Category Archives: legalism

legalism

Why Some People Are Legalists

Every once in a while I think it is important for me to get back to the whole reason I started this blog: legalism within the Church. There are plenty of other people talking about Bruce Jenner, don’t you think?

In the following article I will attempt to:

  • define legalism, and then
  • give five possible reasons one might want to become, or remain, a legalist.

Defining Legalism

Before we look at why a person would want to be a legalist, let’s make sure we understand what legalism actually is. Below are a couple of good definitions.

The first one is from GotQuestions.org (which I recommend). I would advise reading the whole piece on their website. The following is an excerpt:

The word “legalism” does not occur in the Bible. It is a term Christians use to describe a doctrinal position emphasizing a system of rules and regulations for achieving both salvation and spiritual growth. Legalists believe in and demand a strict literal adherence to rules and regulations. Doctrinally, it is a position essentially opposed to grace. Those who hold a legalistic position often fail to see the real purpose for law, especially the purpose of the Old Testament law of Moses, which is to be our “schoolmaster” or “tutor” to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24).

The second definition can actually be found on Wikipedia. Believe it or not, it is a pretty in-depth article. Again, here is portion:

Legalism, in Christian theology, is a sometimes-pejorative term referring to an over-emphasis on discipline of conduct, or legal ideas, usually implying an allegation of misguided rigour, pride, superficiality, the neglect of mercy, and ignorance of the grace of God or emphasizing the letter of law over the spirit. Legalism is alleged against any view that obedience to law, not faith in God’s grace, is the pre-eminent principle of redemption…Legalism refers to any doctrine which states salvation comes strictly from adherence to the law. It can be thought of as a works-based religion. 

But to be fair, most people that I would label legalists do not believe salvation is earned by works of any kind (at least if they’re Baptists). No, the vast majority of legalists to which I refer (and to which I used to belong) use a system of rules and regulations to determine spirituality, spiritual growth, and favor with God and other believers.

Legalists believe, as a whole, in the redemptive work of the cross, but set a universal standard which defines holiness for all who claim Christ, regardless of cultural or societal considerations. To the legalist, anyone who behaves or believes differently than his perceived standards must not be “right with God.

So, what would make a person want to be, or remain, a legalist? The following five reasons are ones which I have observed throughout the years.

5 Reasons for Being a Legalist

1) Some people don’t know any different.

When I was growing up, I did not know anything different than what I was exposed to in our small churches, missionary conferences, revivals, or Christian schools. Even though I believe that most of what I was taught was doctrinally sound, I was not allowed to examine different viewpoints, even those of other Baptists (specifically if they were anything other than “Independent, Fundamental,” etc.) Many are still in this situation. Tragically, they are content with their ignorance. They refuse to consider the fact that they may be wrong on a particular point.

Even when Scripture is plain and simple, because of the secluded nature of certain groups, legalists would rather stick their heads in the sand than risk being wrong. Being wrong might make someone else, even another denomination, right about something. Heaven forbid!

2) Some came from an unholy lifestyle and now seek to redeem themselves (or their consciences).

Some people are so ashamed of their past that they go overboard in trying to live a life of holiness. They see in their past a link between so-called “worldly activities” and their fall into depravity. In an effort to show they are no longer the person they used to be, and in order to avoid temptation, they strictly avoid certain activities deemed “worldly.” Sadly, even though they mean well, they project their own weaknesses onto others, therefore expecting others to abide by the same level of austere living or be seen as worldly. However, in many cases, appearances are not what they seem. The very ones who are so legalistic in some areas of life wind up being the ones with the biggest weakness in that area. Their overbearing attitudes, in many cases, may only be the big doors hiding skeletons in their closet.

3) Some desire to be controlled, to be told what to do.

As strange as it may sound, some people don’t like to think for themselves, nor do they like being responsible for their own choices. It is sort of like people whom I have seen that were once under a totalitarian government: when they no longer had a dictatorial system telling them what to do, they either lost all control or had no motivation to do any good.

Legalistic churches provide the lazy or immature Christian a list of “do’s and don’ts” so that he/she doesn’t have to search the Scripture for guidance. It is much easier this way. If the pastor says something is wrong and that God would not approve, then that’s it – end of discussion. Having a list is safe and doesn’t require much thought. Essentially, the legalist would rather be a marionette than mature.

