Saturday, January 25, 2014

Accidental Pharisees: Part Four LEGALISM

Hear, my children, the instruction of a father,
And give attention to know understanding;
For I give you good doctrine . . . 
Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you;
Love her, and she will keep you.

Proverbs 4:1, 6
We need Scripture and we need Scriptural doctrine. Legalism is going beyond Scripture, or maybe just concentrating on one issue to the exclusion of other Scripture.   Yet all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for corrections, for instruction in righteousness. (2 Tim. 3:16)

I get accused of legalism.  I think that some others are practicing legalism. Yet it is Pharisaical of me to accuse anyone of legalism!  Mature Christians I have told about my blogging answers to this book tend to say that there is Pharisaicalism in all of us. So how is that different than devotion to our LORD? The answer to this question will be in part seven. Can't wait for you to read the last post in this series.

Meanwhile, I have been a Christian for over 60 years and I remember some practices that were legalistic in my background, what author Larry Osborne calls "litmus test Christianity" and he says it is never a good thing. I grew up with some of this old school legalism.
  • I was not allowed by my parents to dance. It took my late husband, a Presbyterian minister, to teach me to dance at age 40, although I surely had the rhythm before then! 
  • Alcohol. My parents did not drink and I still cringe when I read about Reformed folk drinking. I am very cautious about Alcohol especially because on a part-time basis I teach classes for decent folk who have gotten their first DUI. I like the legalism of watching alcohol consumption and Pharisaically tell my classes that the main alcohol I drink all year is in the weekly small communion cup at church. I wonder what they think, but such decent folk get DUIs. You have to be careful. Knowing how the DUI has hurt the drivers and their victims over the years really makes me cautious. 
  • Movies. And they were so gentle then. Ben Hur was my first movie and I went to it with the youth pastor! Now Osborne says in the "new legalism" movies are "a source of culturally relevant sermons illustrations" (p. 91).
  • Not dating a divorced Christian (as if divorce is an unforgivable sin). I used to believe this and then married two wonderful divorced Christians, the first of which died. 
I guess I would have to say that legalism is anything that is added to Scripture, supposedly implied by Scripture.  Perhaps when you have an intellectual and theological basis for your faith and and that is all you emphasize,  you are a legalist.  You are not balancing the doctrine in your Christian faith with  love, justice, mercy and grace. You care about being right only and that is the problem.  "Be dogmatically true, obstinately holy, immovably honest, desperately kind and fixed upright," writes Charles H. Spurgeon. Got this quote from a young social media friend. 

The book questions from 109-110 are in red and my answers are in black.

1. "Litnus test Christianity" is a dangerous type of legalism that can cause us to write off other genuine Christians as bogus Christians. It's an easy trap to fall into.

a. Do you find yourself naturally drawn toward the clarifying lines of "litmus test Christianity" or repelled by them? Both. If so, why do you think that is? I think it is important to contend (Jude 3) for the faith, but then I do not want to be contentious (Gal. 5:20). Gulp! The Galatians passage lists being contentious as a work of the flesh that includes adultery, outbursts of wrath, dissensions, heresies, murders "and the like".  In contrast, the fruit of the spirit includes gentleness and self-control. I like articulate Christians, but am equally repelled by those hot heads who are contentious, as if the whole of Christianity depends upon their defense of it.

b. Which, if any, of the tribes listed in chapter 10 would you fit best in? Here are the tribes: radical Christians who are almost generous to a fault; crazy Christians who suffer; missional Christians who are doing something to fulfill the mission of Christ;  gospel-centered Christians; and finally revolutionary or organic Christians. Are there any other litmus tests that you or you tribe might be prone to use? Yes. If so, list them. Reformed Presbyterian or Reformed Baptist; but I keep learning from evangelical Christians who do not necessarily consider themselves in the Reformed camp. This book is an example of that.

2. In part 4 we looked at both "old-school legalism" and "new-school legalism." Which of the two do you think you or your church are most tempted to fall into? New school legalism. Why? Because doctrine is emphasized quite a bit.  What are some of the dangers that come with it? Excluding others, and not showing grace and mercy. However with my pastors I see a wonderful mix of precise doctrine and generous mercy for those of us who are still learning.

