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Thread: The New Legalism

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    Senior Member Mark Metcalfe's Avatar

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    The New Legalism

    The Who demonstrate poetic prescience in their song Won’t Get Fooled Again in the lyrics “Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.

    I think it would be helpful to define the old legalism that I grew up with before describing the new legalism.

    Growing up in the Church of the Nazarene, (and later in my understandings of much of what is presently termed the “religious right” - a term more often derided with disgust than with description), goodness and morality were sometimes defined as behaviors in which we did not participate. For example, “we don’t smoke, and we don’t chew, and we don’t go with girls that do” and “Beer is bad and whiskey’s worse. We drink water; safety first.” There was a time when lipstick and jewelry were frowned upon and ladies wore white gloves and hats to church.[1] Men wore ties; people were expected to come to church in their “Sunday best.” Getting a divorce was uncommon and often held a stigma. I could on and on about such things and many of them are relics of the past that rightfully should be left in the past. Surely, we are much more enlightened today and far better off than our predecessors. Aren’t we?

    One of the lessons of history is that perspective and context of the past can help to see the context of the present. For example, while some lament the loss of “the altar call,” it changes our perspective when we realize that altars as we knew them in protestant traditions were not around until the 1850s or thereabouts. (How did people come to the Lord before then?) In our generations, their use evolved from “mourner’s bench” to “communication station” to irrelevant in some places. I would venture to say that people might have trouble recognizing at any point in the history of the church that was back a few generations.

    Some people compare our present Church period to an earlier Church period and feel superior in almost every way. New ways of thinking and diversity must surely be a renaissance for the Church. It is a hard task to see how our period fits into a continuum of change and realize that we are not really all that different from the past, but merely different players with a different set of issues. This means that the past was not as bad (or as good) as we might think it was, and neither is the present as good (or as bad) and we might think it is.

    So what is the new legalism? Just like the old legalism, new legalism also focuses on the “what we [should] do” as opposed to “who we are to be.” Just as we did back in the day, the reasons why we took Saturday night baths and shined shoes on Saturday night [2] gave way to routine behaviors that were passed on to our children with the reason that “it is what you’re supposed to do.”

    Some shifts in “approved behavior” were merely a pendulum swing that flipped an old way. For example, Pentecostal expression was part of the COTN in the beginning, but that gave way to behaving “properly and reverently” in church, which is now seen today as not participating or unenthusiastic about God, or sometimes is labeled “a dead church.” (“There’s no life at the church where they cling to old hymns and rituals.”) We’re supposed to know a tree by its fruit, but judging these behaviors is not indicative of anything more than a subjective viewpoint on worship expression.[3]

    I don’t know who observed the shift in Church focus from “getting saved” to “doing good things” but I think the Church has shifted in its emphasis.[4] Whether this shift is good, bad, or neutral, it is hard for me to tell except by the guidance of prior shifts and what Scripture has to say.[5] Anyone who has discussed the roles of faith and works should see how the two are mutually inclusive. However, when either is given too much preeminence such that it overshadows the other, one can either become “so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly good” or stray into the legalism of works righteousness. (Smoke and drink were the old bogeymen. Today’s focus is more on sins of omission and sins against nature.)

    So what are the new legalism “sacred cows?”
    Social Justice - What is not to like about fairly “distributing advantages, assets, and benefits among all members of society?” It is good and right to care for the poor and disadvantaged.

    Resource Management - We should be stewards of our environment. We should not abuse the gift of this earth that God has lent to us.
    Legalism is a good thing that is perverted; bent out of shape; placed in greater importance than more important things. Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. “ – MT 23:23 NIV Jesus is saying that it is a good thing to tithe one’s mint and cumin (if you’re a good Jew); it is something that “should” be practiced - like social justice and resource management – but when something good usurps the more important things, it becomes just another legalistic behavior. Neither endeavor makes a person more righteous, any more than the point of a sword was able to make a true religious convert.

    So how should the Church act with purity of motive and virtuous action? My father told me, “When we ask ‘what do you stand for?’ we get pulled apart… but when we say, ‘Who do you stand for?’ (as in Jesus), we are one.

    The Church has abdicated its primacy of being a spiritual beacon in favor of being a political moral compass. We point people to good causes rather than to Jesus Himself, going so far as to indicate that Jesus sponsors our good causes. (Why would he not?) Where the Church has fallen short, we applaud and encourage the partial and compromising measures of the secular government to do the good the Church has failed to do. As long as these half-measures are acceptable to people in the Church, then the Church is truly in a post-Christian era.

    Mark

    [1] One morning as the people were filing out of church, the preacher told my father-in-law not to bring “that hussy” back to church – within her hearing – because of her make-up. That “hussy” was later to become my mother-in-law who had gone to modeling school and wore lipstick on that day. (High fashion.)

    [2] Saturday night baths and preparations like shoe-shining were necessary to do on Saturday night because of observance of the commandment to “remember the Sabbath Day” to keep it holy, which involved a practicing a very different day than the previous six.

    [3] I suppose you all know the joke well enough for me to give only the punch line: “Shh. Those are the Nazarenes. They think that they are the only ones up here in heaven.

    [4] Someone pointed similarly to hymnology as a means to gain insight into the focuses of the church at different times in history. I cannot cite specific examples with authority, but in the early 1900s when times were especially hard, songs might speak of “rest beyond the river” and even further back noting songs borne out of American slavery (gospels). It would be worth a study (IMO) and if someone has information about this, it would be very interesting to read.

    [5] The seven churches in Revelation 1 may be one place to judge our present Church.

  2. #2
    Host Book, Movie & CE forums Ryan Scott's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    I think this is an important reminder. I am quite often utterly depressed at the massive problems existing in the world and just how helpless I am do make a real difference. It's very difficult to remember that this understanding is the core of our faith - we are too small to do anything beyond living life in imitation of Christ.

    I've been convicted of a lot of things and have made a great number of changes to my life - those commitments have come from both Mark's "old" and "new" schools. The real issue with legalism is when we become consumed with the action over the motivation. One of the most difficult actions of Jesus for me to follow is simply how he lived in the moment. His priorities were always properly aligned. I fail in that area over and over. My attempts to do the right thing often trump my ability to be the person I've been created to be.
    ...just my $.02.

