Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Darker Side of Christianity Part 1

Not too long ago I had a conversation with an individual that was more concerned that someone broke an “unwritten rule” than something clearly outlined in scripture. Needless to say the discussion left me puzzled as I walked away. Not puzzled in what I believe, but puzzled in that I wonder if LEGALISM is that one thing that threatens people’s relationship with Christ more than anything else today in the church?

Legalism, has been around for centuries and is an improper fixation on codes of conduct and tends to uphold the rule of man and neglects the mercy and grace of GOD. Behind the legalist is pride, superficiality and ignorance with an emphasis on the letter of the law, over the Spirit of GOD.

I would suggest that there are 2 types of legalism.

One type is that which people attempt to earn your salvation by contributing your own works to the work accomplished by Jesus on the cross. In others words, it's a "Christ-plus" message. The true Gospel, by which we are saved, is one totally by grace through faith whereby the individual rests solely in the sufficiency of Christ's work to forgive sins, remove wrath and justify the ungodly in the sight of God. To ignore grace or combine our works to grace is legalism. Even before explaining that the true gospel was one solely of faith (Gal. 2:16), the Paul said, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed" (Gal. 1:8-9).

Then there is the more common form of legalism in some churches today, which may accept salvation by grace alone, but then believes all must follow certain prescribed extra-biblical standards for godly conduct and favor in God's sight. Legalism often begins as a personal conviction (which is fine), but then elevates that conviction to a corporate mandate expecting compliance from others in (and outside) the church as well, which is wrong.
I find it interesting that there are people who would never dream of subtracting from Scripture, but have no problem adding to Scripture and judging others who fail to comply with their standards, pressuring them to blindly adopt their burden or making them feel unholy and impure for failing to go along.


Misty B said...

Romans 3:23 says:

For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard.

So why would someone want to add more rules when we can't even live up to what IS actually in Scripture. Seriously.

I wonder if part of this is that by adding to Scripture people are actually subtracting (although not really admitting it.) They can't live up to the standard so they make some that they can live up to.

Another thing I have been thinking about is this: can we really try to hold people outside of the church accountable to even the actual biblical standards? For instance who am I to judge is someone is living with their partner? If they ask me what I think I can tell them. I can choose not to live the way the world does. To me it seems just as legalistic to try and hold someone to God's law when they don't profess to believe in God or be a Christian...

novice said...

Couldn't help but notice that both cartoons showed the legalists clearly as older people... even though I'm in the under 30 crowd, I wouldn't claim that myself or my generation is exempt from this!

Jean said...

seems to be a lot of blogs about legalism... something that continues to come up?

SoulPastor said...

Thanks for the thoughts Misty.

Novice...I don't draw the cartoons, I only find them. But I would agree with you that there are many 'legalists' found in the under 30 crowd. (but the cartoons are funny)

Jean...very perceptive. This blog is an outlet where I can throw my thoughts into cyberspace for people to respond to. Sometimes it is a reflection of what is going on in my personal life. So, here is a hint; I am dealing with a number of people outside of my spiritual community who might fall into the catagory of a legalist.

Some of these people read this blog and listen to our podcasts with the purpose to find fault. The problem is that they never will approach me personally, but rather choose to throw stones and talk to others. So, in real life, I just move on and do what I feel I am called to do, but when it comes to making my weekly post, this becomes a outlet to speak out. Hope this helps

novice said...

Hee hee, don't ruin my chance to be legalistic over your legalist cartoons! :) I found the cartoons very funny myself.

I didn't actually mean that you were implying anything by them, it was just a comment on a general perception of legalists as older people.

I think legalism is very human and very natural, at any age. Grace, though, is supernatural.

I read this quote yesterday:

"It is remarkable how easy it is to bless others, to speak good things to and about them, to call forth their beauty and truth, when you yourself are in touch with your own blessedness. The blessed one always blesses." - Henri Nouwen

Makes me wonder if I attribute too much of legalism to a person's own stubbornness, rather than stopping to think "This person has not been shown enough grace in his or her life. How can I show them grace, that they will feel blessed and show it to others?"

Anonymous said...

Something that I have wondered if it is legalistic is saying grace.

I was brought up in a family that dad rambled off the same prayer at every meal. Us children had to sit quitely through it while the food got cold. I grew more and more resistant to this forced piety that to me became nothing more than a ritual,followed by dinner time of sibling squabbles and parental scrutiny and correction.

