Tag Archives: Doctrine of Separation

Why Some People Are Legalists

Every once in a while I think it is important for me to get back to the whole reason I started this blog: legalism within the Church. There are plenty of other people talking about Bruce Jenner, don’t you think?

In the following article I will attempt to:

  • define legalism, and then
  • give five possible reasons one might want to become, or remain, a legalist.

Defining Legalism

Before we look at why a person would want to be a legalist, let’s make sure we understand what legalism actually is. Below are a couple of good definitions.

The first one is from GotQuestions.org (which I recommend). I would advise reading the whole piece on their website. The following is an excerpt:

The word “legalism” does not occur in the Bible. It is a term Christians use to describe a doctrinal position emphasizing a system of rules and regulations for achieving both salvation and spiritual growth. Legalists believe in and demand a strict literal adherence to rules and regulations. Doctrinally, it is a position essentially opposed to grace. Those who hold a legalistic position often fail to see the real purpose for law, especially the purpose of the Old Testament law of Moses, which is to be our “schoolmaster” or “tutor” to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24).

The second definition can actually be found on Wikipedia. Believe it or not, it is a pretty in-depth article. Again, here is portion:

Legalism, in Christian theology, is a sometimes-pejorative term referring to an over-emphasis on discipline of conduct, or legal ideas, usually implying an allegation of misguided rigour, pride, superficiality, the neglect of mercy, and ignorance of the grace of God or emphasizing the letter of law over the spirit. Legalism is alleged against any view that obedience to law, not faith in God’s grace, is the pre-eminent principle of redemption…Legalism refers to any doctrine which states salvation comes strictly from adherence to the law. It can be thought of as a works-based religion. 

But to be fair, most people that I would label legalists do not believe salvation is earned by works of any kind (at least if they’re Baptists). No, the vast majority of legalists to which I refer (and to which I used to belong) use a system of rules and regulations to determine spirituality, spiritual growth, and favor with God and other believers.

Legalists believe, as a whole, in the redemptive work of the cross, but set a universal standard which defines holiness for all who claim Christ, regardless of cultural or societal considerations. To the legalist, anyone who behaves or believes differently than his perceived standards must not be “right with God.

So, what would make a person want to be, or remain, a legalist? The following five reasons are ones which I have observed throughout the years.

5 Reasons for Being a Legalist

1) Some people don’t know any different.

When I was growing up, I did not know anything different than what I was exposed to in our small churches, missionary conferences, revivals, or Christian schools. Even though I believe that most of what I was taught was doctrinally sound, I was not allowed to examine different viewpoints, even those of other Baptists (specifically if they were anything other than “Independent, Fundamental,” etc.) Many are still in this situation. Tragically, they are content with their ignorance. They refuse to consider the fact that they may be wrong on a particular point.

Even when Scripture is plain and simple, because of the secluded nature of certain groups, legalists would rather stick their heads in the sand than risk being wrong. Being wrong might make someone else, even another denomination, right about something. Heaven forbid!

2) Some came from an unholy lifestyle and now seek to redeem themselves (or their consciences).

Some people are so ashamed of their past that they go overboard in trying to live a life of holiness. They see in their past a link between so-called “worldly activities” and their fall into depravity. In an effort to show they are no longer the person they used to be, and in order to avoid temptation, they strictly avoid certain activities deemed “worldly.” Sadly, even though they mean well, they project their own weaknesses onto others, therefore expecting others to abide by the same level of austere living or be seen as worldly. However, in many cases, appearances are not what they seem. The very ones who are so legalistic in some areas of life wind up being the ones with the biggest weakness in that area. Their overbearing attitudes, in many cases, may only be the big doors hiding skeletons in their closet.

3) Some desire to be controlled, to be told what to do.

As strange as it may sound, some people don’t like to think for themselves, nor do they like being responsible for their own choices. It is sort of like people whom I have seen that were once under a totalitarian government: when they no longer had a dictatorial system telling them what to do, they either lost all control or had no motivation to do any good.

Legalistic churches provide the lazy or immature Christian a list of “do’s and don’ts” so that he/she doesn’t have to search the Scripture for guidance. It is much easier this way. If the pastor says something is wrong and that God would not approve, then that’s it – end of discussion. Having a list is safe and doesn’t require much thought. Essentially, the legalist would rather be a marionette than mature.

4) Some may want to control others.

Freedom is dangerous. Freedom allows for movement and change. Freedom allows for the individual to be led by God in a specific direction that may or may not be God’s will for another. Freedom takes power away from those who would want to control others for their own edification or gratification. On the other hand, legalism keeps the sheep under strict control by encouraging tattling and fear of being ostracized.

There are pastors, well-intended men, who would rather their people live under a specific set of guidelines than question long-held, man-made traditions. These leaders are afraid to lose their congregations to the world, but also to other churches. They may even find comfort in controlling others due to their own inadequacies. Much like emperors and dictators, they manipulate weak Christians in order to maintain their little kingdoms. Rarely do they admit weakness and often micro-manage every aspect of ministry. Legalistic leaders have to be in control.

5) Some people are more afraid of God than in love with Him.

So many people that I have known (and used to be like) were more afraid of losing their relational standing with God than anything else. Legalism tends to give some the assurance that God is pleased with them.

I wonder how it really was for Enoch as he walked with God. Many modern preachers are quick to make the application of Enoch’s walk with God to the way we act in this world, but they make little of the relationship implied by the narrative (Genesis 5:24). In reality, very few lists would even be needed if one had an abiding relationship with Jesus Christ.

angry godTo the legalist, God is not a friend: He doesn’t laugh…He speaks in Old English…and He holds a grudge because of what it took to buy the sinner’s salvation. When one thinks of God as always looking for an opportunity to send judgment, then being legalistic is the safest way to go. No one wants to be hit with a lightning bolt, you understand.

