Free to Live

Authentic Christianity can only be realized through Christ, by means of His Spirit and His Word, as faith is exercised. There is nothing to add. If you do, you have another gospel. Having rules and standards does not make a person a legalist,  but making rule keeping as a means or a measure of spirituality does. That is the point.

Matthew Olson expands on his blogpost from last week with an explanation of what it means to be “Free To Live”.

For discussion on Olson’s post “The Attraction to Legalism”, see this thread.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I get most of what he's saying and mostly agree, but...

"rule keeping as a means"

We need to get past this. Rule keeping is​ a means of spirituality.

Here's my case again in a nutshell:

  • Applying Scripture to your life, IOW, living by the book, is a means of spirituality (it might even be a definition)
  • Applying Scripture requires that you make some rules.
  • Ergo, rule keeping is a means of spirituality.

In the last thread on this I suggested a few random examples. Take gambling. There is no Bible verse that says "don't gamble." There are principles that argue strongly that gambling is poor stewardship, lazy, etc. 

So how do I live those principles? I make a decision not to gamble. This generalization "I will not gamble" is a rule.

Now, if I'm also responsible for the conduct of other people, applying Scripture is going to require that I make some​ rules for them, too (which ones and how to make them, etc. is a separate topic). Hence, "I and my family will not participate in gambling."

So how is this rule not a "means" of "spirituality" (which I'm taking to mean here "godly living")?

(If that one doesn't work for you, try this: "I will report accurate numbers on my tax returns" as an application of principles like obedience to the powers that be, honesty, and avoiding theft.)

To clarify, I'm not saying:

  • All rules are means of spirituality
  • Rule-keeping by itself is a means of spirituality
  • Rule-keeping is a substitute for genuine love and faith

The problem we've seen a fair amount of in fundamentalism is variations on the three points above. But the solution is not to dismiss the value of disciplined living as a means of spirituality.

dgszweda's picture

I think most fundamentalists in our classic fundamentalist churches, like to say the things that you are saying, Aaron, but in reality that is not what is practiced.  It is clearly prevalent within fundamentalism that if you don't follow certain perceived rules, that while you won't be called a sinner, you will be slowly distanced by other groups in the church.  If the pastors wife came into church with pants, there would be more talk than if the church joined the SBC.  There are all of these rules that either written or unwritten govern the social stratification within fundamentalist churches.  Whether you realize them or not they are there.  I left this movement as it is now a little while ago and have started attending a church outside of these fundamentalist circles that I have grown up in and been in for more than 40 years.  What a breath of fresh air having all of these type of "social" rules done away with.  We have people who wear short and families where woman where head covering.  We had a member, who drives a Harley to church, has jeans and t-shirt on and long hair and he stood up to read scripture during our congregational reading.  He read the passage, and gave a short 3 sentence recap.  I have never heard a passage read so well and a recap done so well as I heard from this man.  I can tell you that he would have never made it from the back row of many fundamentalist churches out there because of the "rules" that he would have failed to keep.  While he would not have received open armed fellowship in most of our churches, the sad part is that he will have to wait for that fellowship when he gets to heaven.  We won't fellowship with people here in our churches, but what does that look like in heaven.  I have a feeling that even in heaven the fundamentalist will be carving out some kind of niche there to segment themselves out.  Because I cannot believe some of the vitrol talk to people like lets say a Mark Dever, but we expect to fellowship with him in heaven.

 

So while fundamentalist like to pick out the big ticket items like gambling, how about the clothes you wear, the music you listen to, the songs we sing, who so and so talks to......  Those are the items that are issues and are seriously preventing discipleship opportunities in church.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Aaron's recommendation will work, and is actually a good and godly procedure as long as it remains a personal decision.  (Or, as he says, the head of a family deciding for his family, etc.)

It is making a decision on a non-essential (something not specified in the Bible) based upon a desire to please the Lord.  It is exercising Christian Liberty by deciding not to practice a certain activity for Christ-honoring reasons.  It is like Paul deciding not to eat meat offered to idols in order not to harm a weaker brother.

The "rules-making" becomes a problem when Aaron decides that his personal rule should be every Christian's rule.  I don't think Aaron would do that.  However, as we know, many others have and still do.  That's the problem, and that is a form of legalism.

G. N. Barkman

Jay's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

I get most of what he's saying and mostly agree, but...

"rule keeping as a means"

We need to get past this. Rule keeping is​ a means of spirituality.

Here's my case again in a nutshell:

  • Applying Scripture to your life, IOW, living by the book, is a means of spirituality (it might even be a definition)
  • Applying Scripture requires that you make some rules.
  • Ergo, rule keeping is a means of spirituality.

Aaron, 

I get what you're saying here, but I'm uncomfortable with it.  Yes, based on your three theorems 'rule keeping is a means of spirituality' can be a valid logical conclusion, but I think that this is an extrabiblical jump.  Are there any 'rules' (I'm not referring to spiritual principles or commands like Romans 12:1-2) that you take straight from the pages of the NT?  There were lots of rules in the OT, but they have largely been done away with (see the book of Hebrews).

As for the value of 'disciplined living' - I don't think that anyone here is arguing that disciplined living is a bad thing.  I'd personally like to be more ​disciplined in some ways!