4) Some may want to control others.

Freedom is dangerous. Freedom allows for movement and change. Freedom allows for the individual to be led by God in a specific direction that may or may not be God’s will for another. Freedom takes power away from those who would want to control others for their own edification or gratification. On the other hand, legalism keeps the sheep under strict control by encouraging tattling and fear of being ostracized.

There are pastors, well-intended men, who would rather their people live under a specific set of guidelines than question long-held, man-made traditions. These leaders are afraid to lose their congregations to the world, but also to other churches. They may even find comfort in controlling others due to their own inadequacies. Much like emperors and dictators, they manipulate weak Christians in order to maintain their little kingdoms. Rarely do they admit weakness and often micro-manage every aspect of ministry. Legalistic leaders have to be in control.

5) Some people are more afraid of God than in love with Him.

So many people that I have known (and used to be like) were more afraid of losing their relational standing with God than anything else. Legalism tends to give some the assurance that God is pleased with them.

I wonder how it really was for Enoch as he walked with God. Many modern preachers are quick to make the application of Enoch’s walk with God to the way we act in this world, but they make little of the relationship implied by the narrative (Genesis 5:24). In reality, very few lists would even be needed if one had an abiding relationship with Jesus Christ.

angry godTo the legalist, God is not a friend: He doesn’t laugh…He speaks in Old English…and He holds a grudge because of what it took to buy the sinner’s salvation. When one thinks of God as always looking for an opportunity to send judgment, then being legalistic is the safest way to go. No one wants to be hit with a lightning bolt, you understand.

So, are you a legalist? Why, or why not? Are there any reasons I missed?

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Filed under baptist, legalism

Things to Do In 2019: More Mercy, Compassion, and Grace

I Broke the Law

Oh, I know what you’re probably thinking. Being that I am a Christian, a preacher, and “the recovering legalist,” by breaking the law you think I’m referring to something of a spiritual or biblical nature, like eating pork, or smoking a cigar.

No, I literally broke the law! Like as in a statute recorded in a City Hall – the kind for which a police officer can arrest someone.

What did I do?

Well, this morning I drove my daughter Katie to where she is student teaching in Dayton, Tennessee. She directed me off the main highway and through a part of the town where I rarely visited.

As I came to a 4-way intersection, I looked all over for a stop sign, then up for a traffic light, but I saw nothing (which I thought was odd), so I proceeded cautiously, looking to my left, then right.

That’s when I saw the bright red light. I had just run a red light! I’m a professional driver – I don’t do that kind of thing!

And when you’re in a little 2-horse town, that’s NOT a good thing to do, especially when there’s a budget crunch!

So, why didn’t I see the light? It wasn’t where I expected it to be – nowhere close. It was on the other side of the intersection, about 6-ft off the ground. I just didn’t see it until I crossed the intersection and there it was on my right, shining at me through the passenger-side window.

Breaking Our Laws

Thankfully, there was not a police car anywhere close. I can only hope there were no traffic cameras, or else I’m going to have to pay a fine, for I did, in fact, break a law, and ignorance is no excuse.

But how often do people break OUR laws? And by that I mean the kind of regulations and legalistic standards we all have; the kind that lead us to judge others’ spirituality based on how they dress, the tattoos on their face, or what’s in their glass at the restaurant.

Even when our standards of conduct and demeanor are biblically justified, what if the other person just missed the light at the intersection? What if they never read that verse?

When you have the time, I would encourage you to read or re-read the whole chapter of Romans 14.

If the truth be known, much of the time we find ourselves judging others based on OUR laws and regulations, not the ones the Lawgiver has written. So, in reality, who are we to hold them accountable? It’s not our job.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. – Romans 14:4 ESV

This year I want to criticize less, be less judgmental, and show a little more mercy, compassion, and grace.

I know that’s what I would have wanted when I ran that red light.

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Filed under Christian Maturity, Christianity, Do not judge, grace, legalism

Imagining the “Copacavaca”

The Name

Deep in the black forests of Romania there may live a scary animal. The locals have a name for it: Vaca Care Locuieste in Copac. 

I call it: Copacavaca (because the other name is too long).

The Creature

In the early 90’s, shortly after the fall of Nicolae Ceaușescu, I had the privilege to spend about a month in Romania. There I visited many cities, including Bucharest, Alexandria, Timișoara, Arad, Pitești, etc. The people were more than wonderful. The forests, however, were darker than any I had seen before. Literally, they soaked up light like a sponge.

