“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.” ― Dalai Lama XIV link
<Update 5/27/17 : We have receive a comment that the Midrash was really called the Mishnah. I am very confused and will do some more research on the matter.>
Over the last decade, while studying the reasons why people choose. to *convert* to Calvinism, I have often read statements like the following.
My old church (non-Reformed) was legalistic and my Calvinist church is not.
When inquiring as to the type of issues that they mean by legalism, these may include, but are not limited to:
- Alcohol consumption
- An adherence to only one translation of the Bible
- Young earth creationism
- Women should wear dresses and skirts
- Men's hair should be above the collar
- A strict adherence to premillenial dispensationalism
- Christian teens must listen to Christian music exclusively
- A Second baptism by the Holy Spirit
- "Walk the aisle"salvation
- Restriction on which movies or TV shows one can watch
The types of churches these folks attended were myriad:
- SBC(not Reformed)
- Assemblies of God
I agree that the things mentioned above are legalistic. However, I believe that legalism infects all denominations of Christianity, including the Neo-Calvinism.
What is legalism?
Since my purpose in this post is to prove that Calvinists can be as legalistic as any other group, I thought it would be important to use a Calvinist description of legalism. RC Sproul wrote 3 Types of Legalism. Here are some excerpts.
Basically, legalism involves abstracting the law of God from its original context. Some people seem to be preoccupied in the Christian life with obeying rules and regulations, and they conceive of Christianity as being a series of do’s and don’ts, cold and deadly set of moral principles. That’s one form of legalism, where one is concerned merely with the keeping of God’s law as an end in itself.
The legalist isolates the law from the God who gave the law. He is not so much seeking to obey God or honor Christ as he is to obey rules that are devoid of any personal relationship.
The second form of legalism divorces the letter of the law from the spirit of the law. It obeys the letter but violates the spirit.
The third type of legalism adds our own rules to God’s law and treats them as divine. It is the most common and deadly form of legalism. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees at this very point, saying, “You teach human traditions as if they were the word of God.” We have no right to heap up restrictions on people where He has no stated restriction.
How basic OT commandments morphed into one huge mess.
The Ten Commandments first grew into a list of 613 commandment derived from the Old Testament (Wikipedia.) These are also known collectively as mitzvot or the Law of Moses. There is some minor controversy over the exact number but no matter the list, it was long. At the link on Wikipedia one can read the 613 commandments known as Maimonede List.
As our readers know, the Deebs are always asking questions. When a pastor claims to have authority, we ask what does that look like in practice and when/why should we submit to that authority. (We are still waiting for a definitive answer, by the way.)
It looks like the folks who believe the Old and New Testament have been asking the same sort of questions throughout the millennia. For example, what exactly does it look like to keep the Lord's day holy and rest from our labors? The Jewish religious leaders, over time, decided to answer what each and every one of those 613 commandments looked like in actual practice. These instructions were added to a book called the Midrash. The Midrash contained thousands upon thousands of minute injunctions that must be followed to be assured that one is truly following all of God's law.
Here is an excellent overview how on basic laws and commandments grew into serious burdens for the people of God.
Understanding the Midrash
While following 613 commandments would be hard enough, over time Jewish leaders began to slowly add to these laws in the Midrash. This additional teaching is basically an ongoing compilation of sermons and sayings by Jewish Rabbis meant to interpret the original Mosaic Law. The original intent of these additions was to clarify the law, but it ended up adding many layers of complicated regulations. This Midrash was already lengthy in Jesus’ day and continues to grow to this day. So for the Pharisees, they not only tried to follow the 613 commandments of the Mosaic Law, but the literally thousands of new commandments that were created to clarify the original 613 commandments.
For example, in the Mosaic Law, one of the commandments is to keep the Sabbath holy, which means that Jews were not supposed to work on Saturdays. But to clarify this, the Jewish scholars created 39 separate categories of what “work” means, and within those 39 categories there are many sub-categories. So to follow the rule of not working on the Sabbath, there are literally thousands of sub-rules to follow, including how many steps you can take, and how many letters you can write on the Sabbath.
Here are a few of those Sabbath rules in the Midrash you might find interesting.
- It was unlawful to wear any jewelry or ornaments on the Sabbath, since this might be construed as carrying a burden.
- It was not permitted to wear false teeth on the Sabbath (that must have been a hit in the synagogue services).
- You were allowed to eat radishes on the Sabbath, but you were warned against dipping them into salt because you might leave them in the salt too long and pickle them and this was considered to be Sabbath-breaking. The Pharisees actually had discussions as to how long it took to pickle a radish.
- It was fine to spit on a rock on the Sabbath, but you could not spit on the ground, because that made mud and mud was mortar, and that was work.
- If a woman got mud on her dress, she was to wait until it had dried and then she was permitted to crumple the dress in her hands one time and crush it and then shake it out once. If that did not do the trick, then she had to wear it.
Jesus was most likely referring to the book of rules when he said in Matthew 23:1-4(Bible Gateway:)
23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. 5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a]wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
He went on to speak strongly against the Pharisees in verses 13-37. Here are couple of verses.
13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.  [b]
15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
There is no question that Jesus was not pleased.
Legalistic rules often develop around the *it* subject which today is gender roles.
Here are a few examples of this.
Tim Challies does not believe that women should read Scripture out loud in a public gathering.
Challies wrote Men, Women & the Public Reading of Scripture. In his explanation, he claims that vocalizing Scripture is considered teaching.
