If I had a quarter for each time that I have heard the above statement, I would be a wealthy man today. It seems that as soon as someone knows that I am a pastor, they feel the need to explain why they don’t go to church any longer.
While I have gotten used to hearing “I used to go to church” from a wide variety of people, I have never gotten used to hearing why they no longer go. With very few exceptions, the reason given always has to do with an unhealthy church experience. These unhealthy church experiences are not easy to categorize. They usually include a variety of experiences, from emotional pain, cliques, heartbreak, betrayal, hypocrisy, and the list could go on and on. One thing that seems to be a common thread woven amongst all of the stories is this: legalism.
Now it has been my experience that as soon as you bring up the word, “legalism”, someone begins to think that you are going soft on discipleship and Christian living. I do not consider myself as soft on either of those things, rather I believe we should be hard, or heavy with grace. I believe that if we claim to belong to Jesus, then others have the right to expect that we will live lives worthy of the high calling we have received, and that includes celebrating the grace we have received as well as extending that grace to others.
Several years ago Steve Arterburn wrote a book called, “Toxic Faith” which addressed the issue of unhealthy churches. As much as I like the book, I have always felt that the title is misleading. It is not the faith that is toxic, rather it is the unhealthy church that is toxic.
A legalist is always easy to spot. You can see them constantly checking out their “legal” list to see if you and I are measuring up to their “do’s” and “don’ts” of the Christian life, usually with a heavy emphasis on the “don’ts”.
They remind me of the Galatians that Paul wrote to in Galatians 3:1-3 “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”
Please don’t misunderstand me here. I strongly believe that even though we do not become sinless once we are born again, I do believe that as we grow in our faith and in our relationship with Christ we should sin less.
If God has enough grace to save us (Ephesians 2:8-9, 2 Timothy 1:9), then surely we should be able to have enough grace to extend to each other as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
How can we be followers of Christ who extend grace to one another, yet stand firm for the faith and against sin? That will be addressed in the next post.
Still following Jesus,