To me, participation in dinner "grace" became one more rule of conformity I was required to participate in. So my family has given up this ritual, but I feel when in Christian circles, (and especially with family) if we don't say grace, there is judgment.

Is saying grace a requirement? Am I defying God when I don't.

Does thanking him at another time count?

Anonymous said...

There were many times growing up having my dad be sooo...legalistic with his own family, especially my mom; and would make her feel unholy and impure and at the same time writing out scripture versus line by line, all in the same evening - this made me so angry; and I wondered where it all started in his walk as a christian; and believe it was the influence of the church growing up in - the example shown by, sorry to say, but straight from the 'preacher's mouth'. Legalists in our church at the time & even in our families destroyed the body, the young at the time wanting to run away from the church (me included) because of all the legalists felt in the church, even suggestions of reaching out to the community were made to feel like some of the people in our church body were asking too much to the leadership team of this church. We would have all the church services to choose from, dragged to prayer meeting's - even witnessing some pretty intense heated congregation meeting's of what was the right way to follow God & the WRONG ways...instead of family time or whatever interests we may have had as kid's getting pushed to the side - because we 'MUST go & PRAY' but felt so empty due to the fact of legalists in our church. Disgusted by it, I left at an early age - and sure enough again made to feel by the 'preacher' when he wanted to meet for coffee that I was going to hell, because I was disrespecting my parent's and bring shame. He actually drew out a map for me of heaven & hell & this new road I was chosing to leave the church & go somewhere else was a sin of some sort. Shame? for not agreeing with this rule laid out - it was really to bad a young generation, influenced by legalists in the church that drove most of us away from a relationship with God today - or trust lost in the church body.

Anonymous said...

It is indeed legalism that has driven scores of people away from the Church and ultimately, from God.
How is it that this has been passed down through the ages? And I am still surprised that today it remains widely accepted in the Christian church. My peers do it!
I don't understand how we can't see that these 'man-made' rules were never God's rules, and so many people that were/are hurting and broken remain so, because they can never live up to the rules that the church tells them that they must.

How will we ever stand before God and answer for that?

SoulPastor said...

Anonymous 1

Sorry to hear about your battle. I can understand on how you felt that “grace” was just NOT that! You asked if it is a ‘requirement’ to which I would quickly respond no, but rather a practice/discipline of thanksgiving and acknowledging GOD for his provision. But the attitude behind our prayers and what follows is key and goes hand in hand. I can see your confusion with saying “grace” and then any but follows.

You asked if thanking Him at another time counts? My first thought is that if you thinking this, at this point it becomes legalistic…as if GOD is watching and keeping count when you have said grace before meals on his big black board.

Anonymous 2

As I read your story, my heart broke for you. As you know the church body as a whole is not all bad, but I do feel that this topic needs to be addressed like in this blog and it also gives people like you a place to vent (without penalty) about what they have felt or seen.

Anonymous 3
You mention that you are surprised that legalism remains “widely accepted in the Christian church.” I am not sure that it is an “accepted” practice but rather one that people do out of ignorance. This is where I believe that it needs to be discussed and the questions need to be asked as to why we do the things we do. Like the simple question of Anonymous 1 regarding prayer.
You asked “How will we ever stand before God and answer for that?”
And I respond……… I just don’t know………

Jehu 2 Kings 9:20 said...

As someone who was once considered a modern day Pharisee, I find legalism so offensive that I have to restrain myself from saying or doing something that is in itself offensive. I used to be proud of the fact that I "spoke for God" and could point out those people that would or would not be going to Heaven.
As one who used to worship the rules and judged any that couldn't keep to "my standards", my life was miserable. I fooled myself and others that I had "my act together". My life was spent finding fault instead of hope; offense instead of struggle; tearing down instead of encouragement.
The "rules" became more important than God. The "rules" became more important than people.
I worshipped the "rules".
In Old Testament language I was an idolater. The "rules" were my God.
As much as I would have "written off" anyone I met who had these same characteristics, I was blind to my own colossal shortcomings in my Christianity.
But God never "wrote me off". He loved me so much that he found me at a time when I found my life empty and meaningless, so much so, that I felt God could not use me for anything worthwhile.
This old Pharisee has been forgiven and accepted as worth something in God's eyes. I see people and their journey with Christ, not to be governed by "rules", but to be loved and accepted unconditionally, just as Christ did for me.
Those legalists that hold onto the rules only hold back the plan of God. They hold back the fullness of the relationship that they and others could have with Christ. People just get in the way of the rules. Good ministry is hindered because they have to defend every new and innovative idea for reaching this world for Christ, to those legalists whose rules do not allow for "the new".
It becomes a sad commentary when we have to defend ourselves against a needless "battle from within" instead of being able to go forward and do battle against Satan. It's a sad commentary when we have to defend our actions to the legalists instead of everyone joining together in the fight to win the battle for, and rejoice in those victories where lives are changed.

