting it.”"  Matt is talking about "rules, regulations, and guidelines".  Nearly every Christian institution has extra-biblical "rules, regulations, and guidelines" including Northland.  That does not make those institutions legalists or Pharisees. 

Pastor Mike Harding

Todd Wood's picture

Believers definitely need a set of rules when they get together to play in a summer church softball league.  And when a team doesn't play by the rules, it creates a whole new set of heart issues.

Ha.

David R. Brumbelow's picture

Aaron Blumer,
You make some great points in your first comment.  We all need to have biblical standards and principles in our lifestyles. 

Sure, we can get too picky and too judgmental, but that seems to be a different issue than true legalism. 

A good rule to follow is to just bring up the issue, whatever it may be (gambling, etc.), and debate it on the merits of the issue.  Don’t try to end all discussion by hurling the charge of legalism.
David R. Brumbelow

MClark's picture

I didn't see in Matt's article that he was trying to "end all discussion by hurling the charge of legalism." (Although I did smile at your offering another rule, David.) :) Nor did I see the anger that Pastor Harding saw in Dr. Olson's blog post. I would be curious to know when and how "too judgmental" differs from "true legalism." From Jesus' response in the Gospels, the two were rarely separated. Where legalism prevailed, judgmentalism abounded. And Jesus had enough to say about judgmentalism that we should all have a healthy fear of being "too judgmental."

Yes, the danger of legalism is alive in all of our churches, because all of our hearts are drawn to indulge our flesh, as Matt described. Rules and checklists are so much easier than trying to dig up the motivations of the heart and let the Spirit by the Word change the heart so that the right actions flow out of a right heartset.

I believe that one of the distinctions to which Matt alludes in his post is that living as a follower of rules is different than living as a follower of Jesus, and I think that we all would agree with that distinction. Following Jesus will result in my making certain decisions and not making others, but the rules are not what make me a genuine, faithful disciple. We can get bent out of shape over whether or not we agree with Dr. Olson's position on rules, but the reality is that we have all observed what sadly happens when a person is consumed with rules more than with Christ. The rules are the end in and of themselves, and a love for God & for others is nowhere to be seen. My love for God and for others will motivate me to lifestyle choices, and I can trust that in his power, the Spirit can guide and direct the choices of other believers better than I will.

That does not mean that I don't have a responsibility to disciple, to mentor, to teach, and to life an example of faithfully imitating Jesus before other believers. Young, immature believers do need to be taught. But in the end, they may not (and probably won't) make all the same decisions I do. I can trust that God is powerful enough, wise enough, and loving enough to correct them where they need to be corrected. The goal is not for them to follow my choices but for them to follow Jesus faithfully. Yes, that will affect both the heart and the behavior.

I attended Northland when Mark Snoeberger did. Yes, there were rules in the handbook. (There are still rules in the handbook.) But Dr. O also got up in chapel at least once a semester and preached hard about the fact that many rules in the handbook existed merely to facilitate institutional movement, not to define godly living. He would tell us that he did not expect that we would graduate and continue to follow the handbook. He taught us to live under the "umbrella of love," loving God and other people and letting that love bind my freedom and drive my decisions, based on Scriptural principle. It wasn't much different than what Dr. Olson is saying now.

On a side note, having grown up in another culture, I am always fascinated to observe how many of the rules to which we adhere are more American issues than biblical issues. That's another reason that I appreciate an approach to the Christian life that emphasizes learning how to apply biblical principles accurately and faithfully rather than replicating our American behavior elsewhere. Cultural influence impacts our behavior and translates into rules more than we even know.

Those that Susan describes who "flaunt their freedom" are no more driven by love than those who hold their list of personal rules up for everyone else to follow. License is as deadly as legalism, and there's no question about that, either.

