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.

Your thoughts?


Filed under Legalism

4 responses to “Control

  1. Liza Lee

    Really great post.

    • Kelly

      Unity and peace are a result of loving. Judging is the result of controlling. I think these legalistic leaders remind me of pressure cookers…at some point its going to blow through the roof. You cannot control your congregation and family like a boot jack….eventually you lose everyone and you are left with your faulty methods. Then what? One I knew, committed suicide -sadly. The other dug in deeper and ran his kids off. Others have just disappeared I guess? What a tragic way to live.

  2. Suzanne

    Yes, if you are in a legalistic system, you are in a pressure cooker and you do eventually have to look for release. It is all about control. If you can’t control others, at least you can control yourself. And if that fails, then what? That’s where I ended up, and as Dave pointed out, if there is no safe avenue of self-expression, then abnormal avenues are attractive. I started the terrible habit of self harm to release the pressure I felt from never measuring up. In legalism, you are left to yourself to heal yourself because you could never come to God broken. And of course, you’d never admit to others that you are broken either. Legalism leads to isolation as well, even though you appear to be in community, it’s not real. Now that I have come to Jesus for healing, I have found that I can rest in Him and don’t need the self harm anymore. I have found freedom in Christ and healing for my tormented soul. The habit is not all the way gone, but I know where to turn to for healing and I expect in time He will make all things new. As I share my brokenness with others, I am finding true community. The isolation is gone, and I can give and receive God’s love with others. I think that’s a better place to be.

  3. Kelly

    Suzanne, I really love the way you stated’s so true. I love that we can all be authentic on this site…Dave thank you so much for providing a safe place for all of us to share 🙂 I appreciate your ministry

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