Showing posts with label #Legalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Legalism. Show all posts

How’d you get from grace to legalism?

by K.W. Leslie, 03 August
Galatians 3.1-4 KWL
1 Oh you unthinking Galatians.
Who mixed up your heads [to not believe truth]?
It was written Christ Jesus had been crucified.
Didn’t you read this with your own eyes?
2 I want to learn only this from you:
Do you receive the Spirit by working the Law,
or by hearing and trusting?
3 So you’re not thinking:
Beginning with the Spirit,
do you now perfect yourselves by the flesh?
4 Have you suffered so much for nothing?
—if it really is nothing.
Previously:
  • “By Law we’re good as dead—so live for Jesus!” Ga 2.17-21
  • This passage is notorious for beginning, “O foolish Galatians,” Ga 3.1 KJV as if Paul has had it with them; these stupid whites are totally botching the gospel! But let’s not project our own impatient attitudes upon Paul. The word Paul used is ἀνόητοι/anóhiti, “not [using one’s] mind” or “not thinking.” Yeah, it regularly gets translated as “foolish” or “stupid,” since those things are obvious opposites of wisdom. But Paul didn’t use the usual words for stupidity because he’s emphasizing how they’ve not thought things through. There’s a step missing in their thought process, and it’s the usual step missing in all legalistic thinking.

    When the LORD first made contact with Abraham or saved the Hebrews from Egypt, or when Jesus first chose students by the Galilee or stopped Paul enroute to Damascus, did he do any of these things because these were such good people? Had they achieved a certain level of righteousness through carefully observing the Law?—one which our Lord was obligated to respond to, because they had so many heavenly Brownie points? Is good karma how God determines worthiness?

    Nope; the entry point into God’s kingdom begins by God doing something incredibly gracious, and us seeing or hearing the good news of it, and trusting him to save us the rest of the way. Salvation comes by God, not our own righteousness. And this righteousness comes by faith, not works—it’s only faith.

    So how on earth could such people become Christian by grace through faith… and then backslide into the pagan belief we retain our standing with God through good works?

    Same way everybody else backslides into legalism: Karma-based thinking is everywhere. Simply everywhere. Humanity’s collectively got it into our heads that we’re saved by doing more good deeds than bad, and made this a central teaching of just about all our religions and philosophies. It’s a belief we’re very comfortable with—and regularly judge other people by. And even though Christianity teaches otherwise, it’s so easy to fall back on that core belief: I’m a good person because I do good deeds, and good people go to heaven.

    And we insert that idea right back into the gospel. Where it absolutely doesn’t belong.

    Cults: When churches go very, very wrong.

    by K.W. Leslie, 29 June
    CULT kəlt noun. A religion centered on one particular individual or figurehead.
    2. A group (usually small) whose religious beliefs and practices are outside the norm: Too controling, abusive, devilish, or just plain strange.
    3. A misplaced devotion to a particular person or thing.
    4. A heretic Christian church.
    [Cultic 'kəl.tɪk adjective, cultish 'kəl.tɪʃ adjective, cultism 'kəl.tiz.əm noun.]

    I throw this word “cult” around a lot, so I’d better define it. First, what other folks mean by “cult,” all of which are included in the above definition:

    • Sociologists, anthropologists, and other social scientists whose job descriptions end in -ist, tend to use definition #1: A cult is any religion with a guru in charge. Not necessarily controling, abusive, or devilish; just a group which follows a person. Technically Christianity falls under this definition: We follow Jesus, right?
    • Popular culture leans towards definition #2: A cult is any creepy religion. If it weirds people out in any way, they just call it a cult. Even if it’s Christianity. If we trust Jesus a little too much for their comfort, they call us cultish.
    • And popular Christian culture leans towards definition #4: A cult is any heretic church.

    The popular Christian definition originated when Charles S. Braden used it, in his 1949 book These Also Believe: A Study of Modern American Cults and Minority Religious Movements to mean

    any religious group which differs significantly in one or more respects as to belief or practice from those religious groups which are regarded as the normative expressions of religion in our total culture. Braden xii

    And that’s the definition Walter R. Martin went with in his popular book The Kingdom of the Cults. It’s a book I oughta plug, since it’s mighty useful: It explains how certain churches deviate from orthodox Christianity.

    But thanks to these guys, when an Evangelical Christian says “cult,” they typically mean “heretic.”

    • Jehovah’s Witnesses and Oneness Pentecostals don’t believe God’s a trinity. So they’d be cults.
    • Latter-Day Saints say Jesus (and for that matter the Father) is a created being. So, cult.
    • Christian Scientists claim death is an illusion, and therefore Jesus didn’t literally die: Cult.
    • Muslims and Buddhists don’t even believe Jesus is God: Cults.

