Free In Christ

Finding Freedom in the Churches of Christ

Posts Tagged ‘legalism

Legalism: When Love Just Isn’t Good Enough

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I’ve recently been thinking along these lines:

Isn’t legalism just a way of saying that loving God and others just isn’t good enough.

Let me explain.  In most cases we all know what the right thing to do is.  It is written in our hearts.  We all know that using an instrument is not wrong, we know that women can speak in church, we know that we shouldn’t be mean to homosexuals, we all know there shouldn’t be any wars, and we all know loads of other things that we use legalism to justify ignoring.  We use the Bible to justify doing what we know to be wrong but want to be right.

I guess some people want to limit the bounds of the family of God.  They want women to be subservient.  They want to hate homosexuals (and anyone else who doesn’t fit their definition of “normal”), they want to justify hating and killing their enemies and want to justify many other things as well.

Its a terrible shame when biblical interpretation is used to justify things that the Lord Jesus Christ would never approve of.

You can have your bible religion if you want it, but I want to follow Christ.  We all know what is right because it is written on our hearts.  Just had to get that off my chest

Written by freeinchrist

May 17, 2010 at 8:00 am

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From The Archives: Sabbath, My Favorite Commandment

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[This post is from June 14,2009 and it is about how we need to incorporate rest into our daily lives.  This is one of my favorite posts.]

To start (and if you’ve read this blog at all you will know this), I don’t believe that we have to keep the Law of Moses as Christians today but there is one law that I have found myself in the habit of keeping:  Sabbath.

The only thing that I was taught growing up about Sabbath was that we didn’t keep it anymore but there is really so much more.  We really need to be teaching Christians about Sabbath, we need it.  In the crazy, run-around world that is American culture, we need to take a break and I have found myself doing this about once a week (usually Thursday though since I work on Saturday…i didn’t even write this post on my Sabbath).

We shouldn’t be forcing people to do it or guilting them into it (which is really two sides of the same coin) but we really should be encouraging it.  I know some people see Sunday as a kind of Christian Sabbath but it doesn’t really work as one (and its incorrect theology).  God didn’t design the Sabbath as a day of “worship” but as a day of rest.  I don’t do anything on this day besides things that I actually want to do.  I don’t do any shopping and I don’t go to the post-office. I don’t visit relatives or keep any meetings.  I don’t pay bills or do any housework.  I let the world stay as it is for one day and really this is the Spiritual lesson of Sabbath:  God can run the world just fine on His own.

Although I believe that God wants me to love Him and others as much as I possibly can (and that He has a plan/mission for my life), Sabbath reminds me that it isn’t my job to save the world.  I can’t fix everything.  I can’t control others (I have enough trouble controlling myself). I must let some things be.  I can take a deep breath and realize that the world is in God’s hands.  I should stop worrying and start trusting.  God’s plan will work out.  God’s way will win.

But my first rule of Sabbath: NO CHURCH!!!!  Trust me, its work.  God didn’t put “church” into the Sabbath; the Jews did. They decided that they should go to the Synagogue on the Sabbath but God never said so.  Going to church is such a laborous task for me that I couldn’t even try to convince myself (or God) that it wasn’t work.  Even in the best churches, mutual edification, bearing one another’s burdens, participating in the mission of God, are all hard work.  Actually, the best churches are the ones that do this hard work.

I just wanted to encourage you today to take a break and rest.  It is one of God’s gifts to us.  We should use it.

One of God’s greatest gifts has basically been ignored by a bunch of legalists so that they don’t look like they are keeping a law.  Silly, isn’t it.

Written by freeinchrist

April 29, 2010 at 8:00 am

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.

Written by freeinchrist

April 27, 2010 at 8:00 am

Free In Christ: The Exercise Of Christian Liberty

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In this chapter of Cecil Hook’s “Free In Christ”, Cecil tackles six things that are very important in understanding our freedom in Christ.  Having already established that freedom in the preceding chapters, it is now time to deal with some things that would logically come up as we try to put that freedom into practice.

The first thing is:  Can amoral things and actions be sinful?  This comes up because with freedom we must decide which things are good for us and which are bad.  Under Law, these things were defined for us but now we must use what we know about God to make moral decisions for ourselves.

