Tag Archives: legalism

Condemnable things

I was thinking about some of the things that the church has demonized over the years, things that we have said were “condemned” or would condemn us. Here’s some I came up with off the top of my head:

  • Movies
  • Dancing
  • “Spot” cards (with Rook cards being okay)
  • Dominoes
  • Mixed bathing (otherwise known as swimming)
  • Alcohol
  • Tattoos
  • Piercings
  • Jazz
  • Rock and roll music
  • Rap music
  • Tobacco
  • Pants on women
  • Short hair on women
  • Long hair on men

We could go on and on. And we probably will.

But I think we need to add one big taboo to the very top of that list:

  • Making laws that God hasn’t made

I daresay that’s far more dangerous than any of the other things on that list.

Law, grace, and pleasing God

gavelI don’t believe that the New Testament contains a law similar to that found in the Old Testament. Obviously the form isn’t similar; just do some reading in Leviticus, and you’ll see that. I don’t think the intent is similar either. It’s not about, “Do each and every one of these things exactly as written, or you’ll burn in hell.”

So if we’re not looking for ways to get ourselves saved or keep ourselves saved, why bother figuring out what God wants of us? For that matter, why did Paul and Peter and James and John write letters to the churches instructing them on how to live? Why bother? If most things aren’t salvation issues, then they don’t matter at all, do they?

In the article I linked to yesterday, the one about the Gospel Immunization Shot, Greg Boyd uses an illustration that I’ve used in the past: marriage. Can you imagine a marriage where each spouse says, “They won’t divorce me over this, so it doesn’t matter what I do”? That would be a horrible relationship. A good marriage comes about when each partner is looking how to please the other one.

I want to please God. And I know he wants what’s best for me. I know he wants what’s best for his church. For example, I don’t see regular church attendance as a salvation issue. But I do see it as a part of a healthy relationship. I don’t think that a congregation that doesn’t have elders and deacons will be left out of heaven because of it. But I do think that church won’t be what God intended for it to be. And we can go on and on.

I’m going to do my best to learn what God wants for me, what he wants of me, what he wants in his church. I’m going to do my best to practice those things and teach them to others. Not because I don’t believe in grace, but precisely because I do:

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Jesus Christ is Lord. Because of that, I want to know what he wants me to do. I’m not afraid that he’s going to reject me at the last day. I just want to please him as much as I can until then. I don’t want him to say of me:

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46)

Checklists, orthodoxy and leaving a church

There’s a little questionnaire making the rounds of Church of Christ discussion groups on the Internet. I haven’t seen the original source, so I won’t mention who is said to be the author.

It’s titled “QUESTIONS FOR MY LIBERAL BRETHREN.” Most of the questions are in a yes/no format. Question #17 has multiple parts. I’ll paste it in here as I’ve seen it on other sites:

17. Which of the following practices do you think you nullify a congregation’s standing with God?
A. Use of sacred images and paintings in worship___ B. Use of holy water___ C. Burning incense____D. Use of clerical garments___ E. Communion with bread alone?____F. Communion with bread and water____G. Offering sprinkling or pouring for baptism___H. Speaking in unknown tongues___ I. People being “slain by the Spirit”___J. Instrumental music in worship____K. Praise by paid performers____L. Daily Communion____M. Communion observed with weddings and funerals___N. Communion as part of a potluck meal____O. Infant baptism___P. Woman preachers and elders_____Q. Charging for baptisms____R. Dancing for worship____S. Reciting the Nicean Creed___ T. Lighting sacred candles___ U. Singing or praying in Latin, Greek or Hebrew___ V. Expecting Holy Spirit baptism____W. Infant baptism___X. Making the communion service a sacrifice of the mass___

When this was posted to a group that I’m a part of, I pointed out that the items listed said more about this person’s bias than anything else. When challenged as to how I would “improve” the list, I suggested a few additions:

Owning a building
Paid preacher
Sunday school
Allow unscripturally divorced people to place membership or be baptized
Multiple cups in the Lord’s Supper
Homogenized grape juice in the Lord’s Supper
Use of non-KJV Bibles
Taking Lord’s Supper on Sunday night
Taking Lord’s Supper on ground floor
Support orphan’s homes
Support cooperative evangelistic efforts

There are members of the churches of Christ who would call others “liberal” for doing the things I’ve listed. If we’re going to offer an honest list for evaluation, shouldn’t we go beyond the things that we personally object to? Shouldn’t we list what others object to about us?

