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Faith vs. Legalism in Church History

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Can we learn from history? Yes we can if we will hear its voice. History has shown us a few things concerning the Church that should be of interest to us. Let’s look at a little history of the Church and of America.

The Church Plus Law

The Reformation is of relative lateness as concerning history and although there have been noteworthy previous efforts to reform the Roman Catholic Church before 1517 it is Martin Luther who is acknowledged to have initiated the Reformation with his work, The Ninety-Five Theses, nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany.

Hundreds of years before the Reformation the Catholic Church ruled alone in the world of Christian religion, and in the issues of state. The church and the state were united; the Catholic Church was the national church of all Christian nations. Within this institutional church there was no room for opposition, and especially during the time the Catholics were countering the Protestant Reformation. Within the Catholic Church the best and the brightest minds resided and these intellectuals were of the opinion that persecution was Biblical and right. Once the Protestant movement officially began they too agreed that church and state should be united and that persecution of dissenters should continue. History records that the Protestant power brokers exercised their authority with severe consequences for nonconformists. The torch, and the sword, along with drowning and confiscation of property fill the pages of history, and in this respect the Protestants were no different than their predecessors. This is recorded history; there is no denying the facts. Could anyone justify these actions today in America? No, no one could. But this causes me to ask, why didn’t these individuals discover in the Gospel what we understand today concerning the separation of church and state and the persecution of those who oppose our message? It may be argued that these people were products of their time and culture and that this was the norm. Barbarism was the norm, and they are excused? Preposterous! If that were the case then why, going all the way back to the primitive church, a poor, despised, and persecuted people, who were comparatively ignorant regarding intellectual things and worldly wisdom, understood clearly that these things were wrong and un-Christian?

Why were these Christians singled out by the Protestant and Catholic Church and persecuted? The Albigenses and Waldenses, for several centuries before the Reformation and the Anabaptists in the day of Calvin and Luther, protested against the non-Christian spirit of institutionalism which promoted persecution and church/state alliance as anti-Christian and devilish. These same Christians, who held to the Biblical non-resistant teaching of Jesus, boldly declared these policies to be contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Gospel and insisted that the Church should be separated from the state and stop persecution.

What They Discovered Later

Today the institutional “Reformed” Church has come around. Now the popular opinion has changed and the Church, which once persecuted and killed the nonconforming radical reformers, are now of the same opinion. Popular Christianity now supports separation of Church and state (although that opinion is beginning to slip with dominionism, aka Kingdom-Dominion, or ‘Restoration’ theology gaining strength). Again, the question is; how come it took these powerful and educated men so long to discover what those poor, despised, and persecuted Christians have always known? The Bible speaks of the “Spirit of truth and knowledge;” then why didn’t this spirit of truth show these learned men what those ignorant men knew? Didn’t Christ promise to lead His followers into all truth? Did His promise fail to reach the Reformers? Or, could the answer be that these intelligent men were deprived of the truth through their pride, intellect, and presumptuous spirit? Is it possible that Divine truth remains hidden until the natural light of man’s reason makes it visible? No, of course that is not the answer; the intelligence of men was the problem. These men chose to live under the rule of law rather than grace and trust and were consequently blinded to the truth.

Christian America Founded Under Law

Paul said in Romans 13,

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”

At the time of the founding of America the sentiment of the leaders, and by default the people, was to resist the government of Great Britain, which at that time was the “power” referred to in Romans 13. Every message from nearly every preacher during that period was a message to resist the “power.” The pulpits in America had turned this vice of resisting the “power” into a virtue. Today those same preachers are held in high esteem although they twisted Scripture and taught men to do likewise, in not only resisting, but in overthrowing this God ordained authority. At this point it should be stressed that there is a curse of damnation associated with the breaking of this command. I doubt that any of the revered pastors of olden days dared to preach a sermon on Romans 13 during this time in our history. Here again the light of the Gospel is missing.