Cecil explains it like this:

“Our purity or defilement is not determined by what we see, hear, taste, our touch, but by our motive for seeing, hearing, tasting, and touching. Jesus explained that man is defiled by his thoughts rather than by what he eats (Matt. 15:1-20). Defilement is not in certain actions and things, but in improper use of and attitude toward those actions and things. Actions and things, generally speaking, are amoral. They have no inherent moral value. Is not this the point that Paul would impress upon us? “I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for any one who thinks it unclean.…for the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:14-17). Our purity of thought or defilement of purpose determines whether a thing is moral or immoral. Sin is not in things, but in people — in the heart. This is what Paul expressed when he wrote, “To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure; their very minds and consciences are corrupted” (Titus 1:15).

This is absolutely correct.  Things themselves are not sinful, it is people that are sinful.  What Cecil is getting at here is that an action can be right for one person and wrong for another based on their motive. Cecil gives many examples like a person using narcotics for medical purposes vs. the person using them for recreational purposes or a person becoming a preacher to boost their own ego vs. someone preaching to help others.  In both cases, the action is the same but only one person is sinful in each case.  We need to realize that it isn’t the action or thing that makes something sinful, it is the heart.

Next, Cecil gives some things limiting liberty in amoral things.  I will just post what Cecil wrote on this because it is only one paragraph.

“When a new kind of case is tried in the courts, it becomes a test case. The decision rendered toward it is used to judge all other cases which involve a like principle. There are two test cases in the Scriptures regarding Christian liberty. These both involve amoral things — the eating of food and circumcision. The verdict in regard to the eating of meats demands (1) that a Christian surrender his liberties if they put a fellow disciple in jeopardy, and (2) that his liberty be exercised with self-control. In regard to circumcision, the verdict forbids us to bind our scruples on others so as to limit their Christian liberty. These verdicts can be applied to everything which is of like principle today. (Read 1 Cor. 6, 8, 10; Rom. 14; all of Galatians; Acts 15).

Two great rules for governing our own liberty.  1.  Don’t practice your liberty in a way that will hurt someone else. 2. We are not allowed to limit another Christian’s liberty.  These are very important.

The next thing:  Our liberty is limited by self-control.  Cecil explains it like this:

“Man must never be brought under the control of amoral things. “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything. ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’ and God will destroy both one and the other” (1 Cor. 6:12-13). Paul is saying, “God has created the body with its appetites, cravings, and desires, and at the same time God created good things to satisfy the desires; let the desires be fulfilled in moderation and self-control, not slavishly being ruled by the desires.” Both the appetite and the meat to satisfy are amoral. They have no special significance before God. “But food will not commend us to God; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the better” (1 Cor. 8:8). Applying this principle to all instincts, desires, drives, or cravings given by God, we see that none are evil within themselves.

Realizing that our hearts make something good or bad takes the legalism out of the faith.  If our hearts are right then so are our actions.  If our hearts are wrong, so are our actions.  It is as simple as that.

The next thing:  Our liberty is limited by charitable regard for others.  Back to Cecil:

“Love would constrain a disciple to surrender his liberty in amoral things if they prove to be destructive to a brother. “All things are lawful for me; but not all things are helpful” (1 Cor 6:12; 10:23). “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for any one to make others fall by what he eats; it is right not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother stumble” (Rom. 14:20-21). Urging that we be above blame in exercising our liberties, Paul exhorts, “So do not let what is good to you be spoken of as evil” (Rom. 14:16). “Happy is he who has no reason to judge himself for what he approves” (Rom. 14:22). Freedom must not destroy others.

We are free to practice our freedom as long as it doesn’t hurt another Christian.  This should be the way that we want it because we should love our brethren more than our freedom.  If we love freedom more than we have truly missed the point of Christianity.

The next thing: liberty of others must be respected

We need to leave other Christians alone and not bother them about doing what they think is right.  Although I do not believe the church of Christ view of instrumental music, I don’t go into the building on Sunday morning with my guitar and interrupt the service.  It would be I who would be of wrong heart.  The people are worshiping with their hearts and what they are doing is appropriate as long as their hearts are appropriate.  I also don’t agree with other congregational (outside the church of Christ) practices but I do not try to stop them either.  These practices are right as long as the heart behind them is right.  Even if the practice came from an impure place, it may have become pure through new usage.  Even if the idea is doctrinally incorrect, the heart can make the practice right even if it was once wrong.  It is only matters of the heart that I would truly concern myself with when it comes to trying to change a person’s practice (I would however suggest different practices if I thought they would benefit a fellow Christian but would not stop a practice because it wasn’t approved under a supposed pattern)

