by Al Maxey

Issue #582 ------- July 24, 2013
Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small
flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

Lardism versus Legalism
Quixotic Quote by Moses E. Lard

One of the great historical figures within the Stone-Campbell Movement was, without a doubt, Moses Easterly Lard, who was born in Tennessee on October 29, 1818. His father, Leaven Lard, moved his wife, Mary, and children (Moses had five siblings) to Missouri in 1829. Leaven died shortly thereafter of smallpox, leaving the family virtually destitute. Because of their dire straits, education was not an option, and the children had to work hard just to provide the basic necessities of life. Thus, at the age of 17, Moses was still illiterate, and only later taught himself to read and write from various local advertisements he found posted here and there. He had a passion for learning, however, and at every opportunity sought to increase his knowledge and understanding of the world around him. His zeal eventually came to the attention of several people, prominent among them Gen. Alexander W. Doniphan (a fascinating historical figure in his own right), who both encouraged and helped finance his entrance into Bethany College (an institution founded by Alexander Campbell in 1840). The year was 1845, and Moses Lard was already married at this time with two children (he married Mary Ann Riffe on August 15, 1842). In just three years he completed his studies, earning a Master of Arts degree, and was appointed by his class as valedictorian. He returned to Missouri and began preaching. He continued in this calling until the beginning of the Civil War, "at which time he moved to Kentucky and then Canada as the result of his pacifist views. He left Missouri because he refused to take a Missouri-legislated oath requiring ministers to declare their loyalty to the Union. Upon returning from Canada, he lived in Lexington, Kentucky, where he preached, wrote, and edited journals" [The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 451].

Lard was a powerful and persuasive speaker and debater. He rarely used notes, and his messages typically lasted well over an hour. He was also known for the withering fierceness and intensity of his style, which many often perceived as bordering on hateful fanaticism. Alexander Campbell was so impressed with his powerful logic that he commissioned Moses Lard to write a review and response to the Baptist preacher Jeremiah B. Jeter, who had been attacking Campbell mercilessly for quite some time with regard to some of his teachings, and had even published a work titled "Campbellism Examined." Lard's response was published in 1857 and is considered by many to be a masterpiece (Click Here to read), although it was a "gloves off pummeling" of Jeter. In 1904, an historian by the name of J. B. Jones wrote the following about Lard's response to Jeter: "In this review the writer dissects, with merciless logic, every fallacy and leaves his opponent without the power of a reply. If this work is too severe in its tone, too sarcastic in its retorts, too merciless in its exposure of error, it must be remembered that the age was superheated by religious prejudice, and that Moses E. Lard's intense nature was ablaze with indignation, because he felt that all error was hateful to God and should be exterminated." Yes, Lard, in his effort to contend for the faith, often became contentious for the faith, a failing of many even to this day. Near the end of his life, Moses E. Lard lamented the time he had wasted in such wrangling, declaring, "If I had my life to live over, I would not preach another gospel, but I would preach the same gospel in a different spirit. I would not allow myself to be stranded on the desert of dogmatism and a narrow construction of the love of God, but I would preach with a new vision of its meaning."

Recognizing what a great writer he was, Lard's friends urged him to begin publishing his thoughts in journal form, and making this available to the general public. In September of 1863 he finally began publishing what one historian characterized "the ablest periodical published at that time by the advocates of the Restoration." This publication would be known as "Lard's Quarterly," and it lasted from 1863 to 1868. He and J. W. McGarvey (and two other men) would later start a weekly periodical: "Apostolic Times," from which he would withdraw a few years later to begin work on his Commentary on Paul's Letter to Romans. This latter work (a copy of which I have in my personal library) would become the work for which he is best remembered. "One of his most important legacies to the Movement was his 1875 commentary on Romans, often reprinted in both America and Great Britain. He provided a summary of the meaning of the sections in Romans, notes on each verse, and a new translation, which was his own. Despite reading several other commentaries, he rarely cited them. The commentary has been regarded as a competent scholarly treatment both for then and now" [The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 451]. Of special note is the fact that he dedicated this work to Jesus! At the front of the commentary are these words, "To my Savior, in profound humility and reverence, this volume is gratefully inscribed, by the author." In 1904, J. B. Jones wrote, "Lard's Commentary on Romans is a work that deserves to be in the library of every preacher of the gospel. It represents the ripest and best scholarship of the author, and though written in a few brief years, near the close of his illustrious life, it gives evidence of great ability, clearness and independence of thought. No man can read it without being strengthened and invigorated intellectually." Lard would later declare this to be the most important work of his life: his legacy; his contribution to mankind.