    Yep, doesn’t even matter if these groups don’t consider themselves Christian. Evangelicals will freely slap that label “cult” on any religion they consider heretic. Depending on how Fundamentalist they get—by which I mean how narrowly they define orthodoxy—everything can be a cult but their group. I grew up in such churches: If they strongly believe women shouldn’t wear makeup, yet your church lets ’em, they’ll call you a cult. Because their religion is so strict, makeup is orthodoxy, and you aren’t orthodox. Today it’s foundation, eyeshadow, blush, and lipstick; tomorrow you’re denouncing God and kissing Satan with tongue.

    Of course if your church is that strict and controling, the cult is sorta on the other foot. (If you don’t mind me mixing a few metaphors there.)

    By Law we’re good as dead—so live for Jesus!

    by K.W. Leslie, 11 May
    Galatians 2.17-21 KWL
    17 “While looking to be justified by Christ,
    if we’re found to be sinners ourselves,
    then isn’t Christ a servant of sin?”
    This ought not be said!
    18 For if I rebuild the things I destroy,
    I stand up for my own transgressive behavior.
    19 For I, through the Law,
    die to the Law so I can live for God.
    I was crucified with Christ.
    20 I no longer live. Christ lives—
    in me. He now lives in flesh.
    I live by faith in the Son of God, who loves me
    and hands himself over for me.
    21 I don’t reject God’s grace,
    for if rightness comes by Law,
    then Christ died for nothing.
    Previously:
  • “Paul and the apostles of note.” Ga 2.6-10
  • “Paul challenges Simon Peter.” Ga 2.11-14
  • “Being good justifies nobody. Nobody.” Ga 2.15-16
  • Paul’s academy trained him in Greco-Roman rhetoric, the art of speech and debate. Most of us don’t know how the Romans practiced rhetoric, so sometimes we struggle to follow Paul’s arguments, and come to some very different conclusions than he was trying to make. This is nothing new; few things are. Peter rebuked ancient Christians for doing the very same thing. 2Pe 3.14-15

    Anyway it’s why I translated verse 14 with quotes. Paul’s doing a rhetoric thing: He’s quoting what other Christians have said, and responding μὴ γένοιτο/mi ghénito, “This ought not [be said]!” Most bibles translate it some variant of the KJV’s “By no means”—this is an idea we oughta strongly oppose. It’s heresy.

    So apparently this is what certain early Christians were teaching, particularly the legalists in Antioch. “You claim you’re following Jesus. But you sin. Everybody sins. You shouldn’t, but you do. So are you saying Jesus is okay with your sins? It’s fine with him if you sin? He even endorses your sinful lifestyle? (Because certainly we would never say this.) You need to stop; Jesus can’t save a willful sinner.”

    To some degree we still hear this from today’s legalists. Yes, of course we’re to resist temptation and quit sinning—but they turn it into something we have to do lest we lose salvation. Lest we undo everything Jesus did for us. Lest Jesus himself reject us, because sin offends him so much, and he simply can’t work with people like us. It’s a mindset which entirely goes against Jesus’s stated practices in the scriptures, and of course grace. But that’s kinda to be expected of legalists.

    So Paul preemptively deals with this one: No it’s not okay to sin. Jesus doesn’t say that; Paul didn’t write that. Sin is still evil and wrong. But the fact Jesus works with and through sinful humans, does not mean he endorses sin, nor overlooks sin, nor did some behind-the-scenes jiggery-pokery which nullifies the Law and means nothing’s a sin anymore.

    What he did do, is kill our sin. Killed it on the cross with himself. Killed us on the cross with himself. Our penalties are paid for. Our debts are paid. Now follow Jesus.

    Being good justifies nobody. Nobody.

    by K.W. Leslie, 31 March
    Galatians 2.15-16 KWL
    15 We’re biological Jews, not sinners from the gentiles.
    16 We’ve known people aren’t justified by working the Law
    —unless we work it because of faith in Christ Jesus;
    we trust in Christ Jesus.
    Thus we can be justified by faith in Christ,
    and not by working the Law,
    since working the Law won’t justify any flesh.
    Previously:
  • “How Paul remembered the Council of Jerusalem.” Ga 2.1-5
  • “Paul and the apostles of note.” Ga 2.6-10
  • “Paul challenges Simon Peter.” Ga 2.11-14
  • This passage is part of a bigger paragraph and context, but I still wanna zoom in on just this.

