A recent edition of APC News of the Associated Presbyterian Churches has as its chief article “Legalism vs. Liberty” (see http://www.apchurches.org/No%20111%20-%20May-Jun%20051.pdf ). This is certainly a worthy topic for consideration, so let’s examine it.
The first thing I notice is who the APC chose to use for their treatment on this topic in their magazine: Dr. Sam Storms. I know Dr. Storms, for I sometimes attended a church where he ministered back in the 1980s: Believer’s Chapel in Dallas, Texas. While professing to hold to the Five Points of Calvinism, Dr. Storms and Believer’s Chapel were anti-sabbatarian (i.e., rejecting Christian Sabbath observance of the Lord’s Day), anti-paedobaptist, anti-Textus Receptus, and anti-Establishment Principle (i.e., rejecting the duty of the magistrate to enforce both tables of the Ten Commandments and to protect the true church). From what I can tell (see his website http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/home.asp ), Dr. Storms continues to adhere to these and other heresies. He is quite comfortable with Wheaton College, where he taught theology from 2000-2004. Yet Wheaton College is characterized by moral and doctrinal laxity. One can only wonder too why one of Dr. Storms’ recommended websites is the writings of N.T. Wright (http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/listcat2.asp), of New Perspective on Paul “fame”. Is such a man a wise choice to guide those of us who profess to believe in the Biblical doctrines outlined in the Westminster Standards, on a topic like legalism and liberty? (Or is the APC’s profession to adhere to the Westminster Standards genuine?)
With respect to the article itself, the devil is in the details. Its basic definition of legalism is sound: the wrongful condemning of that which scripture allows. However, the chief problem with this article comes with some (albeit not all) of the examples it offers and the way these examples are handled. The clergy of the APC should know full well that some of the examples cited in the article are ones which the historic Church of Scotland forbade, such as use of make-up and movie entertainment (i.e., “stage plays”). Instead of really addressing the scriptural arguments offered by those who agree with the historic Church of Scotland positions, this article offers us a “cutesy” story by Chuck Swindoll about peanut butter. That is no way to handle important issues like this. This article reeks of the casual approach to God so often characterizing modern parachurch organizations like the one Dr. Sam Storms leads. A right fear of God is absent, manifesting itself in the lack of grave, thorough treatment of the topic.
Also, there is some subtle dishonesty I think in the way the APC altered Dr. Sam Storms’ original article, so as to hide the true colors of Dr. Storms from Scottish Presbyterian sensibilities. The original article of Dr. Storms is at http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article2.asp?id=487 . It includes this paragraph, which is very revealing about the moral character of Dr. Storms:
“The Bible commands weekly gatherings for prayer, Bible study, worship, and celebration of the sacraments. But the legalist condemns as carnal anyone who ever, for any reason, misses a Sunday service or dares to watch a football game in the afternoon or chooses to mow their lawn after church. If you prefer not to work on Sunday or watch athletic events or perform household chores, that’s wonderful. But don’t condemn others who differ. Why? Because God doesn’t condemn them.” (see http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article2.asp?id=487)
This paragraph was excised from the version of the article found in the APC News. Of course, the APC apparently has no moral qualms about the excision of the infallible word of God (as demonstrated in their use and encouragement of the anti-Textus Receptus NIV), so we should not be surprised when they excise a paragraph from the writings of others to make it more palatable to their target audience. Even if they had permission from Dr. Storms to perform this excision for their magazine, I still must wonder about it. There is no indication in the APC version that this paragraph was edited out of Dr. Storms’ original article. (It reminds one of the excision performed by the Banner of Truth Trust on Arthur Pink’s book The Sovereignty of God.) It makes the author appear somewhat different from what he actually is.
Legalism is indeed a sin to be avoided. But I fear that the APC and Dr. Sam Storms have turned liberty into license in the name of avoiding legalism.
Additional example of APC license:
The editorial of APC News at http://www.apchurches.org/No%20111%20-%20May-Jun%20051.pdf (entitled 'Filled with the Spirit!') asserts that Ephesians 5:19 has nothing to do with what we should be singing in church.
That contradicts the Westminster Confession, which says:
V. The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: beside religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.
 COL 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. EPH 5:19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. JAM 5:13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
The APC News editorial interpretation of Ephesians 5:19 is as follows: "We need to talk honestly to each other about spiritual things. In other words we will be speaking God’s Word to each other."
That sort of interpretation of the passage is one that those take who deny exclusive psalmody. Yet there it is conspicuously present in APC News.
With friends of the Westminster Standards like the APC, it hardly needs enemies.