What the heck is Antinomianism?

My last post brought up the word “Antinomianism,” a church word if there ever was one. The word means “opposed to the law.” Here is how the Methodist conference notes, recorded in John Wesley’s collected works, defines the term.

Q. 18. Have we not also leaned towards Antinomianism?
A. We are afraid we have.
Q. 19. What is Antinomianism?
A. The doctrine which makes void the law through faith.
Q. 20. What are the main pillars hereof?
A. (1.) That Christ abolished the moral law.
(2.) That therefore Christians are not obliged to observe it.
(3.) That one branch of Christian liberty is, liberty from obeying the commandments of God.
(4.) That it is bondage to do a thing because it is commanded, or forbear it because it is forbidden.
(5.) That a believer is not obliged to use the ordinances of God, or to do good works.
(6.) That a Preacher ought not to exhort to good works; not unbelievers, because it is hurtful; not believers, because it is needless.

I do not know whether it is fair to say United Methodists are Antinomians in theory, but we sure have a lot of practical Antinomians. In plain words, we have a lot of people who act as if the commands of the Father and Son to do certain things and not do other things are not only optional but also unrelated to Christianity.

And here is the honest thing. I feel within me a great urge toward this very spirit. Rebellion against the commands of God is as old as the garden, and alive within me.

So, I think this teaching of the Methodist conference is just as on point today. We need to be vigilant against the charms of Antinomianism. We also need to give it a name that makes sense to people today, but that is another matter.

3 thoughts on “What the heck is Antinomianism?

  1. Perhaps rather than coming up with a name to describe the error (antinomianism), we might instead develop a name to describe what we do wish to teach–

    How about “simple obedience?”

  2. I think the most common tactic of antinomianism in American Christianity is to define middle-class behavioral norms as “Biblical” and thus replace the radical commands that Christ gave us on the Sermon on the Mount with a self-congratulatory veneration of what we already do. Then we can call the person who most perfectly embodies the middle-class ethos “Biblically conservative” and call people who do things like form intentional communities that are modeled after Acts 2 “crazy hippies.”

  3. We acknowledge that God’s standards of “good” are eternal and changeless. The moral commands of the Mosaic Covenant were given as a tutor…types and shadowsof the fulfillment which was to come,–signposts, if you will, pointing to the redeemed New Creation Kingdom innaugurated by Christ . Since Christ came to “fulfill” the law, we enter the New Covenant as recipients of the indwelling Holy Spirit. It has now become, not a matter of “keeping the law”, which we cannot do perfectly of our own volition. It is now a matter of TRANSFORMATION from within. We are now empowerd to express–and live according to–God’s standards of goodness: “right living” is the outflow of a transformed heart. True disciples follow and obey because of love, not because of law. The priesthood of all believers cannot function as priests without the understanding that it is now Christ who lives in us and through us. 🙂

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