    The bigger context, just so you know: Simon Peter was treating gentile Christians as second-class Christians, so Paul had to stand up to him. Peter totally knew better, ’cause he did after all defend gentile Christians at the Council of Jerusalem. But certain visiting legalists got him to backslide on that issue, and Paul challenged him: “If you, a Jew, act like a gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the gentiles to be like Jews?” Ga 2.14 KWL

    Some translations take these verses and make ’em part of what Paul told Peter. I don’t know that Paul presented this entire argument, in this way, in these words, to Peter at that time. Pretty sure he didn’t. But he did remind Peter of what Christ Jesus teaches the both of them, and us: We’re not saved by being Jews, nor becoming Jews. We’re saved by following Jesus. The gentile Christians did not need to first become Jews so they could be saved; and treating them like they did is heresy. It’s not just a minor error; it’s a whole other false gospel.

    Thing is, legalistic Christians still teach this heresy. As do dispensationalists, some of whom teach that Jews can be saved simply by being Jews. (I mean, it’d be nice if they became Christian, but these dispensationalists claim they don’t actually need to. Considering Peter and the apostles went to so much trouble to preach the gospel to their fellow Jews, this idea isn’t biblical in the slightest. Sounds more like a trick of the devil to keep Jews from hearing the gospel.)

    How Paul remembered the Council of Jerusalem.

    by K.W. Leslie, 28 March
    Galatians 2.1-5 KWL
    1 Afterwards, after 14 years,
    I went to Jerusalem again with Joseph Barnabas,
    taking along Titus as well.
    2 I went, according to a revelation.
    I presented to them the gospel which I preach to the gentiles
    —in private, and to those apostles of note—
    lest somehow I might run, or was running, in vain.
    3 But neither Titus, nor the Greeks with me,
    were forced to be circumcised
    4 because of the infiltrating fake “fellow Christians
    who snuck in amongst us to spy on our freedom we have in Christ Jesus,
    so they would enslave us.
    5 We don’t yield to their position for even an hour,
    so that the gospel’s truth might continue among you all.
    Previously:
  • “The Council of Jerusalem.” Ac 15.1-12
  • “The former persecutor turned evangelist.” Ga 1.13-24
  • I gave kind of a timeline of Paul’s life in my first article on Galatians. After Jesus appeared to him round the year 35, he visited the apostles three years later (38CE), and soon after they sent him home to Cilicia. Ac 9.30 But a few years later Barnabas, the man who’d first brought him to the apostles, Ac 9.27 came to get him.

    Barnabas had been sent by the apostles to check out a church in Antioch, Syria, where Syrian Greeks—who were gentiles, i.e. non-Israelis—had been led to Jesus. Enthused, Barnabas went to Tarsus and got Paul to join him. Antioch became where Jesus’s followers were first called Χριστιανούς/Hristianús, Christians. Ac 11.19-25

    I figure the year Paul moved to Antioch was anywhere between 38 and 41. See, at some point while they ministered in Antioch, the prophet Agabus said there’d be a famine, Ac 11.28 and Barnabas and Paul were sent to Jerusalem with money. The famine didn’t take place till Claudius became emperor in 41CE, so naturally these events had to happen before 41. As for Barnabas and Paul’s missionary trip, Luke referred to the death of Agrippa Herod 1 in 44CE before he got to their trip… so there, loosely, is when these events took place.

    Okay. So after their missionary trip, Luke told of the events which triggered the Council of Jerusalem:

    Acts 15.1-2 KJV
    1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.

    The apostles did try to sort it out themselves, but the visitors from Judea weren’t at all willing to accept Barnabas and Paul’s view, nor authority. So the church leadership decided they’d better hear it from the Jerusalem church. We Christians recognize this as the first of the ancient church councils, where major theological issues were hashed out between all the leading Christians in the world… and of course after the Orthodox and Roman Catholics split, we can’t do these councils anymore. (Not that Catholics don’t claim their councils still count for all Christendom—but nope; they’re only internal church councils now.)

    In today’s passage, Paul only loosely refers to this. This text mainly refers to four things:

    1. He, Barnabas, Titus, and some other “Greeks” (really Greek-speaking Syrians) went to Jerusalem.
    2. He went “according to a revelation,” meaning the Holy Spirit told him to go. (He probably didn’t wanna!)
    3. He privately confirmed the gospel he was preaching with the top apostles, lest he was getting it wrong. (And he’s not. Ga 1.8)
    4. Those apostles never required Titus and the Greeks to be circumcised.

    So basically Paul’s in the right. He made sure of it.

    The limitations of legalists.

    by K.W. Leslie, 08 April

    Back in college I had some classmates who had honest questions about Christianity. They were pagans who were raised by totally irreligious parents, so all they knew about Christians were stereotypes. Yet here I was, a real live Christian, who didn’t fit those stereotypes, who knew enough to give ’em facts and background, and not be a jerk about it. So they picked my brain.