All of this got me to thinking about when and why I would leave a church. I want to explore some of that, but thought I’d ask my wise readers to guide me as I get started. When would you decide it necessary to leave a church? On what basis?

How would you go about it? Would you leave quietly or would you want others to know of your decision? Would you approach the leadership? Would you discuss it merely with a close circle of friends or would you contact as many people as possible?

Looking forward to your thoughts.

Juneteenth and freedom

This past Saturday made 145 years since the big event. Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, along with 1800 troops, and announced that the Civil War was over. He also read a proclamation which stated, in part: “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.

President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Yet two and a half years later, there were over a quarter of a million slaves in Texas who were unaware of their new freedom. Celebrations broke out throughout Galveston and across the state as thousands of people discovered what had already been true for some time: they were free.

Paul writes: “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:6-7) Not only are we not slaves, but we are sons and heirs. We are no longer the lowest members of the household; we have been exalted to the highest status.

Paul isn’t writing only of slaves to sin, however; he is specifically talking about those who are becoming slaves to legalism. Having been set free from the Law, they are now wanting to submit again to law keeping. Paul goes on to say, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) He is very adamant that the Galatians, who had come to know the freedom that Christ offers, not fall back into the slavery of law. In fact he tells them that their very salvation is in danger: “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4) If Christians who have been saved by grace start depending on human achievement in their relationship with God, they are returning to a life of slavery.

If, then, we are free from the slavery of law, does that mean we have no responsibilities toward God? Of course, not. In that same chapter of Galatians, Paul writes: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)

When writing to the Romans about their freedom from sin, Paul wrote: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.” (Romans 6:15-19)

We are free, free to commit ourselves to a life of following God. In Galatians 5, Paul calls it being led by the Spirit. Rather than written rules, we follow the living Word of God. We are slaves to righteousness. We do not live as slaves to sin. We do not live the slavery of law keeping. We live lives of freedom in Christ, slaves to the righteousness of God.

Let us live as free men and declare God’s freedom to all. Let us live as sons of God and teach others to do the same.

{photo from msn.com}

Forsaking the assembling

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25)

This verse made my top ten proof text list. As I pointed out then, it’s often misquoted, with people talking about “forsaking the assembly.” It becomes about being in the building “at each appointed time,” rather than an exhortation for Christians to seek out chances to be with one another.

I don’t see the writer as approaching this from a legal standpoint. It’s no more a law than is “draw near to God” (verse 22) He’s not trying to establish a new commandment about attending church meetings.

I’ve compared it to the owner’s manual of your car saying that you need to change the oil. Not a rule. Not a law. But pretty foolish not to follow what it says.

So what’s the difference between a law and instructions on the best way to live? I see a difference, if only in how we react to such things. When we make a rule out of “not forsaking the assembling,” for example, we can get to what some do: show up, take the Lord’s Supper and leave. They’ve followed the rule. When we look at “not forsaking the assembling” as something that has a function in our spiritual walk, as a necessary something for our well being, we won’t have to be prodded to be there.

I’ve seen guys that were required to attend AA meetings. Few of them got anything out of it. Others choose to be there because they know they need it. They won’t miss if at all possible.

Teach your kids that the Bible is a bunch of rules and they’ll spend their lives looking for loopholes. Show your kids that the Bible teaches you the secrets of how to live and they’ll spend their lives looking for insight.

I believe in the importance of meeting together. I believe that Christians need to teach this importance to one another. But not as a law like those given at Mt. Sinai. It should be taught as what is necessary for keeping our faith strong.