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.


Anonymous said...

Ever notice how the term "legalist" seems to get tossed around when our idols are challenged? I know a few folks who love to defend their beer.

Solameanie said...

I got wind of this one on Facebook. Steve Camp posted the link there. It seems Steve has some kind of ax to grind with MacArthur, which I find sad. I've always liked Steve, who seems pretty Reformed in his theology. However, he surprised me the other day when he said that he was open to a tattoo, which appalls me. I don't think a tattoo will keep one out of heaven, but the Lord issued a command against it for a reason, i.e. the pagan, cultic practices of the nations and the tattoos identifying with that. Now we're going to give God glory by doing something that He had forbidden? Hmmm.

Elaine Bittencourt said...

Thank you for your post! Short and sweet!

I realized yesterday, after reading a certain blog, how all the misrepresentations are affecting me personally. This young pastor who I respect has posted some really stupid things on his blog against MacArthur, and if anything, he should be ashamed of all that he has said. Among other things, he says that "MacArthur and Co. have launched an all-out assault" on the YRR. By "Co." he meant MacArthur's "internet/media people" and it includes Phil Johnson and The Cripplegate bloggers, who are, according to the blogger, taking on Driscoll and others "with unprovoked attacks and uninvited criticism".

My sadness comes from the fact that he's a pastor at our sister church. I have refrained from saying anything because to be honest, I really have no words.

Ironically, his words just confirm what most of us have noticed with the YRR movement in general (immaturity) and a total lack of applying proper hermeneutics to interpret those articles by MacArthur. I frankly doubt the skills of people like that, and I suspect they get their sermons mostly out of numerous commentaries.
Thank you for your article and for letting me comment. Grace and peace to you!

Monica said...

Thank you so much for this post! What is SO ironic about all of the back lash from the YRR crowd is the astonishing lack of maturity the display in their responses. Amazing!


PeteO said...

Careful with how the application of the forbidding tattoos comes into play in the 21st century. If you are consistent with your interpretation of Lev. 19:28, you have to be consistent with the other things that are forbidden in that text as well. For example, no mixing of materials in your clothing (cotton and polyester is a no, no!), no blood in your meat (med. to med. rare steaks are out of the question!), and if you're a guy you can't trim your beard and you have to let your sideburns grow!

Jerry said...

Joel McDurmon's post wasn't mocking; it was devastating exegesis and logic, and Dr. MacArthur simply engaged in legalism and eisegesis--indefensible in any case.

Anonymous said...

I would agree that MacArthur is not a legalist. I would likewise agree that calling out church leaders on their sin -- especially when they are leading others to sin -- is not only justifiable, but biblical. What I find hard to condone is MacArthur's tone. In these cases it is often very caustic, even antagonistic. Inasmuch as alcoholism is unbiblical, so is contentiousness (1 Timothy 3; Ephesians 4).

Jerry said...

Does MacArthur use wine in communion at Grace Community Church?

Anonymous said...


I was at Grace Community Church during Steve Camp's brief "ministry" there. He was one of the most ineffective pastors to ever decorate an office on that campus and was horrendously absent and distant from people. And then all of the sudden we found out that he was on the verge of divorce from a rocky marriage. So you'll excuse me if I care very little (if at all) for ANYTHING Camp has to say against MacArthur. Camp came in and snowed MacArthur pretending to be an exemplary man of ministry and ended up being a big waste of the church's resources. After the stuff hit the fan in Camp's life MacArthur rightfully let him go immediately. He can blog all he wants, but there are many who have deaf ears for his words because of how he treated that church.

macpat said...

It is legalism. Pastor McArthur is clearly saying that those who drink alcohol are disobeying the Lord, and those who willingly continually disobey the Lord are suspect as to whether they are christian or not. Legalism is also adding to those things that are in God's Law. The drinking of alcohol is not in the Law, drunkenness is. There is a very big difference Mr McArthur is adding to scripture which is a huge deal. Rev. 22:18.

daniel said...

We all love the idea of someone standing up for the truth when no one else is, but when it comes down to it, few really recognize what is going on.