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    Senior Member Susan Unger's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    I once was friends with folks who were independent fundamental baptists. After a conversation with one in which he told me how he had Christian liberty [and weren't like the legalistic Wesleyans that he grew up with] yet loved to tell me how a woman who had any kind of authority or say in the church or marriage was sinning, I realized legalism was relative. I realized that anytime we put rules and judgements on others instead of extending grace, we are being legalistic. It's been slow, but I am much improved in getting the garbage of legalism out of my soul.
    Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18

    There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. 1 John 4:18a


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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Ryan Scott View Post
    One of the most difficult actions of Jesus for me to follow is simply how he lived in the moment. His priorities were always properly aligned. I fail in that area over and over. My attempts to do the right thing often trump my ability to be the person I've been created to be.
    That sounds remarkably like some of the Apostle Paul's writings.
    Thanks Todd Erickson - "thanks" for this post

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    Senior Member Billy Cox's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Metcalfe View Post
    The Who demonstrate poetic prescience in their song Won’t Get Fooled Again in the lyrics “Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.

    I think it would be helpful to define the old legalism that I grew up with before describing the new legalism.

    ...

    So what is the new legalism? Just like the old legalism, new legalism also focuses on the “what we [should] do” as opposed to “who we are to be.”
    That's not legalism...that is religion. Show me a religion that is focused on being instead of doing and I'll show you a philosophy that is really lousy in attracting and keeping followers.

    So the requirements change from generation to generation; hemlines or feeding the hungry... and maybe I'm agreeing with you that the old boss and the new boss aren't so different...but the boss isn't legalism, it's religious bondage.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Metcalfe View Post
    The Church has abdicated its primacy of being a spiritual beacon in favor of being a political moral compass. We point people to good causes rather than to Jesus Himself, going so far as to indicate that Jesus sponsors our good causes. (Why would he not?) Where the Church has fallen short, we applaud and encourage the partial and compromising measures of the secular government to do the good the Church has failed to do. As long as these half-measures are acceptable to people in the Church, then the Church is truly in a post-Christian era.
    If I'm not mistaken, perhaps you have higher regard for the 'old boss'? I have trouble understanding that point of view. There is after all far more biblical evidence of Jesus having a soft side for the shiftless poor, whereas I don't know of even one incident where Jesus chided someone for lax Sabbath observance or where he condemned a woman for leading men astray with her provocative ankle exposure.

    It's certainly possible to do the things Jesus did, albeit in a heavy-handed way, but isn't that better than enthusiastically doing the wrong things with a smile and a handshake?

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    Senior Member Hans Deventer's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    That's Revelation 2-3

    Anyway, everything is a reaction to something. The Reformation was a reaction to the works righteousness prominent in those days. Right now, people have had it with propositional truth (what is truth anyway?) and seek a faith that makes a difference. Also, the Church lost any authority it had and the only way to find some of that, is integrity. You can't be a spiritual beacon if people think your "truth" is simply irrelevant for their lives.
    So the question then remains, what is the truth we cannot do away with? What is the core of our message? I would say that is God who became man for our sake, and who happens to ask the same from us, but the other way around. As Athanasius once said: "God became man so that man might become a god".

    I see a difference in legalism. We once defended spiritual purity. Now, the law is that you have to be relevant. I think it's an improvement.
    Love the sinner, hate the sin? Love the sinner and hate your own sin! - Tony Campolo
    Thanks Kent Campbell, Susan Unger, Todd Erickson - "thanks" for this post

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    Senior Member Mark Metcalfe's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Cox View Post
    That's not legalism...that is religion. Show me a religion that is focused on being instead of doing and I'll show you a philosophy that is really lousy in attracting and keeping followers.

    So the requirements change from generation to generation; hemlines or feeding the hungry... and maybe I'm agreeing with you that the old boss and the new boss aren't so different...but the boss isn't legalism, it's religious bondage.



    If I'm not mistaken, perhaps you have higher regard for the 'old boss'? I have trouble understanding that point of view. There is after all far more biblical evidence of Jesus having a soft side for the shiftless poor, whereas I don't know of even one incident where Jesus chided someone for lax Sabbath observance or where he condemned a woman for leading men astray with her provocative ankle exposure.

    It's certainly possible to do the things Jesus did, albeit in a heavy-handed way, but isn't that better than enthusiastically doing the wrong things with a smile and a handshake?
    1. Re: "being ... is lousy in attracting... "

    The cleansed heart is what attracts people, not good causes - those follow the cleansed heart and not vice versa. I have observed preaching and intimations that place an emphasis on doing good things and implying that these will lead a person to Christ and a cleansed heart. Although faith and works are companions, there is a precedence.

    2. Re: "If I am not mistaken..."

    But you are mistaken. I have no higher regard for the old legalism than I do for the new legalism. I suggest that you are looking at the old legalism from a modern context and not the context of the time. My point is that whatever rationalizations as to why this good thing is far and away better (or more "relevant" Hans) than the things people thought were good "back then" and "back whenever" is the same rationale.

    One can read Doing Lost, Being Found (my father's sermon) which has an obvious influence on what I have regarded. He speaks of the subject 15 years ago quoting John Fletcher from 200 years ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    Excerpt:

    In John Wesley's day the human nature was exactly the same as it is
    today. The saintly man John Wesley hand picked to be his successor,
    John Fletcher, was deeply concerned about people who DO religion apart
    from the SPIRIT, apart from the REFERENCE point of accountability to
    Jesus. If you can try with me to "translate" two- hundred-year-old
    English, listen to John Fletcher's concern for his day:

    TO CHRISTIAN PHARISEES: I address you first, ye perfect Christian
    pharisees, because ye are most ready to profess Christian
    perfection, thought [sic], alas! ye stand at the greatest distance
    from perfect humility, --the grace which is most essential to the
    perfect Christian's character; and because the enemies of our
    doctrine make use of you first, when they endeavor to root it up
    from the earth. That ye may know whom I mean by "perfect Christian
    pharisees," give me leave to show you your own picture in the glass
    of a plain description. Ye have professedly entered into the fold
    where Christ's sheep, which are perfected in love, rest all at each
    other's feet, and at the feet of the Lamb of God. But how have ye
    entered? by Christ the door? or at the door of presumption? Not by
    Christ the door; for Christ is meekness and lowliness manifested in
    the flesh, but ye are still ungentle and fond of praise. When He
    pours out His soul as a divine prophet, He says, "Learn of Me, for
    I am meek and lowly in heart: take My yoke upon you, and ye shall
    find rest unto your souls." But ye overlook this humble door; your
    proud, gigantic minds are above stooping low enough to follow Him
    who "made Himself of no reputation," that He might raise us to
    heavenly honours; and who, to pour just contempt upon human pride,
    had His first night's lodging in a stable, and spent His last night
    partly on the cold ground, in a storm of Divine wrath, and partly
    in an ignominious confinement, exposed to the greatest indignities
    which Jews and Gentiles could pour upon Him. He rested His infant
    head upon hay, His dying head upon thorns. A manger was His
    cradle, and a cross His death-bed. Thirty years He traveled from
    the sordid stable to the accursed tree, unnoticed by His own
    peculiar people. In the brightest of His days, poor fishermen,
    some Galilean women, and a company of shouting children, formed all
    his retinue. Shepherds were His first attendants, and malefactors
    his last companions.