 

"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

Ron Bean's picture

My wife and I have made the same journey that David has made and have come to the conclusion, like Greg, that a lot of these rules are personal in nature. I'm comfortable going to church without a tie, but I wore one Sunday. (I still can't bring myself to wear jeans.) I've always been "fussy" about my music but I've been introduced to hymns that warm my soul and often bring tears of joy. (And I haven't missed "Heaven came Down and Glory Filled My Soul.) I'm enjoying the fellowship of a congregation that, while not of my generation or background, loves Christ and one another and desire to be a visible witness for the Gospel.

 

Meanwhile, some of my Christian brethren whom I love and care for deeply, have distanced themselves from me because I quoted the words from "In Christ Alone" when I preached at their church ("He listens to bad music"), because I attend a church that uses the ESV, because I attended T4G, because I really like 9 Marks (Dever is a Southern Baptist!), and/or because I have a secular job that sometimes requires me to work on Sunday.

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Jay's picture

I think there's a difference in my mind that I wanted to note here before we go any further:

"Rules" - man made creations, usually (but not always) based off of Biblical or Societal norms/commands.  Some rules are developed due to inferred conclusions from Biblical laws/precepts.

"Laws" -  Biblical commands that are explicitly laid out in the Bible, like Ephesians 4:29 or Exodus 20:13 

"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

Jim's picture

I'm not talking about institutional rules for the Bible college where students choose to attend ... a handbook is printed (and hopefully available prior to enrollment)!

 

And only now about sanctification ... not justification

 

My rules for me:

  • How I chose to dress ... maybe it's my wife will wear a dress and not slacks or, my kids shorts will be to the knee, or I will wear a tie to church
  • How I eat / drink (basically covered in Romans 14). Drinking in moderation versus total abstinence
  • How I choose to give: grace giving (maybe more than a tithe ... perhaps less. Between me and my Lord)
  • How I choose to be entertained: whether I go to the movies, amusement parks, ball-games, etc
  • My rules for me, as long as I understand that I am not saved by these (justification) and are helpful but do not in themselves sanctify me! My rules for me are helpful! And probably most S/I readers have them! I do!

My rules for you:

  • Your life is your life and it is none of my business. Romans 14:4, "Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand." We are not to be "busybodies" (various verses)
  • As a teacher, I will teach the whole council of God. God the Spirit will apply it as learners yield to Him
  • To another husband: You be the head of your household and decide for yourself and your family, the things I've decided for myself!
  • To someone else's child: You've got a Dad (or at least a parent) ... obey that one
  • To someone else's wife: She's got a husband. How he directs her is not my business
  • My rules for me will not sanctify someone else! The truth obeyed will sanctify another
  • And so my task as a teacher is to teach the Word of God. John 17:17, "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth."
  • My role as a believer aside from teaching is to be an example in my conduct and deportment
  • For my to take my rules for me and make them my rules for you is legalism (aside from the caveats mentioned at the top of this post!)

    • Whether Bill wears a tie to church? I don't care ... not my business. Same with a suit / jeans / etc
    • Whether Bill tithes or gives 2% ... I don't care (and I don't need to know!)
    • Whether Bill's daughters wear bikinis to the beach ... I need to be careful where I gaze but they are his kids!
    • Whether Bill enjoys a beer with a hamburger ... it's his business.

 

dgszweda's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
In the last thread on this I suggested a few random examples. Take gambling. There is no Bible verse that says "don't gamble." There are principles that argue strongly that gambling is poor stewardship, lazy, etc. 

So how do I live those principles? I make a decision not to gamble. This generalization "I will not gamble" is a rule.

Aaron, I would say the rule should be that,  "I will be a good steward of my money".  The application for you is that you will not gamble.  The fact that other people gamble does not mean that they are not good stewards of their money.  It could be entertainment for them.  No different than I may think that you taking your child out for a dinner is a total waste of money as you can accomplish the same thing at home and save some money.

 

Quote:

(If that one doesn't work for you, try this: "I will report accurate numbers on my tax returns" as an application of principles like obedience to the powers that be, honesty, and avoiding theft.)

To clarify, I'm not saying:

This is a little different since reporting accurate numbers to a government agency is at least two direct sins (not an issue of application).  One is "Thou shalt not lie", and the other is "give unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar's".  Maybe others here.  Since the direct activity, that you state above, can only result in direct sin immediately, is different than gambling, since that may not result in sin right away.  Gambling is very broad and may  not result in being a poor steward directly.

 

Quote:

The problem we've seen a fair amount of in fundamentalism is variations on the three points above. But the solution is not to dismiss the value of disciplined living as a means of spirituality.

 

I don't think anyone is saying we need to dismiss personal rules in our lives.  What we see in fundamentalism is that if you don't follow the "herd rules" it is fairly tantamount to sin.  What do I mean by that?  Well take for example, this situation.  Which is looked worse upon in a fundamentalist church?  A pastor who is 50 lbs overweight (a clear indication of gluttony), or the pastors wife who wears pants to Sunday morning worship?  The pastor who is overweight gets an arm around them and the issue is brushed off with the statement, "We XXXXXX just love to eat", replace XXXX with Baptist, Fundamentalists...., while everyone really starts whispering about the pastor's wife, or maybe even accusations are flung that the pastors wife is immodest and the pastor no longer has his house under control.  Then add on top of the fact that (and I have seen this), another church will start distancing themselves or even start breaking fellowship with this church because the wife is now wearing pants.

