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The Daughters of Patriarchy: Biblical Law, Legalism, and Grace

We sang it at day camp, and laughed and laughed.

"I just wanna be a sheep!!! Baaa baaa baa baaa . . . "
We danced around, baa-ing like the white woolly creatures on the poster with David, the Shepherd boy. Then we got serious and sang, "I don't wanna be a pharisee, 'cause they're not fair, ya see?" and asked our leader who the pharisees were, because we as kids knew the supreme angst of anything being unfair.

Now we are grown, and fairness is not the issue. However, pharisaical doctrine still affects us today—we, adult daughters and wives, who have emerged from patriocentricity, laboring and aching beneath the commandments of those who are not God.

The “L” word

• “We do not allow any worldly music into our home, which includes anything with a rock beat—even if the lyrics are Christian.” Remember this teaching from Bill Gothard?
• “We gave them counsel, and they did not listen. We will not fellowship with those who have rebelled.”
• “We must set ourselves apart from the world. That is why we let God plan the size of our family, cover and wear dresses, so that people will know we are Christians.”
• “We do not do the things the world does, such as have a bank account, or wear jewelry, or go to movies. These things are contrary to the Bible.”

Many well-meaning, good-intentioned families promote these ideas, and more. Some believe that one must attend a specific style of church, speak in tongues, observe principles of courtship or betrothal, perform specific methods of discipline, abstain from certain practices, wear or not wear a particular style of clothing, or live very definitive lifestyles, to truly live righteously.


Less pandemic than legalism but serious nonetheless, is the continued rise of Christian Reconstructionism. In his article, Moses' Law for Modern Government: The Intellectual and Sociological Origins of the Christian Reconstructionist Movement, J. Ligon Duncan, III writes,

Broadly speaking, a reconstructionist is "a Christian who believes it is his or her responsibility to challenge the anti-Christian character of society and culture. The reconstructionist sees it as an obligation to seek to change society in ways that will bring it into conformity with the teaching of Scripture." To further specify, we may quote popular Reconstructionist author Gary DeMar who says:

Reconstructionism is a distinctive blending of certain biblical doctrines. They are (1) personal regeneration, (2) the application of biblical law to all areas of life, and (3) the advance of the already-present kingdom in history through the preaching of the gospel and the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

My concern lies in the particular application of biblical law to all areas of life. For example, on the issue of capital punishment, in his article "Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence" Frederick Clarkson writes:
Epitomizing the Reconstructionist idea of Biblical "warfare" is the centrality of capital punishment under Biblical Law. Doctrinal leaders (notably Rushdoony, North, and Bahnsen) call for the death penalty for a wide range of crimes in addition to such contemporary capital crimes as rape, kidnapping, and murder. Death is also the punishment for apostasy (abandonment of the faith), heresy, blasphemy, witchcraft, astrology, adultery, "sodomy or homosexuality," incest, striking a parent, incorrigible juvenile delinquency, and, in the case of women, "unchastity before marriage."

According to Gary North, women who have abortions should be publicly executed, "along with those who advised them to abort their children." Rushdoony concludes: "God's government prevails, and His alternatives are clear-cut: either men and nations obey His laws, or God invokes the death penalty against them." Reconstructionists insist that "the death penalty is the maximum, not necessarily the mandatory penalty." However, such judgments may depend less on Biblical Principles than on which faction gains power in the theocratic republic. The potential for bloodthirsty episodes on the order of the Salem witchcraft trials or the Spanish Inquisition is inadvertently revealed by Reconstructionist theologian Rev. Ray Sutton, who claims that the Reconstructed Biblical theocracies would be "happy" places, to which people would flock because "capital punishment is one of the best evangelistic tools of a society."

The Biblically approved methods of execution include burning (at the stake for example), stoning, hanging, and "the sword." Gary North, the self-described economist of Reconstructionism, prefers stoning because, among other things, stones are cheap, plentiful, and convenient. Punishments for non-capital crimes generally involve whipping, restitution in the form of indentured servitude, or slavery. Prisons would likely be only temporary holding tanks, prior to imposition of the actual sentence.

People who sympathize with Reconstructionism often flee the label because of the severe and unpopular nature of such views. Even those who feel it appropriate that they would be the governors of God's theocracy often waffle on the particulars, like capital punishment for sinners and nonbelievers. Unflinching advocates, however, insist upon consistency. Rev. Greg Bahnsen, in his book By This Standard, writes: "We. . .endorse the justice of God's penal code, if the Bible is to be the foundation of our Christian political ethic."

Reconstructionism has adopted "covenantalism," the theological doctrine that Biblical "covenants" exist between God and man, God and nations, God and families, and that they make up the binding, incorporating doctrine that makes sense of everything. Specifically, there is a series of covenant "structures" that make up a Biblical blueprint for society's institutions. Reconstructionists believe that God "judges" a whole society according to how it keeps these covenantal laws, and provides signs of that judgment. This belief can be seen, for example, in the claim that AIDS is a "sign of God's judgment."

Reconstructionist Rev. Ray Sutton writes that "there is no such thing as a natural disaster. Nature is not neutral. Nothing takes place in nature by chance. . .Although we may not know the exact sin being judged," Sutton declares, "what occurs results from God."

However, scripture reveals God's heart.

