The Subtle World of Christian Legalism

The Charismatic Movement of the 1970s and 1980s, while bringing in true praise and worship, got hopelessly bogged down in a shadowy world of legalism that paraded as obedience to God. It was actually a bondage to men and their Biblical opinions.

The purpose of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the freeing of believers to know Jesus better and live a life more in keeping with His Kingdom. But all movements when they try to move themselves forward fall into error. The first of these was the Shepherding Movement which promoted human leadership way beyond reason. After all, all denominations have tried organizational change and structure only to end up where they are now – losing membership and closing churches, occasionally by bankruptcy.

The book of Revelation warns against the sin of the Nicolaitans, that of elevating leadership above the individual believer. The New Testament Church had everyone at fundamentally one level, with only those with an anointing, training or official duties standing out. They are not intended to be super stars, or, as it has turned out, media stars. That ilk has not entirely gone away, but the effectiveness of their churches is waning too.

Another problem was the general misapplication of God’s hopes and promises to the level of Law. Three of these are especially onerous. The Bible states clearly that God hates divorce, but it became so much of a law that even divorces that God Himself would sanction could not be legalized because the partners feared the wrath of the church community. What God has joined together is scriptural. This means that men may enter into a legal divorce and God not recognize it because He did not sanction it.

But the reverse is also true. God has not required a continuation of some marriages that people hold together at any cost and against His will. One partner might go to his or her pastor and be told to submit to the husband, or to the husband, go back and love your wife, when God had no intention of keeping this marriage together.  Children who were being abused stayed when they clearly needed to go to the police; women sometimes submitted to smarmy sexual activities as an act of submission, such as group sex, all heinous in God’s sight. Allowing the continuation of evil is never in God’s best interests. If people will not submit to God, He will free one or more of the family members.

An acquaintance of mine had the unfortunate experience of tending to prolonged life of some family members, causing family friction, exhaustion of body and resources, and making the final years of life a strain rather than allowing an old person to die in peace. Church “legalism” – to keep some one alive at all costs, may not be the smartest move, esp. if it is all done with machinery. This is the devil’s way to deplete the last peace from the family. The Old Testament patriarchs folded up their robes, took to their beds, and after some careful words of encouragement died without rancor.

Pro-life does not mean pro-turmoil. Neither does it mean a case for euthanasia which seems to be more a refusal to see the end of life from God’s viewpoint.

Virtually every false religion is strapped with rules. This is a sure sign something is wrong. A former congregation (Messianic) of mine asked me back, but in the meantime all the women were wearing head scarves. I said no, I did not want to think I was in church with Muslims. I don’t think until that point they ever considered how legalistic that looked. Muslims make the women cover themselves as a sign not of submission but of control, and Sharia Law is the most controlling of them all. I worked and lived in China where communism controls life, and they are freer there than followers of Islam.

Another area of Christian legalism is the tithe. Yes, God would like 10% but many poor cannot do that. The scripture says to provide for God from “your increase.” There are some poor folks who do not have a living wage and no increase either. Of course they can give time and energy to someone in need, and compassion counts too. One person I asked to pray for me said that she thought my prayers were not being answered because I was not paying a full 10%. I happen to know her income is nearly twice mine; she buys meat, I cannot. She takes hot showers while in the summer I cannot afford to heat my water. She placed upon me a legal requirement without knowing my circumstances.

Another time I learned from a close friend that she had won $2200 at a casino. She and her husband do provide a full 10% to God and they are not gamblers, even occasional ones, but for their 25th wedding anniversary they went to the local casino. The winnings were sufficient to open a little art shop-studio downtown in a nice location, a life long dream. My legalistic friend was horrified – “Oh God would never use gambling money to provide a blessing?”

And why not? Does it not say the wealth of the wicked will flow to the righteous? Proverbs 13:22 Jacob made a wad out of cheatin’ Laban.

It is far too easy for believers to duck under the law rather than actually take a prayer request seriously. We should in all cases know the mind of Christ, not just for ourselves but also when asked to counsel others.

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