Please pray that this video has a positive impact and please pray for me to have grace and strength to handle the incoming.
What is legalism?
When I speak of “legalism” within the IFB, I am referring to those who believe in and demand a strict literal adherence to rules and regulations established a particular person or group.
This is not an attack on IFB. All IFB are not legalistic. It is a rebuke of a very vocal subset of the group that demand a strict conformity for acceptance within their group and who feel the need to express their disdain for those who do not conform to their accepted rules and standards.
Here are four problems with the extreme legalism found in the dark corners of the IFB:
(1) Spiritual Problems are Masked
Legalism is contrary to grace. I say that because it is contrary to the purpose of the law. Galatians 3:24 teaches that the law is our schoolmaster or teacher that points us to Christ and his grace.
I had a conversation with a pastor who is known for having an amazing youth group. When they go somewhere, they dress the part. Boys and girls look sharp. The boys’ hair is high and tight. The girls all have their hair long and flowing or up in a pony tail. The boys are wearing button downs or polos neatly tucked with matching shoes, belt, and a bible under their arm. The girls are in polos, skirts or Amish-looking dresses, with Bibles and notebooks under their arms. They sit together, sing together, and are well-behaved. When one goes to the altar, they all go. They say amen and shout and testify. Almost all have made at least one profession of faith. And yet this brother is dealing with discouragement because almost every single one of the kids who have aged out of that youth program are completely out of church. His church is not the only one dealing with that problem. Many are.
I suggest that many spiritual problems are masked because the focus is on conformity rather than Biblical Christianity. What has been created is a group of whitewashed tombs. They look great on the outside, but they are still dead on the inside. There is a form of godliness, but no power. There is an appearance of being religious, but there is no substance.
Jesus said if we love him, we will keep his commandments. A person who has truly repented and believed the gospel will continue repenting and believing. That’s called sanctification. There is a difference between discipling and demanding. Sadly, some have gotten that cart before the horse. We had a vice-presidential candidate some years ago who kept talking about putting lipstick on a pig. You can dress a pig up in the nicest clothes, but the first chance it gets, it is going to run back to the mud. Why? Because its nature hasn’t changed.
I fear that the crisis in the church today is that some are trying to make disciples out of goats rather than sheep.
(2) Tradition is Elevated to Equality with Scripture
Do you know why there is a group called Recovering Fundamentalists? Do you know why there is another group called Recovering Legalists? It is not because they are not Christian. It is not because they hate the Bible. They are not apostate and neither are they progressive, liberal or antinomian. They don’t even hate independent fundamental Baptists. It is because they have seen the harm that strict conformity causes — within churches they attended and often within their own family. People speak of grace and then demand obedience to man-made laws and non-biblical rules loosely based on a text. These very people often respond to disobedience or even questioning why with harsh rebuke or punishment.
I have many friends who have been so hurt by verbal abuse and even physical abuse by pastors, youth pastors, and especially parents in this group. Don’t believe me? There are videos all over YouTube of pastors eviscerating people during the service for violating tradition or breaking their legalistic rules. There are plenty of cringe services by the most popular IFB preachers who boldly preach tradition, tradition, tradition with absolute bitterness and malice. But don’t take my word for it. Look it up and see if I am exaggerating.
(3) Legalism Causes Unnecessary Division
Whether you call it tradition, standards, convictions, or whatever, we are not to judge one another compared to our own convictions and our own rules. We are to judge ourselves according to Scripture.
It is not scriptural to divide or judge over wearing shorts in one’s home or at the gym — or even outside of the church. The Romans in the first century showed their legs below the knees daily. But not just the Romans; Jewish men did as well. Jesus did not wear pants. Everyone wore a tunic — men and women. A man’s tunic was knee length and a woman’s would come to her ankle. That means that Jesus walked around showing the lower parts of his legs. When a man was working, running, or fighting, he would “gird up his loins”. That means he would tuck his tunic into his belt in order to free up his legs thus showing even more of his legs. Yes, times, customs, and cultures change. This is exactly what I mean when I say not to elevate tradition to equality with Scripture. Man-made standards and traditions should not be dividing lines. These are unbiblical barriers.
Romans 14 deals brilliantly with legalism. There are non-essential doctrines. Not every hill is a hill to die on. When we demand conformity in every respect without question, we are outside of scripture and we are dividing the body of Christ against itself unjustly.
(4) Legalism is Self-Righteous
In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus gives the parable of the Pharisee and Publican. The Publican cried out for God to be merciful to a sinner like him. Interestingly, Jesus said the Pharisee thanked God that he was not like other men and specifically not like the publican. Here is a man who humbled himself and cried out to God in repentance and Godly sorrow,, and yet the Pharisee looks at him with disdain and even thanks God out of a spirit of arrogance for being better than this person.
Some time back, someone sent me a post of a pastor saying that, if you watched something particular on television, don’t bother coming to church on Sunday.
- I have been in churches where unchurched people have been literally stopped at the door and told that they cannot come in the building wearing a pair of shorts.
- I have been in churches where an unsaved man was told told he could not come in with his long hair.
- I have seen ushers tell people to tuck their shirts in before they come in or don’t come in at all.
- I have seen men stand at the door and tell women they could not come in the building with a pair of pants on.
- Many years ago, I was invited to lunch with a preacher on Sunday after church. At the restaurant, he proceeded to tear into the server for daring to work on the Lord’s day. I ruined his lunch that day. This unsaved person was working on Sunday because her place of business made most of their money off of the Sunday church crowd — including this jerk who had just bit her head off.
The demoniac at Gadara approached Jesus unclothed. It is not until after Jesus changed him that we find him clothed, and in his right mind, sitting at the feet of Jesus.
I wasn’t raised in church. My father’s family was Christian in name only. I remember one occasion when I was young that my dad was going to church. He had been invited by a friend. My dad was poor. His nicest clothes were a pair of Rustler jeans from Walmart, a button-down shirt, and his cleaned up work boots. A legalistic family member told him that if that was what he was going to wear, not to bother going. So, he took me fishing instead. Some years later, my dad wore a pair of jeans, work boots, and a t-shirt into a church. During the service, God lovingly drew him to an altar of repentance and saved him. I believe in giving God your best. But one person’s best may be very different than someone else’s.
If you have been hurt by extreme IFB legalism, I want to encourage you to find a biblical church that avoids both extremes of the pendulum between legalism and antinomianism. Find a sound biblical church that teaches salvation by grace through faith and then afterwards disciples believers towards a progressive sanctification.
If you are hurt by this type of legalism, I want to encourage you that this is not representative of the body of Christ. Yes, when a person is saved by the grace of God, a change should be evident. But no one should expect or demand a perfect sanctification. Individuality is a good thing. Sanctification is a good thing. Conformity to the image of God’s Son is our goal — not conformity to an unbiblical set of standards and traditions.
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