LEGALISM OCCURS WHEN we add rules to the Bible that aren’t clearly there. For example, some Christians in eastern Europe will refuse church membership to a person that smokes. Tragically, tolerance of legalism usually leads to the opposite sin, tolerance of sins God specifically forbids, i.e. liberalism. Why? The heart that disrespects God’s word enough to add rules to scripture, will often disrespect God’s word in the the opposite direction. It will also subtract clear commands from scripture. The famous Dutch newspaper editor, pastor, politician, and theologian, Abraham Kuyper, famously wrote, “The man who today forbids what God allows, tomorrow will allow what God forbids.”
In her recent book, Evangelicals, Frances Fitzgerald listed some of the rules added by many early twentieth century fundamentalists. They included tobacco, liquor, Coca-Cola, movies, medicine, buying life insurance, swimming in public, watching professional sports, and wearing jewelry or makeup.
- Serving gluten-free Communion bread.
- Serving wine at Communion?
- Drinking only fair-trade coffee?
- Purchasing goods or services from businesses that advocate same-sex marriage?
- Striving for a small carbon footprint?
- Eating genetically modified food (GMOs)?
- Letting your children play video games, or read the Harry Potter books?
- Inoculating your children?
- Sending your children to public schools?
- Eating caged chicken?
- having churches with multiple services at multiple sites?
- Letting your children eat too much sugar?
- Listening to hip-hop music?
- Watching an R-rated movie?
- Body piercings and tattoos?
- Smoking cigars or drinking whiskey?
- Using debt to buy a house or car?
- Dating vs. Courtship?
- The number of children that a married couple should have?
- Family devotions? When should they be done? For how long? How often?
- Is it a sin to be overweight? If so, by how much?
- How about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or trick-or-treating?
In summary, we don’t want to add rules to scripture. When D. L. Moody criticized Spurgeon for smoking cigars, Spurgeon famously quipped, “I am having enough trouble keeping ten commandments. I don’t want to add an eleventh.”
We should fear adding rules and regulations to scripture. The book of Revelation ends, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.” (Rev. 22:18).