Mike Harding's picture

Brother Clark,

 

It appears to me that this article is "too judgmental".  Matt accuses "all our churches" of being legalist and pharisee on the basis of having extra-biblical "rules, regulations, and guidelines".  It is Matt who is launching the grenades in this article or could I suggest an atomic bomb since it covers such a broad area.  These labels have serious theological implications. To borrow from Aaron,  Pharisees imposed regulations on others they had no intention of obeying themselves (Matt 23:4), regulated religious life solely for the praise of men (Matt 23:6-7), emphasized the external while delving into extortion and gross indulgence (Matt 23:25), pretended to be spiritual while "devouring widows houses" (Matt 23:14), feigned religion while refusing to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and actively prevented others from doing so (Matt 23:14).  They set up their own standards that were rationally unrelated to the Law of God and believed they could achieve eternal life by adhering to such standards.  They were for the most part religious apostates, proud and unbelieving.  I suggest before leaders of Christian Colleges start throwing these terms around as labels and accusations toward their brethren, they had better think seriously as to what those labels really mean.

Pastor Mike Harding

Tim Terpstra's picture

I think Matt's point can be lost if too much focus is devoted to the "all" and "never" words.  

Is there a legitimate question on what true holiness consists? Has the product of typical fundamentalist teaching resulted in widespread legalism?  Is there a legitimate question on how "fundamentalism" has described and and prescribed the pursuit of holiness? Have institutions always done a good job distinguishing institutional rules from what holiness is and how it is obtained in growing measure?    

I believe this is a legitimate discussion and should not be short circuited because of "all".

 

 

Jim's picture

I don't think the average fundamentalist church is legalistic ....

Our problem is, we don't know how to handle someone whose standards are different than our own!

Consider the typical standard of  abstention from alcholic beverages (and in my view abstention is a good standard to have!)

The fundy mindset does not understand that there are godly Christians who drink in moderation.

And so how do we handle that.

  • Well ... they can't join our churches
  • So there must be something wrong with them

The same could be said of:

  • Parents who send their kids to public school when nearly everybody in the church sends their kids to the church sponsored CDS.
  • The vast majority of fundamentalists would never darken the door to a movie theater ... when a Christian we know does ... we have a hard time processing that
  • Or take tithing. A common tither's response to the non-tither  is that they are materialistic and greedy. We have a hard time processing that perhaps they just don't see it the way we see it
Lee's picture

And when they heard [it], they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise [their] children, neither to walk after the customs. What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave [their] heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but [that] thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law. ...Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them. (Acts 21:20-26)

 

This is the same Paul that would have nothing to do with legalism, chastised true legalists, pronouncing them Anathema, who called out Peter to his face and named Barnabas by name for being "carried away with their dissimulation."  IOW, Paul is going to have no truck with legalism.  Period.

Yet he doesn't flinch at submitting to this law as a determiner of his fitness to serve in Jerusalem. 

Point being made:  You can have a lot of law without being a legalist! 

Lee

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Mike Harding wrote:

They set up their own standards that were rationally unrelated to the Law of God...

While I believe you are correct when you say that the label of Pharisee is thrown around too easily, and too often compared with those today who may perhaps overuse rules to accomplish holy living, I think it's not completely true that their standards were unrelated to the Law of God, at least not all of them.

In Mark 7, another place where Jesus was hammering on the Pharisees, he mentions them holding their traditions about the washing of hands as well as cups, pots, tables, etc. I believe those traditions were not at all unrelated to the law, but happen the exact same way many of our rules come about -- by application.

Assuming someone genuinely wanted to obey the dietary laws about clean/unclean, they would certainly have to take into account that most insects were not on the "clean" list, and in an agrarian society without many of the advances we have today, insects would have been everywhere. Touching them on the hands, dishes, or table could theoretically cause ingestion of uncleanness, and therefore, a thorough washing sounds like a good application to make on their part. However, as you mentioned, they often ignored the weightier parts of the law and berated the disciples for not taking their application of what were, of course, God's laws about diet.

I believe this mention among the Pharisees' real problems points toward us being careful in demanding that others follow our (logical/reasonable and perhaps even seemingly unavoidable) applications in order to be right before God. In no way does that make the application wrong. As far as I can see, Jesus in that passage nowhere condemns them for holding that tradition, but for holding the disciples accountable for it, i.e. "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men," and he took time to deal with this while condemning them for laying aside God's actual commandments to follow their traditions.

It's too easy to throw around the term Pharisee and use it for those whose rules we don't like, but it's also way too easy for us to attempt to distance ourselves from them and say that we are nothing like them, and that nothing we do resembles anything they did.

Dave Barnhart

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