    Fletcher was saying we cannot be Christian apart from Jesus and the
    Spirit of Jesus.

    In a community that was concerned with its own salvation and
    success the Lord Jesus was out of step. The Pharisees then found fault
    with His actions and attitudes. The three stories about being "Lost and
    Found" in Luke 15 are an answer to those who simply DO RELIGION. Jesus
    is not in a defensive posture, but rather He is giving us a glimpse into
    the heart of God. He is trying to give a point of reference-- to say
    that salvation-- true religion-- is GOD-CENTERED. Jesus is exposing the
    self-centeredness that is at the very heart of all sin. (Don't forget,
    sin is spelled with an "I" in the middle!)

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    Senior Member Mark Metcalfe's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Hans Deventer View Post
    That's Revelation 2-3

    Anyway, everything is a reaction to something. The Reformation was a reaction to the works righteousness prominent in those days. Right now, people have had it with propositional truth (what is truth anyway?) and seek a faith that makes a difference. Also, the Church lost any authority it had and the only way to find some of that, is integrity. You can't be a spiritual beacon if people think your "truth" is simply irrelevant for their lives.
    So the question then remains, what is the truth we cannot do away with? What is the core of our message? I would say that is God who became man for our sake, and who happens to ask the same from us, but the other way around. As Athanasius once said: "God became man so that man might become a god".

    I see a difference in legalism. We once defended spiritual purity. Now, the law is that you have to be relevant. I think it's an improvement.
    I get the "being relevant" part, Hans, but please explain how one can be relevant to one's time (in a Christian context) without first being spiritually pure?
    Thanks Glenn Messer, Dale Cozby - "thanks" for this post

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    Senior Member Jeremy D. Scott's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Metcalfe View Post
    ...how one can be relevant to one's time (in a Christian context) without first being spiritually pure?
    Mark, I'm still working out your first post, but perhaps this will help me: what does it look like to first be spiritually pure?

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    Senior Member Jon Bemis's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Metcalfe View Post
    but please explain how one can be relevant to one's time (in a Christian context) without first being spiritually pure?
    I would echo Jeremy's question "what does it look like to be first spiritually pure?" My understanding, which is admittedly inadequate, is that as one who has professed Christ and believes that God has raised Him from the dead, I am already spiritually pure. I can't become any more "pefect" than He has already made me because of what He has done for me.
    But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Hebrews 10:12-14
    I understand my role in all of this is to cooperate with the Spirit as I am in the process of being made holy, which I expect will be an ongoing work for the rest of my life. I wonder if the "old legalism" or "new legalism" might have its roots in believing there is something I have to do to prove that I am holy enough, when in fact, God has already settled that.
    Loving God . . . Loving others.
    Thanks Todd Erickson, Kevin Rector, Kent Campbell - "thanks" for this post

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    Senior Member Mark Metcalfe's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeremy D. Scott View Post
    Mark, I'm still working out your first post, but perhaps this will help me: what does it look like to first be spiritually pure?
    In the context of Jesus' day, it would have been to tithe your mint, dill, and cummin (for the right reasons) along with justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Micah 6:8 (one of my three life verses) speaks to justice, mercy, and humility.

    The temptation of EACH generation is to justify their legalisms by saying that they fit the mold. WWJD is more often rendered WDITJWD and sometimes IDCWJWD.

    One of the points of my essay is that this generation and any previous generation are part of a continuum in Christianity and a claim to moral supremacy of this generation over a previous one is more often based out of context of that continuum. My wife Joy pointed out that it is easy to see the flaws and failures of the previous Church (often missing the victories), but when it comes to recognizing where we miss the mark... well, the next few generations will tell us where we went wrong in their enlightened and modern relevant perspectives.

    Mark
    Thanks Jon Bemis, Glenn Messer, Dale Cozby, John Kennedy - "thanks" for this post

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    Senior Member Hans Deventer's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Metcalfe View Post
    I get the "being relevant" part, Hans, but please explain how one can be relevant to one's time (in a Christian context) without first being spiritually pure?
    That depends on Jesus' definition or the Pharisees' definition.
    Love the sinner, hate the sin? Love the sinner and hate your own sin! - Tony Campolo

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    Senior Member Todd Erickson's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Hans Deventer View Post
    That's Revelation 2-3

    Anyway, everything is a reaction to something. The Reformation was a reaction to the works righteousness prominent in those days. Right now, people have had it with propositional truth (what is truth anyway?) and seek a faith that makes a difference. Also, the Church lost any authority it had and the only way to find some of that, is integrity. You can't be a spiritual beacon if people think your "truth" is simply irrelevant for their lives.
    So the question then remains, what is the truth we cannot do away with? What is the core of our message? I would say that is God who became man for our sake, and who happens to ask the same from us, but the other way around. As Athanasius once said: "God became man so that man might become a god".

    I see a difference in legalism. We once defended spiritual purity. Now, the law is that you have to be relevant. I think it's an improvement.
    I like what Donald Miller had to say about this. He was in a radio interview, and the interviewer demanded that he defend Christianity.

    He stated that he couldn't defend it, because it meant so many things to different people, and so many people had been hurt badly by it. Instead, he preferred to tell the guy about Jesus Christ, who loved him.

    The man professed that he was fascinated by the idea that Christ would actually love him, as this had never been expressed to him before.
    Thanks Hans Deventer, Susan Unger, Kent Campbell - "thanks" for this post

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Mark, what a wonderful essay.

    My maternal grandmother came from the era of "don't cut your hair, don't wear lipstick, only a Jezebel would paint her face".

    And yet, what she found in the Wesleyan/holiness movement was freedom. Not condemnation, but freedom. The news that not only would Jesus save her from the penalty of the sins that were destroying her, but was also willing to free her from them.

    She found unmitigated joy.

    My dad came from an area rife with fundamentalist Baptists of the most extreme kind. What he found in the Protestant Methodist Church was a God so much larger than that. A God that would reach out to the person before the person had an inkling they needed God. A God that did not send grief and pain, but allowed free will with all it's consequences. A God that would stand by one through those consequences. A God that loved enough to suffer not only for, but with a person--and bring them out into the sunshine on the other side if only they would yield in repentance and allow heart cleansing. A God that encouraged one to think and reason rather than fear doing so. He found a great big good God.

