Monday, January 27, 2014

The Radical Christian Says No To Legalism



Legalism reigned in Christ’s time and continues to reign in many homes and churches today. Minimally, legalism is a strict enforcement of rules. In our context, these are the rules (laws) from the Bible.

In its most ugly manifestation, legalism opposes salvation by faith through grace by mandating obedience to laws (works) to gain salvation.

Legalism fundamentally contradicts the fruit of the Spirit and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘The Message’ version of Galatians 5: 22-23 demonstrate this clearly, “He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.  Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way.(MSG, Emphasis Mine)”



Forms of Legalism

Some forms of legalism are:

1. Pastoral Authority.

2. Behavioral Regulations: Movies, Alcohol, Dancing, Dress Code etc.

3. Doctrinal Regulations: Tithing, Baptism etc.

4. Worship Regulations: Songs, Version of the Bible, Reading of the Bible etc.

Some churches strictly enforce tithing laws (voluntary giving of one-tenth of our income to God). They are legalistic (strict) to the point of not offering membership to those not tithing their income to that church. Then there are churches that enforce strict baptism laws. If not baptized in their church, one would not be recognized as [born again] Christians.  

Responding To Resolve Legalism
As true Christians, how are we to respond to legalisms? Are we to subscribe to legalisms? Or do we need to raise our voices against the legalistic practices in the church?

Examine a simple instance of legalism. Some churches persist with traditional hymn singing (of course, there is no fault in it). But if young people are the church’s key target audience, it’s reasonable to change the tradition to attract young men and women into the church of Jesus Christ.

However, the church could remain legalistic by maintaining that hymns in their traditional arrangement should not be modified. Now it’s quite possible for the church to lose her young men and women, for they prefer a different genre of music.


Consider actress Whoopi Goldberg as Sister Mary Clarence in the movie ‘Sister Act.’ Appointed as a choir director, she changes the traditional rendering of the song “Hail Holy Queen” into a gospel rock and roll genre. The hymn when sung in gospel rock attracted young people from the neighborhood. Please watch this clip.


               The hymn in its traditional rendering didn’t attract the young people in the church’s neighborhood. But when the genre of the hymn was modified, the young people walked into the church. Isn’t this the need of the hour? This phenomenon is not limited to movies but found in real life as well. Young people are in greater numbers when the singing suits their desires.

            In the clip you saw, the Reverend Mother was displeased. Any intent towards constructive change in the church of Jesus Christ will encounter resistance.  People living within the confines of their tradition would oppose radical shifts, for they have been dwelling in a comfort zone. Those who oppose radical shifts tend to look inward – to their satisfaction, seldom having cognizance of the Kingdom goals, which God desires.
            
            How do we resolve this situation?
            
            Let’s consider singing and dancing in churches. “Joyful Joyful we adore thee” is an exceptional hymn. This hymn can be wonderfully rendered in its traditional form. Please watch this clip.


                 But if young people are into a different genre of music, why not render the same hymn in the genre of music the young people prefer? If they prefer dance, and if the church has the space, then why not allow dancing? Please watch this clip of “Joyful Joyful we adore thee” (from the movie Sister Act 2) but in a hip-hop motivated rendition that attracts young people.


When truth is not being distorted, why not be innovative (change the genre of songs) so to extend God’s Kingdom? Would not God prefer an extension of HIS Kingdom?

Should dancing not be allowed in the church of Jesus Christ? If you are anti-dancing, you may need to reconsider your persuasion (cf. 2 Samuel 6: 14; Psalm 149: 3, 150: 4).

If dance is to be prohibited in the church since it’s presumed to attract all glory to the dancers, then a sermon that is presumed to attract all glory to the preacher is to be prohibited in the church as well!

Dancing in proper attire and attitude will give all glory to God, as much as a sermon preached in true worshipful attitude.

Any innovation in worship that does not glorify the performers or lead people into any sin is acceptable in the church of Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5: 22).

So do not resist a change or an idea to innovate. This is the first step to move forward. Of course, ensure that the innovation does not distort the truth of the Bible. If the innovation gives God all glory, then by all means adopt it. This is a radical step; a step away from legalism.

What about churches adopting legalistic tithing practices to the extent of not offering membership to those not tithing? Radical Christians should take up this matter to the church leadership and prayerfully dialogue for good biblical sense to prevail.

What about churches with legalistic baptism laws? Radical Christians should never force new believers to get baptized. Baptism is an individual preference, so teach the Bible to the new believer, so that he is moved by the Holy Spirit to get baptized.

The Bible does not teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. So please don’t make baptism necessary for salvation. Please avoid fighting over the better / genuine baptism – the adult baptism or child baptism. It really doesn’t matter.

(Child baptism mandates that a baptized child be confirmed as a communicant member of the church when he/she can take an independent decision to follow Christ. Adult baptism necessitates the believer’s baptism when he / she is able to independently decide to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.)

A believer will go to heaven even if he dies without getting baptized. This is what the Bible says (cf. Luke 23: 43), so let’s not make baptism a major concern.    

Trivial Legalism
Let us also not major the minor. Some churches specialize in trivial legalism.

The goal of the church is to bring people into God’s presence. It’s all about inward transformation. But many churches concentrate on the outward and lose the inward transformation.

Some churches have anti chewing gum policy. What’s wrong if people chew gum inside the church building during the worship service?

Gum overcomes bad breath, which provides a healthier hygiene (especially to the neighbor!!) during the worship services. But in the process you may find an odd gum stuck to the bottom of some chairs. So what?