Anonymous said...

Soulpastor, this is the web of legalism. When asking if thanking God at other times counts, I see your point about God and his score board, but I think what I'm thinking more of is with other Christians? Will they consider that I might just do my thanks another time another way?

I hear so many Christians comment about things like "are we afraid to say grace in public", or "be a good witness, say grace in public", and when they say that I cringe, because there is a Scripture about doing what you do to be "seen" by others. I'm not sure it is a witness really. I also think that if I were with Christians and didn't choose to say grace in a restaurant they might judge me. Sometimes I bow my head to make a good impression, more than to thank God.

SoulPastor said...


Ultimately, only GOD knows your heart. I must confess, there have been times where I have eaten my food in public without praying first. So, what now?

I hear what you are saying regarding the pressure to be spiritual and being a good witness. Which leads me to ask what is more effective for evangelism; saying grace in public or just being a friend and loving your neighbor? (sorry for the sarcasm)

As I read your post, one question comes to mind, what is the basis of your fear?

Anonymous said...

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
when there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand,
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying [to ourselves] that we are born to eternal life."

We're too busy checking our rule book while that one who needs Christ slips quietly past, and no one reaches out to the one who is hurting. And we pat ourselves on the back 'cuz I told him!'
And rather than build the church up, we tear it down.

SoulPastor said...

"Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn't so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you've done."

Romans 2:1-2 (The Message)

Misty B said...

I'm confused.

From what I understand in the passage of Scripture you are quoting Paul is refering to Christians who are critical of pagans yet still do many of the same things they do (we are all guilty of that to some extent.) So are you meaning to say that's what legalists do or say that we should stop judging legalists?

SoulPastor said...


In the Galatians 2 quote the context is reguarding both Jewish and Gentile Christians. In Verse 16Paul reminds Jewish Christians that they were not able to earn justification through law-keeping; rather, like the Gentile Christians, the Jewish believers, too, were justified by faith in Christ. Spiritual superiority could not be claimed by the Jewish Christians if they were saved in exactly the same manner as the Gentiles. Thus the smug superiority of some of the Jewish Christians, which caused them to look down their spiritual noses at the Gentiles as sinners, was founded on a misconception.

Anonymous said...

soulpastor. . .

I recently read this quote "You can be disloyal & slander someone through silence and facial expressions".

I think there are other ways you can be disloyal and slander. Maybe you can also be disloyal & slander someone through 'hinting' on your blog.

SoulPastor said...

Not sure what you are "hinting' at? Care to elaborate?

Anonymous said...

Your earlier comment "So, here is a hint; I am dealing with a number of people outside of my spiritual community who might fall into the catagory of a legalist."

Clearly there are a number of people that read your blog that know that you are commenting about them. Could your 'hints' be little jabs at those outside of your spiritual community? And by outside of your spiritual community are you making remarks about those outside of your home church "Soul", your greater denominational spiritual community or those that outside of your spiritual beliefs?

SoulPastor said...

So, here is it is…

This blog is a place in which I can share my thoughts and feelings and allow others, such as yourself to share theirs. I try to let people into my thoughts and life (to some degree) through this blog but also it becomes a place where discussion can be made on certain issues. Clearly there are people inside and outside of my spiritual community who read this blog who both agree and disagree with the way I see things or choose to do things, that is not an issue for me. Hey, people from all over the world and people who I do not know read this thing!

If you really need to know (as I have already made known to ‘Jean’), for the last while there are ‘people’ who have verbally attacked me, the leadership of my spiritual community and even the church itself for various reasons (but you already know that). There have been statements and accusations made that have never been directed to myself (personally) but rather have been out in the general public, but eventually they make their way back to me in one form or another. I have had the opportunity to deal personally with some of those who have said discouraging things regarding myself or my spiritual community when the opportunity presents itself. Also, most of the time, I could not care less what people think or say, and just leave the battle to GOD. But this blog becomes a place where people can share there thoughts regarding issues that I choose to post about.

