September 2, 2011


If you walk up to just about any non-Christian on the streets today and ask them their opinion of Christians you will more than likely be responsible for uncorking a tirade or dissertation of hateful and poorly informed rhetoric. Most often some of the more biting comments will include things like "doomsayer", "zealot", "judgmental", "kook", "hypocrite", or the ever popular "hellfire & brimstone spouting, sandwich board carryin' backwoods anti-intellectual". Sometimes the diatribe will include all the above in some sort of patchwork comment that is akin to vomiting insults. The other comments usually line up with hints of prude and dogmatic fool.

Unfortunately, many of these characterizations will hit on truth. Perhaps not always accurately but truth none-the-less. People that are unfamiliar with our faith will believe all kind of voodoo about how we adhere to some arcane lifestyle that makes us ultimately boring, regimented  and mindless adherents to a goat-herders God (or some venomous variation on this theme). Sadly, many of us after being beat-up by these snide and marginally truthful comments or assessments will retreated into our hard shells or Christo-exoskeletons and leer ominously at the very people we are called to speak to or live out the Gospel in front of. We will often lump them all together as unreachable reprobates and chose to do little of nothing to reach them in that state. When it is us or others like us that are very tool that Jesus through the Holy Spirit most often uses to bring these "irreparable reprobates" to the light.

Sometimes we will then take the few that we do manage to get to listen to us and bludgeon them with the legalism or unnecessary dogma we are rightfully accused of. The very thing we are mocked over and that we vehemently deny. The non-core, non-salvation issues that we refuse to relinquish or bend on is where many of us lose prospective candidates in our evangelism. The rejections are so sad at times and so common as to be predictable. The code of legalism: no tattoos, no piercings, no raucous rock music, no smoking, no alcholic beverages whatsoeverr, no long hair, no short hair, no shaved heads (unless military), no Justin Bieber (oh, wait, my legalism is creeping into the post). It is the ones that we nearly convert and inevitably lose that we need to focus on. Mockers will always mock but near-misses because of judgmental attitudes, hypocritical behavior or denial is never acceptable. In these cases we do not lose these people because of them and their actions, we lose them because of us and our actions. The ones we win to a point and then drive away with absolutely unnecessary legalism is entirely avoidable. Teaching truth is one thing, teaching truth with man-made junk and/or our opinions piggybacking it is bogus. To drive home this piggybacked dogma with a hammer is even worse. Jesus would've been and is quite upset with us when we do these things. The pattern of Scritpure is clear on this behavior.

Although it is tempting to just look at the legalist as throwaway child of a religion that the world hates and just live with their presence without acting on it...we should not. It is part of the reason we are viewed unfavorably and often hated as a whole in Christianity. We are obliged to "tend" to our own as momma used to say. Jesus did. I don't mind being hated for preaching the Gospel and telling the truth of the Bible. I do mind being hated or thoroughly misunderstood because of misguided or boneheaded attempts by others to impose bogus interpretations on the Bible text just to subjugate believers and non-believers alike. Then of course we have legalistic infighting when brethren turn against the brethren internally and this petty inter-denominational or inter-congregational squabbles makes us all look like infighting backwoods rednecks.

It is also not funny when one group of Christians whose members wearing suits, ties and knee length dresses recoil in abject horror at another congregation's tattoos, Doc Martins, flannel shirts, piercings and Starbuck’s Caramel Frappuccino®. We all need to realize that not everything that comes down the pike in terms of cultural quirkiness and social oddity is necessarily evil or sinful. Sometimes harmless dopey diversions are just harmless dopey diversions (anyone remember big hair and mullets?). A passing dopey fad that’s only inherent danger is having our children find pictures of us when they are older and having a laugh riot over sky-high hair.

On the other hand, legalism includes enough threat and danger to warrant some of the most vehement admonitions in the Bible. Many of these warnings come from Jesus Himself during His ministry. Woe to you hypocrites! Some of Jesus’ most rankled moments come under the banner of legalism. The self-righteous legalism perpetrated by the hypocritical Pharisees. Even today, nothing gnaws and needles Christians and non-Christians alike more than the pharisaic attitude or religious snobbery and pious pretentiousness. We are called to be different by being humble, not different by being arrogant idiots.

