I have read many articles written by various people in assorted denominations about how they define legalism and I have often commented to let them know it goes much deeper than what they have described. Many have said that legalism is ‘commandments of men‘ that are commonly called “extra-biblical”. They intend to say that the only form of legalism among the churches is about whether or not to wear nylons to church or men not being allowed to wear pink ties. Legalism goes beyond that as they tie in the twisted scriptures of the Christian Religion and attempt to enforce that legalism, as if the Lord would have you adhere to it. In my intro article to Leaving Legalism, I explained that it’s the difference between the Christian Religion and the Christian Faith. It’s important to understand the difference between the kingdom of religion and the Kingdom that is within you.
In the kingdom of religion there are multitudes of denominations, while there are no denominations in God’s Kingdom. The kingdoms of the Christian Religion are always at war with one another, competing for the attention of the people, and accusing each other of being heretics. In previous years they have been known to threaten people who don’t convert, imprison them, or even burn them at the stake. It’s of no surprise to me that over the course of the latter years of the first apostles, we begin to see factions among the people and denominations beginning to form. God is so multi-faceted that people in various regions were growing, learning, and increasing in numbers. People learn and grow at different times and while one gathering in a city may be growing in leaps and bounds in their faith, those younger in the faith may not understand that growth. In the process the people began questioning the validity of the teachings the people were following.
Even the apostles warned the people about those who sneak in to steal their liberty, those who would cause divisions, and people who teach false doctrines. We’re obviously going to see varying doctrines and teachings among the churches and of course the denominations formed alliances and some become somewhat of the ‘heresy hunters’ in their attempt to prove who was ‘right’ and who was ‘wrong’. The problem with this, is that it puts mankind in the position to be the authority and only Jesus is our authority. I’ll write more on the topic of authority, but for now I want to challenge this idea of denominations.
The Christian Religion has over 30,000 denominations world wide. So the people are left with trying to decide for themselves which one is right and in turn they’ll believe all the others are wrong. Some have become wiser and come to understand that no one has the corner market on truth and each denomination could possibly have some things not quite accurate. At least these folks are humble enough to admit that, but eventually the people will become dogmatic in their beliefs and the unity of all the brethren diminishes over time. The Christian Religion is always seeking to be more right than the next and the competition between the churches has become ludicrous. Pastors hack away at pastors, deacons bash book authors, ministry leaders excommunicate each other through Twitter and Facebook. It’s an absolute mess!
In the Kingdom of the Christian Faith, the people strive to remain humble, allowing each other to question and sort through the so called heresies and come together with mutual love and respect. These people are growing! I believe we’re in an age of revealing, revival, and renewing as folks are coming together through online forums to discuss these matters. So while the 30,000+ denominations are at war with one another, the people of the Christian Faith are studying together and coming to a healthy balance of understanding the scriptures. The most exciting thing is that they don’t profess to have “the” ultimate denominational answer, although they do recognize WHO the answer is. As far as all these ‘heretical doctrines’ out there, they are cutting to the quick and re-examining old traditions taught through centuries of man made interpretations.
The difference between this ‘doctrinal war’ we have been seeing for thousands of years is that the Christian Religion continues to be at war with one another and those who have become tired of the bickering are finding one another outside of the Christian Religion, they are walking by faith, and getting along in love. It’s certainly a wonderful thing to become free from the religion, but ancient teachings have bore such a deep groove into many generations that it can be quite a wrestling match to have your mind renewed. Having a renewing of the mind is an ongoing process and it’s part of our journey to having Christ disciple us through His Spirit. It means he is not only challenging us to think differently, but he is changing us in the process. He said to repent, which means to change your mind.
Luke 10:27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
The Lord wants us to understand how important it is to use our minds. Sort through the traditions and commandments of men. Find out what is truth and what is not. But in all our getting we are to get understanding. It’s not about who has the ‘smarter’ doctrines, it’s about coming to an understanding of the Divine who resides within and how to walk wisely in this Kingdom.
Proverbs 4:7 Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all your getting get understanding
You see, people can chomp away at doctrines and they think they find their salvation in their theologies, but God shows us that the theologies are not what saves us.
That word ‘eternal’ is not a definition that is to be taken lightly. In the Greek the word is ‘aiónios‘ and has a much broader concept that just a single English word can accurately define. Through the lens of the whole counsel of the scriptures, we find a much deeper definition that is spiritually applicable and has been at the root of the entirety of the teachings of God as, ‘partaking of the character of that which lasts for an age, as contrasted with that which is brief and fleeting.’ It’s about having a particular character and quality of life. Even verse 40 reveals this truth as he says they refuse to come to the One the scripture points to, so that they may have life. This ‘quality and character of life’ is much better described as an ‘enduring, rich, and abundant life‘.
But what is the problem with these religious people Christ was speaking to? They were standing before their very Messiah, yet they refused to believe that the Truth was standing right there in their presence. Jesus explains exactly what the problem was.
John 5: 41I do not receive glory from people. 42But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him.
There are many religious teachers in the world who come and go in their own names. They have built their own religious kingdoms and they receive one another in their own names. Religious leaders who have built up large church kingdoms become popular among one another and they seek after them to come and teach in their churches. They seek after notoriety! History is repeating itself. He goes on to let them off the hook. He is not condemning them.
John 5: 44How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.47But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
Jesus hit the nail on the head and He’s been hitting it on the head ever since then. The people chose to remain under Moses as their leader instead of learning of the One in whom Moses put this trust. They became so ‘well versed’ about the Law, that they forgot to see that the Law points to Christ. Instead of receiving the One who paved the Way for us, they chose to worship their own paved ways.
There has never been anything wrong with studying the scriptures in an effort to understand God’s amazing love, grace, mercy, and justice. When interpretations point people to religion then we have again missed the mark. When an interpretation of the scriptures point to Christ then it encourages our faith. This is the Way of the Christian Faith.
The Christian Religion points to the religious system, while the Christian Faith points to Christ and He points us to God and how to walk in the Kingdom.
We certainly have the freedom to study with whoever we feel God is leading us to and we also have the freedom to walk away and go study with another gathering when we realize their ways are leading the people into legalism. I have no qualms with denominations as long as they allow the people to come and go in love and keep the door open to freedom. The heresies are when the Christian Religion binds the people into isolated controlling environments and limits their freedom of conscience. This is precisely what many of the early Protestants stood up about. Here it is again, history repeating itself. Many denominations have allowed themselves to become that which their ancestors fled from. There are no denominations in the Christian Faith. Just people who are seeking to walk by faith, study together in love, and continue to walk in the liberty that set us free.