Legalism, Part 2
by Paul Hazelden


Introduction

This is an example of a response to one of my articles where the reader does not agree with the things I say.

Mostly the response I receive is encouraging, and says how helpful the article has been. Occasionally, the writer disagrees. This is a good example of one of those messages. Often, they are less coherent; rarely are they constructive; and sometimes they go on for pages.

They often take the basic position that the writer believes something different from me, and therefore I should agree with them. In these cases, I often do not reply, as there seems to be nothing useful I can say in response.

This one at least asks for some scriptural justification for the points I make in the offending article ('Legalistic Death'). I offer it complete and unedited, along with my reply.

The Response

I would've liked to see your theories backed by actual scripture, so I can believe it. I see plenty of scripture that says the bible is truth. Absolute truth. And if I'm not to obey some of it, why should I obey any of it? I'd read 1 Cor. 2:12-13, 1 Thes. 2:13, 2 Peter 1:3 and 20-21, 2 Tim. 3:16-17, John 17:17. I don't think following what God commands of us and not doing what He doesn't say is adding laws. It's simply doing what He says. Maybe Noah should've used Cedar or whatever he wanted since God didn't say he couldn't or maybe he should've made the Ark 20 cubits shorter because he got tired. God shouldn't have killed Lot's wife for just doing such a simple little thing as turning her head back. Gen. 19:26. There are going to be so many suprised on judgement day. Matt. 7:21-23.

My Reply

Firstly, thank you for your response. It is always good to receive feedback.

However, I find it hard to respond meaningfully, as you seem to be confirming my points rather than responding to them. It may or may not surprise you to know that I am familiar with those passages, and none of them contradict what I say. If you think otherwise, can you please say precisely where and how?

Of course, I may be assuming too much about you, but do you really follow all the laws in the Old Testament? All the sacrifices? Do you stone people who commit adultery? What do you do to people who admit to homosexual practices? And do you avoid the sin of usury, or do you have a savings account?

You say you would have liked to see my "theories backed by actual scripture". I'm sorry you do not recognise the scriptural references. I assumed that anyone who cared about such things would know enough to locate them easily enough.

I said "We do not often run the danger of boiling a kid in its mother's milk, but we cannot avoid usury without refusing to have a building society account or pension." The first is Exodus 23:19, the second Exodus 22:25. I can come up with many more examples if this would help. I suppose the law prohibiting usury is technically only broken if anyone working for your Bank or Building Society is a Christian, but it seems a fairly safe assumption that someone will be.

As for the point where I say "Laws also contradict each other or come into conflict in unexpected ways. We then have to decide which law to keep" - are you sure you don't recognise any of the Biblical references? Jesus was constantly arguing with the religious leaders on this matter. On just one page of my Bible I can see three obvious examples - Luke 5:35, 6:2 and 6:9. How many more would you like?

You say you see "plenty of scripture that says the bible is truth. Absolute truth." But you don't give me a single example. The closest you get is John 17:17, but that only says "your word is truth" and in context "your word" is distinguished from the earlier reference to "scripture" in verse 12. Now, of course I am not suggesting that the Bible is not true. But I am saying that the Bible does not claim for itself the sort of simple-minded, literalistic truth that you seem to assume.

So, it appears that the points I make are backed up by Scripture, while your objections are not.

I'm afraid I simply don't understand your references to Noah or Lot's wife, so I can't respond to that part of your message at all.

If you choose to visit my response to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (http://www.hazelden.org.uk/pt03/art_pt111_chicago_statement.htm) you can read some of the principles I believe we should be following in seeking to interpret the Bible correctly. This may answer some of the points you might wish to make in reply to this message...

I don't suppose that any of this will change your mind on any point. But it might serve to reassure you that I do take the Bible very seriously, and I put a great deal of effort into seeking to understand what God is saying to us through it.

Every blessing,

Paul.

What I Didn't Say

I'm never quite sure how much content to put into a response like this. And I'm never sure how much to reply to the implications contained in the message, and how much to assume I can correctly guess what the writer intends.

For example, this message starts of with "I would've liked to see your theories backed by actual scripture, so I can believe it." This is a common opening gambit. It usually seems to mean almost the exact opposite of what the words say: the writer will not believe what I say, no matter how many Biblical references I can throw at him or her (it's usually a 'him'!).

The simple response is that I will not reply in detail until he lets me know which of my 'theories' he objects to. People often make sweeping statements such as "your article was total rubbish" when it turns out they are really agreeing with 90% of the content, and are not really sure why they suspect the other 10% may not be completely accurate. The 'downside' of this approach is that people generally either do not reply, or they give such a lengthy response that I can't spare the time to do it justice.

On a personal level, I probably should confess that I get frustrated by the implication in such messages that the writer would have believed what I say (my 'theories'!) if only I had added in some scriptural references. In practice, Evangelical Christians are almost never willing to change their beliefs simply because someone demonstrates something from the Bible. When I try to explore this point, it almost always ends in circular reasoning: the writer knows that my interpretation of the Bible is wrong (even if they can't say how or why) because it contradicts what they know to be the correct interpretation.

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