Legalism Lurking and Coming in the Mail to a Pastor Near You — “Building a Godly Home”
But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:16-17)
We have many books in our church library that I appreciate very much and which come from the era of the Puritans and their successors. There are many, many great sermons in them and some excellent exposition of Scripture. BUT, there is some bad stuff as well. Stuff that is just plain legalism that leads to false guilt and bondage, and even more so because those books were written so long ago in a culture that is so long ago. You simply cannot transfer straight across the board in respect to application to us what people did 300-400 years ago in many cases. In some ways, I suppose, the legalism really originates in US today as so many Christians seem to want to fashion their marriages and homes and families and lives around that bygone era (check out the covers of many of Douglas Wilson’s books for example – but don’t read the books!).
So last week I received (and I suspect many pastors are also receiving it) a free book in the mail entitled Building a Godly Home: A Vision for Raising Children, by William Gouge (1575-1653). Gouge was a member of the Westminster Assembly that penned the Westminster Standards. This particular edition is “edited and modernized” by Scott Brown and Joel R. Beeke. Brown, I am assuming, is the same Scott Brown who we regard as no friend to abuse victims and is head of The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches. Brown and Beeke have broken Gouge’s original Domestical Duties tome down into three volumes: 1) A Holy Vision for Family Life, 2) A Holy Vision for a Happy Marriage, and the one I am critiquing here, 3) A Holy Vision for Raising Children. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God. But not these volumes. They are bondage, bondage, bondage.
So let me tell you why I am throwing this complimentary copy of this book in the garbage can and why I would never, ever endorse it to our people here in our church or anywhere else. Remember now, these books are being mailed out to pastors free of charge and many or some of these pastors are going to grab onto them and start teaching the contents to their people. If you start hearing this from the pulpit in your church, don’t be sucked in. In fact, you should object to the proclamation of this kind of step-by-step guaranteed guide to holiness and happiness. It is the tradition of men being foisted upon us. I have been a pastor for over 30 years and more importantly I have been the pastor of Christ Reformation Church for over 20 years. In that time I have had opportunity to see numbers of families function, dysfunction, and their children grow up into adulthood. I can tell you — I have seen it first hand. Children raised in this kind of legalism end up handicapped spiritually and emotionally and some even turn away from Christ.
Here is the problem. Listen to some of these chapter titles and headings from the book:
- Children Showing Respect for Parents
- Children’s Love to their Parents
- A Child’s Fear of His Parent
- A Child’s Respect in Quietly Listening to His Parent
- A Child’s Respectful Controlling of His Speech to His Parents
- The Vices in Children Contrary to Such Respect in Speech
- Children’s Respectful Talk About Their Parents
- A Child’s Respectful Conduct to His Parent
- The Vices Contrary to Children’s Respectful Gestures Towards Their Parents
- Children’s Obedience
- Children Getting Parents’ Permission
- Consent of Parents for Children’s Entering into a Vocation
- The Sin of Children’s Entering into Religious Orders Without Consent of Parents
- The Sin of Children’s Traveling and Becoming Apprentices without Consent of Parents
- Parents Consent to the Marriage of Their Children
- The Reasons Why Children Should Have Their Parents’ Consent for Their Marriage
- A Child’s Conduct in Case a Parent Provides a Poor Mate or None at All
- The Sin of Children in Marrying Without Their Parents’ Consent
- Ministers’ Sin in Marrying Children Without Parents’ Consent
- Children’s Not Taking or Selling Any of Their Parents’ Property Without Consent
- Children’s Being Content to be Clothed as Their Parents Choose
And the list goes ON and ON and ON! I have just taken you up to about page 32 in the book here, and there are over 180 pages total!! I can tell you, this is the stuff that enables “christian” abusers who use “godliness” as a facade. External legalism, endless lists of do’s and don’ts enables the wicked to put on a facade of saintliness and to enslave their wives and children.
WARNING, WARNING, WARNING! Parents, pastors, churches, Christians — if you embrace this model for life, and if you create a culture in your church and in your home that is controlled and dominated by these lists of do’s and don’ts that govern every area of life and short circuit self-development and healthy self-consciousness, you are going to do serious damage to your children and to yourselves. You are going to create an atmosphere that is dominated by a huge weight of legalism and the inevitable guilt that accompanies it. You are going to raise up children who even as adults WILL NOT BE ABLE TO THINK OR LISTEN TO THE SPIRIT OR INTERPRET SCRIPTURE FOR THEMSELVES. On the outside they may look like clean-cut, respectable, upstanding Christian young people, but I can tell you from personal experience that young people who have been raised up in these kinds of families and churches where patriarchy and legalism reign, will be stunted and warped in their personal, emotional, and spiritual development. They will not be “persons.” They will only be a kind of ghostly reflection of what daddy says or what pastor says. They won’t even be able to make a personal selection from the menu at MacDonald’s.
So these rule books are not a “holy vision” at all. The Holy Spirit does not establish these kinds of rule-bound systems to bind us. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is sweet liberty. Don’t let anyone put the yoke of slavery back on you. Read God’s Word. Be guided by the Spirit of Christ in you in the application of that Word, and teach your children to do the same.