I believe God made people to be different.
A legalist group I was part of for a while suggested that its people go to the mall and just sit to watch the people. The exercise was for the purpose of discerning the root problems in a person’s life. Certain people would look angry or sad. Others would dress inappropriately. Still others wore their hair in what was considered a rebellious way. We were supposed to find that our standards were reinforced when we watched these people with their compromises and struggles.
Obviously that was a stupid exercise. Our family didn’t do it because we thought it was judgmental and unkind. But there are days when I go to the coffee shop or the convenience store and I notice how many people are different from me. God made people to be different.
So, if the differences are inherent, part of how we are made, then how can a system that rejects differences survive? By methods of control. Pressure against a certain kind of thinking or acting. Pressure toward a certain lifestyle or activity. Restrictions and rules, enforced by the fear of rejection or exposure. Communities in which members are encouraged to strive in comparisons and pledge themselves to the system rather than to each other.
One of the most consistent comments people have about legalistic churches is the sense of control. The pressure to conform is constant.
The problem with pressure is that as the force builds from the outside, it also builds from the inside. Air can be squeezed into a bicycle tire by strong outside force; but, when that force builds to a certain point inside, the structure can be destroyed and the air will return to its natural state.
Control always creates rebellion.
People in legalistic groups feel that pressure, that squeezing into a shape that isn’t theirs. Then they seek a release, sometimes desperately. If the normal avenues of self-expression are closed, then abnormal avenues become attractive. Hidden expressions of differing perspective and action. Strange things are usually happening in the unseen places of legalistic groups. It may be as simple as a family watching a certain forbidden TV program or Mama wearing pants when she works in the garden and no one can see. It may be as terrible as alcoholism or incest.
What’s really fascinating is that control produces rebellion while love produces unity. While legalists try to produce “good things for God” apart from cultivating an individual’s relationship with Jesus, the true fellowship of believers simply loves each other and good comes. While legalism pushes and squeezes and forces people into molds, love allows people to be who they are. Those who belong to Jesus, when allowed to follow Him in the way He leads them, rejoice to be “one in the Spirit” with those who are different from them.
Love creates community and peace.