You’ve probably noticed regular new labels and terms popping up. One of these, I’ve seen, is “cultural conservative.” I don’t know when that terminology was first used, but I know it differentiates certain conservatives from the “fiscal conservatives.” Whether you would have the “cultural conservative” label or the “fiscal conservative” one probably depends on why you vote for who you do. The latter would vote with his so-called “pocketbook.” Fiscal concerns may bring people together that do not see eye-to-eye on the culture. The two terms, culture and fiscal, divide conservatism.
What Is Cultural Fundamentalism
I believe that this division in conservatism between cultural and fiscal has now become the basis for a new division that I have read only in the last few years, that is, the cultural fundamentalists and the theological or doctrinal fundamentalists. With just a little looking, I have found that “cultural fundamentalism” has been around for awhile as a technical terminology for something entirely different than how Christian fundamentalists have used it. “Cultural fundamentalism” has referred to a usually violent antipathy to a change of culture. That label is often hung on the jihad of Islamic countries who desire one Islamic culture. So “cultural fundamentalism” has been around for awhile, but only recently has it been used, mainly as a pejorative, to color a certain brand of Christian fundamentalism.
In 1999 a professor at the University of Wisconsin, William P. Tishler, referred to “cultural fundamentalism” existing in the U. S. in the 1920s. He described it like this:
The 1920s was a time when many adherents of “Cultural Fundamentalism” attempted to ensure that all Americans followed the right patterns of thought: quest for certainty and predictability in social relationships; an order in human affairs that was at once familiar, comfortable, and unthreatening; and nostalgia for the idealized, non-industrial society of their parents.
Tishler’s syllabus reads like sheer propaganda, assigning motives to people without evidence. David G. Bromley in his 1984 book, New Christian Politics, calls the “new religious right” (NRR) “cultural fundamentalism.” He, like Tishler, would say that “cultural fundamentalism” supports things like right to life and male headship.
The first “cultural fundamentalism” struck me as an identifiable label was when I read what Tim Jordan said at the latest GARBC national conference. He warned:
If we produce ‘biblical’ reasons for cultural fundamentalism, they [the young Fundamentalists] know you are lying. And why do they know you are lying? It’s because you are!
So you see his usage of “cultural fundamentalism,” differentiating himself from that. I started looking for other usages and I read this from Bob Bixby on his blog in January 2008:
These first-generation Calvinists embrace Calvinism in order to embrace what they really want: contemporary worship, a swig of beer, or the sheer pride of life that gratifies the egos of those who, embittered because of everything they could not have in cultural fundamentalism on the basis of dumb argumentation, now have an indisputably better biblical argument for anything they want.
I don’t know exactly who Ben Wright is talking about at 9 Marks in Mar-April 2008 when he says cultural fundamentalists are atheological fundamentalists. He writes:
In addition, the theological Fundamentalism of Bauder and Doran represents a matured strain of Fundamentalism that intends to expose and disassociate from the atheological (sometimes called cultural) Fundamentalism that has dominated many segments of separatist Fundamentalism in recent decades.
Here’s how someone named Charlie defined “cultural fundamentalism” at SharperIron:
I have heard the term “cultural Fundamentalism” applied to those described as hyper-Fundamentalists. I like this term at least somewhat better, because it communicates that the real areas of controversy are not “doctrinal” in the sense of disputes about systematic categories (which some cultural Fundamentalists wouldn’t even be able to explicate), but rather cultural in the sense of affecting the look, feel, and function of church life. For example, you can sing vapid songs, but not CCM songs. You can murder the meaning of a Bible passage, but you have to have the correct initials on the binding. You can preach all sorts of bizarre allegory, but you need to be in coat and tie when you do it.
Kevin Bauder dealt with this way back in 2005 in his essay “A Fundamentalism Worth Saving,” especially in these two paragraphs:
This, I think, highlights the limited usefulness of a distinction between “historic” and “cultural” fundamentalism. Biblical obedience is never acultural for the simple reason that human beings are never acultural. We must always obey God at a particular time, in a particular place, situated in a particular culture. We do not really care whether George Carlin’s words were obscenities in 1560, nor whether their cognates are obscene in German or Norwegian. We care about what they mean in English at the beginning of the 21st Century.
In short, the only way to be a historic, biblical fundamentalist is to be a cultural fundamentalist. The only alternatives are, first, to say that cultures are beyond the Bible’s ability to critique and correct, or second, to argue that fundamentalism is concerned only with doctrine and not with obedience. I doubt that any of us really wants to take either of those steps.
It’s interesting to consider that Ben Wright says that Bauder is not a cultural fundamentalist, and wants to distinguish him from one, when Bauder himself says that a historic fundamentalist must be a cultural fundamentalist. I think I’ll go with what Bauder says about himself rather than what Wright says about Bauder to help his article along. It would do Ben well to also check out a certain paper produced by Mark Snoeberger, who teaches at Detroit, Doran’s seminary, and his words about cultural fundamentalism:
It is often suggested that there are two kinds of fundamentalism—doctrinal fundamentalism and cultural fundamentalism. The former is to be embraced as a defense of the orthodox core; the latter to be eschewed as a counter-cultural set of archaic, arcane, and even pharisaical traditions some of which are downright silly. There is some validity to this distinction. At the same time, since theology always informs our view of culture, it is impossible to completely divorce the two.
We have already noted above that in the specific issue of evangelism, fundamentalists have typically eschewed both the ―Christ of culture‖ approach (practiced broadly by liberalism and new evangelicalism) and also the holistic ―Christ transforming culture‖ approach (practiced in Kuyperian Reformed circles). I would suggest that this understanding has extended beyond evangelism to a whole plethora of cultural issues.
Snoeberger says you can’t divorce the theological fundamentalism from the cultural.
Why are doctrinal and cultural fundamentalism being divided? I believe there are those who want to hang on to the doctrine of separation. They think it’s in the Bible. But they only want to separate over certain theological issues. They want to allow much more room to maneuver on the so-called cultural issues. Therefore, if there exists doctrinal fundamentalism, they can still be a fundamentalist without associating with the fundamentalists who disassociate over violations of the right cultural practices.
