Posts Tagged ‘legalism in churches’

I got lectured yesterday by a man three times younger than me.

My wife and I took a leisurely drive toward the ocean.  We followed the signs to the harbor, when suddenly, I didn’t know whether to turn left or right.  I turned right … and was headed straight toward a military installation.

Oh, man … I didn’t want to endure the guard at the gate giving me the third degree.  Since no cars were around, I tried to make a U-turn, figuring the guard wasn’t going to send Uncle Sam’s finest after me.

But my wife said, “He’s waving you on.”  So I stopped my turn and drove toward the gate instead.

But when I got there, a young man in uniform asked me if I had a driver’s license and knew what the double yellow lines in the road signified.

He told me that I could have gotten in a serious accident and that people could have been killed. (Going 10 mph?)

He verbally dressed me down.

I just looked at him and smiled the whole time.  What else could I have done?

With cars stacking up behind me, he let me go.  I finally drove ahead, turned around, and peeled rubber leaving the installation.

Just kidding!

But that soldier … just doing his duty, mind you … reminded me of some Christians I have known.

These believers are, in the words of a Christian leader I once knew, rightists.

A rightist is a person who believes there is only one right way to do things … and they always do everything right.

And it’s their duty to tell you when you’re doing things wrong.

How can you spot a rightist?

First, the rightist lacks a breadth of experience in church life.

One rightist I knew was always telling me how ministry was carried out in his previous church.  He would preface his remarks by saying, “At _____ Church, we always did things this way.”

He said this dozens of times.  At first, I told him, “Feel free to share your ministry experiences with me.”  But after a while, I asked him to stop sharing because he never seemed to like the way our church did anything.

(As Rick Warren once told someone, “If you like that church so much, why don’t you go back to it?”)

But this leader kept it up.  He couldn’t help himself.

And when I didn’t want to hear it anymore, he went underground and continued to tell others the right way to do church.

Know how many different churches this leader had attended before ours?

That’s right: one.

The more churches you’ve attended … the more churches you’ve visited … the more churches you’ve read about … the less likely that you’ll become a rightist.

Second, the rightist canonizes methodology.

The rightist believes that he has thought through most church practices and that his way is always the best way.

In fact, he acts like his methods are divinely approved while yours do not count.

Take music, for instance.

When Bob Dylan came to Christ in the late 1970s, it was huge news.  The greatest popular songwriter of our day – who was Jewish to boot – had embraced Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.  (As enigmatic as Dylan’s lyrics can be, he still incorporates an amazing amount of biblical imagery in his songs.)

I remember discussing Dylan’s conversion with a leader in my church at that time over dinner.  The leader remained unimpressed.  I quoted the chorus of Dylan’s song “Gotta Serve Somebody” to him: “It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.”  (Chuck Smith from Calvary Chapel loved the song.)

The leader told me, “I’ve heard the song, but it still has that beat.”  (I wanted to say, “That’s the point!”)  But this leader embraced the teachings of Christian guru Bill Gothard, who had biblical proof that any beat in a song was wrong.

(By the way, Dylan had the guts to sing “Gotta Serve Somebody” both on Saturday Night Live and on the Grammy Awards … and won his first Grammy for the song.)

I had a conversation recently with a professional musician who is also a pastor.  (No, it wasn’t Jimmy Swaggart.)  He told me there are only two kinds of music: good music and bad music.

I happen to agree with him.  Some secular music is excellent … and some Christian music just doesn’t cut it.  (Carmen, anyone?)

Can’t Christians have broader categories for music than secular and spiritual?

(By the way, Christian journalist Cal Thomas became great friends with the late composer Marvin Hamlisch and wrote this tribute to his friend in World magazine.  It’s worth reading: http://online.worldmag.com/2012/08/08/one-singular-sensation/

Finally, the rightist judges others not by biblical absolutes but by his/her own preferences.

When I was in my teens, the youth wanted to have their Sunday night youth group meeting in a home one year.  They were expected to stay on the church campus for four other meetings every week and wanted to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of someone’s living room.

Our church called a public meeting to discuss this issue … and the church secretary – who insisted the youth meet on the church campus – became so irate that she walked down the aisle toward the back of the church, slammed the door … and was never heard from again.

It was fine for her to express her opinion.  But when she couldn’t have her way, she stomped out of the meeting and left the church for good.

She acted like a rightist.

Jesus had to contend with the rightists of His day: the Pharisees.

They emphasized external compliance rather than inward obedience.

They emphasized the minutae of the Law rather than its broader aims (love God … love others).

They demanded that people conform to their behavioral codes (which were plentiful and super-strict) rather than God’s.

Jesus once said the following about the Pharisees to the crowds/His disciples in Matthew 23:4:

“They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulder’s, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”

The Pharisees were bureaucrats … bean counters … self-appointed critics … and fun stoppers.

Jesus once said, “Do not be like them.”

I served for many years with a Christian leader named Wendell.  Several weeks ago, the Lord called him home.

Wendell used to say to me, “Don’t play the Holy Spirit in someone’s life.”

Resist the rightists among you … and resist becoming a rightist yourself.

Because rightists are dead wrong.

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