Okay, now we have left the legalist church/organization/teacher. Now what? Where do we stand? Do we throw out everything we learned? How do we sort out all of this? Does it all just need to go?
I have been getting a lot of these questions lately. Doug Phillips and Vision Forum are gone. Bill Gothard has resigned and the future of IBLP is in question. Churches and ministries and teachers that had all the answers suddenly don’t even have answers for themselves. At the same time, the message of God’s love and grace are being shouted from the housetops and people are hearing that it isn’t about their performance after all.
But we were immersed in the performance doctrines. We learned them throughout our lives. We judged others and ourselves by them. We grieved when we couldn’t measure up and wondered about those who didn’t even seem to try. We worked so hard to do well and sacrificed to go to the conferences, seminars and the right churches. If we can’t trust the ones who spoke to us in the name of the Lord, who can we trust?
Besides, it all came out of the Bible, didn’t it? We understand that it didn’t seem to work for the teachers, but shouldn’t it still work for us? Or is it all bad?
Was it all wrong? No. But it was all touched by the error. It’s a little like baking cookies and putting in soy sauce instead of vanilla. The rest of the recipe is just right, but the mistake affects the whole batch. The strange taste can be found in every bite. The only way to move forward is to put together a new batch.
Yet, when you begin to bake the new batch of cookies, you find that most of the ingredients and proportions are just the same as before. The sugar was fine. The flour was good. The amount of butter, salt, and baking powder was just right. So much was right. If you can remember what the error was, you should be able to avoid it in the future.
Obviously, baking cookies does not compare with building a way of thinking about life and relationships and spirituality. But the error of legalism is usually confined to a few toxic teachings that affect the applications and effectiveness of the perspective. In fact, a simple wrong substitute might have caused the whole problem.
Many of us were brought up in an atmosphere of fear and shame. Sometimes it came from our parents. Sometimes it came from school or the community. Sometimes it was just the lie in our own hearts. We learned that condemnation was normal and deserved, even if we didn’t like it and tried to reject it. We learned little about real love, because whatever love we experienced was bound up by conditions and expectations.
What little we learn of the fundamental lie and the evil one who promotes it is that it stems from fear and pride, an unwillingness to rest in the provision and love of God. If I were to risk simplifying the lie, I would suggest: “I can and I should do it myself.” That lie has been cultivated into our humanity for all of history and is an integral part of our world. It should not surprise us when we see it everywhere, nor when we learn that we have been affected by it. Our parents lived in it as did their parents. The world’s thinking and most of the thinking of the church has been affected by it. The lie is everywhere. From Eve to the Antichrist, the lie has permeated our world.
So it also should not surprise us that we would naturally gravitate toward teachers and churches where the lie was just under the surface. We hate the lie. We hate feeling insecure and inadequate. Yet, those feelings are so familiar. It is difficult for us to accept teaching and influence that doesn’t have something of those feelings for us. But we don’t want it on the surface, at least not at first. We want to hear about love and acceptance, but we subconsciously look for performance and shame.
But that was the lie. Now we have discovered the truth! The lie was substituted for love. Shame and performance are not part of the good news. God loves us and sent His Son to be our hope. He has provided all that we need “for life and godliness.” What the Father has done for us in Jesus is enough. We are not condemned and no longer need to live in fear, shame, and inadequacy. Jesus is our hope, our righteousness, our life. The truth has set us free.
And now what? Now we go back to the building blocks of our faith and learn again. This time we will be watching more carefully. This time we know that the soy sauce smells and tastes different from the vanilla. We know that the lie will damage everything, so we will avoid it by prayer and wisdom. We will see that the Lord has invited us into a relationship because He loves us and He will give us all that we need for that relationship to be a lasting reality in our lives. We will remember His love for us and how it defines everything of our faith and lives.
Yes, it will be tempting to stay away from the faith altogether. My heart grieves for those who have tasted the recipe that included the lie. Now that they have spit out the vile thing they don’t want to taste anything that looks like it. We understand and sympathize. We have some of the same feelings. We will be much more sensitive to the taste in the future.
Much like we would if we were baking the new batch of cookies, we will remind ourselves of the former error. We will be telling ourselves to avoid the lie. We will speak words of affirmation and truth along the way. We will tell ourselves and others about the love of God, the forgiveness of sin, the freedom of our relationship with Jesus, and the assurance of His faithfulness.
