Free In Christ

Finding Freedom in the Churches of Christ

Free In Christ: Lawyers

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The next chapter of Cecil Hook’s “Free In Christ” furthers his coverage of the topic of legalism.  It is absolutely necessary that he does this because our traditional legal way of interpreting the Scriptures has led to most of the problems in the church of Christ.

Cecil sums up the traditional approach this way:

We in the Church of Christ have developed some strange concepts of Christ’s law. We seem to conceive of a system of law half revealed and half concealed in biography, historical accounts, treatises, personal letters, and prophecy. Clues to the laws are scattered through these writings to be discovered, pieced together, and interpreted by studious lawyers of the Word. We must not trust anyone else for this, we are cautioned, though his talents, training, and dedication may be much greater than ours. We must become lawyers ourselves. Lack of literacy or academic training is no excuse.  It is like a child’s puzzle — a maze. If you are astute enough, you can be among the spiritually elite who are able to work their way through the maze. But if you make a wrong turn, which most religious people presumably have done, then you will find yourself in the dead end of eternal punishment. That is the verdict, at least, the lawyers of the Word render as they put on their robes and sit in judgment of all others. The majority of the most learned, sincere, and devoted students of the Word are lost in the interpretive maze, while lots of us simple folk breeze right on through to eternal glory.
I couldn’t have said it better.  We seem to think that their is some kind of Christian Law hidden between the narrative of the New Testament that has to be picked out to be obeyed.  We have taken a story and tried to obey it instead of trying to learn from it.
Cecil then makes the excellent point that most Christians throughout history didn’t have a Bible to read anyway (and couldn’t have read it if they had one).  This means that they couldn’t be lawyers; they didn’t have the ability to pick all of the laws out of the story to obey them.  This is fine because their salvation was not contingent upon keeping laws and neither is ours.
Cecil then goes on to illustrate three errors that we have made in interpreting Scripture.
The Legal Approach (legalism), Inconsistency, Scholasticism (which I have called Backwards Theology).
Cecil’s example of the Legal Approach is to give this example of a disciple of Christ:
A disciple of Christ must be a man of faith and conviction. He must love his wife and
children and rear his children in the faith. He must provide for his family. He must pay
his debts. He must deal fairly with his employees. He must love his enemies. He must
read and study his Bible. He must assemble regularly and lay by in store each week. His
speech must be becoming of a disciple, etc.
This description may seem right but actually there is an error in every sentence.
A disciple of Christ does not have to be a man; it can be a girl. A wife and children are not necessary;
an unmarried person can be a disciple. He does not need a family to provide for to qualify. Neither must he or she have debts, nor pay debts if that person is destitute or disabled. Enemies are unnecessary to qualify. He or she need not be literate or scholarly, or attend services if bedfast, etc. Yet, each of these qualities was listed as a must.
When you read the 1st description you read it accurratly because you did not read it legally.  You understood it as a general description of a disciple; not a legal description.  Cecil (and I) encourage you to go and read Paul’s qualifications for an elder in 1 Timothy and Titus and see what might change if you read it like the first example instead of the second.
Inconsistency is when we don’t apply the same rules to similar cases.  The example that Cecil gives is that we ignore the fact that Paul wanted women to wear head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11 due to cultural differences but make women be silent according to 1 Corinthians 14 although culture has definetly changed in regards to this.
Scholasticism (or Backwards Theology) is reading our present day back into Scripture.  Cecil’s example has to do with treating Sunday as a holy day.  The churches of Christ have traditionally said Sunday was the only day you could take Communion (Acts 20:7) and give to the congregation (1 Corinthians 16:2).  Both of these are cases of Backwards Theology.  Luke never says that the meeting in Acts 20 was a regular meeting that ever happened more than at that one time and more importantly never says anything about Sunday being a special day for Christian meetings.  The Bible never says anything about this.  In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul is taking a special collection due to a Jewish famine and never even says that this practice is supposed to continue (he also does not give a reason why he chose the first day of the week).  The Bible never gives Sunday more than a passing mention and never makes it a holy day.
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Written by freeinchrist

April 27, 2010 at 8:00 am

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