Exposing Major Blind Spots in Modern Evangelical Christianity
An article entitled “Exposing Major Blind Spots of Homeschoolers” by Reb Bradley has enjoyed wide circulation recently. I don’t know if it would be accurate to say the article has gone “viral,” but it has been forwarded to me numerous times by both personal friends and online group members. Mr. Bradley has received accolades for this article, but I must confess that I do not share in the general enthusiasm. Rather than address Mr. Bradley’s article directly, however, I offer my own list of blind spots common to modern Evangelical Christians.
Confusion about Pharisees and Legalism
When conversation in the Christian community turns to standards of conduct someone is sure to mention the Pharisees and legalism. The sin of the Pharisees, we are told, was a preoccupation with external expressions of holiness, and this is also the presumed besetting sin of parents who maintain dress and entertainment standards for their children. While it is true that Jesus’ harshest criticism was reserved for the Pharisees, were the Pharisees really overly concerned with external holiness, or was their sin something altogether different?
In Matthew 23:2-3, Jesus says, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not.” To the extent that the Pharisees taught the Law of Moses to the people, Jesus said the people should obey the Pharisees. But the people were not to imitate the Pharisees’ practices because the Pharisees did not obey the Law themselves. Instead, they followed man-made commandments that allowed them to circumvent the Law (Mark 7:9-13). The sin of the Pharisees was hypocrisy – teaching the Law but not obeying it.
The Pharisees were also legalists. A legalist is someone who tries to gain salvation by his own righteousness or someone who adds his own works to the finished work of Christ. A legalist is not, however, someone who follows as a matter of obedience standards or rules of conduct based on the Bible.
There is a storm of antinomianism (“against the Law”) brewing in churches today. Misunderstanding Paul’s statement “ye also are become dead to the law” (Romans 7:4), many believe the Mosaic Law has no application to New Testament believers. We are under grace, they say, therefore, we do not have to follow any rules. But the Law is still God’s standard of holiness. Jesus fulfilled the Law, but He did not abrogate it. He said, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19). Obedience to God’s Law is evidence of true discipleship. Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
Since dress is the standard that most often elicits cries of legalism, I want to look a little more closely at what the Bible says about modesty. After partaking of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve realized they were naked and sewed aprons for themselves (Genesis 3:7). The Hebrew word for apron (Strong’s H2290) means loin cloth. But Adam’s and Eve’s loin cloths were not acceptable to God. Firstly, their aprons represented man’s attempt to cover his own sin, and God demonstrated that sin could only be forgiven by the shedding of blood. But their aprons were also unacceptable because they did not completely cover their nakedness. Notice that God made coats of skins for Adam and Eve to wear (Genesis 3:21). The Hebrew word for coats (Strong’s H3801) means a long shirt-like garment. It is the same word that is used for Joseph’s coat of many colors. Later in Exodus 28:42, God instructs the priests to make breeches “to cover their nakedness” from their loins to their thighs. These breeches were to be worn in addition to the priests’ outer garments. So here we have two examples from the Bible in which exposed thighs are considered nakedness. This is not an exhaustive list of verses dealing with dress, but these passages do illustrate that 1 Timothy 2:9 is not the only passage in the Bible dealing with modesty. If God is concerned with clothing, should not parents also be concerned with their children’s appearances?
Confusion about Jesus’ Words
Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15), but there is confusion in the church today over Jesus’ words. Some people believe that the words Jesus uttered during His earthly ministry are the extent of His commandments or at least the most authoritative of His commandments. But Jesus’ commandments are not limited to the “red letter” statements in the Bible. Jesus is the living Word of God (John 1:1), but the Bible is the written Word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Thus, the Pauline epistles are just as authoritative as the Sermon on the Mount.
Another misconception is that if Jesus didn’t mention a particular doctrine or sin during His earthly ministry, then that doctrine or sin must not be significant. Jesus didn’t mention homosexuality or pornography or abortion. Are those insignificant sins? If Jesus didn’t mention modesty, but Paul did, is modesty of lesser importance? Similarly, if Jesus spoke more often of Hell than He did of Heaven, is Heaven a second-rate destination? Once again, all Scripture is equally authoritative.
Confusion about Acceptance
Jesus ate with publicans and prostitutes. This fact is often used erroneously to teach that Jesus just accepted people as they were. So we should accept everyone, too. Zacchaeus was one of the publicans with whom Jesus dined, but before his encounter with Christ was over, Zacchaeus was a changed man. Jesus said, “This day is salvation come to this house” (Matthew 19:9). Far from accepting Zacchaeus in his sins, Jesus converted him. Mary Magdalene was possessed of seven devils until she met Christ (Mark 16:9). Saul was a persecutor until he met the Savior (Acts 9).
Jesus ate with publicans and prostitutes, but he didn’t indulge them in their sins. He transformed their lives. Neither should we then, indulge the lost in their sin by compromising our lives or our message to make them feel more “accepted.”
