Category Archives: Legalism

The Destructive Doctrine of Distinctives

Whether based on family and denominational traditions or biblically convinced applications and matters of conscience, everyone develops  preferences when it comes to how they practice their faith. Some utilize a more regulative principle in their decision making while others exercise a more normative principle, yet in the end they share the same result – their distinctive is their preference and as such they are not mandated by the Word of God.  It is a noteworthy peculiarity that the Scriptures do not give us a large set of rules when it comes to things such as worship style, service times, length of corporate worship, pastoral garb, nurseries, youth groups, or women’s bible fellowships not to mention small group meetings or even Sunday school for that matter.  Instead what we are given are over fifty one another commands, passages to glean principle, and historical descriptions of the primitive church.

Recently, it came back to my attention that there are some believers who have made the family a type of mini-fellowship.  In fact, they make the family its own church with the father being the pastor and this mini-body takes precedence over and above the corporate family found in the local assembly.

We’ve had such families in our church over the past decade but they don’t stay around for very long. In all of the cases we’ve seen, the parents fall victim to a myopic view of church under the label of family-integrated fellowship and become infected by a strange view of hyper-patriarchy and super-protectionism that only serves to close out relationships and cause division. This can vary by degree of course, but usually it is full-on fundamentalism with legalistic wings. Distinctive preferences becoming law.

It has been my experience that there is little that can be done for those who have been convinced of a certain distinctive practice and who have made it a doctrine. In the end, those who hold to distinctives like ‘dad must exclusively teach the children’ or ‘there can’t be instrument X in our worship service’ or ‘insert whatever non-prescribed preference here’ have no tolerance for anyone else’s view.  Their rule is dad’s rule and whether they realize it or not, they have already undermined the God-given authority of the elders in the local assembly.  This is the divisiveness of legalism that creeps into a fellowship usually through well-intentioned homeschoolers by way of teachers such as Bill Gothard and Vision Forum advocates. (For the record, we homeschool our four children and have found many good things in Vision Forum’s materials, but we find little use for Gothard’s work even if some may be able to point to a few good things in it)

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.Ephesians 4:1-3

I have yet to meet someone who makes their distinctives doctrinal that can stay within a church that doesn’t agree with their preferences. Inevitably they become separatists.  The irony is that while they claim to be family-integrated they don’t integrate their families very well outside of their cliques. (Usually because everyone who doesn’t agree with them is either ‘in sin‘ or has fallen victim to a ‘worldly church‘ or is just not as pious and holy. The exuding attitude is one of ‘you have yet to arrive in your walk with God’ hence they give the impression of spiritual arrogance) I have never in fifteen years seen them stay, talk sufficiently to the leadership about their differences, have meaningful discussions, and sharpen iron.  Instead the modus operandi is to make nice, smile, talk privately to other families in the congregation, make accusations towards the leadership, and then hit the road usually taking a few gullible folks with them.  It is not so much the content of their disagreements that creates the malady as much as it is the silence.

As a friend once said, “It is hard to address with them effectively as a minister once they have bought the entire package.” Sadly, I agree with his assessment.  The best one can do is to continue to treat them with all charity, explain the church’s position when they do speak about their differences and pray for unity.

I don’t write this to send missiles into any one camp; I write it sincerely as a minister who has seen good people get caught up in what I consider to be Pharisaical practices that certainly send out more heat than light and only serve to destroy rather than to build.  It seems that too often, we are either fabricating heart idols, handing out free-sin passes in our liberty, or inventing new regulations for our brethren to follow.  May it never be!

I pray that our hearts will be ever so wide as to embrace our diverse faith practices in obedience to our command to love one another even in our weaknesses and that we learn to live in the fullness of Christ’s charity with dignity and deference towards each man’s conscience.

From Contraband to Teaching Tool

This blog entry comes from an article that I wrote at the request of my friend Brent Thomas who pastors a church in Texas. His blog is topnotch and if you haven’t been to it you need to visit.