I am not taking “jabs” at people, but rather, I am providing a venue whereby people can express their opinions regarding issues that may even disagree with my own. The problem is that most of the comments are always anonymous (such as yours, btw hope you enjoy the devos) which leaves me as open and transparent but allows others to hide behind the veil of anonymity. As you can see I will allow posts that challenge me personally, unfortunately I am left exposed while others are able to hide.

I think if one was to follow the threads we would see that legalism is EVERYWHERE, and not just outside 'my' spiritual community. (How arrogant I would be to think that?) As a matter of fact, there are things that I would have to admit that I am legalistic on myself…

So, the question that is implied in your response is ‘who am I making remarks about?”

Hey, ‘I had a conversation that got me thinking…’ You have no idea who the person was or what they represented or even what we talked about…the fact is that person does read this blog and it is a person that I have a very close relationship with! Go figure…what bothers me is how you are reading into this post in that if you follow the thread it simply talks about 2 forms of legalism and does not point out anyone or anything but rather a mindset that is in many Christian communities.

I love the remark of “your greater denominational spiritual community.” If you knew anything about my “greater denominational spiritual community” it is actually a “fellowship” that is very diverse from sea to sea, in many ways. Without question, there are those within this fellowship who may disagree with me personally (as I do them) and the way I do things (although we agree on theology…another go figure), but that is their prerogative. I am not out to change them (I can’t), but rather IF they read this blog, at least they have an opportunity to respond.

So there it is…me exposed and you left hiding behind the cover of anonymity. If you have an issue with what I post, I would rather you call me, meet with me and talk to me personally then take it into an anonymous forum. But, hey, how many times have I said that before on this blog…

Misty B said...

Thanks for the clarification on the verse. That makes sense (except I think you meant Romans not Galations.)

SoulPastor said...


Sorry, I did not know you were referring to the abstract comment I posted from Romans.

In Romans, Paul does not immediately point his finger at the Jew as the object of his attention. But it becomes evident at verse 17 that this has been his purpose from the outset of the chapter. Some have understood the first 16 verses of chapter as 2 directed toward the Gentile moralist.

The Jews have eagerly consented to the condemnation of the Gentiles. They even delighted in it and that has carried over into the new faith. The Jew had gladly assumed the seat of the judge. He pronounced the Gentiles guilty of God’s eternal wrath. He sentenced them to eternal torment. In this the Jew has already condemned himself, for he has placed himself under his own standards. Our Lord taught, “Do not judge lest you be judged yourselves. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it shall be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1, 2). By this Jesus meant that when we set ourselves over others as their judge, we have imposed upon ourselves the same standard of measurement.

God is not so interested in the standards we set for ourselves as those we set for others. It is by these standards that we ourselves will be judged by God. Very few of us would wish to be judged by these standards, but the Scriptures tell us this is the case.

Karen said...

Hi! Okay, so the previous conversations were starting to sound a little defensive and uncomfortable. I was reading them and thinking about my life. It seems that people may get caught up in legalism for possibly two reasons. First, they really don't understand about the beauty of God's grace towards them. Secondly, they maybe need to allow themselves to be more regularly and personally challenged to trust God. Both ideas connect with each other.

Hope you can follow this - it all started this year with changing my hair color. (I won't get into that) Anyway it led to adopting a dog for our family. My girls wanted one so badly and I had just kept telling them that I didn't think having a dog was for us. I had so many reasons for not wanting to share my home with a pet. In the back of my mind I guess I never really let the idea go though. Part of me wanted to be the kind of person who would love a pet and be able to accept all the inconveniences and "accidents" that might come along with a dog. Basically I was scared to get a dog. I didn't want to give anything up (clean carpets, good furniture etc.) It came down to pleasing myself or doing something that I felt my children would probably benefit from and would personally stretch me and my "standards". I decided that my family was more important than my need for clean so I prayed like mad did tons of research on dogs to find the best one for us. When I say I prayed like mad I mean it. Depending on the dog you get you could end up with entirely different experiences. I needed to trust God to find us a dog that he knew I could live with. Ends up that we were able to actually save a dogs life by adopting her from a rescue. (has to make you feel good :) ) We now have a beautiful addition to our family. Her name is Ella and she is a 36 pounds German Shorthair Pointer. After we got her we found out the she is house trained, is obedience trained, is a ton of fun and she hardly sheds (yeah for me!) Anyway I know this kind of sounds like a weird story that goes nowhere, but for me this has been a huge step of faith. I get to go a these beautiful hour long walks now through the forest almost every day and as I watch Ella run up and down the path exploring everything is sight, I am constantly in awe of how God amazes me. He hears my prayers, answers then more completely than I would ever expect or hope for and always seems to reward my small steps of faith with his goodness. I trust and he provides. I'm really happy to have Ella but the the great side effect for me is that my faith has once again been encouraged. My heart has been changed in some way.