Moses E. Lard was somewhat of an enigma among the leaders of the Stone-Campbell Movement. He was hard to categorize, and people didn't always know quite what to make of him. "Lard occupied moderate positions, approving mission societies but opposing creeds, open communion, instrumental music, and a settled ministry. He was a pacifist, but while he thought Christians should refrain from unethical political involvement, he held it appropriate both to hold office and to vote" [The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 451]. In 1879, the year before he died, he published a pamphlet titled "Do the Holy Scriptures Teach the Endlessness of Future Punishment?" Like a great many in our movement, Lard came to the studied conviction that the Scriptures do NOT teach such a doctrine, and he rejected the traditionalist view of hell (as do I). Others within our movement have come to the same belief, including such notable leaders as Homer Hailey, Edward Fudge, F. LaGard Smith, just to name a few. Moses Lard certainly led the way in this return to biblical truth on the nature of man and his eternal destiny. He also was ahead of his time with respect to the role of women, declaring, "I am of the opinion that Phoebe was a deaconess in the official sense of that word" [Commentary on Paul's Letter to Romans, p. 452], and that "other good women may also assume it" (ibid, p. 451]. Lard also believed baptism was necessary to a person being categorized as a "Christian," but he did not regard it as absolutely essential to one's eternal salvation (which came by grace through faith), a conviction he realized would "utterly shock and scandalize" some who heard his views on this (for example, Lard did not regard the great reformer Martin Luther to be a "Christian," since he was "unimmersed," but he did not deny Luther was very likely eternally saved -- Lard's Quarterly, September 1863). I like the way Bobby Valentine ended his tribute to Lard on his Blog Site, "Moses Lard was certainly not boring!" [The Irony of Moses E. Lard: In Light of Contemporary Questions, April 8, 2008]. "He is idolized by some and vilified by others. ... Though he can come off sounding 'ultra' on the right, he can also sound 'progressive' in areas that would still make many squirm today" [ibid]. Yes, Moses E. Lard was, in many ways, an enigma. He died of cancer on June 18, 1880 and is buried at St. Joseph, Missouri in the Mt. Mora Cemetery. His wife, Mary Ann, who died a few short months later, is buried next to him.

Lard on Legalism

A minister in Kentucky wrote me recently to inform me that one of Lard's statements has been making the rounds lately among the ultra-conservative writers in our faith-heritage. It is a quote they are convinced validates the strict observing of law as a means of obtaining favor from God. The quote from Moses E. Lard comes from the year 1871. Lard states, "The term 'legalism' I do not like. It is an offensive term." Thus, Lard felt this term should not be used, but rather something in its place: "Obedience to the commands of Christ is its exact equivalent, and should always be used in its stead. ... Legalism and obedience to Christ's commands are the same" [this quote is attributed to Lard in the book by Earl I. West, The Search for the Ancient Order, vol. 2, p. 269 ... the emphasis is mine]. First, I find it interesting that these people do not hesitate to embrace this selected quote from a man they would most likely refuse to allow to stand in their pulpits (and from whom they would most likely withdraw fellowship if he were alive today). Be that as it may, this statement by Lard is being paraded before the public in an effort to legitimize law-keeping as the pathway to divine acceptance. I truly wish Moses E. Lard were alive today, as I would love to question him with regard to this statement, for it is a very troubling one! Did he really mean what his words seem to suggest? Does he really equate "legalism" and "obedience to Christ"? It certainly appears that he does. If so, then I believe he did not truly grasp the significance of the concept of legalism.

