Home > Bible Study, doctrines, postmodernism > Too much Bible reading? A Poor Example of Legalism

Too much Bible reading? A Poor Example of Legalism

September 10, 2010

In a recent Sunday School class the teacher was discussing legalism, and as an example cited too much Bible reading — that a legalistic person boasts about how many Bible chapters they’ve read, and then feels the need to read even more and more chapters, to do better than others and be somehow superior to others because of how much Bible reading they do.

Given that the majority of Christians do not read their Bible enough, as evidenced by profound ignorance and lack of discernment concerning popular Christian leaders, and the local church never exhorts the congregation to read their Bibles, I hardly think this an edifying example of legalism.  No doubt someone, somewhere, has this problem — but seriously, how many people are legalistic and reading too much of their Bible, as compared to the opposite extreme?  How many professed believers today really have any problem with legalism, period, much less on the point of Bible reading?

As someone commented at another blog concerning Gospel-Centered Legalism, “It’s like people who don’t read their bibles for fear of being legalistic; I say if that’s your struggle, then, BE legalistic about reading your bible but while doing that, read passages about how our salvation is not contingent on our works. And pray that the Spirit opens your eyes.”

Over 8,000 people have joined Grant Horner’s Facebook group for the Horner Bible Reading plan, and the comments there are always positive towards the idea of learning God’s word and enjoying this type of reading plan, along with plenty of admissions that they haven’t been reading their Bible enough — and expressions of thanks to Professor Horner for this idea.  Many Christian blogs often feature comments from those who admit their lack in this area, that they neglect time in God’s word.

In my google searching on the topic of Bible reading and legalism, I found many other examples of legalism (though not of Bible reading).  I even came across a site that exposes the common problems in modern churches, including legalism.  The example given was not TOO MUCH Bible reading, but the opposite:

“The member is expected to get all of his doctrinal interpretation from the leadership of the church. This practice discourages individual Bible reading and Bible study. Researching doctrinal information on the Internet, radio, or in Bible commentaries is strongly discouraged. Members are taught to not trust their own interpretation of Scripture and avoid doing so. …  A typical example of communication control occurred during four social dinner gatherings of four couples from the church. .. In one of these groups there was no Bible discussions other than the prayer before dinner. None of the many church doctrines was discussed during any of the four dinners.

Consider also the examples set by godly, doctrinally sound preachers:  never have I come across any mention from such leaders that someone could be legalistic about their Bible reading.  Instead, they are frequently exhorting their audience to read the Bible — because that is the common problem throughout the ages.  C.H. Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle describe the very same problem as 20th century preachers S. Lewis Johnson, John MacArthur and others into the 21st century.  All Christians need to hear the importance of reading their Bible, because even redeemed, regenerated believers have the old nature and its tendency to neglect this part of the Christian walk.

So why does a Sunday School teacher instead cite Bible reading as an example of legalism?  In this case, it was from actual experience of becoming legalistic in Bible reading — reading through it every month (12 times a year): a rare case, but evidently a few Christians can go to this other extreme.  Yet in many cases when someone suggests that Bible reading is legalistic, the real reason is to cover one’s own neglect of scripture. It’s always easier, the lazy flesh-indulging approach, to play the legalism card — along with a post-modern attitude — and criticize those who do take God’s word seriously, who do greatly value and treasure it, and who enjoy their time in God’s word:  “oh, they’re just being legalistic.”  As J.C. Ryle put it,

It is neglect of the Bible which makes so many a prey to the first false teacher whom they hear. They would have us believe that ‘they are not learned, and do not pretend to have decided opinions.’  The plain truth is that they are lazy and idle about reading the Bible, and do not like the trouble of thinking for themselves.”

  1. September 7, 2011 at 11:08 am

    I love the exploration of people and legalism in this post. Too many people and churches focus on legalism and a lot of them deny that they are legalistic. The results I have seen from legalism are crippling. Instead of not cussing, not doing drugs, not being disrespectful out of love for Jesus, people do these things out of fear. If I cuss, I am going to hell. Well, there’s no hope for me if I do drugs. I am in no way supporting this actions but just trying to prove my point. The Bible says there is freedom with living in Christ. How is one to live freely when living out of fear? Living freely is easier and more enjoyable when you do good things out of love for Christ and others. I have personally seen both sides of this. Before learning the actual term “legalism,” religion and spiritually were things that I struggled with greatly. I felt low and bad about myself, with no hope. But now that I know that Jesus is here to save us and to love us, I feel like I can finally live freely.

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