"Lift up a standard for the people. " -- Isaiah 62:10
In this day of permissiveness, preachers and Christian workers are being bombarded with temptations to "avoid legalism" and "be not righteous overmuch." Christian school principals are being chided for having rules and regulations. Guidelines are being dropped. Rules are being loosened. Folks are saying the Bible warnings about worldliness and sin must not be taken too literally.
Parents might remove their pupils from our schools. The well-heeled professional people in our churches might decide to move their membership down to the First Progressive Church. We won't appeal to the mod, enlightened sophisticates if we have biblical standards for our people. What's a pastor to do?
BIBLE STANDARDS ARE NOT LEGALISM
Are Bible standards legalism? Legalism is the doctrine of salvation by good works. Now I do not know any fundamental, Bible-believing preacher who thus is a legalist. There are some people in religious circles who (as they did in Jesus' day) teach "for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matt. 15:9). This is wrong.
But it is not wrong to have biblical standards. "The Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard" (Isa. 59:19). Bible standards are not legalism. Preaching against sin and warning our people about the consequences of sin and compromise are a command from God.
One writer wrote an article called "An Alternative to Legalism." I am sure he is a good preacher and a sincere brother in the Lord, but he has declared that we have been confusing a whole generation of young people because we fail to deal with legalism courageously. Rather, we have confused a whole generation by failing to deal with sin courageously.
He states that "legalism is disastrous to personal Christianity," that we "need to examine our system of values which is harmful and does not work." Now I agree that legalism would be harmful. But my contention is that having standards, regulations and guidelines for our members is not legalism.
But we need to have rules. Let a school try to operate without them! (Many public schools have tried it with disastrous results!)
Homes with no rules and guidelines have produced a generation of hippies, perverts and sassy rebels. They also have contributed to the host of teenage pregnancies and suicides!
Jesus said, "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:21). Now what "commandments" is He talking about? We all know that the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses are not the only commandments in the Bible. Here are a few others:
"Let your light so shine before men" -- Matt. 5:16
"Watch and pray; that ye enter not into temptation." -- Matt.
"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel." -- Mark
"Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him
in store, as God hath prospered him." -- 1 Cor. 16:2.
"Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together" -- Heb.
"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."
-- Gal. 6:2.
"Be filled with the Spirit." -- Eph. 5:18.
"Walk in the Spirit." -- Gal. 5:16.
So far, so good. Every Christian would want others to read, know and obey these commands. He would not want to rule out any of them. But there are other commands in the New Testament. For instance:
"Be not conformed to this world." -- Rom. 12:2.
"Flee fornication." -- Cor. 6:18.
"Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth." --
"Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of
Christ." -- Phil. 1:27.
"Be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as
ye have us for an ensample." -- Phil. 3:17.
"Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth." -
- Col. 3:2.
Now in order to instruct young people (and young converts among adults) about such commands, we're going to have to do some explaining. What does it mean to be not "conformed" to this world in actions, language and dress, among other things? How can you warn young people to flee fornication in the present society without warning them about pornography, vulgar TV programs and dirty rock music? These are some of the things that lead to fornication.
Since God commands that no corrupt communication should come out of the mouth, does not a Christian school have to have some rules about the language that can be used on campus?
When Paul mentions following him as an example in Philippians 3, he proceeds "even weeping" to tell them that some of them are "the enemies of the cross of Christ...who mind earthly things" (Phil. 3:17-19). Must not the church and school, then, lay down some guidelines or standards about these "earthly things"?
Since God commands, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world" (I John 2:15), and since we know that He is talking about this world system (not the trees, mountains, flowers and other such beautiful things), does it not behoove us to explain what these worldly things are?
Since God tells us, "Abstain from all appearance of evil," are we not to have standards about dress, hair and indulgences that would identify one with the evil world around us? When the Beatles first came over here from England with their feminine, mop-headed haircuts, preachers were aghast; and we all thundered out against this violation of manhood and propriety. We did not hesitate to preach, "Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?" (I Cor. 11:14). Now if God said it was a shame then, is it any less a shame now? Or is God's Word valid only during the '50s and '60s? Is He not the God of today also? Why is it suddenly "legalism" to preach this part of the New Testament?
Those who charge us with legalism say, "The child may look great on the outside, but be ungodly on the inside." That is, of course, true. But they do not turn around and say, "The child may look terrible, grubby and raunchy on the outside, but be a wonderful, soul-winning Christian on the inside!"
There are those who think we should act like the world and look like the world in order to win the world. But it is not necessary to dress like a soldier to win a soldier or to look like a clown to win a clown. For me to put on greasy overalls in order to win a mechanic is not even sensible. A Christian lady does not have to dress indecently to witness to a go-go girl.
Public schools once had standards and a code of morality. And there were rules. In those days students were sent to the office for chewing gum, getting out of line in the halls, talking in class, and such matters.
Then the rules were dropped, and permissiveness took over. Today, students in these same schools have to be dealt with about fondling in the halls, rape, pushing drugs, coming to school drunk or committing murder! We'd better get some of the right kind of legalism back into the schools!
