Creation and Legalism

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, March 9, 2018 2 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

I and many other young earth creationists (YEC) often get accused of legalism by insisting on the authority of Scripture in regards to origins. But is the accusation true? First, let me examine what is actually being said. When the YEC are accused of being legalistic, what the accusers are really saying is, “YEC are closed-minded. They need to be more open to other ideas.” In only a few occasions are the accusations actually about legalism.

Now to be honest, it is very possible for a YEC to become legalistic. So we need to actually address what legalism is. I would describe legalism in this way: Legalism is the practice of enforcing laws beyond their intended purpose and making the laws both the means and the end of all things. I want to emphasize the latter part of this definition I am using.

It is easy for a YEC to make Creation the center of everything. While it is foundational to every part of Christianity, the center of Christianity is Christ, not Creation. I can see many old earth creationists shouting “Amen!” to that statement, but they best hold it. The OEC will take such a statement and then say that Creation is unimportant enough that they can insert their opinions and pagan-based ideas into their theology. Even in supposed secondary issues, there is never any right to insert pagan ideas into the Bible at any point. Where YEC often go wrong is focusing too much on Creation without using creation to point to Christ. The young earth position by itself is meaningless; it needs the cross. Where YEC get into trouble is when they make a young earth the end of the means. But where YEC get it right is using Creation to point to Christ. While I don’t agree with everything they say, this is one thing I greatly admire about Answers in Genesis. You will not attend a single one of their presentations without hearing the Gospel in some way, form, or shape. That is their end goal. Creation is the primary angle they use to get to Christ.

However, there is an equal and opposite fallacy to legalism: and that is the spirit of the Nicolatians. In the letters to the churches at Ephesus and Pergamum in Revelation 2, these people were addressed. Jesus praised Ephesus for hating that teaching, but chided Pergamum for letting them in. It is not clear who started their teachings but what they taught was clear and very dangerous. The Nicolatians taught that because of the grace of God and once we are saved, therefore everything else is a free-for-all. It does not matter if we sin or not because God’s grace covers it. It does not matter about any other “side issues” because all that matters is Jesus, so therefore we can believe whatever we want on anything else. At the time, they taught that it was okay to worship other gods as long as you gave Jesus credit, and sexual immorality was no big deal because there is freedom in Christ. And all of this is a lie straight from hell.

Paul saw this argument coming as he wrote Romans and in 6:1-2 he addressed it. Those in Christ have died to sin, died to this world. Why should any of us continue living after its lusts? And yet this Nicolatian spirit is precisely what the Old Earth crowds put forth. Among their favorite arguments is: “All that matters is Christ, therefore which model of creation does not matter,” and then proceed to promote a pagan ideology decorated in Christianese.

While Christ and Christ crucified should be our focus, that means that he is the center. It does not mean that the only thing that matters is the cross. It means that everything should point towards the cross. If Jesus on the cross is the only thing we needed to know, then the entire rest of the Bible is meaningless. The cross has to stand upon something and be anchored in something, and that something is Genesis. A cross by itself cannot stand up. There has to be a hole in the ground deep enough so the cross doesn’t topple. But without the cross anchored to that foundation, it is nothing but an empty foundation.

YEC and the cross are inseparable, just as sin and death are inseparable. Any attempts to break them apart is heresy. The cross means nothing outside the context of Genesis 1-12 as written. Likewise, YEC is useless without the cross answering for the problem YEC lays out. OEC has no connection to the cross, something that the OEC crowd praises. That is also why they are wrong, because they provide is no connection to Christ or that cross. If Paul makes every effort to know nothing but Christ and Christ crucified, that does not mean he dismisses Creation, the end times, or other supposed “side issues.” It means any topic he addresses, he is going to speak about it and use it to point to Christ. We live in a day and age where intellectualism and scientism reigns supreme. There needs to be a way to show the Bible as reliable from Genesis 1:1 all the way to the end. That is what Henry Morris set out to do when he started the Institute for Creation Research. His primary angle of addressing the cross was through Creation, but the cross was his end goal. He was not out to start a new origins model, and he never did. He was out to win souls for Christ by showing that in every statement the Bible makes it is true, including where it touches on science and history. The old earth founders were not seeking for God or his truth. They were out to destroy the authority of Scripture, and in the minds of many, they succeeded. It will go down as one of the most successful hoaxes played on mankind.