And here is where the rubber meets the road. The ones today that are most akin to the Pharisees of old are often those who we consider the hardcore fundamentalists. The fundamental evangelicals (i.e. me): The ones that had such a recoiling and negative reaction to the liberal theology of the last century (and rightfully so). The ones who have attempted to avoid the near totally submissive attitude of embracing the modern culture (often rightfully so). In reaction we / they have withdrawn into hardened shells in a desperate bid to avoid being sucked into the ungodly culture and compromising our faith, we have in many cases added walls and rules to our faith to avoid falling into that nebulous no-man’s land where behavior becomes questionable so that we do not slip out and the world does not creep in. It is done to avoid stepping over the line acceptable in the Bible. In so doing we/they have added an additional fence around what’s acceptable and have on many fronts become legalistic. We sound strangely reminiscent of the Pharisees, the Pharisees who devoted their lives to following God…but ended up doing it wrong. In an attempt to stay holy they/we became hypocritical. In an attempt to stay separated for God, they/we ended up becoming separated from God.

Jesus condemned these religious denizens of Israel and he will do the same today. Why?

…because they/we had/have become overtly religious when they/we should’ve become overtly Christ.

Having withdrawn into their/our shells (like we often do today) they/we separate them/ourselves from the very people that we are set aside and made holy to be able to reach.

Let me restate that.

We as God's chosen are purposely set aside to be holy and to be different. We are to be different in a way that will allow us to teach and attract those not of the faith to come to us…not run the other way. How many of us can say we live a life consistent with that idea? I can honestly say this is not how I live my Christian walk 100% of the time and for that I should be ashamed. I often rely exclusively on my avoidance of my Christian responsibilities as a protective measure. My attitude when committing this sin is this: If I avoid people I view as being dunderheads, then I do not need to deal with the people I view as being dunderheads…will I?

Here’s the problem with that logic…by what gauge or measure have I assayed these people to have been able to come to the conclusion they are dunderheads? It certainly cannot be an evaluation according to the the Bible, can it? The Bible tells me to love my neighbor(s). The Bible tells me Jesus specifically came to save the lost. The tax collectors and sinners. Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners. If Jesus was their friend, why am I not? Sinners. That means everyone. Everyone's a sinner and everyone is my neighbor. How can I love my neighbors, sinners and unbelievers if I am purposely avoiding them? How can I help save any of them if I have already passed judgment on them before I have even gotten to fully know them? Yes...discern their sin but do not judge them, it is not your place or mine. We are to gather the harvest, we are not to seperate the wheat from the tares. That has been left to God to do. To assess and measure a person without actually knowing them is to be thoroughly and unjustly judgmental. The exact things Christians are often accused of. What’s worse is we are often judgmental of the very things we ourselves are guilty of which adds hypocrisy to the hyper-criticality.

[Insert deafening silence here.......]

As a Christian, to purposely avoid people I view as “dunderheads”, I become a dunderhead. I become the embodiment of the thing I have tried to avoid. Paradox? You better believe it. Hypocritical? Probably even more so than you and I realize.

Face it folks. We cannot run and hide in our bible-thumping caves to avoid people. The Bible does not allow it. We are to avoid the immorality and sin of the culture but not the people themselves within the culture. We are essentially set aside by God and immunized (through acceptance of Jesus and indwelling of the Holy Spirit). As Christians we are immunized against the penalty of sin (eternal condemnation). The immunization does not mean we will be unaffected by the sin, it just means we will not inevitably be killed (eternally) by it. So why would one need an immunization? So they can hide away behind walls and barbed-wire fences in a hermetically sinless and sealed bubble? No! We are immunized for the very task of entering the world/culture/society with a partial immunization against the very sin that we will be teaching and preaching against. It is no different than getting malaria shot before going on a missionary journey to a mosquito infested jungle near the equator.

Legalism fools both those that practice it. The Pharisees impressed the uninitiated with their appearance of piety. But the reality is legalists are dedicated to the rules of men not God. In this way we see that legalism errs by lowering the expectations and requirements for men and not meeting what God requires which is the equivalent of either doing nothing or working against God anyway. God already did for us what needed to be done. To add to what Jesus did is to trivialize Jesus’ work. This is not acceptable…nor is it biblical. Having done something this dunderheaded, shows that a legalist missed the whole idea that the Gospel is freely given, not earned. By adding legalism we limit our growth as we get stuck in a mire of man-made regulations.