Why I’m Not a Cultural Fundamentalist
I really do identify with these people who don’t mind being and being called “cultural fundamentalists.” But I’m not one. Most would make me a poster boy for cultural fundamentalism. I refuse it. I reject it. Don’t lay that label on me. However, I also don’t like that this division is occurring in fundamentalism. I see what it is, and it’s not good for fundamentalism in my opinion, really for the same reasons Bauder states in his “Fundamentalism Worth Saving” article.
But again, I’m not a cultural fundamentalist because, first, I’m not a fundamentalist. Fundamentalism is a movement that gets along and gets together based upon agreement on a short list of doctrines. I don’t see that as scriptural unity or biblical separation. To obey the Bible, I can’t be a fundamentalist.
I add to the above first reason that I’m not a cultural fundamentalist because I don’t separate based upon culture. I don’t unify based on culture. I refuse that designation by others. I will not allow that to stick. The name “cultural fundamentalist” is just being used to discredit a biblical belief and practice. It is sliding that scriptural doctrine and practice to something that is just cultural, really only opinion. That isn’t the case. I don’t believe and practice opinions. I am sanctified by the truth. My church will be sanctified by God’s Word to every good work.
Male headship isn’t cultural. It is biblical. Heterosexuality isn’t cultural. It’s scriptural. Gender designed distinctions in appearance isn’t cultural. They are biblical. Modesty isn’t cultural. It’s in God’s Word. Complementarianism isn’t cultural. It’s in the Bible. Spiritual, sacred worship isn’t cultural. It is scriptural. Dress that is distinct from the world isn’t cultural. It’s biblical. Patriarchy isn’t cultural. It is Scripture. I’m to preach the whole counsel of God’s Word. I’m to teach the saints whatever God has said in His Word. I’m not going to have those teachings diminished for the convenience of those who prefer to fit into an unbiblical way of life. Take the world, but give me Jesus.
The Bible is lived in the real world. The Bible reacts to culture. The Bible guides how we will live. The Bible tells us what is the right music, the right art, the right marriage, the right fashion, and the right family.
The term “legalism” isn’t in the Bible, so it is off to a bad start as a scriptural discussion. And, yes, I know “Trinity” isn’t in there either. It is kind of ironic that someone could get in trouble for something that isn’t in the Bible to start with, and in trouble for something that says we’re in trouble for adding to the Bible. Nevertheless, “legalism” is a term we’re forced to discuss and deal with today.
Modern society relegates moral and religious concerns to matters private and personal. They’re nobodies’ business. You have the utter independence of the individual, offering freedom from all moral restraint or bounds. On the other hand, legalism becomes the suppression of the individual to majority or authority rule. The authority imposes standards which might elevate appearances to greater importance. Someone might look the part without really meaning it. Is there a scriptural place to regulate the lives of individuals by outward authority or law?
The laws themselves, as long as they’re scriptural, are not the problem. Having less of them won’t solve insincerity. We’re a nation of laws. God is a God of law. He provides standards by which to follow Him. Jesus said that if we love Him, we’ll keep His commandments. We can keep His commandments and not love Him, but we can’t love Him if we don’t. Reducing the commandments, the words, or the sayings to a manageable number, an amount we can keep, doesn’t make the living more about love. The one falling short of obeying the commandments loves less.
Paul saw Galatians, who professed justification by grace alone, moving from the “faith alone” column to the “plus works” one. This wasn’t the church having rules or standards. These individuals weren’t shaking apostate Judaism. They were still earning their salvation no matter what Jesus had done. As a result, Christ was made “of no effect unto” them (Gal 5:4). This mindset propagated by false teachers also effected already saved, truly converted believers. They, who had “begun in the Spirit” “by the hearing of faith,” were influenced to “perfect” themselves “by the flesh” (Gal 3:2-3). God accepts the fulfillment of Scriptural standards produced by the Spirit through the life of the believer. The reduction of standards does not vindicate the acts of obedience any more than the addition of them. The key for acceptable obedience isn’t the minimization of the rules but the grace by which they are accomplished.
The modern obsession with lessening restrictions, reflected in evangelicalism today, doesn’t reveal God’s grace or His glory. It manifests rebellious hearts and corrupt consciences. God’s grace is a dynamic force of God that secures our working for Him. Grace looks to obey the precepts and principles of Scripture.
Often evangelicals flash the term “legalism” to make room for a questionable behavior or habit. I started part one of this two part series when a popular evangelical blog author attempted to defend a post about a popular television show (Lost) with another one against legalism. The author said one of the forms of legalism is the pharisaism of adding to scripture. Adding to the Bible is pharisaical and Pharisees are legalists. However, legalism of the Galatian variety isn’t adding to God’s Word. Actual scripture does just fine for Galatian legalism.
The evangelical charge of either legalism or adding to Scripture relates to the lasciviousness of evangelicalism today. I want to use one obvious issue as an example—women wearing pants. Why avoid it? I agree that the Bible doesn’t prohibit women from wearing pants. Case closed, right? Wrong. Deuteronomy 22:5 prohibits women from wearing the male garment. Pants are the male garment. So I’m coming from the Bible on this one. And a woman wearing the male garment is an abomination to God, so this is a moral issue. God is displeased by disobeying the prohibition.
Now this is where some say Christians have liberty because we have here one of these “doubtful disputations” of Romans 14:1. We are not to reject someone in doubtful disputations. Deuteronomy 22:5 hasn’t been doubtful until just recently when society decided they would overturn the symbols of God’s design of the two genders. And if we’re going to still keep obeying Deuteronomy 22:5, we’ve got replace the male symbol, the male garment. I get no answers, total silence, or a joke, from every person I ask to name the male symbol or garment that has replaced pants. Evangelicals and fundamentalists don’t want women to be prohibited from wearing pants, so they say that grace, God’s grace, permits their pant wearing. And since it is God’s grace that gives permission, it must be legalism now that prohibits. This circuitous line of reasoning makes “the commandment of God of none effect” (Mt 15:6), another kind of pharisaism.
I read with interest some of the arguments of the “lovers of grace” for justifying the night time soap opera. Here is one from one of the contributors there, Frank Turk:
Now, before stuff gets a little out of control, there is nothing that happened in the course of the 6 seasons of LOST which is anywhere near as gritty and frankly carnal as what happened to Er, Tamar, Onan, and Judah and his son Perez.
