Who Are You to Judge?: The Dangers of Judging and Legalism by Dave Swavely
Book Review by Byron Snapp
“It is wrong to send your children to public school.” Is it really? Mr. Swavely has chosen to educate his children by home school and Christian school methods. However, he is concerned that Christians address believers’ actions in terms of scripture and not in terms of personal preference. Numerous broad legalisms are explored in this practical volume.
In the opening pages, the author notes that such issues most often arise in the lives and words of committed Christians, not recent converts.
In I Corinthians 4:3-5 readers are challenged to carefully examine others’ motives cognizant that only God can see their hearts and their intents. We are not God and must not place ourselves in His position. Additionally, we tend to forget that we are fallen, and our reasoning is fallible. Even if we perfectly knew the intent, we would likely misinterpret actions from time to time.
There are times when we Christians need to make judgments regarding another’s actions. Where scripture speaks clearly, as to sinful behavior, so must we. The focus of this work is the times that we “play God” by interpreting the inner workings of another’s mind or heart. The helpful guidelines given allow us to examine our methodology of judging others.
As followers of Christ, we are tempted to usurp God by setting up our own commandments. They often far outnumber God’s Ten Commandments and have no legitimate scriptural support upon close examination. These new laws are justified only by twisting scriptures’ context. Such practices can quickly produce proud leaders, guilt-ridden followers, and church splits. External, extra-biblical rules become the basis for spirituality rather than the demolition of foundational heart issues such as pride.
A Recent Letter
"Dear Mr. Hurst,
"In the last two years I have gone from attending a rather typical Southern Baptist Church to now attending a home church. I attended along with several men from our church, the...conference and was convinced that much of what was being said was thoroughly biblical and needed in our church. After some time, there was a split from the Baptist church and a new home church was formed.
"However, despite my previous convictions, my theological studies have led me to severe concerns regarding the movement. I have seen a danger of overemphasizing the family in much of their teaching, as well as a neglect for the role of the church in the discipleship of families...
"Given this, I was quite excited when I found your site and have enjoyed thoroughly the articles posted there... I would like to express my profound appreciation for what you have done in this area..."
The Christians Are Getting A Divorce: A Parable on Church Schism
Prag and Prin Christian always seemed like the ideal couple with the perfect family. Sure, they had their squabbles, but for the most part, everyone at church considered their family to be as strong as any. The Christians had five children: twin sixteen year old boys named Uz and Buz, and three girls---Faith (12), Hope (10), and Charity (8). Each family member had different interests and personality, yet each was committed to the family, so that despite individuality there was a wonderful unity.
At least there was this unity until Prag started attending The Perfect Marriage Workshop on Thursday nights. Led by a gifted lady named Phar who was a little younger than Prag and Prin, she had been doing The Perfect Marriage Workshop for about five years. Prag attended the workshops alone since Prin was busy some evenings with homeschooling responsibilities for their younger three children.
The more Prag attended the workshops, the more he realized how his marriage was in trouble. He also realized it was Prin who needed to change, if ever things were going to be the way they were supposed to be. continue...
Inferences and Commandments Chalcedon Position Paper No. 158
The failure to distinguish between God's commandments and inferences made from them has, over the centuries, led to serious moral problems in Judaism and Christianity. When God gives a commandment, He speaks very plainly; there can be no mistaking what He says. His "Thou shalt nots" and His "thou shalts" are blunt and unequivocal. Unhappily, too many people over the centuries have insisted on seeing commandments where there are none. They base their rules, and their determination to bind the conscience of the faithful, on inferences, sometimes wrongful ones. Not even a valid inference is a commandment.
To illustrate, our Lord, in Luke 12:48, says, "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." In other words, the greater the responsibility a man has, the greater is his culpability and guilt. In Leviticus 4, the laws of sacrifice set forth this same premise: the sin offering of a priest or prince is a greater one than that of a commoner. God says that, in His sight, the greater our responsibilities, the greater is our sin in His sight. A logical inference is that the sins or crimes of important people deserve more punishment. Before God, guilt is greater, according to Leviticus 4, but this greater punishment is not a law for man to enforce, although it is a sound inference. Notice too that in Luke 12:48 our Lord says that, in such cases, men "will ask the more." While it can be done, it is not mandatory. How God enforces His law is not always what He requires of us.
The problem becomes even more serious where unwarranted inferences are made, I recall as a student at the university listening to an off-campus Christian speaker who laid down the "law" in unequivocal terms; the text he used for his particular "mandate" was very familiar to me, but I had never seen such a meaning in it. My immediate reaction was one of anger; then I thought that perhaps there was a meaning in the Greek text that I was ignorant of; I later learned there was no such meaning, only his inference, and a wrong one.
