Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The fallacies of legalism and precision from a position of low spirituality


Most Western Churches are highly prone to fall into legalism and precision; but these are signs of a lack of spiritual depth, and are themselves false paths.

The true path is of course a middle way - not laxity, not legalistic precision; but not a compromise.


The early Church (according to Charles Williams) began to shape itself by discovering what it believed.

It was rather like Tolkien writing the Lord of the Rings - he gradually discovered what it was about. It was not invention, it was not extrapolation nor interpolation - it was a discovery of what was already there but not clearly seen.

When a council - designed to discover what the Church believed - was later found to be wrong, then it was regarded as not-a-council.

This is how things work when the Church is filled with the Holy Ghost.


However, when laxity increases because sanctity declines, there is a strong tendency to respond with legalism and precision - with sharp definitions, with increased discipline, with assertions of authority.

This is an error - when sanctity declines, the answer is an increase in sanctity and nothing else will work.

That was the error of the Reformation - to oppose laxity with Legalism. But, insofar as the Reformation really was an increase in sanctity (and it really was to a significant extent) - then that was to the Good.

And perhaps has often been the case with heresy - the benefits of heresy come from the increase in sanctity - and there often are such benefits even when the heresy is overall harmful or even evil in its ultimate tendency.


So the 18th century Evangelical/ Nonconformist 'revival' (Wesley, Methodism etc) did Good insofar as it was linked with devoutness and spirituality.

So did the almost-oppositely-inclined 19th century Anglo-Catholic revival do Good insofar it revived devoutness and zeal in the Established church.

By contrast, 20th century Anglican liberalism is an almost-unmixed evil since it was not only heretical, but associated with reduced sanctity, zeal, and spirituality.


From where we are now there is - I would think - zero-probability of making people more spiritual by more and more-precise legalism and more strict enforcement.

It must come (if it can come) from increased sanctity, probably from a revival of ascetic monasticism - that is, from example, from intercession and other spiritual means.

Insofar as this leads to greater sanctity, then those who achieve it will know just exactly what to do, but at present we do not know what to do, therefore we cannot make people do it.

But if we are trying to be more precise and strict about what to do from our current position of low spiritual development, then we will probably do more harm than Good.