An Example of the Legalism of the “Running the Race” Teaching
I happen to stop by David Cloud’s “O Timothy” to see what he’s harping on these days, and it’s the same old non-stop criticism of new-evangelicals and related “old vs new culture” subjects. This is a person who seems to be fairly respected in “old-line” fundamental Baptists (particularly Independent Fundamentalist Baptists or IFB’s), and basically harps on “compromise” through modern music and worship, modern Bible translations, psychology in Christian teachings, female pastors, and “associations” seen as leading to “ecumenicalism”.
While there is a lot of grains of truth in all of these issues; maybe even a few legitimate points, still, leaders like this publish unceasingly “exposes” on all these errant movements or secular influences and those who begin opening up to them. The premise is the message of Paul to Timothy: “preach, exhort, rebuke” (2 Timothy 4:2). The “about Way of Life” statement at the bottom of articles says:
The name “Way of Life” is from Proverbs 6:23: “For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life.” The biblical instruction that molds men to God’s will requires reproof. It is not strictly positive. It does not focus on man’s “self-esteem.” It does not avoid controversial or unpopular subjects. It warns as well as comforts. It deals with sin and false teaching in a plain manner. It is reproves, rebukes, exhorts with all longsuffering and doctrine (2 Tim. 4:2)
But you have to wonder if Timothy would then spend quite THIS much time badgering these sorts of issues. They wrote their epistles, but not periodical publications repeating the same things over and over about every leader or movement that was wrong, and most importantly, having a premise of some “godly culture” mixed in with it. All the “separatist” language, historically, ends up tied to America and it’s supposed “godly past” which was destroyed by “liberalism” and its influence in the Church.
Jesus, Paul and others admonished people and churches to clean up sinful behavior, but it was those imposing the strictest applications of the Law whom they reserved their sharpest denunciations for! They were mostly the “false teachers” referred to throughout the New Testament.
And this raising the question of whether a lot of what this [modern] teacher and others like him is teaching really even the “faith once delivered to the saints” the Apostles were guarding to begin with!
The KJV didn’t exist then, and neither did what he considers “godly music” or any of the hymns he would consider “acceptable”, or any of the other “Anglo-American” cultural trappings of the Baptist faith he is promoting (and the “trail of blood” theory they use to dispute that last point is a total distortion of history).
And leaders like this take warnings such as v3 about “falling away” as referring to our time, which acts like Paul was writing directly to them, and their churches are equal to first century Christianity. (What about the actual “falling away” Paul was referring to then, that ⦅according to most Baptist and other views of history⦆ led to Rome and everything in between and afterward? That couldn’t have happened then as he wrote, if we still had it all together until recent generations, when this “end times apostasy” supposedly “really” began.)
Typical of his literature is an article on rap listing HUNDREDS of deaths, to prove its “violent” nature. While there’s a lot of truth to that for many of them, he includes Heavy D, who died young, grant you, but of “unknown causes”, rather than violence or even a sinful lifestyle (substance abuse, AIDS, etc. And he was not even one of the “violent” rappers!) It looks like the insinuation is like he died just for being a “rapper” (do I hear “[spiritual] CURSE”, as fellow KJVO Jack Chick might argue? I’ve seen the same thing with rock and CCM, listing Rich Mullins, who also died from a non-“lifestyle” related cause). Does this mean that people who follow the “way of life” as filtered through his beliefs never die at young ages?
So now is this article http://www.wayoflife.org/index_files/the_great_river_of_apostasy.html on how people grow tired of “paddling upstream”, and as soon as they slow down and stop, they get totally caught up in all the “bad” (“downward”) modern trends.
End-time apostasy is like a great river sweeping everything along with it, and the Bible-believing New Testament church is like a boat. If we aren’t paddling hard upstream — through such things as conversion salvation, separated Christian discipleship, and uncompromising preaching — we are carried along with the flow.
There is no neutrality, no relaxing, no retiring. If you get tired of the work and put down the paddles of godly living and biblical reproof and separation, you immediately begin to move with the flow.
