Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Definition of Legalism continued (The Wedding Ring: Is it Worth It discussion continued )

The following comment was offered as a challenge to my understanding of legalism. Please understand, I don't claim to be a theologian. I have a wide range of readers, and I want to keep what is presented here as accessible as possible. My intention is to avoid subtle technicalities and deal with realities, to the best of my understanding, that everyone can relate to.

When I quote a comment in a new post, I am leaving off names. It isn't because I'm not giving credit--you can look at the comment box and see the names--I just want to separate individuals from concepts and look at the concepts without prejudice for or against, on account of source. I wish I were anonymous. :)

A commenter says: (underlining is my emphasis)

Religious legalism = drawing a definite line where God draws none [often done out of good intent, but with necessarily deadly results, spiritually speaking]. It is taking the spirit of the law and defining it in human terms that can be codified and measured. It is trusting in a human standard to protect righteousness; which then, by default, eventually defines that righteousness.

In practical terms of CHM, legalism is "knowing" who is "worldly" and who is not just by looking at their outward appearance. Or looking at someone's adherence or non-adherence to actionable standards [e.g. ring-wearing or not] and then declaring them as worthy or non-worthy.

Religious legalism is adopting a standard for personal and family life which can be measured in externals -- a standard which CANNOT be definitely termed biblical, but appeals to tradition and sub-cultural mores; and, since it cannot be definitely defined as biblical, it uses inculcated sense and unspoken group pressure to maintain its existence.

Legalism is a [hypothetical] mother who has two daughters who both passionately love the Lord, but she is grieved and heart-broken, often moved to tears because one of the daughters, in following Truth, decides that she is called to wear a wedding ring, cut and style her hair, and wear a sleeveless dress, etc. 
Legalism cannot appeal to Scripture alone as its final authority of faith and practice. It always must add a sub-cultural and/or traditional lens as the final arbiter of what is right or wrong, or "desirable."

My friend,

If I read what you offer as a definition and then ask myself, “OK, accepting this, what is legalism?" I find “legalism” is drawing; it is taking; it is defining; it is trusting; it is knowing; it is looking; it is declaring; it is adopting. This is not a definition. This is a commentary.

Now, as you know, there is no law against writing commentaries. (I'm smiling.) But if you insist on using this as a definition, you do great violence to language. Language is the only way we have to communicate ideas with precision. Language is the principal way God has chosen to communicate with us. (It may be the only way but I don’t want to presume to limit God.) If we allow everyone the freedom you have taken to use as definition what is actually extended commentary, language breaks down, communication becomes impossible, and most tragic, you destroy the power of God’s Word.

One of the greatest challenges facing the seeker of truth is meaning. Think about how twisted one's understanding of God’s message to us becomes if we decide that love = lust.

Notice that if you include in your definition an expression of everything you condemn, you make it impossible for that word to ever apply to you. I protest. This is not fair. This has the effect of stacking the cards in favor of what you already want to say. (I'm making no judgment here of your motives, your relationship to God, your hope of eternal salvation, etc., only your method.)

Law-minded thinking is not a concept that only applies to those you disapprove of. We are all capable of it. And it doesn’t by definition imply many laws, there may only be one.

A person might decide that their entire life will be ruled by the maxim “It is wrong to reject people for any reason.” By definition, this is legalism. We might even want to change the rule a little to, “It is wrong to reject people for any reason other than 'heresy.'” This adds a new dimension, but the mode of thinking is the same.

Paul says in Galatians, “Wherefore serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions…” “…the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ that we might be justified by faith.”