If you feel that you can follow a few little rules or some clever gimmicks to make you a mature Christian, then you have fallen into a subtle trap of legalism. J. Vernon McGee
In a few days we are going to meander back to the topic of spiritual abuse. We have some interesting, and perhaps, new information to share with you. However, leading up to this, we are going to do a few posts that center around legalism. We believe legalism is one of the keys to spotting and curtailing spiritual abuse.
I love to cook. I am not an instinctive cook but I have the world’s best collection of recipes that I have discovered over many years. I am the annoying person at your dinner party who wants to know exactly how you prepared an item.
A few weeks ago, I was preparing my favorite taco soup recipe. I was about to put in some cilantro when it hit me. Legalism is a lot like cilantro. Digression alert: there may be a few of you who despise cilantro. Did you know that some people have a genetic predisposition that makes cilantro taste like soap? Here is a link to explain this.
Cilantro is an herb that is used in Mexican and Pan-Asian cooking. It is sold in bunches in the herb section of the grocery. However, it is very strong and a little goes a long way. Most recipes call for about 1- 2 tablespoons, which is a tiny amount compared to the whole bunch. See the picture posted above-those are my glamorous hands and gives proof to our detractors that we are not a couple of radicalized females who have given up our God “mandated” homemaking responsibilities.
Cilantro is only sold as a bunch and you must buy all of it even if you need just a little bit. It cannot be frozen and, if it is dried, it loses its potency. The small tubes of refrigerated cilantro last only a month and cost about double the bunch. It is next to impossible to grow in my hot climate and cannot be transplanted. I tried growing culandro, which some claim tastes “just like cilantro.” It doesn’t. So, you are usually stuck with a bunch of cilantro that will probably be thrown out. What happens if you add the whole bunch to the soup or recipe? It will overwhelm the soup and taste disgusting.
The Christian faith has some undeniable mandates. Christ’s birth, death, resurrection and second coming are a necessary part of the essential doctrine. Without these, Christianity ceases to be Christian. Think of this as the small amount of cilantro that flavors the soup. Without it, it would cease to be my special taco soup.
However people add many more things onto the faith. These include, but are not limited to, young earth creationism, the exact time and method of Jesus’ return and the precise events surrounding it, how often one should have communion and the correct method of performing communion, homeschooling, gross tithe, strict authoritarianism and special anointing of pastors, speaking in tongues, not speaking in tongues, Sunday night service attendance, no drinking, not even a little wine for the stomach, women never teaching anywhere near a man, immersion baptism, infant baptism, how and when to study the bible, use King James Only, only ESV, especially if it has been autographed by John Piper… and on and on.
I just finished reading a book, The Prodigal Prophet, which I will be reviewing in-depth next week. The author, Dylan Morrison, was thinking about the free grace that we are taught is given to Christians at conversion. At that time, we are happy and elated, free from the sin that has weighed us down. Then, we join a church and are given a set of religious laws or rules to obey. This drives the Jesus follower to performance-based piety. And this piety can get very depressing. We move beyond the initial joy and once again feel weighed down our inability to follow all the rules. We have traded one form of bondage for another. None of this freedom in Christ stuff for good Christians. On no, it is now back to the old ball and chain.
This is what happens when people take secondary issues and make them primary doctrine. We believe there are “A” issues, such as Christ’s Resurrection, and “B” issues, such as the age of the earth. We believe that Christians have freedom of conscience to choose amongst these ‘B” issues and that these beliefs should not divide us. We are supposed to represent the unity of Christ to the world and the world should know us by our love. Yet all they see is a bunch of people bickering over secondary issues and forming denomination after denomination.
My husband was having a disagreement with an elder over an issue that was not primary. They did not see eye to eye and were trying to come to an understanding. The elder looked at my husband and said “Well….I am not questioning your salvation.” My husband was appalled. It would never have occurred to him to even think to question someone’s salvation over such an issue. In this same church I personally know one teenager and one adult who were literally thrown out of Sunday school classes for merely questioning some stupid science that purported to show the earth was young. Thrown out! And we are supposed to be unified?