So, are you a legalist? Why, or why not? Are there any reasons I missed?

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Biblical Cooperation Is NOT Compromise; It’s What Family Does

For several months we have been using our Sunday School hour to go over each article in The Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This morning the subject will be biblical cooperation between believers. Southern Baptists believe that where there is no risk of theological compromise, we should seek to cooperate with fellow believers in Christ when seeking a common goal.

However, there are others who preach a “Doctrine of Separation” that forbids cooperation of any kind, even with members of the Body of Christ, when even the slightest difference is observed. It is with this unbiblical “Doctrine of Separation” that I take exception and want to dispell.

Therefore, I want to acquaint you with the following article I wrote in an effort to help promote biblical unity within the Church. It can also be found under a tab at the top of the main page.

Feel free to share the body of this post as you see fit. I simply ask that you include the source.


“The Doctrine of Separation Examined”

By: Anthony C. Baker, M.Min.

Introduction

During most major holidays, especially Christmas and Thanksgiving, it is customary for families to gather around a table to share a traditional meal. And, when looking around the typical table, it is not uncommon to find relatives, people who would normally never speak to each during the rest of the year, smiling and enjoying themselves. They do this because at the head of the table sits the patriarch or matron of the household, the one who brought them into the world. Out of respect for the parent, even the estranged siblings attempt to fellowship in peace. Sadly, this is not the case with many children of God.

The Doctrine of Separation, based on 2 Corinthians 6:17, has led many to avoid other believers, their brothers and sisters in Christ, despite the expressed desire of their elder Brother (Jesus) that they “be one” (John 17:11). Therefore, this paper will attempt to show that even though it is Christ’s desire for the family of God to be one, the doctrine of separation, as generally applied, is resulting in unnecessary, even destructive division, especially with Baptists. However, even though the author’s intent is to shed light on the divisive tendencies associated with the misuse of a particular teaching, in no way does he intend to promote the darkness-inspired synchronistic tendencies of the modern church; biblical unity within the family of God is the ultimate goal.

Definitions

imageIf one were to ask the average church member to define the Doctrine of Separation, or if one were to Google the term, the answers would initially be quite similar in nature. What most professing Christians believe is not much different from the rest of American society, simply because the term is associated with the oft-debated Establishment Clause within the first amendment to the United States Constitution.  There, the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” Therefore, when questioned, this is typically the first thing that comes to the mind of the average church-goer. When asked if one is familiar with the Doctrine of Separation, if the response is “yes,” the definition is usually linked to the separation of church and state, a political issue.

However, there are some within the body of Christ that not only know how to define the Doctrine of Separation but take that definition to extremes. They use it to bolster a sectarian mindset which excludes from fellowship any that differ, even in the slightest way, and have gone to great lengths to separate from others who do not strictly observe certain “fundamentals” of the faith.

So, to begin with, let us look at some definitions. By doing that we may better be able to determine if the Doctrine of Separation is properly being applied by certain Baptists who refuse to co-operate with others.

What is the Doctrine of Separation? The Doctrine of Separation is a teaching based primarily on one verse found in 2 Corinthians. Below is the verse (17) in its immediate context.

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? [15] And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? [16] And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in [them]; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [17] Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate [emphasis added], saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean [thing]; and I will receive you (2 Cor 6:14-17 KJV).”

The idea is that in order to maintain a right relationship with God one must separate oneself, or “come out from among” anyone, or any organization, that would seem to be in accord, friends with, or even remotely associated the “unfruitful works of darkness.”

The Doctrine of Separation can be divided into two separate categories: ecclesiastical and personal. In order to understand how specific this doctrine can be, it might be helpful to read how one Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) church defined ecclesiastical and personal separation in its doctrinal statement published on its website.[1] The following is a word-for-word copy of their definitions, and it is typical of most Baptist separatists.

Ecclesiastical Separation. We believe that we must stand up against and separate from all Apostasy, Liberalism, Modernism, Ecumenism, Charismatic influences, Neo-Orthodoxy, Neo-Evangelicalism, and Neo-Fundamentalism, as well as all groups, mission boards, organizations, churches, and cults that would compromise, cooperate and fellowship with such that do not uphold the historic Christian fundamentals of the faith as expressed by the Bible. II Corinthians 6:14-7:1; I Thessalonians 1:9,10; II Timothy 3:1-5.

Personal Separation. We believe that every Christian is to keep himself unspotted from the world, and in so doing must deny various practices, sinful habits, and worldly dress; and that a proper standard and example must be raised to the lost world and to weaker Christians. James 1:27; I Peter 2:11; Romans 6:11-13.

Notice that the call to be separate must include separation from both groups and individuals. It calls for strict standards of conduct and dress, prohibitions against working with other denominations, and an implied understanding of what exactly is correct behavior. The problem that arises, however, is when certain practices, habits, and dress are dictated by the church, not a Spirit-led conscience freed by grace. One man’s standard must then be applied to another, thereby legalistically judging him either fit for fellowship or to be labeled as “liberal” or “modern.” The application of this doctrine can become very legalistic, and below are three concerns which should be brought out.