Lee's picture

dgszweda wrote:

Well take for example, this situation.  Which is looked worse upon in a fundamentalist church?  A pastor who is 50 lbs overweight (a clear indication of gluttony)...

 

This is moronic on its face.  Overweight (by what Biblical measure, by the way) does not equal gluttony.  Never has; never will.  Straw man of all straw men. 

Now, back to our regularly scheduled discussion.

Lee

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Lee wrote:

This is moronic on its face.  Overweight (by what Biblical measure, by the way) does not equal gluttony.  Never has; never will.  Straw man of all straw men. 

Now, back to our regularly scheduled discussion.

And someone who spent $2 on a lottery ticket or a bet at the races instead of going to Starbucks for a $5 coffee or going to McD's for a "value meal" does not equal bad stewardship of money either, so then "gambling" is also a straw man.

Obviously "overweight" can mean a lot of things, but eating to point where one's weight over "normal" is affecting health could certainly be seen as inordinate lust (you don't want to call it gluttony), and certainly just as unwise as losing a little money at the track.

Clearly just about any example could be seen as a straw man when painted in a certain way, or when taken to a certain extreme. That does not change the fact that it's clear that in fundamental circles certain destructive behaviors have been overlooked while others are called sin. We should let scripture be our guide, not tradition.

Dave Barnhart

dgszweda's picture

Lee wrote:

dgszweda wrote:

Well take for example, this situation.  Which is looked worse upon in a fundamentalist church?  A pastor who is 50 lbs overweight (a clear indication of gluttony)...

 

This is moronic on its face.  Overweight (by what Biblical measure, by the way) does not equal gluttony.  Never has; never will.  Straw man of all straw men. 

Now, back to our regularly scheduled discussion.

 

Pretty strong words.  But the globally recognized standard is having a BMI >25. (without regards for extraneous circumstances like pregnancy and such).  Not only does it indicate overweight, but it is a key indicator for an increase in health problems due to weight.  It essentially means that you body is storing extra calories to the point that it is increasing your health problems.  In order to get to this point, you need to regularly take in calories well beyond your means.  Gluttony is defined as excess eating or drinking to the point of overindulgence.

 

I struggle with weight but have had it under control for many years.  My metabolism is slow, but I have found that I need to really control my intake.  With that said if you have a BMI > 25, you had to get there by overindulging yourself and eating more than you body needed on a pretty regular basis.  Each person has to struggle with this more or less than other people and it isn't always easy, just as some people have gambling problems, drinking problems, pornography problems.  It is just another weakness many have to face.  People like to gloss over being overweight, but it is fairly black and white for the vast majority of the human population, and a lot of times it is not politically correct to say that weight can be controlled in our day and age.

wkessel1's picture

When talking about extra Biblical rules and how our rules should meet what is in the Bible, it is interesting you point to the world for your definition of standards on weight.  Should we not use the Bible?  Oh wait a minute the Bible doesn't discuss weight.  Look anywhere in the Bible (don't use the verse about our bodies being a temple, keep it in context) and try to find where the Bible tells us what is or is not a sinful body weight or even really a discussion on spending our time concerned about our physical bodies.  In fact if you look gluttony, while never painted in a good manner, it is never called a sin in the Bible.  It is never listed in any of Paul's sin lists.  Simply because someone's weight doesn't match what the world says (who is looking for a way to live forever outside of God's way) does not mean we can be judgmental and say that person is a glutton.  The real problem is applying our consciences to other people and if they don't meet our standards, they must be sinning.

dgszweda's picture

wkessel1 wrote:

When talking about extra Biblical rules and how our rules should meet what is in the Bible, it is interesting you point to the world for your definition of standards on weight.

And yet we do the same thing with drunkeness.  What is the definition of drunkeness?  That's right, the Bible doesn't indicate a blood/alcohol level.

 

Ezekial 16:49 (lists is as one of the abominations of Sodom, not homosexuality, but excess of food)

Philipians 3:19

Proverb 23:20-21

 

Quote:
The real problem is applying our consciences to other people and if they don't meet our standards, they must be sinning.

Exactly that is the real question

Steve Davis's picture

I have not been following this well but Aaron's first comment that "rule keeping is​ a means of spirituality" is puzzling. Perhaps I am missing something. So more rule keeping is a means of more spirituality? As I understand the Scriptures and grace there is nothing that I do that is in itself a "means of spirituality." The rules we follow should reflect God's work in our lives, may serve as necessary parameters to promote stability, institutional harmony, and an external testimony. Yet as a means to spirituality I am afraid this is way to close to performance-based Christian living, surface conformity, subjection to the rules of others, and the keeping of lists. As best the terminology is confusing. At worst it rings as legalistic.

