Another Anti-legalism Rant

After seeing last week’s YouTube video one of my friends commented, “Ralph’s on another anti-legalism tirade.

I guess I am and maybe have lived on one for most of my adult life.

Back when I was a youth pastor I knew an upstanding Bible-believing man who refused to come to church with his family. Someone had taught him that he couldn’t be a Christian if he smoked cigarettes. He loved the Lord but believed salvation was out of his grasp due to a habit that held him by the throat.

A few years later we planted the first Hope Chapel. The pillars of our church were a group of hippies who, after finding Jesus, attempted to visit an establishment church. A greeter refused to allow them in the building. The guy actually told them to wear better clothes and get a haircut in order to enter “God’s house” reverently.

Talk about fruitless legalism.

Three times I’ve turned people away from our churches over music.

It went like this, “I love this church and your preaching is fabulous, but can you make those kids quit playing that rock music.”

My answer, “Look at the average age of our church. We’re reaching people that others can’t. If we change the music, they’ll leave. It’s better that you leave so let me help you find a church where you fit in better than with us.”

A man in the first church I pastored lost his wife to Alzheimer’s disease. She slid downhill for more than five years. The guy visited her in a care home every evening after work when she could no longer live at home.

Along the way he began conversing with another woman who was there due to a back injury.

Shortly after his wife’s funeral he sought out the other lady and they married a few months later. We had watched he and his wife suffer and our church was thrilled over his new marriage—all but one legalist who argued that he should have waited a year to marry. He needed to grieve the loss of his wife.

But he had grieved her for more than five years. Some people need to get over themselves and their need to control others.

I recently spoke with a pastor who suffered under the same style of legalism.

His wife threatened to divorce him, pretty much every day, for nearly a decade.

When she pulled the trigger, the congregation seemed happy. People believed it was inevitable and seemed relieved that the drama had ended. The staff were tired of seeing their boss wearing sunglasses to hide eyes red from crying.

Then a few people decided that he shouldn’t begin dating for a year.

He connected with a woman in the congregation about five months after the divorce. Staff members asked her not to come to services for several months so the couple wouldn’t be seen together and “offend” anyone. They complied.

They announced their intention to marry a bit over a year after the divorce.

The legalists went ballistic.

They concocted a scheme to prove their love since it had been such a “short time” since the divorce and they knew the guy had never grieved the loss of his first marriage (according to whose timetable?).

The plan went like this. “You should cut off all contact, including texts and email for three months. If your love survives that then you can marry.”

Think what that would do to a recently engaged woman. “Honey, I love my job and my team more than you so I’ve decided to impose a three-month blackout on our relationship.” Neither love nor patience could survive a hatchet-job like that, and rightly so!

This guy left his job rather than submit to the legalists in his life. He did the right thing!

So what’s my point?

You and I need to examine the legalisms we’ve allowed in our lives.

I grew up in a church that labeled smoking, drinking, dancing and movies as sin (I never could figure out why movies were sinful in a theater but not when they played on television).

Then a Billy Graham film came to theaters in our town.

You guessed it. We weren’t allowed to attend. The logic went, “A non-Christian might see you in line for a ticket and you’d lose your testimony. They wouldn’t notice the marquee displaying Billy’s name. Its better that you don’t go to any movies in theaters.”

Now this was way back, around 1956 or something. That church is decidedly more grace-oriented today. But their extreme posture makes a point. We all have a little weirdness in us.

We all tend to pick and choose scriptures to support some denominational or political non-essential.

I’m still thinking back to Song Solomon, where we’re warned against the little foxes that spoil the vineyard—the little foxes that spoil the harvest. What little foxes are in your life that you need to capture?

We need to get off this stuff and back to the Bible as the root of our lives.

Legalism won’t cut it for a broken world that increasingly needs the gospel of loving God, loving our neighbor and making disciples who do the same.

NOTE: This is not intended as a commentary on marriage and divorce. The point was to focus on people who permitted, even endorsed, a divorce only to get testy over unsubstantiated time frames. As always, your comments are very welcome.