    I think if we get back to the business of worshipping and serving and sharing that kind of God, with the good news of salvation and freedom, all those good deeds we push (and they are good!) will naturally follow.

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    Host Sports forum Shea Zellweger's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Sarah Smith View Post
    Mark, what a wonderful essay.

    My maternal grandmother came from the era of "don't cut your hair, don't wear lipstick, only a Jezebel would paint her face".

    And yet, what she found in the Wesleyan/holiness movement was freedom. Not condemnation, but freedom. The news that not only would Jesus save her from the penalty of the sins that were destroying her, but was also willing to free her from them.

    She found unmitigated joy.
    This is a wonderful testimony. I'm actually very surprised by it. Our early history is rife with people having to decide between their wedding rings and church membership, and I've met more than one Nazarene "old-timer" who felt that it was a shame women are wearing pants and "ear bobs" these days. Glad your grandmother did not find that sort of opposition.

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Oh she did, Shea, she did. She had been sold into child prostitution by a family member. Her bobbed hair and jewelry and lipstick were tools of the trade. At that time they marked a woman (in her neck of the woods) as a hooker. She gladly laid them down when Jesus saved and cleansed her.

    Years later, when times had changed and it wasn't a hooker's trademark, she was one of the first in her church to bob her hair--no more heat rash in the south east Texas heat and humidity.

    A few years later she decided the gleam in my grandpa's eye was more important than man made rules and bought a lipstick.

    But by that time her culture had changed around her and she didn't have to fear anyone thinking she had hung out her red light.

    I think rather than rule bound she was very culturally sensitive.

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    Senior Member Billy Cox's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Metcalfe View Post
    But you are mistaken. I have no higher regard for the old legalism than I do for the new legalism. I suggest that you are looking at the old legalism from a modern context and not the context of the time. My point is that whatever rationalizations as to why this good thing is far and away better (or more "relevant" Hans) than the things people thought were good "back then" and "back whenever" is the same rationale.
    I guess my main point of contention is with the willy nilly labeling of compassionate ministries as a legalism, when by definition that is far from the truth.

    I also think that evangelical objections to social justice or Christian environmentalism are basically American conservative politics masquerading as concern for the lost.
    Thanks Kent Campbell - "thanks" for this post

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    Host Sports forum Shea Zellweger's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Cox View Post
    I guess my main point of contention is with the willy nilly labeling of compassionate ministries as a legalism, when by definition that is far from the truth.

    I also think that evangelical objections to social justice or Christian environmentalism are basically American conservative politics masquerading as concern for the lost.
    I think there's an inherent group of people saying "we never do X" and another group saying "We strive to do Y." The command to care for "the least of these my brothers" was given by Jesus, while Paul decries legalism as being "do not taste, do not handle, do not touch." Both Scripture and human nature tell us that there's a difference between an affirming command and a restricting one, and I don't think we can lump them together. I'm more comfortable putting giving (or "tithing") in the same category as compassionate ministries than I am placing the condemnation of women in pants on that list.
    Thanks Kevin Jackson - "thanks" for this post

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    Senior Member Mark Metcalfe's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Cox View Post
    I guess my main point of contention is with the willy nilly labeling of compassionate ministries as a legalism, when by definition that is far from the truth.

    I also think that evangelical objections to social justice or Christian environmentalism are basically American conservative politics masquerading as concern for the lost.
    I guessed at your point(s) of contention (but didn't want to be mistaken).

    I have not labeled compassionate ministries as a legalism in a willy nilly fashion. In fact, I stated firmly that these things should be practiced. However, even good things can start out well-meaning and take turns for the worse, and I think the history of the Church has plenty of examples of this. What makes the people of the modern Church believe that we are immune from such excesses? If people of the past had trouble seeing their behaviors as legalistic, why would we think that people of today know any better? As I said in the essay: It is a hard task to see how our period fits into a continuum of change and realize that we are not really all that different from the past, but merely different players with a different set of issues.

    For example, in the past, preaching against alcohol showed concern for people in difficult circumstance, just as social justice shows that one truly cares about fellow human beings. There are a lot of factors involved in where the modern Church is today, but in the end, there is nothing new under the sun.

    Mark
    Last edited by Mark Metcalfe; May 23rd, 2010 at 07:51 AM.
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    Senior Member Mark Metcalfe's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    My father-in-law, Rev. Tom Crawford defines legalism as "if you believe strongly that something is required as an evidence of salvation, and I don't believe it is required as an evidence of salvation, that's legalism. Works are an evidence of salvation but not a requirement of it."

    He adds, "The Bible says, 'Be ye therefore holy as I am holy, saith the Lord."
    Am I saved because I am holy? Or, am I holy because I am saved?
    If I am saved because I am holy, that according to the tradition falls into the category of legalism.
    If I am holy because I am saved, that is a component of faith and obedience.

    Tom Crawford (Mark as his dictation secretary)

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    Senior Member Wilson Deaton's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Metcalfe View Post
    The Who demonstrate poetic prescience in their song Won’t Get Fooled Again in the lyrics “Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.
    ...
    So what is the new legalism?
    ...
    So what are the new legalism “sacred cows?”
    Social Justice - What is not to like about fairly “distributing advantages, assets, and benefits among all members of society?” It is good and right to care for the poor and disadvantaged.

    Resource Management - We should be stewards of our environment. We should not abuse the gift of this earth that God has lent to us.
    Legalism is a good thing that is perverted; bent out of shape; placed in greater importance than more important things.
    Your essay was well written and I think it sounds an alarm against a valid threat. However, I have to disagree with you on two counts.

    First of all, I think your list of sacred cows is skewed against left-oriented issues while ignoring other issues: Right to Life and Gay Marriage are getting more attention in the evangelical world than Social Justice and Resource Management. How is it you listed the latter two while ignoring the former two?

    Secondly, I think you have simply jumped the gun. That is, I agree that these things have the potential to become the new legalism but I don't believe we are there yet. The strength and the pervasiveness of the current ethical emphases are still rather weak compared to the strength and pervasiveness of the "thou shalt nots" some of us grew up with.

    Wilson
    "But by the grace of God I am what I am." (1 Cor. 15:10)

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    Senior Member Roland Hearn's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Mark,
    I agree with your warning but the fact is the church (read people) has the capacity to make anything, anytime, anywhere a control issue - that's what legalism essentially is. Any time we try and assert control and define the world by what gives us a sense of safety we have entered the "legalism danger zone." So therefore everything, except a genuine christo centric lifestyle, qualifies for the warning. So rather than attempting to discover or define the next issue I think there is much more validity in addressing what comprises true spirituality - that will always protect against legalism.