Is the priority of the church to keep its premise clean or to keep hearts clean? Isn’t the priority of the church to transform the hearts of those attending the worship services?  

Why should the church and its leadership spend time monitoring and managing chewing gum related matters when all they need to deal with is that of God’s love for man and man’s love for God and fellow humans?

But for heaven’s sake, what’s the purpose of this anti-chewing gum law? Even if I were to concede minor benefits, would you rather not have gum chewing young people or gum chewing namesake-Christian or a gum chewing non-Christian in your worship service so to bring them into God’s presence? Think about this please.

Some churches have a no-footwear-inside-the-church-building law. Would you rather have a person without footwear, but with stinky / foul smelling feet (or socks) ruining the worship experience of those around or keep him with his footwear and maintain the sanctity of the worship experience intact?

Alternatively, if footwear is deemed unholy, theologically speaking, when I am the temple of the Lord, should I not wear footwear (cf. 1 Corinthians 6: 19; 2 Corinthians 6: 16)? Think about this please.

For hygiene or for any other valid reason, if the members of your church prefer a no footwear policy, then by all means adopt it. But for the sake of Christ, please do not throw someone out or even gently criticize him / her for wearing footwear inside your church. It really doesn’t matter.

God is much greater than gums or footwear. God’s people - Christians and Non-Christians included - are to be treated with greater respect for they are made in the image of God.



In conclusion, let us worship God in spirit and in truth. But may we never worship the law and in the process distort and negate God’s grace and truth. Amen.

P.S: If you are interested, please read another case study in legalism.

Legalism – Another Practical Case Study
This is my personal experience, which I had mentioned in a previous blog, albeit in another context (http://rajkumarrichard.blogspot.in/2013/06/the-church-building.html). I find that valuable experience of mine valid in the present context, so please bear with me if you are reading this again, “Since 2003, I did not consider the church as a building. I lived this belief and experienced the public wrath of the traditional Christians. I was awarded a 6-month suspension from public worship, for providing oversight to an evangelistic hard rock concert that was held in the “church building.” The traditional Christians considered this radical evangelistic event (where the gospel was proclaimed) as sacrilege, and even went to the extent of cleansing the church precincts of evil spirits.1 They disregarded people for the sake of the building!

What then is the truth? The church building contains virtually no holy significance. Our bodies are the temple in which God lives, so we carry the temple into the church building to worship God in the fellowship of fellow saints.

These were my thoughts in my blog about the church building, “the temple made of flesh and blood replaced the temple made of stones. We do not go into the temple to worship God, but we carry the temple to worship God in the community of the saints. This is the church.” This is the truth.

The hard rock concert in which the gospel of our Lord was proclaimed was deemed evil by the governing authorities and traditional Christians. I most surely think that heaven would have rejoiced when the gospel of our Lord was proclaimed in the church to a majority of young people who were not Christians.

Now who, in this case, were radical Christlike Christians? Was it the traditional Christians or the young people who organized the evangelistic concert? I most surely think it was the young people who organized the evangelistic concert inside the church building. In being radically Christlike, they neither violated God nor the Scripture. The evangelistic hard rock concert was a Christ-honoring moment. 

4 comments:

Matty Yorke said...

Some churches have stopped the playing of drums in church... That's ridiculous for the youth.

bharathi R said...

mind blowing.....
eye opener.....

good work Rajkumar....

Keep it up...!!!

Sam John said...

Dear Pastor,


The irony is that, the church is praying for a revival for people to come to church, when God is given us talents and wisdom to reach out, we are waiting for the crowd to come to church for revival ;) God's probably looking at us and saying "Morons, open your spiritual eyes and see the harvest"

Well, I am sorry to hear about the church episode, and its solely coz of the style of music, we decided to showcase that night.

Personally, I have been labelled a satan worshiper by traditional church folks, since the time, I took up the mic. Sometimes, they are very blunt and tell these things on your face. Its only His grace which gives me the wisdom to be calm. The pharisees and the saducees were accusing Jesus of the same things. So it's kind of exciting, that we fall under the legit christian category! Anyone who has been a radical Christian, faces persecution.

Well, I for one thought it was really cool to see muslim girls with covered heads come into a church ONLY coz it was a rock concert, that was just supposed to be a beginning.

Im sending you a pre-release of our song God mode :)

Sam 'Throat' John

Raj Richard said...

@ Matty: Yes, you are right and there are some churches who constantly complain about the loudness of the drums. Incidentally, those who complain about the loudness of the drums are the very same who will not mind louder music at secular events. Sad indeed.

@ Bharathi: Thanks so much for your kind words of encouragement.

@ Sam 'Throat' John: Wonderfully said, Sam.

Yes, it was joyous to see Muslim young men and women come into the church to listen to the gospel being preached albeit in a different and a more radical setting.

They would not have come into the church otherwise.

Honestly speaking, we did not distort or debunk the truth of the Bible / Gospel that day.

Yes, they branded your music of that day as satanic. Yes, you should be happy that you have joined the very few in whose company is the LORD Jesus HIMSELF. They labelled HIM as satanic then, and they will label HIS followers who are in truth as not of the truth (satanic).

What saddened me yet humored me the most was the cleansing of the church of the evil spirits the very next day. It was sad yet hilarious. Makes me wonder, if this cleansing act in itself was a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit!! Remains to be seen....

Thank you for your gift. I pray your brand of music will bring many more into Christ's Kingdom. May God bless you and your family much.