Frank argues that the content of biblical narratives justifies watching some sex scenes on television. His argument says that if it’s OK to read the Bible, and it is, then it’s also OK to watch something equal to or less sinful. I’m not going to provide opposition to this justification in this post, but I wanted you aware of what they’re saying. Phil Johnson adds this:
But it’s not really necessary to portray Rob and Laura Petrie sleeping in separate beds in order to preserve the purity of the viewing audience, and it’s not inherently sinful to be exposed to a story in which someone commits adultery–or even worse.
I think Phil is staying a little purposefully ambiguous, but he’s creating space for watching acts of adultery committed on television. It’s along the same lines of the Frank argument above. And overall, those who question this line of reasoning, they say, are “legalists.” And Phil would add that this kind of “legalism,” the type that questions this type of viewership based upon moral grounds, is more dangerous than emergent or emerging types of license. And this is coming from those who claim to be conservative evangelicals.
Was Job a tad legalistic when he followed that whole “covenant with his eyes” standard (Job 31:1)? I guess Job was just trying to rack up merit points. Either that, or he thought that having the right thought life would help him please God. And He did love God. We’re commanded by Paul, “Be not conformed to this world” (Rom 12:2a). But how can we follow that requisite for presenting our bodies a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1b)? Well, it’s by being transformed “by the renewing of our minds” (Rom 12:2b). And how are our minds renewed? They are renewed by what we fill them with. Garbage in, garbage out. Clean in, clean out. Christian leaders shouldn’t be encouraging their listeners to belly-up to the garbage trough. What do you think?
Now I say that these boy-who-cried-wolf type of accusations of “legalism” destroy. They encourage lasciviousness and license. They sear and suave the conscience. They encourage false worship. They impede holy living. They excuse sin.
In the last week someone wrote that these “legalists” require lists of rules for their adherents in order to compensate for personal insecurities. And then as a way of reaching unattainable spiritual heights, made impossible by the sheer magnitude of the regulations, the followers obtain special relics to overcome their spiritual shortfalls. Mark Farnham says these fundamentalist relics were objects associated with fundamentalist saints, like the signature of a well-known preacher or the car of John R. Rice or Jack Hyles’ ring. Interesting theory. I wonder if a heavy collection of C. H. Spurgeon memorabilia would count as spiritual relics as well. Or perhaps treks to the meccas of Together for the Gospel in Louisville or Shepherd’s Conference in Southern California might result in some pure spirituality that someone might otherwise be missing.
Following Farnham’s line of reasoning, I see evangelicals and fundamentalists also reaching for an abounding grace formerly unreachable without the relic of the worship team, the contemporary chorus, the goatee beard, the powerpoint screen medium, and the casual polo shirt. Some mixture of these ingredients effuse Christians with a grace elixir capable of bringing them to a different spiritual dimension. Grace is available to those hungry enough to release the ball and chain of an old version of Scripture, a stifling shirt and tie, and a constraining television standard. Nothing says grace quite like your best Sunday t-shirt and a Jars of Clay logo on the bottom of your skateboard.
From the very beginning, men have taken liberty both with what God has said and with His grace. In Genesis 3 Satan made a way for Eve to justify eating the forbidden fruit. God’s grace is great. It is wonderful. It is mankind’s only basis for salvation. And yet what? Men who even call themselves Christians turn “the grace of God into lasciviousness” (Jude 1:3). They use their liberty as “an occasion to the flesh” (Galatians 5:13).
Knowing the potential abuse of the grace of God, Paul immediately after so beautifully describing salvation by grace alone in Romans 1-5, starts Romans 6 by asking, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” And his answer in v. 2 is the strongest in the Greek language, translated in the KJV, “God forbid.” Then asking, “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” God’s grace isn’t license to sin. So Romans 6:1-2 provides evidence that grace will be perverted in this way, used as a reason for behavior that dishonors God. It signals a need for awareness of potential corruption or cheapening of grace.
1 Peter 2:16 says:
As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.
Here is another place that confronts the use of liberty as license. The context is obedience to government, but the principle is axiomatic. Those to whom Peter is speaking are free. They’ve been redeemed. He doesn’t want them, however, to use that freedom as a covering for evil. The cloak is a veil or a mask, and the mask is covering wickedness. In other words, Christian freedom is never to be used to cover license. Just because we have liberty in Christ doesn’t mean that we get to just do what we want. Someone truly righteous will conform to God’s Word because it says your freedom should be used as a bondslave of God.
Criticism of Adherence to God’s Word
One indication of licentiousness is criticism of a more strict adherence to God’s Word. You see this type of behavior described in 2 Peter 2 and it will often take on the nature of ridicule (2 Pet 3:3). A common, modern criticism coming from the more licentious is one of “legalism.” They label anyone a “legalist” who has stronger standards of holiness and righteousness than what they have. This strategy may have been around longer, but what marked the official beginning in my memory is the publication of the book “The Grace Awakening,” by Charles Swindoll. As Christianity has looked and behaved more and more like the world, new defenses are crafted to justify that kind of living. What drew my attention toward writing this post was a recent essay by Phil Johnson, the executive director of Grace to You. I want to diagnose his piece as a basis for assessing a type of defense of license.
Johnson chooses to paint separatists with this carpet roll sized brush:
[W]e have attracted more than our fair share of very vocal legalists who are convinced that the person with the weakest conscience (or the Bible college with the strictest rules) should get to define holiness for everyone—rather than letting Scripture define it for us. They believe it is their prerogative to dictate to everyone else what’s acceptable and what’s not, rather than following the principles of Romans 14 with regard to matters that aren’t altogether clear. Those people surface at every opportunity, and they seem to love making a fuss. Sometimes it’s fairly humorous (as in the “Chiquita” kerfuffle a few years ago).
I can assure that what Johnson writes here isn’t true. With a meanness in the spirit of a fundamentalism that Johnson decries, he slanders well-meaning and godly-seeming folks. I was involved in the “Chiquita kerfuffle” that Johnson mentions in this paragraph. He used a picture on his blog of a girl, who was wearing biker shorts. He has used a few other pictures with women with full thigh. What was “fairly humorous” to Johnson was his own ridiculing of the men who protested very lightly. It only got a little rougher for Johnson after he mocked those who said anything. I wrote this comment:
I’m wondering what I’m supposed to do when I get to the woman in the hotpants standing on the pyromaniacs logo. She seems to be pyro of a different kind.