The last thing:  evil displayed with the good.  I’ll let Cecil explain this one

“Must a thing be shunned because evil is displayed with the good? Again, purity of purpose determines the case. Only the good will be sought by the pure in heart. But evil is everywhere. In one form or another it is presented in the newspaper, on the radio, on television, in movies, in fiction, in history, in the Bible, in the school, in places of business, on the job, at the game, in the church, and in the home. In all of these things our purpose is to accept the good while holding misgivings toward the evils incidental to the good. The desirable rose has thorns incidental to it. Although the thorns are detested, we do not let them prohibit enjoyment of the rose. In enjoying the rose, we learn to avoid the prick of the thorn. So the presence of that which is undesirable does not eliminate our liberty to enjoy that which is good.

Written by freeinchrist

April 1, 2010 at 8:00 am

Free In Christ: Law and Principle

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“Why do we have so many commands and directives from God?  Does He have some kind of divinely selfish interest that is fulfilled by His burdening us with requirements and restrictions? Does He have an ego problem which would cause Him to demand, “You people on earth, I command you to sing praises to me”?
This is how Cecil Hook started the second chapter of “Free In Christ” (Available Here) and it will say a lot about how he proceeds through the book.  So, is any of this true?  Does God have some kind of ego problem that makes Him need us to praise Him?  I had never really thought of it that way before reading the book, but immediately so much of what we do in the church of Christ seemed quite strange to me.  Is this how it hits you?
Hook goes on to write “Law must originate from authority in order to have validity; yet just laws are not arbitrary
expressions of authority.”  Here, he is saying that laws must originate from authority (God, in this case) but are not just meaningless expressions of authority.  I was often told growing up that we had to do something because “God said so”. Cecil is saying that that isn’t a good enough reason and I agree with him.  Before we do something, we need to know why we are doing it and should have a reason to give others when they ask.
Cecil calls this reason a law’s “principle”.  This is the reason that the law was given in the first place.  For example, a speed limit (law) is given for the purpose (principle) of safety.  Murder is wrong (law) because a life is sacred (principle) and you could go on and on.
Next Cecil Hook lays down what I would call “The Sabbath Principle” when knowing how to obey commands (if you are supposed to).  He uses Jesus’ healing of a man on the Sabbath to illustrate that a law is sometimes to be broken because its principle is no longer valid.  The purpose of the Sabbath was to give rest to the creation but the man was hurting on the Sabbath; this just isn’t right.  It is more Godly in this case for Jesus to break the Sabbath law than to keep it.  If He kept it, He would have to ignore a hurting person (a part of the creation) and that would defeat the entire purpose.  The point is:  We keep the purpose of the command over the command itself.  If the purpose is violated by keeping the command than we don’t keep it.
Cecil then goes on to apply this to our local assemblies:
God wants us to gather for mutual edification (1 Cor. 14:26). In assemblies, we pray for each other, teach each other, teach and admonish one another in singing, give to help each other, and proclaim the atonement to each other. But in too many cases the thing stressed is the importance of assembling in response to a command rather than fulfilling the purposes God had in mind.
He’s totally right here.  Instead of gathering to encourage each other we have gathered to keep a pattern and have missed the point of the whole thing.
EXAMPLES
Next, Cecil goes after the “Example” part of the CENI hermeneutic.  This may sound familiar because I took a very similar approach when dealing with it in my book series.  Hook starts off by using a little test:
Which of these nine examples of details concerning the Lord’s Supper are binding? It was eaten (1) at night, (2) upstairs, (3) in midweek, (4) during another meal, (5) with no women present, and there was (6) one loaf, (7) of unleavened bread and, (8) one cup, (9) of Passover wine which could not have been fresh grape juice at that season. Which exemplified details are binding?
This is really a great test because we do not practice every detail but we want to argue for some of them (but we have no reason that one is necessary and the others are not).  Cecil concludes (as do I) that no examples are binding.  An example is just a way that something can be done, it is not the way that something has to be done.
Cecil ends the chapter by asking his readers to not dismiss him for “…exposing our intellectually dishonest use of fallacious arguments to support claims to legal righteousness”.  That’s it in a nutshell.  Chapter 2 is about the law of Christ and we will go there in the next post.

