Legalism, Antinomianism, and the Christian Patriarchy Movement

As I have become more familiar with the Christian Patriarchy Movement [and splinter movements like the Family Integrated Churches], I have become more and more familiar with their rhetoric. The rhetoric of a movement is important, because it will help you to understand exactly how people within the movement will respond to a given remark. Most people who first encounter this movement look at all of the clear additions to the scriptures that you find in this movement, and they accuse them of “legalism.” It is very easy to see why. These folks love commands; the more commands the better. Hence, they will spend their time ransacking the Bible to find new commands, or they will go back to the history of the church, and find any text that was interpreted as a command to not do something, adopt that interpretation, and then bind it to the conscience of their followers. The obsession with commands rightly garners the label “legalism” from those who first encounter this movement.

However, these folks have a couple of replies to this. First, they try to divert the attention away from the issue, by saying that “legalism” means seeking to be justified by the law. Since they believe justification is by faith alone, and we are talking about sanctification, they cannot be called a legalist. The problem is that they are confusing issues. Most words have more than one meaning. The same is true for “legalism.” Yes, there is a technical, theological use of the term “legalism” which refers to a person who is seeking to be justified by keeping the law. However, there is also a *popular* use of the term “legalism” which refers to a person who is overly obsessed with commands, to the point where they ransack the Bible to find new commands, or they will go back to the history of the church, and find any text that was interpreted as a command to not do something, adopt that interpretation, and then bind it to the conscience of their followers. “Legalism” in this case refers to an interpretation of scripture that is obsessed with commands. Hence, this first response is a simple red herring.

The second response, however, is much more common, and that is to accuse the person making the charge of being an “antinomian,” or, a person who is against obedience to God, or, more specifically, against obedience to his law. Most of the time that stops the conversation there, and, although people know that there is something wrong with this objection, I don’t believe most people understand enough about Biblical Law to respond to this objection. Worst of all, such a move is deeply political, as it labels the objector as a heathen, who doesn’t care about obedience to God, when nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, I have seen this counter even from people who would not generally consider themselves as part of the Christian Patriarchy Movement, or the Family Integrated Churches. Someone in James White’s chat channel pointed me to this post by Jared Wilson, in which a handful of demands are given for a child who is interested in dating his daughter. I will not necessarily comment on the demands themselves right now [maybe later on in the post]. However, as Karen Campbell said when I e-mailed them to her asking for her opinion, I do wonder what the parents of the boy who wants to date his daughter would say to those things, though. Still, what does he say if you don’t give in to his demands, and call him a legalist:

12. You may think all this sounds very legalistic. That’s fine. You can be one of the many antinomians not dating my daughter.

However, I would say, at this point, that the Christian can offer a counterattack that, no only redeems his own position, but also shows the oversimplifications inherent in the exegetical procedure of this movement, thus getting right to the heart of the disagreement. The problem with the objection is the assumption that legalism and antinomianism are the only two options. Such may not seem like a fatal flaw, but it is. Legalism and antinomianism are really cut from the same cloth. Both have a very low regard for God’s law, the one seeking to find hidden commands in the scriptures, because what is actually there is not sufficient, and the other simply dispensing of God’s law altogether. The fact that these folks want to say that these are the only two options shows that, in reality, the cloth they are cut from is the exact same as antinomianism.

The problem is that a high view of God’s law not only requires that one accept what God has commanded, but that one also gain wisdom in understanding how to apply this law in a given context. While there are certainly universals to be found in the scripture [murder is wrong, bearing false witness is wrong, etc], there are many commands whose intention is contextually derived. For example, the command to have a railing on the roof of your house in Deuteronomy 22:8. One has to understand that the point of the law is not the railing itself, but the blood-guiltiness that results from a person falling off a roof which has no railing. Hence, to demand that the railing be five feet high misses the whole point. The point is not the height of the railing, but whether it keeps people from falling off the roof. Whether a railing will prevent people from falling off a roof takes wisdom.