And Johnson answered immediately with this:
For all the fundamentalist lurkers whose minds are in the gutter, the girl in the picture is wearing shorts, not a miniskirt or hotpants. The dog is the one in the miniskirt.
This is the kind of “legalism” that Johnson had to face, which he describes in this latest post. To that, he jumps to the idea that we, the legalists, have our minds in the gutter.
Here is how Johnson confronts this “legalism”:
But another kind of legalism is the legalism of the Pharisees. It’s the tendency to reduce every believer’s duty to a list of rules. This is the kind of legalism that often seems to surface in our comment-threads. At its root is a belief that holiness is achieved by legal means—by following a list of “standards.” This type of legalism doesn’t necessarily destroy the doctrine of justification like the legalism of the Judaizers. But it does destroy the doctrine of sanctification, and it is certainly appropriate to call it what it is: legalism—i.e., a sinful misapplication of law; an attempt to make law do work that only grace can do. Like the Judaizers’ brand of legalism, it brings people under a yoke of bondage Scripture has not placed on them.
I’ve read some of these comment threads to which Johnson refers, including the one, of course, that he makes his prime example. Really he tells a blatant lie. Perhaps he thinks he has liberty to tell such a lie. I think it is possible for a kind of legalism to destroy the right view of sanctification, but Johnson doesn’t know at all that the ones he is criticizing hold to such a view of sanctification as he represents. That doesn’t seem to matter to him.
Look at the last sentence Johnson writes—“it brings people under a yoke of bondage Scripture has not placed on them.” What? Scripture doesn’t place anyone under a yoke of bondage. Scripture can’t do that to anyone. Scriptural standards, even Scriptural lists of rules, don’t place anyone under bondage. They could, but God’s law is good. It is good if it is used lawfully. That should be the concern, whether it is used lawfully or not. And immodest dress is bad. Telling someone about that doesn’t put someone under some kind of legalistic bondage. God’s grace tends toward modesty. Informing a conscience with a scriptural standard of modesty will help someone’s conscience. That’s all good too and all helpful toward biblical sanctification.
Left Wing Legalism: Making God’s Word of None Effect
Johnson assumes that separatists, whom he calls “fundamentalists,” recognize only a kind of legalism that applies to salvation, the type of Galatians 1:6-9, adding to the gospel, what he calls the legalism of the Judaizers. He says, however, that these same separatists miss another kind of legalism, that of the Pharisees. He uses Galatians 5:1 as a text to expose this type of legalism, that he asserts that these separatists, “fundamentalists,” are guilty of, for which “fundamentalists” are “notorious,” and what has essentially destroyed fundamentalism. Be sure that this is a simplistic, very selective criticism of the troubles of fundamentalism.
Galatians 5:1 does not give any hint at a kind of legalism that adds to the commandments of God. Johnson twists the verse for his own licentious purposes. The “yoke of bondage” with which the Judaizers of Galatia would entangle men was the actual law (5:3-4), and circumcision specifically (5:2, 6, 11). Circumcision wasn’t a problem. Keeping the law wasn’t wrong for believers. It was making righteousness, whether justification or sanctification, based on human merit. All righteousness comes by grace through faith, even after salvation. However, it is still righteousness that comes by grace through faith. Nothing is said about adding anything to the law in Galatians 5. Johnson reads that into the text in order to criticize people with higher standards of holiness than he has.
It is true that Pharisees were guilty of adding to the law. Johnson mentions that. And it is possible for fundamentalists and evangelicals both to add to God’s Word. Mark 7 is a good passage in this, because Jesus there reveals two types of Pharisaical behavior. The first is the type to which Johnson refers, the adding kind, which is in vv. 7-8. However, he doesn’t talk about another kind of Pharisaicalness, taking away from what God said, which is in vv. 9-13. Jesus sums it up in v. 13: “Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.” Making the word of God of none effect is the Pharisee behavior of the evangelicals.
You can call reducing the law to a group of rules that you can keep on your own its own brand of Pharisaism, a left-wing kind of legalism. We are sanctified through the truth and God’s Word is truth. Jesus was sanctified by everything the Father told Him to do. In the same way, we are sanctified. If we reduce scripture to something less than scripture, like Johnson chooses to do, that will destroy sanctification.
The Grace of God
Salvation is by grace through faith alone. No amount of works will bring justification to anyone. In the sanctification of believers, it is God who works in them both to will and do of His good pleasure. God works all things together for good. God conforms to the image of His Son. But God is working. The grace of God will look like God. The grace of God teaches us to deny worldly lust, not expose ourselves to it and relish in it.
What upset Johnson enough for him to write what he did was the reaction to a certain blog post by one of his partners. That essay was discussing Lost, a television series that his teammate professed to have watched start to finish. A few criticized a publication that might encourage others to watch such a television show. That’s what bothered Johnson enough to write a “legalism” column. Does the grace of God teach us to watch Lost? That’s a question. And I think it’s worth thinking about. I understand that the Bible doesn’t say, “Thou shalt not watch Lost,” but there might be enough Scripture to guide us as to what kind of watching would honor God. A criticism of Lost is what Johnson thinks is the greatest kind of destruction of sanctification in human existence (according to his essay).
We don’t stop watching television to be saved. We don’t wear modest clothing to be saved. We don’t abstain from alcohol to be saved. We don’t communicate in a pure and righteous manner to be saved. But if we’re saved, we will want to live according to God’s Word, to conform to His will.
More to come on this subject.
When the Revivalist movement swept Canada and the United States, holiness and humility got a little extra face time. And, as far as that goes, we’re fine with holiness and humility getting some props. We certainly need to emphasize these things. So long, that is, as we emphasize them Biblically. And that brings up one of the glaring ironies of the Revivalist movement, still strongly promoted in some circles in our day. Because the “holiness” and “humility” preached among the Revivalists is not true holiness or humility. In fact, we might argue that they are sinful holiness, and sinful humility.
