Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Eradicating Legalism in the Adventist Church

"The righteous will live by his faith [alone.] Habakuk 2:4 (NIV)

Sitting in a pew near the front of the church, to not be distracted by the occasional conversations that my congregation produces frequently, I was saddened by a pre-offering appeal made by a church member. He started to rattle off a list of sacrifices, or offerings, that ancient Israelites offered when ceremonial law was still in place on planet Earth. Among those he mentioned was a special live offering for sins committed. He summed it up by saying, "so you see brethren, there are lots of sacrifices (offerings) in the bible that one should think about when thinking of what or how much to give today. I've been attending this particular church only two years and I had never heard legalism rear its ugly head as much as I did last Saturday.

While I tried to listen to the sermon as best I could, I occasionally was compelled to jot down some reflections that this offering call made on me.

I'm without a computer these days and I've got only 41 minutes left at the public library. So I apologize if these are mere reflections and nothing more. Thank you for your understanding.

There's a deadly quality to legalism. Two years ago I used to pray a strange prayer. I had forgotten it until this moment. I went something like this: "Lord, save me from legalism, which is worse than death." [I remembered the original phrase late last night. "Lord, save me from legalism, for in legalism there is only death."] I prayed that wholeheartedly. Perhaps I need to start praying that strange prayer again.

Legalism is so deadly to me that I wondered if because of it, Adventism was dying, in a limited sense? As secularism increases in society, we need less not more legalism in the Adventist church. As our youth are leaving and some never to return, legalism is, perhaps one of the causes. As Adventism splinters internally into different isms, i.e., ultra-conservatism, progressivism, cultural adventism, postmodern adventism, etc., is legalism party to blame?

Is the golden age of Adventism behind us? Was it during the 50s, 60s and 70s? Or is it still ahead of us? It is said that Adventism is fading in parts of North America, Europe and Australia. I'm told that only in the third world, parts of Africa, parts of South America, parts of Asia it is still thriving and alive. Is legalism causing that growth there and is it causing a slow death in the other declining areas? Or is righteousness by faith alive in well in the third world, but not in the places where Adventism is dying out slowly?

I'm tired of legalism. Aren't' you? What can we do about it?

It almost felt like the fear one used to get before knocking on some one's door before you gave them a smile and literature. I went to the speaker after church and I congratulated her for the good points in her sermon. I explained to her my concern with the legalism in the Adventist church and I asked her if in the future she could dwell more on Christ our righteousness. I told her I was especially concerned about the young people and how important it was for them to hear those worlds. Not appeals to give more offerings or tithes, or to come to prayer meeting more often so as not to miss out on a special blessing, or other similar mildly legalistic appeals. I told her that I never heard any sermons about righteousness by faith in Christ until I was almost 18 years of age. It was the best news I had ever heard. It made Adventism come alive for me.

Other suggestions to rid Adventism of legalism might be to email every Adventist publication or magazine and complain when you read something that smacks of legalism to you. Write Bill Knott at the Adventist Review. Write Cliff Goldstein at the Sabbath School Quarterly. Write the conference president. Tell him to keep legalism out of the publication in question and keep it out of Adventism. If you hear a church member saying anything that smacks too highly of legalism, take him aside courteously and speak to him or her of your concerns. If you lose friends in the name of ridding Adventism of legalism, those are the casualties of the war on legalism. Perhaps they were never very dear friends to begin with. Perhaps you need newer, less legalistic friends in and out of church.

Adventism needs to be simplified, cleansed, re energized. Legalism is the enemy. Righteousness by faith in Christ is our ally. These three thoughts came to me in church last Sabbath as I thought how to simplify Adventism. Look to Jesus Christ. Seek the daily baptism of the Holy Spirit. Read your bible and pray.

In closing, let me speak of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is beautiful. It, however, has to be kept naturally, effortlessly, spiritually. When you have to make an effort to keep the Sabbath you are not, in fact, keeping the Sabbath. Ask God to make you holy so you can keep his Sabbath holy. Ask God to fill you with his Spirit of righteousness so you can love Christ and keep his commands. Ask him to fill you with his Spirit of love so you can treat others as you would like to be treated.

Lord, save me from legalism, for in legalism there is only death.

God bless you all. God bless Adventism.

No comments: