This Sunday we’ll be reading from Luke 11:37-54…as it stands right now, we’ll probably have to explore this in two parts.
In this account, Jesus goes toe to toe with the Pharisees, and confronts the legalism of their movement. He declares six woes on their movement, or we could say, he gives us six reasons why legalism sucks.
Legalism is still an issue for many churches and Christian groups today. It certainly didn’t stop with the Pharisees. There are many modern day incarnations of this Pharisaical attitude that Jesus resisted. I know I’ve had my share of both being a Pharisee and being under the scrutiny and buffeting of them. Out of curiosity, what have YOUR experiences been. It would be interesting to hear your stories of experiences with legalism in the church. If you have time, tell me the goofiest rules you’ve encountered in the context of church. Tell me your personal experiences. This isn’t intended to bash anyone…just to be able to laugh at our human condition when it comes to religion.
I’ve never denied that I’m a recovering legalist. I still find areas, after nearly 20 years of pursuing grace, where I’ve been blind to a legalistic approach to things…whether its with my kids or my church…I still have to remember the keep the Main Thing the main thing.
Anyway…tell me your stories….quick, before Sunday so I can share ’em in my teaching!
Oh…and please don’t forget about the prayer meeting Saturday for Sudan…the particulars are in the post below. Thanks!
8 thoughts on “Jesus Does the Dishes”
The aspect of legalism that I recall the most, and as I think about it I can begin to feel it again, was the emptiness associated with it. The impersonable nature of it. In the beginning, you are baited into the trap with the most desirable of baits. Hope. That hope we all have that God will simply recognize or acknowledge me. Of course, the only one who notices is that individual giving out the law. Unfortunately, only one of two choices are available to you. The first is you don’t do the first law correctly, so you have to repeat until corrected, and the second is to precede to the next law and repeat step one. In the end, you are desperately searching for the next hoop to jump through hoping to God that it will be bigger, or higher or maybe engulfed in flames. Anything that will separate you from the rest of the two legged rats that are doing the same thing you are. Maybe then God will give you a little wink.
The final staw for me can be related in this story. I went with a friend to a church to hear one of the last living people who as a child was visited by the Virgin Mary. I was no different than anybody who packed that church on a hot summer night. So many people were there that the AC wasn’t adequate and everybody was sweating. But everybody had the same reason to be there. HOPE that maybe this time we would hear from God. When we arrive the priest was leading everybody in praying the rosary. Finally, a small man arrived on stage with a translator. The small man did not speak english. The translator said that everybody had to be very still and keep quite. After about ten minutes with everybody starring intently at this small man, he spoke to the translator. This is what the translator said (as well as I can remember). “He said that the Virgin Mary appeared to him and spoke with him. However, what she said to him is a secret and he can’t tell us. However, she did say to tell us to continue praying the rosary.”
One thing that was very wrong in our past church experience was our belief that WHATEVER the pastor thought about us — we believed it was what God thought about us. If this authority-figure didn’t like us or like what we did, then God must not like us. We became bumbling idiots (at times) trying to please a man which could not be pleased instead of looking to God for our worth. Although much good came out of our experience there, THAT was very wrong.
Legalism is easy. You just find one or two of God’s particular pet peeves and avoid those. He’ll be so busy with all the really annoying sinners that by the time He gets back to you, He’ll be all out of smite.
A minister told me that we could eat lunch together, but we couldn’t take communion together because I was from the wrong denomination.
Several have dismissed various translations of the Bible (particularly the NIV) out of hand. “If the KJV was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.”
One church does not permit use of a projector during the main service (hymnals and printed sermon notes only), but they do allow it for Sunday School. Another does not permit recorded music within the sanctuary – you must arrange for an organist to have music at your wedding.
I’m sure it’s happened more than just the one I saw – a split into separate services, and then finally separate locations over the hymns vs. contemporary music issue.
Often times when subjects of legalism come up I have a tendency to feel like the message is for someone else. It’s for the older generations with backgrounds void of grace. It’s for the younger generation to help them realize the freedoms that only the Christ could offer. It’s for everyone but me. This is of course arrogant and naive.
Legalism has crept up in my life constantly and variably since I’ve decided to live my life for Christ. Essentially, every time I make a “good” or “proper” or “right” decision that isn’t based entirely on returning the love I’m freely offered, then I’m doing it simply because it is “good” or “proper” or “right”. That is legalism. It’s not a well thought out theological argument that that these works will save me, but it is subconsciously making decisions to please a system (law) rather than love a person (Jesus). It is something everyone needs to be on guard against and everyone needs to be reminded of, myself included.
And even if I’m wrong and I have nothing to gain from the legalism-bashing words of Jesus, these verses can at the very least serve to remind me of those inexplicable freedoms he has extended to us. And that’s enough of a lesson for me.
Legalism, my favoirite pet peeve of those who know enough to be dangerous. Wow. It’s all legal, but it’s not all profitable. God forgives but he wants you to learn from your mistakes. He’s not a Prison Guard in a rifle tower wating for you to step out of line, he’s your Father who wants the best for you and to help you grow.
What is so hard to understand about that ?
I think that is what folks miss when they succumb to legalism. I have met those who have stated “well, I went to church so I am good for another week”, those who believe you can loose your salvation by committing a sin (one of the “seven deadly sins”, I guess), those who are mired in works with a guilty hope that somehow they will be good enough and have done enough (as if God is a celestial accountant keeping a balance sheet), those who revel in it so they can be critical of others (a control mechanism), srtict tithers and those who have left the church in a dispute over being told they are not “tithing enough”, one who felt guilty if she forgot to say grace before the first bite of salad, and one who, sadly, felt she was too much of a sinner to recieve Christ. Last but not least, I have a brother who is a recovering catholic and agnostic because of legalism. He said one day: “you don’t know the trouble I had with my church”. I had to chuckle as I thought and told him about the trouble Jesus had with his church over Legalism – the favorite of killjoys and control freaks all over the world.