The examples Aaron gives, even with his clarifications, about gambling and tax returns are not in any shape or form a means of spirituality or godly living. They may or not reflect the work of the Spirit of God (since a lost person can keep rules these rules) and are worthy principles to live by. But as "means of spirituality" they in fact allow us to pride ourselves on how good we are at doing the rules right. And at least give the impression that more rules will bring about more spirituality. It seems far better to see the Word, Spirit, worship, the Lord's Table as means of spirituality and the rules as the outworking of what God is doing in our lives at different points of our discipleship journey in our midst.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

"Are there any 'rules' (I'm not referring to spiritual principles or commands like Romans 12:1-2) that you take straight from the pages of the NT?"

Lot's of them. A few examples:

  • Lie not to one another (Col. 3:9)
  • Don't steal (Eph. 4:28)
  • Don't sue your brother (2Cor.6:1)

But I'm not sure what that proves one way or the other. The specific claim I'm making is not that all rules are good rules or that rules alone are transformative but that we should not dismiss rules as a means of spiritual growth/godly living.

In support of that thesis I used a sort of quasi-syllogism. It's really a definition argument: some rules are accurate applications of Scripture, therefore some rules are means of spiritual growth. There are other arguments as well, but that one's probably the least complex.

Examples of rules being misused, badly derived from Scripture, poorly communicated, etc. don't prove the broad-brush anti-legalism talk that says believing "rules are a means of spirituality" is legalism.

An interesting subpoint is the question of whether the potential usefulness of disciplined living/applying Scripture in specific ways (aka "rulekeeping") changes when you impose the rule on someone else.

The answer is ​not necessarily

It's definitely a different dynamic when you keep a rule you don't understand or agree with. But even that can be​, in some cases, a "means of spirituality." So in the case of second hand rulekeeping, we should also not make the broadbrushed criticism believing rulekeeping is a means of spirituality = legalism.

So I'm making another claim now--really an expansion of the first one: rulekeeping can be a means of godly living/spiritual growth even for those who do not believe in or understand the rule.

Here's a supporting argument:

How we behave affects the state of our inner man/"heart." As a specific example, good habits (along with other factors) help us increase faith, love, aversion to sin and "appetite" for godly living.

  • So, to put it in form of a broad premise, good habits help us walk worthy of our calling.
  • Second premise: even rules we don't agree with or understand can be instrumental in developing good habits.
  • Conclusion: even rules we don't agree with or understand can be instrumental in helping us live godly lives.

That's the argument (there are others--and ways to support the premises, but this post is already kind of long).

Here's a little example. It's apt in at least one way: these kinds of rules are especially likely to be helpful to the immature.

My son believes that playing computer games all day is a great way to spend one's time. He also believes that learning multiplication tables has no value. But I have a rule: he doesn't get to play until he spends several minutes with me going over multiplication sequences.

How is that helping him with godly living? A couple of ways. It's helping him learn by experience what the Christian virtue of submission is all about (clue: it isn't "submission" if you agree with it). Second, it's helping him be a better steward of his time and his mind--again, he is getting experience in doing this, though he doesn't yet "see" it. Third, it's helping him learn that goofing off is what you do after you work.

So in a lot of ways this discussion has to do with how we understand the relationship between what we call "sanctification" and what we usually call "character." I think most people assume that good habits are vital to good character and that rulekeeping helps develop character.

But when you are regenerate, how can you separate good character from sanctification, from growing in grace? Since you are a new creation, they become essentially the same thing.

 

OK, almost done: one clarification--or response to anticipated objection. I'm not saying that rulekeeping is enough​ to grow a person in grace or develop character. I'm saying it's wrong to dismiss rulekeeping as a means and label it legalism.

Larry's picture

Moderator

So more rule keeping is a means of more spirituality?

Steve, what do you think it means to "discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness"?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Steve Davis wrote:
... Aaron's first comment that "rule keeping is​ a means of spirituality" is puzzling. Perhaps I am missing something. So more rule keeping is a means of more spirituality?

In my first post I offered three clarifications of what I am not saying. Your question inspires a fourth.

So, to clarify, I'm not saying:

  • All rules are means of spirituality
  • Rule-keeping by itself is a means of spirituality
  • Rule-keeping is a substitute for genuine love and faith.
  • Increased quantity of rules results in increased spiritiuality.

It doesn't follow that if rulekeeping is a means of spirituality then more rules is necessarily better. To a point that would be true. If the argument is valid that applying Scripture requires rulemaking, and applying Scripture is a means of godly living (I prefer this term to the extremely vague 'spirituality') then the more we apply Scripture, the more rules we'll have--to a point. 

I say "to a point" for a couple of reasons. I've got to run so I'll have to summarize. Reason one: after a while, an application of Scripture that we made consciously and imposed as a discipline, becomes part of the fabric of who we are. We don't even think about it anymore. It's doubtful that these are "rules" anymore. Just part of our character. Second: even though applying Scripture results in some rules, not all rules are good and wise applications of Scripture. So the more rules we have the more bad rules we have also. That doesn't make it not worth doing. The same is true of, say, preaching: the more we preach the more error we proclaim mixed in with the truth. Hopefully the ratio is a really good one! But the presence of error in my pulpit work doesn't make the activity worthless or harmful on the whole. Likewise, the fact that some rules are stupid and wrong doesn't make it true that "rules are not a means of spirituality."