Issues of Concern

First, the issue that causes most concern with the author is that in no place does the above standards of separation make an exception for the fact that sometimes members of the same family do not always agree. To totally separate one’s self from other believers, only because they have a different understanding or conviction for what constitutes “worldly dress” or “sinful habits” is a sin in its self. So often members of churches that prohibit women from wearing pants, for example, look at others who do with contempt. They do so because they believe that their own “dress code” is less “spotted by the world,” and thereby spiritually superior to the one which would allow “modern” and “liberal” dress. The author can vividly remember times from his own past when, all because a particular pastor’s wife was seen wearing pants to an evening service, the offending pastor and wife were deemed “liberal” and “not right with God.”

Another problem with the above list is that it does not take into account that many churches that do subscribe to conventions and associations, which may be liberal, are still autonomous and actually hold to the key fundamentals of the Baptist faith. And this is a key issue. There are certain fundamental truths of Christianity which cannot afford to be compromised, for if they are, then the compromiser can no longer be considered an orthodox Christian. What are the fundamentals of the faith that are non-negotiable?  According to Ed Dobson, Ed Hindson, and Jerry Falwell, there are five fundamentals that are at the heart of Christian Fundamentalism: 1) the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture; 2) the deity of Christ (including His virgin birth); 3) the substitutionary atonement of Christ’s death; 4) the literal resurrection of Christ from the dead; and 5) the literal return of Christ in the Second Advent. Don’t the separatists understand that within the community they are trying to reach there may be a congregation from a different denomination which still holds true to the above fundamentals?

Thirdly, there is the interesting fact that the fifth fundamental, one of the key beliefs of orthodox Christianity, the belief in the literal return of Jesus Christ (the second coming; or as some would define it: the Rapture) was never used by Paul as a litmus test for fellowship. What many have never stopped to notice is that in two specific instances the Apostle Paul dealt with believers who thought that the resurrection had already taken place (see 1 Cor. 15:12; 2 Thess. 2:2-3). In neither of these situations, Paul encouraged separation. “The Corinthian Christians were told in a clear, unmistakable command to ‘remove the wicked man from among yourselves’ in their assembly,” said Robert Lightner in A Biblical Perspective on False Doctrine in reference to the man guilty of immorality in 1 Cor. 5:13.[2]  He went on to point out that the “saints at Thessalonica were told also to ‘keep aloof’ [withdraw, KJV] from every brother who leads an unruly life…” Yet, “interestingly when Paul wrote to the same Christians in Corinth and Thessalonica concerning two specific doctrines which were being denied…he did not command to separate.” Why is it, then, that if such a key fundamental was believed back then, and Paul did not command the church to separate, do fundamentalists find it necessary to break fellowship with and label “liberal” and “modernistic” those who have a different view of eschatology?

Baptist History

Baptists (especially those of the IFB persuasion) are famous/infamous for their sectarian, separatist stands. Yet, even though they may be the largest group and the one to be featured more predominately in this paper, they are not alone. Within every denomination of believers, there are separatists. As a matter of fact, there are more denominations of Christianity in America than anywhere else in the world, and many of them were formed when separation was thought the only means to preserve orthodoxy. Each of these groups claims a biblical mandate (2 Cor. 6:14-17) to “come out from among” those who seem to be going in the wrong direction. The problem, however, lies not only in the ability to define but in the application of the doctrine. A careful look at the Scripture passages they use, especially in light of other words from the Apostle Paul and Jesus, show that separation from members of the same family may be necessary in extreme cases, but every attempt should be made to maintain fellowship at the Father’s table.

Baptists have had a long history of separating on the basis of key doctrinal issues, and for this we owe them a great debt of gratitude. Long before arguments over dress codes and Bible translations, the Anabaptists put their lives on the line over the issues of baptism, the mass, and an ecclesiastical, state-run church. They were the first separatists, for no longer could they accept the position of the Reformers. Unlike great men such as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, the Anabaptists would have no part of a church that taught unbiblical doctrine. They felt the state church was a fallen church, and from such only separation was appropriate. In February of 1527, in a document called The Schleitheim Confession, Michael Sattler wrote:

“We are agreed [as follows] on separation: a separation shall be made from them and from the wickedness which the devil planted in the world: in this manner, simply that we shall not have fellowship with them [the wicked] and not run with them in the multitude of their abominations . . . To us then the command of the Lord is clear when He calls upon us to be separate from the evil and thus he will be our God and we shall be His sons and daughters.”[3]

In modern times, Independent Baptist churches were founded in the second half of the twentieth century as a response to a growing trend toward liberalism and ecumenism that was begun a century earlier by men such as Hegel (1770-1831), F. C. Baur (1792-1862), Frederick Schleiermacher (1768-1834), and Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923).[4] No longer was there a mother church from which to separate, as did the Anabaptists from the Reformed church (reformed, but not completely separated from the ecclesiastical ways of the Catholic Church). Now the call was sent out for all those who held true to the Fundamentals to separate themselves from those within. Those with liberal leanings were to be marked and avoided (Rom. 16:17-19). The peak of resistance toward modernism from “fundamentalists” came in the 1940’s and 1950’s with the rise of the Billy Graham and the New Evangelicalism. It was at this time so many militant steps were made toward separating from the world, worldliness, and any modern approach toward evangelism, especially if it involved working together with those who may have differed on a belief or two, especially when it came to music and Bible versions. Billy Graham did, and still does bear the brunt of many senseless attacks.

