Were I forced to pick the most overused and undefined word in Evanjellibeanism today, and I might pick legalist. I think most Evanjellybeans think of legalism as Associate Justice Potter Stewart (January 23, 1915 - December 7) thought of hard-core pornography: he wasn't sure he could define it, but said "I know it when I see it."
We all know legalism when we see it — or so we think. But do we? Here are some definitions that I have culled from common use, by means of hearing, reading, observation and/or analysis. There will be some overlap and repetition.
Got all that?
Here we go, then:
A legalist is...
- Anyone who thinks Christians are under the Ten Commandments
- Anyone who thinks Christians are under the Law of Moses (more broadly)
- Anyone who thinks that we must obey law (— any law, whether of Moses or of Christ) to merit salvation
- Anyone who thinks a Christian should obey the commands of Christ and the apostles
- Anyone whose example makes me feel bad about my life
- Anyone who imposes man-made rules on other Christians' consciences
- Anyone who lives by standards that I don't share
- Anyone who tells me that I should not do something I want to do, or do something I don't want to do
- Anyone who tells me that a sin I sinned was sin, that I must repent before God and man, and that I must make it right with those I've wronged
- Anyone who seriously thinks that what the Bible says is more important than what I strongly feel
- Anyone who seriously thinks that the Bible should be our only rule of faith and practice, and that it is wholly sufficient to that end
- Anyone who quotes a Bible verse I don't want to hear
- Anyone who affirms a Biblical truth I don't want to think about
- Anyone who thinks that, just because I say I believe in Jesus, I should take seriously anything that Jesus or His apostles or prophets say, even if I don't want to
- Anyone who evaluates my outpouring of emotions and reactions in a Biblical manner, however humanly and compassionately
- Anyone who holds to a lot of rules
- Anyone who applies the Bible accurately, but without so much as a breath of grace, patience, compassion or humility
- Anyone who thinks we should ever say "No" to anything we really deeply feel in our hearts
- Anyone who goes to church when he doesn't feel like it
- Anyone who takes literally parts of the Bible that I don't take literally
- Anyone who thinks I should go to church when I don't feel like it, just because I say I believe in Jesus
- Anyone who thinks I should respect an authority I don't agree with
- Anyone who thinks that, just because I call Jesus "Lord, Lord," I should actually do what He says
- Update: Anyone who tries to hold another to a biblical standard [credit: Carrie]
- Update: Anyone who thinks that there is no problem that cannot be solved by more and better rules
- Which of these have you heard most frequently?
- Which do you think is (or are) accurate and legitimate uses — and on what basis?
- Which do you think are inaccurate and illegitimate — and on what basis?
First, Christian A preaches or writes or otherwise rails fiercely against "legalism" in, say, senses 3, 6 and/or 17, but is heard by Christian B as denouncing legalism in, say, senses 9, 10 and/or 23. (Or vice-versa!)
Second, Christian A bitterly denounces Christian B as embodying senses 3, 6 and/or 17, when Christian B was in reality motivated along the lines of senses 4, 10, 11, 15, and/or 23 — because this pious dodge sounds and looks so much better than simply admitting the truth of the matter.
Have at it.