And if we smell the lie again, even in something we have accepted, we will search for it and get rid of it. We will denounce it over and over until it no longer affects our thinking. Then we will rest in the knowledge that the Lord has been with us and has guided us into the truth we need to experience His love and the joy of our salvation.
All that needs to go is the lie.
7 responses to “Was it all wrong?”
How did you know I needed to read this today? As an ATI parent survivor, I have felt everything you mentioned. The vanilla illustration helped me to understand some of what happened to me during those years, and the struggles I have felt since then. Thankfully I am still going to church, one where grace abounds.
thank you so much for this post!
Hi Dave!! This is Molly….
I LOVE the analogy of baking cookies because it works from the other direction, as well. I come from a background that is a lot looser than the strict, conditional upbringing you write about. I wasn’t entirely groundless; I was merely left with one or two basics and then put the rest of it together around that. The basics being there is a God and this God loves you so much he would become human and die for you. There were other things, but these were the foundation that I could not reject when I became old enough to “think for myself”. Or rebel, if you will since that time came when I was in high school!
When I went to seminary, I had a lot of catch up to do in regards to learning what the Bible actually did say compared to my brothers and sisters who were weaned on it. But when it came to questioning the inconsistencies, I found them interesting, compelling, something worth studying MORE and not faith shattering at all. I have had plenty of opportunity in the following years to add to my recipe and I think I have a pretty good batch!
So, sometimes, people need MORE ingredients in order to make wonderful cookies, not just correct the one bitter error.
An aside: David and I misread a recipe (which was in error) and used a quarter CUP of salt and not a quarter teaspoon for some catfish, once. Even the dog wouldn’t eat it.
Thank you for these posts; you give me a lot to think about frequently. I hope you all are well and the rebuilding at the chapel will be without drama!
Peace and blessings, Molly
I have enjoyed reading your blog. I live in a small Southern town that is loaded with legalistic based churches…it also happens to be the county with the highest domestic violence rate in my state-there is something wrong with that. Seek and ye shall find…..for all of those struggling with the lies-keep seeking…God is closer than you can imagine!
A few thoughts on legalism and the Bill Gothard scandal
I know that the wrong ingredients can bring the wrong results. But there is a factor that I don’t see being discussed much in the variety of whistle blowing reactions. We have a battle in ourselves that finds a security in structure. That thing in us is the flesh. The flesh battles against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh. This inner conflict comes in many forms. We all want to feel we are acceptable and that creates a tension within that can breed a bogus idolatry. We are each prone to legalism. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself but also of ourselves. In the process of displaying all that Jesus is, all that He has done and all that He continues to do in His love and grace for and in us we can manufacture a variety of things that are like Cain’s offering. These are unacceptable things or legalistic steps and practices. The Word of God not only lifts us to our new identity in Christ, but shows us a legion of error we can fall prey to and get involved in. It is not just Bill Gothard who is the victimizer. He is strange and dangerous. But in exposing him we need to expose ourselves and our need of Jesus. Actually it is each one of us who have natures that create touch not, taste not handle not theories. We have been given a great privilege of freedom in Christ. We have a new life in Him. This life is us now placed in Him and Him living now in us by His Spirit. This freedom though does not mean that everything is expedient and beneficial to us growing spiritually in our relationship with Jesus.
Thank you so much for the link to “Normal Christian Life”. After years of hungrily studying the Word it is an amazing and transformative thing to have God use a stranger to provide the missing piece to the puzzle and watch it snap perfectly into place.
Thank You for such a beautiful article, Pastor Dave!
There are other organizations I wish would also go – one Holiness group I can think of in Wis. ,etc.- but God is good and answers the prayers of His children!
I appreciate your reminder of the core Truth of Christ, as people begin to question the things they were taught in place of grace. It was one of the things I feared when I began to “question everything” afew years ago when my world crumbled: I didn’t want to lose my faith. But somehow God gave me more confidence in Him as I lost confidence in people and systems. It is no longer “A faith” to me, but having faith in Him. And He gives it.
Praying that these people will also find peace in His guidence . He is the One ingredient that makes our lives worth living !
Note: Although many organizations go down because of immorality, I appreciate this article addressing Systems in general. Legalism is a breeding ground for all types of false thinking, not just the illegal extreme. At my last Fundi church, I kept seeing loopholes for missguided people to take advantage of, or fall through . The fact that nothing untoward happened is by the grace of God – not their human rules.