14 thoughts on “Another Anti-legalism Rant”

  1. Hi Ralph
    When I was first going to Hope Chapel and produced “The Late Great Planet Earth” in 1974 I was told not to show it on TV because Hal was divorced. In 11 months 17,000,000 saw the TV special based on his book. Over 350,000 in the state of Hawaii alone. Thanks to your early counsel I pressed forward. Because the message was about Jesus and He had forgiven the messenger. – Alan Hauge

  2. Amen! I recently got into an “intense fellowship” discussion at a men’s breakfast group this year from Anchor. I have a black belt in Aikido and wanted to explore how to use Aikido principles of blending and not confronting a person who was attacking you as mentioned in the Bible. This was a group of elders which included Tommy Landeza as well as George Fergie, etc. This one leader who actually served under you didn’t like the idea of Ki energy in Aikido as he believed it was not of God. He ganged up with another ex-black belt in disagreeing with me about it not being of God. I stated that they were coming from fear and that energy is neutral just like a car which can be used for good or bad purposes. I cited an example where his defensive legalism was driving people away from Jesus when he sternly corrected a woman whose verbiage was not in line with what he thought was appropriate. With anger he stated: “You didn’t have the balls to tell me?” It took all the control I had not to fight with him right in the coffee shop where we were meeting. We’ve made up however it took me a looong time to forgive him! I did go back to the group to show no hard feelings and told the fellow black belt: “May The Force be with you!”
    Blessings, Eric Lee

    1. Eric,
      So sad when those who were given grace refuse to extend it to others. We often confuse our own worldview with God’s resulting in personal legalism. They’re worse when the result of a church outlook…

  3. Right on Ralph. Legalism almost killed me emotionally, mentally and almost led to physically. At a church we attended the leader ship was against taking any medication or emotional problems. In the midst of high anxiety and depression I could barely function. And I was told to just pray about it. It was not until I was given the medication that pulled me out of it that I normalized. Linda and I experienced many other legalistic situations but thank goodness we are in a healthy church situation now. I keep it coming Ralph. People need to hear your message.

    1. Hey Barry, I was one of those pastors who pressured people against anxiety and/or depression meds. That all changed when I got smacked with a bout of acute anxiety. The doctors gave me meds that got me back to the point where I could pray without panic.
      BTW, there is a FREE audio course and book called “You Can Beat Anxiety” available on this website under the “Courses” menu. I also wrote a separate book called “Defeating Anxiety” which is available on Amazon.

  4. Great points. We all fall into this abysmal behavior at some point. I have learned the hard way to go after the legalist QUICK and decisive. “ literally like this “ ok billy, I see your point. But what id like you to tell me is when was the last time you masterbated and what image did you use. Would you like to share that with the church leadership and have them come up with a process to cleanse you?” The real issue is some Christians think they can take the place of the Holy Spirit. Yes, it is destructive. Imagine what they would say if we planted a church in a loving naturalist (sans clothing) community? I’ve seriously considered it. I found a willing pastor/leader and a willing community. And… already readers are probably jumping to religious conclusions just reading this. And they will be wrong ones.😎

  5. Linda Eversull

    Pastor, this is a good topic. A few years back i facilitated a life group called Divorce Care. For many years i heard so many stories from people in the group. i was recommended to become the leader of the group. I have seen so many legalistic things happen in our church. Members were actually told to leave and not return to church because of legalism issues. I often thought where Jesus would be hanging out. Most likely with the people who didn’t quite fit in. I was a 70s Hippie. Patch pants bell bottoms, macmaraed belts, tunic tops. And i didn’t fit in as soon as i took off my levis 401 bell bottom pants my mom would grab them toss them in trash can. I was forever working as a cashier buying more 401s to replace the ones my mom tossed out. She would say my Hippie pants had holes in them there not fixable.. i wasnt fitting into her 1940 or 50s clothes style. She wore pantsuits made out of polyester material. I wore holy pants. In those days i grew up with a lot of legalistic ideas my mom passed down. After facilitating Divorce Care i started to realize that People are people and need to be loved and accepted just as they come to church.

  6. I once was lost, but Hope Chapel and Pastor Moore showed me the light of God, i attended Hope Chapel HB, for many years got baptized their and went on to Hawaii with Hope and beyond. Love and dedication to serving Jesus are in my opinion the best for Life, is to follow Christ.

    Own Journey has taken me all over the World and many people always kept me focused on Christ. I fell along the way but God always had someone to assist me in my Journey to Follow Christ. I first came to Hope Chapel, HB in 1979 circa

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