    • What do you guys do in church? What’s the program?
    • What’s the bible about? What’s in it?
    • What’s the dress code? (They heard rumors about sacred undergarments, so I had to inform ’em that’s only a Mormon thing.)
    • What political views must Christians have?

    And so forth.

    But as I was trying to answer the questions, another classmate decided he just had to get in on this, and pitch his two cents. He was a fellow Christian, who went to another church than I did—a much more legalistic one. He continually felt he had to “correct” my answers whenever they got too gracious for his taste.

    It got annoying pretty quickly—for me, ’cause I wanted to answer my questioners, not debate him; and my questioners, who on the one hand were seeing how all Christians think alike, but on the other hand had deliberately not gone to him, and didn’t appreciate his help.

    So I deviously suggested a change of venue. “Hey, you wanna keep talking about this over lunch? Let’s go to the Pub.”

    The Pub was an on-campus restaurant which, true to its name, served alcohol. And as I correctly guessed, the legalist would not go to the Pub. He said yes to the idea of talking over lunch—he invited himself along, obviously—but not the Pub, never the Pub; his religion forbade it. He scrambled to suggest five or six alcohol-free options… but the pagans quickly realized what I’d done and gratefully went along with it. So off we went, leaving the legalist behind, fuming.

    Over lunch I talked ’em into trying out a church that Sunday, just to have the experience for themselves. And I let the church folks take ’em from there. Pretty sure my legalist classmate would never have got ’em even that far.

    Yep, I totally took advantage of his hangup. Good thing we’re on the same team, right? Now imagine if we weren’t. (No doubt he wasn’t so sure we are.)

    When Christians won’t even let you think.

    by K.W. Leslie, 11 June

    Some Christians get awfully dogmatic.

    Dogma is another word for doctrine, Christianity’s fixed ideas or official beliefs. It’s an old-timey word, so you tend to only hear dogma in older churches, or used to refer to that one movie about fallen angels who try to take advantage of a dogmatic loophole. But while the adjective doctrinal tends to mean “deals with doctrine,” dogmatic tends to mean “demands we follow doctrine.” Dogmatists are the doctrine police of Christendom.

    And while the older churches have a settled, limited, fixed number of dogmas… certain Christians kinda crank out a new doctrine every week.

    Fr’instance this one Texas pastor I know; I’ll call him Alfons. He has a newsletter called “These Doctrines,” in which Alfons goes over all the things he expects the Christians of his church—and really, Christians everywhere—to believe. For the most part they’re typical Fundamentalist principles: God’s a trinity, Jesus is both God and human, Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to him, the bible’s infallible. But Alfons mixes in a lot of other beliefs he considers settled and fixed and non-negotiable. Divorce, in almost all circumstances, is sin. Alcohol is sin. Women who aren’t subservient to men is sin. Hip hop is devilish. The pope’s an antichrist. And so on.

    Speaking of the pope: Like a lot of Fundies, Alfons loves to mock Roman Catholics for believing the pope to be infallible. (Which they do only under certain circumstances. But Fundies don’t always know this… nor care.) Yet Alfons claims papal-level infallibility in every sermon and newsletter: He’s right, these are doctrines, and don’t you dare challenge him or you’ll find yourself fighting the God who anointed him pastor. It’s not so much about the pope being wrong, and more about professional jealousy. But I digress.

    What’s the difference between Alfons’s church and a cult? Enforcement. How gracious is the leadership of a church when you respectfully disagree with them? (Emphasis on respectfully. If you disagree with them, don’t be a dick.)

    • If they figure okay, you don’t agree; they’ll be patient and over time, win you over: Not a cult.
    • If they figure it’s not okay, and you have to leave before your heretic stank gets on ’em, and they banish you to hell: Totally a cult. Just be glad they let you go, and don’t drag you to the basement to reprogram you. (’Cause some cults will. I’m not kidding.)
    • Letting you attend their services, but debating you every chance they can: That’d be proselytism. It’s not cultish… but it’s not fruitful either. Argumentativeness isn’t of God, and a Christian who thinks they can win you over by wearing you down, still has some maturing to do.
    • Letting you attend, but your beliefs disqualify you from membership and leadership: Not a cult. It only makes sense for churches to have expectations and qualifications for their leadership, and make sure you’re all on the same page. If you’re on a different page, you really shouldn’t join or lead ’em. (But if their qualifications defy the bible, i.e. they’re racist, or you gotta pay membership fees: Cult.)

    Alfons’s church isn’t a cult. He’ll totally let you attend his church even when you disagree with him. He will debate you, though; he lacks maturity. He thinks he’ll win you over with clever arguments. He doesn’t let up though. So what really happens in his church, is when the people of his church disagree with him, they hide it. They never let it get back to him. And kinda mock him in private for some of the dumber stuff in his newsletter.