Written by freeinchrist

March 18, 2010 at 8:00 am

Free In Christ: Introduction

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So, why would a blog called “Free in Christ” do a series called “Free in Christ”?  This blog gets its name from a book that came out in 1984 (the year of my birth by the way) by Cecil Hook (pictured) called “Free in Christ”.  I have never specifically blogged about this book but I would like to take a look at it as one who was changed more by this book than I probably could even tell you.  Cecil Hook passed away in 2007 and I usually wouldn’t review a book by someone who couldn’t defend themselves but there really is no reason to worry about that.  I love this book and I have no problem telling you that from the very beginning.  This book has changed so many lives and still continues to change them.  This book is still available at no cost in both print forms and in PDF at http://www.freedomsring.org (I would love to know how he shipped all of those books for free).  Cecil’s family still sends the books to those who request them and they are all very good.

I first read this book back in 2006 when I was first starting to question the traditional teachings of the church of Christ. These books helped me tremendously.  I really got lucky in finding them because I just googled “church of Christ legalism” and this site immediately popped up.  I had never heard of Cecil Hook (or people like Leroy Garrett and Carl Ketcherside) and had never really been told that there were people in the churches of Christ with views similar to mine. Yes, I had heard some rumblings about Max Lucado (wasn’t really into his books though) and Rubel Shelly (my dad used to read him so I thought he was older than he actually is and wasn’t interested…sorry Rubel [if you ever read this]) but was not too familiar with either.

When I started looking around the website, I was immediately hooked.  I just had to read everything that this man had written and I did.  I spent hours reading articles that went all the way from the 1980’s to 2006 (which were a LOT of articles) and was nothing but impressed with what I read.  It was very encouraging that a man old enough to be my grandfather believed many of the same things that I did.  This gave me assurance that my beliefs were not some childish idealism or a sign of my immaturity.  If a man who was born in 1918 could have these beliefs then maybe they were right after all.

Cecil Hook also helped me find other church of Christ authors who felt the same way.  One of his books “Our Heritage of Unity and Fellowship” contained articles by Leroy Garrett and Carl Ketcherside.  I loved reading them (but I must say that I loved Garrett while being a little bored by Ketcherside) and have sense read all of the material that Leroy Garrett has written that is available online (Leroy Garrett’s Website).  I think it was also he that told me about K.C. Moser but I cannot remember.

The point, I am about to teach from a book (and maybe the whole series) that was pivotal in who I’ve become today.  If you are starting to question the teachings of the church of Christ, you absolutely must read Hook.

Written by freeinchrist

March 8, 2010 at 8:00 am

Figuring Out What This Blog Is

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I feel like I really don’t even know what this blog is. It kinda jumps from being about life outside of a local church to being about issues within the churches of Christ (in which I was raised and am still somewhat involved). You see, it just keeps pulling me back. Sometimes I just want to throw off my heritage in the church of Christ and just forget about it, but the people keep pulling me back in. It’s a part of me and I can’t let it go.

I really feel like there is some things I still need to say to it (although I know that not all of my readers [which are few] are part of the coc] but that there are some things that just apply to the fact that I am a Christian. I hope that all of the coc articles recently haven’t deterred anyone from reading the site because there are probably more to come.

As I’ve mentioned before this blog was named “free in Christ” in honor of a man whose writings helped me to escape legalism and find grace. His name was Cecil Hook (and although I never got the privilege to meet him) and he spoke the gospel of grace in the language that I was able to understand being from the church of Christ tradition.

I almost see this as a personal mission of mine as well. There are many people in the churches of Christ today that are craving freedom but there aren’t enough people out there speaking the message of freedom in Christ in the church of Christ language. It really is different. I had heard these things before but they never rang true until I heard them from Cecil Hook and he directed me to others through his website Freedom’s Ring and through his books (all of which are still available free on the website).

I would feel the same way if I spoke some regional dialect of a far-off country. I would feel compelled to go to that country and talk to them about Jesus. The same is true with me. I speak a Christian dialect that is only familiar to those in churches of Christ and I must speak to them in whatever ways possible about the freedom that is available in Christ. Some may not think it is worth the struggle to try to speak freedom where it isn’t generally accepted but I’m glad that some courageous people in churches of Christ have spoken up and helped me see what has always been true.

I guess I’m still finding out what this blog is but I think it will become more about promoting new ideas in the churches of Christ than in ever has been before. It’s strange how things go full circle. When I started this blog over a year ago I was only writing about church of Christ stuff and then went totally away from it in writing about organic church and now I’m back where I started. Oh well. I’m sure the journey has been worth it. I have no clue what I’m going to write (although I would still expect some critiques of religion and general Christian things). Let’s see…..

Written by freeinchrist

February 12, 2010 at 8:00 am