On Legalism and Why It Doesn’t Matter At All What You Think.

So what was really the big deal with those Pharisee guys? Why did Jesus have a grudge against them, and why do we continue to use their name as a curse two thousand years later? They must’ve done something really bad, right?

Well I’m glad you asked! (or…. glad I asked. You didn’t ask. Why are you trying to take credit for it? Stop that!)

If you don’t know, the Pharisees were a religious sect of Judaism. Think of them like a political party (same political system, different ideas on what the government should do). They focused on tradition and strict, STRICT adherence to the law given to Moses in Exodus. Their goal was to follow the law to the letter! Every “T” crossed and every “I” dotted. When the law said that you shouldn’t do any work on the Sabbath, they viewed even the slightest exertion (even cooking) as blatant law-breaking. They were also great at using the law for their own purposes, like when they used giving their money to the church as an excuse to not care for their aging, ailing parents.

Basically, they used the laws to bolster themselves in society while also condemning those “below” them for even the slightest transgression (even if they had to “twist” the words to point it out). They were merciless legalists.

But in their minds, they were right to do so. God had given them the law, why shouldn’t they follow it with such rigidity? And would Jesus, the guy who GAVE them the law, have such a problem with their painstaking attention to the details?

One problem is that much of what they preached as God’s Law was not at all God’s Law, but were traditions that had taken its place (“traditions of our elders” in Mathew 15). They were claiming the authority of God himself to enforce tradition.

In doing this they burdened the masses with rules and regulations that were not of God. All the while, they themselves overlooked their own transgressions.

Matthew 23:2-5 “The Scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but do not the works they do. For they preach but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them down on peoples’ shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”

But what they were telling them to observe was not of God.

Mark 7:6-8 “Well did Isiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men”

TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE COMMANDMENTS OF MEN!

Man, it’s a good thing we don’t have to put up with that anymore…………………….

(Psst! That was sarcasm).

This is textbook legalism, and textbook legalism is as alive and kicking in today’s churches as it was when Jesus went head to head with the Pharisees. Established, old school church leadership love to preach and enforce their own brands of it. And new Christians, millennials, and those just dipping their toes into the faith can’t stand it. It drives them away in droves.

And those who enforce it LOVE to use scripture to back it up. But as one of my fellow Rogues put it, they enforce the “letter of the law” while ignoring the “spirit of the law.”

Much of the legalism we see today stems from questions on the deeper, more debatable issues of Christianity, and they often divide along lines of denomination. Whether to or not to ignore the Old Testament? Whether you should ready anything except the Bible while studying? Which version of the Bible should you read? Is baptism necessary for salvation? If so how deep do you have to be dunked? Is it a sin to use wine during the Lord’s Supper? Are there essential sacraments that must be fulfilled? Should I go to church on Saturday or Sunday? Is it sinful to play instruments during worship? Can a woman lead a church? Are Christmas traditions evil? Should I roast the chicken or fry the chicken after church?

Okay, I may have gotten a little carried away at the end but I’m not so sure there hasn’t been a church splintering the debate on that last one.

We see it done so many different ways. I have had people argue that you must do something this way because the Bible says so here and here (while there and there the Bible says differently in a different situation entirely). I have also heard the argument that because the Bible doesn’t specifically permit an obscure aspect of how we worship (in fact it doesn’t mention it at all one way or the other), that do worship in that way is a near damning sin.

The point is that if you really dig deep into it, none of these are real questions of faith. When you boil it down, they have nothing to do with what it means to be a Christian. Yet so many are turning away from the church because they see the members bickering over some very silly matters. They see a house divided against itself and think, “Well, I want no part of that!” and away from Christianity they flee as fast as their legs will carry them.

Our debating, our legalism, our hypocrisy are major deterrents. And we wonder why the Christian faith in the West is shrinking?

C.S. Lewis described this best in Mere Christianity.

One of the things Christians are disagreed about is the importance of their disagreements. When two Christians of different denominations start arguing, it is usually not long before one asks whether such-and-such a point “really matters” and the other one replies: “Matter? Why it’s absolutely essential.”

 

Its not that these debates aren’t important or good for growth in ones’ personal faith. The problem is that once we feel that we have an acceptable, truthful answer we want to enforce it as THE TRUTH. As if we are the only ones who understand what God REALLY meant. And that is dangerous because at that point we are close to putting words in God’s mouth. What you or I think about any aspect of Christianity is of no importance whatsoever, and to presume to understand the infinite workings of God and preach them as truth is as dangerous as it is foolish. Who are we to claim to know his mind and intentions?

In the end, we have to ask ourselves if the question debated is a question of salvation. Does my adherence to one side of this issue or the other change what Christ did for me? Am I somehow more or less deserving of salvation because I believe this instead of that?

In the end, one essential belief makes us Christians. All else is auxiliary, not ancillary.

8 thoughts on “On Legalism and Why It Doesn’t Matter At All What You Think.