    It may not be a cult, but it’s definitely a breeding ground for hypocrites.

    Secular debates.

    While quite a lot of Americans aren’t control freaks when it comes to religious opinions, quite a lot of us absolutely are when it comes to other opinions. Might be about favorite teams, brand names, or music. Definitely true of politics.

    I’ve heard Christians claim this is because these other things—sports, possessions, politics—are the control freaks’ idols. They’re what people really worship; if only they were as zealous about Jesus! Thing is, overzealousness of any sort—even in the defense of Jesus—is fleshly. Paul specifically listed hostility, strife, partisanship, and division. Ga 5.20 Standing up for Jesus with such behavior is wholly inappropriate, and we’d better not see any such behavior among Christians. But when it comes to secular interests, it stands to reason we’ll see a lot of fleshly behavior.

    Unfortunately, we bring a lot of these behaviors into the church with us. I regularly, regularly, hear Christians trash-talk one another’s baseball and football teams. They claim they’re doing it in jest, as friendly rivalry, but I’ve seen it cross a line here and there.

    I’ve watched Christians debate, sometimes angrily, politics. Or preferences: Which computer is better, which truck is better, which restaurant is better, which phone is better, which Christian worship band is better. Come election years, some Christians straight-up stop talking to one another. I have Christians friends who refuse to be my social-media “friends” because they can’t abide my politics.

    And Christians can be just as dogmatic about these secular things. Alfons is convinced you can’t be a legitimate Christian if you don’t support the president like he does. And he jokes he’s not so sure about you if you’re not a Dallas Cowboys fan… but considering his devotion to the team, y’gotta wonder whether he truly is joking.

    It’s downright uncomfortable when you’re in a church where everybody, leaders included, loudly praise people you think are awful human beings. People switch churches over this sort of thing. Not that any partisan church is a good thing; the only kingdom a church should ever support is God’s. Anything else is treason to King Jesus. When he returns he’s gonna overthrow those other kingdoms, y’know.

    But even well-meaning Christians slip up and treat their idols as if they’re mandatory expectations for fellow Christians. And if anyone says otherwise (or dares rebuke ’em for the obvious idolatry), they’re not welcome in church any longer. ’Cause teams, bands, parties, candidates, and affiliations are among their dogmas.

    Freedom in Christ.

    Christianity does have certain fixed beliefs. I’m not saying we don’t! I’m not saying Christians are totally free to believe whatever we please, yet still call ourselves Christian. If we’re not Christ-followers we’re not Christian; if we don’t make any effort to reform our thinking so we think like he does, bear fruit like he does, and walk like he does, 1Jn 2.6 it doesn’t matter how we brand ourselves.

    And churches are right to encourage Christians to follow Jesus. Absolutely right to go digging through the bible, find out what Jesus teaches, find out what Jesus expects, and hold the attendees (and especially members and leaders) accountable to that. That’s kinda why the church exists! We help one another follow Jesus better.

    But does it help when we police one another?

    Only to a point. Fr’instance children and newbies: They don’t always know what’s appropriate. I had a newbie friend who swore a lot. I had to remind him more than once: His colorful metaphors were freaking out certain Christians who lack the grace to forgive such behavior. “You gotta watch out for weaker Christians,” I reminded him. “You and I can hear such things and think nothing of ’em, but it’s horrifying them.” Ro 14.13

    But I never threatened to penalize him for swearing: That’s not for me to do! He’s gotta learn to govern himself. We all do. Fining him for swearing, or threatening he might lose his salvation over swearing, is cult territory. At most, I can ask him to leave a group till he gets control of himself. That’s it.

    In leadership, we always gotta consider grace. The goal is never to punish the wicked and kick people out; it’s repentance and restoration. What’ll get ’em to follow Jesus better, and get back into our group? That should be our only consideration.

    And yeah, we also have to give grace to those weaker Christians—the snowflakes who insist we can only share their teams, their politics, their dogmas; that “no good Christian” would wear makeup, drink beer, watch R-rated movies, play cards, listen to rap, or other Christianist taboos.

    If Christians can’t practice grace, they’re wholly unsuitable for Christian leadership. Christ is nothing but gracious, and his church should be so too. If your church is led by graceless Christians, who pick apart every stray word which comes out of your mouth, I don’t blame you for not wanting to go to that church. I don’t wanna go there either.

    Proselytism: Don’t force Jesus upon people!

    by K.W. Leslie, 30 January
    PROSELYTIZE 'prɑs(.ə).lət.aɪz verb. (Try to) convert someone from one belief to another.
    [Proselyte 'prɑs.ə.laɪt noun, proselytism 'prɑs(.ə).lət.ɪz.əm noun.]