Jay's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
"Are there any 'rules' (I'm not referring to spiritual principles or commands like Romans 12:1-2) that you take straight from the pages of the NT?"

Lot's of them. A few examples:

  • Lie not to one another (Col. 3:9)
  • Don't steal (Eph. 4:28)
  • Don't sue your brother (2Cor.6:1)

But I'm not sure what that proves one way or the other. The specific claim I'm making is not that all rules are good rules or that rules alone are transformative but that we should not dismiss rules as a means of spiritual growth/godly living.

Aaron-

You've proved my point by using 'rules' and 'principles/commands' in the same way.  That's why people like Steve and I disagree with you.   Blanket commands (of the kind you quoted above in Colossians, Ephesians, and 2 Cor.) are spiritual commands, not rules that man came up with.  We're using 'rules' in the sense of Dr. O's famous example about not needing to pass a rule that bars students from getting their snacks from the DC dumpster.  Maybe you and I need to note the difference by differentiating between "rules of man" and "God's rules".  Furthermore, the whole purpose of the Law (and I think we can argue rules) is laid out in Romans - they're designed to prove that we have sinned, not that they can make us holy in and of themselves (Rom 7:7-20, and keep in mind that Paul is referring to the pre-salvation state).

As for the section in bold, yes, I think I would have a problem with 'rules as a means of spiritual growth'.  We have rules here on SI, and you and I (and the other mods) are supposed to enforce them.  But I don't think that you can say 'rules' governing behavior on this site are conductive to 'spiritual growth'.  Are they designed for organizational growth or the upholding of societal norms?  Yes.  Are they designed for spiritual growth?  I don't think so.  They may be based off of spiritual commands or laws (Love your neighbor as yourself), but the rules are not going to foster spiritual growth in and of themselves.

"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

First, I want to thank Matt publicly for this second article.  I think it is fair and balanced.  Though I still think Aaron has a legitimate point that rules rightly understood, correctly based, properly explained can be helpful is forming a disciplined Christian life, good habits, protection against sin, particularly while one is young and immature, and to regulate how an organization needs to run smoothly with some semblance of unity in areas of propriety and decorum.  You can be disciplined without being godly, but you cannot be godly without being disciplined.  Rules are aids in learning discipline, but they are no substitute for regeneration, justification, Spirit-controlled living, Christ-likeness, the Fruit of the Spirit.  On that most of us can agree, including Matt.

 

Ron Bean has a legitimate point.  It is absurd to treat someone the way he says he was treated over issues such as not using the KJV, reciting the wonderful lyrics to Christ alone, or attending a conference such as T4G or a weekender at Pastor Dever's church.  Those are examples of misunderstood or misapplied principles from Scripture.  I don't think that is where most of our mainstream fundamental colleges or seminaries are.

 

 

Pastor Mike Harding

wkessel1's picture

I don't think the average person uses blood/alcohol levels to determine if someone is drunk or not.  For legal purposes, but not I wouldn't cause I would have the equipment to.  Drunkenness is usually pretty clear (not always) by their behavior and  without any tests or standards.  Gluttony - being control by your food, is not always so oblivious.  My simple point is that because someone is overweight doesn't mean we can assume they have a sin problem with gluttony.

 

As for the verses - Ez 16:49 is referring to their living a lifestyle of excess and not caring about or sharing with the poor.  It context it is not talking about gluttony.

Phil 3:19 is referring to them being so proud of the keeping the dietary and other laws, but they had no real heart for God.  The laws became their god.  Again in context not talking about gluttony.

Proverbs certainly does say glutton is not wise and should be avoided.

 

I am glad, although we may disagree on the finer points, we can agree with overall premise.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The topic shows a really strong diffusion tendency. But no biggy. Some topics are like that and this one is worth the work because what we're really talking about is the nature of Christian living/discipleship and the doctrine of sanctification. So I'll probably put more energy into pointing out what I'm not saying and not talking about that what I am saying.

Jay wrote:
Blanket commands (of the kind you quoted above in Colossians, Ephesians, and 2 Cor.) are spiritual commands, not rules that man came up with.  We're using 'rules' in the sense of Dr. O's famous example about not needing to pass a rule that bars students from getting their snacks from the DC dumpster.

First, I want to point out that what I'm going after is broad-brush anti-legalism rhetoric. The reason I'm going after it is that it tends to overstate certain points and to have the effect of devaluing discipline and sacrifice in Christian living. The points it overstates breed confusion and, sometimes, antinomianism--or just self-indulgent, world-conforming lifestyles. We already have more than enough of that.

So the angle I'm coming form is basically this: the western evangelical/fundamentalist church does not have an excessive lifestyle rigor/discipline problem. Quite the opposite. We really are slouching toward Gomorrah, as a culture, to borrow from Bork (actually, we're arguably in Gomorrah and slouching through​ it). Hence, rhetoric about Christian living that in any way feeds a more relaxed/casual/self-indulgent attitude is something we really ought to view as toxic.

Ok, to respond to Jay's quote above, the kind of "legalism" rhetoric I'm referring to as a problem does not identify "rules" as being administrative/procedural stuff that institutions use to manage their resources efficiently. They just say things that communicate "You're a legalist if you think rules are a means of spirituality." The effect is to suggest "rules have no role in Christian growth... they're a kind of necessary evil and we should avoid them as much as possible."

