Yesterday, I realized something. The Word exhorts to not--give up the habit of meeting together. But, we live in a world of lone wolf Christians. There's so much teaching out there on the web. Sermons from thousands of pastors and inspirational speakers.
There's something that can happen when we listen without being present--without a relationship with the speaker. Legalism. When I say legalism, I mean the belief that whoever we are listening to has the "right" answer and that we need to live exactly as they say. If we do, then we, too, will be living "rightly".
I found this explanation on www.carm.org by Matt Slick
"In Christianity, legalism is the excessive and improper use of the law (10 commandments, holiness laws, etc). This legalism can take different forms. The first is where a person attempts to keep the Law in order to attain salvation. The second is where a person keeps the law in order to maintain his salvation. The third is when a Christian judges other Christians for not keeping certain codes of conduct that he thinks need to be observed. Let’s examine each one more closely."
I thought his explanation was very interesting. I think the way I mean legalism is the strict adherence to teaching to maintain salvation. We hear the actions and focus on the actions or applications (practical and philosophical), rather than the heart of the speaker.
Teaching can get twisted because we often can't hear the grace without the relationship. It reminds me of people calling in to Dr. Laura's show for advice. One of my friends who's a doctor explained that she doesn't like the show. Her concern is that Dr. Laura has never seen the callers as counseling patients. Stories are complicated and often callers only tell part of the story on air.
In a similar way, teaching can get twisted. I have grave concerns about Martha Peace's book The Excellent Wife. The book is very black and white. She sites scripture and uses a tone in her writing that makes it sound as if there's only one way to submit to your husband and honor him. One can't argue with scripture. I have heard The Excellent Wife used to justify enduring abuse from a spouse. One can't argue with scripture. Yet, I don't believe that enduring abuse is biblical. When a spouse stays in an abusive marriage without help and counseling for both parties, he or she is enabling the spouse to continue sinning.
I realized this the other day when some advice was given to me. The advice was given based on the person's own life, marriage, and perspective. We all do this--give advice based on what we've learned and believe. The danger I see is in forgetting that one size does not fit all. We are only able to see part of the other person's life and we also may not see the fault lines in our own thinking. A few days later, I had another conversation with a friend and found myself explaining my feeling that as we love others in the body of Christ we need to consider what they want and need, not necessarily what we would want in their shoes. I am a person who loves contact and phone calls when I'm sick or a family member has been hurt. Others don't feel that way. I was once told in no uncertain terms a while back by someone not to call a friend of mine when a relative of hers had died. I didn't know what to do. Do I defy the person who told me this? I already had defied it before the person made this explicit. And my friend had been so glad I'd called. I had planned on calling again. What did I do? Should I call? Not call? I called. I thought about what my friend would want, not what the person telling me not to had wanted. That's another reason relationships matter. We need to know the people we want to love well. I don't believe there are blanket one size fits all rules about exactly how to love others and glorify God in our lives.
I was just reading this week in Matthew about how we are to love God with all of who we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is what we are to do.
These are the reasons why I think we have to be careful.
About what we say.
And about what we listen to.