I often write about the connection between legalism and narcissism. A few posts ago, I suggested that the two have similar characteristics. For the next few days, I want to expand on some of these things within legalism and explain something of the puzzle many people have experienced in legalistic groups.
First, legalism rejects differences. Visitors will often find that people in legalistic churches look alike, talk alike, and even seem to think alike. They offer the same solutions to problems, the same trite answers to questions, or the same blank looks when confronted with something they have not been taught. Those who remain to learn more about the church or group will find that natural differences are only begrudgingly tolerated. Visitors or guests, even new attenders, may act differently, but they will be expected to conform if they really want to be accepted.
Just like any system or machine, legalism has definable tolerances. A person can differ to a certain degree on certain points. But major differences may cause problems. Unpredictable results cannot be accepted in a system. If you are building a wall you want all your 2×4’s to be the same length. One that is longer has to be shortened. One that is shorter will have to be discarded. The same is true if you are building a church system.
Sometimes church systems are built around raising children. All families should have the same goals and standards so that the children learn the same values even from other families. Some churches are built around evangelism. Everyone must have the same message and be able to share it in the same way; otherwise those who hear the message may be confused. Some churches are built around missions and there will be the expectation that missionaries represent the church’s values.
But churches should not be built around these lesser goals or purposes. Churches should be built for the glory of Jesus. And in Him is wonderful variety. In Jesus the differences among us are seen as flavor or color, not things to be rejected. The bland legalist church may be better designed to accomplish a purpose, but the vibrant church that celebrates the individual leading of Jesus in the lives of His people is the church that is alive.
Give me a church that accomplishes less and loves more. Give me a church where the children learn that Jesus is the unity rather than how people dress. Give me a church that welcomes new believers without planning to rebuild them to some standard. Give me a church that is buzzing with life and energy, even disagreements, because that helps me to think. Give me a church that has to work to make decisions, work to put the differences aside and seek the will of Jesus.
Differences among us are not comfortable. They require more from us as we walk together. But differences make us important to each other. Neither of us is always right. We need to hear different thinking once in a while.
What do you think?