Thank you, sir, for standing up for MacArthur here.

daniel said...

It's sad to see that Steve Camp went after MacArthur by saying the following, while calling MacArthur his friend and his mentor:

"A very biblical response to the unfortunate and careless legalism of mentor and friend John MacArthur. TRUTH MATTERS. "

...(That's publicly posted on his Twitter account:!/sjcamp/status/104034008358326272 )

If Zionica's response could be described as "biblical," then there must've been a new bible translation I missed out on, and MacArthur's 42 years of preaching verse by verse through the New Testament don't mean anything...

Solameanie said...

On the tattoo question, the first question I would ask is why someone feels the burning need to have one? The reason the Lord forbade tattooing under the Law was because pagan nations around Israel tattooed themselves and cut their bodies for religious reasons related to their false gods.

Also, as someone who is premillennial in eschatology, I find this current tattooing craze very interesting given what prophecy says about the mark of the beast. What better way to desensitize people toward putting marks on themselves.

When I was younger, tattoos were typically something done by those who were considered low-lifes. Not always, but that type of crowd were generally the ones who got them, excepting some who got them while in the military. For those I have known, almost all without exception regretted getting them later in life. My own niece got one on her lower back in her teenage years despite being cautioned. Today, in her 40s, she realizes what a dumb move it was, especially since there are certain types of dresses she can't wear because of it. She wishes she had never gotten one.

Like I said, it won't keep a believer out of heaven. I am not being legalistic. However, I do thing some long, hard thought and consideration ought to be given before a believer gets tatted. Again, think of why God prohibited it in the first place. I would be very surprised if it pleases Him now for people to be marking up and carving up the bodies He gave them out of pride and vanity, no matter how they try to justify it.

Solameanie said...

One other thing to remember. "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable." There's a message in there somewhere.

Fred Butler said...

The Zionica screed was written by Joel McDurmon, who is affiliated with Gary Demar who has had it in for MacArthur for years. McDurmon, if I am recalling correctly, thought James White wasn't "presuppositional" enough when he debated Bart Ehrman.

I have attended Grace for 20 years. I was a late 20s single guy in 98-99 when Camp was doing his Grace Bridge "ministry" on Wednesday nights at Grace. The anonymous commenter is correct.

Camp spent little time actually attending church and getting to know the people. He did his Wednesday thing, would fly out on Thursday to do weekend concert/"ministry" gigs at other churches or conferences, would fly home on Sunday to Nashville to be with his wife and family for a day or two, and then fly back to LA by Tuesday afternoon to get ready for the Wednesday Grace Bridge thing. It was a routine with him.

He basically abandoned his wife to raise 5 kids on her own just so he could "minister." It was disgraceful. When the problems with his marriage came to light, Camp played like he was the big victim of an unsaved wife and wouldn't own up to any of his wrong-doing.

Knowing his sordid background, that most people are entirely unaware of, is why I believe his twitter posts are particular odious.

Cindy Swanson said...

Whether or not the YRR crowd agrees with MacArthur, for them to deny the very valid points he made is simply naive and wrongheaded.

A close acquaintance of mine attended a Christian wedding where alcohol flowed freely. A young Christian man who had struggled in the past with alcohol ended up getting drunk for the first time in years at that wedding. Stumbling block, anyone?

More stumbling blocks just like that are abounding because not everyone can confine their drinking to moderation. Your liberty when it comes to alcohol could very easily be the cause of someone developing or re-developing a serious alcohol problem.

I think the people who are squealing the loudest are doing so because MacArthur hit a nerve and because, deep in their hearts, they know he's right.

Solameanie said...

Cindy, I can't help but hear "Nadia's Theme" when I see the term "YRR," standing for "Young, Restless and Reformed."

The issue of legalism and the boundaries of Christian freedom have been difficult for generations, and ours is no exception. I think the key is "all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable." And if what we do is not driven by love - and to bring God glory - then I think it's worth questioning.

We don't want to be W.C. Fields when it comes to the Bible and the will of God. "Looking for loopholes."