Christian Legalism - The Dark Side of Christianity
By Don Koenig
There is one side of Christianity that waters down the gospel and makes following Jesus some self improvement program for the successful. It is attractive to Western pseudo Christians looking for some purpose to a materialistic way of life. Meanwhile, thousands of real Christians are dying for their faith in Jesus Christ all over the world while these success motivated “Christians” listen to humanistic teachings and belly up to their church cappuccino bar.
I have already said plenty about this postmodern side of Christianity with its seeker friendly church programs and emergent church doctrines. I also wrote an article about the rising influence of psychology and the dominionists in Christianity who see a triumphant church ruling in the earthly domain of Satan. Yet, there is even a darker side of Christianity that few are talking about. Some in this darker side are the same ones who criticize the seeker friendly postmodern salvation lite message - so be very careful about the doctrine you receive. Nevertheless, the fact that there is a darker side in Christianity is not an excuse for anyone to accept the errors of those who water down and dumb down Christian doctrine and paganize Christianity with “New Age” concepts that lead most of Christianity down the path to Laodicea (lukewarm Christianity).
The even darker side of Christianity makes Christianity something to be achieved by following doctrines from men who never understood the plan of salvation in the first place. These men believe salvation comes by obedience to keeping commandments and by following certain rules or rituals of practice. For want of a better term, I will call this dark side of Christianity "legalism".
When I say legalistic, I am not talking about those who believe every word of scripture and apply them faithfully according to what the Bible teaches. The Christian legalists I am talking about are those who select certain passages out of context to support their own man-made aberrant doctrines that cannot be supported in the full light of scripture. I am talking about those who try to conform to the letter without having the Holy Spirit so that they are unable to apply the scriptures with God given wisdom and understanding. They are like many modern lawyers of our day who twist the truth on purpose to achieve their desired outcome of deception.
These legalists are a cancer in Christianity
These wolves in sheep's clothing are the rule in a few denominations and a cancer in others. They have doctrines that only confuse people or lead people to hell. Christendom and Judaism have always had them. Jesus called these Scribe and Pharisee types, vipers and sons of their father the Devil. If we go back to early Christianity, Paul speaks expressly against those who want to keep everyone under the law. The law was given to show that we are imperfect and condemned to be separated from God unless God Himself did something to bridge that gap to redeem us. That is why both Jews and Gentiles must come to God by the "Law of Faith". Our example in scripture is Abraham.
The Law of Faith is belief that only God is righteous and merciful and that only He can provide the way of salvation for mankind. This plan of salvation from God was actually carried out when God the Son (Jesus) paid the requirements of the law for all on the cross. These who by faith believe God and accept the sacrifice that He provided for mankind's sins will be saved. You see, God is interested in saving people who truly trust in Him. God is not interested in having people in His presence who proudly think that they got there through their own self-righteous efforts of obediently following the letter of the law or through keeping rituals.
Gal 3:24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
Gal 3:25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
Rom 3:27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.
Gal 5:4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
Throughout Church and Jewish history there were many legalists that interpreted scriptures through black light. They even killed many who did not accept their dark interpretation. In the modern church there are still many legalists who condemn to hell all who will not accept their demonic doctrines. In one way or another they always put people back under the requirements of the law and in the final analysis they make salvation something that comes through one's own effort. (Of course they deny that they do that, but their legalistic doctrine says otherwise.) These dark clouds without water deny that you can be saved by faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus alone. They always add something more to salvation than just trusting in Jesus Christ. I will give some examples:
When thinking of legalists most will think of the smaller more fundamental denominations and sects - and they certainly have their share of legalists - but the largest denomination in Christianity is a denomination led by Pharisees who practice legalism to the nth degree. I am talking about the Catholic Church. What this church offers their members is salvation by good works, by one's own merits, and by grace dispensed by the ruling hierarchy of the church. The works and the merits that advance one to heaven come by keeping Jewish law or doctrines of men. This is not the Law of faith and the path to salvation expressed by Paul. It is a false path to salvation achieved through one's own effort. According to the doctrine of this church, those who do not keep the law and do not find absolution from the church will not go to heaven. They at best will go to purgatory and they will remain there for quite some time to pay for their own sins unless someone else does works of merit in their name to advance them through purgatory. Those who do not accept the teaching of this church and who make a grievous mortal sin that has not been absolved by a priest of this church will simply go to hell.
This is Christian legalism because they support their position by twisting passages of scripture to conform to the doctrine of their church even though it flies in the face of the clear gospel of salvation that comes by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ. They give lip service to Protestant Christians and even call them separated brethren their doctrine that cannot change (because they claim it to be infallible) still condemns these same Christians to hell unless they submit to the Roman Catholic Church. Meanwhile, they embrace pagans. Catholic leaders have even said these pagans worship the same God. They are correct, they do worship the same god; his name is Satan.
No Catholic who believes what their church tells them has any assurance of salvation. They would consider such a belief presumptuous since salvation and the promise of heaven depends on one's own actions in life and the action of other sinful people that intercede (even after you are dead to help advance you through purgatory). Thus, they deny that Jesus Christ atoned for all sin at the cross.
Legalistic Catholic theologians have head knowledge of Christ but he is a counterfeit Christ (the spiritual attributes of their Christ for the most part is not found in the Bible). Their hope of salvation is established on a theology of works. It is not the free gift from God that is taught in scripture for all those who believe. In reality, there is not an ounce of difference between the legalistic Pharisees of the Jews and the legalistic Catholic hierarchy. Both the Jewish Pharisees and the Catholic theologians teach that works and ritual can earn brownie points with God. The largest denomination in Christendom gives lip service to Jesus but their doctrine proves to be anti Christ.
