Sunday, March 31, 2013

Legalism and the Tyranny of Outward Appearance

As bad as legalism is - the adding of extra-biblical rules to either define sin and righteousness or to add requirements to salvation - the extra emphasis placed on outward appearances as part of that legalism is much worse.  A church can teach no drinking, no smoking, no dancing or no going to movies in its legalism and produce some self-righteous people, but when it teaches to refrain from making any outward appearances that reflect any of these things in the way we live, dress or move to a new apartment, it can create some pretty hard core Pharisees with very toxic doctrine.

I've had the misfortune of attending several churches where a heavy emphasis was placed not only on do/don't rules, but on outward appearance.  Or maybe it was fortunate in a way because now I know how to notice those things and avoid them, and tell others.

One of the verses often twisted out of its true meaning is 1 Thessalonians 5:22, "Abstain from all appearance of evil." KJV  I'll give an example of how this is used with relation to drinking, smoking and moving to a new apartment.  Back in the day before either self-storage or cardboard recycling became popular, when people had to move the best source of cardboard boxes to pack one's belongings was the grocery store. So, we'd go to the store and ask for boxes, and the stores were more than willing to give the boxes away because that relieved them of breaking all the boxes down and placing them in the garbage dumpsters.  Many of the boxes were empty cases that originally contained alcohol and cigarettes.  So when you moved, those boxes were visible to those who helped you move or to bystanders in your new and old neighborhoods.  By using a Marlboro or Budweiser box to move, the outward appearance driven legalists would claim that you were giving an "appearance" of evil, even though anybody with half a brain could deduce that you were merely using discarded cardboard boxes to move.  It simply didn't matter.  This placed a heavy burden on anybody when moving, because they had to take extra care to pick and choose wisely which boxes to use.

Another personal example is in driving expensive cars as giving an appearance of evil of spending lots of money on vanity and ego when you could drive a modest car and give the rest of the money to print gospel tracts or similar spiritual things.  My brother has spent his entire career in the auto service/repair field.  The shops have great policies for family members of employees, namely that repairs are performed "at cost."  Our m.o. was to have me swap cars with him in the evening, and he would drive my car to work the next day, have it fixed, and swap back that evening.  Well, one time my brother got a great deal on a used BMW 5-series car, and I needed a repair that could only be performed over the weekend.  So we swapped cars...and it dawned on me that I had to drive to church on Sunday!  In a BMW!  The Pharisees would certainly notice my display of vanity (it would be assumed until proven otherwise that I was acting quite worldly), and I was trying to figure out how to park several blocks away without anybody noticing, etc.

Every area of life imaginable was subject to the outward appearance nazis, and they certainly made their fair share of comments about anything you could imagine.  They also made their fair share of judgments about people in their hearts without ever saying anything, thus condemning others without anybody (except God, hahaha) knowing about it.  I should know, I was taught to be such a person, and it wasn't until later that God was merciful in showing me the tyranny of this way of thinking and living.  Your rich uncle buys you a pair of designer sunglasses (costing nothing to you)?  Tough, you're putting worldliness on display.  Being thankful to God and your rich uncle for providing a helpful item at no cost, is, well frowned upon becuase of the outward appearance. 

People subject to this type of legalism can be spiritually crippled for a long time, even eternally.  We shoud instead learn from Jesus when he says, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” John 7:24.

Monday, March 25, 2013

News Flash: I'm Not the Chief of Sinners

...and neither are you.

This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.  Apostle Paul - 1 Timothy 1:15 KJV

It is easy to think that we are to view ourselves as the chief sinner.  Many have taken this verse as a recommendation from Paul to do so.  We should be at the point of seeing our sin so much more than we see the sin of others, that we can make this statement: "I am the chief of sinners."  But should this be our attitude?

It may speak of our piety; but it may equally - or more so - speak of our pietism.  Some people seem to boast in how great of sinners they are.  Should this be the case?  There's a reason Paul speaks of himself as the chief of sinners, and it's not so that we will think the same of ourselves.  It is because he really was the chief of sinners.  After all, he pursued the church, dragging people from their very homes into prison and to death in order to destroy the Christian church.  He was the most violent persecutor of Christ's body there was.

Me?  Well, although I am a sinner, I haven't done the things he did.  And you haven't, either.  On the flip side of the coin, I'm not quite the zealous apostle he was after his conversion.  And neither are you.  God turned the worst of men into the best of servants in his kingdom.  There is no fault in realizing that some people are worse sinners than we are, and some people are better saints than we are.  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I fall somewhere in the middle.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Five Pint Stoutist

What do you get when you cross a religious holiday, religious humor, the official drink of the religious holiday, a bacon shortage, and another reason for Calvinists to act like Calvinists?  You get the Five Pint Stoutist.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Elders Behaving Badly (2): How To Deal With Them

Continuing with the topic of spiritual abuse by church leaders, I came across a post by Gene Redlin regarding how to deal with those who mislead.  Here, Gene lists some scriptural direction for the believer:

TEST THEM: Believe not every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they be of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world. (I John 4: 1)

MARK AND AVOID THEM: Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. (Rom. 16:17)

REBUKE THEM: Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith. (Titus 1: 13)

HAVE NO FELLOWSHIP WITH THEM: Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (Ephesians 5:11)

WITHDRAW FROM THEM: We command you, brethren, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which ye received of us. (II Thes. 3:6)

TURN AWAY FROM THEM: Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Timothy 3:5)

SEPARATE FROM THEM: Come out from among them, and be ye separate and touch no the unclean thing. (II Cor. 6:17)

Although not every context of these passages deal specifically with those who lead, there doesn't seem to be any prohibition from applying them to church leaders.  I think I've done each of these in relation to church leaders.