What To Do About Legalists, Fundies, and Pharisees

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freewingthefree asked a question:

Hey pastor! Question. How should we react to all the hurt that gets caused by Christians more focused on being “right” and legalistic? It makes my heart ache to see all those who have been hurt by legalistic Christians who are oblivious to the pain they cause.

Hey dear friend, I’m hurting along with you. It grieves me to see self-righteous brothers and sisters who claim the name of Christ and continue to morally suffocate others into a neurotic, twitchy, self-condemning mess. I’ve been a victim of it, and it still hurts.

Here’s the thing. I don’t want to make excuses for the overly religious Pharisee: but I also can’t demonize them either. They need grace, too. I think the church fluctuates wildly between uptight, legalistic Bible-thumper to laidback, relevant, smoothly spiritual hipster, and while both sides sneer at each other, there are hurting people caught in the crossfire. Hyper-grace is no better than hyper-law. A knee-jerk reaction to one type of religion will only imprison us further.

Hating on the Westboro folks or fundie televangelists is easy mode. Anyone can do that. It’s easy to say “I’m not like those other Christians.” What’s hard is transcending such pigeon-holed categories like Jesus did, who extended his hands on a cross for both the running prodigal and the angry preacher. What’s hard is reaching across every divide, from pimps and politicians to aristocrats and blind beggars. What’s hard is not perpetuating the cycle of hurt that you’ve been plunged into, and instead looking forward and above.

This doesn’t excuse the reprehensible hate speech from so-called Christian groups. But who will show them a better way? Who will react to hurt with healing? The way of the flesh says to hurt people who hurt you. But the way of Christ on a cross is to boldly speak life where there’s death, not to prove a point or to look polite, but because grace in the face of hate is the only power that can heal.

It’s hard not to get bitter. I think many prodigals who left the church had every reason to leave. I don’t deny the massive hurts the church has caused. It’s a scary thing to open up to a church and intertwine with such vulnerability. I only hope that we recognize Jesus was dismissed by his own church, too, and he still jumped out of a grave to go back for the very people who left him to die. Maybe the irony is that Jesus empowers us to forgive and live with the very same people who killed him. If we’re mad at legalists, God has a right to be even more mad: yet as a loving Father, He wants His kids to get along.

I can suggest two things. One is to find the appropriate church. It’s almost like finding the right spouse: it takes time, and it’s implausible to expect perfection. The second is to forgive those who are blinded by their own crushing morality. If you fight hate with more division, there’s a zero percent chance that anyone will change their ways. But if you fight hate with self-sacrificial grace, there’s a one percent chance that change can happen. That’s what love does. It’s the same risk that Jesus took for us. It’s the same risk I’ll take too. The Pharisees killed Jesus for it, but that says more about Jesus than us: and I want to be where he is.

— J.S.

11 thoughts on “What To Do About Legalists, Fundies, and Pharisees

  1. You said: “I only hope that we recognize Jesus was dismissed by his own church, too, and he still jumped out of a grave to go back for the very people who left him to die.

    He’s the ultimate example, but I wish most people could be like Jesus. I would say maybe 5% of hurt people might go back into the fire. But 95% would probably not. Healing would have to happen first.


    1. Fortunately there’s good evidence that many mid-to-late 20s and married couples return to church and end up staying. We still have a lot of work to do.


  2. Great post and way to put it out there on the state of legalism in the church as well as the lack of faith. We have to pray very hard for our brothers and sisters in both categories. A legalistic Christian is really missing the whole point of the cross. They need God’s grace just a much as the rest of us do… you can’t do everything right and commit no sin, it’s just not possible. Then, the ones who make it into church on Sunday morning to fulfill their Christian “duty” for the week so they can say that they are in fact a Christian are also missing out on God’s grace by not being real. I’ve heard it many times, I’ve said it many times – you can go to hell from a church pew just as easily as you can from a bar stool.
    You can tell which Christians are truly sold out to Jesus by the fruit they bear. These will be the ones to meet the others where they are with prayer rather than anger and resentment, after all, ours is not to judge, right? We definitely don’t want to play God!


    1. “From a church pew just as easily as you can from a bar stool” — wow. Great insight.

      I think all of us to some degree “miss” the endlessly-faceted power of the Gospel, simply because we’re naturally so reactionary and blinded. If sin is both a verb and a condition, then by default, we have our work cut out for us. At least for me, it’s helped to keep in mind that none of us will fully get it, but those who grasp even a glimpse of Christ will be staggering along the pews with a joy that surprises more each day.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, there’s no doubt about it; we will have sin in our lives until we get to heaven. Sanctification is a lifelong process. I think Paul said it perfectly in the book of Romans when he said “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Paul was one of the greatest saints that ever walked the earth but even he had to acknowledge that he still did evil things because of his sin nature. The power of the Gospel – our belief in Christ’s redemptive work on the cross; death, burial & Resurrection, means to us as believers that when we do sin, we confess and repent and we are always in good standing with the LORD. The blood of Christ covers our past, present and future sins though we still confess and repent. The longer we are a Christian the less confessing and repenting we’ll have to be doing though as our faith will be getting perfected. 🙂 Blessings


  3. Great post JS. My sister left the church after being attacked by legalistic leaders for being involved in theater. 17 years later she came back and is now a missionary. She uses her experience as a preaching point explaining that though her detractors were wrong in their methods they were not completely wrong in their assessment of what she was involved in and more importantly why. There was a seed of truth in their warning. She never stopped to question her own motivations


    1. That’s an incredible testimony. It’s always so encouraging because we simply never know what God can do over a lifetime. Thank you for sharing this. Maybe you can share this as a post one day too!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Your entire post was relevant and thought provoking, I actually found part of your post-post the most eye opening — ” you can go to hell from a church pew just as easily as you can from a bar stool.” I know plenty of people that are on that stool Monday thru Saturday, and then on the pew Sunday. I stopped discussing any type of religion a long time ago when I realized the hypocrisy of many so-called Christians. Too many times I felt like I was being judged the second someone proudly states to me “I’m a Christian.” That announcement immediately puts me on the defense, as if they are using Christianity like two guys comparing who has the fastest car, the biggest house or the most beautiful wife. I just think one has to be careful while approaching those who may not be “church-goers.”
    Just my thoughts…


    1. Yes. But again, that’s exactly what I mean. I can understand why Christians use a “measuring stick” — this is the way the world functions, by using comparison or bashing or superiority, all resulting from pride. I’m no better than the person who does this. I’m no better than the hypocrite or the person who judges the hypocrite or the person who judges the person who — and so on. The second we fall into judging those who judge, we’re playing the devil’s game again.


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