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    Senior Member Mark Metcalfe's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Wilson Deaton View Post
    First of all, I think your list of sacred cows is skewed against left-oriented issues while ignoring other issues: Right to Life and Gay Marriage are getting more attention in the evangelical world than Social Justice and Resource Management. How is it you listed the latter two while ignoring the former two?
    My list of sacred cows are merely the most recent. Quote: "What are the NEW legalism sacred cows?"

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    Senior Member Jim Franklin's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Living with a group of Seventh Day Adventists they must rate right near he top. I heard my son say the other day "that he could not become an orthodox Jew so he just has to stay where he is. Breaks a Father's heart.

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    Host Sports forum Shea Zellweger's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Metcalfe View Post
    My father-in-law, Rev. Tom Crawford defines legalism as "if you believe strongly that something is required as an evidence of salvation, and I don't believe it is required as an evidence of salvation, that's legalism. Works are an evidence of salvation but not a requirement of it."

    He adds, "The Bible says, 'Be ye therefore holy as I am holy, saith the Lord."
    Am I saved because I am holy? Or, am I holy because I am saved?
    If I am saved because I am holy, that according to the tradition falls into the category of legalism.
    If I am holy because I am saved, that is a component of faith and obedience.

    Tom Crawford (Mark as his dictation secretary)
    I would say that salvation is dependent on works, in the same way that the body is dependent on breath (how very biblical of me!). You can live without breathing for a little while, but in order to go on, you must breathe! Are you alive because you're breathing, or are you breathing because you're alive? I would say the answer is both, and likewise we do works because we are saved, but if we did not do works (or "bear fruit," if you want to mix the metaphor), it would be an indication that we're probably not...
    Thanks Billy Cox, Kent Campbell - "thanks" for this post

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    Senior Member Jeremy D. Scott's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Metcalfe View Post
    My father-in-law, Rev. Tom Crawford defines legalism as "if you believe strongly that something is required as an evidence of salvation, and I don't believe it is required as an evidence of salvation, that's legalism. Works are an evidence of salvation but not a requirement of it."
    What kind of salvation? Salvation from an eternal hell after death? As long as that's our main focus, I expect people to put what we do with our hands, resources, time in this life to be secondary to this "heart-only" notion of faith, which I believe is unbiblical and unlike Christ:

    For sure, because God is God and we are not, we are not saved by our works. But we are indeed judged by them (Matthew 25:31-46, note particularly 34-36). Jesus could have showed up and died on the cross for our sins, but he took quite a while to show us how to live this life prior to that, too.

    It's unfortunate that over the last half century or so, Nazarenes have let the general evangelical notion of salvation from eternal hell become the focus of our message when holiness (salvation from the earthly hell) used to be our watchword and song.

    It might be better said, "We are saved by faithfulness." Biblical scholars tell us that pistis is just as well, if not better translated as faithfulness - which includes heart and life - than simply "faith." When we boil it down to "just gotta believe in my heart," it's almost gnostic-like, limiting it to an invisible mind-thought and heart-speak.

    Further, I'm not sure why we'd separate the two:

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Metcalfe View Post
    He adds, "The Bible says, 'Be ye therefore holy as I am holy, saith the Lord."
    Am I saved because I am holy? Or, am I holy because I am saved?
    If I am saved because I am holy, that according to the tradition falls into the category of legalism.
    If I am holy because I am saved, that is a component of faith and obedience.
    Why separate holiness and salvation? In that passage, God doesn't...why would we?
    Why focus on requirements for salvation when we can instead do so on requirements for Christlikeness?
    Thanks John Brickley, Billy Cox, Kent Campbell - "thanks" for this post

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    Senior Member Jeremy D. Scott's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Metcalfe View Post
    So what is the new legalism? Just like the old legalism, new legalism also focuses on the “what we [should] do” as opposed to “who we are to be.
    I think someone's already mentioned it, but it bears repeating...there may be a difference between saying what we shouldn't do and what we should do. Jesus tells us that it's not what goes into our bodies that defiles (internal), but what exits our bodies (that which people see).

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Metcalfe View Post
    I don’t know who observed the shift in Church focus from “getting saved” to “doing good things” but I think the Church has shifted in its emphasis.[4] Whether this shift is good, bad, or neutral, it is hard for me to tell except by the guidance of prior shifts and what Scripture has to say.[5] Anyone who has discussed the roles of faith and works should see how the two are mutually inclusive. However, when either is given too much preeminence such that it overshadows the other, one can either become “so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly good” or stray into the legalism of works righteousness. (Smoke and drink were the old bogeymen. Today’s focus is more on sins of omission and sins against nature.)

    So what are the new legalism “sacred cows?”
    Social Justice - What is not to like about fairly “distributing advantages, assets, and benefits among all members of society?” It is good and right to care for the poor and disadvantaged.

    Resource Management - We should be stewards of our environment. We should not abuse the gift of this earth that God has lent to us.
    At the risk of being labelled a new legalist , can you explain where you've felt ostracized by this legalism? If you've found in the Church of the Nazarene that you're being forced out because you don't do these things, that's unfortunate indeed. I've not experienced that, nor do I believe that I have been the perpetrator.

    I worship every week with staunch capitalists. Heck...in many ways, I am a capitalist. I worship every week with people who don't recycle (I know this because I empty the trash in the church building ), who drive big SUVs (wait...I do too), and who are wasteful in some kind of way (whoops...guilty as charged again).

    I wasn't there, but my understanding of the legalism of the past was that one ended up in being ostracized from participation in the local church (if not by official measures, by attitude and lack of solidarity). Have you truly seen this in regard to the two sacred cows you mention above?
    Thanks Kent Campbell, James Diggs - "thanks" for this post

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    Senior Member Jeremy D. Scott's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    This video reverberates this discussion, Leonard Sweet:


    Thanks David Troxler, Hans Deventer, Paul Whitaker - "thanks" for this post

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    Senior Member Mark Metcalfe's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeremy D. Scott View Post
    I think someone's already mentioned it, but it bears repeating...there may be a difference between saying what we shouldn't do and what we should do. Jesus tells us that it's not what goes into our bodies that defiles (internal), but what exits our bodies (that which people see).
    "Everybody ought to go to Sunday School" is telling people what they should do, therefore I do not see a distinction between shoulds and should nots in this discussion. I'll respond to the rest later, after I have been to Sunday School. And by the way, I am going because I want to go.