I was raised in a moral home, high on religiosity and regulation, but low on gospel. In that traditionally Catholic meadow my musical foundations were developed around a monolithic console stereo with a turntable and an eight-track tape player that belted out everything from Carole King and Stevie Wonder to Janis Joplin and Elvis. I can remember sitting on the shag carpet in my add-on den in the suburbs of New Orleans with my back leaning up against the vibrating speakers imagining myself playing in the band and becoming enamored with what I would later find out is called “the groove”.

Years later I would learn to play percussion taking up the drum kit as my mainstay and forming a local band called Fresh Young Minds which became highly popular in the early 90’s around the New Orleans music scene. God converted me during that time translating me from a bitter atheist into a green believer and I no longer pursued music as a profession; however, my love of music has never died. After battling rabid non-beat Gothardites and a stint with radical fundamentalism whereby I almost literally burned about seventy-eight CDs that were not “Christian” enough, I landed in a confused marshland not sure of what to listen to or whether I could even listen to anything at all without feeling guilty or overwhelmed by hyper-analysis.

Fast-forward to the present: I have a wife and four daughters, over a decade in the faith, pastor a local church, and have found a new love for music. I had gotten burned out on the CCM rotations after they seemed to me to be generating more cheese than gold. At some point I also did not believe that I could stomach yet another love song to Jesus that sounded like a sensual ballad from the star struck to lovelorn. And so I began to uncover my old discs and listened to forbidden rock fruits and nibbled on jazz-ensembled nectar and asked myself exactly why it was that I almost burned all of this creativity?

For the first time I saw these songs as gifts rather than enemies. Sure, some were rotten but I quickly found out that even the rotten fruits were good in that they taught me how to think through the volatile topic of music biblically and became examples that I could use in teaching the proper use vs. the improper use of creative talent. I began for the first time to see that I didn’t have to throw the baby out with the proverbial bathwater as it were and could instead take each song on its own merit to see if it had any redeemable qualities. Suddenly my musical acumen was not about castigating an entire musical genre but in taking the opportunity and time to listen, analyze, and learn. Later, I would see the tremendous benefit in applying this approach to my children and their schooling.

I found a great sale on refurbished mp3 players and bought three of them; one for me and one for each of my oldest daughters who are ten and twelve. I loaded our players with a variety of songs and tunes including two albums by Anathallo, some Thelonious Monk, the White Stripes, and a few Verdi arias. Their assignment was to listen to the songs and be ready to discuss them with me. They were armed with notepads and pencils as we sat down in our den listening to a few tunes from the selection on our Bose acoustic wave machine. We discussed dissonance and syncopation and crescendos and dynamics and tone and timbre and harmony and bass and counterpoint and rhythm; every aspect of appreciation. I gave them print outs of the song lyrics and we combed over them biblically to see if their subject and message melded or conflicted with Scripture and we talked more about chord structures and arrangements and whether they even liked the songs at all.

What I discovered is that instead of making a long list of musical do’s and don’ts and tabooed types, we should see music as a tool: a tool to teach our children how to discern for themselves what is worthy of discovery and what is worthy of the trash heap. Far more productive conversations have come from this type of discussion and discourse than from me simply banning certain bands from our home.

Give your children the tools they need to figure things out for themselves and you’ve stimulating their minds to think biblically with a critical eye while equipping them for life. Simply ban, dodge, and restrict their choices and you’ll only end up stirring the flesh.

SBC. Pharisee? May It Never Be!

The Southern Baptist Convention has gone wonky. They passed Resolution No. 6 "On Alcohol Use in America" during their June assembly. This resolution saddens me greatly for it pushes the line of acceptability by coming full foot into the Pharisee’s camp. We should never seek to enforce our own restrictions on others where God has not spoken.Certainly we are free to make arguments based on principle and reason or wisdom and promote and defend them passionately and with great zeal; however, we cannot make our own laws. When we seek to speak where God has not and then attempt to 'legislate' that conviction we run the risk of hanging a stone tablet around the church's neck. Resolution No. 6 is a classic example of how one can leave the pages of Scripture and begin to make personal conviction a blasting juggernaut straight into the beauty of grace.