Billy Graham, the Enemy

If a poll were taken today asking people who they thought was the most important and influential religious leader of the last fifty years, one name would probably rise to the top – Dr. Billy Graham. Actually, the Barna Group recently did conduct a study of Americans and found that nearly twenty percent of adults identified Reverend Billy Graham as the “most influential Christian leader in the U. S. today.”[5] Ironically, however, it was Billy Graham, along with other Christian leaders such as J. Vernon McGee, Howard Hendricks, and W. A. Criswell (all conservative giants), that biblical separatists accused of “building bridges of compromise and apostasy by their middle-of-the-roadism.”[6]  Was Dr. Graham perfect? Did he make the best judgment calls in every situation? Of course not, and pity the man who thinks he is strong enough to stand in the places Dr. Graham has stood without succumbing to the flesh. Yet, it was considered unconscionable for Christians to try new methods of outreach, or work with leaders of other denominations, in order to reach greater crowds with the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ.

No, true to their heritage, fundamental, independently-minded Baptists could only see a devaluing of key, non-negotiable doctrines in favor of a more ecumenical approach to evangelism. So, from these men, especially Dr. Graham, fundamentalist Baptists broke fellowship. Even today, after all the souls that have been won to the Lord, there are Independent Baptists who still think Billy Graham is a liberal enemy of the church. For example, in 1992 this writer personally witnessed a Baptist pastor chastise a Romanian couple in their home (both of whom lost their engineering careers as a result of being publically baptized for their faith in Jesus) for nothing more than having an LP recording of a Billy Graham crusade. This arrogant American pastor would have never sat across the same table with Dr. Graham, or fellowshipped with those who did.

United Baptists

Not all Baptists have sought to separate, however. Some have sought to come together in unity for the cause of Christ. It is common knowledge that there is strength in numbers, and when it comes to Christian congregations, co-operation can lead to expanded ministry and encouragement. Even though the IFB churches in America have gained a reputation for being separatists, other Baptists have put aside minor differences for the common good, much like the family that seeks peace at the dinner table for the Father’s sake.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) makes up the largest Protestant denomination in North America. But in Canada, there is the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches who struggled for years before three separate denominations (the Maritime Convention of Maritime Baptists, the Free Baptists of New Brunswick, and the Free Baptists of Nova Scotia) formed the United Baptist Convention of the Maritime Provinces in 1906.  For a while, at least since the late 1800’s, many denominations had been pursuing unification, such as with the Canadian Baptists.[7] But there was and is a difference between the conventions, a difference worth noting. Baptists in America hold tenaciously to one of the most cherished fundamentals of Baptist doctrine, the autonomy of the local congregation. Canadian Baptists, on the other hand, possibly because of their monarchal heritage, allow the convention some control over the local congregation. For example, in order to be licensed and ordained to pastor a church in the NABC, the candidate must complete mandatory studies at a specific Canadian seminary, Acadia Divinity College.[8]

Most Independent Baptists consider conventions (like the SBC) to be unbiblical precisely because of their belief that all conventions assert control over local congregations. However, this is not the case with all, as seen above. For better or worse, many Christians felt that a unified Church was better than a divided one.  However, the practical result was a watering down of fundamental beliefs in order to keep from offending those seeking unity.  Strict standards of morality, which had been the norm for so long, were beginning to loosen; biblical inerrancy was being questioned, and mass evangelism was on the rise. The question of what was considered “essential and non-essential” came to the forefront of discussion. And even though attempts have been made by the author to co-operate in a community ministry with an IFB church, all efforts have failed. Because of the Doctrine of Separation, because it is believed unbiblical to co-operate with other believers who do not hold to all of the “fundamentals,” division continues.

Ecumenism

One of the great enemies of the Fundamentalists is Ecumenicalism. One of the big reasons, as could be inferred from previous reading, is that those who seek to unify the church as a whole, in many cases, want to compromise on key doctrines essential to Christianity, such as biblical inerrancy and the divinity of Christ. However, one ecumenical author made an astute observation that can tie directly into the discussion of “biblical separation.” In The Unfinished Reformation, Charles Morrison wrote how that he noticed a tendency by separatists to use the Bible to say what was “biblical” without actually proving it literally so. He said that “anything, however trivial or fantastic or commonplace, that one could dig out of the Bible by however ingenious a manipulation of its texts and words was claimed to be authorized by Christ, and was made constitutive of a church ‘founded on the Bible.’”[9]

Much of what divides believers and congregations is based on teachings supposedly founded on Scripture and considered “biblical,” yet, in reality, are only based on culture or personal opinion, or even worse, misinterpretation. One good example is the belief that a church “founded on the Bible” should expect its men to wear pants and its women to wear dresses. Anything different would be considered rebellion to God’s commands found in the Bible. Anyone found in rebellion should, therefore, be marked and avoided. Yet what does the Bible actually say? “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so [are] abomination unto the LORD thy God” (Deut. 22:5). Here the Bible is used to enforce a cultural style. Nowhere does Moses say a woman should wear a dress and a man should wear pants. All it says is that the man and women should dress in ways that “pertaineth” to their respective gender. In other words, a woman should look like a woman, not a man, and vice versa.

Family of God

The family of God is much bigger than one denomination. Before there were conventions and associations, there was the church. Before the Anabaptists, the Calvinists, the Arminians, and the Modernists, there were believers who loved the Lord and worshipped in one accord. They weren’t known for their building programs or bus ministries. They didn’t split over the color of the carpet or whether or not the pews were padded; they just wanted to stay alive. Why is it that so many put such a high priority on denomination, rather than unity? Does unity have to be synonymous with compromise? What kind of compromise is it to dwell in peace with a brother or sister in the presence of a loved earthly parent, even when differences are known to exist? Does compromise for the sake of fellowship change relationship? If a stranger were to sit at the mensam gratias (Latin, “table of thanks”), would his presence at the meal change the blood flowing through his veins? No, it would not. And striving for unity in the family will not change the relation of the true child to that of the Father. Therefore, when and if we find a brother or sister in the same family of Christ, should differences we have, however striking, prohibit us from attempting to share in some common way?

