Thursday, August 18, 2011
Mindless Legalism? Um, No.
So why am I posting a pix of Dana Carvey's "Church Lady" character? Because I'm irked.
One of the things that really jerks my chain is when people get accused of "legalism" when they actually dare to say that Christians ought to be biblical in their behavior. Dr. John MacArthur, whom I really respect as a Bible teacher, gets accused of it quite often.
What provoked the most recent brouhaha? John wrote this blog post expressing concern about churches becoming known as "booze" ministries. He wasn't making the case that partaking of alcohol is sin. He is concerned about the testimony of churches that link evangelism around alcohol etc.
Now John's well-considered post appears to have provoked a firestorm. Some blogger known as "Zionica" posted this mocking retort in the past few days. I think he completely missed the point of what John was saying, as John's most vocal critics often do.
I personally had a chance to watch John's alleged "legalism" at work over in Moscow, Russia. He was teaching at a pastor's conference, and if you know one thing about Russian Baptist churches, some of them do wrestle with legalism. The gathered pastors were trying to get John to say that smoking was a sin, but John told them plainly that he could not make such a statement because smoking is not addressed in Scripture. You can make a case that it's a stupid thing to do as it can harm the body. You can make a case that it doesn't help one's witness. But he could not declare it a sin because the Bible does not say so.
Finally, after being questioned and questioned and questioned over and over again, he wanted to move on to other subjects and light-heartedly said, "Okay, okay. Smoking's a sin! I'm not going to die on that hill." Most everyone in the room got the joke and laughed along with John.
John MacArthur is NOT a legalist. I think many people don't even understand what the term actually means when they fling the charge. As I understand legalism, it is attaching certain actions and behaviors to salvation, i.e. you have to do X, Y, and Z to be saved or abstain from X, Y, or Z to be saved. In other words, salvation by works. That is not what John believes, and that is not what I believe. However, God's Word does command that His people be set apart, sanctified, and to not identify with the world. We keep His commands because we love Him, not because we think commandment-keeping earns our way to heaven.
When the behavior of believers is indistinguishable from the world, Houston, we have a problem.
Boy, do we have a problem.