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SUBSTANTIVE ERRORS INVOLVING INDIVIDUAL BELIEVERS

Underlying errors involving the proper place, duties and roles of individual believers.

Page contents

You may read through this page in the order it was written or follow the links below to the topic of most interest to you

Legalistic/individualistic fallacy

Individual expendability fallacy

Heavenly Boss fallacy

Homologistic fallacy

Homopraxic fallacy

Homoaesthetic fallacy

Legalistic and Individualistic Fallacies

The Legalistic and Individualistic Fallacies are flip sides of the same error, and are always found together. The error underlying both fallacies is the presumption that God's demands on our lives can be satisfied by our own efforts. The Legalistic Fallacy holds that there is some set of rules of behavior which we can keep to earn our own way into God's favor. The Individualistic Fallacy then goes the next step by insisting that, as long as we keep God's rules and, thus, please Him, we are free in all other things to live our lives in our own way, entirely for our own benefit, without further considering Him.

Unfortunately, the Legalistic and Individualistic Fallacies describe the state of all traditional non-Christian religions and most of the Christian church. We all look for ways to please God and avoid eternal punishment by simply keeping rules, with minimal actual contact with God and without ever giving ourselves to Him. But it doesn't work that way, and the result of pursuing religion in this way is usually revolting — like the scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus rebuked for being careful to tithe everything and keep all of the required religious observances while simultaneously robbing widows' houses, Matthew 23, or the lives of those people from OTHER denominations which our own church accuses of legalism... Return to top of page

Individual Expendability Fallacy

This is the error of believing that individuals are expendable for the benefit or convenience of church organizations. It teaches that human ecclesiastical organizations have a separate corporate existence which is more important in God's sight than the individuals who compose them or the individuals that they are (presumably) attempting to reach with the Gospel. This error is, in part, borrowed from secular thinking, which almost universally teaches that human institutions — governments, corporations, and the like &151; have a godlike self-existence which renders them more important than the individuals that compose them. But this is not the way God sees the matter. This entire creation is expendable — God will ultimately destroy it all. All human institutions will likewise be destroyed. The one thing in this creation God does not view as expendable is individual humans, people for whom His Son died. Granted that the Scriptures speak of the vinedresser — Jesus himself — pruning away unfruitful branches from His vine. But that purging work is God's, just as the vine itself is God's. The fact that God will eventually let those who reject Him have their way and be without Him does not justify church organizations in treating people as expendable to serve organizational interests... Return to top of page

Heavenly Boss Fallacy

This fallacy is a near cousin of the Legalistic Fallacy. It holds that, to the extent God acts in positive and nondestructive ways in our earthly lives at all, He does so in direct proportion to our holiness or accumulated merit before Him. Thus, while God may have provided eternal life in Heaven on the basis of grace, based on what Jesus earned for us, everything He does for (or to) us in this life will be exactly what we earn by our own efforts. In this life, God treats us as if He were our heavenly Boss, not our heavenly Father. We must earn our keep.

Since most who hold this fallacy also hold some form of the Silent God Fallacy (described elsewhere), a commonly held corollary of this fallacy is the belief that God only speaks to those rare persons who, through their exceptionally saintly and ascetic lives, have earned the privilege of hearing from Him. To be sure, a majority of those throughout the ages who have heard God speak and have subsequently had the courage to repeat and to act upon what they have heard have been persons whose lives were disciplined — at the very least, disciplined enough that the fear of persecution and loss of worldly things was not strong enough to keep them from doing what God told them. But this does not imply that God only spoke to these "saints," nor does it imply that only these special people heard God's voice. Rather, it implies only that it is few who have the courage to follow God's voice when they hear it, and, historically, most of these few courageous ones have been made outcasts from organized religion as a result.

Not everyone who hears God's voice heeds it. There are many examples in Scripture of people who heard God's voice and even made a show of obeying it for a time, then turned away. In the Old Testament, the best example of this is King Saul, who in his youth prophesied with the sons of the prophets, but in his old age rejected God. The ultimate example of this, however, is found in the New Testament — Judas Iscariot, specially called by Jesus to follow him, one of the chosen twelve disciples to whom Jesus explained all things, yet the ultimate traitor. On the other hand, there are also scriptural examples of people to whom God spoke directly, bringing positive transformation in their lives, even though at the time He spoke they had negative merit in his sight. In the Old Testament, the best example of this was Babylon's King Nebuchadnezzar, the destroyer of God's temple, to whom God had given several visions of the future and even spoken once directly before he finally repented and honored God (see Daniel 2-4). The obvious New Testament example of this is the Apostle Paul, the destroyer of God's church until Jesus spoke to him directly in a vision, precipitating his repentance.