Confusion about Judging
Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” is one of the most abused verses in Scripture. It is misused to assert that Christians should not judge one another by any standard under any circumstance. A closer look at this passage, however, reveals that hypocritical judgment is forbidden, but honest judgment is not. Verse seven says, “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” In other words, judge your own sin first so you will be qualified to judge your brother. When addressing sin in the church at Corinth, Paul writes, “For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath done this deed” (1 Corinthians 5:3). Paul then tells the church to deliver this wayward member to Satan. Later in the same epistle, Paul chastises the church for taking its disputes before pagan judges. “Know you not that we shall judge angels?” Paul writes, “how much more [shall we judge] things that pertain to this life?” Paul exhorts the Christians at Thessalonica to “withdraw” themselves “from every brother that walketh disorderly” (2 Thessalonians 3:6), a command that is repeated in 1 Timothy 6:5. In order to withdraw from disorderly brethren, the Christians must first judge those brethren to be disorderly. Many of the admonitions in the Bible require Christians to make judgments of others. Paul writes to the church at Colossae, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” Christians must judge the philosophies of others to see if they are following Christ or the world.
Confusion about Christian Liberty
“Christian liberty” is often used as a euphemism for antinomianism. Many mistakenly believe that Christian liberty frees them from any “rules.” However, true Christian liberty is not the freedom to do whatever we want. It is the freedom to live as we ought. Paul writes, “Ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18). Paul continues, “Now being made free from sin and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness and the end everlasting life” (Romans 6:22). Christ “gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14).
Confusion about the Heart
We hear a lot in Christian circles today about keeping our children’s hearts. The argument usually pits doctrine and standards against “keeping our children’s hearts.” Parents who focus “too much” on teaching doctrine or God’s Law risk losing their children’s hearts, thereby producing rebellion in those children. The oft-quoted verse supporting this position is Proverbs 23:26, “My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways.”
The Hebrew word for heart in Proverbs 23:26 (Strong’s H3820) means mind, knowledge, thinking, reflection, memory, inclination, resolution, determination of will. What Solomon is really saying is “my son, give me your mind,” or in modern words, “my son, pay attention to what I am teaching you.” This same Hebrew word is used throughout the Old Testament to mean “mind.” For example, Psalm 119:11 says, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Do we hide God’s word in a mysterious emotional spot called the “heart,” or do we memorize it and store it in our minds?
Proverbs 4:23 speaks of keeping the heart. It says, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” How does one “keep” the heart? Psalm 119:9-11 and 15-16 read:
Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. . . I will meditate in thy precepts and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.
The key to heart-keeping is found in meditating upon and obeying the commandments and precepts of God. Meditation and obedience are acts of the mind and will. Thus as parents, we do not “keep our children’s hearts” by appealing to some vague influence over their affections. We keep their hearts by putting into their minds the Law of God.
Confusion about Separation
God told Israel, “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy; for I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 20:7). The words sanctify and holy both mean to be set apart, separated. Peter repeats this command in the New Testament, “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Separation from the world is clearly a Biblical command. Paul writes, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing” (2 Corinthians 6:17). James adds, “Know ye not that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).
There is a parenting philosophy going around – I call it the germ theory of parenting – that teaches parents to expose their children to small doses of the world now in order to prevent cases of full-blown worldliness when those children leave home. According to this theory, children who have been sheltered (or separated) from the world lack the herd immunity and will be unable to resist worldly temptations when they leave home. Spiritual resilience, according to this theory, is developed by repeated exposure to the contagion.
I’m not sure about the origin of the germ theory of parenting, but it certainly did not come from the Bible. Deuteronomy 6:7 instructs parents to teach God’s words diligently to their children. Proverbs teaches parents to train their children in God’s way (22:6) and to discipline them (29:15). Ephesians 6:4 says, “And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The Greek word for nurture (Strong’s G3809) encompasses the whole training and education of a child, which relates to the cultivation of the mind and morals. As we saw above, the heart, or mind, is cultivated by meditating upon and obeying God’s Word. “Blessed are the undefiled in the way who walk in the law of the Lord. Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart” (Psalm 119:1-2). At every turn, parents are instructed to teach God’s Word to their children.
Jesus’ example in the wilderness helps us to understand the role of God’s Word in resisting temptation. Jesus responded to each of Satan’s temptations with the Word of God. Ephesians 6:10-17 gives us further instruction on handling Satan’s temptations. We are told to take the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. But not once are we exhorted to take a little dose of the world as an antidote to temptation.
Confusion about Principles and Pragmatism
Parents who diligently follow the Bible in training their children are sometimes accused of being formulaic or results-oriented. The irony is that parents who follow the Bible understand that outcomes are God’s responsibility. As parents, we are responsible to obey God’s commands concerning child-rearing, but God determines the results. The practical outworking of this truth is that parents who are following Biblical principles do not change programs if a child rebels. They do not suffer from angst that they “lost their child’s heart” because their doctrine was too narrow or their rules too strict. Knowing that they have obeyed God’s Law to the best of their abilities, these parents can rest in God’s sovereignty and faithfulness. “O Lord, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things; thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth” (Isaiah 25:1).
Unfortunately, much of what passes for teaching in modern evangelical Christian circles is an admixture of opinion, personal anecdotes, pop psychology and truth. Emphasis is placed on subjective emotions and experience rather than on the objective, propositional truth of God’s Word. Christians find themselves chasing after vague, undefined expressions like “heartfelt faith” and “contagious parenting” and “fruitful interaction” rather than obeying the commands of God. Let us instead go back to the old paths. Let us “hold fast the form of sound words” which are found in the Scriptures “in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13).