It has been suggested that fundamental preachers who preach against long hair on boys, immodest girls, dancing and rock music are neglecting such matters as covetousness, lying, hatred and strife. We need to hear preaching on the sins of the flesh.
There must be as much positive preaching as negative preaching. I believe it was Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., who said, "The way to don't is to do so fast you don't have time to don't." There must be a positive post on the battery. But try getting a car started without the negative post. You have to have both!
PREACHER PLEASE DONT BE LAX
We have a generation of church members on our hands today who do not know what is right and wrong anymore. Preachers have been so lax and so soft for so long that sin is no longer black. In fact, it is hardly bilious gray anymore.
Vance Havner has said that when all of God's sheep become dirty gray, the black sheep feel more comfortable. But we are not here to make sinners feel comfortable in their sins! What are preachers for, not to lift up voices like a trumpet and show God's people their sins? (See Isaiah 58:1.)
Critics say that "rules without reason build rebellion." I'm sure that would be true. But good, scriptural rules and standards are not without reason. We never had any rules for our children that we did not have good reason for. We never had any regulations in our Christian schools that were not founded upon reason.
They say that preachers' kids often become rebellious. Sometimes some of them have. But most have dandy children who love the Lord and are loyal to God, to church and to parents.
And the preachers' kids who have become rebels probably got that way because of one of three things: (1) a dad who was so busy with everybody else's kids that he neglected his own; (2) inconsistency on the part of one or both parents; or (3) a fuss or split in the church that left the child bewildered and heartbroken about the way Christians act. So "legalism" strikes
I don't know of very many people, if any, who most admire their parents because they were permissive and let them get away with murder. Do you?
DO WE NEED LAWS?
The wise king wrote, "The law of the wise is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death." It is true that some young people raised with standards did go the way of the world and are not living for God today.I do not believe they went astray because of sound Bible preaching and good biblical standards in the church and/or school. Many other things enter into it. Some came from broken homes. Others had one parent who was spiritual and another who was a soft compromiser. Others backslid because their parents did. Others were offended by weak Christians.
Parents and individuals have to have standards also! The pastor cannot do it all. But he had better preach honestly against sin and be able one day to stand before God without the blood of these wayward people on his hands. Paul cried, "We preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom" (Col. 1:28).
Jeremiah said that if a preacher stands in God's counsel and causes the people to hear God's words, he will turn "them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings" (Jer. 23:22). "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" (II Cor. 5:11).
Are we to have no rules? Then what does Hebrews 13:7 mean when God says, 'Know them that have the rule over you'? The bishop or preacher is enjoined to be "one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity" (I Tim. 3:4). God could use Abraham because He knew that he would "command his children... after him" (Gen. 18:19). Is this legalism? I think it is just obedience to God.
Everyone wants positive sermons" and leave off the standards. It was the liberals who first started that business; then the new evangelicals. Then the conservative-rninded, denominational preachers decided that was the popular route. Now, sadly, a lot of the independent men who built their churches on hard preaching and Bible standards are letting down and going along the same route.
The same book of Galatians that tells us that we are not under law but under grace, also tells us that Christ came to deliver us from this evil world (Gal. 1:4) and warns us that the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: "Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry," etc. (Gal. 5:19-21).
Now how are you going to explain what fornication is, what lasciviousness is, if you do not specify?
Yes, indeed, the Holy Spirit can direct Christians into right living, but good preachers and teachers are here to guide their thinking and to show them both from the Scriptures and from daily life all around us what is right and what is wrong for a believer. Then we introduce them to the Spirit's power so they can be victorious. Even Paul had a real battle with the flesh and cried, "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do" (Rom. 7:19).
HOW TO GO ABOUT IT
First, make up your mind that you are going to obey God. Get Dr. John kice's little booklet Why Preach Against Sin? and read it several times. See how much God has to say in the Bible on this subject.
Second, remember that you are obligated under God to put up the warning sign where the bridge is out. The media, the public schools and the entertainment world all are doing all they can to ruin our young people. Many parents do not give their children the warnings and the instructions they need. You may be their only hope.
Third, The unsaved world looks on so it does matter how a Christian lives. As Christian young people are taught this, and as new converts learn the Bible, it is not asking too much to expect them to understand that Christians have a standard to maintain as we live before the world we seek to win. Compromising our standards is not the way to win the lost.
Fourth, Teach them that while "All things are lawful unto me,... all things are not expedient" (I Cor. 6:12) by any means. Teach them what GOD says, and you get the monkey off your back!
This is not the time to cave in and let down. Get on the battlefield for our Lord! Challenge people with the truth. If you are the spiritual giant you ought to be, and if you truly love the Lord, they will know you are right.
Don't be a pip-squeak. Don't drift with the tide of popular opinion. 'Be not afraid of their faces," God told Jeremiah.
Put on the whole armor of God. Stick to your standards. Pray that we might yet have a spiritual awakening in America!
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©Bro. Hugh Pyle