But, as I've shown, this is far from the case. We can't categorically dismiss rules as instrumental in Christian growth without dismissing discipline as instrumental in Christian growth.

And the folks throwing the term "legalist" around (and writing books against it) are usually talking about people who are particular about what kind of language they use, what kind of clothes they wear, what they listen to and view for entertainment. It's not usually about where students are allowed to park.

Second, Jay, you referred to my biblical examples (don't lie, don't sue a brother, etc.) as not being rules. I'm not sure why. But it's probably not profitable to get into a "definitions" debate. Perhaps we can find a term that works better.

What I'm talking about is applying Scripture in specific ways, and "don't lie" is quite specific. As is "Don't gamble." (I realize that example didn't work for Steve, above. I tried to come up with examples that are indisputably obvious but it's hard these days. How about "don't commit pedophilia"? There is no verse that says that exactly. So it's a 'man made rule.' And keeping it certainly does make one a better Christian than not keeping it!)

So, just so it's clear what I'm talking about when I say "rules," I mean statements that categorically exclude or mandate a specific behavior. So, some of our rules come straight from the Bible (don't steal) but many of them are applications of Scripture (don't view porn). Of course, the more complex the application process, the less certainty we have that the rule is a good one and the less certainly we can claim biblical authority for it (or perhaps the "less authority" we can claim for it).

But even rules like "students may not use vending machine x" have a relationship to biblical principle. For a Christian, everything does. In the vending machine case, we're talking about managing resources efficiently, stewardship, etc. And whether we eat, drink or whatever we do, we do so with the glory of God as the ultimate goal. So there is always a relevant principle for believers.

It's just that in the case of "rules for running organizations smoothly," the relationship between rule and principle is a pretty distant and vague one.

But I need to stress--in the interest of focusing on the real problem--that the fact that some (maybe even most) rules are administrative and vaguely principled has no relevance at to the question of whether man-made rules are instrumental (and important) in Christian growth and godly living. They are, and to believe they are is not legalism.

So far, I haven't seen anyone actually counter the argument I used. And there are others (several) if that one falls! Smile

Jay's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

The topic shows a really strong diffusion tendency. But no biggy. Some topics are like that and this one is worth the work because what we're really talking about is the nature of Christian living/discipleship and the doctrine of sanctification. So I'll probably put more energy into pointing out what I'm not saying and not talking about that what I am saying.

Jay wrote:
Blanket commands (of the kind you quoted above in Colossians, Ephesians, and 2 Cor.) are spiritual commands, not rules that man came up with.  We're using 'rules' in the sense of Dr. O's famous example about not needing to pass a rule that bars students from getting their snacks from the DC dumpster.

First, I want to point out that what I'm going after is broad-brush anti-legalism rhetoric. The reason I'm going after it is that it tends to overstate certain points and to have the effect of devaluing discipline and sacrifice in Christian living. The points it overstates breed confusion and, sometimes, antinomianism--or just self-indulgent, world-conforming lifestyles. We already have more than enough of that.

So the angle I'm coming form is basically this: the western evangelical/fundamentalist church does not have an excessive lifestyle rigor/discipline problem. Quite the opposite. We really are slouching toward Gomorrah, as a culture, to borrow from Bork (actually, we're arguably in Gomorrah and slouching through​ it). Hence, rhetoric about Christian living that in any way feeds a more relaxed/casual/self-indulgent attitude is something we really ought to view as toxic.

I agree with all of that Smile

Quote:
Ok, to respond to Jay's quote above, the kind of "legalism" rhetoric I'm referring to as a problem does not identify "rules" as being administrative/procedural stuff that institutions use to manage their resources efficiently. They just say things that communicate "You're a legalist if you think rules are a means of spirituality." The effect is to suggest "rules have no role in Christian growth... they're a kind of necessary evil and we should avoid them as much as possible."

But, as I've shown, this is far from the case. We can't categorically dismiss rules as instrumental in Christian growth without dismissing discipline as instrumental in Christian growth.

And the folks throwing the term "legalist" around (and writing books against it) are usually talking about people who are particular about what kind of language they use, what kind of clothes they wear, what they listen to and view for entertainment. It's not usually about where students are allowed to park.

I understand that, and I agree with you that antinomianism is a problem to avoid, just as legalism is another problem to avoid.  Nor do I intend to say that discipline is bad - far from it!

Quote:
Second, Jay, you referred to my biblical examples (don't lie, don't sue a brother, etc.) as not being rules. I'm not sure why. But it's probably not profitable to get into a "definitions" debate. Perhaps we can find a term that works better.

I appreciate the question instead of trotting out the "Jay hates rules!@!!1!" argument :).  My concern is that we're talking past each other, and I want to avoid that.  When I think 'rules', I'm thinking church and school policies.  I would not refer to the verses that you quoted as 'rules', although I would probably (sloppily) refer to them as such at some point in a sermon or elsewhere.  I'm trying to make sure that I understand you and that you know that I'm differentiating between SI Policies and Biblical commands.