I know this isn't really lending itself to the whole legalism topic but my thoughts drifted off to what we would be like if we spent less time evaluating others and more time with letting God change and stretch us. Even the seemingly
"non spiritual" experiences in life like getting a dog can lead us to new appreciation for God's goodness and grace when we trust him to prepare us for what lies ahead.

Just my thoughts.

SoulPastor said...


Thanks for the thoughts...
I love what you said... "if we spent less time evaluating others and more time with letting God change and stretch us. Even the seemingly 'non spiritual' experiences in life like getting a dog can lead us to new appreciation for God's goodness and grace when we trust him to prepare us for what lies ahead."


Manetheren said...

I think that some forms of legalism have started with the best of intentions. As an example from my own faith heritage, the Mennonite Brethren conference in Russia in the 1800s decided to ban dancing, because at that time dances were rife with alcohol abuse; people leaving dances were literally falling down drunk in the streets. At the time it was a wise decision. Fast forward to today, and many Mennonites are judging those that want to dance, even though it no longer has the extreme negative connotation that it did 130 years ago.

What am I trying to say here? Well, I'm not trying to defend legalism, since it's great to be living freely in grace. I just think that in some cases we could do well by looking into the past to understand why certain prohibitions were put in place. We could also help by understanding that dropping a historical pattern of denominational legalism doesn't happen overnight. As a personal anecdote, it's taken me 15 years to process the spiritual issues of what kind of music Christians listen to. I no longer judge the musical tastes of others - just don't judge me for listening to Demon Hunter (ha ha ha).

Anonymous said...

The Internet can cause a little paranoia at times and I think the poster who is worried about the "targetting" of someone or some group, is falling into that zone.

I also think Karen's story goes along the legalism theme in that ultimately she gave up some "rules" for the good of her children. That is what we want for the hurting community and for God's children too. Blessings.

I have been amazed at Soul to meet people who didn't come to the faith or get their faith corrected until they were adults over 30. Statistically (Barna research) this is more than usual as most conversion is done in the childhood years.

I have seen my own husband going from spectator at another church to participant - something every wife wants for her husband.

I have been in churches all my life and find Soul a refreshing ointment my soul has needed. People I've talked to agree they love Gerry's authenticity. They say they don't agree with EVERY opinion, and you know what, that is a good thing.

Be encouraged, keep the faith, stay committed, and know you are being prayed for. We need ya.

Anonymous said...

I also want to say with the number of pastors giving up, and the declining population of the churches around us, we don't need any pastor or church bashing going on. We are all on God's team.

Jean said...

No kidding. We don't need any pastor or church bashing here. anonymous: "you can be disloyal & slander someone through 'hinting' on your blog". Are you kidding me? What are you hinting at?
Maybe you should talk in person with soul pastor. Don't be hurting!

As for spouse and I have really reflected on our lives this week. ie: Why do we say grace - has it become legalistic, or are we truly thanking God? God is a personal God. I think we have gone through the rituals/practices/interpretations of the Bible because we as humans just can't seem to get our heads wrapped around the fact that Grace is free. We don't need to "earn" salvation.
But hey, if you need to show me where I've fallen short...don't blame me for ignoring you.

km said...

so i'm a little confused, what is the definition of legalism and how is it different thatn following the rules?
we all need rules to hold society together i guess my question is at what point is it legalism?
is it following the letter of the law and not the spirit of it with no exceptions?
if so are there any absolute rules?

Anonymous said...

km, my interpretation of legalism is when others begin to judge us as not a true Christian, or less of a Christian; or a true church or not a true church, based on what we choose to do or are not doing. The rules they are judging us on are often culturally created ones, not Biblical.

For instance, someone I know got mad when I accepted a glass of wine at a Christmas dinner. She told me I was not setting a good example (ie. being a good Christian). This was based on her rule system that to drink a glass of wine is a sin.

Or, because I wear jeans to church, this person may assume I am not a true believer suggesting I am disgracing God.

Unfortunately, the results of legalism is they don't communicate relational love and support, but criticism and judgment.

To find the absolute rules one must study the Word and divide cultural rules from Biblical ones. Of course we are taught certain spiritual disciplines, obedience to God and to obey those in authority and the government, so yes, there are some absolute rules.

Hope this helped.

For instance,