The thing that everyone keeps repeating is that life is so much more fun now that we don’t have to paddle upstream. It’s wonderful to finally be free to make your own choices and not be hemmed in by the rantings of some fanatical preacher.
They start feeling a bit uneasy…by now it’s too late. They are moving too fast. The river has them firm in its grip. There is no turning around. And then they hear something in the distance, a sort of roaring, and it is getting louder. And louder. And then they see it. The water is heaving and boiling as it is swept over the great fall. They are helpless now, in the grip of something too powerful to resist. The time to turn around is past, and they shoot over the fall and crash on the rocks below.
Just before they go over, their cool pastor cries out, “But all we did was stop paddling!!!!”
This is the epitome of the “merit of discomfort” philosophy that undergirds most of Christianity (even though many may have softened it down in different ways as he constantly scolds). Just like the rest of their teachings. The discomfort of giving up your lively music in favor of old hymns with plain “marching” rhythms, or learning the old English of the KJV, or just accepting pain as God’s “tests” and developing a “cheerful attitude” to heal instead of psychological therapy.
This “paddling upstream” is not even a Biblical analogy, but is taken from the natural phenomenon called the “salmon run”, where they swim upstream. This I don’t think even occurs where the Bible was written, but was purely a North American (or at least northern Atlantic/northern Pacific) occurrence.
(So when Michael Horton, Beyond Culture Wars, p.145 rhetorically asks if our sermons are “essentially pep talks seasoned with personal anecdotes and helpful illustrations?”, we see the old-line “separatists” are just as culpable as the new evangelicals both of them are criticizing).
It’s supposed to be an allusion to the “hardships” faced by “true Christians”. But is his camp really “paddling upstream”? They’re not the ones who have to give up any music, worship style, Bible version or associations they might really like, like they’re telling others to.
(He’ll claim “his flesh” likes the rock beat, but I don’t think these people are secretly struggling thinking “man, I really wish I could bop to some rock right now” when singing their hymns. He can appeal to a “changed nature” making him like the old style, but then you are still doing something you “enjoy” just as much as anyone else, and the debate becomes whether what they enjoy is really of “the flesh”, while what you enjoy is of “the spirit”).
It’s also noteworthy that in the “female pastors” issue, he cites 1 Tim. 2:9 “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves…with shamefacedness and sobriety…” The word that sticks out to me is “shamefacedness”, which is the KJV translation for the Greek aidōs, which is believed to stem from “a-” (without) + eidō (to see), and thus “(through the idea of downcast eyes); bashfulness, i.e. (towards men), modesty or (towards God) awe:—reverence”; hence “a sense of shame or honour, modesty, bashfulness, reverence, regard for others, respect”. And that’s pretty much what their wives look like, from what I’ve seen in the movement.
But the same word is also translated as simply “reverence” in Heb.12:28, which applies to everyone, not just females.
Of course, this is the total opposite of the haughty “preacher against sin” posture Cloud and the rest of the male leaders in his circle take on. They have anything but any sense of “shame” or “bashfulness”. (Even though old time preachers, from Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon and others, on, would often call themselves “lowly worms” and such, however, when adressing others they saw as “sinners”, all of this went out the window, and they acted like anything but self-recognizing lowly worms, but instead called the other person that and worse. I would say such behavior was really the “proof of the pudding” of how they truly felt about themselves, as the penance is revealed to be just the “false humility” Paul describes in Col. 2:18).
And so we see part of the reason the KJV is so favored by them is because some of its language is easy for them to take advantage of like this. The result is always for the leaders like this to be granted the same level of haughtiness, self-interest promoting and practical “pride” they condemn as ungodly in everyone else, as in fact a Biblical mandate. Who could ask for anything more? It’s basically Heaven on earth!
So they get to maintain and defend what they like and also think is right. No one is persecuting them. They may feel the encroachment of the new trends upon them (e.g. people trying to bring it into their churches), but they then get to stand up in a righteous posture and preach against these influences. (That’s where the “fight” really lies, but it looks like it comes pretty easy to them!