    Mark
    Thanks Dale Cozby - "thanks" for this post

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    Senior Member Jeremy D. Scott's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Metcalfe View Post
    "Everybody ought to go to Sunday School" is telling people what they should do, therefore I do not see a distinction between shoulds and should nots in this discussion. I'll respond to the rest later, after I have been to Sunday School. And by the way, I am going because I want to go.

    Mark
    Okay, I think this is becoming clearer now. I think we operate on different understandings of legalism.

    "Everybody ought to go to Sunday School" is not necessarily a legalistic statement to me. Should we say, "If you don't go to Sunday School, you can't be a part of our church," it begins to head towards legalism, but for me, isn't even there quite yet. Legalism rears its ugly head when the point of what we say becomes something other than Christ and his likeness. The "should" or "ought to" does not necessarily imply legalism (are you saying that it does?) So the church might teach or say something that the world may indeed regard as legalism, but that we who are members know to be a worthy, worthwhile, and healthy teaching.

    Am I wrong in the separation between us?

    If I'm not, I'm surprised at what you're saying. It almost seems liberal to me. (I'm not trying to be flippant.) This relates to the current thread on the authority of scripture and/or the church: at what point does an individual receive the teaching of the church, even when at points s/he is not completely "sure" of that teaching?
    Thanks Shea Zellweger, Kent Campbell, Billy Cox - "thanks" for this post

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    Senior Member Billy Cox's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Metcalfe View Post
    My list of sacred cows are merely the most recent. Quote: "What are the NEW legalism sacred cows?"
    ...or perhaps the battles over abortion and gay marriage are lost already?

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    Senior Member Mark Metcalfe's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Jeremy, you brought up the shoulds and should nots: "think someone's already mentioned it, but it bears repeating...there may be a difference between saying what we shouldn't do and what we should do."

    Today, we don't go so far as to say, "if you don't wear a black tie instead of a red tie, you will go to hell." Instead, we might say that we don't understand how someone can be a Christian and not do what we do, not say what we say is right.

    Social Justice and Christian environmentalism (as Billy termed it) are front and center in our culture today - so they are the prime issues - JUST as other things were front and center in another day. Understanding the past from the lens of the past is helpful, I think. Choose almost anything from the Past Church that you consider legalistic today, and I will step out on the limb to state that most or all of these behaviors started out with the best of godly intentions and with people's souls and Christian walk in mind: such things as prudence, modesty, sobriety, purity, faithfulness...holiness. And yet, somehow some of those behaviors lost their meaning, or were abused by some people and against some people. (In our present day, we might have kindly referred to some of these people in today's terms as immature Christians.) For example, it sounds silly to us today that people dressed in their "Sunday best" when they went to church. We might be tempted to impugn the motives of past Christians and say that they were prideful and dressed for show, or they dressed finely to make themselves better than other people. But there were people who dressed to the nines to glorify God and that was one way that they showed reverence and deference to God.

    We often look at the past with a modern lens and think that we will certainly learn from their mistakes, and wonder how the church ever survived in such a twisted way of viewing Christian behaviors. We think that we'll do it right. (A note to people of Past Church experience: the church will survive this present age with its mistakes in such a "twisted way" too.) The Past Church was FULL of people devoted to God (as it certainly had its legalists). Perhaps as importnat to recognize, the Past Church IS part of who the Present Church is today because we are Living Stones.

    Not a legalistic behavior (I don't think), but I once picketed an Adult Book Store, registering my opposition to the purveyors of pornography. However, I realized that shutting down Towers News wasn't going to rid the world of the pornography problem; not even make a dent. (This was before the internet explosion, by the way.) The answer to our present day issues (whether abortion, gay marriage, pornography, addressing poverty and injustice, or addressing stewardship) is not found in activism of a political nature because NONE of these things deal with the root causes of the issues of their day, or our day.

    It sounds so "Sunday School" to say what the answer actually is to each of these issues in our society today, but it is Jesus. Nothing but a heart cleansing will change the world around us: not redistribution of wealth, not good stewardship, because man is depraved and bent toward sin and that continually. It occurs one heart at a time, not by bus ministry (of the past) or "community building" of the present; one heart turned over to Jesus.

    Gotta run; my week looks like a busy one so I don't know how active I can continue to be here. I'll try.

    Mark
    Thanks John Dahl - "thanks" for this post

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    Senior Member David Troxler's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeremy D. Scott View Post
    This video reverberates this discussion, Leonard Sweet:


    Jeremy,
    Outstanding video. What Sweet had to say fits so many of the recent discussions on several topics that have gotten a great deal of traction here on NN.
    dave t

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    Senior Member Jeremy D. Scott's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Metcalfe View Post
    Jeremy, you brought up the shoulds and should nots: "think someone's already mentioned it, but it bears repeating...there may be a difference between saying what we shouldn't do and what we should do."

    Today, we don't go so far as to say, "if you don't wear a black tie instead of a red tie, you will go to hell." Instead, we might say that we don't understand how someone can be a Christian and not do what we do, not say what we say is right.

    Social Justice and Christian environmentalism (as Billy termed it) are front and center in our culture today - so they are the prime issues - JUST as other things were front and center in another day. Understanding the past from the lens of the past is helpful, I think. Choose almost anything from the Past Church that you consider legalistic today, and I will step out on the limb to state that most or all of these behaviors started out with the best of godly intentions and with people's souls and Christian walk in mind: such things as prudence, modesty, sobriety, purity, faithfulness...holiness. And yet, somehow some of those behaviors lost their meaning, or were abused by some people and against some people. (In our present day, we might have kindly referred to some of these people in today's terms as immature Christians.) For example, it sounds silly to us today that people dressed in their "Sunday best" when they went to church. We might be tempted to impugn the motives of past Christians and say that they were prideful and dressed for show, or they dressed finely to make themselves better than other people. But there were people who dressed to the nines to glorify God and that was one way that they showed reverence and deference to God.

    We often look at the past with a modern lens and think that we will certainly learn from their mistakes, and wonder how the church ever survived in such a twisted way of viewing Christian behaviors. We think that we'll do it right. (A note to people of Past Church experience: the church will survive this present age with its mistakes in such a "twisted way" too.) The Past Church was FULL of people devoted to God (as it certainly had its legalists). Perhaps as importnat to recognize, the Past Church IS part of who the Present Church is today because we are Living Stones.

    Not a legalistic behavior (I don't think), but I once picketed an Adult Book Store, registering my opposition to the purveyors of pornography. However, I realized that shutting down Towers News wasn't going to rid the world of the pornography problem; not even make a dent. (This was before the internet explosion, by the way.) The answer to our present day issues (whether abortion, gay marriage, pornography, addressing poverty and injustice, or addressing stewardship) is not found in activism of a political nature because NONE of these things deal with the root causes of the issues of their day, or our day.