The continuing independence of America even depends on Christian people denying Christ’s injunction, given through Paul, to resist the powers ordained by God. That “right” written into the Declaration of Independence, i.e. the law, encourages Christians to revolt if, in their estimation, the government fails to accomplish its purpose. The document, presumably written by men of Christian persuasion, is ignorant of the same light of which the Reformers were ignorant. How can this be? Can Christians be a part of something that is in direct opposition to the clear commands of Scripture, and therefore God? But, what if the power has become corrupt some may ask? It doesn’t matter. If we say we believe Scripture then we are not given that option. Christians cannot resist the government in any way without resisting God who has ordained it; and to resist God is very serious business. If this command is given to Christians, then they cannot take part in any way to resist or influence government. The Gospel therefore does not recognize any “rights” of Christians to revolt or to vote, for those things only exist under the law; if it does it sets itself against God. As far as un-believers go, they are left just where they were, under the law and control of sword wielding men enforcing an eye-for-an-eye form of justice.

The Example of the Jews

Like the Jews who refused to trust and have faith in God, and who were repeatedly damned for their unbelief, so too can a professed Christian expect condemnation for giving lip service of faith and liberty in God while openly trusting in man for his deliverance via government perks of legislature, military, courts of justice, rights to bear arms, and self-defense, and whatever else the government provides to save its citizens from harm and injustice. To – presume – the blessings of God while prostituting one’s self to the ways-and-means of the world is, in the words of Scripture, the same as rebellion and witchcraft (1st Samuel 15:23) . This idea is found throughout the Bible and is closely connected to conceit and the pride of superiority.

I Love Definitions

presumptuous – A person who is presumptuous shows little respect for others by doing things they have no right to do (Cambridge Dictionaries Online)

presumption – 1. the act of presuming; specif., a. an overstepping of proper bounds; forwardness; effrontery b. the taking of something for granted (Webster’s New World College Dictionary)

Given the great gulf separating God and man in realms of knowledge, wisdom, foresight, purity, holiness, and virtue, how can a true believer possibly presume to overlook, adjust, alter, or ignore God’s Word? What kind of attitude is required to walk in some other way than the path that God in His infinite wisdom has directed and illuminated? An attitude of legalism would be the correct answer here.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Presumption, rebellion, and witchcraft all have the curse of condemnation attached to them.

But . . . . . . ?

It will not due to say that the law spoken of was the Mosaic Law. The law is the law; the Law of Moses was the outward expression of that, which was written on the tablets of every man’s heart, and it is “law,” outward or inward, that demands justice from the un-converted heart, and demands the state to provide it, and which will condemn him on the Day of Judgment. The law that is written on our hearts has no other purpose than the Law of Moses, which is to lead us to faith and trust in God through Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ means the end of all law for believers and the exhibition of that trust through a separation from all aspects of government and political involvement. If we retain a link to the world and its promises of deliverance and salvation we, in effect, deny Christ and His ability to save us.

As Christians we cannot act like King Saul (read 1 Samuel 9 to 1 Samuel 10:25) who claimed to be a trusting follower of Jehovah God, yet when the enemy lifted its head he took matters into his own hands and turned his back on God, earning for his reward, condemnation. Just as the multitude of Jews were anxious to follow Saul in his rebellion against God, so the Church today is anxious to follow the popular message from the American pulpit that Christians need to be involved in government and take matters into their own hands. Should we expect any different results than the example shown to us in the life of the Hebrew nation?

Conclusion

All of this was understood perfectly by the primitive Church. The intellect of man has sought to refine God’s word, where no refining is needed or wanted, and then impose those refinements on men as the truth. The result of this refinement is to place man squarely back under the law and its curse. The liberty we have through Christ was not understood by the Reformers or the founders of America. Christians today are under the spell that man can provide his own peace and liberty through political action; but it is a lie that is reinforced from the pulpit, and is no different from what King Saul’s rejection of God.

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible has a lot to say about obedience. In the story of the Ten Commandments, we see how important the concept of obedience is to God. Deuteronomy 11:26–28 sums it up like this: “Obey and you will be blessed. Disobey and you will be cursed.”

In the New Testament, we learn through the example of Jesus Christ that believers are called to a life of obedience.

But Samuel replied to Saul, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:22–23)

5 replies on “Faith vs. Legalism in Church History”

Thank you for your response.

