The person you think is a legalist … probably isn’t.

My dad has often said, “anyone who drives faster than me or slower than me, is an idiot!”  His sarcastic, self-aggrandizing point is that we judge everything through our own eyes and by our assumed standard of what is best.  If he believes that driving 59 is the right speed in a 55 mph zone, then the guy who slows him down since he is only driving 56 or the guy who speeds by him at 62, are both hazards to the welfare of other motorists.  He then makes a tongue-in-cheek comparison to Christianity and says that “anyone whose standards are stricter than mine is a legalist and anyone whose standards are looser than mine is a libertine.”  Frankly, his light-hearted banter has emphasized what has become a major misunderstanding among conservative Christians.

I think Christians have been mis-characterized because of an incorrect understanding of the categories which they are assigning to others.   Here is my thesis, the “legalist” is probably a “weaker brother” and the “libertine” is probably a “stronger brother.” Sadly, we have mis-named our brothers and sisters in Christ as something that is far worse than what they are.  Hopefully, this post will be enlightening and will help us to walk with a little more charity towards other believers.

If this post is of interest to you, I would suggest reading 1st Corinthians 8-10 and Romans 14-15 carefully, if you are not already familiar with the passages.  I’m not going to connect each of my assertions to a verse, but will assume you can see the connection from your reading of the passages.

First, I’ll create a small glossary, and then give a short commentary on each word.

GLOSSARY:

Gray Areas: matters of conscience which each believer is expected to develop through one’s own study of the Scripture.

Legalist: one who asserts that a religious rite or work is necessary for salvation.

Libertine: one who lives only for the satisfaction of the flesh.

Stronger brother:  one whose knowledgeable conscience does not convict him for participating in activities which are often referred to as “gray areas.”

Weaker brother:  one whose tender conscience prohibits him from participating in activities often referred to as “gray areas.”

COMMENTARY:

Gray Areas:  There are three gray areas inferred in Paul’s treatment of matters of conscience.  In 1st Corinthians 8-10, he writes of: the source of one’s meat and what a person may drink.  In Romans 14-15, he writes of: what a person may eat (one eating anything and another being a vegetarian), observance of or abstention from certain holidays, and what a person may drink (see also Colossians 2).  These are called gray areas because the Scripture is not dogmatic on these things and recognizes that one person may be able to participate in them with a clear conscience while another may not.  For one person, it offends their conscience and for another it doesn’t.  Though Paul only deals with what a person eats, what a person drinks, and what holidays a person observes, we are certainly able to see that there are many other gray areas on which the Bible, the N.T. especially, is non-prescriptive and therefore believers must exercise individual responsibility in ascertaining their position on a question.  Some things that I believe could fall into the gray area category: clothing, head-coverings, music, sports, entertainment, home/public/Christian school, organic food, essential oils, vaccinations, medications, whether one votes, self-defense, working on Sunday, etc. into infinity (almost).

Legalist: These were the Judaizers who followed the Apostle Paul from location to location, trying to teach his converts that they must adhere to the O.T. law, specifically the rite of circumcision.  Paul called this a false gospel and a perversion of grace; the entire book of Galatians deals with this problem.  Frankly, in all my years as an independent Baptist, I don’t know that I’ve ever known someone like this in any Baptist church.  I do know of denominations which have religious rites which they have added to salvation, but not in a church with which I’ve been affiliated.  A legalist is not a Christian who has strict standards of personal conduct.

Libertine:  These are hedonists and not unrelated to antinomianism.  I’ve known of few profligate people in my life who have little or no moral structure.  They live entirely for physical pleasure apart from any conscious inhibition; their curriculum vitae is, “whatever satisfies my desires.”  A libertine is not a Christian whose conscience allows them freedom in certain gray areas.

Stronger brother: The terms weaker brother and stronger brother are derived from Paul’s teaching in 1st Corinthians 8-10 and Romans 14-15.  The stronger brother is the one whose conscience does not convict him for various gray area activities.  Paul indicates that the stronger brother’s faith allows him to eat meat offered to idols because he realizes that the idol is just a piece of stone.  The Jewish stronger brother might observe the Passover because of its national or ethnic significance and not because he still lives according to the O.T. sacrificial system.

