Unmasking Legalism (part 2)


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8. Do people even read the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy anymore? I don't know if you have ever heard this one or not but it is certainly a common sentiment in Adventist legalism. While it is true that many people abandon the word of God to pursue their own agendas it is also true that people often experience different convictions regarding what the Bible and Ellen White say. For example, SDA's have been historically divided over the issue of the wedding band. Historically Adventists saw it as jewelry and maintained that the Bible instructed Christians not to wear jewelry. In addition, Ellen White had spoken against the use of the wedding ring as well. However, many honest and sincere Adventists have come to different convictions on the matter. For example, while it is possible to say the Bible is against ornamental jewelry (jewelry used for the purpose of adornment) it is not possible to say the Bible is against functional jewelry (jewelry used for a practical purpose such as a watch, wedding band etc.) In addition, Ellen Whites rejection of the wedding band was more related to issues of stewardship and not due to the custom itself. The reason for sharing this is to show that it is possible for people to read both the Bible and Ellen White and come to different convictions on certain matters. As a result, we should avoid judging whether other people read their Bibles or not simply because they share different convictions. As characteristic number 8 stated, "salvation doesn't have to be my way." In the absolutes there must be unity, but in the non-absolutes freedom is key. Those of this persuasion may never say we are saved by works but their judgmental attitude toward those whose convictions differ from theirs shows that they are legalistic.

9. I don't care who I offend, I speak the straight testimony and whoever doesn't like it, too  bad! Christians should always stand for the truth and for their convictions. At times we need to be firm. This much is true. However, a common characteristic of legalism is a lack of mercy and patience with those who are weak or new in the faith. As a result, legalists show little tact when speaking on controversial issues. Their main interest is to say the truth and to say it bluntly (since no one else is doing it) but they fail to realize that truth is not some biblical fact or standard but Jesus himself. When we lead others to Jesus we lead them to truth. Legalists, however, are not interested in leading others to Jesus but in forcing them to comply with the "standards" as they understand them. "Saved by works" may not be their motto but their lack of patience for those who are not as "spiritual" as they are shows that their hearts are vacant of true Christlike love.

10. Even though no one else seems to be doing it, I am going to raise my children to uphold the standards of the pioneers. This is classing "historic Adventist legalism." This idea claims that historic Adventists where the really holy Adventists and that the rest of us fall way short. As a result, those of this persuasion try to pattern their lives after the pioneers. This group is huge on "Ellen White said" and often demonizes modern culture. Many of them even talk like Ellen White, using words, phrases, and syntax that died in the 1900's. Often times the women dress as though they just stepped out of the 1800's and the men dress as though they were on the PGA tour. Somehow this idea proposes that long out-of-style-dresses, polo-shirts, and khaki pants are more pleasing to God than jeans and t-shirts. While Christians should always be modest in their dress, this concept forces its adherent to adopt their grandparents wardrobe in an attempt to be "holier." Anyone who does not do likewise is viewed as immodest and backslidden. This concept fails to show that 1) the pioneers dressed like everyone else in their day, 2) were not saints, 3) are not our standard of spirituality (Jesus is) and, 4) its OK to talk, look, and dress modern. While those of this mindset would never say we are saved by works their fascination with the "standards of old" as the only way show faithfulness proves otherwise.

11. Elitism. This characteristic of legalism maintains that Gods remnant church is greater than any other church around. As a result, Gods remnant should not stoop so low as to read, listen to, interact with (unless proselytizing), and learn from Christians of other denominations. In addition, this group often has their own set of Adventist celebrities whom are revered. As a result, even Adventist ministers outside of this group should be avoided. In other words, this group views themselves much like the Pharisees viewed themselves in Jesus' day - as elite [spiritually supreme to everyone else]. While this ideology does not preach salvation by works, it demands that its adherents view themselves as better than everyone outside of their group. Pride, the root of legalism, is the result. 

12. Ministers only care about numbers and preach wishy washy sermons. This one is actually true. There are many ministers who only care about numbers and, in an attempt to appeal to the masses, preach wishy washy sermons that won't "scare" anyone away (they can't scare them away or else they will lose a "number"). However, a classic symptom of legalism is to label all ministers that way and to label all sermons that don't step on peoples toes, offend anyone, or exalt the "standard" as wishy washy. Much like characteristic number 6, this one is very anti-gospel. The difference is this characteristic is more focused on labeling all ministers who preach Gods love and grace as wishy washy teddy bear preachers who only care about getting more people to join their church. As a result, preachers who are not like this at all get labeled as such and a spirit of distrust in any preacher who focuses on Gods love ensues. This thought pattern also breeds a high amount of criticism, complaining, and elitism. Its proponents may give lip service to salvation by grace through faith but their focus betrays their profession. 

13. Sin is viewed as simply or primarily behavioral. This concept is one of the roots of legalism. Like the Pharisees of old, this group views sin in a very limited way - behavior. Thus, sin is lying, stealing, and adultery. However, it doesn't stop there. Sin is also eating cheese, listening to a song with a drum beat, wearing a bit of make up and so on and so forth. While it is indeed a sin to lie and steal when a person has a behavioral definition of sin the religious experience becomes defined by how to avoid bad behavior. The reason why is because, logically speaking, if sin is bad behavior then righteousness is good behavior. Those under the bondage of this concept are constantly worrying if they are sinning and look upon innocent activities as possibly sinful. They are always anxious, or perhaps interested, in discovering what other "sin" they are unwittingly committing. The grand object of life thus becomes a focus on perfecting behavior and performance. However, when we realize that sin is not simply a behavior but it is what we are, then we realize that righteousness is not doing the right thing all the time but having a new identity. This new identity, according to the Bible, can only be received by those who believe in Jesus. Thus, a person who believes in Jesus is covered by the identity of Jesus. Jesus life now stands in place of the sinner and the sinner is considered perfectly righteous because of the life of Jesus. Sin is also an issue of the heart. Our hearts are sinful, thus righteousness is not about performing better but about receiving a new heart that loves to obey God. Those who are persuaded that sin is simply a behavioral problem would probably refer to this teaching as "new theology" - a heresy to be rejected by the faithful. However, if this is "new theology," then as George Knight said in his book Sin and Salvation, "it is the new theology of the sermon on the mount." While the tradition of salvation by grace is strong enough to influence the language of those who adopt this view, their definition of sin as merely or primarily a behavioral matter of the will sets them up for an obsession with behavior that will undoubtedly climax in either spiritual pride or spiritual burnout. 

14. God saves us from not in sin. I want to be very careful here because this is a view that is held by many who are not legalists at all including myself. However, there are two different ways of interpreting this statement. One is gospel centered and the other is legalistic. The gospel centered view means that God does not give us salvation as a license to sin. That is all. The legalistic version means while we may believe in Jesus we still need to attain sinless perfection in order to be saved at last. Those who hold onto this view never experience the joy and rest of assurance. They always feel as though there is something left to do in order to secure salvation. Many times, those who propose this view also propose the light switch version of the gospel. This heresy teaches that every time a Christian sins he/she loses their salvation until they repent and confess. The end result of such a teaching is often psychological trauma. While this group may never blatantly say that they are saved by works their theology teaches that we keep our salvation by our works. It is legalism in disguise.

Further Reading:

Unmasking Legalism (part 2) Unmasking Legalism (part 2) Reviewed by Pastor Marcos on September 04, 2013 Rating: 5

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