Revivalistic holiness is not Biblical holiness. It is nothing more than moralism. Moralism sets up a false standard. Rather than preaching what is right and acceptable according to the standard of God’s Word, moralism preaches what is moral according to the times. A false standard produces a false holiness, and false holiness is sinful holiness. As we have discussed previously, we must presuppose the authority of God’s Word in defining our standards of righteousness and holiness. “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” Paul warns us to “beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”
There might not be any one man who has been more guilty of preaching the rudiments of the world and the traditions of men than Charles Grandison Finney. Finney absolutely denied the doctrine of original sin, preached that man was basically good, denied the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement, denied that Christ’s atonement paid for the sin of any man, denied that the new birth was supernatural, believed that Christ died for a purpose not for people, and preached that salvation is the result of men repudiating sin, continually repenting and staying clean, in order to keep in good standing with God. In short, Finney based his theology on logic rather than on Scripture. As a result, Finney developed standards of holiness based on moralistic values and the traditions of men, rather than presupposing the pure standard of God’s Word. Finney preached a form of Christian perfectionism that exalted the self and relied on the flesh in order to obtain holiness. This kind of holiness, the kind that is generated from the sinful flesh, can only be sinful.
But we like Finney. And Finney wanted holiness. We want holiness, so we like the holiness that Finney preached. Do you want to defend the Finney standards? Do you think that a wrong standard is better than no standard? Or perhaps you would defend Finney by saying, “at least he preached holiness.” Then perhaps you should consider this… So did the Pharisees. Finney is not the first to develop his own standards of holiness. The Pharisees, in fact, beat him to it by more than a millenium. What do you think of the kind of holiness that the Pharisees indulged in? Would you consider Pharisaical holiness to be true holiness? Christ didn’t (Matthew 23:3). To be sure, they were very tedious about keeping all of the traditions and laws that they had invented. They were expert gnat-strainers. They also excelled at heavy-burden-binding (Matthew 23:4). But they were not so scrupulous about keeping God’s law, especially the weightier matters (Matthew 23:23) like judgment, mercy, and faith. Their kind of holiness is very unholy, for it fails to observe the whole of God’s law.
The same can be said for the kind of humility — I believe our modern day apostles of revivalism call it “brokenness” — preached by the revivalists in the Finney tradition. The humility they promote mirrors the kind of humility that Paul was speaking of in Colossians 2:18. Granted, he was referring to Gnostic humility. But false humility is false, whether Gnostic, Finneyistic, or perfectionistic. In the case Paul describes in Colossians, they were worshipping angels, as if they could not go directly to the Lord but instead relied on an intermediate agency to bring their requests to God. They promoted this kind of thing in the name of “humility.” They believed that praying through angels made them more humble. But their humility was not the result of a Scriptural understanding of God. Rather, it was a “voluntary humility.” The Greek word for “voluntary” is a participle form of the word thelos, which means “will” or “desire.” It means to take delight in, to devote oneself to a thing, delighting in it. The idea is that they were humble for the sake of being humble, because they delighted in humility, rather than because they were humbled by a proper view of God. It was a gratuitious kind of humility, and they developed a fixation on humility itself as an end. This kind of humility is sinful. This kind of humility actually produces pride and makes a man more self-absorbed, because he becomes enamored with his own humility. This is the kind of “brokenness” or humility promoted amongst the modern-day Finneyists. This kind of humility strips a man of all actual humility, and instead vainly puffs him up by his own fleshly mind.
Paul said, “Let no man beguile you of your reward” in this sort of humility. The phrase “beguile you of your reward” comes from a single Greek word, katabrabeuo. The prefix kata means “against,” and brabueo means “to act as a judge or empire.” A.T. Robertson tells us that the word brabeus is used for the judge at the games, and the word brabeion is used for the prize awarded to the victor. The Gnostics warned these Colossian believers that if they did not humble themselves and seek the mediation of angels, that they would lose their reward. But Paul warns the Colossians that if in fact they followed Gnostic teaching, the Righteous Judge would strip them of their prize.
Instead, they need to hold fast the Head, which is Christ (v. 10). From the Head, all the body by joints and bands has nourishment ministered to it. By the Head, the body being knit together (v. 2), increaseth with the increase of God. Revival, holiness, and humility, contrary to what Charles Finney taught, are not natural results of human effort. Rather, they are the result of God working in us, producing in us that vital life and communion that increases us with the increase of God.
Contrary to the Fundamentals of Revivalist Preaching, revival is never the result of meritorious power with God. Obtaining new heights of holiness and new degrees of humility do not make us especially powerful with God. I believe that Charles Spurgeon was addressing the perfectionism preached by Finney when he said, in his sermon “Power with God,”
when we speak of having power with God, we must not suppose that any man can have any meritorious power with God. It has been thought, by some people, that a man can attain to a certain degree of merit, and that, then, he will receive heaven’s blessings; — if he offers a certain number of prayers, if he does this, or feels that, or suffers the other, then he will stand in high favor with God. Many are living under this delusion; and, in their way, are trying to get power with God by what they are, or do, or suffer. They think they would get power with God if they were to feel sin more, or if they were to weep more, or if they were to repent more. It is always something that they are to do, or something they are to produce in themselves, which they are to bring before God, so that, when he sees it, he will say, “Now I will have mercy upon you, and grant you the blessing you crave.” O dear friends, all this is contrary to the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ! There is far more power with God in the humble acknowledgment of sinfulness than in a boastful claim of cleanliness, — much more power in pleading that grace will forgive than in asking that justice should reward; because, when we plead our emptiness and sin, we plead the truth; but when we talk about our goodness and meritorious doings, we plead a lie; and lies can never have any power in the presence of the God of truth. O brethren and sisters, let us for ever shake off from us, as we would shake a viper from our hand, all idea that, by any goodness of ours, which even the Spirit of God might work in us, we should be able to deserve anything at God’s hands, and to claim as right anything from the justice of our Maker! 