This is why many of these people have difficulty with the position of Christopher J.H. Wright that the penalties given in the Torah are maximum penalties. They think that, unless the penalties can be applied across the board, we are just left with an inability to know what is right in a given situation. The problem is that what is right is determined by applying wisdom to the law of God. For example, in the par excellance example of the wise judgment of a king, Solomon is brought two prostitutes who have a dispute over whose child the baby belongs to in 2 Kings 3:16-28. This is directly after Solomon asks for wisdom directly from God. Given the interpretation of many theonomists and Christian patriarchalists, Solomon should have required that these two prostitutes be burned to death according to the Torah [Leviticus 21:9]. Yet, very obviously, that would leave this baby without a mother. Solomon does something even better, and that is that he pretends to cut the child in half, and the real mother tries to stop him. Now, not only does the real mother have to take responsibility for her harlotry by taking care of and raising this child, but the woman who tried to steal her child from her has to bear not only her guilt for trying to take someone else’s child, but also her guilt for not caring about whether this child was murdered.

Does that mean that Solomon’s wisdom was better than the wisdom given in the Torah? No. Solomon simply understood the Torah far better than we do today. He recognized that the law in Leviticus 21:9 was specifically designed to prevent these prostitutes from leading the men of Israel astray [which is why you have the specific mention of the daughter of the priests]. He realized that it would further lead this child astray if he was to be brought up without a mother. He also realizes that, if he can find out who the mother is, then she can take responsibility for raising him. Such fits very well with the logic of the law itself.

One can think today of the difference between a prostitute who prostitutes herself because she and her children are starving after the death of her husband, and a prostitute who prostitutes herself simply because she is wild. The latter is doing it because of the idol of self, and the promotion of such an idol is the reason why God requires the death penalty. However, the former is not doing that. While what she is doing is sin, there are many failures even within the church to care for those less fortunate that have lead up to her sorrowful state. In such a situation, don’t you think that something like this coming out would bring shame on her because of her prostitution, but also shame upon those who refused to help her? Think of how her children would view her after something like this comes out. In this case, a mere conviction, and sentence of labor which will be used to support her children would be consistent with what the law requires.

This is why knowledge of the Torah requires more than mindlessly applying its laws universally. It requires understanding *why* they were written, and exactly what they contribute to the worldview of the entirety of the Torah. It also requires understanding their background, and how these laws functioned in the society in which they were written. Such interpretations ultimately lead you to understand the heart of God himself. They lead you to understand how God views certain things in certain contexts, and other things in other contexts. That is why wisdom is crucial when interpreting the Torah. However, it is the need for some law they can mindlessly apply universally to every context that is the fatal flaw of these folks’ approach to the law, and leads them right into their legalism.

In fact, as I have said many times, the interpretation of the wisdom literature is by far the weakest part of the Christian Patriarchy movement and the Family Integrated Church movement. Their material on the book of Proverbs, for example, is some of the worst material I have ever seen on the subject of the wisdom literature. For example, take this post from Scott Brown:

In Proverbs 13:20, God commends those who seek out wisdom by walking with those who are wise. However, someone who spends his time with fools will be destroyed. In Proverbs 22:15, God says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” Why then do people so freely lump their children with unwise children, as a dominant source of companionship. This is one of the important questions that needs to be considered when thinking through the impact of gathering youth together in groups.

Do you want your children to be wise? Put them in the company of the wise as the Bible defines them. Do you want your children to be wise? Deprive them of relationships with the unwise.

Such a comment shows a gross ignorance of how wisdom literature operates. Try applying this universal approach to the wisdom literature to Proverbs 22:6. You will find that, very quickly, you will have to say that God did not bring up his children Israel properly [Isaiah 1:2]. Did God not bring up children in the way they should go, or is there something wrong with this universal approach to the wisdom literature?

Secondly, aside from the assumed universal application of this proverb, the Hebrew term נער implies more than simply youth. It implies youth, but youth with inexperience [Proverbs 1:4, 7:7]. It refers to a person who can be easily manipulated because of their lack of experience. It is easy to see why wisdom is always seen as the solution to such youth. Hence, we are not just talking about someone who is young; we are dealing with someone who is young and naive. Foolishness is, indeed, bound up in such a person.

More than that, did you notice how Scott Brown only quoted half the verse? Here is the verse en toto:

Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a youth; but the rod of discipline will take it far from him.

Now, this is a very common theme of the book of Proverbs, and that is how מוסר [discipline] takes away folly, here, of course, referring to the discipline of the parent. Hence, the point of the law is not to universally say that all children are fools. The point is to emphasize the importance of parental discipline in the raising of their children from folly. Hence, if parents within a church practice discipline, then the folly of the child will be removed far from them! In other words, the only way this text would even be semi-relevant is if you had a church where the parents of the children saw no need to discipline their children. However, if parents are actively disciplining their children, then, obviously, foolishness will not be bound up in their heart, because the discipline will remove it far from them!