If you read through the article in which I described how we go about preparing to read Scripture, you will see that we expect those who read to understand that this is a teaching ministry. The preparation is meant to be preparation to teach—not just to read well, but to read in such a way that the reader is a teacher.
In this way we see the public reading of Scripture as being in the same category not as singing or praying, but as preaching. It is a teaching role.
I believe we stand on firm biblical grounds here. In 1 Timothy 4 Paul tells Timothy to devote himself to 3 things—3 related things: the public reading of Scripture, exhortation and teaching. This follows Paul’s instruction that women are not to teach or exercise authority over men. It is my understanding that this applies to all 3 of these things—reading Scripture, exhortation and teaching. These are 3 parts of the same ministry—that of exercising authority in teaching. So I see it explicitly there, and then I find it implicit in my general understanding of teaching, gender roles and complementarity.
There is nothing in Scripture that states women cannot read the Bible out loud during a worship service. The person who is reading is not teaching. They are reciting the words. The words are teaching since the Bible is the Word of God. If God did not want women to read Scripture in public, He would not have allowed them to speak the words which would become Scripture. Take Mary's words for example in Luke 1:46-55 Bible Gateway. Should God have hushed Mary since she was speaking Scripture out loud?
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
John Piper: Women Cannot Be Police Officers.
John Piper has twisted himself into a pretzel, attempting to make sure that no woman will ever *press her authority* into his breathing space. He comes up with some confusing rules regarding women and their personal and directive influences. Read this carefully. It is obvious that his rule is that a woman should not be in a position to have direct authority over any man, including criminals.
Once again, he tries to claim that this is all from the Bible but it seems to me that he is making up Piper's Midrash.
So instead of a list of whether policeman is on the man job or the woman job list, instead of a list, I have tried to provide guidelines for men and women who sincerely want to be submissive to the Bible. And that really is the key. If a person approaches this question and just says, “I am going to do what I want to do,” then I don’t have much to say to them on this score. But if the aim really is, “Does the Bible have something to say here at the root level of my manhood and my womanhood that would affect the kind of work I do in relationship to the opposite sex?” then I want to submit to that and go for it, because that would be God’s best for me.
There is a continuum from very personal influence, very eye-to-eye, close personal influence, to non-personal influence. And the other continuum is very directive — commands and forcefulness — directive influence to very non-directive influence. And here is my conviction. To the degree that a woman’s influence over a man, guidance of a man, leadership of a man, is personal and a directive, it will generally offend a man’s good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and thus controvert God’s created order. To an extent, a woman’s leadership or influence may be personal and non-directive or directive and non-personal, but I don’t think we should push the limits. I don’t think those would necessarily push the limits of what is appropriate. That is my general paradigm of guidance. And you can see how flexible it is and how imprecise it is. So let me give some examples.
Owen Strachan does not think adult women should wear leggings because only kids wear leggings.
Owen, the inventor of the term sanctified testosterone-another made up concept, now has a new definition of maturity for women. In THE KIDIFICATION OF AMERICA: ON THE GOODNESS OF MATURITY, Strachan discusses his concept of maturity which by appealing to a Scripture verse that makes little sense in this context. Here is his text.
Theocentricity breeds growth. It occasions the killing of sin and death to self. It springs into motion the ongoing dynamic of maturity: we leave childish things behind and embrace adulthood. This is the ongoing work of the believer according to Paul: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11). What a text this is for a “Kidified” age.
Strachan applies this to the clothes that women wear, amongst other things.
We’re in the age of the “Kidification” of America. We adults watch comic-book movies, wear the shorts and leggings that seven-year-olds have traditionally worn, take our favorite games with life-and-death seriousness, show up late to the functions we attend, refuse to build a vocation in order to hold a series of jobs that we never truly commit to, spend above our means and thus incur heaping debt, opt out of our commitments on a whim, snark and blurt out a constant stream of commentary on social media, narcissistically whine about how hard life is (to people whose lives are demonstrably harder than ours), and act wounded when confronted with our faults.
Look at this sentence "wear shorts and leggings that seven year olds have traditionally worn…" Seriously? Clothing trends must now be biblically judged on what has been traditional. What constitutes traditional? For example, women in most urban centers throughout millennia have worn full length dresses. Little girls were sometimes allowed to wear shorter dresses. Does this mean that maxi-dresses must be worn since it is traditional for women to do so? Also, traditional for who? European women? Women who live in rural villages in Africa? Whose traditions?
Clothing traditions have undergone a major shift in the last few decades. Jackets for men are rarely required for men at restaurants. I have noticed that older women are wearing pants and jeans more often. Many women now wear exercise clothes as they run their errands and fit in some exercise in between times. My husband has noticed that a fair number of older women wearing leggings with tunic tops when they come for office visits. Not only are such clothes comfortable but are stretchy enough so that people who have medical problems do not have tight belts and unforgiving clothes pressing on uncomfortable areas.
I, too, wear leggings and skinny jeans that look like leggings along with loose fitting tops as do many women. I predict that in years to come, the causal and comfortable trend will continue. This has nothing to do with wanting to be a kid. Strachan must live in a bubble if he thinks that clothing trends should be mandated by a bunch of sub-rules that he and his dudebros make up.
The bottom line:
The Bible does not clearly state any of the above decrees made up by men who have their own biases on how to interpret aspects of Scripture. The doctrines of grace clearly do not protect the Calvinists from made up rules, no matter how much these men claim they are being Biblical. They are merely making up rules they like, just like everybody else.