As Christians, we are supposed to “let our light shine before men, so they can see your good works and glorify our Father in heaven.”
However, what about when we shine that light in the eyes of others blindingly and force them to adhere to our personal convictions or standards of righteousness?
When this happens, we aren’t just following our own convictions and living them, we impose these things on others forcibly through legalism and social pressure.
Is this an effective way to turn people from their sins?
Or, do we risk blinding people to a greater truth that teaches a more pure form of righteousness?
I wrote something not too long ago about making compromises. There is a local church I’ve been visiting for about 9 months. I haven’t made my final choice yet about whether this is a place I want to “join.” Recently, I decided that it was time to talk to the pastor.
There were some things that were said in our conversation that I was happy to hear. I believe this pastor is sincere, not like many who “serve their own belly.” He seems humble and very excited about the things of God. He understands that there is always more to learn and we should remain hungry for the Lord our entire lives.
He encourages righteous living, pursuing the things of the Holy Spirit, and he does not require new members to sign a kind of contract about doctrine and the like. He allows for some disagreement on secondary issues like the rapture, for example.
All of these things are wonderful and in short supply today, at least from what I’ve seen.
Yet, despite all of these things, there is legalism.
There are certain standards pertaining to water baptism and manner of dress. There are reasons given for these standards, and I had considered abiding by these things for the sake of their conscience.
It’s no big thing for me to wear longer shirt sleeves. It’s no big deal for me to be baptized again since I can’t remember the name used when I was baptized at 10 years old. They believe it must be in the name of Jesus, not the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. To me, both are acceptable. To me, wearing sleeves that don’t go down to my elbows is also acceptable.
However, are these small things worth dividing over?
I appreciate the sincerity of the pastor, and many in that congregation have been very welcoming. I want to be there for many reasons.
Yet, will I be going against what Jesus has taught me in order to do so?
On top of these little things, there is the issue of the Trinity. They do not allow those who believe in the Trinity to join their church. That alone might be a deal breaker for me. The pastor makes a good “oneness” case, better than any I’ve heard. So much so that I almost felt convinced, then I realized that I felt convinced because I do not disagree on the oneness aspect. Yet, I do believe in a distinction of persons that also exists, and I cannot deny that.
I would not forsake good fellowship because of a shirt sleeve. I also would like to be baptized again as an adult, not because I don’t remember what name(s) were used, but for other reasons. But, the only person I’d consider performing the baptism lives far away. I don’t want to be baptized as part of a ceremony to join a church in the legalistic sense.
The Trinity is no small thing, not to me, but I can fellowship with those of the oneness mind, I think. The issues of righteousness are little things. Would I be willing to divide over such things? No.
Yet, I am not the one pushing the issues to the point of division.
This is a common theme. Every denomination, no matter how sincere they might be, push some kind of legalistic idea. It becomes legalism when the issue is enforced as a matter of law that the congregants must abide by.
The motivation might be good on the surface, like modest dress for example. However, does law change the inner person to make them more modest? Not really. Social pressure does not make someone righteous inwardly.
A person can dress modestly and still have pride. They can adorn their hair with pride or wear fancy looking dresses, for example. They can gaze at themselves in the mirror before church and admire themselves no matter how long their shirt sleeves are.
See what I mean? A person might be pressured socially to wear a certain length sleeve and to refrain from wearing pants, but that social pressure is not the same thing as personal conviction from the Holy Spirit.
Who is righteous? The person who has received personal conviction to dress with modesty–and humility–or the person who adheres to an ideal of modesty legalistically yet this person still has issues of immodesty or pride in their hearts?
The first might not wear long sleeve shirts, but their heart is better convicted than the other. Yet, the first is judged unrighteous and cast away from fellowship.
See the problem?
A Christian who follows Jesus and seeks Him sincerely will be convicted of many things and encouraged to a more righteous life. This is a conviction of the Holy Spirit that begins with the mind, travels towards the heart, and becomes fruitful outwardly. The outward fruit is not legalism.
On the other hand, if we take our convictions and place them on others legalistically, they may conform out of a sense of obligation or social pressure. They make the outside of the cup clean, according to the law, but this “wild fruit” is not as pleasing to the Lord because there could be heart issues left unresolved.
The Lord can appreciate their desire to be obedient, as I do. So, we do not judge them too harshly. Yet, if we know better, should we join in with them?
There are many reasons why Christians go to church. Many good reasons.
I know someone who likes church because his life is so busy that he likes to have that time of focusing on nothing but Jesus. Work does not matter for those hours. Family problems do not matter for those hours. Cast it all on Jesus, look for ways to become inspired to live a better Christian life through the preaching given, and enjoy some time free from distractions of this life.
I get that. I get the need for fellowship. I get that many who do not attend church refrain because they do not want to be convicted of sin or they are too busy with this life to take time out for Jesus. I get that many who do not attend church are very worldly Christians. Yet, it is unfair to judge all who refrain from traditional church going as being worldly. Many refuse church because they see it all the same way that I do.
Even so, for many, going to church helps a great deal and does encourage real fruitfulness. I don’t despise any of them, but I do hate the legalism.
I hate it because it neglects the greater moral issues of the heart. I hate it because it sets an idea up as “king” instead of Jesus. I hate it because it leads to pride, fuels division, and causes every denomination to judge one another unrighteously. I hate it because there are many like myself who have no place to go because we cannot conform to the laws of man.
Will I keep going to this church? After-all, it’s just a matter of shirt sleeves and baptism, right? There are other things, but love for the brethren and fellowship is important.
I don’t know what I will do yet. I think I will leave, because if I don’t, I will be forced to at some point. It’s inevitable.
“They will force you out of their synagogues. The time comes, that every man who kills you will think that he does God’s service.”
The horsemen at work.
It is a sad thing, but the Lord is in control. His ways are not our ways, and His mercy extends to Christians of all stripes. We should strive to be the same way. I cannot bow to the culture, but, I can have compassion and refrain from making judgments I don’t have the authority to make.
I can follow my own convictions, live the Christian life, let the light of Jesus shine in measure to what is given to me, and trust the Holy Spirit to convict the hearts of others. I will not lay law down on people legalistically, and I cannot join with those who do. Legalism is a trap.