I would say a good chunk of my upbringing in Christianity is what I would call legalistic fundamentalism. First, let me give a disclaimer to say that I’m not embittered by my childhood. I think there were many or even mostly large positives from it. Right off the bat we need to define our terms. First, let’s look at the word legalism. It often means an excessive following of a law. When we look at the term in the context of Christianity, it is often used in two different ways.
The first way that legalism can be defined is by those who believe that by keeping God’s law they can attain salvation. If we look at Ephesians 2:8-9 we know that salvation is a gift and not something earned. There’s no amount of good things that we can do or rules to obey to earn salvation.
The second definition of legalism is a strict adherence to the law. The goal is not to just to earn salvation, but is often to earn God’s love. Now we need to be careful when we say this as a bad thing. It is never a bad choice to obey God. But often those who are legalistic have an unbalanced approach to gray areas – or those principles not addressed in Scripture.
When I say unbalanced, I mean those times that are not black-and-white that we must apply God’s principles and His character to our decisions. Things which we don’t have a “thus says the Lord” about, which we need to decipher what God would want for us. So while we know murder and adultery are sin and serving others and taking care of the poor is righteous, there are areas that are not so clear.
We should continually pray for God’s wisdom and also ask Him how to deal with difficult situations. Sometimes we need to show God’s love; other times we need to show God’s justice, and then there are times when we need to show both.
The legalist often remembers one part of God’s law and word, but not the other. He often takes the conservative side for conservative side’s sake, and comes down on justice and judgment – forgetting grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. Of course some commit the problem of the antithesis of this, called antinomianism, but that’s not what we’re talking about right now.
The legalist often fears making any bad decision whatsoever. Now it is a good thing to fear God when we do not obey Him. The legalist takes this to the extreme, always feeling compelled to see everything as a black-and-white decision which is easily made. They then push those decisions on everyone else and give no grace when others make other tough, gray-area decisions. For an understanding that sometimes there are gray areas see Romans Chapter 14.
So what does legalism have to do with the idea of beauty? Or can I ask how has legalism help cause the death of beauty? What are other ramifications if we do not care about beauty?
The legalist, and I’m speaking in the second idea I wrote about concerning legalism above, often sees everything is black-and-white. They are often prone to turn Christianity into a textbook. They will say they have a great relationship with God, but they often struggle with the emotional side of those things. I’m speaking both from observation and experience.
When we see everything in this black-and-white way, this academic way, we often struggle with the abstract. We are determined to find function and causality in everything; therefore anything not in that mold is hard for us to comprehend.
Likewise , topics such as beauty become hard to define. There are times when beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Let’s ask: “Does God really care about beauty? Or is God just about function?” One answer is found in Genesis 2:9. This is one of the many verses that I scrolled over and missed, until my friend Glenn Sunshine pointed it out to me. He noted that when God made trees in the garden of Eden, He did so for beauty and function.
Now God had already created trees before this point. In this verse we see that God is creating trees for Adam and Eve’s pleasure and purpose. These trees are coming out at a time after God makes man. Also notice what the verse says. These trees were made “Pleasant for the site and good for food.” So God is not just making these trees for function, but also for beauty. Not only is he noting that they are made for beauty sake, but maybe there is potential order of importance here when God mentions beauty before function. At minimal it tells us that God does care about beauty.
What are the consequences of ignoring the idea of beauty? Since God cares about beauty and beauty is a reflection of Him, if we ignore beauty and only focus on function, then we have actually missed some of the image of God. To miss or misrepresent some of God’s image is to miss God Himself. It is to neglect one of God’s great attributes, which is beauty. We know this, because creation itself, which He artistically made, reflects beauty all around us.
So how do we reclaim beauty? I’m not gonna go into detail on that in this post. What I do want to say is that we should talk more about it. That things like the arts should matter to the Christian. That the function of our church service should be just as important as the beauty of them. That Christians need to start observing the world around us, and look at it as more than some mechanized machine, but also for the beauty for which it was created.
Thanks for taking time to read this Maddening Theology post. If you enjoyed this content you can find Pastor Tim’s sermons at www.cornerstoneforestcity.org. You can also join us at 520 Marion St. Browndale, PA 18421 on Sundays at 10:45 AM. To make following the blog easier you can also register. You can also join us on Facebook at Cornerstone Forest City. Also, don’t forget to download our APP on iTunes or Googleplay.