On this site, we had a man comment that only ordained pastors can serve the “elements” which, I imagine, is the proper, theological name for bread and wine (or grape juice if you are Baptist) in communion and is used when one wants to sound pious. When I asked why, he said it was quite clear in Scripture that this was the case. He refused to explain to me exactly what supernatural event transformed a man who was ordained and why that made him uniquely capable to handle “the elements.”
I read another book recently in which an old woman excoriated a new pastor for how he handled communion. She said that he should have “piped” the chalice used in communion. He had no idea what she was talking about. Well, he called the old pastor who had a great chuckle. Apparently, the carpet in the pulpit area was prone to static electricity, which caused him a shock when he handled the metal chalice. So, as he held the chalice up to pray, he touched it against an old metal pipe that ran along the pulpit to discharge the electricity. This poor woman had a rule that she believed needed to be followed in order to "do"communion but had not reason why it should be so.
Over Christmas I visited a site called "Hallee the Homemaker." What I saw there astonished me. Hallee preaches a Levitical diet, claiming it is Biblical and that we need to follow this to be healthy. She claimed the pigs are dirty and therefore make you sick. However, she seems to have no understanding that some pig farms produce the cleanest of pork using methods unknown in the time of the Bible. God was protecting the people of that day and showed concern for their health. But she believes this should be applied to today.
Her equally sure husband is a die-hard young earth proponent and is an expert because, as his wife said, he has lots of initials after his name (some computer engineering stuff). When I challenged him, he condescendingly told me that he would be in prayer that God would reveal himself to me. Note the assumption-because I do not believe in his highly restrictive viewpoint, I am most likely outside of God’s revelation or may not have even met God Himself.
I heard a Dr Thomas Ice from Liberty University speak on the subject of eschatology. (I do want to deal with all of these guys who claim to have earned doctorates and I will but I digress). He defined Christians as believing in a literal 6-day creation, a worldwide flood, and a premillenial, pretribulation Rapture. I guess he assumes the “accepting Jesus” stuff but I find it odd that he does not mention this. But we sure better accept this other stuff. I started to laugh during the video. My husband now refers to this as "The Ice Package.” Unfortunately, I guess this means your humble blog queen is not a Christian by Dr. Ice or Hallee the Homemaker standards. Aw shucks!
Then there is the appalling case of Mark Dever who is a friend of Ligon Duncan. Dever only practices believer's baptism. Duncan baptizes babies. Well, Dever, showing us how to demonstrate true Christian love and unity, claims he would not let Duncan take communion in his church! This is his friend and fellow Christian. And we wonder why the world shakes its proverbial head when we claim to know the love of Jesus.
These sorts of folks want you to add the whole bunch of cilantro to the soup. And the soup will be spoiled. Yet we force ourselves to eat it, hoping that if we eat enough we will like it better; or maybe we will get used to it. In fact, some of us even get very sick from consuming so much of this soup and this is what I define as spiritual abuse.
Think of our recent story on Ed Young Jr. He adds the gross tithe to his list of requirements. Yet he demonstrates his lack of accountability for his lifestyle which is derived from his ministry. Those who attend his church try to find ways to justify his teaching and actions. “He deserves it.” It’s gossip to speak of it.” “Maybe he’s right. If I had tithed maybe I wouldn’t have gone bankrupt and my wife wouldn’t have divorced me.” And slowly, some of his members begin to feel let down. The sad part happens when they feel let down by Christ and leave the faith.
Here’s the bottom line. If you are tired of church and your church leaders; if your Christian walk brings you little peace and joy; if you feel like an abominable failure in keeping up with all of the rules, maybe, just maybe, you have added the whole bunch of cilantro to your life. And it is time to throw it down the drain and start over again.
Here is the message of the Gospel. Christ died for your sins, He has forgiven your sins, and you are loved just as you are. Find those who rejoice in the freedom and the grace of the Gospel instead of adding a whole bunch of rules. And remember, you only need a tablespoon or two of cilantro.
Lydia's Corner: Leviticus 9:7-10:20 Mark 4:26-5:20 Psalm 37:30-40 Proverbs 10:6-7