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well . . . So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2)

Has it seemed that more emphasis is placed on “dos and don’ts” rather than on God Himself? Legalism teaches a different gospel and reveals a different Jesus. It denies the saving work of Christ on the cross; in essence, it counters the very heart of Christianity by insisting that we need Christ, and . . .

Scripture teaches that we need . . . Christ.

Let me illustrate this with Paul’s address to believers:
Colossians 2:6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. 8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. 11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. 16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. 18 Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. 20 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— 21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” 22 which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
Paul suggests that with fervent zeal to withdraw from the world, many actually live according to the principles of the world by subjecting themselves to legalistic regulations. These doctrines and commandments of men indeed look wise, he agrees. But they are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. They do not save; they do not make us humble, closer to God, or better citizens.

Furthermore, when we rely on our actions, in essence putting faith in our works, our "obedience," our walk and witness can actually be hindered, become stumbling blocks within the Kingdom. Oh how often we forget, that our completeness dwells fully with Christ, and we do not need the unnecessary entanglements of Pharisaical law!


Claiming their way is the better way, the holy way, or the biblical way, adherents often gradually project these doctrines onto others and unwittingly spread a works-based gospel. The messages translate, “You are not as righteous as I, for you do not use this particular homeschooling curriculum.” “God wants us to abstain from worldliness. Since you do not, you are not obeying God, or living according to His will. Moreover, you will probably become a prodigal. We just pray for your soul.” “Living on a farm and being independent of the world is God’s way. If you do not agree, then you are either disobedient, or following the ways of the world.”

Not only does this limit God and how he relates on a personal level with each of His children, it also conveys damaging messages He never intended.This is especially catastrophic to women who struggle with learning who God is, seeking His will, and trying to reconcile what they see and hear with the word of God. I believe that God is angry when the hearts of those who love Him become weighed down with things emblazoned with His name—does this not take His name in vain?—and burdened with things that He has not established as essential to life.

Paul speaks against this behavior.
“ . . . but with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court, in fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.” (1 Corinthians 4)
When the question of the law arises, I believe that Acts 15 presents a concise summation of our responsibilities as believers:
And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” . . . But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the Law of Moses.” . . . Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, 9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? . . . For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.
If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed, said Jesus. Yet legalism suggests He is not enough.


While legalism is an insidious trap to make us stumble along the Way, it is important to have principles so that we may stand firm in the faith. We have been taught the importance of having a reason for the hope within as it relates to the questions and doubts of those in the world—have you considered the same for the attacks from those within Christendom?
But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. (1 Peter 3:14-16)

Conviction is an unshakable belief in something without need for proof or evidence, a firm, strong belief, the state of being convinced. It is of vital importance as Christians to have convictions, but we must be careful not to attach weight to them that God never intended. We must use caution in our application, for He never wants our convictions to replace Him. This becomes idolatry. Rather, He desires that we “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Gal 5:1

Many claim their lifestyle is designed to bring conviction to others. To convict is to prove, or find guilty of offense, to impress with a sense of guilt. This is strictly the job of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus sent. It is interesting to note that He convicts the world, without calling us to do so, and moreover makes a distinctive contrast between the world and His disciples, whom He guides through truth.
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; 11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you”. (John 16)
As we hearken to the Spirit and learn to be sensitive to His voice, we learn discernment, the godly antidote to judgmentalism. Hebrews 5:14 . . . to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

The Law of Love

It can be overwhelming, facing the confusing teachings and bearing the weighty laws of those who advocate legalistic teachings, a return to mosaic law, and other works-based doctrine. Yet what does God ask from us?
But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22
We are called to be lovers of God, lovers of others. This is the direct response of the Son of God to the staunchest, fiercest upholders of the law. But when behavior is elevated above personhood, we have been injured in a way that strikes against our Heavenly Father, for this rejects the precise reason He sacrificed His Son—to demonstrate that He cares not about our works, but for our heart.

Simply stated, the world, the traditions of men, teach that what you do is more important than who you are. Jesus teaches that who you are is more important than what you do.

Grace—the being of your heart

Legalism emphasizes behavior over heart, much like those who promote patriocentric, authoritarian parenting. Sweet sister, have you been defamed? Branded? Labeled as the rebellious one, the black sheep, the prodigal daughter? Do you stumble under religious requirements, doctrines of men? Are those close to you more concerned with your doing than your being?

Following the intense temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, He revealed His tender ministry to those who dwelt on earth. This is His purpose; His calling:
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” (Luke 4)
Take courage, for Jesus hears your cries. He sees the oppression that keeps you exhausted and stumbling. He knows the silent aching, the brokenness within. He knows the fear that cripples you; he sees the concern and distress that plague your soul.

When the adulteress was brought to Him, Jesus did not give her something to go and do. Instead, He gave her something to go and not do . . . to go and sin no more. He came to lift burdens, not increase them. In Matthew 11, we are not told to "come and perform" or "to come and behave", but to come and stop doing, to come and rest. On the cross He did not say, "the work has begun"; He said, “It is finished.”

Accept His grace. Let all that hinders fall away. Enter the narrow way, that few find, which leads to life. Embark upon the path of sanctification, of freedom! For this is the walk of faith.

And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.
Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” Mark 5:34


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