We need to be more Christ-like in these situations. As you have read in my “Hard Sayings” series on SoJo, when Jesus was approached or queried on things of the Law or questions of interpretation confront Jesus, he rarely answers questions directly. He did not become more legal, instead Jesus touches on things behind the Scripture. He reaches back to the intent or the wellspring of the passage. These are the things He drives home with vehemence. He does not become more legalistic he becomes more realistic and gets to the heart of the matter. Having drawn out the true intent, our sins lay exposed and reveal us for the sinners we truly are. Jesus does not rely on legalism, He relys on realism. We see just how sinful we are when He shows us all how far from the mark we fall short. That is what the word sin really means...missing the mark. In this realism or realization we then also realize our absolute need for Him. We should do the same as Jesus, get to the true intent of the law or rule in the Bible (if that is what it really is). What behavior is the commandment or statute of God really aiming at? The coveting laws of the Old Testament weren't so much an obsession with material possessions as much as they were warning of a non-spiritual replacement for the spiritual things...a replacement for God. when we want something in this world so much it consumes us, where is the room for God? We need not always interpret passages liberally or literally and hold everyone down to the exact letter when that is not the intent of the saying or words.

The other problem I encounter with legalism is the pride in which the possessors of it wear it on their exterior like a badge of honor. Like bright polished (obnoxious) armor it keeps everyone out and sends a message loud and clear to those that see it. !DUNDERHEAD!. Thereby this person or these types of people make themselves wholly unapproachable and unattractive. Subsequently they make the entire Christian Faith look like…you guessed it…dunderheads.

I may not like divorce and what it does to families, the alcoholism of the alcoholic or the smoke of the smoker but I will not sit in harsh judgment of these addictions or social issues either. Why? Because: (1) I have already been through some of them and know how much hell it is to extricate one’s self from them and (2) Christ died for everyone for ALL their sins. I must always look at Jesus as the final benchmark. He hated and loathed the sin not the sinner. Yes, the Bible speaks of rules concerning these issues. They are meant to be internalized and practiced not necessarily used as hammers to bludgeon those struggling in the sin. A Christian’s rules and statutes are for the internal well-being and change towards holiness for a believer, not an external eyesore to flaunt in front of those that are losing a battle with the world and with their sin. What did God tell us to do with His commandments in the Shema of Deuteronomy? Are we to wave them arrogantly and hypocritically in people’s faces? NO! It says they’re to be internal:

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.”” Deuteronomy 6:6

When our faith turns into a religion that turns into an exercise of what we do better than someone else or have externalized and made gaudy we have created a religion of works, piousness and hypocrisy. Conversely, what does the Bible say our salvation is based on?

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8-10

The works are the result of the faith, not the other way around. When our faith goes external as a wall to divide us from the world we effectively force others to go internal and avoid us through rejection of what they perceive to be our rejection of them. The only way to allow people to come out of their shells is to lower ours by losing the legalist nature. A dichotomy or paradox if I ever did see one.

To win people who are potentially our enemy we must first lower our guard, lose the legalism and make ourselves vulnerable…vulnerable to our enemies.

Otherwise there will forever be two opposing camps staring distrustfully at one another mumbling “dunderhead”.


Laserpointministries said...

Used to be a major blunderhead. God is still working with me on this topic, but I have definitely improved. Ephesians 2.8-9 are awesome when considering our salvation. I'm thankful for God's grace. One person told me I now believed in "cheap grace." Well it better be cheap grace, because if it wasn't... then I couldn't afford it!

Andy Pierson said...

lol, cheap grace, yep. I struggled (stuggle) with legalism. I believe I might be marginally on "this side" of the line with it at this point because I am really getting weary of it. The hardest to reach are the religious that do not think (nea, believe) they are wrong. I have another post on legalism in a day or two and it pushes out boundries I believe need pushing. I flirt with hypocisy when I post some of these things but they warrant posting because I believe legalism is the most damning "ism" in Christ's body. God bless...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...