Though many seek neutrality in terms like non-denominational or relevant, one side of the camp is always branding the other with terms like "legalism" or "liberalism." We pick on the Baptists because they are generally the most vocal with their preferences, but there is a large percentage of a generation that abide firmly beside the idea that hymns, flannel graphs, sunday school, and suits will usher in the presence of the Holy Spirit. To venture from these old-fashioned preferences we call principles would be to compromise our perception of the very doctrine of Scripture.
The opposing side, the "liberals" have embraced a casual atmosphere. They have abandoned dated methodology and cling to a new "style" of worship and outreach. For some strange reason, they seem to be engaging the millennials, and growing by leaps and bounds. By forsaking the "old paths," are they attracting people with a false gospel?
Beside all these confusing questions, who really is right and who is wrong? What defines a legalist and separates them from a liberal? Is there a happy medium?
Like many others on the pendulum of approach and study, I began to find that my "legalist" Independent Fundamental Baptist background held more preference than it did Scriptural principle. While I did not leave the doctrine of Scripture, or waiver in my foundational beliefs one bit, I forsook anything methodologically "old" from my upbringing. Suddenly suits were outdated and hymns became less relevant. "We" were not judgmental of anyone, accepting of everyone, and reaching the masses for Jesus....or so we thought.
You know, I like suits. I've always been kind of a GQ guy, so one day I walked into the Kansas City church where I was one of the pastors, wearing dress slacks, a collared shirt, and a "spiffy" jacket. (I'm bringing that word back.) One of the elders in the church looked at me and said, "Uhmmm I think you're in the wrong church." Suddenly, because of what I wore, I was being...dare I say it...JUDGED. And like a ton of bricks it hit me. In our attempt to leave "legalism" we had created our own sect of "legalism." We demanded a certain type of dress. We decided what methodology would work based on the time of its inception. We ONLY sang one type of music and never varied from it. Our services were structured just the way we liked them, and we were content that way. Stagnating on the platform of the relevant and new.
The eye-opening truth is that millenials are not just leaving the old people churches by the masses, they are leaving ALL churches by the masses. Why? Because we have ceased to be "real." Our modern churches are just as legalist as our "fundy brethren," just in a different way. It takes more than different programming to win the world. More and more we realize our desperate need for DIVINE POWER.
What defines a legalist?
1. A Two-Fold Definition of God's Word
The majority of IFB's have waded into dangerous waters by linking salvation with the magic words of a prayer or a particular way of life you must become enslaved to. The cannon of scripture murders the idea of a free life, enslaving believers to a list of rules, mere "do's and don'ts" that dictate everyday life. Likewise, many new-age churches have linked the Lordship of Christ with the concept of legalism, and thereby released a "convert" from any obligation to serve Jesus with the rest of their life. Both approaches are dangerously wrong, as neither represent a new life in Christ. This serves as only one of many examples of the contrasts between generations, and their's with the Word of God.
I can't help but hear the "Fiddler On The Roof." Hey, did you know that people make brand new traditions every day? Each new family that is created forms their own daily routines and corporate traditions. A tradition is not necessarily "old," just something that is repeated without change, with no intent to reevaluate. "It works...so no need to evaluate." Captaining a ship on the sea's ever changing waters requires constant course correction. Truly great LEADERSHIP does the same. We must always ask the question, "Is this the BEST way to_______?" If something old can effectively fill that blank, do not disregard it because of it's age. Otherwise, watch out....you will expire before your time and be buried in the very grave you dug.
3. The Club
Every day members of this organization gather. On holidays you see them in the masses, and throughout the week they meet in smaller groups. They treasure their membership, and are quick to identify themselves as a paying, voting participant. Some come to serve, and many others to be served. Some eat to their full, while others walk the aisles merely to sample. You can visit once or twice, but unless you're willing to be a member they do not intend to include you in any of the special things they have to offer. Sound familiar? It should.....Everyone needs a Costco or Sams Club membership!
OH, but how similar does that sound to our local churches? They come. They eat. They leave. And the member feels no responsibility to share what they benefit from this membership with anyone who is not. We have transformed the church into a club, when it ought to be the hands and feet of Jesus, working and moving outside the walls of our campus. Where ministry is mobile, and the message is manifest in each and ever life. No clubs. No cliques. No committees. Just committed Christians carrying Christ to the lost.