Scratching the Itch of Legalism

Photo Credit: hopefuldz9er via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: hopefuldz9er via Compfight cc

In 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (NIV), Paul says:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

The typical way I hear this passage used is to condemn liberalism. People want a preacher who’ll relax the demands of Christianity. 5pp dgggjju-Holiness will not be held to a high standard. So churches and preachers will relax the boundaries of legitimate Christian worship, take a weak stance on sexual ethics, turn a blind eye to affairs and divorces, or ignore or deny the more “unsavory” elements of our Christian faith (God’s wrath, eternal punishment in hell, Christian particularism, etc).

But these are not the only dangers our faith and churches face.

The churches in the New Testament struggled as much with legalism as they did liberalism. Rather than relax the commandments of God, many churches were adding to them (the churches at Galatia, the church at Colossae, various churches and groups in Acts).

Legalism is as false a teaching as liberalism is, and it is just as dangerous to the church. In my denomination, legalism has been more harmful than liberalism. In addition, many Christians have more of an itch for legalism than they do for liberalism. When we only focus on the dangers of liberalism, we create a smokescreen for those who are running to legalism.

Join other dedicated readers of Thinking and Believing and subscribe to the email list. You'll receive every new post in your inbox, so you never have to worry about missing a post. Click here to subscribe.