    From time to time, when we Christians share the good news of Christ Jesus with other people, we get accused of “proselytizing.”

    It’s one of those words which, to quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride

    Giphy

    Properly, to proselytize means as we see in the definition above: You’re trying to convert someone. And you’ve not made it an option: They must become Christian. They will become Christian. You’re gonna try every tactic you can to make it so. You’ll promise outrageous things, you’ll fudge a few details, you’ll threaten ’em with hell. Whatever it takes.

    Forced conversions, hard sales pitches, and death threats (and hell threats) are all definitely forms of proselytism. Is that really what we’re doing?

    Well… sometimes it is. And it should never be. God’s kingdom runs on grace, and if our presentation of the gospel ever turns into proselytism, it means we took the grace out of it. And a gospel without grace arguably isn’t even the gospel.

    I know, I know: Certain dark Christians love to bring up hell. Largely because it terrifies them, so they’re pretty sure everybody needs to be warned about it, and warned away from it: You don’t want to go there! I get that. And it was probably a huge motivator for them, when they first turned to Jesus. But the result is they put it front and center when they preach the gospel, and now their gospel is about hell-avoidance instead of love, joy, grace, forgiveness, and other fruit of the Spirit that we’re gonna find in the kingdom in abundance. Worse, they don’t care about these things: “Get off that lovey-dovey crap and warn people away from hell!” Which just goes to reveal their own fruitlessness—a serious character defect which makes them the very worst people to share the gospel.

    Still, when pagans encounter that kind of hostile, negative, fearmongering gospel presentation, in which the good news is very, very bad, they think it’s proselytism: It made ’em feel bad. They define proselytism based on whether it made ’em feel bad. On whether they didn’t like it.

    Nope; proselytism is determined by pressure. Was the gospel forced upon you? Then it’s proselytism.

    Doesn’t matter whether it was forced upon you in a hostile way or a kind way. I got the kind version: Mom was determined to raise her kids Christian, so church wasn’t optional. I was going, period, whether I wanted to or not. This was never an issue because unless I was sick or exhausted (i.e. valid excuses), I wanted to. In other families it was a huge issue: I had high school friends who absolutely didn’t wanna be there, and left church as soon as they were no longer under their parents’ rules. But parents have every right to raise their kids under their religion; really, they suck at religion if they don’t.

    It’s just proselytism has a serious danger built into it: Because it’s not optional, it’s deficient in grace. Which means there’s a very real chance it’ll turn into legalism, or hypocrisy and dead religion. Or, once the kids grow up and leave the dead religion, they may presume all religion is like that… and we wind up with apostasy and nontheism.

    So pour on the grace! And when you evangelize, for the love of God don’t proselytize.

    Proselytizing Christians.

    As I said, it’s okay to proselytize your kids. But if you were proselytized as a kid, or proselytized by an evangelist when you got older, you’re gonna wrongly think it’s okay to proselytize everybody else.

    Seriously, everybody else. Certain political conservatives like to imagine the United States is a Christian nation, and as such everybody in it oughta be Christian. So they push Christianity upon everyone. We made “One nation under God” our official national motto (regardless of whether we get under him any), and put it on our money and our pledge of allegiance: If people balk at the motto, we don’t just accuse ’em of being godless, but unpatriotic.

    Such people also insist we should be allowed to put up Ten Commandments monuments, crosses, and other religious iconography, in public parks, public schools, or public buildings. Texas even changed the science textbooks so they state God created the universe about 6,000 years ago, and who cares if actual science suggests otherwise.

    So when we share Jesus, we don’t ask people whether they’d like to hear about him. Don’t have time for that. We just corner ’em so they can’t go anywhere, and tell ’em—whether they have the time, the curiosity, the interest, the receptivity. Because they need to hear it: They’re going to hell otherwise. Now is their hour of salvation. Now is not the time for kindness, patience, self-control, or grace. Fruit of the Spirit? Only gets in our way.

    And instead of fruit, one of our substitutes becomes “evangelism.” You’ve seen these Christians at work: They leave tracts instead of tips for their waiters. They correct us in the workplace break room whenever we do or say something which isn’t Christian enough for them. They who won’t leave our front porches when we insist, “No thank you.” They’re the reason people believe evangelism and proselytism are the same thing.

    Jesus doesn’t teach proselytism.

    When Jesus first sent his Twelve to practice evangelism on their fellow Jews, he taught ’em to share. Not push. Bless, not condemn. Give, not collect offerings. Do for people, not demand they only receive the gospel from you, ’cause you worry if you give ’em free stuff, they’ll only turn to Jesus for the handouts. (As if the kingdom runs on stinginess, not grace.) You know, like proselytizers don’t do. Like so.

