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Grace and Law:
Legalism and Liberalism - Part III

By G. C. Brewer

religion, articles, christianity

(The following is another article by G. C. Brewer refuting the liberalism of neo-orthodoxy. Reading Brewer's article would lead one to believe that brother Brewer had just finished reading the most recent edition of Wineskins or Image or The Second Incarnation or The Church in Transition or some other such liberal nonsense. It is amazing that Brewer wrote the articles in this series in 1955. They were printed in the Gospel Advocate)

The three men who were mentioned in a former article as having written booklets that have come to me for review are, by no means, the only men who are today making an issue of "legalism," "liberalism," and points that are in a general way, either correctly or incorrectly, included in those terms.

Some men have filed a bill of complaints against us on those points and have departed to the denominations and are seeking recognition at the courts ecclesiastic. Others are endeavoring to stay with us but are seeking to reform us. They hope to teach legalists to cease to rely upon codes and to trust Christ. A noble endeavor, truly! However, these brethren are teaching that when one trusts Christ, one is at liberty to disregard the word of Christ! They will, it is true, deny this and will say that when one trusts Christ, one will truly obey Christ-not just conform to a legal requirement. Again they state a truth, but it will be found upon further pursuing this point that these "reformers" contend that any sincere sacrifice and service offered in the name of Christ is true obedience to Christ! Since we are not under law, but under grace, they insist that we have "liberty" to do things in the service of the Lord that the Lord has not authorized. If we seek for a passage of scripture to justify any practice, we announce ourselves as legalists. We would be conforming to a creed, limiting ourselves by restrictions and exactions of the most rigid kind and, therefore, we are again ruled by law instead of by grace.

The points that these men make are not new. They have been met and refuted by gospel preachers all the way from Paul down to James Bales. However, we shall here enumerate some of the points and again attempt to answer them.

1. Not Modernism but Neo-Orthodoxy

Some of those who are writing upon legalism are today accused of being modernists because they are thought to be repudiating the Bible as a rule of faith and as a standard by which we regulate our lives. My observation is, however, that these writers are not modernists. Certainly there is nothing modem in any argument they make, but then that is true of real modernists, anyway. But these writers seem to me to be influenced by what is known as "neo-orthodoxy." This is a swing back from modernism. It really means "new orthodoxy." Modernism has been shown to be nothing short of materialism and little short of atheism. It did not have enough religion in it to attract religious people or to appeal to the religious element in man's soul at all and, therefore, it was a complete failure. Communism, in all of its brutal behavior and pagan morals, is only the result, and the logical result, of modernism. Therefore, the religious thinkers have begun to swing back to orthodoxy. This neo-orthodoxy accepts the Bible as the word of God. It takes the word as the basis of our faith. It, therefore, appeals to the scriptures and claims great reverence for revealed truth. Yet this neo-orthodoxy, if I understand it, claims that while faith is based upon the word of God, it can reach far beyond the literal word or what is revealed in human language. Men become acquainted with the Lord through his word and then they grow intimate with him through personal consecration and through spiritual exaltation. Their spiritual superiority gives them exemption from all technicalities and enables them to see that discussions of doctrinal issues are but crudities. They, of course, do not feel that they are limited by the written word. The written word is essential; it is inspired; it must be believed; but the really consecrated Christian can penetrate into an inner meaning of the word and have a much broader vision, a much more sublime faith, and a much deeper spirituality than the man who adheres to what the word says. A man who limits the meaning of the words to their dictionary definition is not in harmony with the neo-orthodox practice. He must be able to see a meaning of which lexicographers know nothing.

2. True Faith May Choose Its Own Way of Expressing Itself

This sublime faith may express itself in acts, and baptism is a noble act which is intended to express the faith that is in the heart and to commit the soul to the Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, is a beautiful symbol. (This idea applies only to those of our brethren who are of the neo-orthodox views); but the faith is there before this act, and it may be expressed by other acts and, therefore, baptism must not be made a condition of salvation-at least, not an "essential" condition of salvation. One young brother with whom I have talked says that there is a literal baptism, but that there is also a spiritual baptism and that the literal baptism without the spiritual baptism would be wholly useless and invalid, whereas, the spiritual baptism without the literal baptism would be adequate. Both are good, but only the spiritual is essential. Other outward acts of consecration express this sublime faith which saves the soul.

3. The Old "You Can and Can't" Argument Revived

A third argument that is involved in this present controversy about law and liberty is as to what are the conditions of salvation. Some of the boys, who are unfortunately confused in this matter, take the position that salvation is not conditional at all; that it is a gift of God and is not of man in any sense and, therefore, man receives salvation only as a divine bestowal. Others will have to admit that it is conditional, and yet they limit the conditions, or at least they state only the one condition, that is, faith. Their doctrine is: Believe and be saved. This condition is not physical, does not embrace any overt act; it is a condition of the soul. The usual argument to sustain this position is made by these neophytes. They say that if salvation depends upon conditions, then one will have to comply with every condition mentioned in the scriptures before one can be saved and, therefore, again it becomes a legal system. We cannot stop with faith, repentance, confession, and baptism; we must go on to do all the things Christ commands, fail in nothing and falter never or else salvation cannot be ours. This point will be thoroughly refuted in the series which we are here beginning.

It will not be necessary to tell any preacher of experience that all of these points have been held and advocated by denominational people for centuries. There is not a new idea in anything that these "superior" thinkers are telling us. In its rawest form, this doctrine harks back to Calvinism. In its modified form, it is simply the doctrine of many denominations now existing. In the idea of its sublime spiritual viewpoint, which exempts one from literal baptism, it runs parallel with Christian Science. In its idea of a spiritual baptism, it is simply borrowing the doctrine of the Holy Rollers. The argument has been made that the reborn soul does not sin, that it is only the body that sins, and the regenerated soul cannot sin and cannot be lost. Someone is going to ask, "Do we have any brethren who hold these positions?" Well, it seems that we do. I, myself, have met one who argued every one of these points and avowed the conclusion that I drove upon him each time. Some of the others, who have been influenced by this neo-orthodox thinking, perhaps, have not gone that far. At least, let us hope that they have not and that they will be made to see the error that they are about to embrace.


Published November 1992