Sunday, May 06, 2007

Twice the Son of Hell - Legalism and Tyranny of the Conscience

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. Matthew 23:15

It's been my experience that when legalism exists within the leadership of a church or Christian circle, even if to a small degree, that those legalisms are magnified greatly among the followers. Jesus sums this up in another place by saying that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. The first two churches I attended were what I would call greatly legalistic. Not as bad as some, but pretty bad.

In the first church, the prominent teacher also had a nationally broadcast nightly call-in radio program. Listening every night was common among his followers. I listened to him for years. Among his simplest legalisms were the beliefs that partaking of alcohol, tobacco, dancing and going to the movies were sins in and of themselves. All kinds of Scripture-twisting gymnastics were involved in backing up these beliefs. But this had a monstrous affect on the consciences of his listeners (and church attenders), most of whom only knew him from his radio show. I heard untold hundreds of callers ask the question, "Is it a sin to [fill in the blank]." Some would call-in and ask, "I'm a clerk at a grocery store, and I know it's a sin to use alcohol and tobacco. But my job requires me to ring up items and place them in shopping bags, and this sometimes includes alcohol and tobacco. I can't help but feel that I'm contributing to the sins of others. Is it a sin to be a grocery store clerk?"

Guilt by association is one of the errors of legalism. It also causes people to question God's creation and dealing with other people in good faith. Legalism also causes people to seek black and white answers to all of life's minutae, instead of the building up of personal convictions within the gray areas as a result of life's experiences. Legalism is the lazy man's shortcut to the leading of the Spirit.

But far worse than my example above where somebody asks the question is the one where the answer is already decided as, "Yes it is a sin" and then goes through life condemning all others who dare be attached, even if remotely, to the sins of others. A little leaven leavens the whole lump, and those affected are twice the sons of hell. Woe to you, Pharisees.

1 comment:

  1. Good message Steve - I totally agree. Legalism is a problem within the church and we need to take our faith personally - examining what we believe and why we believe it. I have disliked the idea of legalism that leads to judgment - sad.