No one likes a legalist and that is why it often makes a good “catch-all” to silence those standing for truth. However, when one calls standing for the truth of Scripture “legalism,” that is a very clear sign of apostasy. Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:21-23 is against those who claim to be his disciples and yet live as though he gave no law to follow. Being a Christian is not about getting out of hell. It is about surrendering to Christ and letting him live his perfect life in and through you and about getting out the sin which has so corrupted us. If you think you can be a Christian and not change your entire paradigm, you are lost. If you think you can claim the name of Jesus, make a profession of faith, and live and believe whatever you want and however you want on those “side issues,” you are lost. That’s not Christianity at all. Jesus did give a law and part of that law is to keep away from worldly thinking. Yet many OEC out there chides and mocks us YEC for not bowing and caving to the world’s “expertise.”

While a YEC can fall into the trap of legalism, the model is not legalistic by nature. And those who accuse YEC of legalism do so because their standing for truth convicts them of their sin of the Nicolatians. You who are YEC. Are you being legalistic in how you approach Genesis? Have you made YEC the end of your means, not the means to the end who is Christ? Then repent and make Christ your focus. Continue defending the authority of Scripture but make Christ the goal and purpose. You who are OEC, are you more fascinated with the expertise of this world than you are of Almighty God? Then repent and turn to Christ who will show you very clearly how the Creation was done and whose wisdom is supreme. Next week, I’ll address another aspect of this issue: the supremacy of Scripture.

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Jim Williams said...

A couple of "scattered" thoughts: Can a person be a genuine follower of Christ and not follow the tenets of YEC? I believe so. However, I will admit that my reaction to teachings of "creationism" is somewhat gut-level, having experienced outright verbal persecution from YEC folks running amok. I was told I simply could not be a Christian (much less an ordained minister) since I do not wholeheartedly agree with all creationism teachings.

That particular YEC group in that particular congregation caused a church split. It was one of the most traumatic things I've ever seen in a church. Here's the thing: heresy is not merely heresy because it may be wrong teaching. The real issue is that heresy causes division in the Body of Christ. Therefore, even a correct, Biblical doctrine may become heresy if it is used in a devisive way.

I am grateful that my denomination allows for a wide range of teaching and opinions on matters like creation, and the end times. YEC, OEC, Pre-Mill, Post-Mill, A-Mill...we can all find unity (not necessarily unanimity) in the Body of Christ. There is room for a wide variety of viewpoints. However, there is no room for attitudes that cause division.

A related issue is authority and inerrancy of Scripture. I have found that Scriptural authority tends to be interpreted, and inerrancy tends to be defined differently, varying by each individual teacher. Again, scriptural authority and inerrancy are issues that are often devisive. I have found it helpful to focus on the sufficiency of Scripture, rather than authority and inerrancy.

Charlie said...

Jim, thanks for your comments.

In two weeks, I have a post about divisions in the church you may be interested in. It's likely not as detailed to address all the issues (because they are many). There are times where we MUST cause division over doctrine. However, there are ways to do it and ways not to do it. By your comment, I assume you are (or were) in a pastoral type position. In what I understand, I suspect it was not the origins issue which caused the church split (though that may have been the catalyst). When churches split, often it is caused by the method of approaching the debate at hand, not the issue itself.

My church does not take a formal origins position (We are non-denominational). My own pastor is an OEC and he knows I am a staunch YEC. He also knows if he teaches something glaringly wrong, I will let him know about it (and he knows I know how to discern it). But while he formally is an OEC, he is actually a practicing YEC. Every time I have heard him preach from the early chapters of Genesis, he does so as a YEC would. He just has some intellectual barrier preventing him from crossing the lines. Now if he were to start preaching the OEC positions, then he and I would have words. But what I have to be VERY careful against is to NOT go to the congregation and plant seeds of discord against the pastor. I would have to go to him personally, address the issue, and if he would not repent, then leave the church the whole time respecting the office of pastor. I fear your church's YEC group did not do that and that is where the division really rooted. It is an easy trap to fall into. So while I defend the YEC group's stance for doctrinal truth, I do not believe they went about it the Biblical way and that I will not defend. So I apologize to you on behalf of the YEC community. I also saw this knowing how easy it is for me to get caught up in that situation. My pastor is an overall solid preacher. Not perfect (no one is), but he points the right direction.

I do not see origins on the same level as End Times in terms of a "side issue" because with End Times, each positions tends to try to look at Scripture and how it will be carried out. With origins, only one side actually looks at the Bible as the authority whereas the others tend to incorporate secular ideas into the model. My main beef with OEC is towards the teachers of the models who purpose to create confusion to insert their opinions. I am not against all OEC, especially those who are born again, because they will not make issues out of origins (like my pastor) and I find those who are born-again and study out the issue will not stay OEC for long. There are teachings which divide and there are attitudes which divide. Both of us need to be careful to not confuse the two (because I know I can do that).

I am glad you support the Sufficiency of Scripture, because that is an issue many people no longer support. I honestly don't emphasize on that enough. But next week, I'm taking that issue even further: the Superiority of Scripture. Thanks for your comments.