First, let me hasten to affirm that obedience to the commands of our Lord is essential to walking in a manner worthy of our calling. Indeed, to willfully refuse to obey Him is to stand in arrogant opposition to His will for our lives, and that rebellion does not bode well for any person eternally. Hebrews 5:9 clearly states that Jesus Christ "became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him." The apostle Paul, in Romans 1:5, states that his apostleship consisted primarily in calling "people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith" (see my study of this in Reflections #157 -- Obedience of Faith: Our Response to God's Gracious Gift). Obedience to the divine will is an essential element of saving faith; without the former, the latter stands alone and unaffirmed, as James, the brother of our Lord, declares in James 2. Although the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that mere obedience to commands alone cannot save anyone, it also makes it clear that those who embrace God's grace by faith will actively seek to abide within His will for their lives. Thus, saving faith is active faith -- it is visible in our attitudes and actions: evidentiary acts emanating from the grateful hearts of those who are saved, NOT acts performed in order TO BE saved (which would reflect a theology of legalism). Also, keep in mind that the "law" under which we live during this dispensation of grace is the "Royal Law" that brings liberty -- it is the law of LOVE. Thus, one is completely obedient to our Lord when one LOVES. Please refer to my recent article on this: Pondering the Royal Law (Reflections #579). Too many, I fear, are like the rigid religionists of old: making up laws to bind upon the people of God that are of human origin rather than of divine decree; more reflective of tradition than truth. For too many, "obedience to Christ" consists of obeying the rules and regulations of a Sunday worship service, which is not only legalism, but lunacy!

Thus, I must respectfully differ with Moses E. Lard on his statement that "legalism and obedience to Christ's commands are the same," and that the former is the "exact equivalent" to the latter. This is simply not true! Let me give you a working definition of "legalism" that I believe is far more rational and realistic. "Legalism is an attitude (or motive) that leads people to try to establish, maintain, or improve a righteous standing before God by their own activities" [Robert G. Spinney, Are You Legalistic? Grace, Obedience, and Antinomianism, p. 12]. Notice a few more statements from this same work: "Legalism is founded upon the belief that the Lord Jesus Christ's justifying and saving work must be supplemented by one's own works. ... A legalistic attitude assumes that what Jesus Christ has secured for His people is insufficient. The legalist says that he must do some things to supplement what Christ has done and thereby improve his legal standing before God. The legalist believes he has his part to play in bringing down God's grace to himself. ... Thus, by virtue of his performance, he has secured something in addition to what Christ has secured. ... Legalism exalts law-keeping above both God's grace and Christ's provision" [ibid]. "Legalism is built upon an unbiblical assumption, namely that the imputed righteousness the believer possesses in Christ is not sufficient to enable him to stand before God. Legalism says, 'I need to supplement Christ's imputed righteousness with my own righteousness -- with a righteousness constructed (at least in part) by my own good behavior'" [ibid, p. 16].

One can't help but think of Paul's statement about the Jews: "For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. Christ is the end of law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes" (Romans 10:2-4). We are counted righteous BY FAITH ... this does NOT come by our own effort at command-keeping. God's GIFT does not require human supplementation! Legalism, however, operates under the false notion that this gift is insufficient in itself, thus requiring something additional from us in order that it may be made complete. It is the same thinking that led the Judaisers to insist that faith in Christ was insufficient to salvation -- "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1). Legalism = attempting human supplementation of a divine gift for the purpose of attaining and maintaining justification and salvation. Frankly, it is an affront to God's grace! It is "a different gospel -- which is really no gospel at all" (Gal. 1:6-7); it is a heresy that will bring down an anathema from above, for it is a falling away from grace and an alienation from Christ (Gal. 5:4). In short, "legalism" is about as far removed from "obedience to Christ" as one can get. Perhaps the following statement sums it up best: "In a nutshell, legalism is a terrifying treadmill on which I run in vain to earn God's love and approval. Christian obedience is a joyful response of faith to the death and resurrection of Christ and to the Spirit of God who lives within me." Legalism is focused on LAW; Christian obedience is focused on LOVE. The former is all about a pattern; the latter is all about a Person! Sectarianism, and its attendant factional feuding, is the sad result when men fail to make this distinction.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in California:

