It just wouldn’t work

In my many years of being part of churches I have met my fair share of legalists – people who like to make rules where the Bible doesnt as a way of (at best) stopping others from sinning – or at worst (and much more often) as a way of controlling others and imposing their own moralistic preferences upon them.

I went thru my own rather bizarre legalistic period as a teenager, but I am more and more coming to believe that the ability to truly leave legalism behind is a mark of Christian maturity – although the legalists will call it ‘liberal’ or some other equally nebulous but deprecatory term.

Legalists are often the ones ‘taking stands’ against things and seeking to uphold the moral integrity of the church, however you will never see a legalist taking a stand against self righteousness – in fact they are oblivious to the existence of such a concept.

I am increasingly seeing this as one the worst types of cancers that can infect a community and it is a practice I find almost impossible to tolerate. Once one group of people set themselves as the arbiters of godly behaviour then others are pressured to conform to their false standards of holiness (ironically often defined by the very things they personally struggle with)

11 thoughts on “It just wouldn’t work

  1. well said. when you look at it coldly, it’s amazing how the whole thing is totally arbitrary aswell, ie.

    smoking = bad

    diet full of saturated fat = ok

    swearing = bad

    gossip (aka ‘prayer points’) = ok

    gambling = bad

    consumerism = ok

    failing to tithe = bad

    ignoring the needy = ok

    missing church on the sabbath = bad

    not having balance/rest in your life = ok

    etc. etc.

  2. Totally agree. This seems to be tearing our churches apart at the moment. If only we could follow Jesus example and not the pharasee’s.

  3. I couldn’t have said this better. As a reformed legalist myself, also when I was a younger man, there is just no convincing a legalist of legalism.

    When you position yourself as a protector of truth, everything becomes a threat.

    They really are among the saddest of people I know. I feel like grabbing some legalist dudes, shaking them and have them repeat three times whilst clicking their heals together:

    I have come that you may have life . . .

    I have come that you may have life . . .

    I have come that you may have life . . .

  4. Newbigin has a great quote that applies across a broad range of things, and works particularly well with regards to this topic:

    “Hold to Christ, and to all else be uncommitted”

    Good ol’ Newbigin!

  5. I reckon they’re only legalists because they tie it up to their salvation in some way. If they are ever wrong, then it follows that they may be unsaved. I think that’s why you can never win an argument with a real legalist. And also why you should never try. When I tell people to avoid them because they will never change they think I’m uncaring but the plain fact is that they can’t see another point of view – it’s too dangerous for them.

  6. Indeed ‘self’ righteousness is in fact completely blasphemous as it indicates that we are able to achieve on our own what Christ died on the cross for!

  7. I think the real issue is one of judgement. Should we judge others. If so when? and how? What if someone is involved in immoral behavior that is hurtful to other members in a community? I think we should take a stand in these matters. But how do you do it? Particularly if you are in a house church setting where you can’t delegate really messy situations to a paid pastor 🙂

  8. “Does taking a stand of any sort constitute self righteousness?…”

    I don’t believe so.

    Taking a stand is not necessarily pointing a finger of condemnation – it can be pointing out injustice.

    I don’t think Martin Luther or Martin Luther King were self-righteous.

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