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, the churches of like faith in one community have met together every year for a Thanksgiving service. The author has participated in these services on multiple occasions. However, what has been lacking is any participation from the local Independent Baptist churches. Their absence is always noticed, and the message received is that all who are gathering must be those who would “compromise, cooperate and fellowship with such that do not uphold the historic Christian fundamentals of the faith as expressed by the Bible.[10] Their conspicuous absence sends a message that says, “We are more spiritual than you.” Their continual refusal shows the community at large that denomination is more important than family, fellowship, and the opportunity to show the world that we can be one in the Spirit, for that is where genuine unity exists.

The Prayer of Jesus

Jesus made it very clear, as recorded in the book of John, that He wanted the world to see believers come together in love. In a special moment Jesus even spoke of Christians today when He said, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, [art] in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:20-21). Our unity within the family of Christ is to be a form of evangelism, “that the world may believe.” And how arrogant are we when, in the face of an actual prayer of Jesus, we say that fellowship is impossible? First, where did Jesus mention the name of any denomination or association? All he spoke of were those in his presence and them “which shall believe on [Him] through their word.” Second, has there ever been a prayer of Jesus unanswered? Did Jesus pray “that they all may be one” in vain? The day may come when He has to force us to drop our labels and institutional names in favor of a discrete and secret meeting place underground. There, with no $20,000 sign flashing out front, the true family of God may have to get back to the way it was before the King James Version was printed.

Early Church Example

Francis Schaff, in volume two of History of the Christian Church, relates the following description of a people unconcerned with denominations, unaware of the “fundamentals,” but always ready to live in such a way that others knew they were not of this world. Quoting an unknown author describing the church in the early part of the second century, he writes:

The dwell in the Grecian or barbarian cities, as the case may be; they follow the usage of the country in dress, food, and the other affairs of life. Yet they present a wonderful and confessedly paradoxical conduct. They dwell in their own lands, but as strangers. They take part in all things, as citizens; and they suffer all things, as foreigners . . . They are in the flesh, but do not live after the flesh. They live upon the earth, but are citizens of heaven . . .They love all, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown, and yet they are condemned . . .They lack in all things, and in all things abound . . .They are cursed, and they bless.[11]

Why is it that we cannot try to emulate that kind of spirit? Does anyone seriously think the same description could apply to the Christian church of today?

Thankfully, there are those within the Baptist church who understand that the prayer of Jesus for unity was not just words. Thankfully, there are some out there that are striving to work with believers across denominational lines in an effort to reach the lost and dying, while at the same time recognizing there are doctrinal differences which must be taken into account. These people are not in the business of compromising Truth; they are in the business of fulfilling the Great Commission. One such group of people is the Southern Baptists.

Conclusion

If more IFB churches could be made aware of how conservative the SBC has become, maybe they would stop labeling them as liberal and start working more closely together. It is in the Baptist Faith and Message of 2000 that an encouraging statement is made which tempers the Doctrine of Separation. Under section fourteen, entitled “Cooperation,” the following words can be found:

Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people [emphasis added]. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.[12]

Is this not what Jesus wants? Is this not the way the family of Christ should conduct its self? Oh that the body of Christ would come together in true, biblical unity! Even the “black sheep” of the family are welcome at the Father’s table.

One more thing…

Many who hold to a legalistic view of the Doctrine of Separation are regularly guilty of hypocrisy. How could this be? Consider the fact that many of the “separated” churches have active members, deacons, and pastors who are fully-participating members of fraternal organizations, such as the Masons and Shriners. The irony is that according to the writings of one of the “great” leaders and teachers of Freemasonry, Albert Pike (1859-1891), Christians regularly enter into binding agreements, oaths, and common works, even using the term “brother,” with men from any number of other religions, including that of the eastern cults! He said, “We belong to no one creed or school. In all religions there is a basis of Truth; in all there is pure Morality. And all that teach the cardinal tenets of Masonry we respect; all teachers and reformers of mankind we admire and revere.[13]

Family should come before fraternity, the Church before the Lodge; yet, how quickly some will deny fellowship with those clothed in the righteous of Christ, preferring unity with those wrapped in an apron.

Again, how ironic.

 

Footnotes

[1] Heritage Baptist Church, “Declaration of Faith,” http://www.heritageministries.com/doctrine.html

[2] Robert P. Lightner, “A Biblical Perspective on False Doctrine,” Bibliotheca Sacra (March, 1985), 20

[3] Ernest D. Pickering, Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church (Schaumburg, Ill.: Regular Baptist Press, 1979), 52.

[4] George W. Dollar, A History of Fundamentalism in America (Greenville: Bob Jones Press, 1973), 8-11

[5] http://www.barna.org/culture-articles/536-us-lacks-notable-christian-leaders

[6] George W. Dollar, 280

[7] Daniel C. Goodwin, “Maritime Baptist Union and the Power of Regionalism,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 2004.

[8] http://www.baptist-atlantic.ca/documents/ProceduresForOrdinationBrochure.pdf

[9] Charles Clayton Morrison, The Unfinished Reformation (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1953), 209.

[10] Heritage Baptist Church

[11] Francis Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity: From the Death of John the Apostle to Constantine the Great [A.D. 100–325], Vol. 2 of History of the Christian Church (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), 9-10

[12] SBC, Baptist Faith and Message, 2000 (Nashville)

[13] Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, (Richmond: L. H. Jenkins) 311

 

Bibliography

Dobson, Ed, Ed Hinson, and Jerry Falwell, The Fundamentalist Phenomenon: The Resurgence of Conservative Christianity, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986.

