A “Straw Man” is a deceptive rhetorical technique used to build an argument against something.
To do this, a situation or person is characterized in a very extreme way. By blowing someone’s actions out of proportion. By taking their words out of context. As opposed to accurately representing their behavior and ideas.
This is done to rally people emotionally against an idea or person.
The labels, “Legalism” and “Legalist”, have been used in this same way against Biblical truth and Conservative Christians.
Separating From Truth
Right at the outset, let’s clear the air about what “Legalism” is NOT.
Doctrinal soundness, defending the gospel, standing upon truth and biblical separation from sin and error is NOT Legalism.
Even though, it has become popular in Evangelical circles to characterize these things as “bad”. By labeling those who stand upon these things as, “legalists”, “Pharisees”, “divisive”, “narrow minded”, “strict”, “unkind”, “intolerant”, “unswerving”, “unloving”, etc., etc., etc.
It is commonplace for Evangelicals to label Fundamental and Conservative Bible churches as hard, cold, and isolationist while framing themselves as tolerant, socially engaged, caring, and loving.
“Legalism” has often been the popular label used to characterize those churches which are generally composed of Baptists or other types of independent Bible believers. Churches that place a major emphasis on teaching and doctrine.
However, in reality, this “anti-legalist” attitude is often based on little else than simple prejudice against the conservative biblical positions.
And that is really the crux of the matter.
No Solid Identity
Evangelicalism today really cannot exist without contrasting itself against Conservatism.
This means that Evangelicals really do not have a clear identity.
Because it is impossible to define what they actually believe anymore. Because their beliefs are in a constant state of flux; as they undergo the De-Construction of their doctrine by those from the Emergent and Progressive-Christian groups.
The identity of Evangelicalism tends to be more about what it is NOT rather than what it IS. And this has always been the problem with the movement.
Even when the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals) was founded back in the 1940s, their real purpose was simply to separate themselves from the “narrow-minded, isolationist” Fundamentalists. To avoid any association with them . . . as far as the watching world was concerned.
Because Evangelicals longed to be a kinder, more socially-engaged, more intellectually-acceptable church. More embracing of and relevant to the culture.
Just like we are witnessing today. A church moving away from solid truth in order to avoid offending the culture. While using “relevance” as the excuse to make that move.
What Do the Leaders Believe in Your Church?
For example, does your church require that your leaders or teachers believe in a literal, 6-day Creation? As the Genesis Record plainly states?
My guess is that they don’t. Because, it is increasingly difficult to find a Christian University or Seminary that requires that belief in their professors — let alone of their graduates.
So, logically, the graduates of those schools, who are now staffing our churches, are “iffy” in that area. As well as in a whole bunch of other areas. Seriously “iffy” in a host of doctrinal areas.
The point is, teaching solid doctrine and defending that doctrine against error is Not legalism. It is actually an example of faithful Christian service. It is faithfulness to the Lord and to His word.
But Evangelicalism, especially due to the influence of New Evangelical thinking (spearheaded by Harold Ockenga, Billy Graham, and Christianity Today Magazine) has softened its message and methods to accommodate the sensibilities of the world. Wanting to win the world over by being more intellectually respectable and more open to “dialogue” with false teachers and false religious groups.
Truth is a Sword that Divides
Therefore, more traditional, “separatist”, teaching-based, and doctrinally-zealous believers are often portrayed as wild-eyed “scarecrows”. By contrasting their “strict” adherence to Truth with the open, creamy mellowness of the Evangelical approach.
Especially as the modern church avoids nailing anything down. And opposes anything that is too dogmatic or strict.
Because, Evangelicals cannot function today, in the highly-compromised spiritual environment of mainstream activity, by being solid on much of anything.
They have to be fuzzy.
Otherwise, those that they wish to join up with in various service and outreach ministries would not want them around.
Because, the true gospel message is offensive to the world. Including the religious world.
Truth convicts the world. And it either draws men to Christ and His word; or it drives them to oppose the Lord and His church.
To Be Continued . . .
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