Judeo-Christian Values: The Heresy of Moral Legalism
(This is part of a growing series: Children of a Lesser God– Dominionism and Christian Nationalism Heresy Exposed )
“They (The Pharisees) 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.”Matt 23:4
“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.”Matt 23:13
“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.”Matt 23:15
The simplest version of legalism is the easiest to identify, such as making such rules as “don’t play cards, and don’t drink, and especially the classic… don’t dance. These are all obvious as all begin with a “don’t”. Biblically however there are about 9 different types of legalism and most of them are much more subtle.
We see another less specific version as Jesus rebukes the crowd discussing when the Tower of Siloam fell killing 18 people (Luke 13:1-5) , and when the Apostles were astonished that rich man might not be saved (Matthew 19:23-26). Both these passages reflect the false sentiment that good things happen only to good people, and bad things only to bad people. This is a broad and category-based legalism.
Another form of Legalism is found in Matthew 23:23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.” That pot of mixed herbs you can get at Trader Joe’s is an ancient tradition, and Jews had to tithe even the small snippets of herbs they grew at home. Jesus actually upholds their belief, but what he does strongly condemn is holding a minor part of the law EQUAL TO a weightier matters: justice, mercy and faith. It is legalism to emphasize one issue, even a biblical issue, over something more important.
Jesus Challenges the Legalistic Pharisee’s Head-on
Jesus went even further and challenged the Pharisee’s attitudes directly by doing work and healing MANY people on Sabbath (see Matthew 12:10-11; Luke: 6:7, 13:10-17, 13:14-16 14:5, Mark 3:1-6, and John 7:23). Jesus praised David for eating the consecrated “showbread” that was untouchable (see Mark 2:23-28, 1 Samuel 21:6, Lev 24:9). And when Jesus touched the unclean leaper (Matt 8:1–4, Mark 1:40–45, Luke 5:12–16) prohibited in the law, he utterly blew Jewish external decorum out of the water. These were not accidents or chance. Jesus didn’t literally break the law because the Jewish ceremonial law was superseded by an even greater law… of love, justice, mercy and faithfulness (see again, Matthew 22:36-38). We must be careful in upholding some biblical principles to not diminish the greater laws of love, justice mercy and faith.
“we cannot allow our country to be deprived of the Judeo-Christian values that made it into a great nation.”Franklin Graham (Twitter, May 11th 2019)
One of the inherently deceptive things about the non-biblical ideal of “Judeo-Christian values” is that it has no specific or defined meaning. This unstated ambiguity also makes it Gnostic. Judeo-Christian is a general term for an implied “morality”. The problem with any “morality”, even a so-called Christian one, is that carries with it the problem of ancient Israel, whose stellar morality will never be matched in all of history and yet Christ had to die. Another problem with it being undefined is that the goal posts can and do move quite easily, which is not true of Christ’s morality. Satan is quite content to create moral followers who are externally godly and religious, but ignore the work of Christ and the real issues of the heart. An empty Christ-less morality is the greatest threat to the true Gospel we have ever known, vastly more so than the hedonism we so frequently fear (and yet are secretly so envious of). (See Galatians, the entire book)
Where other sins ignore God, Legalism in all its forms both subtle and bold is the only one to meet Christ at the Cross, mock him, claim he blew it, and the declare I must step into fix what God could not. Legalism is a public declaration of being more righteous than Christ. This is why the New Testament focuses on the sins and heresy of legalism 30 times more than another other, a frequency far greater than all other New Testament “sins” combined. Legalism is the worst sin of all; It’s by vast amounts more tragic than gay marriage, homosexuality, taxes and even worse than dancing.
Dominionism and Christian Nationalism distort the Gospel of Christ based on faith alone, replaces it with a vague Judeo-Christian morality and is a broad-based Legalism.
Even an Implied Theology can be Enormously Dangerous
It’s important to understand that implied (implicit) and unspoken heresy is as bad a direct spoken or explicit one. The strongest rebuke in all of Scripture was when Peter simply stopped eating with non-Jewish believers, and Paul took him very publicly to task (bypassing Matt 18) for only he was only implying: “But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him in public, because he was clearly wrong…. When I saw that they were not walking a straight path in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you have been living like a Gentile, not like a Jew. How, then, can you try to force Gentiles to live like Jews?” Gal 2:11-21. Notice, this had nothing to do with anything Peter said.
Let’s just imagine for a moment we were actually successful in imposing “Judeo-Christian values” (whatever those really are) and changing behavior of the entire world, or least our corner of the US. Since these people achieved change on their own, they would fall into spiritual pride and soon see no need for Christ. After all, the greatest sin of all is the belief that I don’t need Jesus. Content with their success they are unlikely to seek salvation in Christ. After all the gospel they were given was a conditional one, and they have met that condition. The Evangelical Church today is enormously content to fill up the slow bus to Hell, all for our maximum dining comfort. For the sake of the Gospel and the work of Christ, true Christians must accept that we live in a messy, sinful and fallen world, that God is using that sin and its consequences to draw people to Christ. The enormous problem of making the Gospel conditional is we also make Jesus irrelevant. Like the Pharisees we leave our followers in worse condition than when we found them.
It’s both legalism and idolatry to spiritualize (either positive or negative) any group, concept or idea not explicitly mentioned in and supported by Scripture.
Let us never forget both Jesus’ and Paul’s most shocking words were directed at the most moral people to ever inhabit the earth… “You serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?… on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth.” Matt 23:32-36. And with Paul’s you can translate into any colloquial equivalent you wish: “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” Gal 5:12.
>>> NEXT: Part 7: Blasphemy