    It sounds so "Sunday School" to say what the answer actually is to each of these issues in our society today, but it is Jesus. Nothing but a heart cleansing will change the world around us: not redistribution of wealth, not good stewardship, because man is depraved and bent toward sin and that continually. It occurs one heart at a time, not by bus ministry (of the past) or "community building" of the present; one heart turned over to Jesus.

    Gotta run; my week looks like a busy one so I don't know how active I can continue to be here. I'll try.

    Mark
    I don't disagree with anything you said above (though I'm not sure what you're saying in the first paragraph).

    One of my questions was as to how you have seen these two issues that you singled out handled legalistically? I know lots of people who value those two issues and act upon them believing that they are Christlike in their actions (and I agree with them). I have not heard of anyone in our tradition acting legalistically with them in comparison with the legalism "of old."

    Are you predicting or is this a reality that you've experienced?

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    Host Sports forum Shea Zellweger's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeremy D. Scott View Post
    I don't disagree with anything you said above (though I'm not sure what you're saying in the first paragraph).

    One of my questions was as to how you have seen these two issues that you singled out handled legalistically? I know lots of people who value those two issues and act upon them believing that they are Christlike in their actions (and I agree with them). I have not heard of anyone in our tradition acting legalistically with them in comparison with the legalism "of old."

    Are you predicting or is this a reality that you've experienced?
    I think this was a part of what I was getting at as well, however I do still believe there is a distinct difference between saying "we should" and "we shouldn't," and I think it's basically biblical. Paul talks about regulations being "do not taste, do not handle, do not touch," and elsewhere says that we were "created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do." Jesus said it is not what goes into a person, but what comes from a person, that makes that person holy or unholy. The "old legalism" was all about what we did not do so that we could be distinguished as Christians- we didn't smoke, chew, or go with the girls that do, as it were. These were false litmus tests created in an attempt to easily discern who was in and who was out. This "new legalism" Mark discusses is about Christians who are saying that all Christians should essentially be working for the kingdom. I've yet to meet a Christian social justice enthusiast who says that every single Christian must be engaged in social justice, but I've met plenty who have said that they truly believe the world will know we are Christians by our love, and they show their love for humanity through social justice actions. I don't see anywhere in Scripture that says "if your hemline is above your knees, you cannot be a Christian." I see plenty of places that say we need to be doing good works, bearing fruit, showing our love, etc. etc. I'm also very "legalistic" about believing that Jesus is in fact God, but I'm pretty sure that if it's so well biblically supported, it doesn't matter whether or not you call it legalism, it's still a basic tenet of our faith.
    Thanks Todd Erickson - "thanks" for this post

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    Senior Member Hans Deventer's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeremy D. Scott View Post
    This video reverberates this discussion, Leonard Sweet:
    That's exactly what I was trying to say here http://www.naznet.com/community/show...full=1#post150
    Love the sinner, hate the sin? Love the sinner and hate your own sin! - Tony Campolo

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Perhaps part of the "new legalism" being legalism is the narrow definition of social justice.

    My experience has been that it IS narrowly defined. I've been told you cannot be a Christian and want to reduce welfare rolls--where is the social justice for the poor? Sorry, welfare rolls are only one way of addressing poverty. Many folks who are strong venture capitalists ARE interested in social justice. They feel called to fight it with jobs, providing scholarships, and other means of making a way for folks to make a way for themselves.

    I've been told you cannot be a Christian unless you are "green." But the definition of green is very limited: drink this, eat this, wear that. Sorry, but many folks choose not to do those things and yet have reduced their footprint on the earth much more than some who do those things.

    So in that sense, picking a choosing a few "right answers" while ignoring a host of others, I believe we are still entangled in legalism.

  38. #38
    Senior Member Bill Morrison's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Sarah Smith View Post
    Perhaps part of the "new legalism" being legalism is the narrow definition of social justice.

    My experience has been that it IS narrowly defined. I've been told you cannot be a Christian and want to reduce welfare rolls--where is the social justice for the poor? Sorry, welfare rolls are only one way of addressing poverty. Many folks who are strong venture capitalists ARE interested in social justice. They feel called to fight it with jobs, providing scholarships, and other means of making a way for folks to make a way for themselves.

    I've been told you cannot be a Christian unless you are "green." But the definition of green is very limited: drink this, eat this, wear that. Sorry, but many folks choose not to do those things and yet have reduced their footprint on the earth much more than some who do those things.

    So in that sense, picking a choosing a few "right answers" while ignoring a host of others, I believe we are still entangled in legalism.

    I think you have hit the nail on the head! When I have taught Environmental Science classes at MNU I have tried hard NOT to present my students with a narrow list of things one must do to care for creation. I usually start class by sharing with the students a list of three or four things I do to "be green". I then explain to them why I don't feel they will necessarily do those same actions. We stress the formation of an environmental ethic by each student. Their actions towards the environment will then flow from their ethic. There is more than one way to skin a cat (OH SORRY...that is from my Anatomy & Physiology class!)

    BILL
    Thanks Susan Unger - "thanks" for this post

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Mark,

    I agree that legalism is bad but I prefer to frame the issue differently.

    I don't believe that all statements regarding right or expected actions equate to legalism, just as I reject that all statements about right or expected belief equate to fundamentalism. I think it might be easier to see what legalism is, by starting with what it is not.

    When Jesus commands us to "Feed the poor", this is not legalism. This is a direct command that demands obedience. Neither can we dismiss it as being a minor point among many in the scriptures. As (theologian?) Al Franken wryly notes, if you took an Exacto knife and carefully cut all all of the passages from your Bible that tell you to feed the poor, you would have enough room to hide Rush Limbaugh's drugs [rim shot].

    I believe there is a list of other such principles of expected action that are as equally well founded and inescapable in scripture. They include:

    DO
    + Love God with all your heart
    + Seek the unsaved
    + Be courteous to all people
    + Help fellow Christians
    + Seek to do good to the bodies and souls of other humans
    + Contribute tithes and offerings
    + Worship, observe the sacraments and read scripture

    AVOID
    + Taking the name of the Lord in vain
    + Profaning the Lord's Day
    + Sexual immorality
    + Habits and practices known to harm the body and mental well-being
    + Quarling, gossiping (just lost 1/2 the church on this one), slandering
    + Being dishonest
    + Indulging in prideful dress
    + Music, literature and entertainment that dishonor God

    We may agree to disagree on the particular meaning and implications of these statements in particular settings, times and contexts, but I would assert that these moral expectations are clear, timeless and unavoidable scriptural commands, on par with feed the poor (covered by #5).