One day, while walking through one of these dark forests, I was made keenly aware of the possibility of some creature in the trees above me. Being mindful of the legends associated with Transylvania, I could not help but imagine myself as one of those hapless tourists pounced upon by some non-mythical monster heretofore thought imaginary.

I thought to myself, “What could be above me, right now, which I might never expect? What kind of creature would be impossible to believe, therefore capable of living in obscurity, except for when it feeds?” It couldn’t be a vampire or werewolf. It had to be something totally off the wall. It had to be something as unthinkably dangerous as Clark Kent was powerful…then it hit me (not literally)… “Vaca.”

Vaca

Just the day before I had learned the word. “What do you call those big animals in the field that go mooooooo?” I asked.

“Vaca” was the reply.

My mind now imagined an animal so dangerous, so heavy, so tired of being milked and eaten between buns, and in the trees right above me – the Vaca din Copac…

the Romanian Tree-Dwelling Vaca… 

the Copacavaca!

The Horror

Should you ever walk through the dark woods of Romania, be very careful. Just because you can’t see them, that doesn’t mean the Copacavaca aren’t there. They could be. If so, you could be in danger.

One thing you should know about the Copacavaca is that they cannot see very well – they hunt by hearing. It is when you walk through the woods and make noises like other animals (especially humans) that the Copacavaca realize you’re potential prey.

They wait for you to walk under the tree they are in, then fall from on high to crush you beneath their massive weight. Therefore, it is critical you sound like them when walking among the pines (or whatever leafy, woody, thingy that is nearby).

I asked a friend who was with me if she had heard of tree-dwelling vaca. When she told me “no,” I demanded, in order to be safe, that she make a sound to imitate the vaca. If not, the camouflaged, nearly invisible Copacavaca may have mistaken us for dinner.

Computer rendering of a Copacavaca attacking prey.

With a puzzled look she responded to my request with a nonplus “Mooo.” 

“Do it again!” I said. “But louder!”

“Moooooooo!”

“LOUDER!”

“MOOOOOOO!”

Finally, with a tone of quizzical frustration, she asked, “Why am I making the sound of a cow?”

“Because that’s what the Copacavaca is – a man-eating, tree-dwelling cow.”

For some reason the Romanian girl didn’t believe me. Later that night, shortly after she invited me to a knock-off discotheque (a one-room joint with a few tables and a mirrored ball hanging from the ceiling),  I was poisoned and nearly died (no joke – I got sick and nearly died).

Coincidence??

Here’s the Point

The imagination can be profitable, just as long as it magnifies truth.

Used properly, as God designed it, the imagination can help us to see God from different perspectives, in different colors, with different expressions. Just think of what C. S. Lewis was able to do with the Narnia series. But replacing the God that is with a god of of our own creation is more than dangerous; it’s idolatry.

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified [him] not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. – Rom 1:21 KJV

Some people say, “My god would never judge anyone.” Others say, “My god understands me…he made me this way.”

Still, others are convinced that “God doesn’t care what road you take, just as long as you’re sincere.”

But what kind of god are they thinking up? Maybe a creature that lives in the woods, but certainly not the God of the Bible.

For More Information

If you want to know more about the Copacavaca, I can think of something. Who knows, we may be looking at the next Dracula, only with four legs and udders (quick, somebody contact Chick-fil-A).

However, if you want to know more about the God who really is, I suggest you read the Gospel of John in the Bible.

And if you’d like, imagine yourself huddled next to a campfire, late at night, as an old, old man shares the amazing story of what he saw take place long, long ago…that you might believe (John 20:31).

I imagine the Truth will blow you away.

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Filed under General Observations, God, Humor, legalism, worship

Even a Trash Can…

This is a blast from the past post, but it is a wonderful story that someone needs today. Maybe it’s you.

Saturday night, March 5th, 2011, was the day I said about a shiny, silver trash can, “I have GOT to get me one of THOSE!

For our daughter Katie’s 15th birthday, instead of a party, we bought tickets to see Chris Tomlin and Louis Giglio in concert. Chris Tomlin sang, and Louis (the “Laminin” guy from YouTube) Giglio preached. However, before Chris or Louis got up to do their stuff, a group we had never heard of took the stage. Their name? Rend Collective Experiment.

