Law & Customs

by Jason

Someone may say that in the book of Galatians Paul was talking about being subject to the Law, not holiness standards. Paul was indeed referring to the Law, but he also addresses "customs" which are what "standards" are. Anytime someone elevates a custom to hold the same authority as Biblical doctrine, they are in error, and this is one of the points that Paul was making in Galatians.

Standards advocates can assert that Paul was specifically addressing the law, but anyone reading Galatians and the other Pauline Epistles with sincerity cannot state the law was the only thing that Paul was addressing. Paul, in one sense, was addressing specific issues (with the Law) but also articulates general principles that apply to all aspects of life. "Legalism" is what Paul was really addressing and its radical and extreme adherence to the letter of the "law" while missing the spirit of the law, which is precisely what Paul is addressing.

Moral law, if you will, teaches against debt, but setting a "standard" that says that Christians cannot spend more than $150,000 on a house is legalism. The Bible teaches giving to the poor, but to say that all Christians must give $200 per month to a charity is legalism. The Bible teaches modesty in dress, but defining modesty to mean long sleeves is legalism. The Bible teaches long hair for women, but saying that means "uncut" is legalism. So yes, Paul is talking about Mosaic Law, but he is simultaneously addressing legalism in general, which "standards" epitomize in our modern day. Dress standards are customs that have been elevated to the same level as doctrine.

It would also not only be ironic, but hypocritical for standards advocates to say that Galatians does not apply to standards because it is specifically focused on Mosaic Law. They are the ones that have taken Deuteronomy 22:5, which is undeniably Mosaic Law, and said that it applies to us today. So they are the ones taking the specific and generalizing it to fit their agenda and interpretations.

Paul teaches not to eat meat sacrificed to idols if it offended our brother *in their presence*. If I do not attend their churches, no offence. Secondly, those offended by the meat are called the *weaker* brethren, which means those that understand their freedom are the *stronger* brethren.

The most important part is that Paul clearly and specifically teaches not to force our personal convictions on others, which is *precisely* what standards advocates do. They preach that if a woman trims her dead ends – she is backslidden and going to hell. If she puts on pants – she's masculine and hell bound. If she puts on make-up – she is a whore.

Who are the ones misrepresenting the Gospel and committing sin here? I have no desire to fellowship with those that degrade the Gospel in their filthy self-righteousness. If they are committing sin because of their "convictions", I don't think Paul meant that we need to accommodate them; they are the ones who should accommodate us.

Lastly, Paul teaches that those that abstain from meat are okay to do so, but then later says that those that *preach* such a doctrine are preaching the doctrine of devils. What is the difference between the two? One is practicing it privately and the other is requiring it of others.

Now, having said that, the important thing to ask is, "Why does Paul on one hand say it is okay to abstain from meats, yet on the other hand say those that preach against it are preaching the 'doctrines of devils?'" The reason is that Paul accepts personal convictions, though the person that has them may be considered "weak," but teaches that it is wrong to preach them. Why? Because adding to the Word of God distracts from the Gospel message of Jesus Christ and inevitably leads to legalism, which is akin to returning to the Law. Most likely, Paul is addressing the Judaizers which added a requirement to salvation, circumcision, which takes away from the fact that faith in Jesus Christ saves us.

The UPC has done the same thing, just under a different name, by requiring similar legal works that they refer to as "Standards of Holiness." It would be one thing if "standards" were required by the scriptures, but they are not, therefore they are adding to God's Word, which is dangerous.

It would be useful then, to refer to the other meat discussion in 1 Corinthians 8 because those forbidding meat sacrificed to idols were also adding to the Word of God. In all fairness, both Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 also teaches us to accept those with these convictions and to not let our freedom be a stumbling block to them and to not reject them.

I have no problem with people that, in not understanding their liberty, wish to adhere to standards. I do not reject them and I do not want to be a stumbling block to them. What gets me worked up is when they attempt to impose 'standards' on others and even worse, say they are salvational. They then, like the cabbage crunchers in Paul's day, are no longer just practicing personal convictions, but are preaching a perverted form of the Gospel.

As far as being a stumbling block, I do not think that sharing the truth with standards advocates is a stumbling block. It is my belief that Paul was saying that our freedom is a stumbling block only if we flaunt it and impugn them for their convictions. Again though, if they get to the point that they are forcing it, then a defense of scripture is in order and cannot then be construed to be a stumbling block.

If you don't force or flaunt your freedom on others, I don't think it is a stumbling block. However, if you are in a UPC church and everyone thinks you are in sin, even though they are wrong, perhaps that would be a stumbling block. At the same time, we can't live our lives walking on egg shells because there are always people that will find fault in what we do or don't do.

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August 23, 1997
Page Added April 13, 2002
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