Keeping The Balance. Liberalism And Legalism!


Both liberalism and legalism are extremes. Both reflect a defective attitude toward God’s word and their fellow Christians. How does one keep a balanced attitude in these trying times between these two extremes? We begin with what is basic and fundamental. What will be our authority in the spiritual realm?

For those of us who believe the Bible to be inspired by the Holy Spirit there is no question as to where our authority lies. Jesus said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18)

His will has passed down to us by the Scriptures that were inspired of God. Paul wrote, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”

If a person cannot accept this fundamental principle then there is little hope that he or she can keep a balanced position. Unless we are agreed on what is authority then there can never be any agreement because everyone will have a different basis for his or her authority in religion.

It may seem strange but both liberals and legalists have a problem when it comes to authority. One rejects the authority of the Scriptures while the other goes beyond the authority of Scripture to set in force rules and regulations that God has not authorized in His word.

With the legalists, the problem revolves primarily around how we interpret the Scriptures. Exegesis is getting out of the Scriptures what they say. Eisegesis is putting into the Scriptures what is not there. Consciously and unconsciously men have too often followed the latter method. Space will not permit an examination of all the rules of Bible interpretation.

However, It is our observation that most of the problems with legalists lie in how they treat commands. There are many commands in the N.T. Some are of such nature that all men are involved. Some involve only Christians. Some involve only certain Christians. Some applied to those in the first century but do not involve anyone today. It is critical that we be able to distinguish these differences.

There are two types of commands (generic and specific) in the Scriptures, which are equally obligatory upon Christians. A generic command is a command authorizing the performance of some act without giving directions as to the manner or method of its performance.

In this case God allows up to employ expedients. Expedients are merely methods of carrying out generic commands allowing the Christian to choose the best method under the circumstances. Human judgement comes in to play here and we may not always agree on methods. But we allow liberty and love to prevail, thus avoiding disharmony within the body of Christ. A specific command carries with it the manner or method of its performance.

“Go into all the world” in Mark 16:15 is generic in that it does not specify how we are to “go.”

Be “baptized” in Acts 2:38 is specific in that the word “baptized” can only be done one way, immersion. The word in the Greek text means to dip, plunge, submerge. In Romans 6:4 Paul makes it very clear that baptism is a “burial.”

Thus, there are not different methods such as pouring, splashing, sprinkling and immersing. The specific act of immersing is inherent in the word “baptize” in the Greek text.

The legalists need to learn to stop where a command stops. If a command is generic and there are no specifics, there is a great temptation to add rules and regulations that they feel protect the command. As an example, James says, “Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your soul” (1:21)

Is the “word” found only in the KJV or ASV? Some have insisted the use of any other translation would be wrong. They have good intentions. They feel they are protecting readers from false renderings of the Scriptures. Sometime ago I saw a sign above the door entering the auditorium of a church building which read, “Only the KJV and ASV may be read in this auditorium.”

This reminds us of the Catholic Church when they only allowed the Latin Vulgate to be used in their services. There are some good, some not so good and some bad translations. Even the KJV has some bad renderings. The serious Bible student will use several translations to make comparisons. Bad renderings of the Greek text can usually be identified without much trouble.

In addition, we have many aids (commentaries, lexicons, word studies, etc.) to assist us in knowing the correct rendering of any passage of Scripture.

To the liberal what can be said?

A liberal owes it to himself to reconsider the evidence that the Scriptures are the sole authority in religion. Without realizing it the liberal dethrones God and enthrones his own subjective reasoning. Will, I have it my way or God’s way?

To those who still hold to the authority of God’s word there are temptations toward being drawn into liberalism. Having observed a form of mean spirited legalism some of the ideas of liberal thinking are often very appealing. We can find ourselves agreeing there is a need for change.

We don’t like being intimidated because we use a translation other than the KJV or if we don’t wear a suit to worship or lead a song from memory without using a song book, etc., etc.

Most can see through all the rules and restrictions as merely human laws often being enforced with an iron hand. Because of this it is not uncommon to see members switch from one extreme to an opposite extreme. We have to work at keeping the balance between these extremes. Stay with the truth of God’s word.

Don’t embellish it with rules and restrictions God has not authorized. Don’t go to the other extreme allowing yourself to be drawn into the mind set of subjective authority. Don’t dethrone God and His Word. Keep the balance.

In all fairness to both liberals and legalists, not all of them go to the extremes. There are good honest Christians who are involved in a milder way. These people need our help and prayers that they not get caught up to the extent they do not remain in the way of truth.

Keep in mind that probably most of us carry some legalistic tendencies. Thus, we constantly need to assess our beliefs as to whether we have included some rules and restrictions that God has not authorized. Also, some of us might be labelled as liberal because of the position we take on a certain passage.

The term “liberal” is a very much abused word today among our brethren. However, I also need to assess my beliefs whether any of them are a clear rejection of the authority of God’s Word.



"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness."

2 Timothy 3:16