When Fundamentalism Becomes Legalism

June 2, 2011 at 8:36 PM 2 comments

I’m 54 years-old.  That’s how many years I’ve been alive and only God knows how many more years He has given me before He takes me home.  I was thinking today about some of the churches I have attended throughout my life.  The first one I recall was when I was about five and it happened to be a Presbyterian Church in the small town where I spent part of my life in New York State.

Being that age, what can you appreciate (or not) about what is taught?  I remember hearing about the baby Jesus during Christmas time, but other than that, not much.  I’m sure that was not the fault of the minister.  I was five, or less.

I also recall spending time as a member of a Baptist Church in the same state.  This was way into my teen years and into junior college days.  The preaching was good and because of my attendance at that church, I wound up attending Philadelphia College of Bible from which I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Bible degree.

After graduating from Philadelphia Bible College, I went back to my town where I attended the Baptist Church.  However, I wanted to be in ministry, so I kept my eyes and ears open for positions in the area.  I found one at another Baptist Church in my area.  At that point, due to my limited experience in a variety of churches, I thought one Baptist Church was like all the rest.  I soon learned that a GARBC (General Association of Regular Baptist Churches) was far different from the Independent Baptist Church, or the ABC (American Baptist Churches).  All of them had their particular slant on the biblical doctrines.

This particular church I was at was quite liberal and in many ways, humanistic.  There seemed to be little emphasis on God’s work in the world and more emphasis on the work of people in the world.  Through discussion with the pastor, he encouraged me to go to seminary or graduate school.  I applied and was accepted at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  I went there and my entire world shattered.  Had I known about this type of liberalism that was prevalent at Eastern, I never would have gone.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think that the first step in growing is often found in asking questions.  Questions are important and they should be asked.  However, after one semester there, I was doubting everything.  If someone asked me to prove that the Bible had veracity, it would have been difficult.

I recall one professor who essentially turned Jesus’ miracles into natural events.  For instance, when He calmed the sea, He simply stood up when He “guessed” the squall would end and told it to be quiet.  Classmates seemed fine with that.  For me, I thought “How asinine is that to believe?”  Jesus was not a fisherman.  If anyone know about the windstorms and squalls on the Sea of Galilee, it would have been Peter and the other fisherman with Jesus.  Since they had far more experience on the sea, would they not have known that the squall was going to end soon?  If so, would Jesus have been able to fool them, as my professor implied?  Of course, let’s not forget that if Jesus had really done that, He would have been guilty of something that qualified as sin.

I left seminary disillusioned and without  graduating.  From that point onward, I attended churches that were more liberal in their beliefs from what I had been used to and as I consider it, I spent many years being thoroughly dissatisfied with my faith.  Not much made sense and God did not even seem that important.

Such is the result of attending liberal institutions and churches.  They tend to peel away your beliefs and if you are not well-grounded in the faith, you will lose quite a bit.  Liberal churches and institutions tend to be one extreme within Christendom.

It was really many years after these experiences that God seemed to simply wake me up one day.  I was attending a Presbyterian Church in the area with my wife and I noticed that the preaching had become so boring, I had actually gotten into the habit of bringing my own book to read!  I couldn’t figure out what had happened.  Of course, I found out later that Emergent theology had moved in, based larger on Rick Warren’s view of things.

As I sat there one Sunday morning – hating it and wishing above all things that I could be anywhere else – a thought hit me out of the blue.  The thought was that I should go to seminary and obtain my Masters degree.  That was weird.  I scribbled a note to my wife, who read it, and smiled.

When I got home that day, I began looking on the Internet for graduate schools and found one that would allow me to do things via the Internet and at home.  I was impressed with their curriculum, so I applied, was accepted and began my studies.  I loved it!  I was learning and I felt as though I was on a firm foundation.

I also looked for and found a different church.  This new one was far more fundamental in beliefs.  We began attending and wound up joining.  Eventually, I completed my studies and received my Masters in Biblical Studies degree from Tyndale Theological Seminary in Texas.

A year or so ago, we left that church after being there for roughly four years.  I had become a regular teacher of Adult Bible classes at the church, as well as a deacon.  There were a few things I did not realize though, that I fully realize now.  Had I known these things then, I would not have stayed at the church.