I’m convinced that there are two kinds of stronger brother: the first is the one like Paul, who even though he could do something, he may choose not to do it (1st Corinthians 6:12; 10:23).  He would not offend his brother by doing something in front of him which would be offensive (1st Corinthians 8:13).  The second is the one to whom Paul was writing in 1st Corinthians 8-10.  This stronger brother had the knowledge that he could eat meat regardless of its source, but he did so without care for the conscience of his brother.  Sadly, this latter kind of stronger brother is more prevalent than the former.

Weaker brother:  The weaker brother is the oft derided one that no one wants to be.  However, using a synonym for the word “weaker” would probably be helpful.  Consider the weaker brother as the one with a “tender” or “delicate” conscience.  The weaker brother is operating in faith (that was Paul’s expectation for both the weaker and stronger); he loves the Lord and doesn’t want to do anything which would offend Him.  He wants to make sure that nothing in his life is questionable so he has set strict guidelines for his own conduct to keep himself from anything he thinks might not be in harmony with a holy life.  He should not be condemned, but respected.  He should be loved, not ridiculed.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

  1. We all may be the weaker brother in one area and the stronger brother in another. The categories don’t define a person’s permanent or absolute designation, but how he thinks on a subject.
  2. The stronger brother is instructed by Paul to consider the tender conscience of his brother and to avoid being an offense to him. The stronger brother is the one charged with considering the conscience of the weaker. He is instructed to restrict the exercise of his liberties so as not to offend his more tender brother.  The weaker brother is not instructed to tolerate the liberties of his stronger brother (he probably doesn’t see them as such), the onus of understanding and deference rests entirely on the stronger brother.
  3. The accusation of “legalist” against one, who is in reality just a weaker brother, allows the supposed stronger brother to ignore his weaker brother’s conscience because that one is considered a false teacher at worst, and an adherent to poor doctrine at best. This is wrong, selfish, divisive, and uncharitable.
  4. The weaker brother’s conscience is not something to be maligned, but appreciated. He probably loves Christ deeply, is following Him as best as he knows, and lives in a holy fear of doing something that offends the Lord.
  5. I don’t want anyone to be able to tell if I’m a stronger or weaker brother. As you’ve read this post, perhaps you’ve tried to figure out which I am on various questions; I hope you can’t tell.  I want to be spiritual enough that you can’t tell if I have a delicate conscience or loving deference towards my brother.

So, realize that the one you think has restrictive standards is one who has a tender conscience and is fearful of offending the Lord.  He is not a legalist teaching a false gospel to you.  Learn to appreciate his delicate conscience, it is that way because he loves the Lord.  I’m convinced that if the things mentioned above are learned, much conflict and frustration will be alleviated in families and churches.

Annual Family Christmas Letter

2017 Family Christmas Card

Dear Family and Friends,

12/18/2017

2017 has been as busy as every other – and just as much fun.  Below, you will find a few of the happenings of our lives over the last year.

Gilead:  Gilead is almost 3 (January 19th).  He just moved out of the crib and onto one of the bunks in the room with the other boys.  We had been concerned about one of his eyes turning in and discovered that his eye sight is very poor; he was able to get glasses in the spring to assist the muscles in focusing.  He is quite used to the glasses, but is now on his third pair (they have a one-year replacement warranty on them and the lady who works for our eye doctor told me she would order a couple of extra pairs just to keep in stock).  He will be graduating from the nursery to the regular church services in just a couple of weeks.  He is the only one not in school, and so Carol and I have great joy in his presence, we anticipate that he will start pre-school next fall – he certainly wants to go to school.  He loves to sing.