    Matthew 10.7-15 KWL
    7 “Preach as you go, saying this: ‘Heaven’s kingdom has come near!’
    8 Serve the weak. Raise the dead. Cleanse the leprous. Throw out demons.
    You received it free. Give it free.
    9 Don’t accept gold, silver, or bronze into your moneybelts.
    10 No bag on the road. Nor two tunics. Nor sandals. Nor cane.
    For the respectable worker merits their provisions.
    11 Inspect whatever city or village you enter: Who’s the most respected in it?
    Stay with them till you leave, 12 and when you enter the house, bless it.
    13 When the house is respectable, your blessing has to go into it.
    When it’s not respectable, your blessing has to go back to you.
    14 Whoever doesn’t accept you, nor listen to your words:
    As you go out of their house or town, shake their dirt off your feet.
    15 Amen, I promise you: It’ll be more bearable on Judgment Day
    for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than that town.”

    Evangelism is about effectively communicating the good news: The kingdom’s near. Jesus is its good and benevolent Lord. He wants us to join his kingdom and be our Lord. Because ultimately he will be Lord, whether we embrace him or not. It’ll be way better if we embrace his rule willingly, than live outside it in misery when he finally takes his throne. Plus there are the many benefits of living under our King early.

    True, we want people to come to Jesus. But after we’ve shared him, we’re done. We did our duty. They accept him, or they don’t. And we need to stop thinking it’s our responsibility to keep pushing them to accept him. It’s not. We need to shake that off. It’s why Jesus told his apostles to do so literally: Shake the dirt off your feet when you leave. Leave ’em behind. Not because we don’t care about them anymore, but because we’re done. Hopefully God will give them another chance, as he tends to. But we’re done.

    We simply share. Inform. Convey information. That’s all. There’s a place and time for going directly up to people and asking them point-blank, “Do you know Christ Jesus personally?” When our goal is to share good news, to make sure people are informed, and can make rational decisions to follow Jesus, there’s everything right about it. That’s all our job consists of.

    Everything beyond that is the Holy Spirit’s job.

    • Quelling nervousness or hesitation: His job.
    • Dealing with objections and concerns: His job.
    • Getting obstacles out of their way: His job.
    • Making sure people come forward at an altar call: His job.
    • Numbers of converts: His job.
    • Making sure the commitment is serious: His job.
    • Finalizing decisions for Christ: His job.

    It’s not like we have no job. But as you can see, our job isn’t as big and stressful as your average proselytizer makes it sound.

    “But we have to preach the gospel!”

    I’ve heard Christians say, “Well, there’s a fine line between proselytism and evangelism.” There is not. Evangelism shares information. Proselytism demands, ignores the Holy Spirit’s timing, and insists the time is now. It takes salvation into our own hands instead of leaving it in God’s. It’s loveless. It’s faithless. It’s wrong.

    If a person says no thank you, proselytizers aren’t done. They don’t trust the Holy Spirit enough to leave them in his capable hands. They’re not gonna be patient. They’ll insist on “closing the deal”—on badgering them to say some form of sinner’s prayer, some sort of half-hearted commitment (which usually doesn’t pan out) just so they can put another notch on their belt. Or get another jewel in their crown. Whatever way they keep score.

    ’Cause that’s what it’s really about: Keeping score. Numbers. Getting converts. Growing their cults. Success rates. Which, because they’re willing to fudge the numbers a bit, tend to be reported as way higher than they really are. But few of their “success stories” are real. Those folks have no plans to follow Jesus in the day-to-day, and were often coerced into making a purely contractual relationship with him: “I said the sinner’s prayer, so I did my part; you just get me into heaven. Okay? Amen.” Don’t have to be religious ’cause they’re under God’s grace. Which means they’re fruitless… which implies they’re not under grace.

    Now, had the Holy Spirit actually been involved at all—where he convicts ’em, gets ’em to repent, points ’em to Jesus—you’d see a whole lot more enthusiasm on their part. Without having to manipulate their emotions, play on their fears, promise them things Jesus never would (“Turn to him and all your problems will go away!”) and other sales pitches which spread Christianism instead of God’s kingdom.

    Quite often the Spirit will actually lead someone to Jesus despite the sales-pitch tactics. But the fact the Holy Spirit cleans up our messes, is no defense for fruitless, unkind behavior and thinking.

    And quite often, the reason a lot of Christians balk at practicing or learning about evangelism, is because of these yutzes and their morally questionable behavior. I don’t blame ’em for being disturbed. They should be. Any form of trickery, misdirection, wordplay, hidden flaws, false arguments, false promises, confusion, anger, hypocrisy, misquoted scriptures, false urgency, bribery, emotional blackmail, threats, temptation, or coercion, has no God in it. Justifying any of this evil, because they might “win souls,” is calling good evil, and evil good. Is 5.20 When people turn to Jesus, when the Spirit has been successful and enters their lives to fix and regenerate them, it’s a miracle. The very last thing Christians should be involved in, is faking miracles.