Dollar, George W. The Fight for Fundamentalism: American Fundamentalism, 1973–1983. Sarasota: Dollar, George W., 1983.

Goodwin, Daniel C. “Maritime Baptist Union and the Power of Regionalism.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 41.2 (2004): 125+. Religion & Philosophy Collection. Web. 8 Apr. 2012.

Heritage Baptist Church. “Declaration of Faith.” http://www.heritageministries.com/doctrine.html (accessed April 9, 2012).

Lightner, Robert P. “A Biblical Perspective on False Doctrine.” Bibliotheca Sacra 142, no. 565 (January 1, 1985): 16­­­–22. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 17, 2012).

Morrison, Charles Clayton. The Unfinished Reformation. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1953.

Pickering, Ernest D.. Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church. Schaumburg: Regular Baptist Press, 1979.

Pike, Albert. Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Richmond: L. H. Jenkins, Inc., 1960

Schaff, Philip. Ante-Nicene Christianity: From the Death of John the Apostle to Constantine the Great [A.D. 100–325], Vol. 2 of History of the Christian Church. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002.

Southern Baptist Convention. “The Baptist Faith and Message.” http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp (accessed March 18, 2012).

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Have iPad and Toyota Will Vlog

There’s not much to say, other than watch the video. I recorded it today while sitting in our van, hence the title.

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Why Some People Are Legalists

Every once in a while I think it is important for me to get back to the whole reason I started this blog: legalism within the Church. There are plenty of other people talking about Bruce Jenner, don’t you think?

In the following article I will attempt to:

  • define legalism, and then
  • give five possible reasons one might want to become, or remain, a legalist.

Defining Legalism

Before we look at why a person would want to be a legalist, let’s make sure we understand what legalism actually is. Below are a couple of good definitions.

The first one is from GotQuestions.org (which I recommend). I would advise reading the whole piece on their website. The following is an excerpt:

The word “legalism” does not occur in the Bible. It is a term Christians use to describe a doctrinal position emphasizing a system of rules and regulations for achieving both salvation and spiritual growth. Legalists believe in and demand a strict literal adherence to rules and regulations. Doctrinally, it is a position essentially opposed to grace. Those who hold a legalistic position often fail to see the real purpose for law, especially the purpose of the Old Testament law of Moses, which is to be our “schoolmaster” or “tutor” to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24).

The second definition can actually be found on Wikipedia. Believe it or not, it is a pretty in-depth article. Again, here is portion:

Legalism, in Christian theology, is a sometimes-pejorative term referring to an over-emphasis on discipline of conduct, or legal ideas, usually implying an allegation of misguided rigour, pride, superficiality, the neglect of mercy, and ignorance of the grace of God or emphasizing the letter of law over the spirit. Legalism is alleged against any view that obedience to law, not faith in God’s grace, is the pre-eminent principle of redemption…Legalism refers to any doctrine which states salvation comes strictly from adherence to the law. It can be thought of as a works-based religion. 

But to be fair, most people that I would label legalists do not believe salvation is earned by works of any kind (at least if they’re Baptists). No, the vast majority of legalists to which I refer (and to which I used to belong) use a system of rules and regulations to determine spirituality, spiritual growth, and favor with God and other believers.

Legalists believe, as a whole, in the redemptive work of the cross, but set a universal standard which defines holiness for all who claim Christ, regardless of cultural or societal considerations. To the legalist, anyone who behaves or believes differently than his perceived standards must not be “right with God.

So, what would make a person want to be, or remain, a legalist? The following five reasons are ones which I have observed throughout the years.

5 Reasons for Being a Legalist

1) Some people don’t know any different.

When I was growing up, I did not know anything different than what I was exposed to in our small churches, missionary conferences, revivals, or Christian schools. Even though I believe that most of what I was taught was doctrinally sound, I was not allowed to examine different viewpoints, even those of other Baptists (specifically if they were anything other than “Independent, Fundamental,” etc.) Many are still in this situation. Tragically, they are content with their ignorance. They refuse to consider the fact that they may be wrong on a particular point.

Even when Scripture is plain and simple, because of the secluded nature of certain groups, legalists would rather stick their heads in the sand than risk being wrong. Being wrong might make someone else, even another denomination, right about something. Heaven forbid!

2) Some came from an unholy lifestyle and now seek to redeem themselves (or their consciences).

Some people are so ashamed of their past that they go overboard in trying to live a life of holiness. They see in their past a link between so-called “worldly activities” and their fall into depravity. In an effort to show they are no longer the person they used to be, and in order to avoid temptation, they strictly avoid certain activities deemed “worldly.” Sadly, even though they mean well, they project their own weaknesses onto others, therefore expecting others to abide by the same level of austere living or be seen as worldly. However, in many cases, appearances are not what they seem. The very ones who are so legalistic in some areas of life wind up being the ones with the biggest weakness in that area. Their overbearing attitudes, in many cases, may only be the big doors hiding skeletons in their closet.

3) Some desire to be controlled, to be told what to do.

As strange as it may sound, some people don’t like to think for themselves, nor do they like being responsible for their own choices. It is sort of like people whom I have seen that were once under a totalitarian government: when they no longer had a dictatorial system telling them what to do, they either lost all control or had no motivation to do any good.