Aunt Bea, Alvin York's Mother and Martin Luther's Wife
When it comes to movies and film, conservative Christian families share a concern for wholesome entertainment. Some material may not reflect a Christian worldview, but if it isn't filled with coarse language, gross scenes and blatant humanism, then we usually try to redeem it. Of course, we always appreciate those films produced which are distinctively Christian.
Sergeant York was always a favorite film for our family; it even made the Sunday afternoon list of permissible videos to watch on the Lord's Day, when our family was not involved in other things.
Another favorite was The Andy Griffith Show. Besides watching the videos, we've met some of the cast and even traveled to Mount Airy, NC for the town's annual Mayberry Day.
Recently, I realized that I no doubt shared a love for these shows with some in the patriarchy movement. I also realized, however, that because of what we each believe, we don't watch the shows the same way. For instance, when our family watched an episode of Andy Griffith, I might ask our children, "What's Andy doing wrong?" and they'd answer, "He's lying," or "He's not being kind to Opie." While my patriarchy friends would agree with these, they'd have to have a much longer list, like "Ellie shouldn't be a druggist," or "Ernest T. Bass shouldn't be learning to count in a government school." continue...
The "Double Curse" and "Husband-Only Helper" Theories
As a good conservative Bible-believing Christian, I, and many others, believe that after the Lord, a wife's and mom's first priority is to her husband and children. We part company with some of our Christian brethren in the patriarchy movement because we believe that some women are not only able to do this and work some outside the home, but that they are free to do so, agreeable to their husband as head of their home. We also part company with those who would forbid a woman to work outside the home even after her children are grown and have left home. Some in the patriarchy movement maintain that no woman should work outside the home for an employer other than her husband, and that she should stay home and concentrate on hospitality, or else do something like involve herself more in helps type ministries of the church.
Among the arguments advanced to support the positions of some in the patriarchy movement is what we might call, "the husband only helper." It goes something like this: the Bible says a wife is her husband's helper to take dominion over the earth; therefore, if her boss in the workplace is someone other than her husband, then she is really helping another man to achieve dominion and not her husband. She shouldn't be helping her boss reach his dominion goals when she is called to do that for her husband, and so she sins by serving two masters, and we know Jesus said a person can only serve one. Some contend that since it is the man's role to support his family and take dominion, if she enters the work force, then she's trying to be like a man. continue...
Emails and Blog Discussions
While I appreciate those who send their encouragement and thanks, and acknowledge others writing with questions, concerns and for counsel, I can't promise responses to emails and certainly don't have time to enter into blog discussions. I write this on my day off from work, as one pastor of a very active congregation. Besides my employment, I am busy overseeing my patriarchal empire, which includes involvement with all four families of our children who live in our city, looking after the needs of our mothers, who are 83 and 92 years old, and managing our part-time home-based business in real estate investments.
Church Reform That Ignores the Reformation
William F. Hill, Jr.
(Editorial note: It is hard to believe, but there are Christian leaders who profess to appreciate their Reformation heritage, yet who hold conferences, produce tapes, and write articles on the church and the family, in which Christian families are actually encouraged to leave theologically sound conservative churches. Christians are encouraged to leave over issues which are nowhere close to being essentials of the faith, and which could only make a Reformer like Calvin or Luther roll his eyes in surprise and unbelief. While the marks of the Church for the Reformers were things like the true preaching of the Word, for this group an essential might be the absence of an age-segregated Sunday School program or the absence of a youth group.
All of us have gone down roads in life at times and realized later that we were going the wrong way; I've done this more than a few times. It wasn't pleasant to admit it, but it was right and liberating to do so.
Recently one gentleman has publicly shared his own journey in four installments on his blog at www.upsaid.com/re4med. Following is a portion of what he wrote. His site contains other helpful material and is commended to you. His name is William F. Hill Jr., and what follows is reprinted with his permission. PH)
Within the last few months, I believe God has been working on my heart and my conscience in a matter that I am about to share. Please understand that these thoughts I am sharing are not "organized," nor are they polished in any way. These are simply my thoughts as it pertains to the subject matter. For those who know me personally they will likely not be surprised to see these words in print. Perhaps some will, but however I am perceived after writing these thoughts, please understand that I do not share these thoughts lightly nor do they come without days and hours of thought and reflection. continue...
Legalism and Manipulation of Conscience
R. C. Sproul quotes
"Perhaps the most deadly and widespread form of legalism is that type which adds legislation to the law of God and treats the addition as if it were divine law. The Old Testament prophets expressed God's fury at this form of behavior, lamenting the result of "binding men where God had left them free." It is a manifestation of man's fallenness to impose his own sense of propriety on other people, seeking mass conformity to his own preferences and adding insult to it by declaring these prejudices and preferences to be nothing less than the will of God. A frequent point of conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees centered on the Pharisees' traditions, which imposed hardships on the people who were bound by these man-made obligations. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they had elevated their traditions to the level of the law of God, seeking not only to usurp God's authority, but to oppress mankind.
