Recovering Legalists?

I started going to church when I was 13 in the 1980s and the church was, you guessed it, a legalistic church.  I’ve had to shed a lot of baggage on the road of following Jesus.

Now, I’m a card carrying member of the POTSC movement and I pastor a church that celebrates and runs on grace.   Many of our folks self identify as recovering legalists.

So it begs the question:

was legalism an era in church or will it be ever present in church?

OR, as I’m now wondering:

Is legalism just a fundamental part of human nature?  Is it simply in our DNA, that no matter what kind of church we are part of, we’ll always be trying to move away from legalism?

To put it another way:  Is legalism an external force found in certain churches or an internal force found in human DNA?

I shudder to think about kids being raised in our church, going off to school, marrying, starting a family, going to a church and telling their pastor, “Yep, I was raised in a legalistic church.”

What do you think?

5 Replies to “Recovering Legalists?”

  1. I think legalism is our effort to “get it right.” It’s the sense that if i finally get everything right…my discipline, thougth life, ministry initiative, etc THEN I’ll experience what I’m supposed to be experiencing…but I’m always missing something and so never feel quite good enough. How different to experience the fact that we are fully accepted in the Beloved…


  2. I vote more for the external, as in American culture, although it may be in other cultures too. In some sense it is easier to be a legalist because checklists are easy. They don’t require any thinking, you just do it.


  3. I grew up in a legalistic church and to this day I am still questioning myself constantly wondering if I need to go down to the altar (I will have to build one at my present church) and confess everything again…just in case… So though it was built in by the church of my past, today it is still internal…..and not sure which one to blame…


  4. I guess it would be interesting to hear what my sister thought about legalism and the church in which we grew up. I’d say there was a certain amount of legalism in the air, but it seems to me that they continued to love and embrace an unwed pregnant teen. I have seen them deal with corporate sin in ways that at least seemed like a faithful offering toward biblical discipline while loving people toward restoration.
    I generally tend toward “both and.” I do not think my current church culture is legalistic, but there are segments where those undercurrents are there. Church cultures are cultivated by the more influential human hearts in them. The confluence of those internals become the external.


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