Binding Where God Has Not
(A Departure from the
Proper hermeneutics demands respect for the authority of the word of
God. Legalism, on the other hand, is a departure from the divine
hermeneutics that really doesn't respect the authority of the word.
Not all who use the term legalism understand what it is.
Neither is everyone who is charged with being a legalist guilty. It
is true, however, that legalism is real and alive. It was a problem
in the first century and is still a problem today.
What is Legalism?
Many times when we contend for a "thus saith the Lord", we
are charged with being legalists. So, let's first clarify what
legalism is not:
It is not making a plea for Bible authority. All that we do
in word or in deed is to be in the name of the Lord Jesus (Colossians
3:17). To do something in the name of another is to do so by his
authority (cf. Acts 4:7). Thus, Paul's instructions of Colossians
3:17 demands that we make such a plea for Bible authority.
It is not an effort to be obedient. Striving to obey the
Lord and demand that others do so as well, is not legalism for God
demands that we obey him. Eternal salvation is offered to those that
obey (Hebrews 5:8-9; Matthew 7:21). Only those that obey are purified
(1 Peter 1:22). Everlasting destruction is promised to those that
obey not the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
It is not a demand to careful in following the Scriptures. All
too often we are accused of being too careful in our effort to
follow God's instructions and are thus called legalists. However,
Paul said that the Christian should walk "circumspectly" or
"carefully" (Ephesians 5:15).
It is not following law. Some would have us believe
that we are not under any kind of law. Thus, we are told that those
who talk about what the law of God is, are legalists. If we are not
under law, there is no such thing as sin, since sin is a
transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). The point John is making in 1
John 3:4 is that the child of God has a law by which he lives. Paul
tells us that we should fulfill the law (Galatians 6:2). James tells
us that we are under the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25).
If these four things are what legalism is, then I must plead guilty
to be a legalist.
What then is legalism? It is making laws or regulations where God
made none. It is insisting that others follow your conscience
The Problem With Legalism
When we make requirements where God has made none, we have a basic
problem with respecting the authority of God.
It disregards the authority of the word of God. In Acts 15,
when the brethren were discussing whether circumcision should be
required of the Gentiles, appeals were to the authority of the word
of God. Please notice the contrast in the Jewish teachers who were
binding where God had not (requiring circumcision of the Gentiles)
and the apostles' appeal to the authority of God. The apostles
presented three principles: (1) Necessary inference (vv. 7-11).
Peter argued from the case of Cornelius that the Holy Spirit falling
on that household necessarily infers that the Gentiles can be saved
without being circumcised. (2) Approved example (v. 12).
Paul and Barnabas reasoned that their work among the Gentiles is an
example that they need not be circumcised. Furthermore, their example
is approved of God as evidence by the miracles they worked. (3) Command
or direct statement (vv. 13-21). James appealed to a direct
statement from the book of Amos (9:11-12) that stated that the
Gentile would be saved.
In contrast to Acts 15, legalism disregards the authority of the word
by binding what cannot be bound by command, example or necessary inference.
It makes laws where God made none. The apostles were
instructed that what they would teach by inspiration would be what
God had already bound in heaven (Matthew 19:19; 18:18). In other
words, they could only bind what God had bound. On the other hand,
legalism binds where God has not bound. We must only speak what is
found in the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11).
It disregards the Bible as a sufficient guide. The
Scriptures are complete and are sufficient "for doctrine, for
reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the
man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good
work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). To bind anything additional to what
God has bound in his word is to deny the sufficiency of the Bible.
It adds to the word. Moses warned the children of Israel
saying, "You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor
take anything from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD
your God which I command you" (Deuteronomy 4:2). Likewise a
warning is recorded by John, "For I testify to everyone who
hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these
things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this
book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this
prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from
the holy city, and from the things which are written in this
book" (Revelation 22:18-19). When we enforce regulations that
God has not given, we are adding to the word of God.
The Pharisees: An Example of Legalism
The Pharisees bound their own restrictions as law. The
Mishna contained many rabbinical interpretations of and additions to
the law that God gave through Moses. The Pharisees condemned the
disciples for eating with unwashed hands (Matthew 15:1-9). The law
did not make such a requirement, but it was strictly enforced by the
Jews. In fact, they required more than just a simple washing of the
hands. One must follow the specified ritual for cleansing.
The Pharisees likewise had greater restrictions for the Sabbath than
God had. Again, the disciples were condemned for plucking grain on
the Sabbath (Mark 2:24-28). Also, Jesus was targeted for healing on
the Sabbath (Luke 6:6-11; cf. Matthew 12:1-2; 9-14).
The real problem was that they didn't respect God's law. It
was not that the Pharisees were trying to follow the law of God too
close, but that they didn't follow it close enough. Don't forget that
they neglected the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23). They
were hypocrites (Matthew 23:3-4; Luke 11:47-48). That lack of respect
for God's law caused them to both take away from and add to the law.
Many examples of adding to God's law (making restrictions or
requirements where God made none) can be given. It would not be fair
to say that all of these examples given are examples of people who do
not have any respect for the word of God. In some of these cases it
may be a matter of not knowing what God has required (or authorized)
and what he has not.
No Bible classes. Some brethren have argued that we cannot
separate into various classes. There must have been some dividing
into various groups or classes on the day of Pentecost for the text
says, "And when this sound occurred, the multitude came
together, and were confused, because everyone heard them
speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled,
saying to one another, 'Look, are not all these who speak
Galileans?'" (Acts 2:6-7, emphasis mine, DVR). Obviously more
than just Peter was speaking. They either were divided into classes
or there was mass confusion (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:33).
