This letter is composed of some brief comments or thoughts relative to two biblical or spiritual subjects. Thus the title “A couple of vignettes.” May they stimulate you to thinking beyond me brevity.
1.) The Pattern
After Jesus washed the disciples feet prior to the feast of the Passover, he told them: “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). The Message translates this: “I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I have done, you do.”
In the Churches of Christ we hear a lot about patterns these days. Is it about washing disciples’ feet? No, that was a cultural thing of Jesus’ day which we can disregard or ignore. Is it about humility and lawliness and service? No! When many brethren talk about “the pattern” today they are not talking about Jesus and following what he demonstrated on that occasion in Jerusalem, but about their doctrinal views relative to Sunday morning rituals which they erroneously call the “five acts of worship”. To top it off their attitude in this regard is often the very opposite of the pattern Jesus was conveying on this occasion. Especially the attitude of some leaders of the various parties of the Churches of Christ.
Jesus was teaching about attitude and relationships. We know that pride was a problem with the inner circle. In Luke’s account of this occasion he says, “But there was also rivalry among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest) (Luke 22:24). As the disciples had no servants as did the wealthy some of them should have seen to washing the feet, but they didn’t.
Over the years we have not followed the patterns, but manifested a pride similar to Jesus’ inner circle of disciples. Jesus wanted his disciples to be compassionate, caring, concerned, considerate, humble, loving, and servants of one another. He humbled himself to lay down such a pattern. We have not followed that pattern in our relationships with one another. Instead we have formulated patterns based upon our abilities and traditions and understanding and seek to enforce them through blackballing, castigation, coercion, demeaning, “disfellowshipping,” intimidation, making laws where the Bible is silent, name-calling, threatening, etc. Who will say these things are pattern, or associated with the pattern, that the Son of God, girt with a towel, knelt and washed the disciples’ feet?
We have used our concept of pattern to sour and destroy relationship, to justify the exclusion of brethren, and as a rationale for division. We ignore the fact that such unscriptural attitudes and practices separate us from God. William Barclay once wrote in reference to such: “The world is full of people who are standing on their dignity when they ought to be kneeling at the feet of their brethren.”
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He is our pattern, not the unwritten creeds we manifest as patterns, whether they be perceived as truth or not. Our faith is to be in him, not our own abilities. “He the great example is, and pattern for me.”
2.) Real Faithfulness
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Man, will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘ I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)”
There are verses that legalists love to quote to condemn those who do not agree with their opinions or conform to their traditions. They identify and judge them as being false teachers and unfaithful. Yet the very thing that the legalists recognize as being the basis of true religion and faithfulness is what Jesus was condemning.
To the legalists faithfulness in the worship of God is five acts carried out in a certain way in an assembly on Sunday morning. The emphasis is upon external regulations and rules. Strict observance of rituals! This isn’t what Jesus was teaching. To Jesus real faithfulness has its sect in the heart and results in brotherliness, compassions, kindness, and unity.
Just prior to these versus Jesus warned of “false prophets” and indicated that they were externally motivated and you could know them “by their fruits.” What are the fruits of legalism?
As I have already indicated it is religion based upon the observance of externals with a negative attitude of heart. A lot of effort and time is spent informing people what they cannot do and watching to see if they break a rule or violate a tradition. Real faithfulness is manifesting the positive love of God in service to others.
Legalism takes the cross out of Christianity. We are saved by our own abilities – our knowledge and adherence to rituals and traditions. God’s grace is spurned and He is insulted.
It divides life into sacred and secular components. Worship of the omnipresent God is limited to Sunday morning assemblies. Only then are our bodies “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God,” if we follow the correct procedures.
Legalism is a religion that is separatist in nature. No better evidence of this exists than the witness of the approximately two dozen divisions in the Churches of Christ. Each sect arrogantly claims to be the one, true church. Christ came to gather persons into one family, not split them up into hostile, warring sects. The teaching that declares that any group or sect has a monopoly on God and what is His will is false teaching and indicative of false faithfulness. As Jesus goes on to say, whoever is doing this is building on the sand and “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
J. James Albert