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A New Legalism – The Over-Application Of Biblical Ideas (via Stephen Kneale)

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Conversations with pastors from a wide variety of contexts resonate with the theme explored in this article.
There are structures in some aspects of contemporary church life that make imperatives out of beneficial non-essentials.
And a sure sign of spiritual growth trying to be achieved through human effort is a burn-out attrition among leaders and members of the local church.
Be careful to read the nuance that there is benefit in these practices.
It is the manner of their presentation that is under consideration.

From Stephen Kneale.

Old legalism took good biblical principles of holiness and keeping oneself unspotted from the world (which is right and proper) and pressed them into all sorts of areas of life. The biblical command not to be drunk turned into a rule to never drink, the biblical principles surrounding modesty came with definite views on just what items of clothes could possibly be considered modest and a host of things like these. Right biblical ideas over-applied and over-reaching so that wider principles became rules and clear commands got extended well beyond the command itself. Again, most of us see these things clearly enough now.
But the new legalism takes a different set of principles and over-applies them. The new buzzwords are things like ‘missional living’, ‘community’ and ‘doing life together.’ Now all those things are rightly rooted in biblical principles. The Lord clearly commands us to be hospitable and welcome one another as Christ welcomed us. We are to spend time together and bear one another’s burdens (and all the other ‘one another’ things that demand we actually spend time together). The principles in which these things are rooted are thoroughly biblical. But the problem comes when those principles are pressed into rules that the bible simply doesn’t demand. It becomes a problem when we insist our ‘rules’ – good, or even best, as they may be for our specific context – are pressed into every context.

Kneale provides some helpful diagnostic questions to clarify the difference between helpful nurturing and legalistic imposition:

But given these things are rooted in scriptural principles, how do we recognise legalistic over-reach and distinguish it from legitimate application of scripture? Here are some questions to ask:
1. Could all believers, in all contexts, across all time reasonably be expected to do this or not? If not, it is likely a legalistic demand.
2. Am I being encouraged to do this or am I being told I must do this to be faithful to Christ? If the latter, does scripture plainly ask the same thing or not? If not, this is likely legalism.
3. If there is no clear biblical mandate for what I am being asked, am I being given any option not to do this thing? If not, it is likely legalism.
4. Am I being encouraged to do this thing out of guilt? If guilt is the driving force, this is potentially legalism.
5. To what does the person asking us to do this thing appeal to as the basis of our doing it: the Bible, the leadership, the vision, or something else? If it isn’t the Bible, this is probably legalism.
6. Is there any grace given to people in different circumstances over this thing or is everybody, regardless of circumstance, expected to do this to the same degree? If the latter, this may well be legalistic.
Read the whole post here.

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