Gardner: Gardner turned 7 on June 15th.  He is in 2nd grade and will move from the elementary school to the middle school next year.  His reading and writing have progressed significantly, and he is a very good student.  He is eager for our family Bible reading time when everyone gets home from school and is not intimidated by the King James English.  He has a very nice singing voice and I often hear him in the congregation when I’m near him on Wednesday evenings.  He played baseball in the Farm League this year and it was very evident that his hours of whiffle ball had paid off (however, I have to work on getting him to swing level instead of trying to loft the ball).  We had his eyes checked this year, and he joins Joel as the only other one in the family without the need for corrective lenses.

Kara: Kara will be 10 on January 10th; she is in 4th grade.  The flute that had been given to us turned out to be unusable, so we purchased a new one for her.  Since the school does not start instrumental lessons until the 5th grade, we were able to get several lessons from a friend/teacher, Mrs. Reber, to get her a good start on the basics.  She practices faithfully and she has just started playing hymns with the other instruments in the church services.  Her singing voice continues to bless us – it is very “flute-like” (lyric soprano) in its quality.  She is a wonderful big sister to Gilead and has a very tender heart and is a willing helper to Carol.  She brings me a cup of (very strong) coffee every Sunday afternoon.  On Easter Sunday, she publicly professed her faith in Christ by her baptism.

Josiah:  Josiah turned 11 on October 30th; he is quite skillful as a marksman and purchased a pellet rifle for his birthday.  He is in the 5th grade and will move to the Junior High School next fall.  Josiah also publicly professed faith in Christ and was baptized on the same day as Kara.  We were very curious which instrument he would choose to begin playing with the 5th grade band; it is a large decision for us and our children because we intend for it to be a life-long habit and ministry.  We already had a trumpeter and trombonist, but I was willing to have him play either of those if he chose, though I was hoping for a baritone/euphonium.  I watched several youtube videos with him of various instruments and when it came the time to choose at school, he chose the French Horn.  I was a bit surprised, but I know that he’ll devote himself to the one that interests him the most.  We rented a beginner horn for a few months, but went ahead and purchased an intermediate model for him a couple of months later when we were certain that he would do well with it.  Practice time is like second nature to him; he is very consistent.  He also will begin playing in services in the very near future.  So, in our family, we have pianists, an organist, a trumpeter, a trombonist, a French hornist, and a flautist.  I wonder what Gardner and Gilead will play?

John: John turned 12 on July 7th and is in the seventh grade.  He loves information and facts.  He is much like Joel in his quick recall of various facts concerning any topic.  I recently obtained an encyclopedia of WWII and he has already skimmed through all 24 volumes.  I have a table of new, but uncatalogued books outside of my study, I don’t bring them into my office until they have been added to my LibraryThing database, he has kept me busy trying to stay ahead of him as he enjoys reading in the recliner in my office.  His favorite thing at school is scholastic bowl.  He and Grant also found much pleasure on the school’s Lego League (and robotics) team.  John’s trombone skill amazes me and every part of his emotions are expressed as he plays.  I’ve been skeptical of the phrase “he can play any instrument he touches” until I’ve observed John; he has figured out how to play his sibling’s instruments.  I often hear this, “dad, John is playing my…” and have to remind him that he has to have permission.  I’m very curious to see where his musical ability may lead.

Grant: Grant turned 14 on September 10th and is in 8th grade.  He is looking forward starting high school next year and already goes to the high school for the first hour of the day for an accelerated math class.  He and John are both in the miniband at school as well as the regular bands.  We were especially pleased for Grant to audition and win a spot on the ILMEA 3rd District honors band which performed at Olivet Nazarene University in November.  Grant also upgraded from my old Yamaha trumpet to a silver, Bach Stradivarius.  One of his teachers was moving away and sold it to him for a very good price, we count it as a blessing from the Lord!  He continues to find ways to earn money; he mowed more yards and did all kinds of odd jobs around town for various people.  He has a collection of tools, lawn mowers, rakes, a blower, and etc. – not including those which he borrows from me.  He also purchased a laptop for himself in order “keep his business records” and all other pertinencies of life.