The Largest Protestant denomination is the Baptists. They basically have a correct view of how one is saved. However, even within the Baptists there are many legalistic preachers who will give salvation by faith in Jesus in one message and then take it away in the next. Some tell their members they must obey certain laws and covenants. They even doubt the salvation of those who will not be such hypocrites. Some members have been put out of their church for taking a stand against their unbiblical practices. The legalists in this camp also try to make members obey Old Testament law. They continually threaten them with the consequences of breaking God's law rather than teaching Christians how to grow in Christ through keeping the Law of Faith. All sins of the past, present, and future have already been paid for. If man could keep the law, Jesus did not need to come and take our sins upon Himself on the cross. Only a personal loving relationship with Jesus will change the wicked heart of man.
Many Pentecostal and Charismatic preachers also tend toward legalism. I really think that some of this is because many of the leaders are also control freaks and pulpit bullies. They want to micro-manage every aspect of their congregation's spiritual walk. (e.g. You better tithe to me brother because I need the money! You need to speak in tongues so I know you are sold on the Pentecostal doctrine. You need to fall when I touch you sister because if you do not you have not submitted to me and that is not acceptable etc. etc.)
Many legalists in both the Baptist and the Pentecostal denominations can be found beating up on their flock each Sunday to try to whip them into Christian shape. The pastors become like drill sergeants who talk down to their squad. Many have the nature of school yard bullies rather than the nature of shepherds. Instead of beating up the flock they might instead talk about the spiritual calling of Christians. They might tell the people what love God had for them while they were still sinners. Preaching that people in the flesh can stay holy through their own effort will only result in failure and bring guilt that makes Christians doubt their salvation. What kind of gospel (good news) is that? The same people get saved over and over again in services and rallies mainly because someone made them doubt their salvation.
I could go on to talk about most denominations because there are legalists in all of them, but I think you understand my message by now.
I do need to talk some about legalistic groups who are so far out of line that they not only can be called legalistic they can be called legalistic cults.
There are groups that are so blinded by black light that they think that only their own little sect has the truth and that only their sect has the correct formula for Salvation. Most Oneness Pentecostals fit this mold. The Oneness people are so blind they cannot even see that the scriptures teach that God is triune. Yet, with these blind eyes, they say that anyone who does not see things their way have not been saved. They always add works to salvation. Their members claim to be in and out of the body of Christ all the time - depending on their daily walk. They always include in salvation legalistic steps of obedience that one must take to be saved (i.e. water baptism saves and certain words need to be said during the baptism ritual to be saved).
They take certain obscure passages in scripture to prove their point but ignore the overwhelming weight of scripture that demolishes such beliefs. This is a classic example of a group that can quote certain scripture passages by rote but they do not have enough understanding to even figure out why their position conflicts with other scriptures and with the believes of orthodox Christianity. To give some in “Oneness” the benefit of the doubt a lot of the members have little education. They only know what their elders tell them. Even most of the elders have no formal education or the education came from the views of their own narrow-minded seminaries and doctrine. Therefore, erroneous doctrine is passed down from one generation to the next. (i.e. it is true because my pappy said it is true and he knew it was true because his pappy said it was true etc. etc.)
There are the Church of Christ legalists who put the members under law and say if you are not baptized in water according to the method in their church you are not saved. There are the Seventh Day Adventist legalists who put their members under law and condemn other Christians who celebrate Sunday. Then there are the cults like the Mormons and the Jehovah Witnesses who are so legalistic and blinded by dark light that they cannot even be called Christian.
Legalists say they see but they are blind and hateful
There is one thing that most of these Christian legalists have in common. They all assume that any others that do not see things their way are not even Christian. They claim to be in the body of Christ but their doctrine and their actions attack people that are actually in the body of Christ.
All of these legalistic groups have at least some knowledge of the scriptures and some have a great deal of knowledge about what the Bible says. So what is the problem here? The problem is they can read scripture but they cannot comprehend it. They cannot correlate what they read with other passages of Scripture in their black legalistic light. That is true of the world in general because light from the Holy Spirit is required to properly discern scripture passages. The reason they have black light is because they want to be acceptable to God by their own obedience and their own works instead of through the Law of Faith. If they came to Jesus through legalistic black light, they have never met the real Jesus or found the salvation that Jesus gives to those that trust in Him for their salvation.
Those who find themselves in these groups would be very wise to try to find out for themselves why Christians say they teach a doctrine of works and they are legalistic. Arguing with Christians from the position of the doctrine that you were spoon-fed by legalists will not bring you enlightenment. It will only bring further bondage. If your doctrine can stand in the light of all scripture it will stand, but if the doctrine taught by your sect is darkness, that also will be discovered in light of God's word. If you are open to truth, you will then be able to see the way out. However, if you wish to be wise in your own eyes and teach people some path to hell, you will bring upon yourself a harsher judgment.
Christians who find themselves in a legalistic church or under legalistic teachers really need to leave. There is almost no chance that you can change them. (There may be a few exceptions in those churches where the doctrine is not well established.)
Leave the legalistic "Christian" pastors alone to teach legalistic "Christians" who love their exclusive club of bondage.
More Featured Articles by Don