Quote:
What I'm talking about is applying Scripture in specific ways, and "don't lie" is quite specific. As is "Don't gamble." (I realize that example didn't work for Steve, above. I tried to come up with examples that are indisputably obvious but it's hard these days. How about "don't commit pedophilia"? There is no verse that says that exactly. So it's a 'man made rule.' And keeping it certainly does make one a better Christian than not keeping it!)

So, just so it's clear what I'm talking about when I say "rules," I mean statements that categorically exclude or mandate a specific behavior. So, some of our rules come straight from the Bible (don't steal) but many of them are applications of Scripture (don't view porn). Of course, the more complex the application process, the less certainty we have that the rule is a good one and the less certainly we can claim biblical authority for it (or perhaps the "less authority" we can claim for it).

But even rules like "students may not use vending machine x" have a relationship to biblical principle. For a Christian, everything does. In the vending machine case, we're talking about managing resources efficiently, stewardship, etc. And whether we eat, drink or whatever we do, we do so with the glory of God as the ultimate goal. So there is always a relevant principle for believers.

It's just that in the case of "rules for running organizations smoothly," the relationship between rule and principle is a pretty distant and vague one.

Maybe...and maybe not.  A lot of 'rules' (and I'm using your definition here, I think) ultimately relate to the two greatest commands of "Loving the Lord your God with all your strength" and "Loving your neighbor as yourself" (which is ultimately what all the law hangs on, according to Jesus

Quote:
But I need to stress--in the interest of focusing on the real problem--that the fact that some (maybe even most) rules are administrative and vaguely principled has no relevance at to the question of whether man-made rules are instrumental (and important) in Christian growth and godly living. They are, and to believe they are is not legalism.

So far, I haven't seen anyone actually counter the argument I used. And there are others (several) if that one falls! Smile

I don't think that anyone is arguing against what you've said.  I do think that the saying that "rules develop Godliness" is where a lot of us got hung up.  Is that helpful?

"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

Larry's picture

Moderator

Jay, Let me ask you what I asked Steve (and others feel free to answer as well), what do you think it means to "discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness"?

Lee's picture

Two things necessary for lasting change in almost any area of life: a decision followed by discipline (knowledge and accountability).

A decision w/out accompanying discipline will, more often than not, fall by the wayside.

Discipline not preceded by a specific decision conforms for a time, but doesn't change anybody.

What this discussion seems to be around is the latter: discipline (rules, if you please) not preceded by decision. 

But the problem is not the rules.  Rules are necessary, and only by rules is it possible to communicate or codify what is right or wrong, and to what one will be held accountable.  The 10 commandments were not ten suggestions.  The Jerusalem council (Acts 15), in dealing with the matter of legalism had no issue at all in stipulating rules to the pagan converts and the rest of the church ("these necessary things...").

Rules are necessary, and determining spirituality by rules is not that bad a thing.  I give an immature Christian a reasonable rule of conduct for themselves and they refuse it, I am not amiss in determining a spiritual flaw in them. 

 

Lee

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Lee wrote:

Two things necessary for lasting change in almost any area of life: a decision followed by discipline (knowledge and accountability).

A decision w/out accompanying discipline will, more often than not, fall by the wayside.

Discipline not preceded by a specific decision conforms for a time, but doesn't change anybody.


Don't think anyone will really disagree with this. However, the bigger question is where this discipline comes from. Apart from the scripture, and direct authorities it sets up, any discipline that will really matter comes from from within, and is a result of the change in heart attitude and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Quote:

The 10 commandments were not ten suggestions.  The Jerusalem council (Acts 15), in dealing with the matter of legalism had no issue at all in stipulating rules to the pagan converts and the rest of the church ("these necessary things...").


Where did the 10 commandments come from? Directly from God. And the Jerusalem church was led directly by apostles, who had authority granted to them that we do not have today. Why do you think the RC church wants to keep the idea of Apostolic succession? It's because if true, it would grant apostolic authority to the head of their church. Apostolic authority is authority that no human possesses today, and no church today, apart from churches that are part of a denominational hierarchy, something baptists generally don't accept, has the authority to send a missive to another church demanding obedience to what it says.
Quote:

Rules are necessary, and determining spirituality by rules is not that bad a thing. 


Really? Other than scripture whose rules do you judge true spirituality by? The bible says that by their fruit ye shall know them. What is true fruit? Love, joy, peace, and the other qualities listed in scripture. While some of those qualities (like e.g. longsuffering, meekness, temperance, etc.) might be shown by the response to rules, the acceptance of, and obedience to man-made rules, is not what determines someone's spirituality. I'm sure the Pharisees thought their application of special washings was reasonable, too. Jesus thought otherwise when it was applied to others and called it "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."
Quote:
I give an immature Christian a reasonable rule of conduct for themselves and they refuse it, I am not amiss in determining a spiritual flaw in them. 


This is truly an extraordinary statement. I would have to ask a couple questions:

1. Are you in direct authority (like a parent) over the one who is refusing your rule? If not, their refusal to obey your rule shows nothing other than they do not accept the authority you don't have.

2. Who defines "reasonable?" You? Words like that always cloud things if they do not have an agreed-upon definition. Something we accept for ourselves as reasonable has to be shown to be so, not just asserted, when declaring it to be true for others.

