The Twisted Logic of Liberalism

By Wayne Jackson

It strikes me as odd. Why would one construct an argument, grounded in an appeal to biblical authority (e.g., precedent), in an attempt to prove that divine authority is not needed for one’s religious practice?

And yet this is precisely what some are attempting to do these days. The argument runs something like this.

The Jews of the first century engaged in a number of religious practices that were without the authority of the Mosaic law. For instance, they met in synagogues, which were unknown in the Old Testament. They observed the feasts of Purim and Dedication, which were not authorized by Moses. These things were innovations.

Jesus never rebuked these practices; rather, he honored them.

Therefore, there is scriptural authority for innovating, i.e., doing that for which there is no sacred authority.

The Motive

This type of “logic” is growing in popularity with those who clamor for the unauthorized worship practices of the sectarian community, e.g., the use of instrumental music in Christian worship. We seem to have reached a point where many within the body of Christ are mesmerized by the various forms of “will-worship” (Col. 2:23) that characterize denominationalism. How does one respond to this argument?

The Synagogue

The synagogue system, which probably developed as a result of the Jews’ captivity in Babylon, was simply an educational expedient – a place for the study of the law and the accommodation of civic events. It also served as a school for teaching Jewish youth. This circumstance in no way rivals the introduction of innovative forms of worship in the New Testament age. This reflects the common flaw of attempting to compare “apples” with “oranges.”

The Feasts

The Jews of Persia instituted Purim to commemorate their deliverance from the wicked plot of Haman (Esth. 3:7; 9:20-32). It involved feasting and sharing with those who were poor.

Later on, the feast of Dedication (hanukka) was implemented so that the Hebrews could reflect upon the rededication of the temple during the days of the Maccabees (164 B.C.). It was a celebration of political and religious liberty.

Let us consider these cases in the light of several factors.

First, for many of the Jews these feasts were probably nothing more than nationalistic celebrations, rather than formal religious exercises. We have similar customs today. For example, even if one believes that the founding of this nation resulted from the providential activity of God, such does not mean that enjoying a picnic on the 4th of July is an act of religious worship! We may have family dinners on “Thanksgiving” day without a formalized worship service being involved. Such circumstances are not parallel to the addition of unauthorized worship in Christian assemblies.

Second, if the Jews did err in their invention of religious celebrations, their mistakes do not provide a model for us.

Third, there is no concrete evidence that Jesus or his apostles endorsed either of these feasts or formally participated in any religious exercises associated with them. They very well may have been involved in these cultural or national ceremonies, but there is no basis for contending that they approved of new worship modes extraneous to the law of Moses. The mere fact that the Lord was in Jerusalem at the time of the feast of dedication (Jn. 10:22) says nothing about his attitude toward the feast per se. One cannot manufacture a case with no evidence.

Fourth, there were many departures from the law of God among the Hebrews during the first century (e.g., digressions pertaining to the priesthood). The mission of the Savior was not to overhaul the Jewish system and make it right again. That regime was on the verge of passing away. Rather, the Lord was preparing for the implementation of the new economy (Jer. 31:31ff). He was not concerned with addressing every defect of the Israelite system of that day.

Fifth, if the reasoning of the innovators is valid, and we can ignore the need for authority, where is the stopping point? May we, with our Catholic friends, burn incense, use prayer beads, have a carnal priesthood, etc.?

Conclusion

Those who argue in this fashion reveal an egocentric disposition, and they simply are looking for justification with which to buttress what they intend to do anyhow. They might as well digress as far as Given Blakely (of the Independent Christian Church) did when he debated Alan Highers a few years back in Neosho, Missouri.

Blakely contended that no authority is needed for what one does in worship. The innovator is his own authority. This is the spirit of absolute lawlessness, and it is reprehensible.

Yes, it is surely an oddity of modern liberalism within the body of Christ that some would appeal to the authority of Bible precedent to establish the premise that one needs no authority for what he practices in religion.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.