Well, I am not Irish, so maybe that’s why I don’t fully understand or appreciate Rend’s style. Frankly, it was a little weird, at first. But on the other hand, once my ears adjusted, the energy and emotion from the stage were too contagious to ignore. Thankfully, because the lyrics were projected above on screens, I was able to understand what it was that I was being compelled to sing along with. Did I say I’m not Irish? I’m not even lucky.  Anyway…

Drumsticks NOT included.

The worship experience was awesome, and I don’t use that word flippantly. I really felt the Spirit of God move, especially in my own heart, and Sunday was evidence of that. Saturday night brought renewed strength and encouragement in the faith that overflowed from the pulpit as I preached. But one thing, in particular, stood out and has been forever sealed in my memory – the silver garbage can.

I kid you not, along with all the other instruments I expected to see a live band play, like guitars and drums, a girl with more enthusiasm than a hummingbird at the sight of a bird-feeder was whacking away on a tin trash can – a garbage can. And I am not joking when I say that I am surprised the can was as tough as it was because she beat the lead out of any alloy it was made of.

I had never seen anybody play a trash can, before; yet, after an initial period of jaw-dropping amazement, my immediate thought was, “How could I get one of those in the church choir?” “Who could I get to play it?” Really, other than rhythm (which is critical), what do you need by way of musical talent to play a tin can? All you need is a willingness to make a……WAIT……

A JOYFUL NOISE!

O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. – Psalm 95:1 KJV

Some are piously thinking to themselves, “How could God have been glorified by a stinking garbage can? What rubbish!”  But God never said a joyful noise had to be made on a pipe organ, did He? When did God ever say he couldn’t be glorified by a trash can? But talk about the pot calling the kettle black – Praise our Father in Heaven!WHAT ARE WE that WE should be given the opportunity to sing praises unto the King of Glory? WE are nothing but “filthy rags!” If not for His mercy, we would still be in our sins.

But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away. – Isaiah 64:6

But PRAISE THE LORD, He has chosen to use us to bring glory to His name! Just like that old trash can the girl on stage was pounding with a stick, if God chooses to use us, He can put us in just the right place, just the right context, to bring out of us a new and joyful anthem of holy celebration. Even though the world says a trash can is fit only for garbage and filth, God can take the most humble of things and elevate them to the heights of a heavenly choir! HALLELUJAH!

But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, [yea], and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. … That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. – 1 Corinthians 1:27-29, 31 KJV

“How do you tune it?”

I was so blessed with that trash can that I looked over at my wife and said, “I have GOT to get me one of THOSE!” Then I looked over at my daughter and said, with the best Irish accent I could muster, doing an imitation of Rend Collective’s drummer, “That was GRRRET!” If God can use even a trash can, I know He can use you and me. Now the only question I have left, being a bassist, is “how do you tune this thing?

 

 

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Filed under Do not judge, General Observations, God, legalism, self-worth, worship

What Underground Churches Don’t Worry About

In a sermon I preached not long ago, I made mention of the fact that you never see “First Baptist,” “Methodist,” or “Community Non-Denominational” plastered above an underground church. When all one wants to do is worship God without being imprisoned or killed, denominational distinction is one of the least of their worries.

That led me to think of other things that an underground church might not worry about:

  • The color of the carpet
  • The font on the church bulletin
  • Whether or not they sing a hymn or a praise song
  • Whether or not the pulpit is made of wood or etched glass
  • Cassette tapes or CD’s
  • Bible Versions
  • Post-graduate or seminary training
  • Projection screens
  • Padded pews
  • Pews
  • A family activity building
  • Gold or silver communion accessories
  • How long the worship lasts
  • What people wear
  • Parking
  • Youth activities
  • Revival Meetings

No, I don’t think underground churches ever have time to worry about all these things. They are more concerned with fellowship, encouragement, prayer, reading God’s Word in any version they can get their hands on, and staying alive.

Yet, it would seem we think we are closer to God than the underground, persecuted church because, after all, we have more things to worry about.

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. Jesus  (John 17:20-21)

Maybe we should concentrate more on what really matters…”that the world may believe.”