As we shall see, it’s money and power that’s the real threat!)
The attitude here is pure works-righteousness, but they won’t see it as this, because notice, he’s not exactly saying any of these people are going to Hell (i.e. not saved. And he elsewhere speaks of “the heresy that a born-again believer can lose his salvation”). They’re just “disobedient ‘carnal Christians’”. (He doesn’t say what “crashing on the rocks” is supposed to represent, but it probably would be the “end times One World apostasy”).
It’s pretty much like the Adventists not denying the salvation of Sundaykeepers (at least not until the “third angel’s message” when Sunday officially becomes the “Mark of the Beast”). They’re just “disobedient” to one of God’s commandments, and God has called the sabbatarians to set everyone straight.
Of course, the teaching of both groups is grounded in the common theme of futurism, with its focus on the still future “soon” end [of the “world”], and all the “apostasy” (assumed to be some “one world religion/government” scheme with these movements as the latter day prophets against it); yet ignoring that “soon” was spoken to Timothy and the rest of the NT hearers and readers, not us thousands of years later. For that is no longer “soon”.
Hence, them thinking the “falling away” is whatever pet peeve they are criticizing in the modern Church today. (Cloud also mentioned “allegorical interpretation of prophecy” as one of those things others are wrong for not taking a stand against, but then the clear language of “soon” becomes allegorical or worse in futurism. It’s less clear language and figures in prophecy they insist are “literal”).
Of course they also have to engineer the definition of “legalism” so that it doesn’t include their teaching.
As I mentioned in my page on CCM http://www.erictb.info/ccm.html (also aimed at old-line IFB teachers like this) legalism is redefined by them as only “adding works to God’s grace”, or “doing things to gain God’s favor”, ignoring that it also means a preoccupation with rules, and being so quick to judge other believers on issues like this, and this is not even dealing with the issue of whether or not all the rules they are trying to impose are even really biblical to begin with. (In which case, it does in fact become “adding works to grace”! You have to keep paddling “hard”, keep striving, can’t ever stop and relax, remember!)
Another CCM critic had said “we do good, not to gain God’s favor, but to show our love to Him”. But this puts the cart before the horse. We are debating whether some of the points of this radical “separatism” are necessary acts of “doing good” in the first place. If they are not, then adding them as a mandatory rule of not just love, but “obedience” and “pleasing God” IS a type of legalism, whether you call it “gaining His favor” or not. (Mark 7:7, 9)
With this utter emphasis on “paddling hard upstream”, and you can’t relax at all, to stay on the right course before God; you wonder what happened to Hebrews 4:10 “For he that is entered into his REST, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.”
Leaders like this generally think “works” must only refer to “old Jewish laws” like sabbaths, circumcision and the sacrifices. And of course the Adventists will think it refers to only the laws other than the weekly sabbath (and dietary laws), and the more radical sabbathkeeeping groups will simply subtract what other sabbaths and laws they think are excluded from this scripture. But all will greatly emphasize this “paddling upstream” philosophy against those who are not as rigorous in rules and laws as they are.
They’ll even cite Christ’s “Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you REST. Take my yoke on you…and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt.11:28-30)
Ultimately, to all of them, “His rest” and “light burden” ends up as the “peace” of the “changed attitude” toward the pain of the “struggle” of “paddling hard upstream” or whatever other analogy they employ. In other words, you’re “laboring and heavy laden” from “swimming upstream”, and taking the “hard path” (people assume “narrow path”=”hard path”, and is in opposition to “easy”), but then Christ makes it “easier” in your mind only.
But there really is to be NO real, actual REST!
Of course, they all turn to various scriptures about obedience and repentance (including many from the Old Testament), and like the rest of evangelicalism they criticize, “running the race” to “the end”, and other passages commonly understood as “behavioral improvement” are appealed to.