You see, liberal churches are very easy to spot, as far as I’m concerned.  They water down the gospel.  They fabricate areas surrounding Jesus, while de-emphasizing important aspects of His Person.  These things are obvious to anyone who knows anything about the Bible because what is taught at liberal places simply does not gel with Scripture.  That becomes easy to see.

The church we attended for roughly four years was right on biblically speaking.  In other words, I believed (and still do) that their doctrinal statement and beliefs are biblically correct.  What I’ve learned is that this is only part of the picture that should be considered when trying to find a church or institution to attend.

What I realize now about that church is that it is fundamentalism gone awry.  While they emphasize the correct beliefs (in my view), they do so to the point that they have become legalistic.  This is the other extreme within Christendom and at times, it is far more difficult to see.

Let me explain.  While on one hand, you have a group of people who gather on Sundays and Wednesdays and for other social events in the church, you also have people who can be rather hard on one another.

In a liberal setting, people tend to be very forgiving and accepting of others.  There is a happiness (I won’t say “joy”) here that is sometimes absent from other places.  I was reading Tozer recently and he essentially said the same thing.  Many of the churches that are fundamentally correct are often dead spiritually.  Because they often focus on the letter of the law, people become really touchy about certain subjects.  Emphasis is always on the external for some reason.

This fact escapes many within these type of churches.  They often hide behind Scripture and use it as a hammer to beat people over the head with when they feel it is needed.  After all, it’s in the Bible, therefore we must follow it.  I would agree, however, it needs to be followed with the correct attitude.

I guess for me the difference is found in two different types of people in the Bible.  On one hand, you have the rich young ruler who believed that he had arrived because of all the wonderful things he did for others throughout his life.  In essence, he really came to Jesus so that Jesus would simply pronounce him “clean” and “justified.”  He went away very sad because he unfortunately worshiped his riches too much to be willing to give them away and follow Jesus.  This man needed Jesus as we all do, but he walked away from Him.

On the other hand, we have the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who brought before Him the woman caught in the very act of adultery.  I’ve always wondered how they found this woman.  Were the peeping through her window or tent – all in the name of obedience to the law of course – or did they accidentally discover what was going on behind closed doors?  The reality is that however they discovered her, they thought she should be stoned to death and brought her to Jesus to find out if He would uphold the law or ignore it.

I also note that they did not bring the man with them.  They only brought the woman and unless she was part of Sex Without Partners, she was obviously involved in an adulteress situation with someone.  If she was a prostitute, then there was still a man involved, but apparently the religious leaders did not feel the need to prosecute him or demand his death.

We know how the story goes.  Jesus began writing in the dirt, but we do not know what He wrote.  When the religious leaders kept insisting that He become judge and jury of the situation, He simply said that the person without sin should cast the first stone.  Of course, when the truth of that statement sunk in, no one could throw anything, not even their own puffed up feelings of self-importance.

That’s the interesting thing about legalists.  They are often out for blood; someone else’s blood.  They are unable to see their own faults and foibles unless someone points them out and when they do, they attack.  They have no love for their neighbor.  Their only desire is to be better than their neighbor and to make sure that their neighbor knows it.  If the neighbor is not aware of it, they’ll be happy to inform them…repeatedly if necessary.

Legalists have little to no grace to offer anyone.  While they may go through the motions, there is nothing real there inside them.  Liberals have more than enough grace – too much – to offer people. 

I recall teaching at the church I’ve referred to.  I realize I don’t know everything about the Bible.  I have a long way to go before that happens and in fact, it won’t happen in this life.  Nonetheless, it was always interesting to me to experience situations in which some individuals (always the same ones) would try to test my mettle.  They questioned what I said and why I said it, and even though they likely knew what I meant, they needed to hear it said in words they were used to using.  After all, I could have been hiding my own meaning in words that they were not used to hearing, you know, like people from cults do routinely.  If they disagreed with me over how I explained a particular doctrine, they let me know about it.

I recall one situation in which I tried to explain what Paul meant by being truly Jewish and what made someone a “spiritual” Jew from Romans 9-11.  Several people in the group assured me they were spiritual Jews though they were Gentile.  I tried to explain that Paul was referring only to actual Jews who were also true believers, not Jews in culture or ethnicity only.  This made them spiritual Jews.  The context was in the fact that Paul was talking about Jews, not Gentiles.  But they had come along and pulled verses out of context to show that they  – Gentiles – were actually spiritually Jewish.  No, if anything, they were believing Gentiles.  Becoming a Christian did not somehow make them Jewish, either physically or spiritually. Some folks took offense to my comments and did not return to my class.

