Misuse props up ‘legalistic’ theology

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

It was Voltaire who said, ‘God made man in his own image and man hastens to return the compliment’, although I believe George Bernard Shaw made much the same observation a couple of centuries later.

I remember repeating that quotation to my father on one occasion, and he was apoplectic. ‘I’ve never heard such blasphemy!’ said he. But when you think of it, maybe Voltaire and Shaw were on to something.

I think they meant that whilst Christians agree there is only one God, we tend to project our own opinions, preferences and values onto him. For example, the God of the Baptists is quite different from the God of the Anglicans and the God of the Plymouth Brethren is light years away from the God of the Catholics, but how can that be it there is only one God?

Philosopher Emile Durkheim made an interesting discovery in his study: ‘The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912).’ He looked at the belief systems of the Aborigine people, because he considered them to be the most ancient in the world. What he found was that each Aborigine clan had its own unique totem pole that was central to worship. But to his surprise, he saw that the individual elements of each totem reflected the group personality of the clan. If a particular clan highly valued physical strength, their totem might feature an ox; or if a group valued cunning, the totem might be a fox.

So in a way, argued Durkheim, they were worshiping themselves.

When I was a boy, my father was a strict disciplinarian, whose totem might have depicted a Puritan. Any sort of frivolity in our house was frowned upon. We weren’t allowed to go to the cinema, the girls didn’t wear makeup and as the only son, until I was 15 I wasn’t even allowed to join a ‘uniformed organisation’ such as the Boys’ Brigade or the Lifeboys. I still can’t understand that one!

The old man had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Bible and he used it mostly to guide, instruct and encourage, but he was also quite adept at beating us over the head with it – metaphorically of course.

As a teenager, on my way to my first business conference in London, and fearful that the evils of the ‘Big Smoke’ might contaminate his son, he left me at the airport with the words of Colossians ringing in my head: ‘Touch not! Taste not! Handle not!’ – referring of course to the perceived lure of wine, women and song.

It wasn’t until my life took a major dive into depression that I turned to scripture to find my lifeline and discovered that the writer to the church at Colosse meant almost the exact opposite.

‘Hold on!’ I hear the fundamentalists scream... well, read the warning from Paul himself: ‘Christ has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!” Such rules are mere human teachings about things that are deteriorating.’

In other words, it is man-made rules that Paul is telling us not to handle, taste nor touch!

Just another example of Scripture being misused to promote and prop up legalistic ideology, rather than the liberating truth of the gospel of grace, mercy and peace.