“Holiness” is another concept they appeal to, but holiness is the goal of sanctification, which is not about our acts, but rather God’s, and ultimately positional, not behavioral.
Evidence of the true context of all these “effort”/”behavior” scriptures (which would seem to contradict the Hebrews verse, Christ’s “easy yoke” and the rest of the “Grace not works” passages) can be seen in both Christ and Paul’s warnings about being “handed over” to the “judgment” system (which Paul calls “Satan” in one instance. It was referring to the legal system of Israel; hence punishing sins like blasphemy or adultery).
The special power to obey, or more accurately, manifest love (through faith in the risen Christ) that these leaders emphasize (as the answer to therapy) was part of the “testimony” of Christ.
We can see in Rom.3:7,8 that people were accusing Paul of teaching “license”. In Jude 4, it is very likely that the false teachers “turning grace into licentiousness” were actually those preaching “the Law” (not doing away with it), and accusing the concept of “Grace” as being licentious. (This is what we hear constantly from the sabbatarians, when we tell them “the Law”, regarding the sabbath and others, is no longer binding in the “age of Grace”!)
Hence, “testimony” indicating a trial, as in a court; it was against the accusing Law system (which still stood and imposed itself during the NT). A system that is long gone now!
This is the only way to reconcile “grace” and “works” in the New Testament.
Naturally, to such leaders, (following those Paul and Jude wrote about), removing Law as our motivation leads us to no motivation at all to please God or do anything good. (They characterize the entire non-Christian world as TOTALLY a-moral; and of course morality is judged by pre-1960’s America).
This betrays the works-righteousness and essential [hidden] lawlessness of their mindset. The only reason to please God is the fear of either Hell, or at least “falling into the end-time apostasy”. Without that, there is no other reason.
And the goal, as always, is to maintain “order in society”; i.e. the lessening of preaching of Biblical “rules” has led to all the evil in the world. This changes the Gospel into a utopian scheme every bit as much as the liberals who thought preaching “peace and love” or using the state to impose it would do the same thing. It’s basically the “conservative social gospel”.
Love is to be our motivation now, and “true Love casts OUT fear”. (1 John 4:18, 19).
If people “take advantage” of this, and you fear they won’t do good, then all that has been done is to expose what would otherwise be suppressed (Luke 8:17, 12:2,3). Even with the fear, sin is still there, loopholes are found, and then people think they’re doing so well, they are entitled to a few slip ups (that can often spiral into a total “fall”). How do you think all those big time preachers fell decades ago? They were not the “liberals” or “modernists”, but rather the moral conservatives! Even the IFB movement has started to have some sex scandals revealed at times!
The only thing we lose is the illusion of “order” in society, but what is this really before God? (Isaiah 64:6)
New-evangelicalism has remained largely silent towards this “Separatist” movement, fostering the illusion that these leaders are truly on the side of the Bible, and thus cannot be refuted, and that the “wayward” modern Church is simply ignoring this “godly reproof”.
Michael Horton is someone who somewhat identifies with New-evangelicalism (at least he criticizes separatism and praises Harold Ockenga, who is pretty much the founder of new-evangelicalism), yet does criticize a lot of the excesses and deviation of modern worship, other trends, and ignorance of doctrine. Yet he ties this in as having its beginnings in new-evangelicalism’s “old-line fundamentalist” roots.
(For instance, the whole “Christian ghetto” approach to worship and entertainment basically stemmed from “separatism”; where the Church started out rejecting “the world” but then ended up having to get their own copies of everything in the world! The old-liners are no less guilty of this, even if it’s the ‘culture’ of generations or centuries ago they reflect, which they seem to think was not “worldly” like today).
Anyway, in his excellent exhortation Beyond Culture Wars, he makes two good points that speak to this issue:
But we have confused the Law and the Gospel in our day, just as the Galatians had done, and the medieval church had done. We would know better than to say ‘We are saved by our obedience to the Law’, but we find it more difficult to detect that ‘We will achieve victory by following these principles or steps’ is a new way of saying just that. (p.114)
Again, old-line fundamentalists might not use those exact terms as much as new-evangelicals, but clearly, what they are teaching as the way to avoid this “downward stream” is the same exact thing! It’s clearly “the Law“, and that term they even do use, as in the citation of Prov.6:23.