Legalistic churches provide the lazy or immature Christian a list of “do’s and don’ts” so that he/she doesn’t have to search the Scripture for guidance. It is much easier this way. If the pastor says something is wrong and that God would not approve, then that’s it – end of discussion. Having a list is safe and doesn’t require much thought. Essentially, the legalist would rather be a marionette than mature.

4) Some may want to control others.

Freedom is dangerous. Freedom allows for movement and change. Freedom allows for the individual to be led by God in a specific direction that may or may not be God’s will for another. Freedom takes power away from those who would want to control others for their own edification or gratification. On the other hand, legalism keeps the sheep under strict control by encouraging tattling and fear of being ostracized.

There are pastors, well-intended men, who would rather their people live under a specific set of guidelines than question long-held, man-made traditions. These leaders are afraid to lose their congregations to the world, but also to other churches. They may even find comfort in controlling others due to their own inadequacies. Much like emperors and dictators, they manipulate weak Christians in order to maintain their little kingdoms. Rarely do they admit weakness and often micro-manage every aspect of ministry. Legalistic leaders have to be in control.

5) Some people are more afraid of God than in love with Him.

So many people that I have known (and used to be like) were more afraid of losing their relational standing with God than anything else. Legalism tends to give some the assurance that God is pleased with them.

I wonder how it really was for Enoch as he walked with God. Many modern preachers are quick to make the application of Enoch’s walk with God to the way we act in this world, but they make little of the relationship implied by the narrative (Genesis 5:24). In reality, very few lists would even be needed if one had an abiding relationship with Jesus Christ.

angry godTo the legalist, God is not a friend: He doesn’t laugh…He speaks in Old English…and He holds a grudge because of what it took to buy the sinner’s salvation. When one thinks of God as always looking for an opportunity to send judgment, then being legalistic is the safest way to go. No one wants to be hit with a lightning bolt, you understand.

So, are you a legalist? Why, or why not? Are there any reasons I missed?

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Why Be a Legalist?

Well, that’s a good question! The question could also be asked another way: what makes a person want to be, or remain a legalist? This, essentially, was the question recently posed by a friend on Facebook. Assuming we know what a legalist is, what makes a person attracted to this way of thinking? Let me respond with five possible answers.

But before we go any further, let’s make sure we’re on the same page. What is a legalist? Here are a couple of really good, all-around definitions of legalism. The first one is from GotQuestions.org (which I recommend). I would advise reading the whole piece on their website. The following is an excerpt:

The word “legalism” does not occur in the Bible. It is a term Christians use to describe a doctrinal position emphasizing a system of rules and regulations for achieving both salvation and spiritual growth. Legalists believe in and demand a strict literal adherence to rules and regulations. Doctrinally, it is a position essentially opposed to grace. Those who hold a legalistic position often fail to see the real purpose for law, especially the purpose of the Old Testament law of Moses, which is to be our “schoolmaster” or “tutor” to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). http://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-Christian-legalism.html

The second is a definition found on Wikipedia. Believe it or not, it is a pretty in-depth article. Again, here is a portion of that article:

Legalism, in Christian theology, is a sometimes-pejorative term referring to an over-emphasis on discipline of conduct, or legal ideas, usually implying an allegation of misguided rigour, pride, superficiality, the neglect of mercy, and ignorance of the grace of God or emphasizing the letter of law over the spirit. Legalism is alleged against any view that obedience to law, not faith in God’s grace, is the pre-eminent principle of redemption…Legalism refers to any doctrine which states salvation comes strictly from adherence to the law. It can be thought of as a works-based religion. – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legalism_(theology)

**********

But to be fair, most people that I would label “legalists” are not people who believe that salvation is earned by works of any kind, at least if they are Baptists. The vast majority of legalists to which I refer, and of which I used to belong, use a system of rules and regulations to determine spirituality, spiritual growth, and favor with God and other believers. They believe, as a whole, in the redemptive work of the cross, but set a universal standard which defines holiness for all who claim Christ, regardless of cultural or societal considerations. To the legalist, anyone who behaves or believes differently than the legalist’s perceived standards must not be “right with God.”

**********

So, back to the original question:

“Why are Some People Legalists?”

One reason could simply be that they do not know any different.

When I was growing up, I did not know anything different than what I was exposed to in our little churches, missionary conferences, revivals, or Christian schools. Even though I believe that most of what I was taught was doctrinally sound, I was not encouraged to examine different viewpoints, even those of other Baptists, specifically if they were anything other than “Independent, Fundamental, etc.” I was not allowed to explore the true nature of a life of grace and freedom. Many are still in this situation. Tragically, they are content with their ignorance. They refuse to consider the fact that they may be wrong on a particular point. Even when Scripture is plain and simple, because of the secluded nature of these groups, they would rather stick their heads in the sand than risk being wrong. Being wrong might make someone else, even another denomination, right about something. Heaven help us!

A second reason could be that they came from an unholy lifestyle and now seek to redeem themselves (or their consciences).

Some people are so ashamed of their past that they go overboard in trying to live a life of holiness. They see in their past a link between so-called “worldly activities” and their fall into depravity. In an effort to show they are no longer the person they used to be, and in order to avoid temptation, they strictly avoid certain activities deemed “worldly.” Sadly, even though they mean well, they project their own weaknesses onto others, therefore expecting others to abide by the same level of austere living, or be seen as worldly. However, in many cases, appearances are not what they seem. The very ones who are so legalistic in some areas of life wind up being the ones with the biggest weakness in that area. Their overbearing attitudes, in many cases, may only be the big doors hiding skeletons in their closet.

A third reason could be the desire to be controlled or told what to do.