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Filed under Christian Living, Christian Unity, God, legalism, Uncategorized, worship

Don’t Be Skeerd

OK, so if you don’t get it, “skeerd” is “scared” spelled that way we say it sometimes in the South.

My Nightmare 

This week I was woken up by a dream – a bad one. In reality, I can’t tell you for sure if it was really even a dream – it might have been real. I was walking down a hallway (I don’t know where) when a deep voice spoke to me, almost speaking through me, getting my attention.

The hallway down which I was walking was lit where I was, but towards the end it was dark. I was walking toward the darkness. When the voice spoke, it said something like, “I’m here, too,” or “You’re not alone”… I just can’t remember. I looked to my left and there was a 3D shadow…a walking dark shadow of a body…walking beside me as I was walking, and it looked at me.

The next thing that happened was I fell to the ground and started saying, barely able to voice the words, “Help me, Jesus!”

Immediately I woke up.

Honestly, I was rattled. That scared me. My heart was racing.

Then I got mad. I hated being scared. I knew that “greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world!”

So I tried to go back to sleep so I could get back into that dream. This wasn’t over.

But the dream never came back.

Don’t Let These Skeer You

The dream I had reminded me of a post I wrote several years ago. In it, I made a list of things of which Christian should not be afraid. Below is an edited version, including an addition.

8 things of which a Christian should not be afraid:

Dracula, or any other vampire that stalks you through your window.

Just show them your cross. If that doesn’t work anymore, then quote Scripture. Of course, if you are a girl, then you’d be better off to just call 911, or better yet, shoot the idiot trying to act like a character from Twilight.

Disclaimer – DO be afraid of Vampire Bats. They have rabies. You may be alright when they bite you, but then again, you may be wishing your church family had something else to pray for…(I ended with a preposition, see?).

Atheists

If they prove that there is no God, no reason for faith, and no reason for the forgiveness of sin, then you have nothing to worry about. They can’t prove there is no God, you know, but if they ever did, then you are free to whack them in the head with the biggest hardcover KJV you can find. If there’s no God, then there’s no absolutes or basis for morality outside of what makes you feel good. Make yourself feel better when they take away your hope by knocking the grin off their face…they should understand.

Crazy worship styles and screens on walls.

No reason to fear these things, people. As long as the worship is from the heart and it IS true worship, not self-satisfying, self-glorifying entertainment, then God will be pleased. On the other hand, if church attendance continues to decline in this country, you won’t be able to afford the electricity needed to run the projectors and fancy sound equipment used by many praise bands. Where two or three are gathered together, there the non-electric bluegrass will be in the midst of them.

Disclaimer – For the record, I love bluegrass gospel. Sorry. Wait, I’m not sorry. Scratch that. I love bluegrass and want to see the words projected on screens in church for all to sing along….with.

Stray dogs that wander in through an open door and listen to the church service.

Had it happen. Didn’t mind. At least when the dog fell asleep he didn’t snore.

Week-long revival meetings.

Where have these things gone? All we see anymore are the 3-day kind, if not the weekend ones that include Sunday, but not Friday.

Just think, if we went back to longer revival meetings, then……wait…..does anybody have revival meetings anymore? We must be too skeerd of having to get dressed up each night; miss some TV we could easily DVR for later; miss a ball game or party, or hear something from God that might convict us. THAT should scare our socks off.

Visitation

What is there to be scared of? Why do we hate knocking on doors, prayer-walking streets, etc.? As long as we’re not trying to sell anything, then most people are happy to meet someone who cares about them. Sure, there are the few vampires that don’t want you coming around, but most folks are at least cordial, at least here in the South. Folks don’t like being banged over the head with your Bible, but they do appreciate being greeted kindly and invited to someplace nice. Just invite them to the King’s house for a meet-and-greet (with a little sweet tea and love, they might just figure we’re not out to take their money).

Change

Some things remain the same, and they have stones above their heads. Now, when those things come back from the dead, you DO have something to be skeerd….of (one more preposition misplacement). Of course, it all depends on Who raises the dead, too. Are they being raised to “walk in newness of life,” or to eat the flesh of screaming movie-goers? Either way, just invite them to a homecoming dinner on the ground and they’ll be alright.

Bad Dreams

Yeah, nightmares are not fun. Heck, dealing with anything demonic is not fun, either. However, God is still God, even in your dreams. He is Sovereign, even over the thoughts and intents of the heart. Therefore, don’t be afraid to go to sleep, particularly if you know that the God who created sleep is ALSO with you in the dark.