Laura: Laura turned 16 on May 6th.  She still doesn’t have her license, partly because she doesn’t have sufficient permit hours and partly because neither of us care to pay the additional insurance.  She has a job working at a tea room here in town and has benefited tremendously from all that she has learned there.  She purchased a laptop to use in school and she has upgraded to my old iPhone 5.  She continues to progress as a pianist.  As a Junior in High-school she has had an extensive amount of homework and has had to learn to manage her time well; in fact, I’ve had to enforce a bed-time for my high-schoolers – not because of television or entertainment, but because of dedication to studies.  She is also on the HS scholastic bowl and speech teams.  She’s thinking carefully about life and is praying and considering what she will do in the next few years.

          Joel: Joel will be 18 on February 9th.  It’s hard to believe that he only has one more semester of High School.  He’s continued taking the computer classes at the community college; consequently, he has reduced the frustration I have often felt whenever I’ve had a computer issue, by being a quick resource for problem solving.  He got a Macbook computer, and closely follows everything taking place in the tech world.  He also greatly enjoys participating on the HS scholastic bowl team.  He did not play on the HS baseball team last season, but is planning to pitch this year as his final year.  He has not decided on a college yet, but has applied to several and is waiting to see where things go from here.  He still works at the local hardware store.  Personally, I’m blessed to sit next to the organ every Sunday and hear (and see) his skill as a wonderful contribution to our services.  He has grown a little more and is now easily over 6’5” without shoes.

Carol: Carol continues to manage our home and lives with grace.  She balances life as a Christian, a wife (pastor’s), a mom, a citizen (her community interaction continues to increase in various ways), and a daughter – her parents moved down here from northern Illinois and we are thrilled to have almost daily interaction with them.  She shuttles the kids back and forth between school, sports, music lessons, jobs, church, grandparents, store, and home.  If you’ve noticed on Facebook, she is constantly finding creative, artistic, and tasty ways to feed us.  She has learned the trick of using apps on her phone to get all kinds of deals.  I think her favorites are the Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonalds apps.  She also did most of the gardening (vegetables and flowers) this summer since my non-church activities this spring were farming and coaching of baseball.  She is my favorite person in the world.

Levi: I coached baseball for the 4th year.  I obtained a Class A CDL in order to drive a grain semi for my farmer friends, the Kinzingers.  I preached a family conference at the church where my dad pastors in Missouri.  I’ve donated several more units of blood.  I managed to get the upstairs bathroom in our house functional, even though there is still some finish work to be done.  I’ve added more bookshelves and books to my study.  I’ve learned to sell things on e-bay.  Mostly, I’ve been busy with life like the rest of you.  As a Pastor, I finished preaching through the book of Psalms (A 12 year, on and off endeavor) and continue in the books of Proverbs and Luke.  I press myself to read more books and review them occasionally.  I haven’t posted as much of my writing this year, but have several projects on which I’m working.

Oscar:  We reckon that he is 12 years old.  He has taken a little bit more freedom outside than he has in the past, though his southern heritage is still evident during the winter; he stays inside as much as possible when it is cold.  He is healthy, sociable, and good company.

Church: The church continues to thrive with God’s blessing.  We had our second VBS, with good results.  We had one of my former professors, Dr. Surrett, come and preach through the book of Job for a week (his teaching through that book when I was a student was a spiritual sustenance for me during a very difficult time in our lives).  We’ve gotten new auditorium chairs, purchased new hymnals, removed the old single-entry door and installed new double glass doors, sidewalk and front stoop.  We’re in the process of installing a new exterior digital sign.  We have had some new members join the church and have begun financially supporting a new missionary (my brother and his wife, Michael and Nora Deatrick to the Solomon Islands).  I’m so thankful for the years that the Lord has given to our family here.

God continues to give us exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.  We enjoy life, each other, and we seek to live according to God’s Word by His grace.

 

May God bless your family this coming year!

 

Love the Deatricks,

Levi, Carol, Joel, Laura, Grant, John, Josiah, Kara, Gardner, Gilead, and Oscar       305 E. Franklin St., Paxton, IL 60957.

Levi: (217)781-4081; Carol: (217)781-4082  lcdeatrick@gmail.com  acaroltomyking@gmail.com  www.levideatrick.com