He went on to point out the pride of those who think themselves to have obtained a higher sanctification…
Have you ever tried to go to God as a fully-sanctified man? I did so once; I had heard some of the “perfect” brethren, who are travelling to heaven by the “high level” railway, and I thought I would try their plan of praying. I went before the Lord as a consecrated and sanctified man. I knocked at the gate; I had been accustomed to gain admittance the first time I knocked; but, this time, I did not. I knocked again, and kept on knocking, though I did not feel quite easy in my conscience about what I was doing. At last, I clamoured loudly to be let in; and when they asked me who I was, I replied that I was a perfectly-consecrated and fully sanctified man; but they said that they did not know me! The fact was, they had never seen me in that character before. At last, when I felt that I must get in, and must have a hearing, I knocked again; and when the keeper of the gate asked, “Who is there?” I answered, “I am Charles Spurgeon, a poor sinner, who has no sanctification or perfection of his own to talk about, but who is trusting alone to Jesus Christ, the sinners’ Savior.” The gatekeeper said, “Oh, it is you, is it? Come in; we know you well enough, we have known you these many years, and then I went in directly. I believe that is the best way of praying, and the way to win the day. It is when you have got on your fine feathers and top-knots that the Lord will not know you; when you have taken them all off, and gone to him, as you went at the first, then you can say to him, —
“Once a sinner near despair
Sought thy mercy-seat by prayer;
Mercy heard, and set him free,
Lord, that mercy came to me;” —
“and I am that poor publican, who dared not lift so much as his eyes towards heaven, but smote upon his breast, and cried, ’God be merciful to me a sinner,’ and he went home to his house justified rather than the brother over there, who talked so proudly about the higher life, but who went home without a blessing. “Yes, my brother, you are strong when you are weak, and you are perfect when you know that you are imperfect, and you are nearest to heaven when you think you are farthest off. The less you esteem yourself, the higher is God’s esteem of you. 
Spurgeon, Charles H.: Spurgeon’s Sermons: Volume 52. electronic ed. Albany, OR : Ages Software, 1998 (Logos Library System; Spurgeon’s Sermons 52)
Are separatists or fundamentalists, those who practice personal and ecclesiastical separation according to Scripture, the ascetics of Colossians 2:20-23? Evangelicals want you to believe so. They make this almost the entire application of Colossians 2:20-23. Churches will get a lot bigger when they allow their members or attendees to live just like or very close to the world. The evangelicals, like no other time in history, have stuck this kind of passage on separatists, to take away any guilt they might have for living lascivious lifestyles. Now their congregations and evangelicalism, and Christianity really, are paying for it. They read separatists and fundamentalists into this kind of passage to justify their manner of operation.
Ascetics added lists of rules to Scripture as an inclusion in their plan of salvation. They add works to grace and not just scriptural works, but extra scriptural works, works not found in the Bible anywhere. They also added extra requirements not found in God’s Word to real restrictions that were in Scripture. We’re talking about what is mainly monk or nun like behavior.
Paul hits the ascetics with his words in Colossians 2:20-23, and warns the church not to go back to works salvation after union with Christ had removed the believers from such human religion (v. 20). The ascetics were a kind of Gnosticism that believed flesh was evil, so their lifestyle became Pharisaical. They kept “spiritual” by refraining from certain activities like bathing. Someone might slip up and see your naked body. And then as we move forward to v. 21, they wouldn’t touch people, afraid that their sin could rub off, and wouldn’t even taste certain foods that were too good to eat and might result in some pleasure. If an ascetic were to do any of that, it would affect his spirituality.
Asceticism contradicted the sufficiency in Christ that Paul taught they had. They had all fulness in Him, were complete in Him. The ascetics’ regulations were made up, fake humility, phoniness, and ironically did not deny their flesh, but indulge it, what v. 23 says is ‘satisfying the flesh.’ What was supposed to be spiritual was actually flesh. It was all about man and nothing about Jesus, which is where all of salvation dwelt.
Evangelicals label separatists or fundamentalists as these ascetics. Do you understand what they are doing? They are judging the motives of separatists. It is true that some professing Christians, fundamentalists, will judge spirituality too much by external criteria. I dealt with that in my lost post on Colossians 2:16-17. Sometimes movements within fundamentalism have issues with this. In many cases, the problems of these segments of fundamentalism relates to their wrong view of the gospel, but it isn’t an asceticism issue.
These evangelicals, which include John MacArthur, John Piper, Charles Swindoll, Rick Warren, and others, make absurd overstatement, like this one by MacArthur:
[The] whole orientation was that spirituality is determined by external behavior. And you get into an environment like that and I can promise you some, it’ll intimidate you. You begin to feel that if you do the wrong things or if you say the wrong things or you happen to be for some organization or for some individual in the ministry and this whole outfit is against them, boy you are really on the out.
By smearing separatists with this asceticism charge, those part of evangelicalism feel in a superior spiritual position because of their woeful under-emphasis on externals. The Bible doesn’t shuck externals. They come out of internals, true, but externals are all over the place, and these evangelicals have greatly abused the grace of God by sending their people this direction. It has become a kind of left-wing legalism. True spirituality comes from an almost complete lack of emphasis on externals, resulting in a great dearth of holiness and spiritual discernment.
Now you’re seeing some of the conservative evangelicals backtracking to keep things from sliding over the precipice—books on personal separation and against worldliness. Those books are still anemic, and I think, because they’ve got a people who can’t handle something strong about it. However, they see that God’s grace has been cheapened to the extent that their own gospel has been affected with eternal consequences.
The ascetics are those who did bully the Colossians church members into reappraising their own salvation experience, because they were not following extra scriptural regulations. So let’s not do that. However, it isn’t talking about true spirituality manifesting itself in true self-denial and holy living—men having a short hair cut in obedience to 1 Corinthians 11:14, women wearing skirts and dresses in submission to Deuteronomy 22:5, not drinking alcohol because of Proverbs 23:31, faithful church attendance because of Hebrews 10:24-25, and not listening to or using worldly music because of a host of verses which teach about abstaining from worldly and fleshly lusts. All of that is setting your affections on things above (Col 3:1-3).
I think these lascivious ones are the biggest bullies in our culture today. They want to live like they want and they don’t want you to say anything to them about it. They don’t want you to judge their church as worldly. If you do, well, they’ll shoot an eisegesis of scripture at you.