No women teachers. A few brethren have contended that we
cannot have women teach classes of children or women. Yet, Paul told
Timothy, "And the things that you have heard from me among many
witnesses, commit these to faithful men (Greek: anthropos
which is the word for mankind, not aner which is males- DVR)
who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2). Older women
are to teach the younger women (Titus 2).
Must use only one container for the Lord's Supper. No Bible
principle is violated by the use of a plurality of communion cups any
more than the use of a plate for the unleavened bread. Both are aids
to carrying out the command to eat the Lord's Supper. Furthermore,
the text uses a figure of speech called metonomy (the
container mentioned for the contents) when referring to the fruit of
the vine. For example, Paul records the Lord's words saying, "For
as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the
Lord's death till He comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26). Thus, to
require that only one container be used is making restrictions where
God made none.
Can't use a pitch pipe. Some brethren have objected to the
use of a pitch pipe thinking, perhaps, that it was like using
instrumental music. Those who make this objection fail to understand
that difference in an aid and an addition to the
word. An addition involves another element being added to the word.
When an aid is used, one is doing nothing more than what God says.
When a pitch pipe or tuning fork is used, one is doing nothing more
than what God said, which is sing (Ephesians 5:19). If one forbids a
pitch pipe he is making a restriction God did not make. To forbid one
aid would require consistency and forbid other aids like, song books,
lights, pews, and microphones.
Must say a formula when baptizing. The Oneness Pentecostals
have argued that a formula of words ("in the name of Jesus")
must be uttered when one is being baptized. Some brethren, while
rejecting the doctrine of the United Pentecostal Church, think that
some formula of words must be stated over the one being baptized.
Both of the above fail to understand what is meant by doing something
in the name of another. To function in the name of someone means to
function by his authority (cf. Acts 4:7). Thus, to baptized in the
name of Jesus simply means to baptized by his authority. In fact, all
that we do is to be in the name of Christ (Colossians 3:17). That
doesn't mean that I am to utter a formula of words with every thing I
do. It simply means I am to function by the authority of Christ. To
require a baptismal formula is to bind where God has not.
Only use the KJV of the Bible. The King James Version is
certainly a good translation. But there are other translations of the
Bible both before 1611 and since that time. The ASV and NKJV are
certainly reliable. That is not to say that all translations are.
They are not. However, some brethren have argued that the KJV is the
only reliable translation. I had one brother who so argued to tell me
that if he had lived prior to 1611, he would have done without a
Bible. Those who so argue fail to realize a couple of things. (1) The
KJV they use today is not a 1611 edition, but is a copy of several
revisions of the 1611 translation. (2) Proper translation gives to us
in our language what the original says. For example when Jesus quoted
from the Old Testament, he was not quoting the Hebrew Bible, but from
the Septuagint (LXX) translation (a translation of the Hebrew Old
Testament into the Greek). To require one particular
translation to the exclusion of any other, is to require what God has not.
A woman can't cut her hair. Some brethren contend that a
woman cannot cut her hair. However, there is no such restriction in
the Bible. Paul does state that the woman's hair is a covering (1
Corinthians 11:15), but that does not say she can never cut her hair
at all. Again, this is a restriction God did not make.
No celebration of Christmas. Most who read this article
would agree that we cannot participate in any religious celebration
of Christmas. But, some would tell us that we cannot celebrated in a
non-religious way (exchanging presents, eating dinner, decorating
with a tree and lights, etc.). Such an observance of Christmas is no
different than an observance of Thanksgiving or the 4th of July.
No Bible class literature. Some brethren have contended that
we cannot use Bible class literature or other printed material.
Again, as with the pitch pipe, they fail to distinguish between an aid
and an addition. If the class workbooks are used as a creed
or some inspired book of God, then we have an addition to the word.
However, the printed comments and questions are no different that
someone's oral comments and questions. If one is a creed, then so is
Must have running water to baptize. A few have contended
that for baptism to be Scriptural, it must be in running water. Thus,
one baptized in a baptistry would not be Scripturally baptized. There
is no passage that required running water. If so, one baptized in a
lake or pond would not have scriptural baptism. Again, we have a
requirement that God did not make.
Must use "Thee" and "Thou" when referring to
God. A few brethren have contended that any use of
"you" and "your" is not respectful to God, since
the Bible uses "Thee" and "Thou". This is based
upon their use of the KJV (old English) translation. If this
contention has any merit would it not demand we go back to the Greek
and use the exact word the text uses. To refer to God with
"You" and "Your" does not show any disrespect any
more than using "Thee" and "Thou" instead of the
original Greek words. To require old English terms is making a
requirement that is not found in the Bible.
No located preacher. A number of brethren have contended
that it is unscriptural for a preacher to locate and work with a
congregation on a regular basis. The idea is that one cannot preach
to the church, but the gospel is to be preached to the lost. First,
Paul was located at Ephesus and worked with the church there for
three years (Acts 20:31). The same apostle thought that the could
preach the gospel to the saints at Rome (Romans 1:15).
As "conservative" as these points may seem, when we bind
where God has not, we are not truly respecting the authority of the
word. No one objects to anyone practicing what their personal
conviction demands. It is another matter to bind that on others as a
matter of faith. The brother who could not eat meats was not
condemned for not eating meats. He was merely told to keep that to
himself and before God (Romans 14:22).