Here is the meat of the resolution and some comments.

Years of research confirm biblical warnings that alcohol use leads to physical, mental, and emotional damage (e.g., Proverbs 23:29-35)
What about the command in Proverbs 31:6 “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, And wine to him whose life is bitter.”?



Alcohol use has led to countless injuries and deaths on our nation's highways.
Throughout this SBC statement the premises are false. ‘Alcohol use’ is not what leads to physical and emotional damage or to the breakup of families or to a life of addiction. The ‘abuse of alcohol’ is the problem.

The breakup of families and homes can be directly and indirectly attributed to alcohol use by one or more members of a family
Again, the abuse of alcohol is the problem and is seen in many family breakdowns; however, so too is watching too much TV and overly career-minded moms, are they advocating a ban on television and working women next?

The use of alcohol as a recreational beverage has been shown to lead individuals down a path of addiction to alcohol and toward the use of other kinds of drugs, both legal and illegal
The SBC would toss the apostle Paul out of their Sunday school teaching position for advocating that Timothy have some wine for his stomach ailments. (1Timothy 5:23)

There are some religious leaders who are now advocating the consumption of alcoholic beverages based on a misinterpretation of the doctrine of "our freedom in Christ"
I don't know of anyone who advocates drinking alcohol in the church apart from what God says in His Word. I like what the Rev. Increase Mather once wrote, "Drink is in itself a good creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness, but the abuse of drink is from Satan; the wine is from God, but the Drunkard is from the Devil."

To not be able to differentiate between correct and righteous use of alcohol and an immoderate use or abuse of alcohol is unacceptable equivocation. God’s Word speaks of the good and righteous use of alcohol. The psalmist declares that wine makes man's heart glad (Ps. 104:14-15). Ecclesiastes 9:7 says, “…eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.” Clearly He approves of right use of alcoholic wine. It is His gift to us.

We also see that in Deuteronomy 14:24-26 God told Israel that if the distance was too great for them to bring their tithe, then they could convert it to money and buy anything they wanted whether oxen, sheep, wine, or strong drink and they were to eat and drink it in the presence of the Lord rejoicing in His glory!

The immoderate use of wine in particular is condemned in Scripture not the mere use of alcohol. Ephesians 5:18 says to “be not drunk with wine” and 1 Timothy 3:8 speaks of not being ‘addicted to wine’. Abuse of alcohol is a lack of self-control. It is the same sinful heart condition that will overeat. I noticed the absence of any resolution that deals openly with the sin of gluttony in the SBC. Southern Baptists almost make it a badge of honor to fix ‘big fixins’ and have large potluck dinners without any charge to watch their eating habits. If one chooses to adopt a use meter it would be good to equally apply the findings to all facets instead of just one.









Rabid Chihuahuas and Banana Peels

At times there is a certain zeal that encroaches upon believers that is misdirected for it forgets that liberty and the law of love must be wrapped around all that we do [1Cor. 13:1; Col. 2:16-17; James 2:12-13]. Some Christians become so engrossed in what they are convinced is a righteous pursuit of holiness that they inadvertently turn into rabid chihuahuas. They hold up adiaphora as law and bark precepts while chasing their tails for the application of such tight corridors is never consistent nor are their pathways prescribed by the Divine.

The result of such a misapplication is that they inevitably become hyper-contrarians who live angrily. Nothing ever meets their high mark and as a result they become cliquish, confined, cantankerous, contentious, closed, and condescendingly rude. The motive starts out well-intended and good but ends up on a banana peel. The sliping into Phariseeland awaits.

We should live with passion and conviction but we should also learn how to impart that zeal with godly moxie and Spirited fruit. I spent many years barking and growling about everything from tattoos and alcohol use to holidays and Disney’s decline. I know the drill well. However, we need to remember that persuasion to conviction about grace living should be done with Christ-likeness not a heavy hammer.

Embrace the essentials but where God doesn’t speak directly, exercise charity and gentleness not a spike to the skull.