Genesis 1:27 says: ” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” God created two distinct genders or sexes, male and female, with two separate, unique roles. Throughout Scripture we see that God expects men and women to keep the distinctions that He designed—the man the head, the woman the helpmeet (Genesis 2:18-25; 1 Timothy 2:9-15; 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22-33; Titus 2:1-5; 1 Corinthians 14:29-35; 1 Peter 3:1-7; Psalm 127-128; Romans 1:26-27). Man and woman have different roles, but are the same in essence (Gal 3:28). God designed men and women different, gave them different roles, and out of respect for Him, wants them to honor His design. To show agreement with His design, God gave this order in Deuteronomy 22:5.
The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.
The words are specific and easy to be understood. The Hebrew and the English say the same thing. There’s no problem with the translation here. The verse prohibits certain activity. You’ve got three parts—one for the woman, another for the man, and the consequence for not obeying the order. The cultures who have cared about the Bible have understood and practiced this verse the same way for centuries.
You see what the verse says. The verse doesn’t say:
The woman shall not wear the military gear of a warrior man.
The woman shall not put on ornaments that a man wears and use utensils that a man uses.
The woman shall try to look different than a man.
The woman shall not be a transvestite.
The woman shall not be a cross-dresser.
The woman shall not participate in Canaanite worship practices that require wearing a man’s clothes.
None of these have been how Christians have believed and practiced this verse. The verse is not a euphemism for something else. It isn’t idiomatic. It is very straightforward. And in the end, God says a man or woman who disobeys this prohibition is himself or herself an abomination to Him.
The woman is not to have on a male article. The man is not to put on a woman’s clothing. Both sides assume that a certain article or certain articles of clothing in a God-honoring culture have been designated exclusively male and a certain article or certain articles of clothing in a God-honoring culture have been designated exclusively female. It is obvious from the verse that God wants men and women distinguished from one another in appearance, but the verse says more than that.
I believe that in principle we are helped in understanding God’s will in this matter by looking at 1 Corinthians 11:3-16. In 1 Corinthians 11:3, we are reminded of the point of the instruction about dress and appearance: male headship and female submission. Arguments are made for Christians to continue differentiating themselves in gender and role with their appearance, and in particular a symbol of submission and then male headship, the head-covering. Despite women being equal in essence to men, God expected His designed role distinctions to be honored in appearance. Why? Creation order (1 Cor 11:7-9). A testimony to angels (1 Cor 11:10). To honor God (1 Cor 11:12). To not be a shame but to be a glory (1 Cor 11:7, 13-15).
There is a reason why the problem today is women wearing a male article, not men wearing a female. This is clear by seeing the problem in Corinth. It is a headship and submission issue. It is the woman wearing the pants, not men wearing the skirt. Today men may hide behind a woman’s apron, but it started with women wearing the pants.
Obedience to Deuteronomy 22:5 and 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 is more than a testimony or stumbling block issue. Obedience to these is a statement to God. It is an act of worship to Him. It is a deed of deferment to His greatness and goodness. By obeying the prohibition, we are saying to Him, “You are wise. You know what you are doing. You know what’s best for us.” Angels were there at the creation of male and female, so they were there to see what God had in mind. I think there is more to it, but that isn’t as important. For instance, I believe that we learn sexuality and gender and role by appearance. This is a means by which children grow up and see the differences. In other words, without the clear delineation in the roles by means of the symbols of male headship and female submission, we have role confusion. This in part explains the rampant homosexuality. Sexuality is in part learned and we haven’t taught it as a culture.
Deuteronomy 22:5 doesn’t mention pant-skirt. It, however, assumes that God’s people would have such articles that were exclusive to each gender. And it is true that we have had that in our culture and because of Deuteronomy 22:5 and 1 Corinthians 11:3-16. What is it that in our culture has symbolized male headship, an article that was uniquely designated for the male, to be seen as a testimony to God and others of our agreement with Him in His design? Let’s think about it. Is it the hat? Is it the shirt? Is it underwear? Is it shoes? Is it the cape? Is it socks? No and no and no and no and no. Is it pants? Yes. Does history show this? Yes.
So why did women start wearing pants? It wasn’t out of conviction. It wasn’t acceptable to Christians and not really accepted by anyone when our culture reflected more Judeo-Christian ethics. Was it a group of godly people who got together to pray about being obedient to to God’s will? Of course not. It was in defiance of the idea of male authority. It was women’s liberation. It was convenience. Today it is just normal. Women don’t want to stick out, want to fit in. So now it is worldliness, going along with the spirit of the age, and even in churches. Here is a church that has that crazy skirts-only-on-women standard and the women wear pants in the other church—which one will I choose?
I’m not going to argue about whether it should be obeyed any longer because it is Old Testament law. That is a johnny-come-lately argument that goes along with the licentiousness and antinomianism of our day. Men use grace as an occasion to the flesh. Grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires. As it applies to Deuteronomy 22:5, this argument wasn’t even around until women started wanting to wear pants.
You’ve got those who use the “they wore robes” argument. Let’s jump right to their point. They say that men wear men’s pants and women wear women’s pants. Christians or this culture have never made that designation. We have never stated the unique design of the woman’s pant. What makes “women’s pants” to be “women’s pants?” There isn’t any distinction. Again, that’s just an argument after the fact. The whole point of pants was to take away differences and distinctions. Everyone knows this. Every history says this. The purpose of Deuteronomy 22:5 is distinction and difference. The purpose of pants was sameness. The robes argument doesn’t work because even if they were robes, which the passage doesn’t say, there would have been a unique male robe and a unique female robe. We haven’t done the same thing with pants.
The biggest argument that I hear is that the whole conversation is just stupid, tiresome, or ridiculous. The people that talk about it “have an infatuation with a different era and want everyone else to have the same.” Or, “you legalists!” The whole thing is actually about God and what he said. Christians should care. However, believers have decided to go along with the spirit of the age. Sad, but true.
If it isn’t about how crazy this discussion is, then it is about how that instead of focusing in on such a minor doctrinal point, why don’t we spend our time on the grand, important issues, like justification and grace and the trinity and the love of Christ. Or, “stop juding people’s external appearances and start looking at their heart and how much they love the Lord.” Whoever says those things ought to think of this: “abomination to God.” The very fact that God put this in the Bible makes it important enough, but we know that there is more to it than only a dress and externals issue. It does have to do with the heart.
