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The year of the legalism
The year 2020 will eventually be the subject of entire history courses and master’s degree thesis papers, with the death of Kobe Bryant, Australia on fire, the near miss on World War III, COVID-19, murder hornets, Saharan dust storms, George Floyd, et al, and I have a suggestion for future historians digging around in original sources, like this blog. This year has been the year that Christian legalism was exposed when it comes to current events.
I’ll start with the dense irony that American Christians eschew any amount of keeping God’s Law. “We’re under grace, after all, so we don’t need to worry about that Law stuff.” True enough, if we mean our justification, but has God spoken with finality and authority about the situations we face? As it happens, he sure has. But what we see so often in 2020 is Christians creating additional burdens in place of the light and easy burden Jesus has for us.
The longest running legalism of 2020 has been Christians demanding that other Christians must wear a mask during the COVID-19 panic, lest they have blood on their hands. I’m not exaggerating. There have even been Christians accuse churches of murder – yes, murder – because they never stopped meeting together during the pandemic.
More recently, some Christians have also insisted that other Christians must speak out about racial injustice. Not too much, of course, or you’re acting like a “white savior,” but sometimes you just need to shut up and listen, but silence is violence. Or something. Either way, you gotta speak out. You just have to, or you’re disobeying God. And by God, I really mean the mob.
And that’s the biggest issue. Our brothers and sisters are acting closer to Eve in the garden than Jesus in his obedience, because they are adding to God’s commands, which caused Eve’s deception and Adam’s rebellion (Genesis 3:2-3).
Indeed, God has given his standard for quarantine (more on that here), and we are to love our neighbors in considering our precautions while in public. Additionally, God has given his standard for justice, and we are to love our neighbors when we consider our responses to unequal weights and measures in our justice system. Both wearing a mask and speaking out against injustice are good things, provided that we’re doing it out of love for God and neighbor and not doing it to be seen as virtuous or out of selfish motives.
And while both of those things are good works, what we must not do is bind the consciences of other Christians to do them. We can encourage those works, yes, but to force a Christian brother or sister into doing something that God hasn’t explicitly commanded is actually sinful, because you’re alleging that to abstain from doing the thing is sinful when God hasn’t defined it as such.
Of course, I have Bible for this.
Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; – Romans 14:3-10
Yes, they are the same
In the mask debate, we have some who have weighed the evidence available and have come to the conclusion that wearing a mask while in public is in everyone’s best interests. This is absolutely acceptable for a Christian under the Lordship of Christ, provided it’s done in honor of the Lord. We have yet others who have also weighed the same evidence and concluded that COVID-19 isn’t as huge of a deal as many make it out to be and feel free to not wear a mask. This is also absolutely acceptable for a Christian under the Lordship of Christ, provided it’s done in honor of the Lord.
And in the social justice/”black lives matter” debate, we’ve had many Christians who posted a black box one Tuesday to show their support for equity under the law. This is absolutely acceptable for a Christian under the Lordship of Christ, provided it’s done in honor of the Lord. We also had Christians who did not post a black box and still haven’t said or posted anything in regards to racial inequities in society, some citing that they don’t want to be mixed up with the organization Black Lives Matter, whose founders claim to be trained Marxists. This is also absolutely acceptable for a Christian under the Lordship of Christ, provided it’s done in honor of the Lord.
So what’s the big deal? Far too many Christians who have eaten, so to speak, have passed judgement on those who have abstained. This is obviously not exclusively the case, but to accuse me of sin in my response is a big deal.
And before you say that I “get to show sacrificial love” by forcing me to wear a mask in church, let me remind you that sacrificial love as modeled by Christ is voluntary, not coerced. Christ laid his life down; no one took it from him (John 10:18).
Stop the guilt trips
In closing, can we dispense with the guilt trips? Can we stop demanding that someone say, “Black lives matter,” in the exact formal sense you want? Can we instead be slow to speak and quick to listen, even to those who don’t agree with us? And by listen, I don’t mean the one-way street of only listening to woke voices telling me that I’m racist; I really mean a two-way street where voices are heard, opinions are weighed against evidence, and we really hash things out.
And if we come down with differing opinions on masks or social justice under the Lordship of Christ, maybe we should assume the best of our Christian brothers and sisters. They just might have a good reason for how they got there.
I’ll end with a Martin Luther quote, for good measure.
“Thus the apostle has given this mandate to the faithful: ‘Serve one another in love, bear each other’s burdens, forgive one another. If you cannot bear with each other and tolerate one another, it is impossible for peace and harmony to remain among Christians. Otherwise, it will always be like this: You will offend and be offended. You will see many things in me that will offend you. As for me, I see many things in you that I don’t like. In this case, if we cannot bear each other in love, there will be no end to the disagreements, discordance, envies, hatred, and ill will.’”