Jason Hood on why groups emphasizing grace should not measure their orthodoxy by accusations of antinomianism. Heresy Is Heresy, Not the Litmus Test of Gospel Preaching
Legalism is an ugly thing to those outside it, but often a beautiful thing to those within it. Legalism is any system whereby the merits of man contribute in any way to his standing with God. For those who have been delivered from the works-righteousness mentality, legalism is bondage, an oppressive system that distorts the grace of God and often turns out neurotic believers who wear themselves out trying to keep up. But to those within legalistic systems, legalism is a refuge from the insecurities of life and the uncertainties of our world.
This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to talk someone out of a legalistic church. There is so much “certainty” and comfort in knowing exactly what one must do to remain in “right with God.” Legalism requires so little faith, because every aspect of life is defined and mandated. In contrast, the concept of grace and Christian liberty is a scary wilderness of uncertainty. Better to stay in the fortress (or prison).
This is not a new phenomenon. At the end of the Middle Ages, the predominant concern of Europeans was the fear of death. After years of bad weather and widespread famine in the 14th century culminating in the Black Death, life in the 15th century was bleak. As Carter Lindberg notes, “The shortness of life was never far from people’s minds” (The European Reformations, Blackwell, 1996). This situation fueled an obsession with concern for the afterlife. Enter the Catholic Church.
Read Part 1.
Cultural accommodation is a genuine danger in planting churches. However, a real problem is the one-sided perspective that many have of accommodation. Usually the accommodation is seen rightly (Rom. 12:2) but narrowly only toward the world, caving in to worldly culture in dress, music, and questionable practices and associations. Frequently forgotten is the cultural accommodation toward Christians, generally well-meaning but misguided, who have a truncated view of the Christian life and seek to impose discipleship as they’ve known and experienced it as normative for all believers. Thus, there are twin dangers of cultural accommodation: 1) Accommodating or catering to the unchurched in designing worship from a seeker-driven mentality; 2) Accommodating or catering to the churched who come to the new church plant with their preferences paraded mistakenly for biblical convictions.
A recent article on urban church planting elicited mixed responses for which I’m mostly glad. I appreciate it when others point out weaknesses or would like more clarification. Since I’m not a blogger I don’t have a cadre of lapdogs to pat me on the back and cheer me on as seems to be the case with select blogs. A few people, in reading between the lines, may have understood my encouraging the removal of barriers to the gospel in thinking that doing so would allow people to more easily accept the gospel message. I’m all for getting rid of unnecessary barriers which prevent people from hearing the gospel. But there was no suggestion that getting rid of pews, ties, and changing the music will bring more people to Christ.
Nonetheless, I must maintain that I have no problem with an established church which desires biblical transformation or new churches started with a different model. Pew or chairs; Sunday best , business casual or jeans; morning and evening service or morning only; small groups or Wednesday evening prayer meeting—you may find biblical allowance, but you will not find biblical warrant for all your choices. What slightly amazes me is that many seem to care so much about churches where they have no voice of influence, only criticism.
“Rules were meant to be broken,” an old adage goes. Christians tend to have a different attitude, but we recognize a kernel of truth in the folk wisdom. Rules are just so often wrong-headed, excessive, or motivated by foolish fears or lust for power. Sometimes they get in the way of the very things they are intended to accomplish.
Christian ministries can have too many rules and develop a cold, offense-focused culture. They can also err by according some rules a spiritual significance and power they don’t possess. These problems require that we give serious thought to what rules we have and what they are really accomplishing. But we should not overreact to the excesses and errors, criticize rules systems too broadly and blame them for problems that have other causes.
In Part 1 of this series, I presented two arguments for valuing rules more than most young Fundamentalists are inclined to. Here, I offer a third argument, then respond to some objections.
“Young Fundamentalists” are generally not fond of rules, especially in ministry settings. Exactly why this is the case is an interesting study in itself. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that many of them grew up in rules-heavy Christian schools in an era full of glowing idealism about what these highly-disciplined, conscientiously spiritual educational environments would produce. The inflated hopes of those days were sure to result in disappointment. And maybe the current rules angst is the result of a generalized disgust with the whole concept and all that seems connected to it. In defense of those who feel this way, it is only too easy to find examples of rules excesses and absurdities.
Whatever the reasons, young Fundamentalists are often eager to cast “man-made rules” in a negative light and to argue from Scripture that these rules are dangerous at best, and downright hostile to Christian growth at worst.
My aim here is to offer a “young Fundamentalist” perspective that differs from that of many of my peers, but one that I believe answers better to Scripture and wisdom.
In the introductory article to this series, I suggested that Christ’s confrontations with the Pharisees are a great source for determining whether or not we are practicing legalism.
This was not at all from the “all Fundies are Pharisees” perspective so frequently hurled in accusation against Fundamentalists. In fact, I assume that the prominent place the Pharisees and our Lord’s rebukes of them have in the gospel suggest that our Lord is broadly concerned with such legalism. I believe that such texts serve as a warning to all of us who are religious (in the nicest sense of the word). Legalism is entrenched deep in the fallen human heart, and easily expresses itself in the lives of the redeemed unless we are very careful.
There are doubtless many fine Christian schools which do not operate in a legalistic fashion. But I believe that the majority of Christian schools operate with three fallacious legalistic premises prominent in their thinking.