I am a recovering legalist even after 15 years myself. I guess my first experience with legalism was through the catholic school/church I was raised in. The strangest thing I remember was the confession experience. I know the bible says we are to confess our sins one to another but I think the confessions to a priest for absolution after assignment of praying the rosary x amount of times dependent on the severity of your sins is a bit too much and absolutely legalistic.. I remember thinking as an adolescent I wish I could go in there and say I did something really horrible see what he says to that. Of course I was much too terrified that God would surely “get me” for that. Next was the experience in the church where financial giving was as he put it “the 1st grade” in getting in right relationship with God. If you did not tithe you were absolutely not serious about God and furthermore if you were having financial difficulty it was because you were not giving enough. Also, if you want a new home, car, boat, etc, etc, then you should name your seed offering and keep giving and surely you will get it( yes from our magic genie in the sky). Also, there was the doctrine that if you were sick and prayed for and did not get better then obviously there was some secret sin in your life. Pretty much if you weren’t healthy and wealthy then you were not right with God in some area of your life. Guess they missed the life stories of everyone who followed Jesus and shared in his sufferings as we are all called to do!! No malice intended there I understand the draw of that kind of message, it is hard for us americans to hear we will suffer, we will have tribulation if we take up our cross and follow Him.. But I do believe if we keep on pressing toward and seeking Him we find there is no greater joy, no matter what the cost!
I sometimes wonder if the term “legalism” is often too broadly applied or needs to be better defined. Jesus did not fault the Pharisees for adhering to the law in this passage as much as he faulted them for what they were NOT doing. He seemed to fault them for paying too much attention to one thing, i.e., paying their ten percent tithe down to the herbs they possessed, and missing more important things like justice and love.
Churches and Christians in general often have a tendency to pick and choose a few sins to avoid and then spend a good amount of effort focusing on these while conveniently ignoring others. Do we ever hear preachers railing against gluttony, for instance? I think the majority of we Americans are guilty of this one on a regular basis. I am not saying we need to go through scripture and make a list of sins and make sure we are avoiding them, but I think one of the things I took away from the passage here is the idea that abiding by God’s law is not wrong or something to be pursued half-heartedly, but neglecting important, essential matters for the sake of following the rules to a T is not what God is after either. If I look at scripture from a broad perspective Jesus seems far more concerned with what we DO rather than what we DO NOT DO.
I met an elderly patient once who filled me in on his thoughts on life. I was enjoying the one-sided conversation for the most part until he started saying that his pastor is always asking his church to give money to help minister to the prisoners at a nearby prison. The patient said that he felt that those people were there for a reason and if they wanted to clean up their act when they got out and come to church then he would help them, otherwise he felt his tithe needed to help only those within their church. I thought to myself, are we not to “remember the prisoners” as it says in Hebrews 13:3 as Melissa quotes to us every month? Granted the prisoners referred to in Hebrews were Christian brothers, but nonetheless, is this not the justice and love that the Pharisees were passing by? But as I think back on how I felt about that conversation, I realize that although in belief or thought I may have disagreed with this man, in practice, I am not that different. I do not remember the prisoners as I should. If I am properly focused on Christ, on keeping the INWARD part of my cup clean, then I think I will naturally remember the prisoners as Christ’s love and justice flow through me, in turn making the OUTWARD part of my cup clean.
On another note, I think Rob, you were right on last week when you told that story about Bradley and the communion situation. I felt the same way when we joined our new church in Connecticut. Everything they did just seemed wrong because it wasn’t how we did it at Eastgate. It seemed too structured, too religious, but as time wore on I realized this was not true. The people there were true believers with good hearts. It was an invaluable experience to share 5 years in a completely different church with Christians from a completely different background. I agree with you that we must be careful not to hold the “style” of Eastgate up as a standard that everyone must follow and realize that God moves in the hearts of men and women even in these legalistic churches that we may tend to question. When people ask me about my church I find myself starting my answer by mentioning the surfboards on the wall, the casual dress, the relaxed setting, etc. Shouldn’t I be quicker to say something about the hearts of the people here? That is where our emphasis needs to be, on WHO the church is, not HOW we do it.
Wow, it seems that many of us have had the same sort of experiences. Like many here, most of my legalism stories are rooted in authory-based leadership types. Regardless of what was said everything ultimately flowed to one thing, money. I have even heard one pastor say, “if you’re gonna eat from my garden (come to my church), then you need to plant some seed.” Madness, but at the time, I probably wrote a check. The same pastor questioned anyone who moved (especially for a job), saying that they prefered money over the annointing. That was unless he sanctioned the move, otherwise if you left you were leaving the covering. When we left this church ( after being there for 10 years), we actually got a letter from “a friend” saying if we didn’t come back we were putting ours kids futures at risk. Again madness (almost cult-like if you really thing about it), but even though I know it’s madness, when things go screwy I sometimes find myself wondering if I blew it by leaving.
Legalism is like kudzu; even when you think it’s all gone…. it’s not all gone. For me, my personality lends itself to legalism. I like to think I’m right, which would mean if you don’t do it my way, you are wrong. It’s a constant struggle, and I often find myself falling back into the throes of legalism. But like they say at AA, admitting you have a problem is the first step. Looking forward to Sunday!