And most importantly, regarding the “spiritual armor” in Eph.6:
Each piece of the armor has something to do with the objective Gospel. Not one piece of this armor is something we have fashioned. Nowhere in the list, for instance, is ‘the pistol of piety’, or ‘the boots of a good heart and cheerful attitude.’
[And no “paddles of godly living and biblical reproof and separation” either! This was also brought to mind by the steps, -er-, points of Cloud’s supposed “Biblical path” cited in the article comment linked below].
Not because piety is unimportant, or because our inner experience is insignificant, but because when the enemy comes, he is not coming to ‘bind’ our house or give us generational curses; he is coming to strip us of our faith in the Gospel. He is coming to try to persuade us that we are too sinful; too unholy…We have not advanced enough in the Christian life; we have quenched the Spirit…
It is faith that unites us to Christ and all His benefits, so if the devil can take away our confidence in His atoning work, he couldn’t care less about wreaking temporal havoc on our family line.(p.233)
Now Horton criticizes the modern “therapeutic” approach and focus on “self-esteem” in the Church just as much as Cloud and the others, yet Cloud and others’ answer to self-esteem seems to be to focus on “sinfulness” and “unholiness” and remain there, just having the preacher preach against it to the congregation; to the body of Christians (of course, like the model inspired by Spurgeon and Edwards and the great revivalists of old), and to individuals seeking counselling.
Recall, the believer struggling with some problem needs “regeneration”, “repentance” and “obedience” among other things in order to “soothe [his] conscience” in place of therapy. (See https://erictb.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/the-gospel-and-faith-as-salvationregeneration-or-psychological-health/#comment-1315)
Hence, the universal answer boils down to how people “have not advanced enough in the Christian life”, and this the cause of all their problems.
This is the true message (accusation) of the Devil! We can judge it by its fruits: “hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies…” (Gal.5:20). Of course those guilty will all claim their “hatred”, “variance”, “emulation” (oneupmanship; trying to outdo the next guy preaching), “wrath”, “strife”, “sedition” (dissension) —is simply them trying to “reprove, rebuke, exhort” everyone else’s “heresies” (or “lawlessness”)! (We can see this in someone even more radical than Cloud, such as his one time sparring partner, hyper-KJVO Peter Ruckman).
One thing that is particularly striking, is that the traditional “five fundamentals of the faith”
1. The inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture
2. The deity of Jesus Christ
3. The virgin birth of Christ
4. The substitutionary, atoning work of Christ on the cross
5. The physical resurrection and the personal bodily return of Christ to the earth.
that originally defined fundamentalism, omitted grace alone; which is THE “fundamental” of fundamentals! There is absolutely NO GOSPEL at all and the others are essentially meaningless, without that one. (“Substitutionary atoning work of Christ on the Cross” doesn’t specify grace vs works! Other versions have been put out, that may add other points by combining some of these to make room).
This is a manmade list drawn up purely on the specific doctrines conservatives felt were under threat 100 years ago, in the beginning of the battle against “modernism”.
And this list allows people to virtually deny grace in favor of works, and yet still be accepted as truly “fundamentalist” or “orthodox”! (Then, people like this will often go on to insist that the true Gospel is not just five doctrines after all, but “every doctrine”, by which they get to denounce other evangelicals as heretical or “compromising”; and yet they continue to set the standard themselves).
This is why this movement has slipped by the radar of apologetics that goes after any one or any group that teaches anything seen as remotely softening on those other doctrines or the Gospel.
So this is what we are seeing here.
|Seeing the removal of Law as our motivation to please God as leading to no motivation at all betrays the hidden lawlessness of their mindset. The only reason to please God is the fear of Hell; there is no other reason. This changes the Gospel into a utopian scheme every bit as much as the liberal “social gospel”|
As for the problems of ecumenicalism and even other issues such as shallow worship and female pastors, the problem there is in the Church growing into an organization that has to survive financially, and thus essentially become subject to what any other money-making corporation has to live on, which is “market” factors!