God doesn't speak to us — or do any of His other work in our lives — according to our merit. He is speaking all the time. We hear as we are willing to listen. Of course, if we have been taught that He never speaks anymore (at least not to the likes of us) or that hearing His voice is a sign of demonic activity or mental illness, we will not be willing to hear, and He will not usually force the issue. God does His other works in and for us as we, or sometimes others around us (for in this life we can be beneficiaries of the acts of others, for good or evil), act on what He has said... Return to top of page

Homologistic Fallacy

This is the fallacy of believing that unity in a church body, whether local or universal, consists of the absolute commitment of each of the members to always say the same thing doctrinally — i.e., exactly what a creed or doctrinal statement prepared by men tells them to say. It is usually associated with an insistence that the creed, which was written to define the denominational group and keep it separate from others, should be believed without question and that the scriptures should be interpreted only in conformity with it, no matter what the literal words of scripture appear to say. Pledges to conform to creeds are requirements of membership in most churches and tests of fellowship in many. Nevertheless, quite obvious is the divisive force of a promise to ignore God's voice unless what it says conforms to the document one's own denomination has written to define the differences which separate its members from other Christians! ... Return to top of page

Homopraxic Fallacy

The Homopraxic Fallacy is the error of insisting that church unity requires that all Christians, or, at least, all "spiritual" Christians, must have the same practice in matters for which the scriptures do not unambiguously prescribe a single practice. This insistence may affect a traditionally serious religious practice such as the manner of administering baptism or communion, a less central religious practice such as the length of time that must be spent in morning prayers, or a practice which is not inherently religious, such as the color of suits to be worn when on church business or restrictions on interracial marriages of church members. Whatever the requirement, the expectation that all members of a church organization and all true or "spiritual" Christians outside the organization, if any, will at all times adhere to a single practice which is not clearly required by scripture can only lead to division in the Body of Christ... Return to top of page

Homoaesthetic Fallacy

The Homoaesthetic Fallacy is the erroneous expectation that all children of God will have identical, or at least very similar, tastes in music, literature, art, clothing, food, or whatever else the speaker is trying to sell. As an example of this, I have heard it preached that Christians ought to prefer, and, if possible, only listen to "Christian" music, where "Christian" music means music upon which the music industry has placed a "Christian" label. However, as I write this paragraph, I am listening to a piece of nonconforming music which is, in fact, one of my favorites — Rachmaninoff's Vespers. It is an arrangement of a Russian Orthodox worship service by one of the masters of the Romantic period. Thus, it is distinctly not "secular" or "anti-Christian" music. But the "Christian" branch of the American music recording industry labels it as "Classical" music, not "Christian" music. Therefore, according to some preachers, I should abhor and avoid it. The same can be said of literature and art, which are often falsely binarized into "Christian" versus "purely secular" or "anti-Christian," and for which the basis of the classification is often not really content but a publisher's marketing decision. Church attempts to homogenize tastes in clothing have already been discussed.

I do not mean to imply that homogenization of Christian tastes has always been undertaken for mostly commercial purposes — in earlier centuries, it appears to have been done mostly to facilitate rigid church discipline. That is, any Christian who didn't follow the prescribed forms in clothing, etc., was rebelling against Church authority and could safely be shunned. Art was conceived of as solely a medium for reinforcing traditional Church messages to believers using only rigidly-defined conventional symbolism (this is most strongly visible in Byzantine art). And for a long time the only acceptable pattern for literature was the Church morality play. However, in the modern world, the driving force behind the homogenization of Christian tastes clearly is neither church discipline nor a concern for the uniformity of doctrine or conventional religious symbolism. It is sales, profit, the bottom line pure and simple. Almost anything can be labeled as "Christian" by someone with the money to market it as such, although I have yet to see a manufacturer attempt to market "Christian" underwear (with John 3:16 stenciled on the seat) through suggestions to the pulpit! ...Return to top of page

©2000, 2005 by Ian B.Johnson

Common Divisive Fallacies site index.


Related material on other sites referenced above

Warning against idolatry by reliance on human institutions instead of God and sacrifice of individuals to the convenience of those institution.

God is light, the mechanism of His judgment.


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Link to Dr. Bruce Cook's review of the book Our Oneness in Christ by Lauston Stephens and Ian Johnson.