3. The Pharisees of old added to the Scriptures in an attempt to help God out. Looking back over your Christian journey, have you come across examples of people:

a. Adding to Scripture? Probably have.  And if so, how so? Dispensationalists have added to Scripture, but you know, folks, I can have fellowship with them in so many ways, but we just better not discuss eschatology.

b. Turning implications into commands (making the personal application of a passage a universal rule for everyone)? Perhaps. Again, what are some examples? Extreme prideful discipline.  Legalists never see themselves as legalists. They see themselves as obedient. (p. 97) See 1 Tim. 4:7-8 which says exercise yourself toward godliness, for bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things.

4. What lessons can we take away from the "diet wars" and the "Sabbath wars" of the New Testament days?  "It's always hard to argue with a legalist" (p. 97).

a. What are some present-day equivalents of the New Testament diet wars and Sabbath wars? Some of those wars might be on this blog, but I am not naming them.

b. How might Paul's instructions to the Romans apply to these modern-day issues? Paul told them that God was good with all of their answers. . . . But there was one thing God wasn't pleased with. It was the disrespect each side showed the other (p. 100-101). I do think that hot headedness can get you in a lot of trouble and show disrespect to other Christians. The hot headed person thinks perhaps that they are the Holy Spirit, responsible for convincing others of the correctness of their view point.

5. Accidental Pharisees often are driven by the fear that showing too much mercy will lead to compromise and half-hearted obedience. But the fact is that we all tend to treat some sins as less deserving of mercy than others. Why do you think that is? We have our pet ideas and habits. Osborne, however, writes, At the end of the day, my own application of the text is just that--my own application. To turn it into anything else undercuts freedom in Christ (p. 102). And which ones do you have the hardest time offering mercy to? Sexual sins such as adultery that hurt the family so intensely. When it is a Christian leader as in HERE and HERE it can be very difficult to extend mercy. Anyone can and needs to repent and because Christ has forgive us I need to forgive those others.  God will judge their sincerity and we can look for the fruits worthy of repentance resulting in restored unity and fellowship.
Mercy is what is called for. 
Osborne writes: To people who fail, 
turn away, 
or sit on the fence 
because they are too afraid to jump in 
or are not yet fully convinced, 
Jesus continues to offer his extravagant mercy, 
a helping hand, 
and another chance (p. 107). 

What is your list of things Jesus never said 
or that are added to the Bible?
Where is the grace and balance in your life?! 


  1. Years ago when I was homeschooling there were families who believed a woman should only wear dresses. I liked the way women looked in dresses... almost holier. Seems silly to write it now! I had not learned how to find answers to these topics in scripture so I adapted the practice not based on scripture but based on fear... fear that it might be a 'law'. I rarely wear dresses these days. I not only stopped because I could not support the practice by scripture but I stopped because we moved to a small little town and some of the women felt intimidated by my dress wearing on Sundays since they did not own a dress. I believed that loving them well would be to stop wearing dresses and wear pants instead.

    1. Great example of legalism, Georgene.
      "The fear of man [or other homeschooling moms] brings a snare.
      But whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe."
      Proverbs 29:25

    2. Such a good point about the connection between legalism and fear. (The wrong kind of fear, that is.) I think that it is so easy to begin thinking that evil is "out there" and not in our own hearts.

    3. That Phariseeism in us looks at others out there, their beams, instead of our own idols of the heart and our own sin and the beam in our eye.

  2. As an adult, I've never been part of a legalistic church. Well, wait, now that I think about it, one chruch we went to when we lived in Montana discouraged drinking alcohol. We like a drink of wine with dinner at a fine restaurant. Hubby made it clear to the pastor in charge of worship music (hubby plays fantastic guitar and is always on worship teams) that he enjoys wine and an occasional drink and if that's a problem, not to put him on the worship team. Pastor said it wasn't a problem, but I do remember us always looking around when we were out to eat, wondering if we would run into someone from church and how they would feel seeing us having a glass of wine.

    My litmus test is if I can back it up with Scripture. If I can't, then I'm less likely to believe what is being said. That's why whenever anyone is predicting when the world will end on a specific date, I discount them immediately since the Bible says no one knows except for the Father when that time is coming.


    1. Good points, Betty. I love how you passed your vine in a fine restaurant by that Montana church. Yes, we did have someone try to predict in the last few years--a Christian radio announcer.

      This morning I read Matt. 18 where Christ deals with the sinning brother. So the biblical approach would be one-on-one, then the church. If that brother refuses to be under the authority of the church, then they are to be put out.


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