You said, “Thank you for your work. I have never before heard we are not to resist evil.” Jesus speaks very plainly in Matthew 5:39 that we are not to resist evil. He not only spoke these words but was a living example of how that was to be done. When man lives according to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and not according to the tree of life, i.e. the Word of God, then he logically dismisses any notion of “turning the other cheek” and reasonably concludes that Jesus must have meant something other than what He plainly said. His life, the lives of His Apostles and disciples, and the lives of Christians for most of the first three hundred years of Church existence is proof that He did in fact mean what He said. That does not mean of course that we are not to resist the Devil, who is evil, or false teachers, or to restrain an evil person from doing harm, but that that restraint does not include returning evil for evil in the effort.

You also said, “I have never heard a preacher address the fact that Jesus’ disciples carried swords. I often have wondered why he allowed them to do that? Protection?” Here again there is no ambiguity, Jesus tells us plainly why He allowed His Apostles to have swords in Luke 22:35-37.

And He said to them, “When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” They said, “No, nothing.” 36And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. 37″For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘AND HE WAS NUMBERED WITH TRANSGRESSORS’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.”…

The reason for the swords was not self-protection, but rather the fulfill prophecy. When Jesus was apprehended, Peter, operating in the flesh, uses the sword as any logical person would, but was bluntly told to put it away, prophecy had been fulfilled and therefore swords were no longer necessary; consequently swords or personal protection are nowhere mentioned again in the New Testament. Paul reminds us that are weapons are not carnal, but spiritual, because we do not battle against flesh and blood but against spiritual powers. Spiritual powers can only be defeated with spiritual weapons, and those weapons are the weapons of peace and holiness, without which no man will see the Lord.

The non-compliance you refer to was only the outcome of putting God before man and not a belligerent attitude toward the governing authorities, of which we are told to obey as much as possible.

In your follow-up questions you ask, “Many people have, and are now prohibited by law from speaking about Jesus. When this happens to you, what will be your response?” If I become ashamed of Jesus when my neck is on the line then it is written that He will be ashamed of me, that too is plain. As far as being force to help in committing acts against my fellow man, I could not do that.

You also asked about my money being used by the Government to kill babies, and other such acts. If I intentionally invest money and have foreknowledge of such activity I would think that I should pull my money out of that investment. But, having said that, we are commanded to pay taxes to Caesar and what Caesar does with that which is his is not my concern.

I hope this helps in stating my position, and I believe the position of Scripture.

Steve Blackwell

O how far we have fallen. Those are some heavy thoughts where you relate submission to the law of our earthly land via government to placing oneself back under the curse of the law. I’m going to have to read this all again to see if I’m hearing you right Steve.

I appreciate your thoughts here and continuing to stand upon the highest road for Jesus’ sake and the few who will listen.

Yes Michael we have fallen a very far distance from God, and finding our way back will demand a faith and trust we hear little of in the commercial Church.

It may appear that I have gone to extremes. The Scribes and the Pharisees of our age without a doubt believe I am extreme, preaching such a sole reliance upon the liberty given to us in the Holy Spirit. They believe that the Church is left defenseless with my view of non-resistance to evil and an absolute trust in God through His Spirit. How will we protect ourselves they say, without good laws and holy men in government, and an arsenal of side-arms, bazookas, and multiple reentry vehicles? This is the question posed by all Christians although phrased differently.

My answer to this is this, blessed is the man who has only the Lord as his savior, and who through all of his life seeks nothing for himself but only to find safety under the wings of the Most High. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, who own no master or law but Christ, and no Teacher but His Holy Spirit, and who are unable to join with the rebellious who seek after worldly power and security. Happy is the man who labors not for that which is wind, nor gives his money or vote for that which is not bread. Happy is he who knows that a life of total submission to Christ and absolute dependence upon the Holy Spirit is the only choice that an enlightened mind can make.

Laws are not for Christ or His followers; laws are for the rebellious and the un-believers. We Christians neither make laws nor live under law; but we are free and we preach freedom, not slavery; and we do not bind ourselves with a pledge or an oath.

Thanks brother for writing, I think of you a lot and pray for you,

Steve B.

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