As strange as it may sound, some people don’t like to think for themselves, nor do they like being responsible for their own choices. It is sort of like people whom I have seen that were once under a totalitarian government. When they no longer had a dictatorial system telling them what to do, they either lost all control or had no motivation to do any good. Legalistic churches provide the lazy or immature Christian a list of “do’s and don’ts” so that he/she doesn’t have to search the Scripture for guidance. It is much easier this way. If the pastor says something is wrong, and that God would not approve, then that’s it – end of discussion. Having a list is safe and doesn’t require much thought. They prefer being a marionette to being mature.

A fourth reason, which is among the more sinister, is that they want to control others.

Freedom is dangerous. Freedom allows for movement and change. Freedom allows for the individual to be led by God in a specific direction that may or may not be God’s will for another. Freedom takes power away from those who would want to control others for their own edification or gratification. Legalism keeps the sheep under strict control by encouraging tattling and fear of being ostracized. There are pastors, well-intended men, who would rather their people live under a specific set of guidelines than question long-held, man-made traditions. These leaders are afraid to lose their congregations to the world, but also to other churches. They may even find comfort in controlling others due to their own inadequacies. Much like emperors and dictators, they manipulate weak Christians in order to maintain their little kingdoms. Rarely do they admit weakness. Often, they micro-manage every aspect of ministry. They have to be in control.

A fifth reason could be that some people are more afraid of God than in love with Him.

So many people that I know and used to be like were more afraid of losing their relational standing with God than anything else. As a matter of fact, by being legalistic, one could be assured that God was pleased with him. I wonder how it really was for Enoch as he walked with God. Many modern preachers are quick to make the application of Enoch’s walk with God to the way we act in this world. They make little of the relationship implied by the narrative (Genesis 5:24). In reality, very few lists would even be needed if one had an abiding relationship with Jesus Christ. To the legalist, God is not a friend; He doesn’t laugh; He speaks in Old English, and He holds a grudge because of what it took to buy the sinner’s salvation. When you think of God as always looking for an opportunity to send judgment, then being legalistic is the safest way to go. You’d hate to be hit with a lightning bolt.

There you have it. I am sure there may be other reasons, but this is a good start.

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The Doctrine of Separation Examined

There are so many destructive teachings that are simply corruptions of actual truth.  One of those is the doctrine of separation.  Practiced within the more independent and fundamental sects of Christianity, this doctrine is mainly derived from 2 Corinthians 6:17, ” Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you…” The idea is that if one group does not agree with another in all areas, then association is considered sinful, or at least liberal.

I personally believe that this has been taken way too far within the body of Christ.

A few Sundays ago I was at a church where a missionary was speaking.  I really enjoyed hearing what he had to say.  What disappointed me was what was on his prayer card.  Listed on the back, in his statement of beliefs, was the “doctrine of separation.”  However, during the message that he preached, he spoke of how it was good to be able to talk to a Charistmatic believer in Mongolia.  He spoke of how it was good, in a land that so few missionaries frequented, to find anyone to talk to that was a Christian.  But when it came to working together, that was a different story.

Years ago, in 1992, I was given the opportunity to travel to Romania for a month.  Long story short, in order to do some first-time evangelical work in a small village, two other young guys and myself were priviledged to hire a young interpreter to help us.  Actually, he was helping a Pentecostal church group rebuilding grain silos during the day.  Because he was free in the evening, he helped us.  He even helped us make friends with the Pentecostal group.  We didn’t have services together, but we did get to have friendly contact.  Ultimately, because of this unplanned cooperation (the Church of God folk paid the interpreter for us) around 80 souls came to accept Christ as their Saviour in one week.

When I got back to the U.S., thoughts crossed my mind about how Baptist missionaries could develope ways to work together with other Christian missionaries in third-world countries, especially where the work was great.  Pooling local resources and manpower for mutual benefit seemed something totally logical to me; but not to BIMI, the mission agency with which I had traveled.  Unlike Southern Baptist missionaries, independent Baptist missionaries have to raise their own funds to reach the field and to stay there.  To me it seemed that being able to work with other Christians to accomplish like goals was a no-brainer, but not according to the doctrine of separation which BIMI held true to, as do most independent Baptists with which I have been aquainted.

The belief that Christians cannot work together, worship together, or evangelize together to reach a common desired goal is crazy.  There are areas that make Baptists (of which I am) different from other denominations, and rightfully so.  These differences, however, are more often than not of little eternal significance.  Baptists believe in baptism by submersion, for instance, while Presbyterians normally do not.  Is that worth saying that when it comes to winning the lost for Christ that we must remain separate in all things?  Even if a friend of mine is a five-point Calvinist, does that mean that I can’t walk down a street with him as we both preach salvation through Jesus alone?  I like what article XIV of the 2000 edition of theBaptist Faith and Message has to say on the subject:

Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extention of Christ’s Kingdom.  Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people.  Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.”

When it comes to the legalists and the Pharisaical crowd that promotes separation to the extent of mutual exclusion, finger pointing and self-glorification (i.e., “I am right with God and you are not, because you don’t believe the same as me.”), maybe isolation isn’t that bad.  More people than not, I truly believe, think that working together for the greater good of the Kingdom is biblical.  Only a small minority of so-called “fundamentalists” within the Christian faith feel otherwise.  However, the problem is not so much that we believe that working together is good as long as there is no compromise, it’s getting us to actually DO it.  Let the “separatists” stay separate if they wish, but let the rest of us unite where possible to form a true Nation of Christians, the body of Christ.

Say what you will about the “herd mentality,” but it is the loners that the lions and wolves look for first.  There truly is strength in unity.

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