"The elevation of human preferences to the level of divine mandate is not limited to an isolated group of moralistic Pharisees in the first century. The problem has beset the church throughout its history. Not only do traditions develop that are added to the law of God, but in many cases they become the supreme tests of the faith, the litmus test by which people are judged to be either Christians or non-Christians. It is unthinkable in the New Testament that a person's Christian commitment would ever be determined by whether or not that person engaged in dancing, or in wearing of lipstick and the like. Unfortunately, so often when these preferences become tests of faith, they involve not only the elevation of nonbiblical mandates to the level of the will of God, but they represent the trivialization of righteousness. When these externals are elevated to the level of being measuring rods of righteousness, we begin to major in minors and obscure the real tests of righteousness." R.C. Sproul, Following Christ, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1991), pp. 323-325.
"The manipulation of conscience can be a destructive force within the Christian community. Legalists are often masters of guilt manipulation, while antinomians master the art of quiet denial. The conscience is a delicate instrument that must be respected. One who seeks to influence the conscience of others carries a heavy responsibility to maintain the integrity of the other person's own personality as crafted by God. When we impose false guilt on others we paralyze our neighbors, binding them in chains where God has left them free. When we urge false innocence we contribute to their delinquency, exposing them to the judgment of God." R.C. Sproul, Following Christ, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 1991), p.390.
The Demand For Perfection in the Church
R. J. Rushdoony
It is understandable that, in a time of decadence, many people will long for and demand perfection in the church, but it is neither right nor moral. To expect perfection this side of heaven is unwarranted. Our life here is to be one of growth in grace, sanctification, and community. Christians are required by Scripture to be forbearing one of another. Paul tells us that we "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called" only if we walk "with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love" (Eph. 4:1-2; Col. 3:13). Yet we find the "super-saints" ready to create divisions over things we are never told to fight about: counseling programs, psalm singing, dress codes, attendance at evening services and prayer meetings, and so on and on. There is no mandate for any division over these things. Too many zealots believe that man's controls can do better than the working of the Holy Spirit. They substitute zeal for faith and intemperance for patience.
Over the years, I have counseled, with poor results, many zealous persons thus: "You can never convert anyone by spitting in his face," but too many seem to believe that the Holy Spirit inspires them to spit!
Legalism Old and New
The Old Legalism
Before my father had children, he was a gambler and an excessive drinker. He met my mother in what we called a "Beer Joint," and they were soon married. When he began to have children, he gave up gambling with cards, and he also gave up drinking. He later became a Christian. Because of his previous experience he forbade card games and drinking of any kind by any members of my family. Smoking generally fell into the same category.
Thus I grew up with a conscience that did not allow card playing, drinking, or smoking. Later, as I studied the Scriptures, I learned that these things in themselves are not sinful. I came to view them as falling into the arena of Christian liberty. Although I still have some pangs of conscience about enjoying these things, I soon learned that my Christian brethren had the freedom to enjoy them, and I always respected that fact.
For many young Reformed men raised with a similar background as mine, when they find out that they can enjoy these things without the fear of sinning against God, they act like young kids with a new toy. Not only do they enjoy them, but often they want everyone else to know how much they enjoy them. They don't mind making their newfound liberty public - not at all!
My response was different. continue...
Only God Gets To Define Sin
Whatever the Bible does not forbid, God permits. This is a theoretical way of saying that only God can define sin (I Jn. 3:4). When somebody charges that to advocate birth control or smoking tobacco or charging interest is ipso facto sin, he has replaced God's law with man's law. This is a mark of Pharisees (Mk. 7:1-16). Only God is entitled to define sin.
There may be many good reasons not to practice birth control, smoke cigars, charge interest, grow huckleberries, listen to the Beatles, drink Bushmills Irish whiskey, dance at weddings, drive a convertible, send your daughter to Ivy League colleges, sport Afros, invest in mutual funds, play slots in Las Vegas, watch R-rated movies, learn to whittle, or wear linen sport coats--but none of those reasons have any inherent bearing on sin. If you cannot practice these things in good conscience, then don't practice them (Rom. 14:23). Just don't criticize Christians who do practice them.
In my home, I did not allow my younger teenagers to smoke tobacco or drink alcohol. But I did not shroud my home regulation list in the moral authority of, "God forbids it." I merely said, "Your mother and I are God's delegated authorities in this home and we require you abstain from these acts right now." To enlist divine sanction not merely for parental authority but also for preferential prohibition is to assault the authority of the Bible. continue...
Theonomy, Preterism, Etc.
These and other issues divide Christians today. It is wise to understand the position of the person with whom we disagree and also to affirm that there is still much upon which we agree as Christians. Please don't ignore a good article on this site because someone is not in your camp on some other issue. Can't we all just get along?