Is the problem of legalism (as popularly defined) any less than it was three decades ago?

What is legalism?  Technically, legalism is connected to salvation by works.  But we are not talking technically here when it comes to this poll.

Our popular definition of legalism might be, "Man made rules of conformity/behavior that are not based directly on Scripture."

Legalism may come from what people think the Scriptures mean or imply, but not what the Scriptures actually say. Extrapolated principles are not the same as direct statements and at least one or two steps removed from the text.  Legalism may be associated with the pressure to justify everything as spiritual.  It may confuse what is to be done in church (edifying, worshipping) with what is done in daily life.  It may be an inherited set of traditions that are considered binding and unalterable (as opposed to useful and negotiable).

Control freaks, it seems, are particularly drawn to legalism.  So, as long as we have control freaks -- and as long as we have human nature -- we will always have some legalism.  So have these controllers managed to manufacture new rules and regulations that are widely influential?

But is legalism in fundamental/conservative evangelical churches less that what it once was, or have old man made rules been exchanged for new ones?

Your thoughts are appreciated. Please comment.

BTW, understood in your answer is, "It depends."  That is always true.  So either answer this poll from your observation of the broader movements or your own particular experience.

 

Legalism has definitely declined in our circles.
29% (9 votes)
Legalism has generally declined, although some new forms of it offset some of the decline.
23% (7 votes)
Legalism has changed in particulars or appearance, but is as strong or nearly as strong as ever.
32% (10 votes)
Although the particulars have changed, legalism is worse than ever.
10% (3 votes)
Other
6% (2 votes)
Total votes: 31
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There are 11 Comments

Ed Vasicek's picture

I took this as a comical note, Dave.  But then the question remains, "Is legalism less of a problem in the smaller circle in which you associate yourself?"  Or have you distanced yourself from the legalistic circle, however small?

 

Personally, I chose to avoid legalists and legalistic circles because I could (our church in non-denom), and have hung around like minded pastors for the past 3 decades.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Dave White's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:
  Or have you distanced yourself from the legalistic circle, however small?

Mohler's theological triage strongly influenced my thinking

I left fundamentalism because the focus tended towards 3rd order issues - this has recently been seen even on this forum as in here. Plus I was in an authoritarian church where the pastor had incredible free reign and dominated (he slandered me in staff meetings and a friend on the staff told me what was going on).

It's obvious that fundamentalism is dying. First was aware of the broad decline when I read an article A Fundamentalism worth dying for. Then look over the last decade, the decline of BJU, Owatonna, Clearwater CC, Tennessee Temple, Northland. Fundamentalist churches are dying off.

[better link ... can't find the original]

Don Johnson's picture

Just try publicly saying "abortion is wrong" or "LGBTXYZ" is wrong

Prepare to be pilloried. 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Don Johnson's picture

But I'm sure you already knew that.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ed Vasicek's picture

John Bryan wrote:

 

The "real" legalists have separated from us and gone off into wild and wacky stuff! 

Part of the problem is in answering who is "us?'  In what sense did Dave White depart from fundamentalism, for example, and in what sense did he not?  When I asked, "our circles," that makes for quite the variety of situations.

We might even ask, "What does it mean to leave FUNDAMENTALISM?"  I can understand leaving a denomination or a group of churches.  But, to me, leaving fundamentalism means leaving one or more of the fundamentals or refusing to separate over the fundamentals.

As for me, I was never a Bob Jones fan, and never an independent Baptist.  I was in the more moderate IFCA, and I still respect that group.  However, I hold some slightly different views on some minor issues, but more frequently took exception to articles in their journals or resolutions.  So, when I did not renew my membership, I had no animosity; it was a matter of conscience. I wanted to sign my agreement with the movement whole-heartedly. Some of the things I took exception to (like their condemnation of all contemporary Christian music based upon style) are no longer issues there.  Others,issues -- like I Corinthians 13:10 referring to a completed Bible -- I just cannot agree with by any stretch.. Perhaps if I did not take signing my agreement so seriously, I would still belong.

I have not known what to call myself, but, as I have studied things out, I realize I am certainly a fundamentalist in the classical sense, but also a conservative evangelical in the more popular sense.  But I do not consider myself an ex-fundamentalist, just one who has little patience for some of the nonsense (IMO) associated with much of that movement.

With all that has been written about fundamentalism and evangelicalism (especially on this site), the terms still float around and are often defined by our experiences and associations.

As far as new legalism within our churches (in contrast to the political correctness Don Johnson alluded to), it seems to manifest itself in areas like birth control (not viewed as a personal choice -- which would not be legalism -- but as God's will for all married couples). Some homeschoolers for example, believe birth control is sinful -- although many cave in after about 9. Let me reiterate: I am not talking about people whose personal conviction is this way, but those who seek to persuade others that this is God's will for all married couples.

Perhaps even more common is what I call the legalism enforced by the  "worship prima donnas;" they have forced us to remove missionary reports, announcements, and even special music as "not worship."

Since our church's stated purpose for meeting is edification, and we call our service "Morning Service," not "Morning Worship Service," we have, at times, been able to refute the consistency police. This group can be  persistent.

The deeper problem with legalism is that most of us are probably guilty of it; we all have convictions that are not necessarily directly Biblical.  If you think about it, that's why we fight about what color to paint the room or if giving Awana kids candy is a good or bad idea.  We all play the game of life by unwritten rules, and we are all tempted to force them upon others.  It is because of who we are -- our sinful nature bent on self-interest -- that some degree fo legalism will always be with us.

"The Midrash Detective"

TylerR's picture

Editor

We had a meeting at church yesterday about proposed revisions to our church doctrinal statement. It was a lovely example of healthy congregational government in action. One item we discussed was the statement about "separation." As it stands now, the statement is one line and very ambiguous. Because the church culture is so different in the Pacific NW, many people didn't know what it meant.

Most of the people have only heard of this concept in the legalistic sense. I was able to briefly present the origins of the fundamentalist movement, and point out the differences in philosophies between the historic fundamentalists (who separated from liberals and apostates) and the more modern fundamentalists (who separated from evangelicals). I stated the ethos of the doctrine has its American roots in the former camp, not the latter. I then applied this in personal and ecclesiastical contexts. People understood.

These are two different kinds of fundamentalism. So, the doctrines of separation (and their corresponding allegations of "legalism") will be expressed quite differently, depending on which camp you fall into. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

You wrote:

I have not known what to call myself, but, as I have studied things out, I realize I am certainly a fundamentalist in the classical sense, but also a conservative evangelical in the more popular sense.  

I completely agree. This describes me exactly. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ron Bean's picture

Tyler said: 

 I was able to briefly present the origins of the fundamentalist movement, and point out the differences in philosophies between the historic fundamentalists (who separated from liberals and apostates) and the more modern fundamentalists (who separated from evangelicals). I stated the ethos of the doctrine has its American roots in the former camp, not the latter. I then applied this in personal and ecclesiastical contexts. People understood.

I think this is a point worth emphasizing. 

When I was first introduced to fundamentalism I was confused when I saw what Tyler calls "modern fundamentalists" treating those they considered disobedient brethren the same way they treated liberals and apostates. My impressionable mind at that time had no problem labeling Billy Graham an apostate.  

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