Add yours

  1. Hi – good post. I appreciate your point as legalism sucks the life out of faith. I do think you have mixed in some important doctrinal questions with your list of things that don’t matter. There is a difference between things that we can disagree on but are important, like baptism and things like what we wear to church.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The spectrum was intended to show how we go from debates of substance to debates of stupidity. For instance baptism is a commandment, but whether it is essential for salvation is often debated. Meanwhile you get more pugilistic debates over matters like instruments in worship or whether King James is the only “God Approved” version.

      The main point is to ask whether the doctrine is one of God or one of man before trying to force it down someone else’s threat.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I like that distinction. 1) There’s things that don’t matter. 2) There’s things that do matter, but variety/freedom in expression is allowed. 3) There are things that are critical in both content and mode. You might say that church community is critical – but whether you go to a house church or a Bible study or a group of friends at work or a Sunday worship service. One might feel baptism is critical – but how much water you use or who is allowed to baptize you or whether you can wear flipflops versus full Jesus-sandals might all be relegated to personal/denominational preference. (Didn’t want to debate either point – because I know some will disagree on both! Just thinking out loud on how more nuance can be healthy in finding unity by respecting others’ expressions of faith.)

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  2. Andy, as a Boomer who has had to deal with all kinds of these disagreements over the years, I agree with the tenor of your post. Someone expressed it to me this way. There are top tier theological issues, like the Trinity, the Bible as the Word of God, the doctrine of man (made in the image of God and a sinner in need of salvation), etc. Then there are second tier theological issues. It’s the second tier stuff that we argue about. I would say this is one of Satan’s greatest tolls to try and destroy the Church.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed, Ray! Your “first tier” issues are ones that actually have to do with salvation. There really isn’t a lot of debate on them among Christian denominations. Most of our great issues come in the form of rules added, man made requirements to Christianity. Since there are no requirements to salvation other than faith and acceptance, these are not of God. And to enforce them as such is detrimental to what the Church stands for.

      At Rogue Millennials we are always encouraged and bolstered by the advice and input of generations older than us. Thank you so much for the encouragement. Please take a look at some of our other work and tell us what you think!

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  3. I agree with you Andy, fleshy Man made Rules and Regulations enforced as being from God is the pits but often Obedience is confused with Legalism and this we must be very careful about. God makes it very clear in Scripture we are to obey His guidelines and that we are to be of the same Mind concerning them, as we see confirmed in the Scripture below and in others.

    This Comment will have a lot of detail Andy but no doubt you want God’s Truth shared not Man’s Worldly understanding……

    1Corinthians 1: 10 -11 Now I beseech you Brethren by the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ that ye all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same Mind and in the same Judgment.

    Philippians 2:1-3 If there be therefore any Consolation in Christ, if any comfort of Love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my Joy that ye be Likeminded having the same Love, being of one accord, of one Mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

    So how do we know Andy what is God’s Truth and His will for us, we see in the Scriptures below that we need God’s Wisdom for His Understanding through the Empowering of The Holy Spirit which none of us were Born with. Jesus is our only Spiritual Teacher and He will lead us into all Truth.

    Proverbs 4:7 Wisdom is the Principal thing therefore get Wisdom and with all thy getting get Understanding.

    James 1:5-6 If any of you lack Wisdom let him ask of God that giveth to all Men liberally and upbraideth not and it shall be given him. But let him ask in Faith nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that Man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded Man is unstable in all his ways.

    Luke 11:13 …. how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?

    1John 2:26-28 These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. But the Anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you and ye need not that any Man teach you but as the same anointing Teacheth you of all things and is Truth and is no lie and even as it hath Taught you ye shall abide in Him.

    Colossians 2 :2 -3 That their Hearts might be comforted being knit together in Love and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God and of The Father and of Christ in whom are hid all the Treasures of Wisdom and Knowledge.

    1John 5:20 And we know that The Son of God is come and hath given us an Understanding that we may know Him that is True and we are in Him that is True even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the True God and Eternal Life.

    Matthew 10:26-28 Fear them not therefore for there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed and hid that shall not be known. What I tell you in darkness that speak ye in Light: and what ye hear in the ear that preach ye upon the housetops (KJV)

    Psalm 32:8 I will instruct you and Teach you in the way you shall go. I will guide you with Mine eye.

    What role does The Holy Spirit have in our Lives, we know that He brings us Understanding of God’s Truth and His Goodwill for us, we see very clearly confirmed in the Scriptures below and in others…..

    1 Corinthians 2:9-16 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of Man the things which God hath prepared for them that Love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a Man save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no Man but The Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world but The Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak not in the words which Man’s wisdom teacheth but which the Holy Ghost Teacheth, comparing spiritual things with Spiritual. But the natural Man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness unto him neither can he know them because they are Spiritually discerned. But he that is Spiritual judgeth all things yet he himself is judged of no Man. For who hath known the Mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him? but we have the Mind of Christ.

    John 16:13 -15. Howbeit when He The Spirit of Truth is come He will guide you into all Truth for He shall not speak of Himself but whatsoever He shall hear that shall He speak and He will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me for He shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine therefore said I that He shall take of mine and shall shew it unto you.

    Christian Love Andy and God’s Blessings – Anne ( Grannie Annie )

    Liked by 1 person

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