Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Legalism, Bible-believing, unbiblical and other overused words

There are a lot of words that we throw around in the evangelical world that are so commonly (mis)used and so broadly applied that they cease to be meaningful.

Here are a few I came up with...

Legalism: A belief you hold to that I don't like or that makes me uncomfortable in my own actions.

Is there a real issue of legalism in the church? Sure. Is every rule or restriction an example of legalism? Hardly. Where Scripture is silent, we should be cautious to not be dogmatic. I think Christians should abstain from drinking for a variety of reasons: possibility of "brother stumbling", appearance of worldliness, the general social ills of alcohol, the concern over "how much is too much" when avoiding sinful drunkenness. I am also cautious to point out that drinking in and of itself is not prohibited and not sinful. Just because you can doesn't mean you should is my stance. That is not legalism. If I say that playing cards is sinful, that probably qualifies as legalism. On the other hand, where scripture speaks, we should humbly but firmly speak.

Bible-believing: What we teach is what the Bible teaches

Is there a church that says we are a Bible unbelieving church? I think Bible believing is an OK, if redundant, statement. All Christians by nature are Bible believing, if you don't believe in what the Bible says, you are hard pressed to make the case that you are a Christian. The problem is that the underlying implication is that what we believe, often tertiary issues and church traditions are the Biblical model and if you don't believe in them, you are not Bible believing. I think there is absolutely no Scriptural warrant for infant baptism, either in command or example. I think it is an error to baptize infants. I do not think my paedobaptist brothers don't believe in the Bible. I think they are wrongly applying baptism but that is not because they are not "Bible-believing".

Unbiblical: My church tradition is different from yours, so yours is unbiblical

This is a tough one. There is a world of difference between unbiblical and extra-Biblical. In my eyes, unbiblical implies something that is contrary to the express teaching of the Bible. An example might be works based justification. That is something that would be a teaching contrary and in opposition to the Bible. I would say that on the flip side are things like dogmatic assertions about eschatology. The end times are unclear enough to give anyone pause whether a-, post- or pre- millenial in doctrine, and therefore expressions of certainty about areas of eschatology that are vague are extra-Biblical.

What are some words you think are misused, overused, abused in the church?

Bookmark and Share


Eric said...

I have no idea what "evangelical," and "New Testament church," and "accepting Christ" mean anymore.

Anonymous said...

Christian ;)

Anonymous said...


Mike said...

Arthur, I see that someone else commented on your post on Challies so Ill comment on your post on legalism. I just posted a teaching by cj mahaney on my blog today coincidently on this subject. It for me put alot of things in perspective of course works are important Justification and sanctification go hand in hand but to often we get the horse before the cart and that has and is my problem. Coming out of serious religious legalistic background I tend very heavy on the justification side. I think it is a serious issue in the church.
Thanks Mike

Steve Scott said...

Here are a few more:

Biblical (opposite of unbiblical), Christ-centered (what Christian thing supposedly isn't? Everybody else's, of course), Reformed.

I'd like to offer a clarification on legalism. It it's an "ism," then it means that adding rules is a significant part of the theological system. It's the norm. If somebody holds to only one additional rule total, it could be "legalistic," but since it's not part of their character to add rules as the norm, they wouldn't be guilty of "legalism."

steve s said...

Isn't the horse supposed to go before the cart? ;-)

Jeremy Lee said...

I agree with all of yours and the one's others have added.

Here are my additions: "Ask Jesus in your heart" is an unbiblical way of explaining to children how to be saved that some people refuse to discard even though kids don't understand it and it misleads them.

Fundamentalism once was a great word to describe those who hold to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. Now, the word has been perverted to describe those who add legalistic tradition to Scripture.

Liberal is used most often by conservatives to describe anyone who disagrees with them.

Jeremy Lee

Arthur Sido said...

Eric, "evangelical" is a big one. I used to think I knew what that meant, but the way that it is applied now it covers almost anybody.

Arthur Sido said...


Fundamentalism is a good one. There are plenty of people who are small-"f" fundamentalists who are not big-"F" Fundamentalists. I am very much a "f"undamentalist in lot of ways, but since I am not a "King James Only" guy I can't be a good "F"undamentalist.

Arthur Sido said...


Reformed is another good one. Like many terms, there is the generally accepted version which has to do with the overarching themes of the five solas and the tenets of Calvinism, and there are also the "truly Reformed" types who have made a contact sport out of excluding people from the "TR" club (i.e. R. Scott Clark).