The internet is new. Just look at Al Gore. Social networking sites (SNS) are even newer. In this era of modernity with the explosion of the information age, there is more to come. C. H. Spurgeon faced new kinds of entertainment at the end of the nineteenth century. He had words of warning based on scriptural principles for issues not found in the Bible. These require the development of spiritual discernment. God didn’t give church leadership a mandate to bury its head in the sand. We should give guidance in new areas of potential danger to the church.
A common opposition to biblical application to cultural issues is argument by moral equivalence. I’ve heard a couple different types even this month. One goes like this: “You can get in trouble with any kind of communication device. You can sin on the phone or on the internet too. SNS are no different. You could get hit crossing the street. Are you going to stop doing that too?” How did you know? I’m putting my finishing touches on my no street-crossing post, the father of all safety-patrol. I’m kidding, but I do believe there is a biblical answer to this. It’s 1 Corinthians 10:12: “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” We have admonition against presumptuousness about sin. Certain places are of greater temptation than others. Some have worse associations.
Another moral equivalent has been the “SNS isn’t that much different than writing on a blog and you do that” argument. I could waste time here. I could violate scripture. I could cause damage to a church. I could get puffed up with pride over readership. I say “yes” to all of those. I could do any four of those “couldas.” So I should look at blogging with scrutiny as well. I do. I’m not going to write about it, but I do. However, as I have, I see them as very different activities. My blog posting doesn’t parallel with the activities of facebook.
The responses I’ve read and heard in this SNS discussion remind me of the major differences in the approach to liberties. What I am often reading from evangelicals and even fundamentalists are several unscriptural and indefensible perspectives of liberties. They’ll deny it, but I’ll also explain how it is that they do take on these three at least.
1. We have liberty to sin.
They say, “Do not say that.” I say, “You don’t say it, but you do it.” How? Some commands in Scripture require a secondary premise. Let me provide a syllogism.
Major or First Premise: The woman who wears the male article is an abomination to God.
Minor or Second Premise: Pants are the male article.
Conclusion: The woman who wears pants is an abomination to God.
I’ve found that Christians today won’t even agree on the major premise, even though Deuteronomy 22:5 says: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.” “That which pertaineth unto a man” is the male article. I often ask men, what is the male article. Most don’t want to answer it. They know it’s pants, so instead of replying to it, they say: “the cape,” “the derby,” etc. They take a position of mockery akin to those who scorn the coming of Christ in 2 Peter 3. Without pants, there is no male garment any longer, and people know it. And they don’t care. It isn’t an abomination to them, only to God, so it doesn’t matter.
I recognize that I’ve chosen a more controversial example, but this isn’t a liberty issue. We don’t have liberty just because there’s a controversy. We don’t have liberty just because men have muddled up this issue. This is how Christians have practiced for centuries. Since the onslaught of feminism and unisex, men have changed the practice in favor of one more acceptable to pagan society. We have liberty in non-moral issues, and things that are an abomination to God are moral. It’s a sin to violate God’s instruction. There are many other examples.
2. We have the right to cause someone to stumble, to be a bad testimony, to offend another person’s conscience, to conform to the world, or to profane worship.
They say, “I do not say that.” I say, “You do too.” How? Evangelicals and now many fundamentalists turn 1 Corinthians 6-10 and Romans 14 on their head. Those passages don’t emphasize demanding rights. They emphasize limiting liberties for the sake of weaker brothers, of unsaved people, and for the greater glory of God. And yet the evangelicals and fundamentalists now see this as a basis for many unscriptural activities.
3. I don’t practice personally unpopular biblical application.
They say, “I do not say that.” I say, “You do too.” How? Evangelicals and many fundamentalists say something like what Nathan Busenitz wrote over at Pulpit Fellowship:
[T]he Bible tells us “not to exceed what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). We cannot add to the Scripture without subtracting from its effectiveness in our lives. If we elevate personal preference and man-made tradition to the level of God’s Word (Mark 7:6-15), we risk entangling people in the bondage of legalism and diverting them from the true issues of sanctification (Romans 14:17).
It sounds good. They say we don’t want to exceed what is written. And yet Phil Johnson recently wrote what he believed determined what foul language was:
Culture determines this. It’s quite true that the standard may be different from culture to culture and generation to generation. But both history and literature prove that it’s not nearly as fluid or as nebulous as postmodern language-theorists suggest.
You read it. If you want to know what cuss words are or what smutty speech is, culture determines this. Really? I agree with Phil wholeheartedly. To make application, you have to do that with truth not found in the Bible. Certain words, based upon the culture, we can conclude, “Yes, that’s foul language.”
We can also determine by the culture what is worldly dress, what is pagan music, and all sorts of other important application of Scripture. We do it the same way. Here’s what happens. Busenitz and Johnson (and me) don’t like the profanity in the pulpit. That’s wrong. So there, it’s OK to “exceed what is written” in Scripture. They throw that verse around at what they want to throw it at. But when it comes to these other cultural issues, they are blind in their application. What you will see them do is make statements like this monumental and mocking strawman that Johnson threw out for areas that he does not prefer to make application:
Yeah, but no one here (except maybe Kent Brandenburg) has ever seriously suggested that 1950’s style is the standard to pursue, either. What I have consistently argued for is clarity, biblical language (as opposed to some subculture’s hip patois), sound doctrine, and boldness in our proclamation of the truth-claims of Scripture that aren’t currently fashionable.
It’s weird how that keeps getting morphed into 1950s-style haircuts and poodle skirts in the thinking of some of the very same people who are so keen to keep up with postmodern fashions. I’ve said nothing whatsoever about dress codes, hair styles, or ’50s fashions in corporate worship or music. Let’s not pretend this post is about that.
What do you think of those arguments? See what evangelicals and fundamentalists do? They pick and choose the kind of applications they want to make and then veto the others. In this case, he talks about 1950’s style (who would make that argument?) or “poodle skirts” as a way to frame what is what Zephaniah 1:8 calls “strange apparel.” Evangelicals and fundamentalists commonly protect their popularity by making these areas of application matters of “liberty,” and the ones that they don’t like, they say they can be determined by the culture. You can see it yourself.