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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

ECM, FGBC & Me: Mutual Hatred

There is something that the Emerging/Emergent Church Movement (ECM), the FGBC, and I all hate. Though we hate this one thing, we do not hate it as much as the Savior does. It is a monster that we all see as errant, destructive, even damning. In a word:


Legalism is the dependance upon moral laws to establish a favorable standing with God. In reality, most people on the globe are legalists...they believe their good works will earn merit before the Almighty. Every other religion but genuine Christianity is a form of legalism. They depend on their acheivement to reach up to God.

But legalism isn't just reserved for the nonchristian. Legalism can grow within a church as well. Just before entering the text (Colossians 3:1-4), we should look at part of the context:
If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)--in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
Though this world no longer holds us in its sway, we can still find ourselves easily drawn into its rules. We set up a list of "do nots," assuming they will preserve our purity. In a quasi-gnostic way, we begin to see the problem as those physical things around us, rather than the condition of the heart.

According to verse 23, legalism has its advantages. It will make you look smarter. It will make you look more religious than others. It will make you look more pious and even more self denying. However, these are merely appearences, for it is empty. It holds no value.

It can not mortify sin. Our struggle is not merely to control our outward actions, but it is to have a heart that is conformed to the Lord's will. A man can build parameters and walls around his life in an attempt to prevent defilement. However, in his heart, he can still commit wickedness. This sort of legalism, is empty and worthless, only increasing frustration while doing nothing to kill the sin.

It can condemn us to hell. Paul was very seriously opposed to legalism. It is not just fruitless, it presents a gospel that really is no gospel at all. For the one who establishes exterior requirements to cooperate with the grace of God in their lives to earn their meritorious favor is not actually kneeling at the cross of Christ. They have spit on His sacrifice, determining it to be insufficient and have added their works. (Read: Galatians) This is legalism.

And most emerging/emergents and Grace Brethren will agree that legalism is bad. We steer far clear from legalism when it becomes apparent. But steering away from legalism is not enough, for we may just aim ourselves for another ditch:


Many respond to legalism with such a distain that they assume all law is wrong. Therefore, in effort to be "gracious" they abandon the law all together. When approached with the Law, and faced with grace, our feeble minds often consider antinomianism to be the best option (Romans 6:1). The pendulum swings from a law oriented faith to a zero law orientation.

Quite frankly, this is where many today are swinging. They've attended churches they found stiffling. They grew up in environments that encorporated rules, only to leave that environment and find out the rule has weak (if any) Biblical support. They learned to label and catalog people according to an exterior system that they soon discovered was weak and empty. Therefore, they saw moral law as their enemy. They have broken out of the chains legalism only to swing fully to the other side, ignoring all moral law. They claim to believe in sin and believe Jesus died to pay the wage of sin, yet they deny any existence of it in their life. Or perhaps they will accept the label sinner, but are hesitant to every actually call anything sin. But we have not been called to lawlessness.

Some in the ECM have resisted legalism to the point of becoming antinomian. They are not alone. There is antinomianism within our own fellowship. There is lawlessness within me.

But could the ECM be swinging back the other way? Sick of the empty, lawless and ineffectual faith that so many claim today, many in the ECM are calling for lifestyle reform. They are calling for people to help clean up the environment, help out the poor and deal with social injustice. They want to see people act upon the things the church has claimed. Therefore, they stir the people up toward action and projects that will become part of "kingdom work."

And in many ways, this too appears to be the appropriate response. One look at Colossians 3:5-17 (and beyond) will establish that Paul expected the people to live with self-denial. In fact, to be a disciple, we must deny ourselves. That is proper. But if at the core of the issue, self-denial and self-righteousness are only different in an area unseen: the heart.

The temptation to counter legalism is to tear down all discipline. Don't require anything of people, simply call for an intellectual decision and leave it at that. But this is antinomianism, for it is faith without works. So we counter by focusing on works. We call people to action. We scream at dead bones to walk, but we're only addressing the exterior, and therefore we've swerved right back into legalism. In my opinion, here's where the groups appear on the road. (Keep in mind these are generalizations, and each group has exceptions):
Many would hear struggles with moral issues like homosexuality, or the resistance to see abortion as a major political issue and would assume that the ECM is on the antinomian side. However, I personally would disagree. I believe much of the ECM is a response to antinomianism, and is therefore swinging back toward legalism. How is that possible when there seems to be so much ambiguity? How could postmodernism lead to a legalism? Because there is so much emphasis placed on the exterior actions that major tenets of the gospel are assumed (or worse, denied) in effort to focus our actions. To draw an extreme caricature, driving a Toyoto Prius, while drinking free trade coffee and giving to a secular AIDS in Africa organization allows a person to be part of the "kingdom work" whether they believe in Christ or not. These are actions the person hopes leads toward merit. Without absolutes, our faith is not rested in anyone but ourselves.
Let's be honest, we're always behind in every trend. We always seem to be buying our new winter jacket just when the season's bathing suits are coming out. And since much of society is becoming moral action focused, we're probably swinging a lot in the other direction. Whether we are just sliding in, or just starting to oversteer out I couldn't say, but it certainly seems that we are in the antinomian ditch. We currently structure in an "anything goes" environment. We're hesitant to discuss doctrine or weigh a methodology Biblically, for fear that we would be too "rigid." Therefore, we have a collection of churches that look vastly different, pursuing many different goals, several of which are antithetical. The greatest way to get the ire up of other men in the fellowship today is not to try something new or even stick your toe over the lines of our Statement of Faith. The quickest path to vexation is to question these new methods. Our montra becomes to err on the side of grace (as if grace and err could ever go together).
And to keep the car/oversteer illustration, where am I? I am a wreck.

So is there any hope for our condition? If we spot our antinomianism, do we simply overcorrect into legalism? If we call out the one who has drifted into legalism, are we merely calling him to return to lawlessness? Are we just to mind-numbingly swerve all over the road?

Not if we read on in Colossians. For Paul gives the answer for the ECM. Paul tells the Fellowship how to get out of this pattern. Paul exhorts me to find the straight path. It's a path the ECM often does not even address. It's a path the fellowship will speak of, but often denies in its action. LIkewise, it a path I set myself on, only to often begin swerving again.

But if we all really hate legalism and despise antinomianism, it is the path we must take...


  • At 9:18 PM, Blogger anonymous_commentator said…

    These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of NO VALUE(emphasis mine) against fleshly indulgence. Therefore, if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above...

    This is actually the very verse I would have used as a 'Resurrection message' if I would have had the opportunity! The message? Simple....be real, be genuine, be experiencing the resurrection life. Sadly, too many are satisfied with second best and miss the fulness of living in Christ!


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