The Church was originally an informal body of believers in Christ who fellowshipped, at first in the synagogue most of them came out of, and as they were cast out of that institution, they met in homes. Apostles spread the Gospel, and “overseers” (episkopos) acted as “shepherds” (poimen or “pastors”), including “elders” (presbuteros) and “teachers”, to safeguard the teaching.
When Christ did not return “soon”, at least in the way that many thought He would come, the succeeding body then reshaped itself in adaptation to the secular world. Leaders took on a lot of authority in the face of persecution, false doctrine and schism. It became a paid “profession” like “doctor”, “lawyer”, etc. that would become almost kingly. It eventually grew into the very “Romish” system leaders like Cloud condemn evangelicals for softening up to. It then fractures into smaller bodies, all with power-wielding leaders. These continue to fracture into smaller bodies, and finally, “independent” congregational bodies. Yet still with “offices” as paid, professional positions.
This is what the IFB movement advocates. (Though they will claim theirs existed side by side with the big churches the whole time, since the apostles. But the “small persecuted groups” they cite as forming this “unbroken chain” or “trail of blood” had vastly different doctrines and practices from modern Baptists. And even if some of the smaller churches don’t have seminary trained pastors, the position they in practice hold is still an official “profession”).
Yet even this scaled down organization begs the questions of why can’t women have “equal opportunity employment”, just like they supposedly can in any other incorporated institution? Isn’t it financially “responsible” to follow the market (the backbone of the capitalist system they believe is so “godly”), and give people what they want, make it “user friendly” for them, to survive and keep the money coming in so we can pay the leaders, and for the building and any other “staff”?
And people today want modern music, entertainment, “meeting felt needs”, psychological therapy, gender equality and harmony with other religious groups.
The point here is that while this movement argues about “separation” from the trappings of the big institutional churches, it still holds on to one of their central tenets, and that’s the magisterial power of the leader. (Even though they never use the term “magisterial”. Yet in practice, it’s just a microcosm of the same thing as the big churches). Some of these leaders have even been described in terms like “mini-popes”. A “pope” ruling over a single congregation. Revivalist Sam Jones, whom they follow, said “The pastor is king and the pulpit is his throne”.
So if you argue “the purpose of the Church is not to meet people’s needs”, then why do we have it meeting only one person’s need; the one “hired” (John 10:12) to run it?
Giving up that power and going back to the actual New Testament form of fellowship would break all these trends Cloud and others condemn. If you hosted fellowships in your home, then your wife would not be running it, and you can use whatever kind of music, Bible translation or counseling principles you think are Biblical, and associate with whatever other leaders, fellowships or movements you think are teaching the truth. If people don’t like it and leave, then there’s no pressure to entice them back in by changing.
But you would likely lose the adoration, power, and most importantly money and accommodation official paid leaders enjoy. (But the money now could all go into spreading the Gospel, and it was those who were not settled and constantly moved from place to place who were the ones Christians were commanded to support or accommodate, and also struggling churches and brethren. More on this subject: https://erictb.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/thoughts-on-church-organization).
The reason many of these issues have become so disputed as far as what Scriptures really teach is because Scripture does not recognize this later developed Church system. Not the huge powerful version, nor the scaled down “congregational” version. So it is not teaching us how to run it.
So it ends up with basically every man having their own idea of how the scriptural teachings are applied, and then splitting off from an older body to do it their own way.
If they were really consistent with avoiding the corruption of “the world” and the big churches, they would go back to this pattern. But most of them will not want to do that.
So they can just continue maintaining and guarding their little [501(c)3 protected] power base against all the encroaching enemies from without, and talk about all the effort “paddling upstream” and then comparing themselves to others seen as not keeping up enough. That really is the “easy” path!