The next time you encounter a walking shadow or monster of any kind, call out to Jesus for help – no joke. YOU decide how the dream is going to turn out by inviting Jesus – the Name above all names – to take over.

Darkness will flee and He will deliver thee.

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Filed under Christian Living, Christian Maturity, Culture Wars, General Observations, legalism, Witnessing, worship

What to Wear to Church?

Clothing

Recently, I was asked to be the guest speaker at a larger, more contemporary church. Out of respect for each other, the pastor of that church and I jokingly discussed what I should wear. You see, he never wears a suit, while sometimes I do. His congregation has become more “contemporary,” while my congregation remains more “traditional.” So, to make me comfortable, the pastor told me whatever I wanted to wear was fine.

Therefore, I wore shorts and flip-flops… Just kidding.

The way I dress to go to church may not be the way you dress. My style may not suit your tastes, nor yours mine. But the fact of the matter is that you do wear some kind of clothing to church, correct? Well, have you ever wondered if what you wear to church is appropriate?

Some people have asked that question.

Below are some of my thoughts on the subject.

Keep It Simple

If you are planning to attend a worship service where God is supposed to be the center of attention, don’t dress like a clown! Don’t dress like you are going to a movie premiere in Hollywood, either (that could get expensive in a hurry, not to mention scare the kids).

Some cultures believe people should come to church in clothing that could damage someone’s retina. Gettin’ “fancied up” is what’s expected. But it’s this type of clothing, in many cases, that draws attention to the congregant, not Christ. My advice is to stay away from neon suits and flashing bow ties. Church clothing should be a covering, not a calling card.

Show Respect

Some people think it is totally appropriate to wear enough jewelry and feathers to keep pawn shops in business and all geese naked. Others think it is completely acceptable to look like a drunk that slept in an alley all night (no offense to the drunk). Neither shows a sense of respect. The first steals glory from God, while the second implies the place where we gather to worship is no different than anywhere else.

Think about it this way, for example. Receive an invitation to tea from Queen Elizabeth and show up looking like you just got out of bed and never took a shower. Unless you’re a bonafide rock star, security personnel may escort you to a private room to “get acquainted.” Therefore, if dignitaries of earthly kingdoms demand respect, why shouldn’t we offer it to our Heavenly King?

Just a thought.

Beware of Legalistic Standards

However, whatever you wear, don’t be too quick to judge another person’s spiritual condition by what they wear. Only God knows the heart.

Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. – Rom 14:4 KJV

Sadly, I have been around many believers who consider one style of clothing a sign of spiritual maturity, while another style a sign of spiritual waywardness.  And you know what’s funny? It doesn’t matter which side of the spiritual tracks, there’s always somebody looking at another thinking, “They’re not right with God.”

Legalism cuts both ways, dear friend. For example, I have been to churches that ridiculed any woman who wears pants, or a man who never tucks in his shirt. On the other hand, I have been in congregations that blatantly condemned all dress and tie-wearers as right-wing, self-righteous, fundamentalist nut jobs. In both cases, someone judged another’s spirituality based on outward appearances, alone. In both cases, one group’s set of standards were being used as a guide to what is mature spiritual behavior, and what is not.

That’s LEGALISM.

Context, Context, Context

Ultimately, how you dress should be determined by the context of your community. Small, rural congregations might not feel comfortable dressing for church in the same way a metropolitan First Baptist may. Similarly, churches in depressed economies may adopt different dress codes than upwardly mobile societies. The key is to be respectful, honorable, and considerate of the holy moment at hand. Whatever fits that bill is good enough.

Just keep this principle in mind:  Grace accepts, Maturity develops, and Love constrains.

Don’t make appearances the only thing about which you’re concerned. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is far too important a message to be drowned in petty arguments about whether it is appropriate to dress up for church, or go dress-casual. Many people in the world have to worship Christ underground – literally. Dress codes are the least of their worries.

Additionally, the drug addict who needs hope and help may not have any clothes left that he hasn’t already sold to get high. The single mother of five that walks into your church may have barely enough energy to survive, much less do her hair.

Do all things to the glory of the Lord, but keep things in perspective, OK?

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism [or be legalistic]. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? – Jam 2:1-5 NIV

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