    Obviously, I didn't just make up that list. That is a crude summary of Article 27 from the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene. This list of behaviors is expected by all who wish to join the church. I don't see how it can be construed as legalism.

    Mark, I think our generation has a particularly painful history relative to rules and legalism. We've seen so much abuse of rules, that we've been trained to avoid all talk of expected actions... So much so that I fear that we've collectively fallen mute on the subject of right actions. When I talk to "kids" in their 30s and younger, what I hear are concerns about state sponsored tourture, unhealthy food supplies (the good of the bodies of humans) and conspicous consumption by the west (prideful dress). I am proud that at the core of our denomination's identity, there is a "Covenant of Christian Character" that allows us to have a dialogue about those issues. As we collectively revisit the question of what it means to be Nazarene, I have concluded that Article 27 is at the very center of the matter.

    Sadly, in the past 3 years or so that I've been beating the Article 27 drum, I've yet to find a single Nazarene who "knows" what is listed there (other than my Pastor and (former) DS). Almost every Nazarene I know and talk to, including a lot who *should* be familiar with this section of the Manual, are completely unaware of its existence, much less what it says. I take this as symptomatic of just how broken our generation's relationship is with respect to the issue of orthopraxy (right practice). In my opinion, all of us should photocopy Article 27, tape it to our bathroom mirrors and daily contemplate the implications of these scriptural calls.

    I've argued that the calls to holy living in Article 27 are not legalism. So what is? Let me offer 2 examples and a great insight I got from one of your father's sermons.

    The first example is hypothetical. Let's suppose I started taking the call in Article 27 to avoid practices that are harmful to the body more seriously and conclude that I should endeavor to ride my bike to church whenever possible and to be temperate with respect to drinks and foods that contain high fructose corn syrup. (And this, despite the fact that Jesus miraculously turned wine into corn syrup so his mother could make frosting at a wedding, at least according to the Gospel of St. Imakingthatup.) And then let's suppose that I'm elected to be the new Grand Poobaa of the Church of the Nazarene and as my first decree mandate that all Nazarenes every where and for all time ride their bikes to church and eschew high fructose corn syrup, all in the name of avoiding practices that are harmful to the body. That would be legalism.

    I think your dad was a giant among Pastors. I vividly remember one of his sermons where he said (and this is nearly a direct quote) that, "The sin of fundamentalism is thinking that you have God all figured out." With fundamentalism, the devil is in the details and the proper response is not to avoid discussing orthodoxy (right belief), it is to discuss orthodoxy in creedal terms. Our creeds lack a certain amount of detail and it's that ambiguity that allows us to find unity in the essentials.

    I've come to believe that legalism is the evil twin to fundamentalism. To recast your dad's words, the sin of legalism the belief that you have holy living all figured out. I belief the proper response to legalism is exactly the same as the response to fundamentalism and that is to adopt a creedal understanding of orthopraxy - one that looks very much like our Article 27.

    The second example of legalism, sadly, is not hypothetical. It is the "Special Rules" in our Manual. While I know for certain that each and every statement is the result of a sincere effort of the CoTN's assemblies to discern how to live a holy life, these statements are steeped in particular times and cultures. The devil is in the level of detail they encode and it's that detail that makes them quickly irrelevant and leads to division within the church.

    For a long time, I used to think this section could just be recast and moved to back of the manual and included in Chapter IV of the Manual, the section on "Current Moral and Social Issues". I've never once in my entire life heard somebody say, "You can't be a Nazarene unless you're an organ donor" or "You can't be a Nazarene and refuse to accept as valid all scientifically verifiable discoveries about origins", although both of those in Chapter IV. Oh wait, I'm wrong. We ripped that second one out of the manual last summer didn't we? (Might as well just lock up the universities, burn the books and be done with it.)

    Anyway, I thought for a while that putting the special rules there in the back of the manual along with other statements that might help inform and guide the church but wouldn't lead to legalism would work but I've since concluded otherwise. While I believe that all Nazarenes should tape copies of Article 27 on their bathroom mirrors, I've also concluded that Nazarenes should rip out the pages of the Special Rules and toss them in the trash. There's nothing in the Special Rules that isn't already better covered by the more ambiguous, timeless and creedal statements in Article 27 and if there is anything missing from Article 27, then the church should seek update it with similarly ambiguous, timeless and creedal statements that are equally well rooted in the scriptures.

    Of course to do this we'll all have to give up on easy litmus test for being Nazarene. You won't be able to tell it based on whether somebody wears a wedding ring, or plays bridge with playing cards, or goes to movie theaters, or drinks beer or drinks soda pop stuffed with high fructose corn syrup. [Insert reference to Romans 14 here.]


    Now, one thing that I think should be added to Article 27 is a call to creation care. As with all other items in Article 27, the question is whether or not there is a clear and overwhelming scriptural mandate to action. I think the case for creation care is obvious and unavoidable.

    I reject framing the issue as "resource management". I don't find the term "resource" anywhere in the scriptures. I find "earth" as in, "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it." I find "cosmos", or created order, as in "For God so loved the cosmos that he gave his only son". I find the word "creature" as in, "I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you - the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you - every living creature on earth. I find the closely related word "creation" as in, "The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by it own choice, by the will of the one who subjected it, in hop that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God." The one and only place I hear of God's creation referred to as a resource is in the literature of modern economic theory, which assigns a zero dollar value to undeveloped "resources" and assigns monetary value to derived goods only when they are developed to produce human utility. Stark contrast to "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it." My understanding of scripture is that I can't even fertilize *MY* lawn. It's his.

    I would think that Article 27 subsection (5) could be easily extended to include God's good earth and all of God's creatures as being in the circle of concern that we should hold each other accountable for caring for. Doing so would be entirely consistent with my understanding of scripture's description of God lovingly saving plan for his creation.

  40. #40
    Senior Member Mike Schutz's Avatar

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    Re: The New Legalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Mann View Post
    Mark,

    I agree that legalism is bad but I prefer to frame the issue differently. [...]
    Dave,
    Thanks so much for this. Read it on a break from writing this Sunday's sermon, the second in a series on "Binding and Loosing: the Scriptures in Christian Community." You've helped me.
    Check is in the mail.

    (By the way: Saw your dad last week. Great to hear that your mom is doing better.)
    "Fully embracing the Gospel, fully engaging the world"
    Thanks Shea Zellweger - "thanks" for this post

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