    Some pagans have never met a proper evangelist. Or they have, but they’ve been burned by dark evangelists, and assume all Christians are like that. And to be fair, some pagans are just plain hostile towards Christianity altogether. So they accuse everyone who shares Jesus of proselytism, just to make us go away. All the more reason we need to avoid proselytism. Give them no ammunition.

    Legalism versus grace.

    by K.W. Leslie, 26 March
    LEGALISM 'li.gəl.iz.əm noun. Excessive adherence to law or formula.
    2. Dependence on law or merit, instead of grace and faith, for righteousness before God and salvation.
    [Legalist 'li.gəl.ist noun.]

    The absence of grace is legalism: Subtract the optimistic attitude, the forgiveness which should immediately follow when we slip up, the trust that God can take care of the details and manage our biggest messes. It’s when people figure yeah, God saves, but he only cares to save those who merit it with our good karma.

    Most Christians are aware legalism is the wrong route to God. The evangelists drummed the idea into our heads pretty early: Salvation is through grace and nothing else. We can’t earn salvation; we shouldn’t try. If we try, we’re kinda trying to do an end-run around God and the system he set up, which is for Jesus to take out our sins. And the only reason we’d wanna do an end-run around God is pride, sin, delusion, or some other evil or self-centered motive. Don’t be that way. Embrace his grace.

    So we do. Well, most of us do.

    ’Cause many Christians don’t fully trust God’s grace. It’s a faith deficiency. We might believe God lets us into his kingdom… but we’ll also believe in order to stay in the kingdom, or keep our place or rank in it, we gotta deserve it. So back to karma we go.

    Hey, karma’s a hard mindset to give up. It’s deeply ingrained in human culture. Some of us grew up with it, and have been trained to live our lives by it. Because karma is fair: This for that, quid pro quo, equal rights, equal pay for equal work, I scratch your back if you scratch mine, and let the punishment fit the crime. It’s even in the bible: Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. Ex 21.24 People should get what they deserve.

    And that’s why we still find it all over Christendom—with people insisting if we Christians don’t behave ourselves, we might lose our salvation. With Christians who figure in order to get right with God, we gotta do bonus good deeds, or various acts of penance. With churches who demand, in order that we be right with them, that we first do various things for them… things which tend to make them look legalistic and cultlike. Heck, some of ’em are cults.

    The ancient Galatians did this too, which is why Paul had to tell ’em to cut it out.

    Galatians 3.1-11 KWL
    1 Unthinking Galatians. What put a spell on you?
    Before your very eyes, Christ Jesus was presented as crucified.
    2 I only want to know this from you: Is the Spirit given to you
    by working the Law, or by hearing and trusting?
    3 This is why you’re unthinking: You started in the Spirit, and now you finish in the flesh.
    4 Did you suffer so much for nothing? (Because if you’re right, it’s really for nothing.)
    5 So is giving you the Spirit, working power among you
    by working the Law, or by hearing and trusting?
    6 Like Abraham “trusted God and was deemed righteous by it.” Ge 15.6
    7 So understand this: These “children of faith” are like Abraham.
    8 The scripture, foreseeing how God justifies gentiles by their faith,
    fore-presented the gospel through Abraham—that “all gentiles will be blessed through you.“ Ge 12.3, 18.18, 22.18
    9 Hence those who act by faith are blessed with Abraham’s faith.
    10 Whoever works the Law is under its curse, for this is written:
    “Everyone who doesn‘t persevere in doing all this book of the Law‘s writings, is cursed.” Dt 27.26
    11 Clearly no one‘s justified under the Law:
    “The righteous will live by faith.” Ha 2.4

    The Galatians had been taught before they could become Christians, they first had to become Jews—and follow the Law. The ancient Christians had a whole council about this, and concluded no they don’t. But the alternative “gospel” of meriting our salvation had caught on—because it’s so easy to regress into karma. It’s what we’re used to.

    And it’s not how God’s kingdom works. His kingdom runs on grace. Always has. The LORD didn’t save the Hebrews from Egypt because they deserved it; he saved ’em because he made friends with their ancestors. The LORD doesn’t save humanity from sin because we earned it—we so haven’t—but because he loves us regardless. God’s grace runs completely contrary to karmic principles. So much so, it outrages people who value karma.

    Which is why they subtly try to slip Christianity back into those karmic principles, where they feel safe and comfortable. But in so doing, they harm and distort Christianity. And since humans are creatures of extremes, of course we take the rules and reciprocity too far, and wind up with legalism.