However, even this must be qualified, as מוסר does not simply carry the connotation of “punishment” in the wisdom literature, but also the connotation of “teaching.” I remember when I studied Egyptian Hieroglyphic that the Egyptian word for teacher had a determinative with a man holding a rod. Hence, discipline is much more than spanking your children when they are wrong; it is doing so with a purpose, a purpose to teach your children. Hence, this passage is also pointing to what happens when parents do not take their responsibility to teach their children seriously.

However, let us suppose that parents within a church are, indeed, punishing and teaching their children. If that is the case, then, as the text says, “the rod of discipline will take” the foolishness “far from him,” and thus, you will not be “lump[ing] their children with unwise children, as a dominant source of companionship.”

However, the point of all of this is not to simply beat up on Scott Brown. While some have accused me of this, that is not my intent. My concern is with this overly simplistic thinking that comes from the notion that you either have legalism or antinomianism. The other option is wisdom; the other option is that you understand what the scriptures are intending to accomplish in their context, and understand how to accomplish that intention in your own context. Such thinking may not be so simplistic as the legalism-antinomianism dichotomy. However, when you understand the *intent* of God’s word, you not only are reading the text according to the way in which all language operates, but you are also seeking to think God’s thoughts after him, and apply the law of God according to his intention. That is why the counter-charge of antinomianism really says a whole lot about the way these people think. To them, there is no world of the text, there is no intention within the text, and applications must always be black and white. Such thinking not only destroys human language, but utterly gags God’s intention in writing his law. This is the danger of both legalism and antinomianism.

Unfortunately, many young people my age simply do not understand this. Especially young parents. In their zeal to protect their children, they grab onto this five step plan to protect their children. If they don’t date [or only date with dad having a shotgun nearby at all times], are part of a family integrated church, are homeschooled, etc., they will turn out fine. This kind of “five step plan” approach is completely contrary to what the scriptures teach. God requires us to use wisdom, and that means that different things may work in different contexts. Going back to the example of Jared Wilson’s requirements for dating his daughter, he begins by saying:

You must love Jesus. I don’t care if you’re a “good Christian boy.” I was one of those too. So I know the tricks. I’m going to ask you specific, heart-testing questions about your spiritual affections, your daily devotional life, your idols, your disciplines, and the like.

Notice the assumption that, if he was a “good Christian boy,” then these other men must be a “good Christian boy” in the same sense that he was. And can you really find out a person’s spiritual affections, daily devotional life, etc. simply by asking them? Cannot people be deceived in these areas? What of the *depth* of their devotional life? What of the way they think and apply things in their devotional live, and with what area of consistency? What of their sincerity in genuinely seeking to rid themselves of their idols? These are things that cannot be decided on the spur of the moment, but require wisdom in examining the person’s lifestyle over time.

Also, he writes:

You will install X3Watch or Covenant Eyes on your computer and mobile devices and have your regular reports sent to me.

What if the man already admits that he struggles in this area, and already has an accountability partner? Are you not heaping shame upon someone who already feels the shame for his sin, and is seeking to turn from it?

I mean, one could go through and do this with every single one of these requirements. The father will be held accountable for the child’s actions? Really? You mean, the father deterministically determines the actions of the child? Are there no such things as rebellious children who simply do not listen to their parents? “You do not love my daughter.” Really, and you can look into his heart and say that because you did not know what love was when you were his age? Therefore, you conclude that all people that age must not know what love is?

Again and again, it is this notion of universality in all application, and thinking that you can raise your children well and protect them simply by mindlessly applying things universally. It simply doesn’t work that way. In fact, I know many parents who have tried this kind of approach, and have told me that it ended up driving perfectly good men away from their daughters. In fact, one of the problems with the Christian Patriarchy movement, as I have discussed before, is that men are unwilling to pursue their daughters, simply because of the father. A lack of wisdom has its consequences, and insuring that your daughters will never get married is certainly one of them.

So, the next time someone accuses you of being an “antinomian” because you rightly accuse them of legalism, reply that, actually, you are an advocate of wisdom, and the counter-accusation of antinomianism, as if those were the only two options, shows that they are either igorant, or really do not care about the law of God as much as they say they do.


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