It is exactly this attitude that is being battled by many here. It's not that rules we make from applying scripture to follow and use in disciplining ourselves cannot be useful, but that rules made by others without direct biblical authority (or authority that we have voluntarily placed ourselves under, like that of a school) and imposed as "reasonable, and if you don't follow them, I'm not amiss in determining a spiritual flaw" cannot be used as a determinant of someone's spiritual standing before God.

Dave Barnhart

Jay's picture

It is exactly this attitude that is being battled by many here. It's not that rules we make from applying scripture to follow and use in disciplining ourselves cannot be useful, but that rules made by others without direct biblical authority (or authority that we have voluntarily placed ourselves under, like that of a school) and imposed as "reasonable, and if you don't follow them, I'm not amiss in determining a spiritual flaw" cannot be used as a determinant of someone's spiritual standing before God.

Which is EXACTLY why I differentiate between 'spiritual principles/commands' and 'rules'.  God's commands are not optional.  Rules determined by a pastor about dress codes, or policies governing the music standards of an organization, are not nearly as inflexible.  Remember what Jesus said about the laws concerning the bread in the Tabernacle?

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Way to go, Dave.  What a great post.

 

"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

Lee's picture

dcbii wrote:

Don't think anyone will really disagree with this. However, the bigger question is where this discipline comes from. Apart from the scripture, and direct authorities it sets up, any discipline that will really matter comes from from within, and is a result of the change in heart attitude and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Defining discipline as "knowledge plus accountability" for the sake of succinctness, there are at least 3 distinct "sources" for discipline:

1) the church

2) the family

3) the indwelling Holy Spirit utilizing the Word of God to conform to the image of Christ (what we would like to refer to as self-discipline)

I am not aware that Scripture vaunts one above the other. All God-ordained; all purposed with conforming the obedient believer to the image of Jesus Christ.

Quote:
1. Are you in direct authority (like a parent) over the one who is refusing your rule? If not, their refusal to obey your rule shows nothing other than they do not accept the authority you don't have. 2. Who defines "reasonable?" You? Words like that always cloud things if they do not have an agreed-upon definition. Something we accept for ourselves as reasonable has to be shown to be so, not just asserted, when declaring it to be true for others. It is exactly this attitude that is being battled by many here. It's not that rules we make from applying scripture to follow and use in disciplining ourselves cannot be useful, but that rules made by others without direct biblical authority (or authority that we have voluntarily placed ourselves under, like that of a school) and imposed as "reasonable, and if you don't follow them, I'm not amiss in determining a spiritual flaw" cannot be used as a determinant of someone's spiritual standing before God.

Let's play a story game.  You and I are co-pastors (see, we're very progressive with our plurality of elders) of the 1st Baptist Church of Corinth, the hub of the worship of Aphrodite.  One of the young ladies in the college-career class, having been in the church for some time, shows up wearing a very lovely pendant necklace of a golden scallop shell with a classy painting of a pair of swans, necks intertwined, beaks kissing, on it.  As pastor you let her know that that particular emblem is not appropriate for her to be wearing.  She responds with "but I like it and it doesn't mean anything to me."  Next meeting time she repeats, this time sporting a pair of dolphin earrings, assuring any who inquired that this was simply a fashion choice--she just liked the look.

Someone takes time to explain to her the significance and its identifying characteristics, but she insists there is nothing unscriptural about it.  So we make a rule: don't wear these symbols for what they signify.  

Now, if she continues, do we make some spiritual judgment about her, even to the point of church discipline if it continues?

Cut to Jeopardy melody here......................... 

 

Lee

G. N. Barkman's picture

I would hope not.  She has not violated a Biblical command.  The Elders have put themselves in a difficult position by requiring her to obey a man-made rule.  Now what?  Are they going to be Pharisees, casting her out for violating their rule?  Are they going to cast her out because she disobeyed their authority?  If  authority is exercised without Biblical support, is it to be obeyed?  Is it legitimate authority?

Perhaps the elders should take a few moments to thoughtfully read I Corinthians chapter 8.  I will cite a few random statements:

"We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one."  (vs. 4)

"But food (or jewelry) does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse."  (vs. Cool

"Therefore if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble."  (13)

Verse 13 is Paul's personal decision, his personal "rule."  He does not impose it upon others.  He does not say, "Therefore if food makes my brother stumble, I will not allow you to ever again eat meat..."

Is the young girls acting immaturely?  No doubt.  Are the elders acting legalistically?  No doubt.  Hopefully, the elders will decide to become the mature Christian adults here, and lead by personal example in those areas where Scripture makes no requirements.

G. N. Barkman

Jim's picture

Is this just hypothetical or do these things really mean something?

 

.... a very lovely pendant necklace of a golden scallop shell with a classy painting of a pair of swans, necks intertwined, beaks kissing, on it. .... [next time] a pair of dolphin earrings, assuring any who inquired that this was simply a fashion choice--she just liked the look. Someone takes time to explain to her the significance and its identifying characteristics, but she insists there is nothing unscriptural about it. So we make a rule: don't wear these symbols for what they signify.

Do these things really signify anything? If so tell me please. Thanks

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