On another occasion, we were discussing some of the things Jesus did in His post-resurrection body; you know, like walking through walls, disappearing immediately, yet being able to eat food.  He wasn’t a ghost, yet His resurrection body was far different from the one He had prior to His death.  I pointed out that this type of body may also be the type of body that we – as believers in the next life – will enjoy.  Well, you would think I had tried to tell people that they were actually gods!

I’m convinced (though I certainly could be wrong) that our glorified bodies will be able to do far more than our current bodies can do now.  I fully expect to never get sick, never overeat, never have to fight the battle of the bulge, never have to get laser eye surgery, or go to the dentist and more.  I also believe that I will be able to walk through walls because I believe that in our current state we are only able to live within our four dimensions (length, width, depth, and time), but after this life, when the Lord gives me a glorified body, many more dimensions will open up to me and what would appear as walking through walls now, will merely be going from one dimension to another.

There were many occasions that the same few individuals would question what I was teaching because it did not gel with their understanding of what the Bible taught.  They weren’t really interested in my explanation.  They simply wanted to trap me or prove that I was not correct.  When you have people in your class who come with their own notes, ask a question based on those notes, but swear to you that they don’t know one way or another, something is wrong.  This is legalism because my explanation and understanding of Scripture did not fit into their exceedingly narrow understanding of things biblical.

I recall years ago when I was between the ages of 16 – 18, I had mentioned to a co-worker (who was a fundamentalist) of my interest in the Charismatic movement.  Of course, that was before I had really taken the time to study the subject to see what the Bible said.  I also had not seen the excesses that the Charismatic movement became known for (and is still known for today).  I simply mentioned it and his response was pure anger!  That took me by surprise to say the least.  All of a sudden he became the dad and I was the son and he was going to let me know in no uncertain terms of my error.

He reminds me of one of the religious leaders who found the woman committing adultery and had her future mapped out.  Fortunately, God did not respond that way at all and because He did not, He gained another follower.

Two extremes; liberalism and legalism.  Both are wrong and both are really cut from the same cloth.  They both stem from people who believe that they know better than God does.

I recall too many situations occurring in that fundamental church I attended.  People were at each other’s throats, they would say things that would sting or wound and at the same time, those people who often left the largest wounds cried the loudest when someone did something to hurt them, whether it was real or perceived.

Neither liberalism or legalism has its place in God’s house, in my opinion.  Both are extremes brought about by a complete lack of understanding where God and His Word is concerned.  I want to be clear here.  I’m not talking about believing the fundamentals of the faith.  I’m talking about believing the fundamentals of the faith to a point that everything narrows into a very legalistic view of life.  It’s just as wrong as the liberal who believes that God is loving therefore all paths lead to Him, one way or another.  Both viewpoints completely miss the boat in my opinion.

I’m far more discerning about what church I will attend these days.  I look for a tight ship doctrinally speaking, but I also look for a church that is liberal with love.  I believe we have found such a church and the difference is remarkably stark.  I can and will do without both extremes because God seems to be in neither.

There is a way to understand the fundamental doctrines of the faith, while at the same time, be bursting with love and compassion for our fellow human beings, and especially for those within the household of faith.  This needs to exist and it too often does not.

By God’s grace, I will not make that mistake again.

Entry filed under: 9/11, alienology, Atheism and religion, Barack Hussein Obama, Barry Sotero, Communism, Demonic, dispensationalism, Eastern Mysticism, emergent church, Gun Control, Islam, Islamofascism, israel, Judaism, Life in America, new age movement, Posttribulational Rapture, Pretribulational Rapture, Radical Islam, rapture, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation, Satanism, second coming, Sharia Law, Socialism, temple mount, ufology. Tags: , .

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  • 1. alf  |  June 3, 2011 at 5:17 AM

    Great article, Modres. I like your mention of the word “joy”.


  • 2. CarNut  |  June 3, 2011 at 4:57 AM

    Enjoyed reading your thoughts. I concur. Hope you have a blessed day.


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