Brother, I have read through your debate with Darrell Broking on the topic of Legalistic Patternism (The Maxey-Broking Debate). All I can say is: WOW!! I know that God is the final and ultimate Judge, but from Darrell's attitude throughout, and the words that he used, I had to wonder whether or not Darrell (or even Daniel Denham) is truly numbered among, in Jesus' words, "My disciples" (John 13:35 -- "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another"). I have no hatred for or anger toward those two men, just sorrow that they call themselves followers of Jesus, and then turn around and treat you the way they did! You did a great job in that debate, Al, although it was indeed painful trying to wade through Darrell Broking's responses to you, which many times seemed to go nowhere. Thanks for your work, and may God bless you!

From a Minister in California:

It was so nice having your sister-in-law and her husband in worship with us on Sunday while they were visiting our area. I will be teaching at Harding University's lectures this fall and am trying to figure a route that will take me through your area so I can worship with you. Al, I do appreciate, more than you know, your courage and attitude and willingness to rethink positions that were accepted without question in the past. Keep writing! We Need You!! I'm looking forward to meeting you.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Brother, you have helped me, and a great many others, so much. So, I thought you might find it nice to simply receive an email just to say Thank You. I hope and pray that God will bestow an extra helping of blessing upon you and your wife this week!

From an Author/D.Min. in Alabama:

I appreciate the work that you do to bring about unity among God's people. Your writings are so relevant, and they reach out to people to help them deal with their spiritual problems. Many Christians have not yet learned how to read the Word of God accurately. So much of our theology comes from the preacher in the pulpit and from journals advancing a particular interpretation, so as to foster their own particular dogma, without regard to the context of Scripture. Those who read your articles are introduced to context as the starting point of arriving at the intent of the author. I want to thank you again for all you do to advance God's kingdom.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

According to your teaching on instrumental music in worship, I guess we can also have bullfrog juice for Communion. Please, Al, get real.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

I have been praying that the hardcore legalists in the Churches of Christ will come to realize the freedom they truly have with regard to worship (including the freedom to use musical instruments). God knew there would be thousands of different cultures affected by the Gospel, and I believe He purposely kept the worship requirements for Christians at a minimum so as to allow freedom for these many cultures to express their worship in connection with their own customs.

From a Reader in Texas:

Thanks for all the hard work and study you put into your web site and your writings. Would you please send me a signed copy of your new book Immersed By One Spirit. My check is enclosed.

From an Elder in Florida:

I just got around to listening to the CD of your Sunday morning class series on Law to Liberty. My wife and I truly loved these lessons! I was wondering if you had these presentations in written form. If you do, could I get a copy?

From a Missionary in Nicaragua:

I enjoy your Reflections very much. Over the years they have enriched my Christian walk, educated me, challenged me, and comforted me. Thank you for your work. I praise God for it. As I was reading your article "Pondering the Royal Law" (Reflections #579), I wondered if you had ever considered putting your Reflections in audio form for those who can't read or see the written form. Please know that I don't know what would be involved in doing that, but it would certainly open up another segment of our population to understanding God's Word. Blessings, brother!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Thank you so much for mentioning my dear friend Jac Agak in your last Reflections. He was a very special man, and will be greatly missed by all of those who knew him, even those who haven't seen him in years (like myself). Such a wonderful and humble servant of Christ's. I was blessed to know him.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Jac Agak was a dear friend of mine. I first met him in 2002. I am so glad to know that he too received your Reflections. Our Kenyan brothers and sisters suffer from some of the sectarian teaching we carried over to them, but, as one also told me point blank, "We suffer from what we were taught, true enough, but we manufacture as much here at home as we received from American missionaries." They are making great strides, though, and I cherish them. You have a large audience, Al, and your kind words to Susan and the family in your recent Reflections are appreciated. I am sending you a remembrance (with pictures) that I wrote of him, and, yes, this memorial tribute to him may be shared with your readers. If others find some inspiration from his life, the glory goes to God. Like the woman who anointed the Lord's feet, it is good that what Jac Agak did be proclaimed as a memorial to him.

