Thursday, November 05, 2009

Yet another quick thought: The Catholic Church = "legalistic"?!?

One of my online acquaintances, a self-proclaimed "non-denominational Christian", recently confided in me and told me he could never ever be a Catholic because he thinks it (the Catholic Church) is too "legalistic".

Now, let me be honest: I thought it was a pretty weak excuse to use, but this, unfortunately, is one of the initial confronting barriers a non-Catholic will come across when even entertaining the idea of becoming a Catholic: all those rules; things you can and cannot do; abiding by "law". But the more I thought about this, wasn't Jesus himself "legalistic"? That is, if we define "legalistic" as the exhortation of others to obey and live by a set of rules or a rule of law, then anyone, especially Jesus could be seen as a "legalist". But this is not necessarily a bad thing. We know that laws are established to create boundaries and help guide our moral compasses, therefore serving our best interests and protecting our dignities. God gives us His law (natural and divine) so that we may be set straight and be best directed/guided to love and live in Him.

In Matthew 19:16-21 when Jesus said to the rich man, "If you want to enter life, obey the commandments" and "Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and 'love your neighbor as yourself" don't you think he was being "legalistic" here? He was of course instructing the man to obey the law of God. Now, you could argue that Jesus here was making an example of a person to "clinged" to his earthly possessions and this is what makes it hard for a "rich man" to merit eternal life, but Christ, of course, gives the man new instructions (laws) in order to merit eternal life:

"Jesus answered, 'If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'" - Matthew 19:21 (NIV)

Here are a few other instances where Christ instructs other to obey God's law; where he is also being "legalistic":

John 15:9-12; Matthew 22:35-40; Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 5:38-39; Matthew 5:40-42; Matthew 6:1; Matthew 6:33; etc.

But what's the point here? If we didn't have "legalism", there wouldn't be an order of things; there would be a sacramental, spiritual, formative, and doctrinal anarchy. God is a god of order, not chaos, and we're instructed throughout scripture to conduct ourselves in a matter of order:

"But let all things be done decently, and according to order." - 1 Corinthians 14:40 (D-R)

If you're going to argue that the Church is "legalistic", then you also accuse Christ of being "legalistic", and yet you follow his law without complaint? Are Christ's instructions not also "law" (Matthew 5:17)?

Order brings unity, and this is precisely what Christ wanted for all:

"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you; but that you be perfect in the same mind, and in the same judgment." - 1 Corinthians 1:10 (D-R)

"That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." - John 17:21 (D-R)

Lawlessness separates; order unifies.


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