From a New Reader in California:

I came across your Reflections while doing an Internet search on the topic of water baptism and salvation. I believe, from reading your writings, that we are kindred spirits in our beliefs. Please add me to your mailing list. What prompted me to do the search was that my brother, who is a Church of Christ member, and I have had some interesting conversations about salvation. I was shocked at what he shared with me concerning a number of beliefs he had, such as "water baptism" and "the name of the church." Your articles are full of truth, and are so enlightening! Reflections #472 -- "Cornelius and Balaam's Ass: Was this Godly Centurion as Damned as a Donkey prior to his Baptism?" -- really struck a chord with me, as this is very similar to the conversation that my brother and I had. Thanks, and God bless you.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Wow! I am honored that you took my question and responded with your article "Faith Cometh By Hearing: Silence and Anti-Instrumentalism" (Reflections #581). That's the first time a question of mine has resulted in so much deep study! Frankly, though, I had a little bit of trouble following all the Greek -- it must be my 80-year-old mind! But, I did understand the main basis of your article, and I now have a good understanding of the passage. Thank you!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Years ago I majored in Greek at Vanderbilt University, so, although I have not kept up diligently with it, I could still follow the reasoning in the deep word study you presented in your article "Faith Cometh By Hearing." I have become increasingly resistant to even engaging those with a CENI mindset, however I appreciate you engaging them on this topic, and I pray for fruit as you provide reasoned thinking unto those who typically hear nothing but the old sectarian saw. Al, your Reflections serve a great need for many who are in the throes of living under legalistic, sectarian teaching and the concomitant aberrations of faith. I have shared your writings with others who are still wound a bit tight on many issues, and these writings serve as a ground from which we can engage in dialogue.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

"Faith Cometh By Hearing" was another great article! In the past twenty years it has become more and more evident to me that we have brainwashed ourselves into some of our unique beliefs and practices just as much, if not more, than our religious neighbors have been in theirs. We too have been spoon fed just as much, if not more, than they. We tend to base our faith more on what the preacher said than what God's Word states. Our arguments for our traditions are just as demented, if not more so, than anyone else's arguments for their traditions, each of which have been accepted erroneously as though they were God's decree. May God open our eyes, penetrate our hearts, and wake us up to the glorious liberty we have in Jesus Christ.

From a Minister in Texas:

Al, great article this week on Romans 10:17. Thanks for your thoughts on this. The argument of the preacher from Oklahoma, whom you referenced in your article, confuses me when he conflates faith with what we do in a building. The context is clearly focused on a faith in Christ as the Savior, and not on what doctrinal practice we follow. When I read, "faith comes from hearing the message," I hear Scripture telling me that my trust is placed in the saving grace of Jesus because of that message being delivered to me. Nothing in this one verse, or in the context, has anything to do with what rules we follow. Paul seems to be reinforcing the idea that we must form our faith/trust in God from the message we receive about Him through preaching, the Scriptures, etc. How anyone gets the idea that this passage is about what we do or don't do inside a building is beyond me! I concur with you that such legalistic teaching is simply the propagation of old lines of thought without exercising any kind of unbiased exegesis. Thanks again, Al, for your willingness to expose these outdated and misleading doctrines.

From a Reader in Texas:

Shelly, I want to thank you for sharing your time with Al with all of us. You build Al up and encourage him in a very special way, and without you his work would never have reached the heights it has! You are a special woman!! Al, God has given you a special talent, and Shelly has helped you develop it. You are one of the most blessed men I know: you still have your parents and the wonderful example of their marriage, you have great children, and your grandchildren are a pure joy. Further, through your work you have earned the respect of literally thousands of people around the world. Happy 40th Wedding Anniversary to you both!

From a Reader in Australia:

Congratulations to you and Shelly on 40 years of marriage. Also, thank you for enriching my life through your Reflections and also through our time together at The Tulsa Workshop a few years ago. May you both have many more years together enriching the lives of others. Congratulations again from both my wife and me.

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